Since the Oxford movement the church has developed wonderful energy. Yet it is beset with difficulties and dangers both from within and without. Within, besides difficulties as regards ritual, it has to contend against rationalism, which has been stimulated by scientific discoveries and speculations, and far more by Biblical criticism. While this criticism has been used by many as a means to a fuller comprehension of divine revelation, much of it is simply destructive, and has led to ill-considered expression of opinion adverse to the doctrine of the church. From without, the church has been threatened with disestablishment both wholly and as regards the dioceses within the Welsh counties; and the education of the poor, which from early days depended on its care, has largely been taken out of its hands (see Education). The amount contributed by the church to elementary education, including the maintenance of Sunday schools, in 1907-8 was £576,012.
During the last sixty years the church has strengthened its hold on the loyalty of the nation by its increased efficiency. Its bishops are labourious and active. Since 1876 the home episcopate has been increased by the creation of the dioceses of Truro, St Albans, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southwell, Wakefield, Bristol, Southwark and Birmingham, so that there are now (1910) thirty-seven diocesan bishops, aided by twenty-eight suffragan and eight assistant bishops, and a further subdivision of dioceses is contemplated. At no other time probably have the clergy been so industrious. As a rule they are far better instructed in theology than forty years ago, but they have not advanced in secular learning. Changes in the university system have contributed to draw off able young men to other professions which offer greater worldly advantages. The poverty of many of the clergy stands in strong contrast to the wealth around them. Of 14,242 benefices 4,704 are said to be below £200 a year net value. The value of £100 tithe rent charge has sunk (1909) to 69:18:54, the average value since the Commutation Act of 1836 being 94:3:24. The number of assistant clergy is (1910) about 7,500, in spite of the hardships often attending clerical life, the supply of men being kept up. The Queen Victoria Clergy Fund and other voluntary associations and various educational institutions have been founded to relieve clerical distress.
In the church at home there is much energy in numberless directions: cathedral churches have become centres of religious activity, and in parish churches the administration of the Holy Communion and weekday services are frequent. Many of the laity co-operate in church work and liberally support it. During the years 1898-1907 598 churches were built or rebuilt, and during twenty-four years, 1884-1907, the voluntary offerings for church building were £27,652,709, and for endowments and parsonages £6,116,592, yet church extension fails to keep pace with the increase of the population. Evangelistic efforts, the relief of the sick and poor, and the inculcation of temperance are zealously carried on. Good work is done by twenty-six sisterhoods and several institutions of deaconesses, and one or two communities of celibate clergy.
In the British colonies and India the episcopate consists (1909) of seven archbishops with two coadjutors; there are also seventy diocesan bishops, and in other parts of the world thirty missionary bishops. The S.P.G. has 847 ordained ministers, including thirty chaplains in Europe, besides many female missionaries; the C.M.S. has 793 ordained ministers, and many other missionaries of both sexes; the Zenana Missionary Society has a staff of 1,288; other church societies for foreign missions are vigorous, and the S.P.C.K. in addition to its work at home spends large sums in furthering the church abroad.
The benefits arising from conference have increasingly been valued since the revival of convocation. Appreciation of the importance of lay support and counsel has led to the institution of two voluntary elective assemblies called Houses of Laymen, one for each province, and in 1905 an association of the four houses of convocation and the two lay assemblies was formed with the name of the Representative Church Council. During the last forty years diocesan conferences, in which the laity are represented, have become universal, while ruridecanal and other meetings of a like kind are general. An annual church congress, established in 1861, held its forty-ninth meeting in 1909. Of wider importance are the Lambeth conferences, held since 1878 at intervals of ten years, to which the bishops of the English Church and the churches in communion with it are invited, and meet under the presidency of the archbishop of Canterbury. The first of these conferences, which illustrate the dignity of the see founded by St Augustine and now the head of a vast quasi-patriarchate, was held under the presidency of Archbishop Longley in 1867 (see Lambeth Conferences and Anglican Communion).
This text forms part of the History of the Church of England originally part of the entry ENGLAND, CHURCH OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the content of which lies within the public domain.