Anglican Communion in the open collection of autonomous churches that consists of members (called Anglicans) in different parts of the world, including 38 independent provinces, as well as extra-provincial bodies which are not part of any province. These provinces belong to this Communion either directly or indirectly through another member church. The majority of Anglicans are members within Great Britain and Ireland but other countries have their own diocesan authorities or synods that oversee local churches such as the USA and Australia. There are also many independent communities elsewhere in the world without formal ties to these provinces who call themselves Anglican on account of their holding similar beliefs and traditions to those found within the communion.
The tradition was started by Saint Augustine when he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine’s efforts were focused on the southern kingdoms of Kent, East Anglia, and South Saxony. Christianity was eventually taken over by Celtic missionaries from what is now Ireland in 597 AD who converted Northumbria at around 660 AD. The church they created was known as the Church of England and it had close ties with Rome and shared many beliefs including that of Papal supremacy. It brought with it Roman customs such as clerical celibacy which were later abandoned following pressure from European monarchs when an Anglican church was first set up in Scotland (1560), Ireland (1570), and then Wales (1571). However, these churches continued to recognize the authority of the Pope and maintained a Roman tendency to worship on Sundays.
The Protestant Reformation was a time of major change in Europe which saw a move from Roman traditions towards those of reformers such as Martin Luther. England’s break with Rome came under King Henry VIII when he founded the Church of England (1534) mostly because of his wish for an annulment from Catherine of Aragon but also partly as recognition that it would be better to have control over the church’s own affairs, especially gaining revenue directly rather than through taxation. This left many European countries unsure about where they now stood religiously leading to much persecution throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Many prominent Protestants including John Calvin fled France following increased persecution which led to the foundation of Geneva in 1536.
This Protestant city proved to be a great center for the Reformed faith and many others were converted including John Knox who helped reform the Church of Scotland (1560). Calvinism has been one of the most influential branches within Protestantism, particularly Presbyterianism, and it emphasized scripture as being the ultimate authority in matters of faith. Presbyterians tended to favor more autonomy over that of bishops which eventually led to divisions between those who favored Episcopal polity and those who did not lead to further disputes regarding church hierarchy.
Following the Treaty of Union (1706), which merged England & Wales with Scotland to create Great Britain, the pressure was put on both countries’ churches to unify but this ultimately failed as they could not find a solution that suited both parties. The English-speaking American colonies also continued to reject any form of union with the Church of England and were instead influenced by Calvinistic Methodists who stressed personal salvation as well as spreading the word of God. In 1776, this led to the formation of two national assemblies but these eventually split due to conflicts over various issues such as slavery and political power leading to their eventual independence from Britain (1783).
The 19th century saw great divisions within Anglicanism based upon differing views regarding church hierarchy, social reform, and theological ideas. Amongst many others, John Henry Newman founded a religious movement known as ‘Tractarianism’ which was fundamentally motivated by a desire to be more evangelical than the Church of England. This eventually led to further divisions between groups calling themselves Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, though the positions they took on key issues were so vastly different that it is difficult to see any common ground between them.
By the mid 19th century, American Episcopalians had rejected any kind of alliance with the Church of England and were instead looking towards Scotland as a model for church governance. They also favored more emphasis on congregationalism rather than regarding bishops as having special authority over other leaders in the church leading to their eventual split from Scottish Presbyterians who favored Episcopalian polity.
The role of women continued to remain an issue throughout this period with many arguing that Scripture teaches that men are meant to be in charge in both church and home. By the 20th century, deep divisions had emerged amongst most Anglicans leading to further separation among groups such as Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans who all began looking at forming their own separate alliances.
As far back as the 16th century, some Christians had been calling for a greater reunion between churches based on a desire to share their resources with one another in order to spread the gospel more effectively throughout the world but this has remained elusive due to irreconcilable differences regarding tradition and authority.
The call for unity continued into the 19th Century when many Protestants were deeply troubled about being divided even from within their religion. Between 1864-1870, an organization is known as ‘The Propagation of Knowledge Society’ was formed in London. John Rottman, a Lutheran missionary from Germany, was appointed as the director, and much work was done to study the nature of other Christian groups in order to begin discussions on possible reunification but this ultimately failed due to great differences among them regarding matters such as baptismal regeneration or infant baptism.