The question is sometimes asked whether Anglicanism is Evangelical or Catholic. The answer is that classical Anglicanism is both Evangelical and Catholic at the same time. These are not contradictory terms, but are actually complimentary. Anglicanism is Evangelical Catholicism. Evangelical, properly understood, is an adjective, not a noun. Catholic on the other hand is a noun.
With the divisions in Christendom in the last 500 years this has become obscured. Even in Anglicanism, unhealthy church parties, or schools of theology, developed in the 19th century professing to be exclusively "Evangelical" or "Anglo-Catholic." How did this happen?
The word Catholic means universal, whole and complete. In AD 105, St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote, "Wherever the bishop appears, let the congregation be there also. Just as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." Why? Because the Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. AD 135) we read, "The church that sojourns at Smyrna to the church of God sojourning in Philomelium - and to all of the congregations of the holy and Catholic Church in every place." These and many similar texts show that the primitive church was episcopal in church government and that the term Catholic was used since the earliest times when referring to Christians "in every place."
By the early 18th century the Church of England had become very lukewarm, and had begun to fall into decay. But God was about to bring a great Revival. In November of 1729 John Wesley, Fellow of Lincoln, his brother Charles, student of Christ Church, and two others began to spend several evenings per week together reading the Greek New Testament. Soon others joined the group. One of the new members was John Clayton, the son of a Manchester bookseller. In his father's bookstore he had read many of the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, and began sharing their insights during the group's studies. Soon, the group was studying the Fathers and putting into practice what they learned, including the weekly reception of the sacrament of Holy Communion.
This group led by the Rev. John Wesley began attracting a lot of attention, and the seriousness of their religious pursuits in such a latitudinarian era led to them acquiring some derisive nicknames, including the Holy Club and the Methodists. They were called Methodists because of their method or rule which included regular prayer and Bible reading, the centrality of the cross, the necessity of personal conversion, the importance of evangelism and activism, the frequent reception of Holy Communion, and fasting.
This evangelical revival was also a sacramental revival. Large numbers of people experiencing personal conversion crowded into their once poorly attended churches for Communion to the consternation of latitudinarian clergy who were not used to such "excesses of enthusiasm." Where the clergy became Evangelical they quickly restored frequent celebrations of the Eucharist. John and Charles Wesley and their followers renewed the classical Anglican spirituality of the evangelical experience of personal conversion, justification by faith, and the centrality of the Holy Scriptures; and a catholic understanding of the meaning, significance and value of the Holy Eucharist, and an emphasis on the universal call to holiness.
While the Wesley's and their followers were successful in winning hundreds of thousands of people to a living faith in Christ, they failed for the most part in making the Eucharist and the Church central to their spirituality. This was primarily because the predominantly latitudinarian clergy shunned the Wesley's, discouraged the religious enthusiasm of their followers, and all but closed the churches to them. Sermons, rather than the Eucharist, became central to their spirituality.
A century later the Oxford Movement did for the Church what the Evangelical Revival had done for the individual. This Catholic Revival was a movement aimed at re-calling the Church to a proper understanding of its position with God and the State. The Tractarians were committed to the faithful use of the Book of Common Prayer and obedience to its rubrics, to teaching the importance of the Church, the Apostolic ministry, the sacraments, and the centrality of the Eucharist. The leaders of the Oxford Movement had no interest in creating a church party. Their interest was in reviving the whole Church. They used the term Anglo-Catholic as a name for the Church of England, not as a party label. They were "Anglo" because they were part of the English Church, and they were "Catholic," because the Anglican Church was the national Catholic Church of the British Isles.
Bishop John R. H. Moorman writes, "The best of the Anglo-Catholics realized that what they were doing was the natural outcome of evangelical religion with its insistence upon people's sin, and their redemption by the cross and sacrifice of Christ... Of Arthur Stanton, Mackonochie's curate and a thoroughgoing high-churchman, it was written that 'the constant — indeed the invariable — topics of his preaching were sin and forgiveness; the love of God towards the sinner and the sinners need of the cleansed heart; the guaranteed access to the Lord through the sacrament of the altar...' Here we get the perfect combination of the two approaches to religion; and many other Anglo-Catholics preached the same Gospel. E. B. Pusey, although the leader of the high-church movement, and one of the most disliked men in the country because of what he stood for and proclaimed, has been called 'one of the greatest English Evangelicals'... The Oxford Movement had been anti-liberal and anti-Erastian, but never anti-evangelical" (The Anglican Spiritual Tradition; Templegate Publishers; c. 1983; p. 165).
Donald Bridge and David Phypers point out, "Contrary to common opinion, however, Evangelicals were not prominent in organizing opposition to the early ritualistic changes... By the end of the nineteenth century, on practical points the Tractarians had won hands down and the Evangelicals had accepted defeat by adopting many of their reforms. Thus church buildings had been restored with chancel and altar-rail steps, interiors had been cleaned and redecorated, box-pews had been replaced by open forms, organs had become universal, choirs wore surplices, worship had become more reverent, weekly eucharists had everywhere been restored and all clergy had taken to wearing clerical collars at all times" (Communion; The Meal That Unites?; Harold Shaw Publishers, c. 1981; pp. 133-134).
It was only with the emergence of the post-Tractarians that Anglo-Catholicism became a church party, and the Evangelicals reacted by forming their own church party. This new generation, often called "Ritualists" saw the Book of Common Prayer as inadequate, replacing it with various privately published missals, and began embracing Roman rituals, doctrine and spirituality. E. B. Pusey, who had become the leader of the Tractarians, fought hard against this emerging movement which was seen as embracing Tridentine Roman Catholicism and seeking unity with an unreformed papacy.
Sometimes called Anglo-Papalists today, this party has caused great harm to Anglicanism. How? If the Prayer book can be discarded or "supplemented" in favor of unauthorized missals, then why cannot the liberals and others replace or "supplement" the Book of Common Prayer with liturgies of their own? If the Anglican formularies can be rejected in part or in whole, then why cannot the liberals and others do likewise? If Anglicans can embrace Roman theology, then why cannot the liberals and others adopt liberal-modernist or other teachings?
Church parties formed in the 19th century have been the bane of Anglicanism. Anglicans are Reformed Catholics, often called Evangelical Catholics. We must stop seeing ourselves as Evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics, and stop identifying ourselves by party labels. The term Anglo-Catholic is fine as long as it is used as a synonym for the Anglican Church as used by the Tractarians, but it must be discarded as a party label. And the term Evangelical is fine as long as it is used as a synonym for the Gospel as used by the Reformers of the 16th century, but it must also be discarded as a party label.
Anglicans are Evangelical Catholics. These terms are not two nouns, but an adjective (Evangelical) and a noun (Catholic). As Evangelicals we are Biblical Christians who proclaim the centrality of the cross, emphasize the necessity of personal conversion, and are committed to evangelism and activism. As Catholics we are Churchmen, committed to the historic visible Church which is the Body of which Christ is the Head, possess the Catholic ministry of male bishops, presbyters and deacons in Apostolic Succession, emphasize the three Creeds as faithful summaries of orthodox Christian doctrine, believe in the sacraments as objective means of grace with the Holy Eucharist as the center and summit of our spirituality, and proclaim the universal call to holiness.
Without the Evangelical spirit, there is no real Gospel to proclaim and no effective evangelism, and that is why Anglo-Catholic congregations tend to be greying and not reproducing. However, without the Catholic Body, Evangelical congregations tend to drift from Anglican faith and practice, and become increasingly like generic pop-evangelical congregations. Anglicanism is both thoroughly Evangelical and fully Catholic, and if we are to renew the Church we must see ourselves once again as Evangelical Catholics, committed to the classical Anglican formularies: the historic Book of Common Prayer and its Ordinal and Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and the two Books of Homilies; and embracing the fullness of our Anglican inheritance: the Church Fathers, Doctors, Reformers, Carolines, and Tractarians. In all of Christendom, only Anglicanism is both thoroughly Evangelical and fully Catholic, and that is why only Anglicanism can serve as a bridge Church and a healing balm in a divided Christendom.