low churchman

Low church

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 authoritarian 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 convertible 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

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. Some low church Anglicans 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.

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