What is the Essence of Anglicanism?

Did you ever ask yourself this question? I did (how could I be Anglican without asking it?) I cannot pretend however that I have a definitive answer. I have struggled similarly  wirh the definition of Evangelicalism and I have found now a satisfactory answer. I hope I will find some day a satisfactory answer to this other question.

Carson Clark, another recent convert to Anglicanism tries to answer this question on his blog.

Did you ever feel as confused about the essence of Anglicanism as reflected in this quote?

A friend shared a question he’d be musing on. He’d spent the better part of a month perusing Anglican websites and had, once again, found himself surprised by the tradition’s breadth. He was reminded that some Anglicans are basically Catholic without the Pope while others are so Reformed they’d make the Puritans blush. Some think it’s not Anglicanism without bells, smells, and vestments. Others prefer electric guitars, projection screens, and priests who wear blue jeans. Some love homilies. Others want full-blown exegetical sermons. Some insist upon using words like “sacristy.” Others say, “For the love! It’s a closet with a sink where they store the robes. Get over yourself.” Some speak in tongues. Others don’t speak a word unless it’s directly out of the Book of Common Prayer. Some worship in cathedrals that are a thousand years old. Others worship in incomplete houses. Some think the Thirty-Nine Articles should be seen as the official, enduring statement of belief. Others think it little more than a historical document, a relic of the past. Some believe all seven ecumenical councils are authoritative. Others affirm the first four alone, or even hedge away from acknowledging any ecclesiastical “authority” outside of Scripture. Some see the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual leader of the global communion. Others believe Anglicanism has no central leader. Some ordain women. Others have built their identity around not ordaining women. Some use the title “pastor.” Others are adamant that office be called the priesthood. Some believe geographical dioceses are the bedrock of Anglican polity. Others think that model is outmoded. With that much variance on display in condensed webpage form, it’s little wonder that my friend took a step back and wondered, “What, exactly, is required for Anglicanness?”

Carson tries to give a simple answer that I can fully embrace. Here it is:

What is Anglicanism? Some say it’s a branch of Protestantism. Others say reformed Catholicism. One guy I heard called it “Western Orthodoxy.” And still others say it’s something else altogether. My answer? Yes… A lot of people see this as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. Whereas most people seem to find comfort, peace, and security in a fixed identity, I see it as stagnation, complacency, and lethargy. I find beauty in tension. That’s one thing I love about Anglicanism. Contrasting so many movements that respond to one extreme’s excesses and corruption with a reactionary swing to the other, the Church of England was established upon the principles of compromise and temperance.

Then, Carson Clark proceeds in a manner similar to the way Bebbington defines Evangelicalism and describes seven basic tenets of Anglicanism. According to him, these are (I add in parenthesis my preferred labels):

  1. Sacramental Theology
  2. The Bishopric (The Episcopate)
  3. Historical orientation (Historical rootedness)
  4. English culture
  5. Scripture’s Authority
  6. Prayer Book (Liturgy)
  7. Via Media

You may find out HERE how Carson describes these.

Although not all these seven tenets are of the same weight, I believe these offer a good ground for the beginning of a conversation.

Enjoy, and engage, if you care to.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

4 thoughts on “What is the Essence of Anglicanism?”

  1. I’m thinking about the amendments you made to my list of 7: Historical Rootedness and Liturgy…

    “Rootedness” probably is a better choice than “Orientation.”

    I’m giving thought to whether Liturgy is more accurate than Prayer Book.


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