What Anglicanism is Not – by Tyler Kerley

By |2018-08-24T10:10:41+00:00March 16th, 2017|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , , , , |14 Comments

For me, it is much easier to understand what Anglicanism is by first understanding what it is not. I am convinced of this helpful principle because my own personal journey into Anglicanism is an illustration of it.

Catholic and Protestant: Neither, but Both

Let’s be honest, most people think one of two things—perhaps even both!— whenever they hear “Anglicanism”:

  1. How do you say it? And
  2. Isn’t it basically Catholic, kind of like Lutheranism?

Broadly speaking, Anglicanism is neither Roman Catholic nor your typical Protestant denomination. To be sure, Anglicanism is unmistakably a denomination that stems from the Reformation era and has had various levels of continuity with the Roman Catholic church throughout its roughly five-hundred-year history.

Anglicans believe that God has shown Himself to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally through:

  1. the Bible,
  2. the worship of the Church,
  3. and the Church’s primary summaries of the Bible’s message of salvation (known as creeds—the Nicene, Apostles, and Athanasian Creeds).

In other words, Anglicanism is distinguished from these other groups of the Christian faith by its explicit, concerted expression of the gospel message (as we understand it) through worship: that God the Father gives himself to us and makes himself known through his Son and Holy Spirit – who are continually present to, through, and within his Church.

As Anglicans, we believe that we worship in accordance with how the Church has always worshiped and that we worship in accordance with what the Church has always believed.

As a result, Anglicanism is not so much a postulate as it is a posture – a way of life more than a system of belief. Anglicanism is a corporate way of living, speaking, and thinking about God rightly. We believe that the integrity of this corporate existence — of proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel — is preserved in Word and Sacrament, particularly through the exercise of the office of the Church’s bishops.

The Importance of Bishops

It is in our unique understanding of the office of the bishop (also known as the episcopacy) that we as Anglicans, too, differ from Roman Catholics and other Protestants.

Whereas Catholics believe that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the essential head of the Church, Anglicans believe that the Pope is merely one bishop of many.

And whereas other Protestant denominations — with the exception of American United Methodists and rare Lutheran groups — do not believe in bishops, Anglicans see the necessity of bishops as the faithful representatives of the Church and the Church’s teaching, the ones through whom and to whom the proper interpretation and practice of the Bible is handed down by the laying on of hands.

In short, Anglicans believe that the tradition Jesus gave to the apostles – the tradition the apostles then wrote in Scripture – is preserved by bishops.

Anglican, by Process of Elimination

My own coming into Anglicanism was itself more of a result of a process of elimination, coming to a better understanding of who I am and where I fit denominationally by knowing what I am not.

I come from a Southern Baptist background, but through my undergraduate studies at Judson University (Elgin, IL), and especially through interacting with figures like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Kevin Vanhoozer, and George Lindbeck, I knew at best that I was a peculiar Southern Baptist, more sacramental than most. That is, I believed that there is something more to baptism and the Lord’s Supper than them being merely outward symbols of invisible realities.

Following my undergraduate studies, I came to Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, which simply provided the occasion to “put the pieces of the puzzle together,” so to speak – to put some beliefs into practice in a more consistent way than I was used to in typical low-church (not sacramental), evangelical Protestant churches.

Given my small town and private, evangelical college background and then Southern Baptist heritage, I wanted to worship in a small Southern Baptist congregation. Since Birmingham is in the heart of the Bible belt, however, such an ideal setting was not easy to find. In my limited knowledge of churches in the area when I moved to Birmingham, I found one small Southern Baptist church, which I felt, for better or worse, would not have been a good fit for me.

So then, on the following Saturday night, I was anxious over where I would attend the next day and hastily grabbed my laptop to explore some options of where to attend. I found a few Baptist churches, a few Presbyterian churches, a few Lutheran churches — but I did not feel compelled to attend any of them because I am too Reformed to be Lutheran, too Lutheran to be Reformed, and too Reformed/Lutheran to be Baptist (or Roman Catholic)!

Then, through what in hindsight seems like a dawn of revelation, I remembered a passionate, gritty professor from my preview day at Beeson Divinity School the previous fall, Lyle Dorsett, who I recalled saying he was an Anglican pastor. (Although we say “priest” in Anglican settings, I’ve noticed that you can find much more continuity with other evangelical Protestants by saying “pastor.”)

I researched Anglicanism by briefly reading the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Anglican Church’s rough equivalent to other Protestant denominations’ confessional statements of faith, like the Westminster Confession of Faith for Presbyterians.

I worshiped at Christ the King Anglican Church the next morning and have not left since. I am currently serving there as an intern, and although Anglicanism, as much as the gospel embodied in its worship of the Triune God, is still in many respects a mystery to me, I am committed to worshiping under and learning from the guidance of the Anglican Church.

Tyler is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. He serves as an intern at Christ the King Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL.


  1. Terry Richey March 16, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Thanks for you article Tyler. I am currently serving a Baptist church in Mobile, Alabama where I have been for 34 years but around the staff I am referred to as the Resident Episcopalian. Fortunately we are a different kind of church and they allow me to not fit in a peg. Appreciate your thoughts and Beeson is a great school! Congrats

  2. Sue Ann Iles March 16, 2017 at 9:37 am - Reply

    What is the difference between
    Anglican and episcopal?

    • Greg Goebel March 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Hey Sue. Anglican is the broader term. The Episcopal Church was a child of the Church of England (hence, Anglican). In recent times those who are not part of the Episcopal Church have taken to using the term Anglican.

  3. Todd Stepp March 16, 2017 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Tyler, thank you for this post. – One correction that I would encourage: Where you speak of bishops and the United Methodist Church, I would suggest simply saying “Methodists,” or “most Methodists,” or at least “most American Methodists.” The UMC’s understanding of bishops is, of course, a little different from Anglicanism’s usual understanding. That being said, all three of the major African-American Methodist denominations have bishops, as do the Free Methodists. The Wesleyan Church and the Church of the Nazarene (my brand of Methodism) have an episcopacy, as well. The latter two use the term “general superintendent,” which was handed down to them by John Wesley. However, even though the UMC, et. al., use the word “bishop,” they all understand them to be (and use this language in their respective Disciplines) “general superintendents.” It is simply the Wesleyan terminology for “bishop.”

    Todd Stepp+
    Wesleyan-Anglican Society

    • Greg Goebel March 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks Todd, appreciate you reading and for the info.

  4. Richard March 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Perhaps I’m being too nit-picky but to me one thing Anglicanism is not is just slapping the name on oneself without appreciating what it is. For example, some Anglican churches that write their own liturgy (aren’t bishops supposed to approve any change to the liturgy?). One church I know of never reads an Old Testament lesson or the Psalms and prays only to the Holy Spirit. Pastors that wear jeans and a stole (a personal pet peeve). If our faith as Anglicans is built upon Scripture, tradition of the church, teachings of the early Church fathers, and etc. then do we not risk losing what makes us Anglican by willy-nilly ignoring traditions of Anglicanism? Look, i’m glad Anglicanism appeals to Baptists, Pentecostals, non-denoms, Presbyterians and the like. But what I’m told by these who come into the Anglican church is that it is our connection to our ancient faith that attracts them. There are those “Anglican” churches out there that it’s rather hard to tell what’s Anglican about them. I fully expect to get an earful but…

    • Greg Goebel March 20, 2017 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks Richard. That’s really an important current question within Anglicanism. What is essential to our worship, polity, and practice that helps us to be identifiably Anglican/Catholic/Reformational, etc. Great question.

  5. Fr. Todd Boyce March 16, 2017 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    No offense intended, but someone who is just beginning his journey in Anglicanism might want to defer to those who have been in it much longer or come to it much longer ago. They would know, for example, that Anglicanism was founded at about 50 AD, not five hundred years ago? How do we know that? Because of the records of Bishops from the British Isles present at the Ecumenical Councils. We also know that from the instructions given to Saint Augustine of Canterbury that acknowledge the pre-existing Church in England. I would suggest that you do some more study (and gain some more Anglican experience) before becoming a self-appointed Anglican expert.

    • Fr. Todd Boyce March 16, 2017 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      You know what? Just delete my comment. I’m tired of fighting the fight. Thank you.

      • Greg Goebel March 20, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Reply

        Thanks Fr. Todd, appreciate you taking the time to comment. However, just wanted to point out that this channel on our site is “rookie anglican”. So it gives us a chance to hear from some new folks on their experience and what they are learning. Not all are presenting themselves as experts by any means. So your point is well taken, but in context as editor I will defend this writer, he is not claiming to be an expert. Thanks again, blessings, Greg

  6. Joshua Watson March 16, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    Interesting thoughts but a few quibbles.

    1.) Anglicanism is not a 500 year old Protestant denomination- Cranmer would roll over in his grave if he heard that 😉 The Church in England or Ecclesia Anglicana has been in the British isles since at least 200 AD or earlier with the first reported martyrdom being St Alban in the mid-200s to early-300s. The Reformation was to return the Church in England back to the apostolic roots and foundations not to create something new out of thin air. We are not a denomination– a branch, a fellowship within Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church but not a denomination. A denomination denotes that schism is OK and separation is an ordained state by God. Christ can not be divided, and the Church as Christ’s body cannot be divided without the sin of schism to be within it’s blood.

    2.) Priest and Pastor are different. One can be a pastor and be a deacon or, as in Protestantism, not be ordained into the Sacrament of Holy Orders at all. Priests are sacerdotal ministers at the altar that offer word and sacrament. A Pastor is not a sacerdotal minister necessarily.

    • Greg Goebel March 20, 2017 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks Joshua. As editor of this site, I’m glad to hear from different voices. But personally I cannot see Anglicanism as a denomination at all. It is not a denomination. It is a Christian tradition or branch of the Catholic church that was reformed and is in continuity with the Apostles and early church. We would be just one more sectarian Protestant group if we adopt the idea that we are a denomination.

      Your second point is a helpful clarification and I also wonder why we are always so keen not to offend reformed and protestant background people or build continuity with them, yet are apparently okay with tearing down the same bridge to former catholics. That said, the term “pastor” used on this site is intended to indicate the areas of priestly ministry that are pastoral, and also to provide for writers and others who are serving in pastoral capacities.

      Thanks for reading, and for posting the comments.

  7. Tyler Kerley March 21, 2017 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Thank you all for your comments. I apologize if I gave the impression that I was attempting to provide a positive (and critical) argument of what Anglicanism is.

    I wrote this piece last summer, when I had been in the Anglican Church for less than a year and before I had taken a course in Anglican History and Doctrine. Your criticisms are certainly more informed, and I will gladly learn from each of you. This piece was merely intended as a simple (perhaps oversimplified) introduction to Anglicanism, specifically to those who are not Anglicans or, at the most, new to the Anglican Communion. I did not attempt to go down (at least very far) the well-trod road of whether Anglicanism is Catholic, Protestant, or something else entirely.

    As a brief defense of my more “negative” approach, however, I do appeal to the early church for support. Our Creeds, generally speaking, were not primarily formed as positive assertions as much as they were intended to be negations of what the biblical, catholic faith was not (e.g., not Arianism, not Nestorianism, not Eutychianism, etc.). The Creeds, in other words, set the boundaries of what was ruled out more so, than gave detailed, pointed explanations of what the faith is. (Although they did do so to a certain degree by extension.) This more negative, bounded (and patristic!) approach may be seen as carried out by the Anglican Church in the 39 Articles of Religion. For example, we are not to parade around the host or profess the “Romish” doctrine of purgatory, and more positive statements of doctrine are to be found in the Book of Homilies.

    The Creeds and the Articles both provide incredible diversity and specificity, but a specificity that is based on stating what is not permitted rather than stating what the content of the faith is. The approach used in this article was attempting to follow this line of thinking that, at least in my experience so far, is central to Anglican identity — a method that does not seek to articulate doctrine at the expense of either more catholic- or protestant-minded people, but one that seeks to have constructive, creative dialogue where both are offered a chance to have a seat at the table in the communion of Christ.

  8. holycrossanglicanwi March 24, 2017 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    We are not a denomination.

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