- Impact of the Bible
- The cultural influence of the Bible and Christianity in England
- Bible in English culture, The
- English Bible Translations
- Influence of the Book of Common Prayer on the English language
- A history of the church in England
- Culture and sung Christian worship
- Famous stories from the Bible
- Literary titles from the Bible
- Common Sayings from the Bible
- Big ideas from the Bible
- Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming
- Ascent and descent
- Atonement and sacrifice
- Babel, language and comprehension
- Bride and marriage
- Cain and Abel
- City and countryside
- Community, church, the body of Christ
- Creation, creativity, image of God
- Cross, crucifixion
- Death and resurrection
- Desert and wilderness
- Donkey, ass
- Doubt and faith
- Dreams, visions and prophecy
- Earth, clay, dust
- Feasting and fasting
- Forgiveness, mercy and grace
- Fruit, pruning
- Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, 'Second Adam'
- Gateway, door
- Grass and wild flowers
- Incarnation (nativity)
- Inheritance and heirs
- Jewels and precious metals
- Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel, Israelites
- Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners
- Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass
- Lost, seeking, finding, rescue
- Messiah, Christ, Jesus
- Mission, evangelism, conversion
- Noah and the flood
- Numbers in the Bible
- Parents and children
- Path, way
- Penitence, repentance, penance
- Poverty and wealth
- Promised Land, Diaspora, Zionism
- Rabbi, Pharisee, teacher of the law
- Redemption, salvation
- Rock and stone
- Seed, sowing
- Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast
- Servant-hood, obedience and authority
- Sheep, shepherd and lamb
- Temple, tabernacle
- Ten Commandments, The
- Trinity, Holy Spirit
- Vine, vineyard
- Weeds, chaff, briar, thorn
- Wisdom and foolishness
- Women in the Bible
- Word of God
- Work and idleness
- Investigating the Bible
- Literary allusions to the Bible
- Pilgrimage in literature
- Biblical style in poetry
- Biblical imagery in metaphysical poetry
- Bible/Literature intertextuality
- The cultural influence of the Bible and Christianity in England
A history of the church in England
The early English church
Christianity became established in Britain during the period that the British were governed by Rome, probably by the second century CE. During the fifth and sixth centuries, however, England had been conquered by the pagan Anglo-Saxons (made up of Angles, Saxons and Jutes – tribal groups from the coastlands of north-east Europe) and the Christian communities which remained were scattered. In 597 CE, Pope Gregory I sent a groups of monks from Rome, led by Augustine of Canterbury, to plant Christianity in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent. On arrival, he found groups of Christians around the Welsh borders and in the West of England, whose traditions were Celtic.
Though the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms gradually adopted the Christian faith, Celtic and Roman Christians clashed over some aspects of Christian practice, and these differences were resolved by a synod in Whitby in 667. Roman Catholic practice largely prevailed, emphasising:
rule by bishops
urban Christian centres
uniform religious practice.
The influence of some aspects of Celtic Christianity remained, however, and it continued to predominate in some areas of Britain.
Despite further disruption caused by the invasion of pagan Vikings during the late eighth and ninth centuries, by the time of the Norman invasion (1066), the monarchs of Anglo-Saxon England were Christian, ruling over a Christianised land.
The medieval church
For 400 years, Christianity in England continued its allegiance to Rome, with periodic tensions between popes and monarchs claiming authority over each other. Mass (Holy Communion) was a spectacle watched by lay people, rather than a communion meal. The Church controlled social life through:
Bishops were key political figures, influential in national decisions. At best, the Church was a spiritual and moral guardian, but at times it became corrupt, exercising power for financial gain or abusive social control.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was an increasing interest in direct spiritual experience of God and questioning of some of the emphases and attitudes of the church.
The Reformation in England
Under Henry VIII, the English (Anglican) Church became independent of Rome. Henry was responsible for closing all religious communities, for political and financial gain rather than for religious reasons. By 1600 it was a Protestant Church, emphasising:
Christian education for everyone.
The Protestant Reformation also removed:
prayers for the dead
the idea that Mass is a sacrifice
Not all English Christians thought that this Reformation went far enough. Offended by the Church of England's link with the state, or rule by bishops, or a prayer book, they broke away and formed new groupings: Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist in particular. During the disrupted politics of the 17th century, more radical groups like the Quakers emerged. These are all Nonconformists because they did not conform to the state church.
However, from 1662 until the 1820s, it was technically illegal to be anything other than an Anglican. During this period, the Church of England (and some of the Nonconformists) was:
influenced by rationalist thinking
bound by class hierarchies
antagonistic to religious experience
hidebound by tradition.
18th century developments
Two new and related movements breathed new life into Christianity in England in the 18th century: the Evangelical Revival and the Missionary Movement. The Revival woke up many traditional churches, Anglican and Nonconformist, and gave birth to new denominations, especially Methodism. Key features of the revival included:
emphasis on the need to be born again
enthusiastic biblical preaching
strict spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, social work
gathering in small groups, or societies.
19th century Evangelicalism
During the 19th century, many English Christians identified themselves as Evangelicals, meaning that their faith centred on:
new Christian communities in Asia, Africa and elsewhere
Bible translations and distribution
Christian schools, hospitals.
English Christians were also very active in social concern, challenging ills like slavery, child labour, prison and labour conditions, and urban squalor.
The Oxford Movement
In the 19th century, there was much debate about whether the Church of England should remain established, playing a formal role in the life of the nation. Most Anglicans wanted the link between Church and State to remain, but some agitated for less state interference in church affairs. This led in 1834 to the formation of the Oxford Movement, born of a desire to reduce parliamentary control. It rapidly became a movement stressing:
elaborate liturgical worship
Baptism and Holy Communion as effective signs of God's grace
sometimes, sympathy with Roman Catholicism.
Challenges to belief
The 19th century was a time of great challenge for English Christians. Scientific discoveries led to new theories about the age of the world, and seemed to deny the biblical doctrine of creation. Darwin's Origin of Species proved the greatest challenge, questioning whether life:
was created, and / or evolved
had purpose, or was random
was ultimately benevolent, or ‘red in tooth and claw'.
20th century crises of faith
The 20th century saw this crisis of faith continue.
Two World Wars fought by supposedly civilised Christian nations caused many to lose their faith.
Genocide [Armenia, Russia, of the Jews, Rwanda] raised the philosophical question as to whether God can be good, if he exists.
Modernity, with its confidence in progress, reason and order, collapsed into post-modernity, which questions all absolute truths, values and meaning.
Church attendance declined as a result of this.
Successive waves of immigration have increased the numbers and profile of adherents of other faiths, notably Islam. Some faith groups have become actively evangelistic, often copying Christian methods to achieve growth.
The church today
The present picture is mixed. England is highly secular: for many, religion of any kind is irrelevant. Consumerism, increased wealth and leisure activity have created a hedonistic society, with pleasure a primary aim. Belief in God remains high, but is more likely to be expressed in a privatised way – as personal spirituality - than in a church community. England could thus be described as a post-Christian country.
At the same time 20% of churches in the U.K. are experiencing growth. These are mostly Evangelical, Charismatic or Pentecostal, emphasising detailed preaching and teaching, lively worship and new forms of gathering, like café church.
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