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Low church

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Low church is a term of distinction in the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 or other Anglican churches initially designed to be pejorative. During the series of doctrinal and ecclesiastic challenges to the established church in the 16th and 17th centuries, commentators and others began to refer to those groups favouring the theology, worship and hierarchical structure of Anglicanism (such as the episcopate) as the truest form of Christianity as 'high church
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

'. In contrast, by the early 18th century those theologians and politicians who sought more reform in the English church and a greater liberalisation of church structure were called "low church".

Historical use


The term low church was used in the early part of the 18th century as the equivalent of the term Latitudinarian
Latitudinarian
Latitudinarian was initially a pejorative term applied to a group of 17th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance...

in that it was used to refer to values that provided much latitude in matters of discipline and faith. The term was in contradistinction to the term high church
High church
The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

, or high churchmen, which applied to those who valued the exclusive authority of the Established Church, the episcopacy and the sacramental system. Low church beliefs coincided with those of the non-conformist Puritans and Independents in the Church of England. The terms subsequently fell into disuse.

These terms were revived in the 19th century when the Tractarian movement again brought the term high churchman into vogue. The terms were again used in a modified sense, now used to refer to those who exalted the idea of the Church as a catholic entity as the body of Christ, and the sacramental system as the divinely given means of grace. A low churchman now became the equivalent of an Evangelical
Evangelicalism
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.Its key commitments are:...

, the designation of the movement associated with the name of Charles Simeon
Charles Simeon
Charles Simeon , was an English evangelical clergyman.He was born at Reading, Berkshire and educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. In 1782 he became fellow of King's College, and took orders, receiving the living of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, in the following year...

, which held the necessity of personal conversion to be of primary importance. At the same time, Latitudinarian changed to broad church
Broad church
Broad church is a term referring to latitudinarian churchmanship in the Church of England, in particular, and Anglicanism, in general. From this, the term is often used to refer to secular political organisations, meaning that they encompass a broad range of opinion.-Usage:After the terms high...

, or broad churchmen, designating those who most valued the ethical teachings of the Church and minimized the value of orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

. The revival of pre-Reformation
English Reformation
The English Reformation was the series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church....

 ritual by many of the high church clergy led to the designation ritualist being applied to them in a somewhat contemptuous sense. However, the terms high churchman and ritualist have often been wrongly treated as interchangeable. The high churchman of the Catholic type is further differentiated from the earlier use of what is sometimes described as the "high and dry type" of the period before the Oxford Movement
Oxford Movement
The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church Anglicans, eventually developing into Anglo-Catholicism. The movement, whose members were often associated with the University of Oxford, argued for the reinstatement of lost Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy...

.

Low Church Anglicans


In contemporary usage, "low churches" place more emphasis on the Protestant nature of Anglicanism than broad or high churches and are usually Evangelical
Evangelicalism
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.Its key commitments are:...

 in their belief and practice. They may tend to favour the Prayer Book
Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, "Anglican realignment" and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 , in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English...

 services of Morning and Evening Prayer over the Eucharist, though the Diocese of Sydney
Anglican Diocese of Sydney
The Diocese of Sydney is a diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia. The majority of the diocese is Evangelical and low church in tradition and committed to Reformed and Calvinist theology....

 has largely abandoned the Prayer Book and uses free-form evangelical services. Some contemporary low churches also incorporate elements of charismatic Christianity.

More traditional low church Anglicans, under the influence of Calvinist or Reformed thought inherited from the Reformation era, reject the doctrine that the sacrament
Sacrament
A sacrament is a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites.-General definitions and terms:...

s confer grace
Divine grace
In Christian theology, grace is God’s gift of God’s self to humankind. It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man - "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" - that takes the form of divine favour, love and clemency. It is an attribute of God that is most...

 ex opere operato
Ex opere operato
Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning "from the work done" referring to the efficacy of the Sacraments deriving from the action of the Sacrament as opposed to the merits or holiness of the priest or minister....

(e.g. baptismal regeneration) and lay stress on the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 as the ultimate source of authority in matters of faith necessary for salvation. They thus are, in general, prepared to co-operate with other Protestants on nearly equal terms. Some Low church Anglicans of the Reformed party consider themselves the only faithful adherents of historic Anglicanism and emphasize the Thirty-Nine Articles
Thirty-Nine Articles
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Anglican church with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the nascent Church of England as it related to...

 of the Church of England as an official doctrinal statement of the Anglican tradition.

United churches in India


Several provinces of the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

 had merged or tried to merge with Protestant churches. The Church of South India
Church of South India
The Church of South India is the successor of the Church of England in India. It came into being in 1947 as a union of Anglican and Protestant churches in South India. With a membership of over 3.8 million, it is India's second largest Christian church after the Roman Catholic Church in India...

 arose out of the merge of the southern province of the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon (Anglican), the Methodist Church of South India and the South India United Church (a Congregationalist, Reformed and Presbyterian united church) in 1947. In the 1990s a small number of Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 and Pentecostal churches joined also the union. In 1970 the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, the United Church of North India, the Baptist Churches of Northern India, the Church of the Brethren
Church of the Brethren
The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination originating from the Schwarzenau Brethren organized in 1708 by eight persons led by Alexander Mack, in Schwarzenau, Bad Berleburg, Germany. The Brethren movement began as a melding of Radical Pietist and Anabaptist ideas during the...

 in India, the Methodist Church (British and Australia Conferences) and the Disciples of Christ denominations merged to form the Church of North India
Church of North India
The Church of North India , the dominant Protestant denomination in northern India, is a united church established on 29 November 1970 by bringing together the main Protestant churches working in northern India...

.

In 2002 the Church of Ireland
Church of Ireland
The Church of Ireland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church operates in all parts of Ireland and is the second largest religious body on the island after the Roman Catholic Church...

, which is generally on the Low Church end of the spectrum of world Anglicanism, signed a covenant for greater cooperation and potential ultimate unity with the Methodist Church in Ireland
Methodist Church in Ireland
The Methodist Church in Ireland is a Wesleyan Methodist church that operates across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on an all Ireland basis, It is the 4th largest Christian denomination in both jurisdictions and on the island as a whole...

.

In the 1960s the Methodist Church made ecumenical overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. These formally failed when they were rejected by the Church of England's General Synod
General Synod
-Church of England:In the Church of England, the General Synod, which was established in 1970 , is the legislative body of the Church.-Episcopal Church of the United States:...

 in 1972, however conversations and co-operation continued leading in 2003 to the signing of a covenant between the two churches. From the 1970s onward, the Methodist Church was involved in several "Local Ecumenical Projects" (LEPs) with neighbouring denominations usually with the Church of England, the Baptists or with the United Reformed Church
United Reformed Church
The United Reformed Church is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 68,000 members in 1,500 congregations with some 700 ministers.-Origins and history:...

, which involved sharing churches, schools and in some cases ministers.

Low Church and Evangelical Anglican churches

  • Anglican Episcopal Church
    Anglican Episcopal Church
    The Anglican Episcopal Church is a Continuing Anglican church consisting of parishes in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida served by two bishops and 18 other clergy. The AEC was founded at St...

  • Anglican Orthodox Church
    Anglican Orthodox Church
    The Anglican Orthodox Church is one of the older conservative Anglican denominations in the United States that is not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Church of England due to the perceived abandonment of Reformation doctrine by that church...

  • Anglican Diocese of Sydney
    Anglican Diocese of Sydney
    The Diocese of Sydney is a diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia. The majority of the diocese is Evangelical and low church in tradition and committed to Reformed and Calvinist theology....

  • Free Church of England
    Free Church of England
    The Free Church of England is an Anglican church which separated from the established Church of England in the course of the 19th century. The church was founded by evangelical clergy and congregations in response to the rise of Anglo-Catholicism. The first congregations were formed in 1844...

  • Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England
    Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England
    The Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England came into being in 2003. Its first bishops — Bishops Barry Shucksmith and Arthur Bentley-Taylor— had been outspoken in their criticisms of the direction that the FCE was taking regarding ecumenism in particular, and were removed from the body...

  • Church of Ireland
    Church of Ireland
    The Church of Ireland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The church operates in all parts of Ireland and is the second largest religious body on the island after the Roman Catholic Church...

  • Church of England (Continuing)
    Church of England (Continuing)
    The Church of England is part of the Continuing Anglican Movement. It was founded in England on 10 February 1994 at a meeting chaired by Dr. David N. Samuel held at St. Mary's, Castle Street, Reading, in reaction to the use of Common Worship and to the ordination of women...

  • Extra-provincial Anglican churches
    Extra-provincial Anglican churches
    The extra-provincial Anglican churches are a group of small, semi-independent church entities within the Anglican Communion. Unlike the larger member churches of the Communion, extra-provincial churches are not part of an ecclesiastical province and are, in most cases, subject to the metropolitical...

  • Church of England in South Africa
    Church of England in South Africa
    The Church of England in South Africa was constituted in 1938 as a federation of churches. It is an Anglican church but it is not a member of the Anglican Communion. However, it relates closely to the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church of Australia, to which it is similar in that it sees itself...

  • Church of South India
    Church of South India
    The Church of South India is the successor of the Church of England in India. It came into being in 1947 as a union of Anglican and Protestant churches in South India. With a membership of over 3.8 million, it is India's second largest Christian church after the Roman Catholic Church in India...

  • Church of North India
    Church of North India
    The Church of North India , the dominant Protestant denomination in northern India, is a united church established on 29 November 1970 by bringing together the main Protestant churches working in northern India...

  • Diocese of the Great Lakes
    Diocese of the Great Lakes
    The Diocese of the Great Lakes is a Continuing Anglican church body in the United States and Canada. Although all of its worship centers and clergy are currently located in the American Great Lakes states and the Canadian Province of Ontario, the diocese is non-geographical in structure and open...

  • Reformed Episcopal Church
    Reformed Episcopal Church
    The Reformed Episcopal Church is an Anglican church in the United States and Canada and a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America...

  • Traditional Protestant Episcopal Church
    Traditional Protestant Episcopal Church
    The Traditional Protestant Episcopal Church was a Christian body that saw itself as maintaining the original theological position of the Episcopal Church....


See also

  • Anglicanism
    Anglicanism
    Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

  • Anglo-Catholicism
    Anglo-Catholicism
    The terms Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Catholicism describe people, beliefs and practices within Anglicanism that affirm the Catholic, rather than Protestant, heritage and identity of the Anglican churches....

  • Broad church
    Broad church
    Broad church is a term referring to latitudinarian churchmanship in the Church of England, in particular, and Anglicanism, in general. From this, the term is often used to refer to secular political organisations, meaning that they encompass a broad range of opinion.-Usage:After the terms high...

  • Church of England
    Church of England
    The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

  • High Church
    High church
    The term "High Church" refers to beliefs and practices of ecclesiology, liturgy and theology, generally with an emphasis on formality, and resistance to "modernization." Although used in connection with various Christian traditions, the term has traditionally been principally associated with the...

  • Methodism
    Methodism
    Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother...

  • Ritualism

Further reading

  • Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U. P.; Low Churchmen, p. 824

External links