What is an Anglican?
What Anglicans believe
Anglicans believe in God. As Christians, Anglicans believe in Jesus Christ, through whom God can be known by anyone.
And Anglicans believe in the Holy Spirit of God, whom Jesus promised to give to all who ask.
So Anglicans believe in God the Trinity, named in baptism as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Believing like this is what every Christian tradition is concerned about. Anglicans summarise their basic beliefs in 'The Catechism' (an old word meaning 'what is to be taught'). A current Australian one can be found in A Prayer Book for Australia pages 814-818 - which the vast bulk of Christians would accept.
What makes Anglicans different from other Christians?
Not much really! Like other Christians, Anglicans accept the Bible as embracing all that we need to know to be saved from sin, death and evil, and live Christian lives.
Anglicans believe that Christian life involves regular praise and prayer, both private and public, and that Christians must practise what they preach and pray - both on Sundays (the day when Anglicans normally gather for worship) and every day, as they seek to live out their worship.
Anglicans believe that people become members of God's Church through Baptism, and celebrate the Holy Communion as the meal in which they meet with Jesus.
Anglicans accept the major Creeds as expressing their Christian faith: the Apostle's Creed is the statement of faith used in Baptism, and in Morning and Evening Prayer, while the Nicene Creed is prayed in the service of Holy Communion. (You can find these in any Anglican prayer book.)
What then is distinctive about what Anglicans believe?
First, a strong sense of history pervades Anglican faith. Most Anglican services of worship use words and customs that blend together the old and the new. As well as reading a fair bit of the Bible in each service, many of the prayers used come from the Church of various times and places (including the present). Anglicans have a strong sense that through Christian worship the Holy Spirit joins past, future and present with eternity. Anglican priests are always ordained by bishops laying their hands on the new priest's head, as a sign of passing the responsibility of ministry from one generation to the next. Much of this history goes back to England, but today Anglicans live in many lands, and come from many cultures.
Secondly, Anglicans believe in the world. While all too aware of wrong in the world, in people and in the churches, Anglicans believe that God continues to act in every aspect of the universe as we know it. So Anglicans characteristically expect God to be present in daily life as well as in the church. In England (but not elsewhere) the Anglican Church is deeply involved in the official life of the nation, as the 'established church'. Anglicans pray regularly for political and community leaders, about the issues of the day, and for all people in need. They believe that God is involved in every part of daily life. For example, Anglicans believe that Jesus blessed the state of marriage when he performed his first miracle as a wedding. So Anglicans believe that every family enjoys God's blessing, even if this is not acknowledged.
Thirdly, Anglicans believe in freedom. With firm roots in the Bible, sacraments, creeds and ordained ministry, Anglicans are in a position to tolerate a good deal of variety about faith and lifestyle. Anglicans welcome anyone who is reaching out to God, and offer the good news of Jesus to all. Different Anglican churches have different ways of doing things, and this is respected. Though this sometimes brings tensions
- for example, over the way services are conducted, or how the roles of women and men are understood - yet a recognisable ethos pervades them all.
Finally, Anglicans believe that they are part of the whole church - one, holy, catholic and apostolic. They do not see themselves as the only Christian tradition, but seek to hand on faithfully the apostolic (genuine) and catholic (inclusive) faith, always being open to reform, and longing to be one with all others who through the Spirit confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By the Revd Dr Charles Sherlock