Anglican Church Beliefs and Practices

Defining the Diverse Structure of Anglican and Episcopal Church Beliefs

Anglican Episcopal Church Beliefs and Practices
Epics / Contributor

The roots of Anglicanism (called Episcopalianism in the United States) trace back to one of the main branches of Protestantism that emerged during the 16th century Reformation. Theologically, Anglican beliefs take a middle position between Protestantism and Catholicism and reflect a balance of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Because the denomination allows for significant freedom and diversity, a great many variations in Anglican beliefs, doctrine, and practice exist within this worldwide communion of churches.

The Middle Way

The term via media, "the middle way," is used to describe the character of Anglicanism as a middle way between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. It was coined by John Henry Newman (1801–1890).

Some Anglican congregations put more emphasis on Protestant doctrines while others lean more toward Catholic teachings. Beliefs regarding the Trinity, the nature of Jesus Christ, and the primacy of Scripture agree with mainline Protestant Christianity.

The Anglican Church rejects the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory while affirming that salvation is based solely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, without the addition of human works. The church professes belief in the three Christian creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed.

Scripture

Anglicans acknowledge the Bible as the foundation for their Christian faith, beliefs, and practices.

Authority of the Church

While the Archbishop of Canterbury in England (currently, Justin Welby) is considered the “first among equals” and principal leader of the Anglican Church, he does not share the same authority as the Roman Catholic Pope. He holds no official power outside of his own province but, every ten years in London, he does call the Lambeth Conference, an international meeting which covers a broad range of social and religious issues. The conference commands no legal power but demonstrates loyalty and unity throughout the churches of the Anglican Communion.

The main "reformed” aspect of the Anglican Church is its decentralization of authority. Individual churches enjoy great independence in adopting their own doctrine. However, this diversity in practice and doctrine has put a severe strain on issues of authority in the Anglican church. An example would be the recent ordination of a practicing homosexual bishop in North America. Most Anglican churches do not agree with this commission.

Book of Common Prayer

Anglican beliefs, practices, and rituals are primarily found in the Book of Common Prayer, a compilation of liturgy developed by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1549. Cranmer translated Catholic Latin rites into English and revised prayers using Protestant reformed theology.

The Book of Common Prayer lays out Anglican beliefs in 39 articles, including works vs. grace, the Lord’s Supper, the Canon of the Bible, and clerical celibacy. As in other areas of Anglican practice, much diversity in worship has developed around the world, and many different prayer books have been issued.

Ordination of Women

Some Anglican churches accept the ordination of women to the priesthood while others do not.

Marriage

The church does not require celibacy of its clergy and leaves marriage to the discretion of the individual.

Worship

Anglican worship tends to be Protestant in doctrine and Catholic in appearance and flavor, with rituals, readings, bishops, priests, vestments, and ornately decorated churches.

Some Anglicans pray the rosary; others do not. Some congregations have shrines to the Virgin Mary while others do not believe in invoking the intervention of saints. Because every church has the right to set, change, or abandon these man-made ceremonies, Anglican worship varies widely throughout the world. No parish is to conduct worship in a tongue that is not understood by its people.

Two Anglican Sacraments

The Anglican Church recognizes only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Departing from Catholic doctrine, Anglicans say Confirmation, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick) are not considered sacraments.

Young children may be baptized, which is usually done by pouring water. Anglican beliefs leave the possibility of salvation without baptism an open question, leaning strongly toward the liberal view.

Communion or the Lord's Supper is one of two key moments in Anglican worship, the other being the preaching of the Word. Generally speaking, Anglicans believe in the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist but reject the Catholic idea of "transubstantiation."