How Founded.—The Church of England may be regarded as a product of the Protestant Reformation. Its history is held to begin with the refusal of Henry 'VIII to own further allegiance to the pope. Then the Protestant Episcopalian Church is the lineal descendant and successor in America of the Church of England.
Early Progress.—When Sir Francis Drake (1579) made only a temporary landing on the coast of what is now California, his chaplain, Francis Fletcher, held regular services out of the Book of Common Prayer, and in a manner claimed the new territory for the Church of England. The early patents, or charters, granted to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, and others who landed on the coast toward the close of the sixteenth century, particularly stressed the obligations to convert the heathen aborigines, and it was stipulated that the Christian faith as taught by the colonists should be in agreement with that of the same church. Records exist of baptisms performed about this time. 'The first church building of which there is any reliable account was erected at Jamestown, Virginia, under the auspices of Robert Hunt.
Foreign Missions.—It was not until the organization in 1701 of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts that the church began its more aggressive career in America. Missionary work began at the very outset of its history, even in colonial days, among the Indians and Negroes. As to work in foreign and heathen lands, the church began to show her interest and sense of responsibility early in the nineteenth century.
The heterogeneous character of the country's population has led the church to organize special missions for the benefit of its different elements. Special work is also undertaken among the blind, the deaf, soldiers, the inmates of various institutions—both benevolent and penal—etc.
Doctrines.—Sole and supreme authority of the Scriptures is emphasized as in the doctrine of justification by faith. But the Church of England, while recognizing the supremacy of Scripture, recognizes also the authority of the church, and says, "The church bath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith." But it is always subordinate to Scripture : "It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written."
The church expects of all its members loyalty to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the one holy Catholic apostolic church of three historic Catholic creeds—the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian—in all the essentials, but allows liberty in nonessentials. ' It believes in infant baptism by sprinkling, the creed of the Christian theory of the sacraments, and also in the advent hope.
The Church of England, and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America tolerate two classes of opinion—Anglo-Catholic or "High-Church" view, and the "Low- or Broad-Church" view.
The Anglo-Catholic ("High-Church") view of the episcopate is in essential particulars that of the Roman Catholic Church. It does not, however, recognize the superior authority of the pope as the Vicar of Christ and the infallible successor of St. Peter, nor even place ordination among the sacraments. But it regards episcopacy (church government by bishops) as indispensable to the very being of the church; holds to the transmission of grace by the imposition of hands ; accepts apostolic succession; and denies validity to any ministry not ordained by bishops.
The "Low-Broad-Church" view regards the episcopate as desirable and necessary for the wellbeing of the church. The episcopal is not the only form of government with Scriptural authority (if it, or any other, be recommended by Scripture), but the one best adapted for forwarding the interests of Christ's kingdom among men.
How Large Today.—At the end of the year 1939 the total membership in the United States was 1996,434.