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Low church is a term of distinction in the Church of England 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'. 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 was used in the early part of the 18th century as the equivalent of Latitudinarian, i.e. a person who was prepared to concede much latitude in matters of discipline and faith, in contradistinction to high churchmen, the term applied to those who took a high view of the exclusive authority of the Established Church, of episcopacy and of the sacramental system. These positions coincided with those of the Non-conformist Puritan and Independents in the Church of England. It subsequently fell into disuse, but was revived in the 19th century when the Tractarian movement had brought the term High Churchman into vogue again in a modified sense, i.e., for 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. Low Churchman now became the equivalent of Evangelical, the designation of the movement, associated with the name of Charles Simeon, which laid the chief stress on the necessity of personal conversion. Latitudinarian gave way at the same time to Broad Churchman, to designate those who lay stress on the ethical teaching of the Church and minimize the value of orthodoxy. The revival of pre-Reformation ritual by many of the High Church clergy led to the designation Ritualist being applied to them in a somewhat contemptuous sense; and High Churchman and Ritualist have often been wrongly treated as interchangeable terms. The High Churchman of the Catholic type is further differentiated from the old-fashioned High Churchman of what is sometimes described as the high and dry type of the period anterior to the Oxford Movement.

Modern use

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 in their belief and practice. They may tend to favour the Prayer Book services of Morning and Evening Prayer over the Eucharist, though the Diocese of Sydney 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 Puritan period, reject the doctrine that the sacraments confer grace ex opere operato (e.g. baptismal regeneration) and lay stress on the Bible as the sole source of authority in matters of faith. They thus differ little from Protestants of other denominations and, in general, are prepared to co-operate with them on equal terms. Many Low Church Anglicans of the Reformed then consider themselves the only faithful adherents of historical Anglicanism, and emphasize the Calvinistic Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England as an official doctrinal statement of the Anglican tradition.

Evangelical Catholic

The term Evangelical Catholic is used by Christians who consider themselves both "catholic" and "evangelical". Evangelical Catholic (catholic is the noun with evangelical modifying) can refer to: evangelical Protestant Christians who consider themselves catholic Christians identified with the historic Christian Church, who believe that the early ecumenical councils and the Protestant Reformation were both part of the progressive illumination of the Holy Spirit; Roman Catholics who want to identify themselves more closely with evangelical Protestants with similar ecumenical ideals and "progressive illumination"; Catholics who simply want to define themselves according to a penchant for evangelism. Evangelical Catholics may include Eastern Rite Catholic Churches or other churches that are not Roman Catholic, such as Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed.

See also

Further reading

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

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.



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