High Church - Low Church

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The broadest two groupings among members of the Church of England are into High Church and Low Church. These, as their names suggest, are broadly opposed.

Both terms can be used as nouns and as adjectives: "he is very High Church in his observances" (adj.), and " The order which resists Reformation is the High Church" (n.). Very loosely defined, the groupings are:
  • High Church is that branch of the C of E that leans towards the Roman Catholic tendency of that compromise and inclusive institution. High Churchmen believe in the authority of the episcopacy, the effectiveness of the Sacraments, and the importance of continuity with the pre-Reformation church of the C of E.
    • In the seventeenth and, to a lesser extent, eighteenth centuries, High Church (first seen as the high-flown or high-flying church) was a term of abuse. High Church doctrines were associated with the Stuart dynasty, particularly the hated doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. The High Church is the Tory wing of the Church of England.
    • In the nineteenth century, the High Church was that associated with the Oxford Movement's drift, in the 1830s and 40s, towards, and attachment to, Rome. This, sometimes labelled 'bells and smells', focussed on the spiritual side of Christianity, which it found expressed in the rituals of traditional worship
  • Low Church, by contrast, was committed to the Reformation, distrusted ritual and thought that personal salvation and the Bible (the 'Word of God') were more important than bishops and ritual. The Low Church was associated with the Hanoverian dynasty and the Whig party.
    • In the nineteenth century, Low Church became, in opposition to the Oxford Movement's 'Romanism', a term for the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Scripture, rather than ritual, was the centre of Low Church practice. Where the extreme expression of the High Church was catholicism, the extreme expression of the Low Church was Methodism.
    • A Broad Church movement formed in the middle of the nineteenth century. It saw the Church of England as inclusive and tolerant, and aimed to combat the divisive behaviour of the High Church and Low Church groups, which behaved like separate parties within the single body of the C of E.
      • The term Broad Church is often used, in this age when fewer than half the population belong to any church, figuratively: it is used by analogy to describe an inclusive view of any institution, such as a political party, academic grouping, artistic movement and so on, which may be riven by factionalism or divided into smaller groups. There is always an implicit recognition that members of such groups have many differences of nuance and emphasis, and disagree about details of beliefs and practices, but that they are united by certain core principles.

There is also a television series called Broadchurch (one word), named for a fictional town called 'Broadchurch', in which a murder is committed and the mystery solved. The first series was shown in 2013, on ITV, and a second series has been announced - as well as a US remake (Fox; to be shown in 2014-5).