The word “Anglican” comes from the Latin word for England. Anglicans the world over trace their roots back to the English Reformation.

More on the roots of Church names:

  • Some churches, like the Lutherans and Wesleyans, are named for their founders.
  • Others by their organizational structure, such as Presbyterian, Congregational, or Episcopal.
  • Others, like the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches take their name from particular theological or worship priorities.
  • The Methodists were given that name by critics mocking their disciplined (“methodical”) approach to the Christian life. John Wesley had no objections and the name stuck.
  • Currently the trend is toward more nondescript names, like “Journey” “Embrace” or “Cornerstone”. But all churches have a roots and a history.
  • Anglicans are named for their geographical and cultural roots in England. Though the Anglican church has spread around the world and been thoroughly adapted into many cultures, all Anglicans acknowledge their heritage in the unique emphases that emerged out out of the Protestant Reformation in England.

More on the History of the Church in England

Christianity in England was planted informally by Christian soldiers in the Roman legions that came to England in 43 AD, and through the commerce between England and Rome for the next 400 years.  Great missionary saints like Patrick and Aidan further spread the gospel to our pagan ancestors, and the fledgling faith was sustained by the great monasteries like Iona.  Isolated from the dominant Christian culture of Europe during its formative early years, Christianity in the British Isles took on a unique “flavor,” which remains even now.

In 595 AD Pope Gregory sent a monk named Augustine (later to be known as St Augustine of Canterbury) to England in hopes that he would convert King Ethelbert whose wife Betha was a Christian already.  The King did convert to Christianity along with many of his court, and on Christmas day 597 Augustine celebrated Mass along with a mass baptism of thousands of new converts.  From that point on the Church in England was drawn increasingly under the authority of the Roman Church, though always retaining some hints of its Celtic DNA.

The Reformation that swept Europe in the 1500s reached England as well.  The primary goal of the English reformers was to revive the Church in England through: 1) teaching the Bible in language the common man could understand, and 2) recovering the worship patterns of the early church in a ways that would be accessible to all. While these priorities seem simple enough, neither would have happened without breaking the grip of the church in Rome at that time, which was adamantly opposed to both. That process was anything but tidy because of the often corrupt entanglement of church and crown.

For his own mostly selfish reasons King Henry VIII established himself as the head of the Church of England in 1534 precipitating a bloody struggle with Roman that would last until 1558 when Elizabeth I took the throne.  Fortunately on the ground spiritual renewal was taking place all the while, primarily because the Bible was becoming accessible to the people in their own language.

The Reformation in continental Europe expressed itself primarily in theological treatises and Confessions.  In England it expressed itself primarily in prayer. Like the reformers in Europe, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, longed for the re-evangelization of England. However, he realized that people are formed more by how they pray and worship day in and day out than by what they hear preached or read in books. In the Book of Common Prayer Cranmer distilled the best of the monastic tradition, the liturgies of the Roman Church, the more recent work of Luther, and large doses of Scripture into a single volume and a pattern of worship that would reach the whole range of English society from the illiterate farm hand to the scholars of Oxford and Cambridge.

The English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer remain the foundation stones of the Anglican way. True Anglicans still view the Bible as their primary authority. They place high value on clear preaching, a regular daily pattern of prayer, and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.  The ancient Creeds of the undivided church express the essence of Anglican theology.

Again, unlike their European counterparts, the more conservative English reformers sought to retain as much as possible from their heritage, rejecting only those aspects of the medieval church tradition that could not be supported by Scripture. From the beginning critics have said that the English Reformation did not go far enough and that the Anglican way remains too “Catholic.” Usually they mean too much like Rome. Often this concern has been based mostly on negative cultural associations and personal prejudices.  Where Anglican worship resembles Roman or Orthodox worship it is not because of imitation but due to our common roots in ancient Christian practices undivided church.  Any future church unity does not lie in compromise with each others’ current differences, but in mutual return to the Scriptures and the teachings and practices of early church.

Here’s a helpful video