"HIGH" CHURCH VS "LOW" CHURCH:
The terms "High Church" and "Low Church" were coined originally in regard to differing positions on matters within the Church of England, or Anglican Church.
But the term "High Church" has evolved over the centuries, and is used today with a somewhat expanded meaning.
The author of these treatises finds the expression "High Churches" a convenient and quick way to inform his reader he is speaking of a certain "type" of "Christianity," and so it would serve my reader well to be informed as to what is meant by the term, both in Christendom at large, and in these treatises.
For those who only wish the "short answer" as to what "my" definition of the "High Church" is, I think the Webster's Dictionary definition is quite adequate, and I reproduce it here:
"High church - Inclined to magnify the authority and jurisdiction of the church; laying great stress on a particular form of ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies; attaching the highest importance to the episcopal office and the apostolic succession, as in the Anglican church and its branches." - Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary (Unabridged), published by Publisher's Guild, Inc., New York, 1936, Copyright, 1936 The World Syndicate Publishing Co.
Allow me to highlight: The so-called "High Church" puts great stress on ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies, and it attaches the HIGHEST importance to the EPISCOPAL office meaning the authority of BISHOP and PRIESTHOOD (as distinguished from the "laity" or the people) "as in the ANGLICAN church."
If you have only THAT, you have my basic meaning. Especially note what the Webster's said they put the "HIGHEST importance" on. If you want a more rounded understanding of what it means when found in my writings, read the rest here:
As stated the terms arose within the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church held England in its grip for many centuries, until King Henry VIII of England pulled England out from under the Pope"s rule.
The resulting "independent" national church, the "Church of England" or "Anglican Church," was still "Catholic" in all its ways, liturgy, rituals, ceremonies, and etc. It still had cathedrals, priests wearing clerical vestments, nuns, the mass, and looked every bit as "Catholic" as it had always been.
The Reformation in Europe that had begun more than a decade earlier with Luther, was not the reason for King Henry taking the English Church out of "Rome." He had some personal quarrels with the Pope over wanting to re-marry.
But once he did, you then had a still "very Catholic non-Catholic" church in England.
However, even before the break with Rome in 1534, there had been "reformist" types in England, such as the Lollards, who desired to see the same reforms in England such as Luther"s movement was accomplishing on the continent.
When Henry broke the English church off from Rome, the lines were re-drawn in completely different places on the religious map. The Church of England naturally became a sort of "ally" of the "Protestant" camp in Europe. And, the reformist types inside the Church of England thought that now perhaps they would have a greater voice and new influence. They began to call for the genuine "Reformation" of the Church of England, along "Protestant" lines.
As stated, it was still a "very Catholic non-Catholic" church. Here was a church still beset with Roman ritual, ceremony and liturgy, in almost every respect "as Catholic as ever," which was now however somewhat "allied" with the "Protestant" world.
But it will be helpful to realize that it was AFTER the Church of England broke with Rome, and AFTER King Henry made himself Head of the Church, that this same Church of England hounded and persecuted William Tyndale for attempting to translate the Scriptures into English, and finally tracked him down, captured him, and strangled him and burned him for it. The "new" Church of England proved herself capeable of being every bit as "Roman Catholic" in her WAYS as she had been before the break.
NOW TO THE POINT:
Many in the Church of England were loyal to Rome and to the Pope at the time of the break, and never did want England to be anything but Roman Catholic. When the king took the English church "out of Rome," these people were very unhappy. From the very instant of the break in 1534 there were two major "parties" in the Church of England, those who leaned toward keeping the Church of England as "Catholic" as possible, and those who leaned toward continuing the "Reformation" process toward "Protestantism" or "Evangelicalism."
The party that leaned toward preserving "Catholic" ways of "doing church" came to be refered to as the "HIGH" Church party. Those who leaned toward "Evangelical" ways, were labeled the "LOW" Church party.
Pardon an overly simplistic characterization: But it might help the reader if he envisions priests attending the altar and performing the mass, with all the vestments, and trappings, candles, and etc. and letting this represent the "HIGH" Church. At the other end, think of those who had taken up the Protestant cry of "Sola Scriptura," that "solely the Scriptures," or, "only the Bible" is the authority for doctrine, faith and practice, and not a hierarchy of priests. These who were saying we should hold up the Bible and follow it as our Light, and let it lead us in changing and transforming the Church of England, were labeled the "LOW" Church party.
I realize that there are some who will OBJECT to my characterization, and think it is too "polarized." But I am here only trying to give my reader a shortcut to understanding my terminology when I happen to say "High Church" in my writings, without sending them off to read entire church histories and learn countless details. I am seeking a "fast track" for communication.
EVOLUTION OF THE TERM "HIGH" CHURCH:
In time, in common usage, the term "High Church" came to refer to ANY denominational church that tended toward "Catholic ways," such as rituals, ceremonies, vestments, candles, and what some have called "dead formality" in religion.
It no longer mattered what denomination one was discussing. Lutheranism has a wing that keeps to such "dead formalism," and this comes under this definition of "High Church" we are discussing. Likewise following the same definition, there is now what can be called "HIgh Church Presbyterianism," a wing of that church that similarly is characterized by "dead formalism."
In some cases the "High Church" wing of such Protestant denominations as these also happens to be the party in their denomination calling for ecumenical mergers with other "High" churches. In other words, many "High Church Lutherans" would like to see the ecumenical merger of the Lutheran denominations with the Church of England, or Anglican Church. And many "High Church Presbyterians" would like to see the ecumenical merger of the Presbyterian denomination with the Lutherans. Likewise, many of this sort in the Church of England, Anglican, Episcopalian, etc., want a return to Rome, want to "bring the church back" to being once again Roman Catholic.
It can be seen that the "High Church" crowd identifies with things "formal" and "traditional" and often even with "ritual." They tend to admire a "clergy" that is a "priesthood" set apart from the "laity" or the common congregation. That is, they tend to embrace the "episcopal" model of the papacy, a hierarchy of priests over the people. This is in direct clash with the "priesthood of all believers" taught by Luther originally, that every believer is a "priest" in the "royal priesthood" spoken of in 1 Peter 2:5 & 9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10, and 20:6, and that no man-made priesthood stands between us and Christ.
If the reader understands our explanations and (admittedly over-simplistic) definitons here of the term "High Church" or "High Churches," he can understand that the term refers to these:
The Roman Catholic Church.
The Lutheran churches (those of them that embrace formalism and episcopacy).
The Church of England.
Anglican Communion branches, Episcopal Church, etc.
Some Presbyterian churches (those that embrace formalism & etc).
THERE ARE MORE HIGH CHURCHES:
A lesson should be learned from the fact that although the Church of England broke from Rome, men have remained at work to "bring her back" into that "fold."
The same lesson should be learned from the simple fact that so many Lutherans, who were once the leading champions of deliverance FROM Rome, would now like to lead Christians BACK to Rome.
What lesson is that? When a church gets "big" and embraces "formalism" and begins to think of itself as the repository of old church "traditions," it starts to become, in its nature, LIKE the Roman Catholic Church. That is WHY some of the very churches which once delivered people FROM Rome now are attracted to the idea of merging WITH Rome. WHY? Because the nature they develope as they age and grow as a church, is ROME-LIKE. It happened because the LEAVEN of the Papacy was left lingering in the lump of dough.
Allow me a harsh and unpleasant (yet fitting) analogy: Think of a prostitute who has a daughter. When the daughter is a teenager she is wilful and rebellious and wants to go her own way. She doesn"t want her prostitute mother bossing her around. She rebelliously tells her mother, "You have no room to talk! Look at you! Why should I listen to you? GOODBYE!" But this teenager grows up, and it turns out that her mother"s traits are IN her. She gained her independence from her mother"s control, but, she did not do a good job of "watching out" about her own inner developement. Her upbringing as a child left its mark. And so in time, this young woman turns to prostitution herself. When she was young and rebellious she was angry at her mother for those very practices. But she has grown up to be "her mother"s daughter." Now she has "street smarts." Now she is a prostitute herself, and can be heard to say, "Mom wasn"t so dumb after all. Now I understand. Mom knew what she was doing. Life is tough. Sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to get by. Sometimes this is just how it is." Oh, how she HATED her mother"s prostitution when she was young! And she wanted OUT! And she GOT out! But behold! She did not take care to do things differently in her own life, and within herself. She repeated the patterns she saw in her mother.
That is precisely what happens to some churches that grow big, and get some years behind them. When they were a "new" church, they were outspoken against the "dead formalism" of the older churches that had been before them. They could tell you all the dangers of "man-made religion" and how we should "go by the Bible instead." But "man-made traditions" are sneaky things. When a church is around for a long time, it has regular "ways of doing things," and they tend to become "form." Form, formula, formal. The years roll by. The church grows big. And they have their "set" ways of doing things. In time they no longer say "because the Bible says" but are found saying "this is the way its done. This is how the church does it. This is what we"ve always done." A newcomer opens his Bible and asks, "Well, what about this verse?" No longer do these church folks all flip open their Bibles like Bereans to see "if these things be so." No. Now they just tell the newcomer, "Our church does it this way. If you don"t like it, tough. Are you just here to disrupt?" And the policy becomes simply "knuckle under" and "get in step." They have forgotten that once upon a time Martin Luther standing against Rome"s dead religion was one of their heroes. They have forgotten that they once believed that questioning the "system" with an open Bible and an open heart was not only heroic, but it was good, it was the RIGHT way, it was the GODLY way to be. Ah yes, but that was back when their particular church was just an infant church. Now that they have millions of dollars of real estate, and the church has a substantial cash flow, a stable protective "system" needs to be in place, so this big "machine" can operate with no risks or disruptions. Nothing must "rock the boat." They begin to desire the church to be much like a "fortress," safe, solid, and secure. And nothing provides STABILITY quite like FORM. Tradition. Doors open at the same time on the clock, every time. Lights on at such and such O"clock, off at such and such O"clock. Seating is done THIS way. The service is done THIS way. The offering plate is passed at THIS time. New members attend THIS catechism class and learn about THIS. Our doctrine on water baptism is carved in stone, un-changeable, and is stated THIS way. We have THIS policy toward missions. Ministry is viewed THIS way. THIS is what a legitmate clergyman must be. THIS is how it is done. We do church THIS way. Period. They do not monitor this inner developement. They do not detect that they are doing things the way that Rome before them did it. They do not realize that the stones are being set in the ground that will become the pavement stones of the road back to Rome. No, I do not mean coming back under the Pope. Remember the daughter of the prostitute? She did NOT go back to LIVE WITH her mother. She simply became what her mother WAS. She became LIKE her.
This process of "BECOMING A HIGH CHURCH" is happening in denominations and even in single, non-denominational "independent" churches all over the world. It is happening to both Reformed and Arminian, to Baptist and Methodist, to Congregational and Presbyterian, to Pentecostal and Charismatic. It can happen to a "Miller"s Creek Holy Ghost Revival Snake Handling Full Gospel Church of Faith in Jesus Only" and it can happen to the "Glass Cathedral of the Power of Positive Thinking." It can happen to a church whose doctrines are fiercely anti-Catholic, a church which proudly denounces "Romanism" and the "Papacy," which loudly denounces "dead religion" and "traditions of men." That is not a relibale defence. All of those things can be learned by wrote and parrotted by habit, even while it goes un-noticed that they are starting to do things the "papal way" themselves.
Form and routine and tradition and a set way of "doing church" can become "how ROME did it." When the LEAVEN of traditionalism is left un-noticed in the lump of dough, even the best of churches, whether "independent" or not, can evolve into a "HIGH" church.
How did the office of the "Pope" come into being? What CREATED the first "Pope?" Think back to the origins of the thing in Rome, before they called the fellow the "Pope." How did that position develope? What was the "evolution" of it? There was a "process." And I tell you, that if Christians are not on guard against the leaven, any Baptist pastor, any Charismatic pastor, any Apostolic/Prophetic "leader" or "Senior Elder" of any kind of church whatsoever can be allowed to develope into a "pope" by that very same process. The "elders" and "deacons" and the "board" can become exactly what the Holy See is, the Roman Curia. (Look up the Holy See or Roman Curia.)
ANY kind of a church can slip into that "process" and evolve into that kind of a church.
But let us return to our discussion of the existing "HIGH" churches.
POWER AND DOMINATION:
Up through history the existing "High Church" or "High churches" have exhibited a track record of exalting tradition, church policy, and church authority, or, their "status quo," above the authority of the Scriptures.
It matters not if in their Creeds or Articles of Faith it is stated that the Scriptures are authoritative. That may be written somewhere as an official "position," but IN PRACTICE the Bible doesn"t stand a chance against the church tradition, church policy, and church authority in the High churches. We"ve all heard the expression, that something "doesn"t stand a snowball"s chance in hell" of succeeding. That"s not profanity or "cussing" by the way. It literally means hell is hot (which is not ungodly to point out), and a snowball wouldn"t stand a chance there. Well, I tell you, even if this or that "High church" has written in their Articles of Faith that the Bible is the recognized authority, if some member of the church stands up and opens his Bible and challenges some "tradition" of the church, he "doesn"t stand a snowball"s chance in hell" of succeeding.
Historically, the "High" churches have persecuted the reformers. Men who tried to oppose indulgences, denounced the belief in purgatory, or the worship of saints, were resisted by the High Church.
Men who sought to translate the Bible into the language of the people, so that it could be read and studied by the common man, were opposed by the High churches, and some were even burned at the stake.
Puritans and Separatists were opposed by the High Church establishment of the Church of England.
King James was the Head of the Church of England. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings, and held himself to be the Defender of the Faith (a lofty way of saying "in charge of" it). He felt he had every right to "meddle" in the work of the Bible translators, and to give orders as to how the translating was to be done, or not done.
James had an "understanding" or a "deal" with the High Church, the Church of England, when it came to the translating and publishing of the Bible we have come to call the "King James Version." His "deal" with the hierarchy of the Church of England was, while the translators might accurately translate words which could expose errors of the ROMAN CATHOLIC Church, they were to STOP SHORT OF translating any words that could do the same thing to the Church of ENGLAND! The traditions of the Church of England which were pleasing to the hierarchy, the establishment, were NOT to be exposed by rightly translating anything.
James set down rules that the translators had to adhere to, which would preserve the status quo of the established Church.
ONE of the issues that everyone knew was going to come up during the translation work was, what to do with the word variously identified as "ekklesia, ecclesia, church, and congregation." James and the High Church over which he was Head, or, the establishment, were very happy being called the "church" and they didn"t that word accurately translated from the Greek into English. They knew it was going to come up because PREVIOUS translation work had ALREADY brought to light that the word "church" is wrong.
The FIRST English Bible translated from Greek did NOT translate the word "ekklesia" as church. William Tyndale's translation (1526) used the term "congregation" in place of "church." Tyndale completed the translation of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament before he was martyred.
Mind you, "congregation" itself is only a "step in the right direction," and not entirely accurate. The word being translated was the Greek word "ekklesia" which literally means "out-called" or "called out" and is identifying God"s people as "The Called Out Ones." Tyndale was obviously aware that the Anglo-Saxon word "church" (circe) speaks of a physical place or thing, like a structure, a building, and "ekklesia" speaks of people. So he took a "step in the right direction" and used the word "congregation." That"s an improvement, in the sense that a congregation of people at least speaks of people instead of a dead inanimate structure. And, it may be pointed out that in some places in the New Testament the "ekklesia" (The Called Out Ones) are being addressed in the context of being gathered. So, in those instances, they were a "congregation" OF The Called Out Ones, and so "congregation" is not too bad of a rendering. But "CHURCH" is just plain WRONG. Many scholars, like Tyndale, thought that "ekklesia" was trying to communicate "congregation," and elsewhere in our treatises we have shown why they thought it, and have shown why we believe "ekklesia" in the New Testament is really denoting God"s pople as "The Called Out Ones." But this is not the place for that.
Suffice it make clear HERE, as HISTORY, that King James and the High Church realized, that the word "CHURCH" was one of the "TARGETS" of those who sought to make accurate English translations.
John Rogers, an assistant and friend of William Tyndale, completed the translation of the Old Testament using some work from Coverdale and published the first entire Tyndale Bible under the pen name "Thomas Matthew." This Bible was called the Matthew's Bible (1537) and also used the term "congregation" and rightly threw out "church."
The next English Bible, the Great Bible (1539), also used the term "congregation."
However, in 1557 the Geneva New Testament, produced by William Whittingham, was the first to translate the Greek word "ekklesia" as the Anglo-Saxon (English) word "church." This was the word in common circulation among the "English" people, for the physical structures, the buildings, we are now used to calling "churches." And for all the centuries that the Roman Catholic Church had been the established religion in England, it had served them well that the English-speaking common people used the word "church." And nothing changed in that regard in 1534 when King Henry broke with Rome. The High Church was still the High Church, and was still possessed of its traditions. And just as the misnomer "church" had served the Roman Catholic hierarchy well, it continued to serve the hierarchy of the Church of England well, AFTER the break with Rome.
So, when the Geneva Bible of 1557 "covered back up" what the Tyndale Bible and the Matthew"s Bible, and the Great Bible had started to bring to light about the word "church," the High Church was pleased as punch. They essentially said, "Let the people READ this word the same way they are in the habit of saying it verbally, for it serves our ends. And let"s not allow the NEXT bunch of translators to start messing with it AGAIN."
Therefore when the new translation (the "King James") was permitted to get underway, King James imposed fifteen rules the translators had to abide by. These rules were called "Articles."
Two of the "Articles" in particular put shackles on the translators so they could not translate the word "church" rightly:
"Article 1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit."
"Article 3. The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation etc."
Allow me to clarify: "The old ECCLESIASTICAL Words to be KEPT, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation etc."
"CHURCH" was to be "KEPT" (as in the previous English translation) and "NOT TO BE TRANSLATED." I just LOVE the "etc." they tagged on. It was not to be translated congregation or ETC. It was doubtless already murmered among the clerics that "congregation" was just the tip of the iceberg. Personally, I think they feared the "ETC" even more than "congregation." And I personally think the "ETC" is "The Called Out Ones."
But, quite plainly, they clamped a lid on, and forbade changing the word "church."
The reader who wishes to do more in-depth research regarding this "Article 3" is referred to James Baikie, The English Bible Its Story (Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1928), from page 273 on.
Let me insert here for the benefit of lovers of the King James Bible, that I am "one of you." Do not take my critique of how the word "ekklesia" was kept covered as any kind of an "attack" on the KJV. To the contrary, I am quite loyal to the KJV, and it is my own personal favorite Bible. I was raised reading the KJV, and I learned all of my foundational doctrines of the Christian Faith in the King James Version. In almost all instances where I quote the Scriptures, either in writing, or in verbal conversations, I will be found quoting the KJV. I do study in numerous translations, and I do compare between them, for the sake of research, etc. But to date, no other translation has "won my heart" as has the KJV. So please understand, when I point something out about the KJV as I have in this article, I am NOT "leaving" the KJV. It is still "my Bible." Pointing out a flaw here or there is done as a friend and devotee of the KJV, not an adversary. When it comes to the Word of God being inspired and inerrant, etc., I am absolutely a believer. That belief in inspiration and inerrancy however is properly to be attached to the ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS. That is, the Old Testament, penned by the Prophets and the Servants of God, transmitted to us in Hebrew, and, the New Testament, transmitted to us in Greek by the New Testament Apostles and Servants of God, THESE ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN MANUSCRIPTS constitute that INSPIRED, INERRANT, PERFECT Word of God we believe in. We hold them to be "God-breathed." "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). When it comes to matters of DIVINE TRUTH, the work of "good" translation of a Bible comes down to how good of a job the translators can do of getting BACK to the meaning penned in those ORIGINAL PERFECT INSPIRED MANUSCRIPTS. Those ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS are, in my view, beyond human critique, beyond judging. They are the perfect Word of God sent down from heaven. But every new "TRANSLATION " that comes along, is subject to SCRUTINY. All Christians have the right to examine every translation "project" out in the light (and that includes the beloved KJV) and to ask to be shown how well the translators worked at conforming the translation to the ORIGINAL Greek or Hebrew Manuscripts, what sources they used, and what their reasons were for choosing this or that word, in translation. Our unflinching LOYALTY is to whatever word in a translation can best be shown to "get back to the original" Hebrew or Greek. And that is PRECISELY what I am doing with the word "ekklesia" in the Word of God.
Thank you for permitting me that "insert."
But for this particular page, on the "High churches," I am pointing out the TRAITS that they all tend to have in common, of resisting or suppressing the use of the Scriptures as the sole authority for Christian faith and practice, resisting reforms based purely on the Word of God, resisting the more "evangelical" trends of Protestantism, and, of seeking to pull Christianity back into the old "Catholic ways" of formalism, tradition, and ritual.
Those who see the spirit of the Protestant Reformation as a movement to "get back to the Bible" and "let the Bible be boss," will readily be able to see that all of the "High churches" have historically been resistant to that way. That "reformation" spirit, by its very nature, challenges the "traditions of men," but, the "traditions of men" are precisely the bread and butter of, the mainstay of, the "High churches."
It is in this light that I use the term "High Church" or refer to "High churches" in my writings.