differences between high church Protestants and low church


Could someone explain the differences between these two terms, High Church and Low church? It seems to me that high church are closer to Catholics in their understanding of scripture, while low churches are the ones who are most likely to accuse Catholics of not being Christian. Am I correct?

Please don’t give me any links, just tell me in your own words.:slight_smile:


Hi Debs. We have a lot of high and low churches in Englnd. I think it applies mainly to Anglicans, who in GB are all under the Archbishop of Canterbury so to speak but have a number of different traditions. After the break with Rome under Henry VIII he actually stopped the process of reforming when his anger cooled down (sadly after the monasteries had been dissolved)Unfortunately his son Edward VI was led by Protestant type reformers and it was really impossible anyway to go back to Rome, or only Mary (a Catholic) would have had any legal right to the throne. A new Prayer book was issued and then again under Elizabeth I another one. Mary had sadly been rather unwise in her fanatical zeal and had married the King of Spain, England’s enemy, so eveyone was frightened of the Inquisition being allowed to come to England. It was a case of a big mess, with boats burned an no way back, and after Mary fear of Catholicism itself. This continued for some years. In the Nineteenh century, an Anglican Vicar, John Henry Newman, working at Oxford, became more and more dawn to original Catholic beliefs and he and his followers founded the Tractarian Movement or the Oxford Movement, which re-establised the Catholic doctrines but leaving the Pope and Vatican Council out of it.The Welsh Church immediately complied and embraced this idea, being closer to the Celtic Church. In the meantime, other faction of the church became more and more evangelical and Charles Kingsley (of the *Water Babies**attacked Newman in the papers.Newman wrote a wonderful book Apologia per vita sua to defend Catholic Doctrine. His house in Littlemore Oxford is now a Convent and shrine to him. What he did do was make Catholicism respectable in the Anglican Church. *Newman finally made a break with the Anglicans and became a Roman Catholic and finally Cardinal. This ‘High’ church are the conservatives of the Anglican Church. The Holy See is at the moment in talks with the Anglican Church, and it appears a joint statement will be made shortly by Canterbury and the Vatican. At the moment the buzz is that High Anglican Churches believing in the Real Presence and our Catholic Teaching in every respect (the High Church Mass is almost exactly the same!) maybe reunited with the Universal Church. We are all praying for this as it seems that the real head of the English Church, Queen Elizabeth has always defended the Christian religion,but more and more laws etc are being deferred to Europe, so perhaps she is not sure Prince Charles who has said he wants to be ‘Defender of faiths’ will do the same job. It is possibly neccessary, because of the splits occurring in the Anglican Church, they are looking for comig home to a stable doctrine. Anglican clergy who are married I believe have already been allowed to ‘cross over’ as women have been ordained,and I believe in one case a whole congregation, but I don’t have any source for that. It happened over women priests.So Low Churches are less Catholic and High Churches have more rituals and include all the sacraments.Thant’s my take any how!


Thank you for responding!

I am in the southern U.S.A and I think that our extreme humidity somehow effects religious beliefs:p There is a lot of wonderful passion for religion and I often am very awed by the Protestant zeal here. But I am also annoyed by the strange twisting of scriptures and the antiCatholicism that I find.

I’ve heard another poster, Contrarini, use the phrase low church and I have often wondered if most of the churches in the south are low church.


evelynicholson gave a good response, though I’d change a few small points in it (John Keble was the originator of the Oxford movement; Newman was one of the four major figures in the early days. And you can find liturgically "high " Anglicans who are doctrinally anything but conservative, these days). And low and high church do have particular meaning in Anglicanism. Which can also be applied in general, outside Anglicanism. Low churchs are generally on the more reformed, evangelical side (such as Baptist), high ones on the more liturgical side (Lutheran). It’s partly a matter of churchmanship, and partly a matter of doctrine.


Anglicanus Catholicus


In my understanding, the general way in which I have heard “high church/low church” used refers to the amount of liturgy and ritual rather than with the theology.


I think it’s more semantics and a matter of taste. I’ve been to Protestant services with smells and bells, pipe organs, sacred music, and chanted psalms and eucharistic liturgy, and been to Catholic masses with guitars and the most minimal liturgy permitted.

Liturgical tastes change over time. That doesn’t mean that liturgy (Greek for “work of the people”) changes. Context dictates a lot of this too; I have pastored in both rural and affluent areas. A high-church service in a small rural church makes about as much sense as having champaign with a Big Mac. But that doesn’t mean it has to be ‘hokey’ or hootenanny.

Sometimes, Eucharist can take place on a high altar, sung, with clergy vested in beautiful vestments. At other times, it takes place on an army jeep or prison kitchen bench. The point is… Christ is still present.



All right I am going to word this poorly, let me forewarn you all of that. But I am sincere in this question.

Occasionally a Catholic-especially those of us reared in the southern U.S- will ask a question such as “Why do Protestants believe that they only need the bible and nothing else not even going to church.”(Just an example, not meant to start a discussion on church attendance). Protestants on this board who attend Anglican, Methodist or Lutheran churches will quickly respond that they know of no Protestant that thinks this way. Or they will respond that the poster is using a rarity of thinking among Protestants to broadly paint all Protestant believes.

Of course both sides are correct. Certain denominations of Protestantism seems much closer to the Catholic understanding of salvation etc. then other beliefs.

This seems to be partly regional, partly it seems to be a difference among low church/ high church.

I am in the south. My state has the snake handlers. People who believe that Jesus will save them from poisonous snakes and purposely handle the creatures to prove their faith. Extreme forms of OSAS exist here as do much more fundamentalists beliefs.( I really think that it is a humidity thing:p ) Here, these types of Protestants seem to outnumber those of you who are more moderate.

Any way, I want to be fair in my posts so when I am asking a questions about the Protestants how do I differentiate between the different beliefs? Would saying that I mean low Protestants when I refer to such believers as fundamentalists be more appropriate then saying ‘some’ Protestants?


That is a fair statement, and a distinction I often make. High/low is basically churchmanship (2 candles or 6) and (in Anglicanism) reformed/Anglo-Catholic is generally doctrine. But the issue is a little fuzzy.



I would agree with those posters who said that you need to differentiate between PRACTICE and THEOLOGY. I can only speak for Anglicans, but I’ve certainly known my fair share who were rather “low church” but were more Catholic-minded than those who were “high church.” You most likely wouldn’t be wrong in saying that most Christians who are low church or high church would hold certain theological views, but it’s a generalization only, and there are always exceptions.


The Mass is all liturgy. You may be referring to liturgical practices.


I was curious about this. Catholic Mass are celebrated under many conditions, including in rural areas. I don’t know why liturgy would be inappropriate in rural places.:confused:


Re-read what I said:

“Liturgical tastes change over time. That doesn’t mean that liturgy (Greek for “work of the people”) changes.”





This reminds me of a small Catholic church my parents and I tried to attend in a small, small town in the south where people often thought we were aliens, being Catholics. This church was literally big enough to hold 4 pews from front-to-back and 2 adults could sit in each pew.

Thank goodness I am an only child…if I had any siblings, there would not have been any room left for anyone else, lol.

As far as the high church/low church, my take on it, listening to my Episcopalian mother-in-law, is the amount of liturgical practices and the tradition of it in the church. In her case, the term “high church” also seems to reflect a more conservative approach.



You didn’t use quote so I have no idea who you are referring to.:o


I was speaking to everyone.


I think you are mixing concepts here. Almost all devout Christians whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, “high church”, “low church”, Pentacostal, Charismatic, etc. believe that you need to attend Church and be in the fellowship of other Christians. On the other hand, many non-devout Christians, whatever their theological bent, find worshipping God on the golf course Sunday morning to be perfectly theologically sound.

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