Anglican Heritage With Emphasis On The Church Of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

The term “Anglican” means “of England.” The root of that is “Angles” from the Anglo-Saxon people who came from Germany and the Scandinavian states to occupy Britain in the late 4th century. It also originates in ecclesia Anglicana, a Medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English Church.The beginning of the Anglican Church is at times placed in the 6th century when St. Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory as missionary to Britain and Pastor to the ancient Celtic Christians there. However, it must be acknowledged that Christianity on the British soil is as old as the 1st century Apostolic age when the Romans conquered Britain in 44 AD. The Roman colonialists therefore planted Christianity in Britain even before the council of Jerusalem in 50 AD when Christianity became a separate religion from Judaism. The gospel seed sown by the Roman soldiers did grow into a subsisting Celtic church weathering the wars and invasions and beyond the eclipse of Roman power in Britain at the beginning of the 5th century. They had indigenous and external Bishops from Rome and even their share of breeding heretical teachings like the Pelegianism of the British Christian thinker – Pelagius about 410 AD.

Anglicanism is the term used to encapsulate the doctrine, religious belief, faith, system, practice and principles of the Church of England and other Anglican churches worldwide. The term at its broadest “includes those who have accepted the work of the English Reformation as embodied in the Church of England or Churches which in other countries have adhere substantially, to its doctrines, its organization, and its liturgy.”The Wikipedia Encyclopedia notes that Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianitycomprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. Adherents of Anglicanism are called Anglicans. There are about eighty (80) million Anglicans worldwide, many thousands of parishes, and several  hundreds of dioceses. There are nearly 40 (38) independent self governing Anglican national churches of which Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is one. According to The Anglican Domain (, ‘none of these Churches has authority over any other, no central administration: no Pope, no Patriarch, no overall director. There is no Parliament or Congress’. There is a structure for doctrinal centralization, but in the absence of central authority the doctrine is followed by consensus and not by mandate. There is a set of beliefs, and if a church holds those beliefs and meets certain other requirements, it is welcome to be in the Anglican Communion.

Our Anglican Heritage
(three sources, largely from Cheryl H.White, Ph.D).

The Origins of the Break WithRome

Most of us already know that the Church of England has its origins with King Henry VIII, who split from the Holy See of Rome in 1534 over an unresolved crisis in his dynasty. What many of us do not realize is that there was much more to this “split” than simply a king’s desire to obtain a divorce. More importantly, there was much more to the English Reformation than simply declaring a nation free from the pope. Because the process of separation that was involved was painstaking, with a fierce intellectual and theological focus, what emerged from the English crisis of the sixteenth century was a unique church that could lay full legitimate claim to the apostolic church of the earliest Christian record.

To place our story in its historical framework, we must first note that when the Tudor dynasty began in 1485, England was a place of war and plague. Englishmen had been fighting either the French or each other since 1337 when Edward III set out to claim the throne of France in the Hundred Years War. Following that conflict, the English returned home to fight each other in a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. In spite of all this conflict, and indeed, partly because of it, English monarchs had enjoyed a strong relationship with the popes in Rome. By the time Henry Tudor (Henry VII) came to the throne in 1485, absolute monarchy would flourish in England as never before or since. It was one of the strongest political periods in all of English history.

This also meant that the Tudor years were witness to a great religious upheaval, the origins of which lay precisely with this developing strong notion of royal supremacy. During the reign of Henry VIII, this would be fully developed and would inevitably clash with the long-established idea of papal supremacy in all matters. It is from this conflict that evolved the 1534 break with Rome. It is no coincidence of history that the Protestant Reformation was well underway in Europe by this time, although Lutheranism was a movement that Henry VIII had long detested as heresy. In 1534 when news came that the English king had severed ties with Rome, continental reformers may have at first mistakenly seen Henry as an ally – however, this king did not envision a new church, only the denial of papal authority. Much of what was catholic would remain intact in the Church of England – clearly separating the Anglican reform movement from the continental one.

Young Henry VIII began his reign in 1509 as one of the most loyal papists in all of Europe. It is interesting that in these early years, Henry’s closest friend and advisor, Sir Thomas More, tried to persuade the young Renaissance king away from such a strong loyal attitude to the papacy, encouraging instead a conciliar approach. Conciliarism, a commonly accepted concept among churchmen of the time, did not deny the authority of the pope, but held that he might be overruled by church councils in certain instances – in other words, the pope was NOT necessarily supreme in all matters. Conciliarism basically acknowledged the historical distinction of the Bishop of Rome and at the same time, held that the decisions of councils reflected the whole body of the church, including bishops, priests, and laity. What Sir Thomas More proposed to his sovereign had a long historical evolution in the church, dating as far back as the Council of Jerusalem in 50 A.D. Although Henry VIII’s rejected this position at first, he eventually would embrace just such a historical argument.

However, at this point in his life, Henry VIII was young and eager to please the Church, and capable himself of strong persuasive argument. Thomas More later claimed that these academic arguments with Henry VIII eventually converted him to a devout belief in papal supremacy, so much so that he would not refute it even when it became treasonous later in Henry VIII’s reign. (It is a great irony of history that Henry VIII’s scholarly persuasion served to ready his friend More for his imminent fate on the scaffold for refusing to accept Henry’s supremacy over the Church of England.) By papal acknowledgement, Henry VIII was Defender of the Faith, an honor bestowed by a grateful Pope Leo X in response to Henry’s strong refutation of Martin Luther in his 1521 document, Defense of the Seven Sacraments.

Unfortunately for a papacy increasingly under attack from Protestantism in Europe, with the passage of time, Henry VIII’s attention turned from writing religious treatises to important domestic matters at court. Despite many pregnancies, his marriage to his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, had failed to produce a surviving male heir. In a manner befitting a religious scholar, Henry found what he believed to be the cause of his misfortune in Scripture – Leviticus described the sin Henry committed by marrying his brother’s wife. On these grounds, and certainly in light of the previous support he had offered to Rome, Henry had reasonable grounds to believe that the pope would annul his marriage to Catherine, freeing him to marry his new love, the Lady Anne Boleyn.

Beginning in 1525, all the attention of Henry VIII’s court focused on “The King’s Great Matter.” It was a great matter indeed, for reasons that cannot be understated. Henry VIII needed a male heir to shore up a Tudor dynasty already tainted by illegitimacy, a ruling house that had taken the throne by force at the end of the Wars of the Roses. Even if Henry VIII had wanted to name the Princess Mary as his heir, there was no precedent in English history for a woman to take the throne. There was only a disastrous example from the twelfth century that involved the ill-fated daughter of Henry I who had sparked a civil war. Such a prospect was unacceptable to Henry VIII for reasons of dynasty and peace. Only a male heir would secure the future. The problem was, there was no Church annulment forthcoming – Rome made it clear that Catherine would remain Henry’s wife. Henry fully believed that remaining obedient to the papacy in this matter would mean the end of the dynasty his father began, and could well mark the beginning of new domestic strife for England.

The process of dissolving centuries-old ties to the Holy See of Rome therefore began, but it was a painstaking process over several years. Legitimacy was of special concern to Henry VIII – if the church in England was to become instead the Church of England, he knew that he must find a resolution that would bear up to the scrutiny of history. That meant a preservation of the ties to the past – by breaking with the papacy, he knew that must not break with the historic church catholic and apostolic. The term “Catholic without the Pope” is a most accurate one for the Church of England at this point in history, for what Henry VIII sought was freedom from papal authority, not a repudiation of the historic faith. Whereas the continental reformers had produced churches that distanced themselves from the church catholic and apostolic through abolition of the office of bishop, the denial of the sacraments and changes to the historic liturgy, the Church of England uniquely embraced all of these as symbolic ties to the ancient past. Of all that emerged from the Reformation era, this is what makes our Anglican heritage unique.

The forces at work at the time of Henry VIII’s marriage saga and separation from Rome must be emphasized. The streams of pressures and events did not act in isolation but did combine together to establish the State Church of England. So we must recognize the economic factors in the large network of monasteries and land holdings with taxes and incomes accruable to the Bishop of Rome as well as the active influence of Rome over the monarchies and governments of the nations. The rise of nationalism at this time especially in England and the pressures of the Reformation movement gave the platform for King Henry VIII to successfully excise the EnglishChurch from the rule of Rome. This national church thus established, though rooted in the ancient Catholic Church, was able to survive battles for independence from Rome and to develop a character of its own. Though King Henry VIII had his divorces and marriages, the Anglican Church was established and survived with much flow of blood and courage until the days of toleration of religious differences and separation.
Although concern for religious reform and national interests underlay the motivations for an independent English church, it was Henry’s well-known desire to shed Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Ann Boleyn that precipitated the break with Rome. A four-year series of parliamentary Acts culminated in 1534 with the declaration that England’s king is ‘the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, calledAnglican Ecclesia’.

While the dissolution of monasteries which followed was the most social consequence of the break with Rome, its most significant religious consequence was the provision of the vernacular ‘Great Bible’ which first appeared in 1539. Marian exiles prepared the 1560 Geneva Bible while Elizabethan bishops produced their own revision in 1568. King James I of England authorized the production of a new translation and the project was enthusiastically entrusted to Bishop Richard Bancroft who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. This project produced the ‘Authorized’ or ‘King James’ Bible in 1611 which became the Bible for three and a half centuries for all English-speaking Christians, except Roman Catholics.

A coherent Anglicanism, centered on Bible and Prayer Book, had emerged within the national church. The King James Bible, reflecting scriptural authority, royal patronage, national cultural achievement, wide collaborative execution, and Episcopal leadership symbolizes the evanescent vision of coherent Christian faith and practice capturing the wholehearted allegiance of a people in a unitive society. It is aptly called “the noblest monument of English prose,” and its revisers in 1881 paid tribute to “its simplicity, its dignity, its power, its happy turns of expression, … the music of its cadences, and the felicities of its rhythm.”

In the words of Elizabeth to Emperor Ferdinand, Anglicans followed ‘no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which is ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the most early Fathers’.
Anglican worship

Worship is the centre of Anglican life. Anglicans view their tradition as a broad form of public prayer, and they attempt to encompass diverse Christian styles in a traditional context. Although The Book of Common Prayer is the most apparent mark of Anglican identity, it has undergone many revisions and wears national guises. The prayer book of 1662 represents the official version in the Church of England, but a 1928 version is commonly used. In 2000 the church introduced Common Worship, a modernized collection of services and prayers, as an official alternative to the 1662 prayer book.

Outside England a few Anglicans still rely upon the English prayer book of 1662, but most have their own versions, increasingly in languages other than English. All forms hold to the essential, historic elements of the prayer book but incorporate local idioms. In recent years there has been a recovery of ancient liturgical styles and vestments as well as an increased emphasis on the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. Experimental rites have appeared in different parts of the Anglican world. Change in Anglican worship has meant increased variety, new roles for the laity, and a tendency toward freedom of expressionwhile retaining the essence of the church’s traditional forms. The Church of Nigeria’s version of the Book of Common Prayer was first published in 1996 while its revised edition was published in 2007.

We cannot forget the role hymns have played in the worship of the Church over the years. Hymns are part of our Anglican heritage.

Anglican heritage are the history, tradition, and qualities that the Anglican Church considers important and upholds. The Wikipedia free Encyclopedia (2012) sees the structural heritage of the Anglican Church as being the via media (middle way) between the 16thc Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran & Reformed Protestantism. The Encyclopedia notes that “the faith of Anglican is founded in the scriptures and the gospels, the tradition of the Apostolic church, the historical episcopate, the first seven ecumenical councils and the early church fathers”. It adds that Anglicans understand the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary for salvation” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. Other structures and heritage listed by the Encyclopedia include the Apostles Creed as the baptismal symbol, the Nicene creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, the Holy Eucharist as the central worship, the Book of common prayer as the order of worship, and the 39 Articles of faith of which Article VI on the sufficiency of the scripture has been the most influential. This Article states that the ‘scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or to be thought requisite or necessary to salvation”. This Article has been the main basic of the exegesis and hermeneutics of the church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) which has principally informed her stand on the lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) –Homosexual-  divide in the Anglican Communion worldwide.

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP)
The Book of Common Prayer, chiefly the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, has played a major role in shaping the spirituality of the Anglican Church. This straightforward and yet solemn book written in simple prose, has been the treasured mark of Anglicanism. In the BCP we see the church of God presented as it should be – a worshipping community. The BCP is in fact, the basis of Anglican Spirituality. This is because “Anglican spirituality is corporate and liturgical and sacramental”. The influence of the Bible was channeled and reinforced by the influence of the BCP.  The Book of Common Prayer itself can be described as a liturgy of the Bible. From the daily offices to the occasional services and the private devotions and prayers, the BCP is totally infused with biblical words and citations. The language of the Prayer Book is the language of the Bible. The Anglican form of worship as expressed in the BCP is a response to Scripture.

The Sufficiency and Primacy of Scripture
The Reformation was to a large extent a journey back to the Scriptures. People like William Tyndale saw ignorance of the Scriptures as the root cause of much of the confusion in the Church; hence he said to a Catholic doctor, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost” (Steer 21).

The Anglican Church laid emphasis on the reading and preaching of the Scriptures. The thirty-nine Articles of Religion bore witness to this.             The inspiration and primacy of Scripture in Anglican Spirituality is further demonstrated by the Collect for the second Sunday in Advent taken from the Book of Common Prayer, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: write in our hearts the lessons of Your Law: prepare our minds to receive the gospel, help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of Your holy word, we may embrace and forever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Thomas 63)

The Church of England not only re-introduced the reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular in public worship, it also re-introduced the preaching of the Scriptures – the homily. This was so important to the church that the English clergy looked with contempt and pity on those who did not include the homily or sermon in their worship.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 first Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops states that in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards Home Reunion:

  • The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
  • The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
  • The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
  • The Historic Episcopate.

 Heritage of Church Of Nigeria (Anglican Communion )
Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustine and Capuchine monks from Portugal. The Church Missionary Society (CMS) was a voluntary society of evangelical and mission minded Anglicans within the Church of England. Its formation was part of the aftermath of the Great Awakening of the late 18th century that spanned the Atlantic, and whose three leading visible human agents were Anglican clergymen – Rev. John Wesley, Rev. Charles Wesley and Rev. George Whitefield. Nigeria’s first link with the CMS was through a slave boy Ajayi, who was baptized in 1852 and later became the first African bishop in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1864. The first CMS missionary entered Nigeria through Badagry in 1842 and the first mission of the Church of England was established there by Henry Townsend. A stronger missionary team arrived in 1845. The work of evangelization progressed so well that the Yoruba Mission was founded in 1852. The Niger Mission started its work at Onitsha in 1857. By 1935, there were five dioceses in West Africa. Two of them were in Nigeria: the Diocese of Lagos (1919) and the Diocese on the Niger (1920). These two, together with the other three dioceses: Sierra Leone (1852), Accra (1909) and Gambia (1935) formed the Province of West Africa (1951).

Some History
Leslie Gordon Vining became Bishop of Lagos in 1940 and in 1951 the first archbishop of the newly inaugurated Province of West Africa. Vining was the last Bishop of Lagos of European descent. By 1977 there were 21 dioceses in the province of West Africa, 16 of which were from Nigeria.

On 24 February 1979, the sixteen dioceses of Nigeria were joined in the Church of Nigeria, a newly founded province of the Anglican Communion, with Timothy O. Olufosoye, then Bishop of Ibadan, becoming its first archbishop, primate and metropolitan. Between 1980 and 1988, eight additional dioceses were created. In 1986, he was succeeded by J. AbiodunAdetiloye who became the second primate and metropolitan of Nigeria, a position he held until 1999.In 1989 the Diocese of Abuja was created on the area of the new capital of Nigeria with Peter Akinola as first bishop.

The 1990s was the decade of evangelization for the Church of Nigeria, starting with the consecration of mission bishops for the mission dioceses and within 10 years 27 new regular dioceses and 15 mission dioceses were created.  The Archbishop of Canterbury declared the Church of Nigeria to be the fastest growing church in the Anglican Communion.

In 1997 the Church of Nigeria was split into three ecclesiastical provinces. It moved from three in 1997 to ten in 2002, and up to fourteen (14) ecclesiastical provinces with 14 metropolitan archbishops in 2009.Currently the Church has a total of 161 dioceses.

In 2000, Archbishop Peter Akinola succeeded Archbishop Adetiloye as primate of the Church of Nigeria. One of his first actions as primate was to get together 400 bishops, priests, lay members and members of the Mothers’ Union to elaborate a vision for the Church of Nigeria under the chairmanship of Ernest Shonekan, a former President of Nigeria. The vision elaborated was:

“The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) shall be; bible-based, spiritually dynamic, united, disciplined, self supporting, committed to pragmatic evangelism, social welfare and a Church that epitomizes the genuine love of Christ.” [2]

The Church of Nigeria is the Anglicanchurch in Nigeria. It is the second-largest province in the Anglican Communion, as measured by baptized membership, after the Church of England. Its current membership is above 18 million out of a total Nigerian population of 150 million.
Government in the Anglican Communion is Synodical, consisting of three houses of Laity (usually elected parish representatives), Clergy and Bishops. National, Provincial, and Diocesan Synods maintain different scopes of authority, depending on their Canons and Constitutions. The Church of Nigeria is not Congregational in its polity: it is the Diocese, not the Parish church, which is the smallest unit of authority in the church, and Bishops must give their assent to resolutions passed by Synods, thus the Church is Episcopally led. The Archbishop is, therefore recognized as Primus inter Pares, or first among equals even though he does not exercise any direct authority. The church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is governed not by an executive primate but by a common counsel of the House of Bishops as well as other organs like the general Synods, Primates’ office, House of Clergy and House of laity.
The Structural heritage of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is similar to what obtains in the worldwide Anglican Communions though with slight variations. These include : the Triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason; the Chicago Lambert Quadrilateral and the 39 Articles of faith. And lately the Jerusalem Declaration. The other three (The Lambert Conference, The Anglican consultative council, and The meeting of primates) have seemingly been altered.

Since 2003, the Church of Nigeria changed her structure to disregard the Lambert Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates meetings, as well as every other meeting under the leadership of Canterbury and her Archbishop.  This was due to controversy over the ordination of gay bishop (Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire) and the blessing of same-sex unions in contravention of a resolution of the  bishops of the Anglican Communion in 1998 which upheld the traditional Christian teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman and that others are not called to marriage and should remain celibate. A resolution was passed stating that homosexual acts are “incompatible withScripture” by a vote of 526–70 at the 1998 Lambert Conference. As a result, the Church of Nigeria declared itself in “impaired communion” with the Episcopal Church on November 2, 2003, and nine days later announced it was planning to establish a United States branch of its province to support Nigerian Anglicans living in the U.S, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). In September 2005 the Church of Nigeria reworded her constitution to redefine the Anglican Communion. No longer is she in communion with “Provinces in communion with the See of Canterbury” but instead in Communion with “all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the ‘Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. This divide led to the formation of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), the emergence of the Jerusalem Declaration, the Formation of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), and the Primates Council all under GAFCON.

On November 12, 2005 the Church of Nigeria entered into a “Covenant of Concordat” with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America, two orthodox Anglican groups outside the Anglican Communion which do not recognize the ECUSA (TEC). In October and December 2006 several Episcopal Churches in Virginia declared themselves out of communion with TEC due to their stance on homosexuality and joined the Church of Nigeria through CANA, a mission originally started by the Church of Nigeria to support Nigerian Anglicans in the United States. The Church of Nigeria is currently in full communion with the orthodox Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) founded in 2009, of which CANA is an affiliate jurisdiction, launched as an orthodox alternative to the liberal tendencies of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Thus, the Church of Nigeria holds firmly to the Supremacy of scripture above any other as well as the traditions of the Apostles and early Church  Fathers.

It must also be noted that an outstanding heritage of the Anglican Church is the emergence of fiery evangelical preachers especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. They include John & Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Bishop J. C. Ryle of Liverpool, William Wilberforce and many others. Let’s go back to the via media:

According to William L. Sacks, “Anglicans everywhere love to appropriate the phrase ‘the via media’ – the middle way. It is a phrase that characterizes Anglicanism as an institution that is at once Catholic, Episcopal and Protestant, a middle ground between the extremes of medieval Roman Catholicism and Anabaptism”. Anglicanism refused to walk in the ways of either Geneva or Rome. Rejecting the Roman Catholic extreme of ritualistic and confessional dogmatism on the one hand, and the Anabaptist or Puritan absolutist or ultrasupernaturalistic dogmatism, the Anglican church carved for herself a middle ground; a position that tells the Roman Catholic that the grace of God does not undermine the judgment of God, and tells the Anabaptist that God is more merciful and accommodating than we presume, and that God’s grace can save the vilest sinner. Thus the Anglican Church came into being with a general attitude of tolerance and avoidance of extremes. In this middle ground lies the strength and weakness of the Anglican Church.

       According to Richard Holloway,

This very moderateness and reasonableness places us in a great danger. Some other churches may be in danger of using the Gospel as an instrument of terror or coercion (every Anglican priest is often called upon to counsel people from more absolutist churches whose lives and souls have been damaged by the blunt and uncompromising way they’ve been taught). … Our danger is different.

While the papists believe in an infallible church, and the Puritans believe in an infallible Bible, the Anglicans tell the papists that the church is subject to error, and tell the Puritans that the Bible is subject to interpretation by fallible humanity.

This danger notwithstanding, “Anglicanism is a very positive form of Christian belief; it affirms that it teaches the whole of Catholic faith, free from the distortions, the exaggerations, the over-definitions both of the Protestant left wing and of the right wing of Tridentine Catholicism”. (Tridentine refers to the 16th century counter-reformation Council of Trent, 1545-1563). Stephen Neill observes that the challenge of the Anglican Church can be summed up in the phrases, “Show us anything clearly set forth in Holy Scripture that we do not teach, and we will teach it; show us anything in our teaching and practice that is plainly contrary to Holy Scripture and we will abandon it”. William Temple gives one of the best descriptions of the Anglican ethos:

Our special character and, as we believe, our peculiar contribution to the Universal Church arises from the fact that, owing to historical circumstances, we have been enabled to combine in one fellowship the traditional faith and order of the catholic church with that immediacy of approach to God through Christ to which the evangelical churches especially bear witness, and freedom of intellectual inquiry, whereby the correlation of the Christian revelation and advancing knowledge is constantly effected. (McGrath 12)

Let’s mention some other strengths and, perhaps, weaknesses of our via media stance. Bishop Richard Holloway observes that the Anglican Church is a “tolerant, faintly detached and amused mother of lazily permissive standards, but she is a mother, nevertheless. She does not hector or buly her children. She expects them to be mature and independent” (9). And in the words of Harvey Guthrie, the Anglican approach to what constitutes church membership can produce “arid and Erastian situations which drove disciples of the Wesleys to found the Methodist Church and which caused John Henry Newman to turn to the Church of Rome” (Wolf 3). Furthermore, it can result in a church which is theologically flabby, which seems constitutionally incapable of taking a stand on anything significant, which is inarticulate with regard to the demands of Christian faith in some given set of historical circumstances. “It can result in a church which neither remembers nor knows any Christian experience which sets it apart from the world in which it exists” (3).

Just as Holloway did, Guthrie also saw the positive side of Anglican Spirituality. It has its steady and comprehensive side and an inclusive and catholic side. It is not narrowly sectarian. It is capable of transcending the kind of merely intellectual and ideological conceptions of Christianity which keep dividing the Church into more and more nemerous groups of believers holding more and more finely defined theological positions. It can thwart that spiritual arrogance which insists that true Christianity must involve only the particular kind of religious experience that I and those like me have undergone. It can allow for difference of opinion – even doctrinal opinion – within one united Church. It can conceive of quite different parties being parts of one Christian fellowship (4).

Speaking on the topic of reliance upon Christ, Archbishop Michael Ramsey said of Anglicanism:

Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as “the best type of Christianity,” but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died. (Sykes 105)

Stephen Neill observes that the English Church has maintained the Catholic faith, as that is set forth in the Scriptures, the Creeds, and the decisions of the first four General Councils. It had restored the Catholic doctrine of the supremacy of Holy Scriptures in all matters of doctrine and conduct. It had restored Catholic practice in the provision of worship “in a language understanded of the people.” It had restored Catholic practice in the encouragement of Bible-reading by the laity. It rejected late medieval ideas of purgatory, indulgences, and the merits of the saints (131).

Harvey H. Guthrie has noted that Anglican spirituality is a pragmatic one, standing midway between the confessional/ doctrinal position of the Roman Catholics on the one hand, and the experiential/ dogmatic position of the Puritans on the other (Wolf 3).

Paul Avis has summarized the “ideals for which the Church of England has always stood” as follows:

  • Having an open Bible which is available, unchained, not subject to control, monitoring and binding interpretation by ecclesiastical authority.
  • A pastoral priesthood – not a sacerdotal caste serving to restrict the spiritual privileges of the laity, the people of God, nor a didactic, scribal, rabbinic, judicatory order that lays down the law as to belief and practice, entrusted with the duty of policing its enforcement.
  • Worship is common: that is to say, not performed by a vicarious priesthood on behalf of a liturgically unqualified laity, but shared by the whole priestly body of Christ whose comprehending participation is vital.
  • Anglicanism’s love of truth is fearless. (Sykes 470)

To this I will add that Anglican theology is given and fixed, as opposed to the various opinions of individual Anglicans. This simply means that the Anglican Church should be unwavering in those doctrines that are fundamental to Christianity, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the primacy of Scripture, etc. “There is a certain reduction of things to the great centralities as the things that matter” (Walker 17). It means that the interpretation and practice of Anglican theology is done corporately, individual opinions notwithstanding. Other features of Anglican spirituality include putting the sacraments in their proper places, maintaining the centrality of the Eucharist, and maintaining the Church order of bishops, priests and deacons. J. I. Packer summarized Anglicanism as:

  • Biblical and Protestant in its stance.
  • Evangelical and Reformed in its doctrine.
  • Liturgical and traditional in its worship.
  • A form of Christianity which is pastoral and evangelical in its style.
  • A form of Christianity that is both Episcopal and parochial in its organization.
  • A form of Christianity that is rational and reflective in its temper.
  • A form of Christianity that is ecumenical and humble in spirit. (Steer 219,220)

I believe that the Anglican Church has a rich spiritual heritage – a heritage that strikes a note of balance between two extremist Christian traditions. It is spirituality that is communal. It is a spirituality that raised the status of the laity and accorded them more functional positions in the body of Christ. It is a spirituality that placed a premium on things that matter most in our walk with God, especially the Bible, and in fact, the Holy Spirit. Anglican spirituality is a spirituality whose middle ground can produce parishes and church leaders that are liberal and lifeless and even heretical, as well as parishes and church leaders that are orthodox and vibrant and evangelical. This middle way has made it susceptible to various weaknesses, but it has also kept the church open to enormous, unimaginable strengths. It is a spirituality that is balanced, perhaps more balanced than what we have elsewhere. That is why it has stood the test of time.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel K. Eze
Bishop of Ukwa