By Robin G. Jordan
In this third and final part of the article I examine the methods of episcopal election used in one of the dioceses of a sixth global South Province—the Church of the Province of West Indies. Its former Primate, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, played a leading role in the drafting of the Anglican Covenant. I take a look at two more Northern Hemisphere Provinces—the United States and Scotland, which are two of the more liberal Provinces of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church’s 1789 Prayer Book and its 1928 Prayer Book were influenced by the Scottish Prayer Book tradition. I also look at the methods used in the Anglican Mission, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The ELCA and the ELCIC adopted a form of episcopacy in response to the movement toward closer fellowship between these denominations and their respective Anglican counterpart. The ELCA has a close relationship with The Episcopal Church and the ELCIC a similar relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada. I round out the survey with an examination of how the Roman Catholic Church chooses its bishops.
Church of the Province of the West Indies. The Province of the West Indies is composed of of two mainland dioceses and six island dioceses, including Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the North-Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Windward Islands. Only the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago has its regulations posted on the Internet.
Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago. Nominations by members of the Synod of the diocese; Election by the Synod, meeting as an Elective Assembly. Alternately the Synod may delegate the choice of a Bishop to a Selection Committee. If the Synod on two successive occasions fails to elect a new Bishop, the Synod must delegate the choice of a Bishop to a Selection Committee. The regulations of the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago state:
Regulation Two – Of the Bishop
11. (a) When the Elective Assembly decides to delegate the choice of a Bishop to a Selection Committee it may do so either:
(i) to a Committee of persons within the Diocese, or
(ii) to a Committee of persons some or all of whom are from outside the Diocese; and the Archbishop or, when there is no Archbishop, the Senior Bishop of the Province shall be added to the Committee, and he shall have an equal vote with the other members of the Committee.
Scottish Episcopal Church. A Preparatory Committee consisting of the Primus or another Diocesan Bishop appointed by the Primus or the College of Bishops; one other bishop, nominated by the College of Bishops; five members of the Provincial Panel for Episcopal Elections chosen by the Standing Committee of the General Synod (of whom at least two shall be laity and at least two shall be clerics, and including both members from the diocese concerned); and two further lay and two further clerical members chosen by the Diocesan Synod is convened by the Primus or the Diocesan Bishop acting in his place. This Committee prepares a list of candidates that is submitted to the College of Bishops who eliminate from the list the names of unacceptable candidates. The new bishop of the diocese is elected by the synod of the diocese meeting as an Electoral Synod from the list of remaining candidates. If the Synod fails to elect a bishop, a new Preparatory Committee is convened and the process is repeated.
The Episcopal Church. The provinces of The Episcopal Church, unlike the Anglican Churches of Australia and Canada, play no role in the nomination and election of the bishops of a diocese. The bishops of a diocese are elected according the constitution and canons of the diocese. The bishops of a missionary diocese are elected according to the canons of the General Convention. The election of a bishop requires the consent of a majority of the Standing Committees of all the dioceses and a majority of the Bishops of the Province exercising jurisdiction. However, if the election occurs within 120 days before the meeting of the General Convention the consent of the House of Deputies is required in place of the consent of a majority of the Standing Committees. The constitutions of Episcopal dioceses typically provide for the election of a new bishop by the convention or its equivalent of the diocese with the clergy and lay members of that body voting separately. The canons of Episcopal dioceses also typically make provision for the appointment of a Search Committee that prepares a list of candidates. The Search Committee may make nominations of its own as well as receive the nominations from clergy and lay persons from the congregations of the diocese.
Anglican Mission. The Anglican Mission, formerly the Anglican Mission in the Americas, is a “Missionary Jurisdiction” of the Anglican Church of Rwanda in the Americas. The Anglican Mission has churches in Brazil as well as Canada and the United States and its territories. The Anglican Mission is governed by a Primatial Vicar who is the deputy of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda in the Americas. Like the bishop of a Roman Catholic diocese the Primatial Vicar is the sole legislator of the Missionary Jurisdiction. The US branch of the Anglican Mission has a Council of Missionary Bishops that assist the Primatial Vicar in governing that part of the Anglican Mission. The Missionary Bishops derive their authority from the Primate through the Primatial Vicar as bishops of the Roman Catholic Church derive their authority from the Pope. Each Missionary Bishop oversees a Regional Network consisting of a number of Mission Networks. The secular affairs of the Anglican Mission are managed by a Board of Directors chaired by the Primatial Vicar.
If an office of Missionary Bishop becomes vacant or additional Missionary Bishops are needed to further the work of the Anglican Mission, the Primatial Vicar with the Council of Missionary Bishops serve as “Episcopal Consulters” to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda with regard the selection of candidates suitable for the office of Missionary Bishop. They may consult with Network Leaders and the Board of Directors and the Primatial Vicar may convene “a College of Presbyters or other appropriate body to assist in the identification of suitable candidates.”
The Council of Missionary Bishops may by a vote of at least two thirds of the Council of Missionary Bishops recommend candidates for the consideration of the Primate and the Provincial House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. The Primatial Vicar may veto such a recommendation if he sees fit. The Primatial Vicar may also make his own recommendations.
Title I, Canon 6, Sections 4 of the Canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda outline the steps for the actual nomination of candidates for Missionary Bishops:
Section 4 (a) Candidates suitable for the episcopate can be proposed for Missionary Jurisdictions only by members of the House /College of Bishops of the Province; who may receive recommendations from the Primatial Vicar and other appropriate bodies from within the Missionary Jurisdiction as established in consultation with the Primate .
(b) The House/College of Bishops can, according to the norm of particular law gather information and documents which are necessary t o establish the suitability of the candidates as set forth in Title II, Canon 1.
(c) The bishops are to report their findings to the Primate at a suitable time prior to the convocation of the House of Bishop s gathering for Provincial Synod. The Primate may add his own additional information and transmit such to all the members of the synod.
(d) The House/College of Bishops in synod of the Provincial Church is to examine the names of the candidates and compile a list of the candidates who will be considered for election.
For those who may not be familiar with the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law, a great deal of the language, principles and norms in Title I, Canon and other canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda are taken from the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law. The Rwandan canons also incorporate Roman Catholic doctrine, particularly as it relates to apostolic succession, episcopacy, ordination, and the sacraments.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The bishop of a Synod of the ELCA is elected by the Synod Assembly. The bishop of a Synod is elected for a term of six years and may be re-elected. The election takes place at the next Synod Assembly following the death, resignation, or permanent incapacitation of the bishop or at a special meeting of the Synod Assembly called for the purpose of election of a new bishop. Nominations are made by a Nominations Committee appointed by the Synod Council. Additional nominations may be made from the floor.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The bishop of a Synod of the ELCIC is elected and called by a regular Convention of the Synod or a special Convention called for that purpose. The Synod Council is required to seek the advice and counsel of the National Bishop of the ELCIC in the call process. The term of office for a Synod Bishop is four years without any limit upon the number of times that he may be reelected. The Synod Council appoints a committee on nominations with representation from each Conference in the Synod. The Synod Council also appoints an ordained minister to assume the duties and responsibilities of the bishop in the event of the resignation, incapacity, or death of the bishop, pending the election of a new bishop at the next regular or specially called Synod Convention.
Roman Catholic Church. At least every 3 years the bishops of an ecclesiastical province and in some cases, of an Episcopal Conference, secretly draw up a list of priests suitable for the episcopate and send this list to the Apostolic See. Bishops may also individually communicate to the Apostolic See the names of priests suitable for episcopal office. For the appointment of a diocesan bishop or a coadjutor bishop a ternus, or list of suggestions is proposed to the Apostolic See. In the preparation of this list the papal legate who is responsible for preparing the list seeks the suggestions of the Metropolitan and Suffragans of the diocese’s province as well as the suggestions of the president of the Episcopal Conference. He solicits the views of members of the college of consulters and the cathedral chapter of the diocese. He may secretly solicit the opinions of other clergy and “laypersons of outstanding wisdom.” He then sends these suggestions with his own opinions to the Apostolic See.
For the appointment of an auxiliary bishop the diocesan bishop proposes to the Apostolic See the name of three priests suitable for the office of auxiliary bishop.
The final judgment of the suitability of a person for promotion to the episcopate rests with the Apostolic See.
When the Roman Catholic Church’s method of selecting bishops is compared with the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s method of electing missionary bishops and the Anglican Church in North America’s second method of choosing bishops, one common characteristic is particularly noticeable. Neither the Pope in the case of the Roman Catholic Church nor the episcopal synod in the case of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the Anglican Church in North America is bound juridically to select any of the presbyters that the judicatory proposes for an episcopal office of a judicatory. The Pope and the two episcopal synods may choose whomever they in their own judgment believe is worthy and suitable for that office. This is a far cry from the early Church’s practice of a judicatory choosing its bishops and the bishops of the province confirming the choice, which they did when they consecrated the new bishop. It reflects a tendency in some quarters of the ACNA toward a centralized system that concentrates too much power in the hands of senior clergy at the top.
Considering that the increasingly liberal Church of England and Episcopal Church are moving in the same direction, groups of churches seeking to unite with the ACNA may wish to stick with the time-tested practice of a judicatory electing its own bishops. They may want to hang on to as much autonomy as they can. A judicatory can put into place a number of safeguards of its own rather depending upon a college of bishops to protect them from unsound, unbiblical teaching, a college of bishops from whom they may over time need protection. These safeguards include limiting the episcopal offices in the judicatory to clergy who are actively involved in pastoral-teaching ministry in the judicatory, have served in the judicatory for a number of years, and are known for their sound biblical teaching. This would mean that bishops would normally carry on a part of their ministry in a local congregation. A judicatory can also limit the tenure of a bishop to a specific number of years, periodically extending his tenure as long as his teaching is biblical and sound and he is capable of leading the judicatory and willing to lead it.
The dioceses of the Province of the Southern Cone elect their own bishops and the Diocese of Sydney elects its archbishop. The Diocese of Recife also elects its bishops. The Diocese of Recife, as it may be recalled, broke with the liberal Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. It provided episcopal oversight to a number of former Episcopal congregations and supports GAFCON and the ACNA.
Of all the jurisdictions that were surveyed in this article, only three—Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda turn the final choice of a bishop over to the province’s episcopal synod. Kenya’s mode of episcopal election may be classified with that of Ireland and Wales.
The canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda raise questions as to whether Rwanda’s mode of episcopal election is really the safeguard of doctrinal purity as its proponents tout it. The Anglican Church of Rwanda is a member of GAFCON and a signatory to the Jerusalem Declaration but the provisions of its canons are a repudiation of that declaration. The Jerusalem Declaration affirms the Thirty-Nine Articles as being authoritative for Anglicans today as it was in the past. The Rwandan canons, on the other hand, affirm the dogmas of the Council of Trent that the Thirty-Nine Articles reject.
The Anglican Church in North America, while affirming the Jerusalem Declaration in the preamble of its constitution, takes a position in its fundamental declarations that is at odds with Jerusalem Declaration’s unequivocal affirmation of the Thirty-Nine Articles. This position allows teaching in the ACNA that is contrary to the Scriptures and which the Thirty-Nine Articles reject.
This is a fundamental weakness of the alliance of conservative provinces and dioceses known as GAFCON. While its members are in agreement in their rejection of homosexuality and homosexual practice and of religious pluralism, they are not in agreement in other key doctrinal areas.
As the English Reformers recognized, a particular succession of bishops does not assure that their teaching is apostolic. There must be a succession of doctrine. Bishops and other clergy must teach what the apostles taught. Just as a particular succession of bishops does not assure the apostolicity of their teaching neither does a particular mode of episcopal election. Bishops can only “banish and drive away erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word” if it is clearly established what is sound Biblical doctrine. This is why the English Reformers drew up a confession of faith—the Thirty-Nine Articles, which embodies their understanding of the New Testament gospel, and required subscription to the teaching of Articles as well as the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer. Bishops were expected to safeguard what the Anglican formularies identified as sound Biblical doctrine, not what they in their personal judgment regarded as sound Biblical teaching.
The ACNA at its present stage is only a step or two away from The Episcopal Church in which what is the doctrine of the Church is determined by an agreement of opinion on the part of the bishops of the province. This means that the doctrine of the Church changes with each new crop of bishops. The College of Bishops choosing its members is not going to prevent this from happening.
The English Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, had a special gift of the Holy Spirit (see “An homily concerning the coming down of the Holy Ghost for Whitsunday”). By extension they rejected any claim that bishops have a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Article XXI states:
General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God.
The “men” to whom Article XXI refers includes bishops.
If a General Council may err in doctrine, an episcopal synod may err in its choice of a bishop. Bishops are not infallible. They do not possess any quality that prevents them being deceived or mistaken. In his article, “Infallibility,” in A Protestant Dictionary, Frederick Meyrick draws attention to an important dynamic.
The longing in the human mind for certainty is so intense that men are tempted to create for themselves a living and visible authority, which shall be infallible. We see this tendency in individuals. Let a young person be endowed with a strong imagination and warm affections, and he or she will probably take a parent or an older friend as an object of quasi-worship, who shall be to him or her, infallible. The mistake is confusing authority with infallibility. In the case of such individual the mistake cures itself. As the mind matures it is able to distinguish between the facts, and what it desires to be the facts, and it finds itself disillusioned and saddened by the supposed loss that it has undergone.
The same desire for certainty, and the same mistake as to the limits of authority, produced a belief in infallibility residing somewhere in the Church.
A tendency observable in members of the ACNA is to invest its bishops with infallibility, shown in the adulation that they exhibit toward their bishops and inferred in the frequent reference to them as “godly bishops.” Those who promote the second mode of episcopal election found in the ACNA constitution and canons may consciously or unconsciously be appealing to the belief that such a quality resides in the bishops of the ACNA, as well as the desire for certainty and authoritative leadership evidenced in some quarters of the ACNA. This belief, however, is at variance with the teaching of the Bible and historic Anglicanism, and is likely to contribute to the spread of error in the ACNA as it has in the Roman Catholic Church.
Synods of clergy and laity are no less qualified to choose bishops than synods of bishops. They are no less filled with the Holy Spirit. The choice of bishops by synods of clergy and laity is no less agreeable to Scripture than the choice of bishops by synods of bishops. As for the practice of the early Church it supports the choice of bishops by synods of clergy and laity, not by synods of bishops.
The choice of bishops by an episcopal synod is apt to lead to a club mentality, in which who in the minds of the existing members of the club would make a good new member determines who is chosen. Loyalty would not be to the teaching of the Bible, to the doctrine of the creeds and the formularies or to the flock that the bishop is chosen to shepherd but to the club itself. Being a team player and not rocking the boat would become the first considerations. It is also apt to lead to a self-perpetuating system in which patronage, past favors, old boys networks, and other personal ties would also be major contributing factors as to whom is chosen and which would be highly susceptible to abuse and corruption.
The choice of bishops by an episcopal synod is no guarantee of the orthodoxy of bishops so chosen. If orthodoxy is desired, as historic Anglicanism has understood orthodoxy, the ACNA needs to give a central place to the historic Anglican formularies, particularly the Thirty-Nine Articles, in its life and teaching, and to require adherence to their doctrine. Only those who genuinely subscribe to the doctrine of the formularies should be considered for election to episcopal office. As in the Church of England in South Africa, all clergy and lay church leaders should be required to sign a declaration in which they agree to resign if they cease to hold to the doctrines contained in the Thirty-Nine Articles and are called upon to do so by the competent authority in their particular case—“by the Synod or the Presiding Bishop and/or Area Bishop acting in consultation with the Executive Committee or by majority vote of the Council or congregation of the Church” to which they belong.
Only by the adoption of clear doctrinal standards and their rigorous enforcement and the careful screening of prospective candidates for positions of leadership, including seminary-teaching positions, can a denomination ensure the orthodoxy of its clergy and lay church leaders. A club of bishops cannot in of itself achieve this end, as numerous examples throughout the Anglican Communion clearly show.
Until the ACNA is willing to take these and similar steps, it is just pretending to be “orthodox” and using its College of Bishops to contribute to that pretense. It is perpetuating the theological inclusivism seen in The Episcopal Church in its more radical form and confusing it with Anglican comprehensiveness. The Thirty-Nine Articles set the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness, circumscribing it with the New Testament gospel and demanding uniformity on primary matters.