High Church Anglicanism
“Are you high and hazy or low and lazy?” “They are low church, so they have, like, guitars and a praise band.” “I’m pretty high church. I love all the smells and bells.” “I like the low church stuff, cause I’m just more of a casual person.” “I’m glad we’re going back to a more Anglican way of doing things here and emphasizing traditional worship more.” High Church and Low Church. This distinction is one that Anglicans will be all too familiar with. Unfortunately, the history behind this distinction has largely been lost so that today when people talk about “High Church” and “Low Church” they do so referring mainly to taste. The problem with this trend is that it ignores the significant theological differences that underpin High Churchmenship, Reformation Anglicanism, and Anglican Evangelicalism.
Today we consider the “High Church” movement. English seperatists (those who wanted the Church to be disestablished from the government in England) originally gave this name to those who advocated strongly for an Established Church of England, but more and more it came to be identified with those who would have been known as ‘Conservatives’ during the English Reformation because of their desire to hold on to more of the traditional elements of the churches teaching and practice. High Church Anglicans are sometimes identified historically with Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. This movement dominated the Church of England from the reign of Charles I until the Glorious Revolution.
The major formative players of High Churchmanship in the Church of England are the thinkers like John Cosin, Lancelot Andrewes, and Jeremy Taylor who have come to be known as the Caroline Divines (Caroline referring to the reigns of Charles I and II). The important and often underemphasized point about the Caroline Divines and the Carolinian High Church movement is that these men all considered themselves to be Protestants. Each High Churchman who was ordained in the Church of England signed onto the 39 Articles. While they had higher ritualistic views, it must be remembered that this is relative to the time in which they lived. Much of what passes for High Churchmenship in Anglican Churches today would have (at best) been frowned upon in the 1600’s and 1700’s such as candles in the daytime, chasubles, processions, the elevation of the Eucharistic elements, and services of Eucharistic adoration. We will draw out the significance of these facts in a later post as we look at the differences between High Church Anglicanism and Anglo-Catholicism.
Although they gave formal assent to the Articles of Religion, the Caroline Divines had a distinctive theological vision differentiating them from Reformation Anglicanism. Some have said that the early reformers in England thought they were being faithful to the Early Church Fathers, but they didn’t have the access to patristic writings the Caroline Divines had. This, however, is historically false. We now know that Thomas Cranmer had one of the most extensive Patristics libraries in all of Europe. What distinguished the Caroline Divines was not that they had more access to the early church fathers. Rather what distinguished them was a doctrinal shift that elevated the history of the church to a point where at least on a minimal level, Scripture was judged by the church, not the other way around. This shift away from the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture led to a subsequent shift away from the Reformation soteriology.
In the generation after John Calvin, a Dutch Theologian named Jacobus Arminius proposed a different view of predestination than what was preached by Calvin and his followers. According to Arminius, God predestines those whom He foreknows will chose Him. Therefore, God’s election does not mean He chose us and has accomplished our salvation, but rather He is responding in eternity to what He knows we will do in time. His election is conditional upon our response to Him in faith. The Synod of Dort, in response, said that God’s election is an act that He does where He chooses us regardless of any condition on our part. Logically, His election precedes our regeneration and our response to Him in faith. Although they began writing prior to the introduction of Arminius’ writings into England, the Caroline Divines were working out a similar system that I would call sacramental arminianism. While they might not strictly be termed ‘Arminians’, the Caroline Divines could be known as “anti-Calvinist” or “anti-predestinarians”. In Arminianism, God chooses those whom He knows will choose Him. In sacramental arminianism, God elects the church, which we join and maintain our membership in through sacramental participation.
This shift ripples throughout their whole theological system. So, if you read the devotional writings of the Reformation Anglicans and compare them against the Caroline Divines on sanctification, you find a stark difference. To oversimplify the differences, the Caroline Divines would point you towards the effort and work of the individual and their participation in the sacraments of the church. Christian growth, therefore, centers on the will. For Reformation Anglicans the Christian life is an offering and a sacrifice of thanksgiving empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit to apply the accomplished work of Christ to your heart through the preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments. Christian growth, here, centers on the heart. The Caroline Divine will point you towards the sacramental acts of the church more as an almost mechanical dispensary of grace. The Reformation Anglican will point you toward the church as the place where the gospel preached in word and sacrament and received by faith give you a fuller sense of the loveliness of God. The difference is that for the High Churchmen, the dispensary of grace comes almost automatically through the sacraments while for the Reformation Anglican grace is the work of the Holy Spirit causing us to respond to the preaching of the gospel in word and sacrament that attaches our hearts to Christ through faith.
What is distinctive about Laudian High Churchmanship is not just their doctrinal differences, although those are significant, but a change in policy. During the reign of Elizabeth I, there were many within the Church of England who called for further reforms. These people were sometimes derivatively called ‘Puritans’ because of their desire to purify the church. We often forget that for about a century there were many puritans within the Church of England, such that our common identification of Puritans with Dissenters did not apply. There were, in fact, many Anglican Puritans. In other words, the terms Anglican and Puritan are not exclusive of one another. Consequently, during this period the Church of England had a wide array of Protestants including Anabaptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians as well as churches that simply did not use the Prayer Book at all. All of these differences took place under the pastoral permission of the bishop so that the early English Reformation was able to maintain a high level of diversity.
Laud, however, sought a stricter enforcement of conservative High Church Anglican principles. I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that he persecuted those who did not submit to his decrees; often having their ears and nostrils slit or cut off and faces branded if they wouldn’t submit to his demand for uniformity. Laud’s attempt to force control on the church backfired and in many ways contributed to the eruption of the English Civil War. This of course led to Oliver Cromwell’s Lord Protectorate, and a period where those carrying High Church principles (even in some cases, those wishing to use Prayer Book worship) were marginalized and excluded from the church and public life. Cromwell’s government became a stench in the nostrils of the English, and the monarchy was restored shortly after his death in 1660.
The real victory of Laudian High Churchmanship came only after the Restoration of the Monarchy. Charles II’s accession to the throne was followed by the Act of Uniformity, which for the first time in the history of the Church of England, required all ordained ministers to be ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession. What followed came to be known as The Great Ejection as thousands of puritan ministers abdicated their roles in the Church of England as conscientious objectors to apostolic succession. Following The Great Ejection, the vast majority of Anglican Puritans left the Church of England and became Dissenters. We must remember the substantial sacrifice this meant for many of these Puritans. Put simply, English citizens who were not members of the Church of England did not have full rights as citizens. We must also remember that their ejection from the Church of England was necessitated by the policies of the Restoration, not by a schismatic impulse on their part. The historical view that depicts the Church of England as clearly delineated from the Reformed Puritans can only hold true if one begins their history of the Church of England in 1662 and ignores over a century of its preceding history. For a significant period of time, the Church of England was able to maintain a high diversity of opinion within its ranks. As is often the case, schism resulted under heavy handed leadership that then in turn blamed the schism on those who were forced out.
In my estimation, The Great Ejection is one of the great fault lines in Anglicanism. Reformation Anglicans define Anglicanism by looking at the Church of England from 1547-1631, viewing the consequent years as a departure from the original principles of the English Reformation. High Church Anglicans tend to look at a church where the puritan influence had been greatly diminished and explain away the early Reformed character of the Church of England. What is very important for Anglicans to note is that the differences between High Churchmanship and Low Churchmanship are not issues of taste. Rather, they result from certain theological differences that happen at a ground level. My point in this series of posts, of course, is not to advocate one over the other but to point out the equal claim the Reformation Anglican has to Anglicanism as to the High Churchmen. In my next post, I will point out the historical reasons that High Church Anglicanism has had a disproportionate influence on American Anglicanism and why people who were reared in North American Anglicanism by the 20th Century may never have even heard of Reformation Anglicanism.
 Incidentally, the use of incense and sanctuary bells would not have been found even in Laudian churches. Thus, the moniker “Smells and Bells” does not appropriately apply to High Church Anglicanism, but rather to Anglo-Catholicism.
 Thus Lancelot Andrewes’ statement on the boundaries of our faith “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.” Contrast that with the rule of faith found in Article VI of the Articles of Religion.
 Incidentally, the watermark of what we call “Calvinism,” the Acronym TULIP arises in response to this controversy. Thus, the common definition of “Calvinism” points to an emphasis in theology that arose after John Calvin himself. Many would make the case that there is no historical consensus on what Calvinism is. For example, can a credo-baptist like Spurgeon rightly be said to represent the teaching of paedo-baptist John Calvin?
 Corresponding to High Church is the term Low Church. Originally used by High Churchmen as an insult, Low Churchmanship has come to refer to those who don’t use high rituals in their liturgy. I find this term unhelpful and useless in that it creates the impression that the essential disagreement has to do more with style than substantive issues of doctrine and practice. Correspondingly, “Low Churchmen” are often viewed as people who don’t have taste for catholic liturgy, obscuring the important differences between the parties.
This is the second addition to a series on how Anglicanism has been defined at various points of its history. As we look at the different ways anglicans identify themselves, my goal is twofold. First, I have observed that there is a significant institutional amnesia within North American Anglicanism. The result is that recent innovations are often considered essential and historic markers are often dismissed. Not only that, but we often blend contradictory elements in our churchmanship without realizing what we are doing. Stop and think what it means when a priest prays a Eucharistic prayer that says that Jesus “made there by His one oblation of Himself, once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction,” and then declares as he breaks the bread “Christ our Passover IS sacrificed for us.” Regardless of what the priest may mean with these words, the message he sends is confused. In my opinion, this is the result of the sloppy blending of different systems of thought. Second, as a Reformation Anglican I want to make the case that Reformation Anglicanism has a distinct place both within the Reformed world and within Anglicanism. It would be Quixotic at best to think that all Anglicans would identify as Reformation Anglicans do. However, Reformation Anglicans stand behind the Prayer Book, The Articles, and the two great apologies for the Church of England from John Jewell and Richard Hooker. Furthermore, when Reformation Anglicans identify as Reformed, we are not simply copying other Reformed camps, but stand in a particular ground with a different ethos that many within the Reformed world would find attractive if we were only true to our roots.