Monday, June 14, 2010

Episcopacy - the Mark of Anglican Identity...Right?

By Robin G. Jordan

Episcopacy, like the via media theory, is in some circles regarded as a sine qua none of Anglicanism. But like the via media theory the notion that bishops are essential to Anglican identity, indeed to the very existence of the church, is a nineteenth century development. Like the via media theory it is also traceable to the Oxford Movement. In this third article of the “Discovering Classical Anglicanism” series, I examine the classical Anglican take on episcopacy.

Classical Anglicanism finds no warrant for any particular form of church polity in the Scriptures—no warrant for episcopacy and no warrant for presbyterianism. Classical Anglicanism recognizes and adheres to episcopacy not by divine right but as very ancient and commendable form of church polity. It does not, however, view episcopacy as the only valid form of church polity. It also does not regard the orders and sacraments of non-episcopally ordained ministers to be invalid. This comes as a complete surprise to North American Anglicans that their response is one of utter disbelief. They have accepted the Anglo-Catholic theories of Anglican identity and of the place of bishops in the church so completely that it has never entered their minds that in these theories the Tractarians and their Anglo-Catholic successors parted from classical Anglicanism.

Classical Anglicanism recognizes the offices of deacon, presbyter, and bishop as dating from apostolic times. They are mentioned in the New Testament. In the New Testament presbyter and bishop are also of the same order. They do not belong to separate orders. The Preface of Ordinal of 1550 recognized this fact in the use of the phrase “…there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and deacons.” The Preface of 1661 Ordinal retained this phrase. Both the 1550 Ordinal and the 1661 Ordinal emphasize the role of bishop and priest as pastor and teacher. Both are charged with banishing and driving away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word. This includes the unscriptural doctrine that they belong to separate orders! The Church of England kept bishops not because they were essential to church life. But rather to let the old remain “where the old may be well used” and not to “reprove the old only for their age.” Or, as Bishop of Salisbury John Jewel, put it, because bishops “are ancient and allowable.”

The Church of England’s retention of bishops is not an example of English Catholicism but of English conservatism. Those who hint that the English must have thought that bishops were important because they kept them are fooling themselves. The English were eminently practical. The English monarch historically had depended on the clergy in a large part for trained officials. By the sixteenth century bishops were not just ministers of the church, they were officers of the English Crown. Rather than dismantling the existing ecclesiastical system and “devise everything anew,” the English chose to make use of that system with its bishops, archdeaconries, cathedral chapters, convocations, consistory courts, deaneries, dioceses, and traditional methods of appointment to benefices. Like Cranmer, they were suspicious of “innovations and new-fangleness.” The retention of bishops was also consistent with the view of the English Reformers that the Scriptures did not mandate a particular form or order of ecclesiastical polity. The existing ecclesiastical system, purged of any elements that clearly were unscriptural, was not itself “repugnant to the Word of God.”

The Lambeth Quadrilateral, also known as Resolution 11, adopted by the third Lambeth Conference in 1888 has contributed to the confusion over Anglican identity and episcopacy. Resolution 11 took a resolution that the Anglo-Catholic dominated House of Bishops of the then Protestant Episcopal Church adopted in 1886 and greatly reduced it in scale, thereby aligning its wording more closely with the essay on the four points contained in the resolution that Episcopal priest William Red Huntington had written in 1870. Resolution II reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion:
(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

The Lambeth Conference is not a legislative body, and its resolutions are not binding upon the member churches of the Anglican Communion. They may commend a particular doctrine or course of action. They may draw attention to the inconsistency between a particular practice and the teaching of Scripture. In this case the resolution expressed the opinion of a particular Lambeth Conference. It was originally proposed a basis for discussion toward reunion. Unfortunately it has often been used as a non-negotiable basis for reunion in particular in regards to the fourth point. The latter was the most controversial point of the resolution. Anglo-Catholics complained that it opened the door to challenging the Catholic tradition of apostolic succession and Catholic order itself. It has proven a stumbling block between the churches of the Anglican Communion and Protestant churches that do not have bishops.

While it is claimed that Resolution 11 supports the idea that episcopacy is essential to an Anglican identity, the resolution does not address the issue of Anglican identity. It simply proposes a basis for reunion discussions. There is a tendency to interpret Resolution 11 in the light of the resolution that Protestant Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops adopted. It has different wording and emphases. There is also a tendency to read into Resolution 11 more than it actually says or give it a meaning other than the meaning that can be read out of the text. Writers who have a particular theory of Anglican identity and episcopacy will interpret it to support that theory.

Classical Anglicanism acknowledges that episcopacy, when it is rightly administered, is a commendable form of Church government.Classical Anglicanism, however, does not agree with the statement “No Bishop, no Church.” Neither does it agree that the clergy of churches that have no bishops are not validly ordained and the sacraments of such churches are invalid, and that their members are not really Christians. Classical Anglicanism does not tie Anglican identity to the support of an institution but to adherence to a confession of faith.

Anglicans are episcopalian by choice. Being Anglican and being episcopalian are, despite a long tradition of episcopacy in the Church of England and her daughter churches, not synonymous. Being episcopalian does not make Anglicans what they are. To be “reliably Anglican,” to borrow a phrase from Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan, the beliefs and practices of a congregation must be grounded in the Bible and the Reformation. They must stand in continuity with the faith of the Reformed Church of England and its formularies, in particular the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.


David.McMillan said...

Thanks for the reminder. The facts are hard to ignore on this crucial issue. Keep it up!

John Haney said...

Here! Here!

134 years missing, and erroneously feared lost.

Bishop George Cummins is smiling.

You have picked up where he left off.

Joe Mahler said...

Many of the High Churchmen at the time of the rise of the anglo-catholics tolerated them because of their high view of the episcopate fit with their own, all other doctrine be damned. Riches of the REC in one of his sermons quoted from the REC's "Declaration of Principles" referring to the principle that says that episcopacy is desirable, therefore he concluded that any other form of church government is undesirable. This of course is neither logical nor is it reasonable, but he got by with it and look where he and the REC are now.

Robin G. Jordan said...

Mark Burkill, the chaiman of the Latimer Trust, recommended to me the use of the term "commendable" over "desirable. He wrote the Reform discussion paper "Better Bishops." In his paper Mark points to an important distinction between prelacy and episcopacy. What we see in the Church of England, the Anglican Church in North America, The Episcopal Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church today is prelacy. If you have not read "Better Bishops," I recommend it. It is on the Reform web site at:

Reformation said...

Off topic for a moment. But one can get a 1662 BCP service, Evensong, at St. John's College, Cambridge.

Have always heard Americans read the old service; interesting to hear the British manner and accent.

This appreciates the Cathedral tradition; there was always a tension within classical Anglicanism between Parish and Cathedral traditons; not a conflict, but a tension between the smaller parishes with small resources and the august tradition in the College and Cathedral Churches.

Also, if affordable, a lovely CD-set of Psalms available through St. Paul's, London. Also, King's College, Cambridge.

And folks wonder why Sharon and I are orchestrating plans to move to Cambridge, UK, in the years ahead.

Back to the topic. Again, Robin, thanks. This is the kind of stuff that doesn't appear elsewhere in blogdom.


Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Episcopacy is essential to Anglican Identity - but we don't hold it essential to Christian identity. No one is lawfully ordained in this church unless ordained by a bishop (according to the Ordinal and the Articles). And preaching and sacraments are only to be administered by lawfully ordained persons. Therefore, for Anglicanism, episcopacy is essential.

Jim said...

Fr. Larimer,

Thank you for a perfect example of a completely illogical argument. There is nothing to keep the church from changing the requirement. LCMS churches allow pastors to ordain, Orthodox priests confirm. All that is required is a change in the canon and ordinal and that certainly can be done.

I am not a proponent but it is possible.


Joe Mahler said...

Essential an adjective from the noun essence from the Latin esse (to be). If it is essential then it is indispensable or necessary. "Article VI Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation..." The Scriptures makes no such distinction between the elder and the bishop, as such from the early church there were elders in some places called elders and there were elders in other places called bishop but both were elders. But the Scriptures do not make them "essential" and neither does the Articles of Religion or the Book of Common Prayer of the 16th and 17th centuries. So "an order bishops" is not essential to Anglicanism and cannot be taught to be so without falling into heresy.

Robin G. Jordan said...


The idea that bishops are essential to Anglican identity can be traced to the nineteenth century and to the Oxford Movement. Let see what the Articles actually say:

XXII. Of Ministering in the Congregation.

It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord's vineyard.

We do not find any mention of bishops in that article.

XXXVI. Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers.

The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered."

The bottomline in this Article is that those consecrated or ordained according to the Edwardian Ordinal are properly consecrated or ordained. This Article was adopted as a response to the Roman Catholic claim that the Edwardian Ordinal was defective.

It is long stretch between what these two Articles say and the claim that bishops and episcopacy are essential to Anglican identity.

In his Reform discussion paper,"The Reform of the Episcopate and Alternative Episcopal Oversight," David Holloway draws to his readers' attention:

"There are a range of reasons behind the doubts over reforming the episcopate. For some there is a false doctrine of the Church that promotes episcopacy by grounding the Church in the episcopate. As we have seen this is not authentic Anglicanism. It captured, however, the high ground in the first half of the 20th century. It therefore has a level of 'plausibility' at a sub-rational level."

The whole paper is on the Internet at:

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Does the Edwardine ordinal allow for presbyters to set apart other presbyters? If not, who then is the minister of ordination per that ordinal?

Is the Edwardine ordinal a mark of Anglican identity? If so, then what does that mean?

Again, we do not say that you are unChristian or uncatholic if you do not have the episcopacy. But there is a reason that the Puritans left and that we are still not with the United Church or Presbyterians, etc. It is because of the episcopacy - without which we do not practice Anglicanism.