Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Reformed Episcopal Church in Retrospect
By Robin G. Jordan
The original version of this article I posted on the Heritage Anglican Network website shortly after the Anglican Church in North America adopted its provisional constitution and canons. Even at that early stage the direction in which the ACNA was moving was evident to the astute observer. While North America has a great need for an Anglican body to uphold the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies and to maintain a constant witness against the doctrinal and worship innovations disowned and rejected by the Church of England at the Reformation, it was clear that the ACNA was not going to be that body. While the global South Primates subsequently gave the ACNA its stamp of approval as “a genuine expression of Anglicanism,” the ACNA falls far short of the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles for which Robert Barnes, Thomas Bilney, John Bradford, Thomas Cranmer, Robert Ferrar, John Frith, John Hooper, Hugh Latimer, John Leaf, John Philpots, Nicholas Ridley, John Rogers, Laurence Saunders, Taylor Rowland, and William Tyndale suffered martyrdom, and which are laid out in the historic Church of England formularies. Since I wrote the original article, it has become even more apparent that the ecclesiology and theology of the ACNA owe more to the Church of Rome than to the Bible and the Reformation. The “Anglicanism” to which the ACNA gives expression is a twenty-first century North American blend of Anglo-Catholic and Convergence theologies, and does not rightly deserve the brand name of “Anglican.”
In 1869 B.B. Leacock wrote then Assistant Bishop of Kentucky George David Cummins:
“The fact is impressing itself more and more fully on observant minds in the Evangelical party that we are not only to have a Revised Prayer Book but a Reformed Church. This means a new Church. The Lord is working out the problem. Our Evangelical bishops must not think that they can stand in the way and stay the progress of this movement. Before they know it, the swelling wave will sweep over them, and past them, and will leave them high and dry, without friends and supporters, in the old Romanized Church.
In my judgment the new Church is a fixed fact. The men are deeply in earnest who are working and praying for this thing, and their numbers are on the increase, and when we get our new Church we want its foundations laid solid on the Word of God, and its doors opened wide enough to receive within them all who love the Lord Jesus Christ. We hope to see it, with God's blessing, the Church of this land.”
Cummins would found the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873. But one wonders whether he would recognize that church today.
When the revised Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church as adopted by General Council of 2005 are compared with the Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church as adopted by the Seventeenth General Council of 1903 and revised by subsequent Councils through the Forty-fourth General Council of 1984, one is struck by how sweeping have been the changes in the Reformed Episcopal Church. In a space of less twenty-five years
In 1984 the Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church did not contain any affirmation of the doctrine in the three Ecumenical Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in their 1801 form, or the Lambeth Equilateral of 1886-1888. Article VIII—Of Erroneous Direct or Symbolic Teachings stated:
“Nothing calculated to teach either directly or symbolically that the Christian Ministry possesses a sacerdotal character, or that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, shall ever be allowed in the worship of this Church. No Communion Table shall ever be constructed in the form of an altar, no retable erected, and no candle, candlestick, or cross shall ever be placed upon any Communion Table.”
In 2005 the General Council replaced the provisions of Article VIII with those of Article IV, Section 1 of the new constitution:
“Nothing calculated to teach that in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the elements of the bread and wine are changed into the natural Flesh and Blood of Christ, shall ever allowed in the worship or teaching of this Church. Nor shall any practice that teaches or promotes doctrines or practices specifically prohibited by the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion be permitted in this Church.”
These provisions take advantage of the fact that the Thirty Nine Articles specifically prohibit only one particular doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, the doctrine of “the Sacrifices of the Masses” that claims that the Church repeats Christ’s sacrifice or adds to it. Under the provisions of the new constitution Reformed Episcopal clergy can teach and promote the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice that claims that the Church does more than commemorates Christ’s sacrifice: the Church participates in it. However, J.I. Packer has shown in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today that, while the Articles say nothing about this twentieth century development directly, they say a good deal about it indirectly. The Articles rule out the Lambeth doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice as misshapen. Under the provisions of the new constitution Reformed Episcopal clergy are also free to teach and promote the idea that they act as intermediaries between God and humankind. They are able to not only teach that the Christian ministry is a sacerdotal ministry but also to make use of practices that imply a sacerdotal character of the Christian ministry.
In contemporary Reformed Episcopal parishes one can now find altars and retables with candlesticks and candles upon them. One can see clergy in stoles and eucharistic vestments.
In 1984 the Reformed Episcopal Church was not organized into dioceses but synods like a number of Lutheran church bodies in Australia, Canada, and the United States. The parishes within a synod elected lay deputies to the General Council. A synod consisted of at least ten parishes and at least ten presbyters. It could adopt its own constitution. Its ecclesiastical authority was its standing committee or its bishop if it had one. The boundaries of Reformed Episcopal parishes were not geographical.
In 1984 the Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church did not state that bishops held their office and ministry for life. An ordained minister in good standing of another denomination could become a presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church without being reordained. A deacon could be licensed to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion under special circumstances. This included consecrating the bread and wine. The Reformed Episcopal Church had no licensed lay eucharistic ministers who brought the reserved sacrament to the sick and to shut-ins. Indeed Reformed Episcopal presbyters did not reserve the sacrament.
In 2005 the General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church authorized the use of a new Book of Common Prayer. This new Prayer Book was touted as an Americanized version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Yet a large part of the new Prayer Book comes from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The 1928 Prayer Book was the first major revision of the American Prayer Book. At that time Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church liberalism were the dominant theological schools of thought in the then Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. Traditional evangelical Anglicanism had disappeared from the PECUSA by 1900. Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church liberalism greatly influenced the theological content of the 1928 Prayer Book. The changes the 1928 Prayer Book introduced were far-reaching and even radical.
The new Prayer Book marks a significant break with the Protestant and evangelical principles of the Reformed Episcopal Church. The General Council celebrated the authorization of the new Prayer Book with High Mass! A photograph of this celebration showed the Reformed Episcopal Church’s bishops wearing chasubles, copes, and miters and bearing crosiers.
In 2006 the Common Cause Partnership Roundtable drafted what would become the Fundamental Declarations of the new Anglican Church in North America. The Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church was one of the participants. He claims to have played a leading role in the drafting of the Common Cause Theological Statement. This document gives only token recognition to the historic Church of England formularies as classical standards of Anglicanism and is so worded as to suggest that for the Common Cause Partners other standards have taken their place. It adopts and mandates the nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic position that episcopacy is essential to the life and unity of the church, and makes no room for the position of the English Reformers and modern-day Anglicans who uphold that position. The English Reformers found no support for any particular form of church government in the New Testament and rejected the claims of both episcopalians and presbyterians that the form of church government they favored was divinely instituted. They retained episcopacy on the grounds that it was ancient and allowable but recognized that other churches might order themselves differently
These are just a few examples of how the Reformed Episcopal Church has retreated from the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of its founders. Its present bishops seeks to bring the church into what they claim is the “mainstream” of Anglicanism, that is, to move the church in a more Anglo-Catholic and Convergent direction.
How would B.B. Leacock react if he were to visit a Reformed Episcopal parish this coming Sunday? He would think that he was in a Ritualist Protestant Episcopal parish of his day. He would take one glance at the Prayer Book now used in Reformed Episcopal churches and call for a revised Prayer Book. He would hear the parishioners addressing their pastor as “Father” and referring to him as their “priest” and call for a reformed Church.
The intention of this article is not to attack the Reformed Episcopal Church. Rather it is to draw attention of one of the realities of the twenty-first century. At the present time we have no Anglican church in North America that upholds the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies and that is rightly deserving of the brand name “Anglican”. We have throughout Canada and the United States a scattering of congregations and clergy that do maintain these beliefs and principles and may be branded “Anglican” but they are not united in a single organization. The few small Anglican bodies claiming theological continuity with the reformed Church of England and its formularies show how widely the influence of Catholicism, ritualism, and liberalism has spread in the North American Church and lack what is necessary for the task.
Do we need an Anglican body to uphold the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies and to maintain a constant witness against the doctrinal and worship innovations disowned and rejected by the Church of England at the Reformation in twenty-first century North America? I believe that we do. I believe that the Anglican Church in North America, despite the global South Primates’ stamp of approval, is mislabeled. I do not think that the Primates have taken the time to inspect the product that they are endorsing or to analyze its ingredients. I believe that they were premature in recognizing the ACNA as “authentically Anglican.” They may have had their reasons for doing so. However, it is certainly not because the ACNA genuinely expresses the Protestant and evangelical beliefs of the reformed Church of England and its formularies. Far from it!
The Anglican Church in North America in its Fundamental Declarations distances itself from the doctrine of the historic Church of England formularies while seeking to appear to embrace that doctrine. In that regard it has shown itself a true heir to the tradition of subterfuge of The Episcopal Church. It has aligned itself with the Church of Rome in its doctrine of apostolic succession and episcopacy and made no room for the doctrine of the English Reformers and their successors. Rather than being a genuine expression of Anglicanism, if by “genuine” true or faithful are meant, the ACNA is a product of hybridization, an offspring of the 19th century Anglo-Catholic movement and the 20th century Ancient-Future movement. This is evident from its Prayer Book of choice—the affirming or liberal Catholic 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
The Anglican Church in North America is “Anglican” in the sense that The Episcopal Church is. Both churches can trace their origin to the Church of England and both maintain a connection with the modern-day Church of England—the ACNA through its “parent provinces” and The Episcopal Church through the Archbishop of Canterbury. Neither church, however, can claim real theological continuity with the reformed Church of England and its formularies.
I am not suggesting that congregations and clergy that uphold the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies and that are aboard the Anglican Church in North America abandon ship. There still may be time to turn the ship about and to return to safe anchorage. But they need to know that those at the helm of the ship have set a course that takes them away from the moorings of the Bible and the Reformation. As long as the latter are steering the ship, it will keep to that course. The further the ship sails out to sea, the further they draw away from the safety of those moorings. Eventually the ship will reach a point of no return. If they have not succeeded in turning the ship about or taken to the boats, they will have no choice but to continue the voyage wherever it may take them.
I am suggesting that they can work with like-minded Christians outside of the Anglican Church in North America to establish a new Anglican body that does uphold the Protestant and evangelical principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies. Such an organization must be a new one, with a new vision and new leadership.
At the heart of true Anglicanism is the proclamation of the gospel, not any gospel but the gospel to which the New Testament bears witness, the gospel of justification by faith and salvation by grace. The faith of the reformed Church of England and its formularies is the faith of the gospel. Whether a church calls itself “Anglican” and other churches recognize it as “Anglican,” a church is not Anglican if it does not preach and teach the gospel.
Under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic and Ancient-Future movements a number of churches have adopted doctrines and practices that the English Reformers disowned and rejected on the grounds that they are not only unscriptural but they also subvert the gospel of grace. These doctrines and practices proclaim “a different gospel.” They prevent the people from hearing the true gospel and taking it to heart.
The medieval church taught that the clergy were a sacrificing priesthood and the sacrifice that they offered was the body of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. At the Mass the clergy repeated the immolation of Christ for the sins of both the living and the dead on an altar made from stone. The vestments that the clergy wore signified the sacerdotal character of their priesthood. The teaching of the medieval church contradicted the teaching of the New Testament and the gospel.
Even though the church might cease to preach from the pulpit and teach in the classroom that the Mass is a sacrifice, a pastor wearing the vestments of sacrificing priest standing before a stone altar and lifting up the bread and wine during or after the Prayer of Consecration continues to preach and teach that it is. In doing so, he is overthrowing the gospel and effecting its destruction in the minds and hearts of the people.
The New Testament teaches that all Christians share a common priesthood—both pastors and people. A vital part of that priesthood is the proclamation of the gospel. The wearing of eucharistic vestments, the separating of the pastor from the people, the raising up of the communion table on a dais, the barring of the people from the table with a rail, and the designation of the table as an altar, all convey the message that pastors form a separate priesthood from other Christians. They denigrate the role of the people as priests of Christ and ministers (or servants) of the gospel and distort and misrepresent the true character of the pastor’s ministry.
Any new Anglican organization must first and foremost be Christ centered and mission focused. Its primary aim must be the spread of the gospel, the establishment of gospel churches, and the recruitment and training of gospel workers. This recognizes that the Protestant and evangelical principles of the reformed Church of England and its formularies are tied up with the gospel of divine grace, the rediscovery of which produced the spiritual movement that was the Reformation.
The English Reformers above all else saw themselves as “gospel men.” We need to see all we do and ourselves in the same light. Christ has commissioned his Church to go into the world and to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Wherever God has placed us, we are to be his missionaries. This is not an optional activity. It is, as the apostle Peter draws to our attention, the main reason we were called out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light. We are to share the good news with people of all ages in all walks of life. We must live the message of the gospel as well as proclaim it. We must be living embodiments of the good news.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 11:57 AM