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What Factors Influenced the Creation of the Church of England (Anglican Church)?

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Although the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church, and, today, as the Protestant Episcopal Church) commanded the loyalties of a great many churchgoers in early America, its history has received relatively little treatment from historians—especially compared with the attention lavished on the Puritans. True, the Church of England in the colonies suffered from a sluggish rate of growth and a shortage of clergymen throughout much of the seventeenth century. But in the century before the American Revolution, that communion’s fortunes prospered: Anglican churches spread along the length of the Atlantic seaboard, the largest concentration being in the coastal South

In these colonies, Anglicanism also enjoyed the advantage of being the established, state-supported church, as it had been in England since the sixteenth century.

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It was an era of change and turmoil in the church during the 1500-1600s in Europe. There was dissatisfaction with papal government and abuses of church traditions. Furthermore the availability of new translations of Scripture from Latin into other languages fashioned a craving to look over the ancestry of the Christian faith and a desire to return to the basics of Christian ideas. In Europe individual figures like Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and Martin Luther encouraged doctrinal and organizational reform. England knew of the effort of these reformers and had the Scriptures in English. However, the church was not extremely affected by them. In reality Henry VIII received from the Pope in 1521 the title “Defender of the Faith” for his paper criticizing Martin Luther. However, the King was going through some political difficulties. His marriage of almost 20 years to Catherine of Aragon had produced only one living child, their daughter Mary. Henry became increasingly worried because he needed a male heir for the throne. Henry decided to divorce his wife and that he was going to marry Anne Boleyn

Securing an annulment and obtaining a papal dispensation to remarry was not an impossible request, however it made Henry anxious. But European politics launched a problematic factor; Catherine’s nephew was the Emperor Charles V. The Pope was being threatened by the Emperor and so could not grant Henry’s request. Henry decided then to remove the church in England from the control of foreign powers. Acts of Parliament were passed, Henry’s marriage was declared invalid, and he married Anne Boleyn. The Pope rapidly removed Henry. “To gain [a son], he separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and so established the Protestant Reformation in England” . Henry took rising control of the church, suspending the monasteries and moving their riches to the crown and declared himself the head of the church in England. Henry ordered the English Bible located in all churches but stayed very conservative in matters of spiritual traditions. Henry was succeeded in 1547 by his son Edward VI. Edward had been well-informed by teachers with Protestant understanding. Throughout his reign the church was progressively more influenced by Lutheran and Calvinist tradition. In 1549, the first Book of Common Prayer, drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, was certified. The Act of Uniformity made its use obligatory in all churches in England. This book has become the normative statement of Anglican theology and practice. The book was a compromise between traditionalists and reformers. In 1552, a second Book of Common Prayer was issued. It followed more Protestant ideologies. During the reign of Edward VI, many Articles were published to identify the position of the Church of England on a vast amount of issues. This was an attempt to define a connection between the Old Catholic ways and the new Calvinist reforms. The 42 Articles were proposed in 1552 and these were not accepted. However in 1559, during the reign of Elizabeth, the Thirty-nine Articles were accepted as a balanced statement of the Anglican position on certain uncertain issues. Edward was then succeeded by his half-sister Mary. As the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Mary wanted to return England to the worship of the Roman Catholic Church. During Mary’s reign, many reformers were executed however on her death, her half-sister Elizabeth became Queen. She wished to restore stability to the country, while at the same time preserving England from foreign domination. The church then should retain its heritage but remain free of the rule of the Pope. The form of liturgy, the three-fold order of bishops, priest and deacons, the sacraments were all retained. But the differences were that services were in English, the reading of Scripture was encouraged, and clergy could marry. The third Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1559. The aim of the Elizabethan church was to bring stability to both church and state. The Church of England held together in one family a variety of views by avoiding narrow definitions. Richard Hooker, 1554-1600, was the apologist for the emerging Anglican position. The Anglican approach to theology, the balance of Scripture, tradition and reason was defined by his Treatise on the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. He saw the church as changing and adapting. The church structures its existence by looking at scripture and tradition in the light of reason and experience.

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Fox (2012) offers a chronology of the presence of Christianity and its significance in society. The author starts from a historical background referring to early predictions of Christianity demise by intellectuals in the 17th century. The intellectuals had argued that science, modernization, urbanization, and rationalism would take the place of overall religion, which includes Christianity, in organizing the world. However, as time went by religious groupings would mushroom everywhere and project their importance in society making them hard to ignore, particularly Christianity in America. This would breed competition but would not stop Christian groups from becoming popular and getting deep into policy-making at a government level in the 20th century. Recently, Christians would deviate from their core business of uniting the society and shaping social values by engaging in shameful acts leading to perceived decline, especially in the West. Some of the churches that had deep roots but showing signs of a freefall are Methodist, Anglican and Catholic Churches (Kidd, 2012).Fox (2012) offers statistics to support the idea that despite this notion, there is a huge presence of religious groups (among them Christians) in the western nations with the lowest level of presence at 10%. At an American context, many people still believe in Christianity despite recent decline in attendance among the mainstream churches. In an article, Briggs (2011) seeks to extend discussions regarding the question: is American faith really on the decline? Briggs (2011) interestingly uses a Duke University Sociologist professor’s (Mark Chaves) Book Title dilemma to bring this discussion to perspective. Briggs (2011) acknowledges the recent interest in the perceived decline in American faith. The author alludes to evidence from surveys and researches. However, Briggs (2011) realizes that different researchers interpret survey results differently bringing about conflict of opinion. For example, others perceive America’s Christian faith as relatively stable. Briggs (2011) finds that burden of proof of lack of decline is more astounding to piece together as opposed to the overwhelming pointers of decline

For example, college students who would like to be clergymen has reduced, there are lesser number of Americans who say that they believe in God, more and more people who say that they are religiously ‘unaffiliated’ in surveys and the decline in confidence associated with clergymen.

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In the long run, in 2013, the House of Commons passed legislation to legalize same-sex marriages but didn’t allow the Church of England to perform them. Many consider the Church of England’s elevation of women and gays in the clergy as groundbreaking and long-awaited progress

Others in the church view it as sacrilegious and blasphemous. While the debate continues, experts agree that the Church of England has paved the way for conversations about expanding gender and sexual-orientation roles within Christianity.

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Ardell, D. (2011). Which Shall Come First-The Rapture Or The Fall Of The Religion? Web.

Briggs, D. (2011). Is Religion In America in Decline? Web.

CNN (2012). America Becoming Less Christian, Survey Finds. Web.

Fox, J. (2012). The fall and Rise of Religion? Web.

Grossman, C. (2012). Most Religious Groups In USA Have Lost Ground, Survey Finds. Web.

Kidd, T. (2012). The Rise and fall of American Methodism. Web.

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