What is an Evangelical Anglican?

The Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry, Dean and President of Trinity School for Ministry, wrote the following:

Evangelical Anglicanism

The word "evangelical" is used in many different ways these days, and there is much debate about its meaning. My preference is for J.I. Packer's six distinctives of evangelicalism, which are endorsed by John Stott and Alister McGrath, all three of whom are prominent evangelical Anglicans.

  1. The supreme authority of Scripture for knowledge of God and as guide to Christian living.
  2. The majesty of Jesus Christ as incarnate God and Lord, and the saviour of sinful humanity.
  3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit.
  4. The need for personal conversion.
  5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and for the Church as a whole.
  6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.
(See Alister E. McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity, Leicester: IVP, 1995, p. 51.).

Here we see the evangelical commitment to the Bible as not only being the word of human authors but also the word of God; the unique person and work of Jesus Christ by which sinners may be justified before a holy God by putting their faith in him; the encounter with God's Spirit who inspired the Scriptures and speaks through them; the call to personal (though not individualistic) repentance; the commission to proclaim the Gospel in all the world; and the commitment to the life of the Church. It is a set of short and simple statements but between them they define the movement well.

I understand Packer's distinctives to mean that these are the Christian doctrines that need to be stressed if we are to keep the Gospel front and center. It is not to belittle any other teachings of the historic creeds, but it is to say that unless these are deliberately underlined, they have a disconcerting way of migrating to the margins of Church life. The Gospel is always unsettling people, and the sinful desire to tame it is ever present. Specifying how that can be avoided is one of evangelicalism's greatest gifts to the Church.

Evangelical Anglicanism

Anglicanism is reformed Catholicism. Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Henry VIII, was able to bring Martin Luther's rediscovery of justification by faith alone into the heart of the Church of England. It has since spread around the world in Anglican and Episcopal Churches and is now the third largest Christian denomination with about 77 million members.

Anglican doctrine and practice have been traditionally defined by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine articles, which originate in the work of Thomas Cranmer. Both are deeply rooted in the Scriptures. There is a particular respect for the teaching of the Church Fathers (i.e. the prominent Christian teachers up to about 451) and of the four ecumenical councils of the Church during that time. As Lancelot Andrewes once put it in a sermon, Anglicanism has, "One canon [the Bible], reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period – the centuries, that is before Constantine, and two after, [that] determine the boundary of our faith."

In the early days of the modern ecumenical movement these values were reworked into the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886/1888), which specifies Anglicanism in terms of: the Bible as containing all things necessary to salvation; the Apostles' and Nicene creeds; the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion; and the episcopate (bishops) locally adapted. These are seen as the non-negotiables of Anglicanism.

Recently, some Anglicans in the West have been seeking a substantial reworking of traditional positions on doctrine and practice, seeing Cranmer's prayer book and articles as outdated for modern and post-modern generations. Evangelical Anglicans have resisted this movement, preferring to question the assumptions of modernity and post-modernity, and to reaffirm the teaching of Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. These formative Anglican divines, and many others since, uphold all six of the distinctives of evangelicalism. This should not come as a great surprise since they are, I believe, simply affirmations of Biblical Christianity.

What excited me about Anglicanism when I first discovered it, and what I have come to see all the more clearly with the benefit of further study, is that it offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek. It allows us to root our convictions in the riches of the tradition of Christian thought and prayer that faithful followers of Jesus Christ have passed down to us. We can discover an ancestry that goes back hundreds of years, in fact, I would argue, right back to the teaching of Jesus himself, with great theologians, liturgists and saints whose writings can help us to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be. It also makes us more clearly part of the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic Church.

What is an Anglican?

The Anglican church is an historic Christian church born during the Reformation of the 16th century. It called Christians of the day to return to the faith of the early Church. Today it is a world-wide church with over 80 million Christians. Anglicans are united by a common history, confessing a common faith, and worshipping God in a common format (with broad variations).

In a recent article, the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum described Anglicanism as follows:

"We Anglicans highly esteem the Bible as the Word of God, the norm of Christian faith, but we Anglicans also know the Bible cannot be read in a vacuum. Everyone reads the Bible from some standpoint or tradition. Anglicans acknowledge, up front, that we read the Bible through the lens of the early Church. And Augustine was the epitome of the early Church. It is not an overstatement to say that Anglicans are essentially reformed Augustinians, keeping original sin, grace and sanctification as the integrating touchstones of our doctrine of salvation.

Anglicanism remains a reform movement within the larger body of Western Christendom... Anglican renewal movements have three defining doctrinal emphases, which together constitute the full power of Christian salvation: original sin (everyone needs a Savior, not just a coach), justifying grace (such a Savior and His salvation has been given to us without our merit) and sanctifying grace (the salvation that is offered to us is transformational, not merely transactional. That is, it must be personally and continually appropriated)."

An Anglican, then, is a reformer. This reformist character of Anglicanism – defined by its Augustinian interplay of original sin, grace and sanctification – not only outlines our historical beginnings, but also is characteristic of our calling today. We are called to proclaim the historic Christian faith, to confess the historic Creeds of the Church, and to worship our Lord Jesus Christ in faith and truth.

Baucum concludes: "At our best, we Anglicans are a reformed and reforming movement of Catholic Christians, devoted to the historic faith and practice of the early church. We possess both a form (sacramental Christianity) and meaning (evangelical Christianity) that speaks to the anomie in the post-modern American soul. It is now time to thoughtfully reengage the Word of God until that Word explodes in us and we simply "let it loose" in North America. If we do, I would not be surprised to see the next Great Awakening emerge from within our communion of Churches."

Well said!