The English Church

The Church of Engalnd is the historic church of the English. The gospel reached the British Isles early on when it was inhabited by a variety of tribal groups many of whom were under the rule of the Romans. Relatively little is known of the early British Christians but the church clearly grew and was well organised with Bristih Bishops attending various continental gatherings.  But when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes began to settle in the British Isles the accusation is that the British did little to attempt to win them for Christ. Eventually there was conflict and the last significant British victory was the Battel of Bade around AD500. The British then found themselves driven west and north into what is modern Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

The pagan Anglo-Saxons were divided into several kingdoms, most often seven knows as the heptarchy. Significant missionary endeavour amongst them didn’t begin until AD597 when Augustine of Canterbury, sent by the Bishop of Rome, began evangelism in the kingdom of Kent.  The British church was wary of Augustine and refused to accept his authority but they too eventutally sent missionaries to the English and slowly people were converted or some chose to identify as Christian for political reasons.

By AD660 there were many Christians in all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, except Susses. In AD673 all representatives of all the Anglo-Saxon churches met together at the Synod of Hertford at the invitation of Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury. They agreed amongst themselves common rules (canons) for their churches. Therefore whilst at this stage there was not a single nation of England (which did not happen until AD924 in the reign of King Athelstan) it could be said that there was a Church of England, though it did not include the British.

The Church of England continued part of the western catholic Church over the coming centuries, including during the schism when the western and eastern churches split. It was subject to many of the struggles between Church, state and ambitious individuals in the following centuries and it suffered from the worldly aspirations of the Bishops of Rome and their conflicts with various monarchs.

King Henry VIII was an example of such a struggle with his selfish desire to be divorced resisted by the Bishop of Rome for political reasons. But discontent with the church was rampant across Europe coupled with the realisation that the teaching of the church was not the same as that of the Bible. This came to a head particularly as a result of the scholarship and preaching of Martin Luther.

Henry VIII was a fierce upholder of catholic doctrine, for which the Pope honoured him with the title “fide defensor” (defender of the faith), and therefore an opponent of the reformation movement but slowly it began to spread in England. Henry’s solution to his divorce problem was to declare himself head of the Church of England and reject the authority of Rome over the Church of England. Such a step had already taken place in other parts of Europe and it opened the way for the reformation in England though during Henry’s lifetime only modest progress was made. But when Edward became King there were people in key positions ready to reform the Church of England only to find their efforts cut short by Edwards early death. Queen Mary fiercely opposed the protestants and hundreds were put to death including notable leaders. This, more than anything, seems to have streered England in a protestant direction. When Mary also died Elizabeth began a long reign, quickly separating the Church of England from the authority of the Bishops of Rome again and reinstating the protestantism of the Church. Although much has changed the essential nature of the Church of England remains what it was in the late 15th century.

A reformed catholic church

Therefore since 1558 the Church of England has been a reformed catholic church rejecting the claims of the Bishops of Rome for spiritual and political authority. It is a catholic church in the sense that it holds faithfully to the history and historic doctrines of the whole (catholic) church set out in the early Creeds and Councils. It is a protestant church having been influenced by the long struggle against the corruption and false teaching of the medieval church and the political claims of the Bishops of Rome. It is an evangelical church have shared the rediscovery by Martin Luther and others of the authority of the Bible and the gospel of justification by faith alone which had both been largely covered over by layers of false teaching and rituatlism.  It is a Reformed church, not only having reformed previous practices but in the sense that it follows what is known as Reformed doctrine with a focus on the sovereignty of God.

In common with the Lutherans the Church of England retained Bishops. In common with all the mainstream reformation churches it retained infant baptism. Its teaching about the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper rejects the medieval Roman view of transubstantiation but does not follow that of the Lutherans or the “mere memorial” view of the radical reformers, instead it accords with the Reformed churches and the teaching of John Calvin and Martin Bucer.


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