Who’s the head of the Anglican Church (worldwide)? Some might say that it’s the Archbishop of Canterbury—while others might say it’s the Queen of England. Sorry, but both answers are wrong. The head of the Church is none other than Jesus Christ, he is the head of the Church.
That’s why it is so annoying that so many people believe that Henry VIII wanted a divorce so he declared himself to be the head of the Church in England. If it was just the matter of a divorce, well, sadly, Henry had other means at his disposal for ending marriages that he wasn’t afraid to use. So, that’s false. The vast majority of people in the British Isles were Christians, but they wouldn’t have gone along with separating from the Roman Church without a more significant reason than a king wanting a divorce.
The fact is that a couple of decades earlier the Reformation started to take root in northern Europe and the thinking that spurred it influenced the Church in England. So, when Henry finally got around to deciding to separate from Rome, there were lots of bishops, clergy and people already on board. Not everyone, of course, agreed and there were many years of turmoil ahead for the Church and people.
Although Henry might have declared himself the head of the Church, the Reformation’s influence would have held other principles more highly. Such as the central idea of the primary role of the individual in Christian faith. For example, the Reformers thought that all Christians members of the priesthood of all believers, since everyone is able to access God through prayer. “We are all priests, as many of us as are called Christians,” Luther wrote in On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. The clergy of the church, he argued, have authority over lay people only inasmuch as the people have granted this authority. And not because they are a special class of people.
No priest, no bishop and certainly no king (or queen) has the authority to stand between the individual believer and God.
There’s no doubt that the Church in England was heavily influenced by the Reformation. For the most part, Martin Luther’s criticism was against perceived abuses and excesses in the Church. If the 95 Thesis had been greeted with acceptance and change, there would not have been a division of the Church into various “denominations.” However, the reformation created great turmoil in which many people lost their lives. Which is why Reformation Sunday is seen as a commemoration, rather than a celebration. One cannot help but wonder if God wouldn’t prefer the Church to be one.