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I tend to use “Protestant” as a broad definition to refer to anyone that does not hold to the doctrine of the Catholic or [eastern] Orthodox Church. However, in my conversations with many Lutherans and Anglicans, I have noticed that Anglicans are often not included as Protestants; rather, they are a kind of “in between group”.

Now under the understanding that the Anglican Church was formed prior to the reformation of Luther’s time, would the Anglican Church consider themselves “Protestant”, or would they identify as some other group?

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    The Global Anglican Communion is very broad and very diverse (as Wikipedia or any other source will make clear). The very term "Anglo-Catholic" indicates that some parts of that communion align themselves with Catholicism. Your question will have widely different answers depending on to whom you ask it, within that very broad spectrum of opinions and beliefs. The question needs more focus. It is a long time since there was any significant agreement among Anglicans as to what they actually believe.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25 at 4:29
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    Thanks for the criticism Nigel. How do you think I could focus this question more? Should I focus on more traditional Anglicans? Or is there a specific group today you think would be good?
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 25 at 4:39
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    Again, you say 'traditional Anglicans' as though they were a separate body (or a body within a Body). 'Anglicans' are Anglicans' and 'Anglicans' accept a wide diversity among themselves, making it virtually impossible to define what 'Anglican' means. (This is just as true of modern 'Christianity' which allows of such diversity that 'Christianity' - as a definition - is almost meaningless.) Embracing 'diversity' makes for blurred edges, indefinable borders, fluid principles and featureless doctrine : exactly the reason that 'diversity' is embraced.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25 at 10:23
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    Even Anglo-Catholics are still Protestant - they are not Catholic for varying reasons, but any Anglo-Catholics who didn't have serious reasons have generally already left the Anglican Church and become Catholics.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 25 at 12:54

4 Answers 4

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The Anglican denomination is thoroughly Protestant; yes there is an Anglo-Catholic sub-branch, and some High Anglican liturgical features may have the trappings of Catholicism, but the core and heart of Anglicanism is thoroughly Protestant. Indeed Anglicanism is not only Protestant, but firmly within the Reformed (Calvinist) side of Protestantism.

Let's start with the defining document of Anglican theology, the 39 Articles. The Articles that express Protestant theology and practice include:

Article 6: which declares the apocrypha/deuterocanon to be non-canonical, and non defining for doctrine.

Article 10: which teaches the Reformed view of free-will, that humans cannot by their own nature strength bring themselves to turn in faith towards God.

Article 11: which teaches justification by faith alone.

Articles 12-13: which says that our good works cannot put away sin, nor do they make us receive grace from God.

Article 14: which rejects the Catholic teaching of supererogation.

Article 17: which teaches the Reformed view of predestination and election.

Article 19: which says that the Roman church has erred in matters of both ceremony and faith.

Articles 20-21: which teach that the Church and the church councils have subordinate authority to the scriptures.

Article 22: rejects purgatory, icons, relics, and the invocation of saints.

Article 24: which says that it is repugnant to pray or minister the sacraments to the congregation in a language they don't understand, contra Roman practice of Latin liturgies.

Article 25: which limits the sacraments to only baptism and communion.

Article 28: which says transubstantiation is repugnant and contrary to scripture, as well as that the elements of communion are not to be gazed upon, lifted up, or carried around.

Article 30: which says both elements of communion are to be given to all congregants, against Catholic practice which normally only gives the laity the bread.

Article 31: which rejects any idea of priests offering Christ again.

Article 32: which allows clergy to marry.

Article 37: which says the Pope has no jurisdiction in England.

And beyond the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer is also thoroughly Protestant, and although it is not an accepted or binding document for Anglicans, the Westminster Confession of Faith (and other Westminster documents), the defining English language Reformed Confession of Faith, was primarily written by Anglicans. I see no reasonable way to exclude Anglicanism from Protestantism.

No doubt you'll find some 'Anglicans' who disagree with much of the above; there have even been some high profile atheist Anglican priests and bishops. But those renegades do not define what it means to be Anglican so long as the 39 Articles remain the doctrinal standard for the denomination. And even today the numerical weight is behind conservative Anglicans, not theologically liberal Anglicans, just maybe not in England or the USA.

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  • This seems like a good rational and logical explanation of what they view themselves as.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 25 at 13:46
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    The 39 articles are no longer used as a reference by the majority of Anglicans. It is a pity they do not, but the fact is painfully demonstrated. I see no semblance between that which calls itself 'Reformed' and the generality of Anglican Churches. (I am speaking of my own experience of England.)
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25 at 14:44
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    @NigelJ They may not be used much, but they are still official (at least in most countries. Wikipedia says they're not binding in some, but doesn't give any details.) Evangelical Anglicans do seem to give them more thought. My previous church was Anglican and the articles gave some comfort because even though evangelicals are a minority in that diocese, they have the official teachings on their side, not the side of the theological revisionists.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 25 at 14:50
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    @curiousdannii If I understand your answer correctly, what makes an Anglican group "Anglican" is their subscription to the 39 articles, which in turn makes them Protestant. If there are self-identifying Anglican groups that are not in communion with the see of Canterbury, that makes the 39 articles even more central. Are there any self-identifying Anglican groups that do not accept the 39 articles? Jan 25 at 15:04
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    @GratefulDisciple I'm not sure. Each provincial church can revise the articles, so I suspect some have subtly revised them and removed some key theological points, or they keep the articles as official church documents but don't require clergy to endorse them when they get ordained. Or, like was rumoured for my old church's diocese, clergy still have to endorse them, but they can do so with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 25 at 23:09
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It may be possible for some Anglican historians to trace their roots to the 2nd century A.D., but Anglicanism only arose as an identifiable religious group after King Henry VIII set himself up as the head of the Catholic faith in England, back in the 16th century.

Anglicanism developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England. The English Reformation worked out differently to the Scottish Reformation, which preceded it. The Protestant Reformation in Europe had started beforehand. This means that if you are of "the understanding that the Anglican Church was formed prior to the reformation of Luther’s time", we are not singing from the same hymn sheet! I am of the understanding that all that is included in "the Anglican Church" would never have developed into what we, today, recognise as Anglicanism, without being founded on the Reformation of the 16th century. Perhaps if a basis could be established for the idea that it was formed prior to Luther's time, a fresh question could be asked about that.

As the question stands, the answer has to be almost as mixed as is the list of denominations belonging to Anglicanism. I quote from this "Encyclopedia of World Faiths" under the heading, "The Church of England and The Anglican Communion"

"The Anglican communion may be described as the worldwide fellowship of Churches in communication with, and recognizing the leadership of, the see of Canterbury. In addition to the Church of England, it is made up of the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales, the Episcopal Church in Scotland, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England in Australia, and the Churches of the provinces in New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa and various other parts of the African continent, and parts of China and Japan, as well as some small ecclesiastical groupings elsewhere." P.123

As can be seen in that list, one denomination calls itself 'Protestant'. However, there is 'High' Anglicanism which is very similar to Catholicism (though still recognising the see of Canterbury). Its rituals and liturgy are very formal and not dis-similar to Catholicism. It is unlikely they would be too happy at being called 'Protestant' though they might not deny it. Trying to identify all the disparate groups as being either Protestant or Catholic would be like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

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    Up-voted +1. And I shall remember 'nailing jelly to the wall' and attempt to use the expression as soon as possible.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 25 at 12:50
  • Thanks Anne. I know a Lutheran guy who denied it on the basis of the Augsburg confession, but I questioned if that was a good definition.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 25 at 13:42
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    @Luke Maybe a follow-up question about that specific issue? I don't know the Augsburg confession in detail, but I'd be surprised if it can be used to exclude Anglicanism from Protestantism. If we're going to play that game then the Lutherans need to be prepared to be called half Catholics themselves, what with their consubstantiation and all that. ;)
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 25 at 13:55
  • @curiousdannii depends on the Lutheran denomination it seems. The Lutheran I know is a full Eucharist believer in transubstantiation. That being said, it probably depends on if the Lutheran church is a member of the ELCA (ew) so there is that.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 25 at 13:58
  • @Luke sounds like your Lutheran friend might be the non-Protestant then ;). Opposition to transubstantiation is pretty universal across Protestantism, and I've never heard of Lutherans who accept it. I'm sure you could have many interesting follow up conversations with them.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 25 at 14:01
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The existing answers approach the question of whether Anglicanism is Protestant by considering the position of Anglicanism and deciding whether it is Protestant. My view is @curiousdannii does this best. However, I want to approach the question from another direction. It is the case that people have varying, and often imprecise, definitions of what Protestant means. There is an expression "the Queen's English" meaning the use of the English language in the way the Queen uses it.

Two days after the death of George VI our present Queen made a declaration promising to respect the Protestant nature of the Church of Scotland. This however is not Anglican.

At the first opening of the UK Parlaimentafter her accession she declared that she herself is a faithful Protestant.

More significantly at her Coronation on June 2nd, 1953, the following exchange took place:

Archbishop. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?

Queen. I solemnly promise so to do.

Archbishop. Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?

Queen. I will.

Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen. All this I promise to do.

The "Protestant Reformed religion" is a reference to both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland.

So, yes, the Church of England is Protestant

The physicists come up with a particular definition of "colour" and tell us white is not one. Those who say the Church of England is not Protestant do something similar, but according to the official meaning of Protestant, yes Anglicanism is Protestant.

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It's simply a feature of a human language that a word has many connotations and the one connotation that is meant in an oral/written communication is the one in the speaker/writer's mind, to be deciphered by the listener/reader. So in your conversation with them, they were probably referring to a specific Protestant aspect/connotation pertinent to the rubric of your discussion, that Anglicans do not have.

One possible example of that connotation is the tight association of the word "Protestantism" with the personalities of Martin Luther and John Calvin in informal parlance; in a word association game, "Luther" would most likely come up first given the clue "Protestant". Since neither personalities were directly influencing the Anglican church politics during its formative period, if your conversation partners have in their mind those 2 personalities as the foremost indicators of "Protestantism", it makes sense for theologically uninformed people that they would deny that Anglicans are "Protestants", although Anglican theology was influenced heavily over the first few hundred years by Reformed theology.

To address the question in your 2nd paragraph about Anglican's self identity, I'm offering a more foolproof/bottomline aspect that is mentioned only obliquely by curiousdannii and davidlol's answers, that an Anglican church is Protestant because it is NOT in communion with the Catholic Bishop of Rome and does NOT recognize the authority of his curia, mainly the Magisterium (which primarily is invested in the CDF).

This severance was done from the very beginning (see my other answer), thus even before the adoption of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and most likely before the term "Protestant" gained widespread use in the English language in England. Therefore, Anglicans are Protestants only retroactively. Historically they may not self-consciously identify themselves as Protestants, since in their mind it's more the state-based separation from Rome (the creation of the legal entity of the Church of England as independent from Rome) rather than all other connotations that other Protestant churches used to self-identify themselves with (like association with the personalities, sola fide, sola scriptura, etc.)

How about Anglican churches that in the past century or so have separated from the Church of England? Why they still don't prominently self-identify as Protestant, but as Anglican, even though they are no longer in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury? My guess is that the reason is most likely connotation again, although the most prominent connotation of Anglicanism in the 21st century has to do with the culture of the way they "do church": the use of the Book of Common Prayer, their liturgies, their understanding of sacraments, their specific prayers and customs, etc. The brand "Anglican" fits their way of "doing church" better than the brand "Protestant" (as understood today).

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  • +1 " an Anglican church is Protestant because it is NOT in communion with the Catholic Bishop of Rome and does NOT recognize the authority of his curia, mainly the Magisterium" Interesting criteria. Would you consider a Biblical Unitarian church, descended from a congregationalist an uncontestedly Protestant church, also Protestant? May 2 at 4:02
  • @OneGodtheFather Protestantism is more than severing relation with the Pope. The historical Protestants all accepted the Nicene creed, and therefore Trinitarianism. Unitarian movement was from early on not deemed to be Protestant (see wikipedia): "Movements emerging around the time of the Protestant Reformation ... Unitarianism also reject the Trinity. This often serves as a reason for exclusion of the Unitarian Universalism, Oneness Pentecostalism and other movements from Protestantism by various observers. " May 2 at 6:45
  • Wikipedia is not authoritative, tho'. At best, it's descriptive of a historical trend. Ought these sorts of churches be considered Protestant? Cf., does a church that comes from a Protestant denomination but then accepts full preterism cease being Protestant? Does any church that comes from a Protestant lineage but then adopts a position that wasn't accepted by historically Protestant churches cease to be Protestant? I dunno ... May 2 at 16:06
  • Let's continue the discussion here. May 3 at 2:56

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