CONFIRMATION: Session 1 — Anglican Identity

Fr. John A. Roop

Christian Essentials / Anglican Distinctives

Session 1: Anglican Identity

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

A Prayer of Self-Dedication
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction: An Exploration of Anglican Identity

Who are we as Anglicans? While that would seem to be a simple question, it is, in reality, anything but simple. We are a diverse group in terms of nationality, culture, and expressions of faith. But, we are held together by historical bonds of association and affection, by common prayer and worship, and, until recently, by a common understanding of the essentials of our faith.

So, out of this complex question, we will look at three areas of Anglican Identity: (1) the historical development of Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion, (2) the ecclesial structure and hierarchy of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the province to which we belong, and (3) the ethos — the character, the spirit — of the ACNA.


The Church in England and The Anglican Communion: Historical Considerations

Let’s begin with a “trick” question: Where, when, and by whom did the Anglican Church originate? I know that the most obvious answer is (1) in England, (2) in the early 16th century, (3) by Henry VIII, but that is not actually the case — at least not fully the case.

The Church in England began in Galilee sometime around 33 AD by the authority of Jesus Christ.

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:16-20).

This, the Great Commission, is where Anglican identity starts, because it is where the mission of the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic church starts. There is only one Church with many expressions of the Church’s common faith. I will, from time to time, refer to this common faith as the Great or Catholic Tradition, where Catholic simple means universal. Anglicans are and always have been part of the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From Jesus’ ascension the apostles and disciples tarried in Jerusalem for ten more days until, on Pentecost, they received the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish this mission. Then, they began to make disciples – to baptize and to teach – first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the world. Thomas headed east, carrying the Gospel to India. Mark went southwest to Egypt where he founded a thriving and influential Christian community in Alexandria, a community that produced some of the greatest theologians in the early church. Paul went – well, Paul went everywhere throughout Asia Minor, into Europe, and perhaps as far west as Spain. Tradition tells us that both he and Peter were martyred in Rome around 65 AD. The Roman church gained a particular prominence, as did its bishops in succession after Peter, due to its association with both Peter and Paul. The relationship between the church at Rome and other prominent historic churches – Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople – is best described as “first among equals.” Historically, the Bishop of Rome had a position of honor, but no more or less authority than any other bishop. That the Bishop of Rome began later to claim such authority over other bishops was one major factor leading to the Great Schism (1054) between the Eastern and Western Churches, the first major division in Christendom.

It wasn’t just the Apostles who carried the Gospel throughout the world; the word was spread naturally and organically by those who had received it. It accompanied soldiers on their marches and travelers on their journeys, and it was carried by merchants along with their wares. The history of this “ordinary” evangelism was not recorded, so we usually have no details of precisely when and how the Gospel reached a particular region or people. Britain is a case in point. Was it Roman soldiers or tin merchants who brought the Gospel to the isles? And, when was Christ first preached there? We simply do not know. But, we do have some notion of when the faith arrived in Britain.

The Church in Britain

Some church fathers and historians claim a very early arrival of the church in Britain. In his defense of the faith, Tertullian (d. 222) writes:

The extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul, the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ.

Eusebius, a 4th century church historian, even claims apostolic evangelization of Britain:

The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles (Demonstratio Evangelica).

Perhaps. But what we can say with certainty is that the church was well established in England by 314. In that year, at the Emperor Constantine’s directive, representatives of the Church met in the town of Arles to address the heresy of Donatism. Documents from the council record the presence of three British bishops: Eborius of York, Restitutus of London, and Adelphius, whose episcopal see is uncertain. If there were British bishops, there were British clergy and churches. While the church was present in Britain at this time, it was not widespread in geographical scope or influence, both of which waxed and waned for centuries, almost disappearing entirely during the Saxon conquest (5th-6th centuries).

Synod of Whitby: Roman Jurisdiction

What follows is an abbreviated and simplified summary of English church history; volumes have been written if you are interested. But, for our purposes, this abstract should suffice.

By the 7th century, there were two distinct forms of Christianity practiced in the British kingdom of Northumbria: Celtic and Roman. Celtic Christianity entered the kingdom through the Abbey of Iona – an abbey founded on the Scottish island of Iona by the Irish monk Columba. Roman Christianity was likely introduced by missionaries sent by Pope Gregory the Great expressly to convert the Anglo-Saxons. There were differences in these two forms of the faith in such areas as organization and liturgy: Celtic Christianity was ordered around a monastic model governed by abbots and monks while Roman Christianity was governed hierarchically by Pope (the Bishop of Rome), bishops, and priests. The liturgies and calendar the two forms used varied somewhat – particularly calculations of the date for Easter. They shared one, common faith – the faith once for all delivered to the saints, as Jude writes – but they expressed it in different forms and with different governing structures.

Each form cycled into and out of dominance at the preference of successive kings, and tension between them grew. In 664, King Oswiu of Northumbria convened a synod at Whitby – a gathering of officials from both the Celtic and Roman churches – to determine which form of Christianity his kingdom would practice. Each side presented its case. Ultimately King Oswiu decided in favor of Roman practice, based largely upon Peter’s position as chief of the Apostles and his association with the church at Rome. At this point, the church in Britain came under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church.

Anglican History Summary

Why bother with all this history? Two important points emerge from it that shape our Anglican identity. First, there was a church in Britain, in England – part of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church established by Christ and built through the mission of the Apostles and their successors – before that church was under the jurisdiction of Rome; there was nothing essentially Roman about the English church. Second, coming under the jurisdiction of Rome was a political decision made by the King of Northumbria. The decision could have been otherwise, favoring the Celtic church.

The English Church and the Reformation

Let’s now fast-forward some eight centuries. By the 15th century a reformation movement was growing in some quarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The fundamental conviction of this movement and those who led it was that through the years the Roman Church had departed in some significant ways from the purity of the Apostolic faith and had added to the faith doctrines, as necessary for salvation, that could not be found in or proved by Scripture. Some of the main differences between Roman doctrine and the growing convictions of the reformers can be found in The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer.

So, the movement to reform the Roman Church grew, initiated and led by men such as Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli. Each of these men and their respective groups differed in particulars, but they were united in their desire to return to the purity of the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith – and not of works. They were united in their emphasis on the centrality of the Word of God, the Scriptures, and upon its central, essential, and authoritative role in establishing doctrine and governing the Church.

England had its own reformation underway – partly political and partly religious. You probably know the politics: Henry VIII needed a male heir to continue his dynasty and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was apparently unable to produce a son. Henry needed an annulment which could be granted only by the Pope – the Bishop of Rome. To Henry, this was a political matter of national sovereignty. When the annulment was not forthcoming, Henry challenged the right of the Pope to interfere with the political affairs of a sovereign nation, England. He ultimately disavowed the Pope and severed the relationship between the English Church and the Roman Church. In some sense, Henry VIII returned England to the religious independence it had had before the Synod of Whitby. There had been an English Church not under Roman authority before, and now there was again. It’s not quite fair to say that the Church of England began with Henry VIII; it is fair to say that the church returned to English autonomy under Henry VIII.

Henry chose Thomas Cranmer as the first English Archbishop of Canterbury. In some sense, it was Cranmer who created a unique Anglican identity through his reformation of English liturgy (the creation of The Book of Common Prayer), his expression of doctrine (The Articles of Religion), and his book of homilies (required sermons in the Church of England). Others had major influence in nuancing Anglican identity both in the beginning and throughout its history, but none more so than Thomas Cranmer.

I will spare you the ins-and-outs of the development of the Church of England – the Anglican Church – over the next several generations; it is not pretty. Needless to say, there were various factions in the Church striving for dominance: the Evangelicals who sought to identify with and emulate the Continental Reform movements of Luther and Calvin more closely; the Puritans who wanted to out-reform the Reformers and to strip everything from the faith that was not specifically commanded in Scripture; and the Anglo-Catholics who felt the Reformation had gone a bit far and wanted to reintroduce many aspects of Catholicism – minus the Pope – into Anglicanism. These factions have existed from the beginning of the Anglican Church and are still present in various forms; frankly, this diversity is as much a part of the distinctive Anglican identity as is our common faith.

Expansion and Contraction

England grew as a world power and established colonies across the globe. It was said that the “sun never sets on the British Empire,” a testimony to the breadth and scope of the global British control and influence. As colonies were established, so were outposts of the Church of England. In this way, Anglicanism was exported globally. In its best moments, the church evangelized the indigenous populations; sometimes, however, it was insular and existed solely for the benefit of the colonists. Each of these colonial churches was part of the Church of England – the Anglican Church – and looked to the King or Queen of England as its political monarch and to the Archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual head (under the authority of the Supreme Head of the Church, the reigning monarch).

One of these colonies was a little thing that became the United States of America. Many of our settlers and Founding Fathers were Anglicans of one stripe or another and the Church of England exerted significant spiritual influence in the Colonies and ultimately in the States.

As England’s power waned, colonies became independent either by choice of England or, in our case, by armed revolt. As England withdrew governmentally, it remained spirituality; the Church of England stayed in the former colonies and the colonists and indigenous people assumed leadership. These churches were no longer quite the Church of England, but they did originate there and they did feel strong connections to the faith, practice, and polity of the Anglican Church. They now formed a communion of churches throughout much of the world all of which looked to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury as their home and titular head. This is the Anglican Communion: a global confederation of churches originating historically in the Church of England or choosing to affiliate with the Church of England, and bound together by common faith and practice.

As you can imagine, the American Revolution stressed the relationship between the American colonial church and the Church of England. All clerics – priests and bishops – had to subscribe to the supremacy of the English monarch, which simply wouldn’t do. “Back door” ways were found around this, and an American episcopacy – body of bishops – was established so the American church could function independently of England. This uniquely American version of the Anglican Church called itself the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, or simply, The Episcopal Church (TEC). Soon, it reestablished ties with the Church of England and took its place – a prominent place – in the global Anglican Communion, not least through the wealth it contributed, and still contributes, to the Anglican coffers. Frankly, its wealth allows it to exert influence in the Communion far disproportionate to its numerical membership in the global Anglican Church.


In the last half of the twentieth century, the Episcopal Church began to move away from traditional orthodox understanding of faith, practice, and church discipline. One of the early issues was the unauthorized ordination of women to the priesthood. Another issue — and one most people consider far more serious — was a change in standards of human sexuality and an acceptance of same sex relationships and civil unions/marriages. Additionally, the Episcopal Church consecrated as Bishop an openly gay man living with his same sex partner. All of this was in opposition to the standards of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Even more disturbing to many was the drift of the Episcopal Church away from the centrality of Christ. A former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori made statements indicating Jesus was a way to God, but not necessarily the only way to God; and this trend has only intensified. There were and are tendencies in the Episcopal Church to deny such fundamental tenets of the faith as the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and his divinity.

Reverse Missions

Reform movements developed within the Episcopal Church to recall it to the true faith, but these were largely unsuccessful. There came a point when many orthodox Episcopalians felt they could no longer stay in the Episcopal Church. At this same time, other provinces – national churches – in the Anglican Communion were growing concerned about the theological drift of the Episcopal Church and determined to launch missionary efforts to the United States. These provinces – largely from Africa and the Southern Cone (southernmost region of South America) – offered shelter and episcopal oversight to disaffected Episcopalians. Several groups were formed to allow these Episcopalians to worship as Anglicans – to maintain ties with the Anglican Communion – apart from the Episcopal Church.

This was a confusing and messy time, and I will not (cannot) go into all the details. But, out of this “mess” emerged strong leadership in the form of GAFCON – the Global Anglican Futures Conference – a conference of orthodox primates (leaders of provinces in the Anglican Communion) representing the majority of Anglicans worldwide and functioning somewhat as an orthodox communion within the broader Anglican Communion. These primates supported the formation of an autonomous Anglican province in North America as an alternative to the Episcopal Church. With their support, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was formed. It is this province to which Apostles Anglican Church belongs. The ACNA is recognized as a province within the Anglican Communion by the majority of Anglicans worldwide, though it is not recognized formally by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Church of England. Our Primate is Archbishop Foley Beach, who also serves as Chair of GAFCON and as our diocesan bishop in the Anglican Diocese of the South.

This is a brief(!) summary of our historical Anglican Identity. We will cover some of this in greater detail as we continue with this class. Before we go on, are there any questions?

Anglican Hierarchy

I have used several Anglican terms related to our hierarchy, our structure of governance and authority, and our organizational structure. I’d like to give a bit more detail on that structure.


The local worshipping body under the spiritual authority of a rector, if the parish is financially self-sufficient, or a vicar if the parish receives financial support from the diocese. A parish that is not financially self-sufficient is most often called a mission. Our parish is Apostles Anglican Church and our Rector is Fr. Jack King.


A communion of local parishes under the care of a Dean. The dean assists the rectors/vicars as needed and convenes meetings of the local parishes for fellowship, common efforts, common worship, etc. Apostles belongs to the Deanery of East Tennessee along with Old North Abbey and St. Brendan’s. Currently, our Dean is Fr. Aaron Wright who also servers as rector of Old North Abbey.


A communion of parishes under the spiritual authority of a bishop. In the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) there are two types of dioceses: geographical dioceses and dioceses of affiliation. Historically, dioceses were based upon geographical boundaries; there might be a Diocese of East Tennessee, for example, to which all the Anglican churches in that geographical region belonged. Our diocese, the Anglican Diocese of the South (ADOTS), is primarily geographical and covers several southern states. The ACNA also allows for a parish to affiliate with a diocese outside its geographical boundaries. Typically, this involves a difference in ministry emphasis or theology between the parish and the geographical diocesan bishop. A case in point is the issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood. ADOTS does not allow for ordination of women to the priesthood. Some other dioceses do. A parish within ADOTS’ geographical boundaries that favors women’s ordination might choose to affiliate with a different diocese which allows for it.


A regional or national communion of dioceses under the spiritual authority of an Archbishop or Primate. Our province is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and our Archbishop/Primate is Abp Foley Beach.

Anglican Communion

The communion of all Anglican provinces. I am fudging a bit on this definition because it is debated. Formally, to be a member province of the Anglican Communion, a province must be recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the majority of provinces currently disagree with that requirement. Why is that important? Because the ACNA is recognized as a member of the Anglican Communion by a vast majority of Anglican provinces and Anglicans worldwide, but is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Orders of Ordained Ministry

A deacon is the first order of ordained ministers. He/she is under the direct spiritual authority of a bishop. Every deacon “belongs” to a bishop, though, in practice, the deacon resides in a parish and is under the day-to-day spiritual authority of the rector/vicar. The deacon’s ministry is to represent the world to the church and the church to the world, particularly in works of charity. Additionally, the deacon is to be a catechist (teacher, particularly of the Catechism), and to read the Gospel in the liturgy. Also, the deacon may preach, baptize, perform weddings and funerals, and conduct other liturgical services at the discretion of the rector.

A priest is the second order of ordained ministers. He is under the direct spiritual authority of a bishop and is assigned to a particular ministry, typically to parish ministry. A priest with spiritual authority/oversight for a parish is called a rector or vicar, as discussed above. A full time assistant to the priest may be called a curate. Other priests who assist are called assisting priests. All priests are identical in the integrity of their orders, though they differ in the exercise of that ministry. For example, Fr. Jack and Fr. Thomas — all the priests at Apostles — are equally priests and do not differ in the fundamental nature of their priestly vocation. But, as Rector, Fr. Jack has administrative authority over all other priests in the parish. Fr. Jack is the first among equals of all priests at Apostles.

A bishop is the successor of the Apostles and has the responsibility for maintaining sound doctrine, teaching, unity, and order in the Church. It falls to the bishops to ordain other clergy and to confirm all members of the church. Diocesan Bishops, also called Ordinaries, have spiritual and administrative oversight of a diocese.

A canon is a clergy or lay person chosen by the bishop and appointed to assist him in a particular ministry.

An archbishop may have authority over multiple dioceses.

The primate has spiritual authority over a province.

Three Streams of Anglican Identity and the ACNA

When ++Foley Beach was selected as the second Archbishop and Primate of the ACNA he was asked in an interview to discuss his concept of Anglican identity. Following is the question and his response.

Q: How would you define the Anglican identity”? What does ACNA distinctively have to offer both Christians and non-Christians in America? Should Anglicans have more of a “confessional” identity? Is the new catechism an attempt to develop a more confessional identity, especially given Dr. Packer’s recommendation to teach it in ACNA parishes at the Provincial Assembly?

Abp. Beach: Let me answer that last question first. I think a lot of us get in trouble when we think we have the Anglican identity, because we’re a diverse lot. From our formation days back in the Reformation, we’ve been a diverse group. Currently—and this is something I think that’s very distinctive about who we are— we are a group that is Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic. Some call that the ‘Three Streams,’ and that’s a simple way of explaining it. But, even some of our most Anglo-Catholic folks would be more charismatic than I am. All of us tend to have those three streams somewhere in our mix.

I think that’s very unique for American Christianity today. All of us have our core; my core would be evangelical. Although I have the other two pieces, my core or default is evangelical. But, these streams enable us to bring the richness of the breadth of Christianity, and it’s truly powerful when these streams are together.

Three streams, one river: that is how Anglican identity as understood by and practiced in the ACNA is often described. What are the characteristics of these three streams: evangelical, charismatic, and Ango-Catholic?

Evangelical: the centrality of Scripture, the preaching of the Gospel, the necessity of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ

Charismatic: the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual empowerment of the priesthood of all believers, the continuation of spiritual gifts

Anglo-Catholic: the centrality of the sacraments, the emphasis on history and tradition, the focus on true and beautiful worship

Different parishes in the ACNA emphasize different streams. There are evangelical parishes. When Archbishop Foley Beach was rector at Holy Cross Anglican Church, it would have been described as evangelical, because that is his core identity. There are evangelical, charismatic and Anglo-Catholic parishes within our diocese. And, within each parish, there are individuals who are more comfortable with one stream or another. But, we need one another for balance, and we need to appreciate the vital contributions of each of these streams to our faith and identity – not just Anglican faith and identity, but Christian faith and identity.

Anglican Ethos

Via Media (middle way)

• Not compromise, but finding a way to live together

• Both/And versus Either/Or

• Unity (and strength) in Diversity

• In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity

Authority (three legged stool)


• Tradition — Vincentian Canon: Always, Everywhere, By All

• Reason


• Trinitarian — “By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever:” to God, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

• Sacramental

• Ordered and Beautiful

Spiritual Formation

• Three-fold regula: Daily Office, Weekly Eucharist, Personal Piety

• Classical disciplines: prayer, fasting, almsgiving


• Generous orthodoxy

A way (Anglicanism) but not the Way (Christ)

• Holistic

• Broad, deep, rich

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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