From Anglo-Catholicism to Evangelicalism

26/02/2022 at 02:55 3 comments

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Jack Lindsay’s recent article describing the joy and satisfaction he found in Anglo-Catholicism after a start in Anglican Evangelicalism led me to reflect on my own journey – discovering Anglican Evangelicalism after a High Church upbringing.

Firstly, I am not confident to draw the fuzzy but existent line between High Church and Anglo-Catholic. Nevertheless, there are things in Jack’s article which he seems to identify as Anglo-Catholic, which in fact can be shown to be Anglican from the sixteenth century Anglican formularies and others which belong in the realm of High Church and not exclusively within nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism.

Secondly, my most substantial experience of Australian Anglican Evangelicalism, although almost entirely outside of Sydney and of Australia, is of Sydney Anglicans, whose ministry I have been privileged to receive.

Briefly, my committed Anglican upbringing, first in the diocese of Adelaide and then, because of redistribution, in the diocese of Willochra, was so thoroughly High Church that only well into adulthood did I discover that alternatives existed. As a young teacher, living within the Diocese of the Murray, I came to the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ in a church which was ritually High Church,  Evangelical in its preaching with a Charismatic flavour. Here I was encouraged to study the Sydney Preliminary Certificate in Theology (PTC). Later, from there, I went to the Bible College of South Australia for too little time and then off to work with the Anglican Church of Chile (SAMS, now CMS). This was my first sustained experience of a culturally Evangelical Anglican Church. Chile then was completely low church, strongly Gospel centred, with a strong dose of charismatic ministry, which is still broadly true, although now with a more formally evangelical flavour. I love the church’s vitality, its commitment over many years to ordered Bible teaching and the centrality that our clergy try to give to Jesus, the Word made flesh, through his word, the Bible.

Thirdly, being mainly rural churches of SA, my childhood church and others which missionary deputation takes me to undergo frequent changes as clergy change. My impression is that High Church practice is being consumed by Anglo-Catholic practice. I happened to be in Australia at the time of the Bali bombings and was dismayed then to see individuals being encouraged in Anglican churches to burn candles (for the dead?). This practice has grown since then and it makes me very nervous due to my experience of such popular versions of Roman Catholicism in Chile and their evident and absolute failure to encourage people to know and serve Jesus.


Inspired by Jack Lindsay’s article, which in some ways rang true for me, here are some general comments from my experience.

“The beauty of holiness”-  Colour and action

As a child, I would occasionally attend the local Methodist church with my cousins. It always seemed to me that nothing ever “happened” there, whereas something always “happened” in my Anglican church. Later in life, I would learn what all that action and colour was about and why the Methodists (and Evangelical Anglicans) didn’t do most of this, eventually acquiring considerable sympathy for their position. Nevertheless, I retained my appreciation for the reverence of my normal experience. Understandably, Anglican Evangelicalism tends to be very bookish, but the colour of Anglo-Catholicism (as well as the liveliness of Pentecostalism) may at least raise for us the question of how to rightly teach the Bible to those who are not bookish.


Although I agree that the resources, energy and even human authority of the church ought to be largely focused in the local church, when the far end of the Evangelical spectrum sees the local church as nearly the beginning and end of the church, I baulk. The Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ are very important Biblical understandings of the local church, but they also point to the church universal, the church made up of people out of every nation and tongue, united as the Body of Christ now and in our future experience.

I learnt in my High Church childhood that my commitment to the church is an essential aspect of my commitment to Christ and that it is costly. As the Anglican formularies point out, the institutional church is human and hence fallible, which suggests that faithfulness to Christ may sometimes lead us to separation from some part of it. However, such should hurt and cannot be rejoiced in.

“Bill has gone into the church,” was an expression I heard in my Anglican childhood when Bill had been ordained. Horribly medieval, this equates the church with the clergy. How did we ever get there?

In Anglo-Catholic ecclesiology, the episcopacy is the focus of unity. Evangelicals see the episcopacy in its supervisory teaching role, one of service to the local church, an authority given by the church body, under God. THE focus of unity for the church is Jesus Christ. It is difficult to see how any second focus of unity can do other than distract from the first. Even more than all other Christians, a bishop should be actively concerned for seeing the church live out the unity which we have in Christ, but to put himself up as the focus of unity is to take on himself what he ought not and cannot fulfill, because it is Christ’s.

For both clergy and laity, the experience of Christians is, quite rightly, primarily the local church. Not being omnipresent, the bishop is outside of most Anglicans’ attention most of the time, so he just isn’t the focus of unity, except perhaps if the church is the clergy. As Jack Lindsay rightly points out, the way we see both the church and the episcopacy go together. To me a high view of the church says little about the institution but is expressed in our love and commitment to her who is the Bride of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. It brings a general willingness to work for her good and I am grateful to have picked that up from my High Church background. However, that does not dictate a high or essential view of episcopacy.

Holy Communion Reverence

The Sydney PTC has been of great blessing to me and to the church in Chile. However, at least in the Spanish version, the course on Church and Sacraments still comes a hairbreadth from declaring Baptism and Holy Communion unnecessary in the church, being saved from total obscurity by the fact that the apostles seem to have practised them and hence, they can’t be too bad. This too is “un-Anglican” and, I believe, unbiblical. As it seems to me inconceivable that Jesus could mandate something which is ineffective, I appreciate the weekly Communion Service I was brought up on with its expectation that God acts in it when received by faith. Thomas Cranmer and John Calvin both thought something like that.

Turning from that to a thoroughly priestly understanding of the Eucharist I do not find helpful at all. I have been part of a small church whose finances and distance from the nearest Anglican priest dictated that for long periods we could not have Holy Communion, essentially because of that priestly understanding of the HC, even in an Evangelical church. Insistence on what is a wise arrangement for good order in nearly all contexts, in this context became an ecclesiastical order to God’s people not to do what our Lord has commanded. I am aware that this is controversial on all sides, but essentially it is this priestly understanding which makes it so.

More than that, I fear strongly that when the presbyter becomes the mediating priest for access to the sacrament and forgiveness of sins, we have exactly the sort of relationship which so readily lends and has lent itself to terrible abuse of spiritual power. Most importantly, New Testament theology of Jesus as the last and sufficient one to offer a mediating sacrifice works so strongly against this. There is a desperate pastoral need for clear teaching on the ready access to the throne of God available to all who have put their trust in Jesus and in this Anglo-Catholicism begins at a serious disadvantage.

Hermeneutics and Teaching

As the High Church movement began its life in the early seventeenth century, it played off against the Puritans, many of whom, by then, tended not to show much interest in the study of Early Church documents, so that appreciation of the Church Fathers became a characteristic which the High Church movement claimed as its own. Nevertheless, the first Reformers, both in England and on the Continent, held patristics in high esteem, so it is thoroughly Anglican by any definition. With the emergence of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth century, Back-to-Tradition came to offer the way forward for the church in confused times, whereas the Reformers had found the answer in Back-to-the-Bible. With the church fathers being conservative in their teaching, traditional Anglo-Catholicism is also. However, with respect to Biblical hermeneutics it does not see the Bible as holding authority over all other authorities and so may be very liberal, even when coming to conservative conclusions.

As a young adult, I was actively discouraged from reading the Old Testament on my own, apparently for fear of where the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, left to their own devices, might lead me, even when I was well within the context of the church. Eventually, I rebelled, read it and continue to do so.

I have seen too many people who have been faithful members of the church all their lives but have been taught little more than how to fold the cloths on the altar or the right manner, place and time to genuflect. Even when people are trained to be lay assistants or readers, the Bible seems to play a remarkably low place in their training. Since Sunday School, if that, there has been no attempt to seriously teach people the Bible or seriously encourage them to read it and trust it and that means they have not been encouraged to know Jesus. Although Mothers Union literature, in a liturgical context, may provide some variance from this generalization, it is nevertheless true far too often and this is deadly for the church.

I still enjoy visiting my childhood church, not just because I know everyone. If High and Anglo-Catholic churches are serious about their pastoral role to their people, they must begin to systematically teach the Bible, the whole counsel of God, and to teach so that people trust it and hence apply it to their own lives. In that context, that reverence for the church and sacraments could really be very beautiful indeed.

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CULTURE CLUB The Great Collapse

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Richardson  |  30/11/2023 at 04:35

    Being new to Christianity I am impressed By both opinions of these two very faithful and obviously Spirit inspired servants of Christ who care very much for his Church and the spiritual wellbeing of those with whom they worship, minister and have their being. I can say without a doubt that my Christian upbringing has provided me with much spiritual insight which has been expressed in these articles. May God truly bless each of your ministries to His glory and the benefit of His Kingdom present in this world.

  • 2. Daffy  |  04/05/2022 at 09:49

    Thanks for an article that strikes almost the balance that I would seek. I started life in a non-conformist anti-intellectual church that barely read any depth in the Bible. I was baptised by immersion, and I agree, that’s what baptism is) in that church.
    Nevertheless, the shallowness of the church, finally failed me and I drifted into the city and, living near Christ Church St Lawrence in Sydney, started attending.
    CCSL, its pastors and people saved my spiritual life!
    As you rightly write, Bible teaching could be improved, but the liturgy, the sensuousness and the drama of the eucharist I found moving and thrilling. I felt at last that I was in a church that was continuous with the great history of Christian faith.
    I find modern Sydney heading into the ‘anglo-baptist’ shallows and have to put up with too many superficial sermons that fail to have ‘ideas’, to be inquisitive of the text, to challenge the ‘received’ Calvinism that unfortunately dominates the diocese.
    My relief is the occasional high day at CCSL: Christmas and Easter as much as I can. Pentecost and All Saints are an aspiration, due to geography.

  • 3. Mary Lewis  |  24/04/2022 at 23:59

    Thank you Frances for this clear addressing of an issue close to both our hearts.
    Thank you God for ministers who brave the mixed economy of Anglicanism in our regional areas and nurture a love of God, his Word in Jesus and the Bible and the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit.

    My husband and our children also went into mission service with CMS from that same Anglican Church in the South East of the Diocese of the Murray at the same time as 5 men and their families uprooted and went to theological college to train for ordained ministry. The blessing and fruit from the faithful ministering of the Word and Sacrament, making and growing disciples and forthright standing for the truth of salvation and healing through Jesus bear witness to God’s equipping of this wonderful Saint, Father Brian. (A Ridley College graduate)

    Romans 10.14-16 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? … Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

    Female evangelical encumbent priests are a rare breed in Australia, and even rarer in our regional areas. But, as a missionary candidate once told me when confronted with the fact that the first missionaries with CMS Australia were women, “if the men are disobedient to the call, then the women will have to go”. Apart from our time in Nepal with CMS, my medical ministry and ordained ministry has all been in regional South Australia, most recently in the Diocese of Willochra. Praise God for the three Bible believing men and their families who have heard and obeyed the call in the Diocese of Willochra to share their commitment “to ordered Bible teaching”, making “Jesus, the Word made flesh, through his word, the Bible” central to their ministries … and only one of them is with BCA; the others are Diocesan appointments.

    My friends, our failure to faithfully share this commitment over the last 100 years of Anglicanism in our regional areas has led to generations who only knew the church as a “cultural heritage” and were not nurtured into a living faith in God’s Word, incarnate and written. As culture changed they fell away from faith. The Liturgy of Holy Communion in our prayer book (BCP or AAPB) is gospel shaped and gospel declaring. Celebrating the sacraments faithfully alongside the preaching of God’s word and the nurturing of disciples through Bible teaching and shepherding in godly living and service are core to our function. Don’t let us keep failing rural and regional Australia. Share your love of God’s Word. Send your best people to the regions as salt and light within the Church and the community. Offer yourselves to the Diocesans. Call BCA (there are 4 vacancies in South Australia alone). Be greatly blessed as you are a blessing to others. It’s a great adventure!


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