Anglican vs. Reformed: What’s the Difference?

Anglicanism and the Reformed tradition are two influential branches of Christianity with distinct histories, beliefs, and practices.

Originating in England and the Swiss-German regions, respectively, each has made a lasting impact on the global Christian landscape.

This article aims to compare Anglicanism and the Reformed tradition, highlighting key differences and similarities.

From their origins to their views on sacraments and social issues, we’ll explore what sets each apart.

Anglican cross
Is the Anglican or Reformed tradition larger? See below

Comparing Anglicanism and the Reformed Tradition: An Overview

The term “Anglicanism” comes from the Latin word “Anglicana,” meaning “English,” and the suffix “-ism” to denote the religious tradition originating in England.

“Reformed” refers to the Christian tradition that emerged from the Reformation, aiming to “reform” or improve upon existing religious practices and beliefs.

NameAnglicanismReformed Tradition
SizeApprox. 85 million worldwideApprox. 60-80 million worldwide
Date Started1534Early 16th century (around 1520s)
FounderKing Henry VIIIJohn Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli
Key BeliefsVia Media (Middle Way), Apostolic Succession, importance of liturgySovereignty of God, predestination, Covenant Theology
Key PracticesWorship services, baptism, holy communion, confirmationWorship services, baptism, holy communion
DivisionsChurch of England, Episcopal Church (USA), Anglican Church of CanadaPresbyterian, Congregational, Reformed Church in America
Central LocationCanterbury, EnglandNo central location; strong presence in Switzerland, Scotland, and the Netherlands
Sacred TextsBible (Old and New Testaments), Book of Common PrayerBible (Old and New Testaments)

Why is Anglicanism called the Middle Way?

Anglicanism is often called “The Middle Way” because it seeks to strike a balance between Protestantism and Catholicism.

It incorporates elements of both traditions, such as the Protestant emphasis on the Bible and the Catholic focus on liturgy and sacraments, aiming for a moderate, comprehensive approach.

What is Covenant Theology?

Covenant Theology is a framework in Reformed theology that views God’s relationship with humanity through the lens of covenants, or agreements.

It typically identifies three main covenants: the Covenant of Works with Adam, the Covenant of Grace with Christ, and the Covenant of Redemption within the Trinity.

Anglican church
Do both traditions believe in Jesus’ resurrection? See below

Anglican and Reformed Christianity Beliefs: Differences

Anglicans and Reformed Christians believe in the Trinity. See the table below to learn more about their similarities and differences.

Anglican BeliefsReformed Beliefs
BibleAuthoritative; interpreted through traditionInfallible and inerrant; ultimate authority
GodOne God in three persons; omnipotent, omniscientOne God in three persons; sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient
Jesus ChristFully God and fully man; Savior of humanityFully God and fully man; predestined Savior
TrinityFather, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-equalFather, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-equal
Holy SpiritActive in the church; sanctifies believersActive in predestination; sanctifies believers
The AtonementChrist’s sacrifice redeems humanity; varies by theological stanceChrist’s sacrifice predestined for the elect
The ResurrectionLiteral and bodily resurrection of JesusLiteral and bodily resurrection of Jesus
The ChurchApostolic succession; universal and localCovenant community; universal and local
Church TraditionImportant but secondary to the BibleLess emphasis; Bible takes precedence
The Second ComingAwaited; details vary by theological stanceAwaited; often tied to predestination and election
Reformed Church
What does each tradition believe about the sacraments? See below

Anglican and Reformed Practices Compared

Worship ServicesHighly liturgical, follows Book of Common PrayerLess liturgical, focused on preaching
SacramentsBaptism, Holy Communion, and ConfirmationBaptism and Holy Communion
PrayerBook of Common Prayer often usedExtemporaneous; no set prayer book
ClergyPriests, bishops; some branches ordain womenMinisters, pastors; some branches ordain women
Church GovernanceEpiscopal (bishops have authority)Presbyterian or Congregational
Bible StudyEncouraged; often part of church activitiesStrong emphasis; central to faith practice
FastingOptional; some observe Lent and AdventLess emphasis; varies by denomination
MusicTraditional hymns; choral music commonHymns and Psalms; some branches avoid instruments
Social OutreachVarious charitable and social justice programsVarious charitable and social justice programs

In Anglicanism, the High Church refers to Christian traditions that emphasize formal liturgy, rituals, and the authority of clergy.

Low Church, on the other hand, focuses on a simpler, less formal worship style and often gives greater emphasis to the Bible over tradition.

Communion in Anglicanism and the Reformed Tradition

Nature of ElementsReal Presence or Symbolic: Views vary, but Christ is generally believed to be truly presentSpiritual Presence: Christ is spiritually, not physically, present
Who Can ParticipateBaptized believers; some churches also require confirmationBaptized believers; some churches also require a profession of faith
FrequencyVaries; often weekly in many churchesVaries; often monthly or quarterly
Form of BreadUsually unleavened; varies by churchUsually unleavened; varies by church
Use of Wine or Grape JuiceWine is common; some churches offer grape juiceWine or grape juice; varies by church
AdministrationBy ordained clergyBy ordained clergy
Liturgical SettingPart of the Eucharistic service; follows Book of Common PrayerPart of regular worship service; less liturgical
Role in SalvationMeans of grace; varies by theological stanceMeans of grace; strengthens faith

The Real Presence view holds that Christ is truly present in the elements of bread and wine during Communion, though not physically.

The symbolic view sees the bread and wine as mere symbols that represent Christ’s body and blood, without believing that He is actually present in them.

Baptism in Anglicanism and the Reformed Tradition

Mode of BaptismSprinkling, pouring, or immersionSprinkling, pouring, or immersion
Age of CandidatesInfants and adultsInfants and adults
Who Can BaptizeOrdained clergyOrdained clergy
FormulaTrinitarian: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”Trinitarian: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
Necessity for SalvationGenerally considered a means of grace; varies by theological stanceConsidered a means of grace; covenantal sign and seal
Role of FaithFaith and Baptism together are importantFaith receives the benefits of Baptism
ConfirmationSeparate sacrament, usually performed later in lifeNot a separate sacrament; profession of faith often required
Sponsors/GodparentsCommonly usedLess common; varies by denomination
Liturgical SettingPart of regular worship service or special servicePart of regular worship service
Recognition by Other DenominationsGenerally recognized by other Christian denominationsGenerally recognized by other Christian denominations

10 Key Events in Anglican and Reformed History

RankAnglican History EventsReformed History Events
11534: Act of Supremacy establishes Church of England1523: Zwingli’s 67 Articles in Zurich
21549: First Book of Common Prayer published1536: Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” published
31559: Elizabethan Religious Settlement1541: Calvin returns to Geneva
41604: King James Version of the Bible published1561: Belgic Confession adopted
51662: Revised Book of Common Prayer published1618-1619: Synod of Dort
61789: Episcopal Church in the U.S. established1643-1647: Westminster Assembly
71867: First Lambeth Conference1706: First American presbytery in Philadelphia
81888: Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral adopted1816: American Bible Society founded
91960s: Anglican Communion expands ordination of women1924: “Five Points of Calvinism” formulated
102003: Gene Robinson, openly gay bishop, consecrated1948: World Council of Churches founded

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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