What is the Anglican Church?
Anglicanism is one expression or tradition of the Christian faith, alongside the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. Anglicanism is sometimes referred to as the "middle way" between Catholicism and Protestantism, and Anglicans sometimes describe themselves as "Catholic but reformed." The Anglican Communion is a "global family of national and regional churches" who share historical ties to the Church of England and continue to be connected by "bonds of affection," but which function independently. If you ask three Anglicans what it means to be Anglican, you are likely to get three (if not five) different answers. In fact, if you ask Anglicans whether they are Catholic or Protestant, you might not always get the same answer. One of the gifts and challenges of Anglicanism is that it includes a striking diversity of belief and practice. However, Scripture, Tradition and Reason are shared components of Anglican Christianity as it is practiced in many different nations and cultural settings.
Scripture, Tradition and Reason
Anglicans share a love and respect for Holy Scripture (the Holy Bible inclusive of both the Old and New Testaments). One of the ways we describe the importance of Scripture is by saying that we believe it "contains all things necessary for salvation." Enter any Anglican Church anywhere in the world on a Sunday morning and readings from the Bible will be central in the worship service. Wander into any church during the week and you are likely to encounter a bible study or an educational program that focuses on Scripture. Individual believers may interpret passages in different ways, but all agree the Scripture is essential to our faith.
Anglican Christians also continue to turn to historical statements of the Christian faith, such as the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed as essential expressions that unite us to Christians who came before us and continue to guide us. These documents speak to our understanding of God as Trinitarian - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer) - and of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah who through his life, death and resurrection, continues to give us new life. Anglicanism is a form of Sacramental Christianity in which the two great sacraments, Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, are held to be "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ." Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Christian community; through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and receive new life in him; the outward sign of baptism is water. In the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist we remember Christ's life, death and resurrection and look forward to Christ's coming again. In the Eucharist the outward sign of bread and wine reflects the inward grace of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ; in the sharing of the bread and wine in the Eucharist we are united to Christ and one another.
Anglicanism is also described as "catholic" and "apostolic." Catholic in its most general definition means universal; Anglicans considers themselves to be members of the universal Church, also called the body of Christ; Anglicans believe that we are united to all Christians everywhere in every age. Apostolic refers to continuity with the first apostles whom Jesus appointed to share the "gospel" or the good news. Anglicanism has four "orders of ministry," the most essential being the whole community of the baptized, or the lay order. There are three additional orders of individuals ordained for particular types of ministry, for and with the community of the baptized, these are: deacons, priests and bishops.
Shared tradition, however, does not translate into uniformity. The Anglican Communion extends to over 165 countries and amidst many cultures and languages and thus there is a great variety in the way individual churches practice their faith. The image at the top of this page is of the Compass Rose, the symbol of the Anglican Communion. The medallion pictured above was beaded by Emma Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation; a beautiful example of the mixing of faith and culture. At times Anglicans throughout the world disagree about how our Christian faith should be practiced, but we continue to stay in relationship with one another and join together in actions of loving service.
Faithfulness to Scripture and tradition doesn't mean the Anglican church is static! Rather, God gives us reason--imagination, critical thinking, inventiveness, and compassion--to respond to a changing world: “Dr. Eugene Fairweather said that tradition, whatever else it may mean, does not mean that what has not been done cannot be done. Tradition is not static. It needs both the ancient texts for grounding, and reason – imagination – to give it life. And so we look to Reason. Reason is both the discipline of thoughtful inquiry and the freedom to explore. But it needs both Word and tradition to give it a strong and faithful underpinning. This is not just a nice formula – these three, woven together as they are, form a lively, even playful partnership. It is the kind of partnership that fosters communion. It allows and makes room for spirit and life. We could say of these three, that they are hospitable to one another. And they model the hospitality that is at the heart of communion (Anglican Church of Canada website).”
But reason refers not merely to the importance of utilizing our intellect, to use our reason is also to bring our emotional life and all of our experience in the world into relationship with Scripture and Tradition and to ask continually "how is the love of God unfolding in the here and now and how can I be part of that unfolding?"