Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism


It is important to begin with two comments:

1)         This paper was inspired by something J.I. Packer wrote in 1995

‘Speculating in Anglican Futures’.  I have added to it, but Dr Packer must not be blamed for my additions, or the final form this brief paper has taken.

2)         I need to define ‘Anglicanism’.  You will notice that I qualify it as ‘historic’ Anglicanism.  What do I mean?  I mean the Anglican way – the way of the Church of England as defined by the three historic documents:

the Book of Common Prayer (1662); the Ordinal (for Bishops, Priests and Deacons); the 39 Articles of Religion.  We find the doctrines, beliefs and ethos of historic Anglicanism in these documents.

Let me now turn to these ten elements.

First and foremost this Anglicanism locates its final authority in matters pertaining to salvation in the Holy Scriptures.

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article  of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation  (Article 6).

This places final authority for faith and salvation in “Holy Scripture”.  By contrast the church is the “witness and keeper of holy writ”, but not the source of “Holy Writ”.  The articles recognise that various “rites” need to be authorised and adjudication given in matters of “controversy” and the church has “power…and authority” in such things  (Article 20).  Nonetheless, churches may err and have erred within history; they are not infallible.

So, to begin, Holy Scripture is the basis and touchstone of faith.

Thus the church must defer to the Bible in all matters relating to salvation and, indeed, in the ultimate in all matters relating to rites, ceremonies and controversies.  Thus the Anglican Church is biblical as to the basis of its authority.

At ordination the minister is given a Bible as the instrument of ministry.  The Bishop’s charge in the Ordinal, along with the questions and answers, make it abundantly clear that Christian ministry has the Bible as the basis and means of ministry.

Second, Historic Anglicanism is protestant.  Article VI states, “…whatsoever is not read therein,” that is, in the Bible, “is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith.”  The church upholds the right of the individual to read and understand the Bible for his salvation, as opposed to salvation truth mediated to him by the church.  This is not to deny the importance of the minister in teaching, explaining and applying the Bible.  Nonetheless, the hearer of the word takes the responsibility to accept, modify or reject the minister’s teaching.

Third, this church recognizes that great truths of biblical revelation have been secured in creeds and confessions at moments of high theological controversy.   Significantly, Articles I-V affirm the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, which were in dispute in the early centuries.  Thus “historic” Anglicanism is committed to views on Trinity and Christology that are catholic, that is, “according to the whole” church, as opposed to heretical or sectional teachings.  Our word “catholic” is derived from two Greek words – kath holike, meaning “according to the whole”.  That is to say, what the “whole” church has “always” believed based on the teaching of the Apostles of Christ in the New Testament.  The creeds – the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian – are important as expressions of “catholic” Christianity, to which “historic” Anglicanism has committed itself.

However, fourth, “historic” Anglicanism is reformed, articulating the great biblical insights of the reformers Luther, Calvin and Cranmer that sinners, which all people as the offspring of Adam are, are righteous before God “only for the merit of Christ the sacrifice for sin, not on account of their works or deservings” (Articles 9, 11).

Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of  comfort (Article 9).

Only two sacraments or effectual signs of grace – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are recognized, both of which were ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ, both of which take their character from the gospel.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him (Article 25).

These sacraments, however, are seen as having a significant place in this church.  Both are subject of significant liturgies, that of the Lord’s Supper reaching great heights of theology and devotion.  Their high place within Anglican order is secured by the simple instrumentality whereby the one called and sent to teach the congregation – the priest / minister – is the one who administers these effectual signs.

Fifth, this is a liturgical church.  Anglicanism employs liturgy to several ends:

•to secure regular acknowledgement from the church that sinner are saved only in Christ;

•to express the congregation’s adherence to the catholic faith in the use of the historic creeds;

•to express the need of the congregation to hear the Bible in both Testaments read systematically, giving a special place to the Psalms as articulating biblical piety;

•to provide for prayer which is carefully crafted theologically and which reflects international, national as well as local needs.

Liturgy is not used for art’s sake (that is, aesthetically), but for truth’s sake (that is, theologically), in order to retain the Bible, the catholic creeds and the reformed confessions at the centre of the church’s faith and witness.

And it uses liturgy for the sake of the laity, to protect the congregation from the whims of the minister and to provide for the voice of the congregation to be heard articulating the faith, and not just the voice of the preacher.

Cranmer recognised that the Book of Common Prayer was subject to change and alteration.  In the Preface we find these words:

So on the other side, the particular Forms of Divine worship, and the Rites and Ceremonies appointed to be used therein, being things in their own nature indifferent, and alterable, and so acknowledged; it is but reasonable, that upon weighty and          important considerations, according to the various exigency of  times and occasions, such changes and alterations should be made therein, as to those that are in place of Authority should from time to time seem either necessary or expedient.

Cranmer understood well the teaching of the Apostle Paul that the words used in church must be intelligible (1 Cor. 14:6-25).  It was for this reason he insisted on services in the common tongue and that ministers speak clearly to the congregation.

Cranmer wanted the people of the English church to know and love the Scriptures.  To that end provision was made for systematic and extensive reading of Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms.  It is to be regretted that this is today at a discount.  It’s a matter of one reading, often done badly.

Contrary to one’s impressions, the time taken by the actual liturgical content within a service is not great.  Take out the hymns, readings, sermon, and notices and there may not be more than ten minutes in e.g., a service of Morning Prayer.  In a crisply conducted service it is possible to have the liturgical content, two readings, a psalm, the creed, reasonable intercessions, four hymns and a twenty-minute sermon and be all finished in an hour.  How often I have attended a free church, by contrast, and not got to the pulpit in under an hour and had neither Old Testament, New Testament, Psalm, Creed,  or meaningful intercessions beforehand.

Sixth, the Ordinal, Catechism and Occasional Services commit Anglican ministers to a ministry which is evangelistic and pastoral, expressed in terms which are biblical and theologically orthodox.  However, the evangelism envisaged is not of the “hit and run” kind independent of the continuing life of the local church.  It is settled, routine and recurring, within a parochial setting.  Some traditions operate on “believe before you belong” basis but Historic Anglicanism acknowledges the doctrine of “prevenient grace” (the grace that precedes faith) that is consistent with “belong before you believe” whereby the liturgy, the Bible the hymns, the prayers inculcate faith over a period of time.

Nonetheless, there is a significant need for the catechizing of the congregation.  This of course applies to those who have been baptized and who are being prepared for Confirmation.  But catechism is also applicable to adults so that they understand the teachings of the Bible.

Seventh,  “historic” Anglicanism is episcopal and parochial, requiring that only those who are duly recognized by the bishop to engage in preaching in the congregation and in ministering the sacraments among the people.  The role of ordaining and licensing ministers and lay people who teach in churches is placed in the hands of the bishop.  Provision is made for the deposition of “evil ministers,” which, regrettably, has been under-utilized (Art 26).  The existence of the episcopate has provided laity aggrieved with their ministers with a place of appeal, sometimes justified, sometimes not.

The hierarchical nature of Anglicanism provides a stability not found in many churches.  The bishop ordains and licenses those who meet his approval and the affirmation of the laity.  The incumbent minister is expected to be loyal to the bishop and to exercise the ministry of the word and sacrament in a humbly, godly and diligent manner.  Typically, ministers hold their licence from the bishop and cannot be unseated by the congregation, apart from exceptional circumstances.  This protection can be abused by the clergy, but usually works well.

Eighth, historically speaking, “historic” Anglicanism has been of rational ethos.  It has been prepared to engage in study and debate.  Anglican evangelism has been associated with apologetics, eschewing manipulative or unworthy methods of bringing people to Christ.  C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer and J.R.W. Stott come to mind in this regard, giving thousands in their generations and beyond a ground for hope in the intellectual and moral acceptability of the Christian faith.

Ninth, in common with other churches of the Protestant Reformation, “historic” Anglicanism has affirmed laypersons, their role in marriage and the family and their civic vocation within society.  Thus “historic Anglicanism” is affirmative of both creation and society.  It is concerned with the common good, for the “welfare of the city,” to use Jeremiah’s words and its intercessions are directed to that end.

Tenth, likewise it is a welcoming fellowship, not restrictive of membership, or exclusivist or sectarian in temper.  This provides for a broad accessibility to the church of those outside its active membership.  A steady flow has come to it from other churches, which historically had separated from it, as well as from the non-believing community.

These are elements to be appreciated and valued, as a motivation for a free and un-coercive expression of ministry, both in church on Sunday, as well as during the week.  With the passing of the years and the opportunity to experience other traditions I have come the more to value my own. In this regard, I echo and endorse the sentiment of J.I. Packer that, “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in Christendom.”[1] I commend it to us as something to be valued and appreciated and out of which we exercise our ministries.











[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.

Ten Elements of Historic Anglicanism











[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.








[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.








[1] “Speculating in Anglican Futures,” 6.  I have depended more than a little on this paper by J.I. Packer.