Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Fork in the Road: A Plea for a Biblically Faithful Ordinal

By Robin G. Jordan

Anglican Ablaze readers may be wondering why I am so stirred up over the new Ordinal that the College of Bishops has approved for use in the Anglican Church in North America. Ordinals, like constitutions, canons, and Prayer Books are important statements of doctrine. They may explicitly state a particular doctrine or they may infer it, for example, they may sanction a practice associated with a particular doctrine. The doctrinal statements that an Ordinal makes cover key areas such as the nature of apostolic succession, ordination, the historic episcopate, the sacraments, and so on. How we understand these matters affects our understanding of the Church and salvation and the role that the Church plays in our salvation.

In a 2008 article I noted that a number of the folks that are drawn to what goes by the name of Anglicanism in North America are evangelical Christians who are attracted to liturgical worship. What concerns me is what they are being offered with the liturgical worship—the theology that is embodied in that worship. One of the important principles of worship that Anglicans have always recognized is "lex orendi, lex credendi." What we pray shapes what we believe.

As I noted in that article, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer recognized this principle and removed from the second Edwardian Book of Common Prayer of 1552, everything that directly or indirectly gave expression to a doctrine that was not gathered from the Scriptures or was contrary to the Scriptures. He wanted to give the English people a Prayer Book that was thoroughly Scriptural—"the pure Word of God," a Prayer Book that would cultivate in them a faith that was grounded in the Scriptures. The 1552 Prayer Book in its 1559 edition would be the Prayer Book for almost 100 years.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is substantially the 1552 Prayer Book. It is the reformed 1552 Prayer Book with the revisions made in 1662, which is a historic Anglican formulary, not the semi-reformed 1549 Prayer Book. The latter was intended as a transitional service book to facilitate the introduction of the reformed liturgy of 1552.

Archbishop Cranmer did the same thing with the Ordinal that is appended to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. He did away with the Medieval Catholic ceremonies and ornaments like giving a chalice and paten to the new priest, vesting him in a stole and a chasuble, and anointing his hands with the oil of chrism. These ceremonies and ornaments were tied to a number of Medieval Catholic beliefs and practices that had no basis in Scripture. They included the doctrines of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, and sacerdotal character of the priesthood. They were examples of the tendency of a fallen humanity to ignore the teaching of God’s Word and to replace it with teaching of its own devising. The 1552 Ordinal in the Examination, the Exhortation, and the Prayers emphasize that the Anglican priest, a contraction of the Greek presbyter, or elder, is a minister of God’s Word. The concept of the priest/presbyter expressed in the 1552 Ordinal goes hand in hand with the concept of salvation—by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone—expressed in the 1552 Prayer Book and its successor—the 1662 Prayer Book. The Ordinal appended to the 1662 Prayer Book is essentially the 1552 Ordinal.

Among the purposes of the Anglican Ordinal is to safeguard the accurate and complete transmission of the reformed Anglican understanding of the role of the priest/presbyter as a minister of God’s Word. It is to ensure that the pure Word of God forms the role of the priest/presbyter in the Anglican Church. The addition of an alternative formula for use at the imposition of hands in the ordination service for priests in the 1792 Ordinal of the Protestant Episcopal Church was consistent with the reformed Anglican understanding of the priest/presbyter’s role.

Take thou authority to execute the Office of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to thee by the Imposition of our hands. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

On the other hand, the revision of the Examination in the ordination service for deacons in the Protestant Episcopal Church’s 1928 Ordinal does not go along with that understanding. In the 1792 and 1892 Ordinals the bishop put this question to the candidate concerning the Bible:

The Bishop: Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?
Answer. I do.

In the 1928 Ordinal the new question avoids the necessity of asserting a blanket belief. It reads:
The Bishop: Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all Doctrine required as necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Answer. I am so persuaded.

It is this question that is used in the Examination in all three ordination services in the new Ordinal that the Anglican Church in America’s College of Bishops has approved for use in that church. The College of Bishops has adopted the liberal position of the 1928 Ordinal and does not require the clergy of the Anglican Church in North America to unfeignedly believe all the canonical Scriptures. They only need be persuaded that it contains all doctrine necessary to salvation. The new Ordinal makes room in the Anglican Church in North America for the liberal Catholicism that would become the bane of the Protestant Episcopal Church and a major contributor to its present state.

The new Ordinal breaks with the classical Anglican Ordinal in a number of other key areas. It revives the ceremony of giving a chalice to the new priest. In the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic the ordinand was given a paten and a chalice with a host in the paten and wine in the chalice. By the sixteenth century this ceremony with its accompanying words and the anointing of the ordinand’s hands with blessed oil and its accompanying formula had come to be regarded as the heart and essence of the ordination in the ordination of a priest. The partially reformed 1550 Ordinal did away with the giving of a paten containing the host and the anointing of the ordinand’s hands and restores to the New Testament practice of ordination by imposition of hands with prayer. The fully reformed 1552 Ordinal dropped the giving of a chalice to the ordinand, which had been retained in the 1550 Ordinal. The only thing given to the new priest/presbyter in the 1552 Ordinal and in the classical Anglican Ordinal is a Bible, emphasizing his role as a minister of God’s Word.

The Anglican priest/presbyter administers the gospel sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in his role as a minister of God’s Word. The gospel sacraments are God’s Word proclaimed visually, in the form of tokens and signs. Like the spoken Word, they arouse, strengthen, and confirm our faith in God (Article 25).

The reference to binding and loosing in the formula used at the imposition of hands in the ordination service for priests in the classical Anglican Ordinal is not understood to refer to the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic and post-Tridentian Roman Catholic notion of absolution, but to the priest/presbyter’s binding and loosing through the proclamation of God’s Word. This is the received interpretation of this reference in the classical Anglican Ordinal. In the nineteenth century the Tractarians and the Ritualists would reinterpret that formula in what they described as “a Catholic sense,” interpreting the Ordinal according to the teaching of pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic and post-Tridentian Roman Catholic tradition and not the Scriptures, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the writings of the English Reformers.

The late Peter Toon was critical of evangelicals in The Episcopal Church for their embracing of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. He took the position that due to their adoption of the 1979 Prayer Book, they became too malleable or yielding from a doctrinal standpoint. In an editorial in Mandate he expressed this position: "...Rite II services in ‘contemporary language’ provide the necessary ingredients of intelligibility, simplicity, accessibility, relevance and meaningfulness and so are a means of making their services and outreach popular and attractive. So they pay little attention to the actual doctrinal content – i.e., they do not check it against the doctrinal content of the classic BCP & the Articles of Religion in terms of who is God, who is Jesus and what is salvation."

This is what appears to have happened in the case of the new Ordinal in the Anglican Church in North America. Four other factors also appear to be operative—the influence of the Ancient-Future movement—what Gillis Harp characterizes as its emphasis upon piety and practice over doctrine and its antipathy toward the Reformation; the influence of the charismatic movement—what J. I. Packer describes as its tolerance of variation and its fragile commitment to given truth in Scripture; the influence of liberalism with its stress upon experience and theological pluralism; and the influence of post-modernism with its relativism and its embracing of multiple truths. The result is that evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America are paying very little if any attention to the doctrinal content of the new Ordinal, which represents a major departure from the doctrinal content of the classical Anglican Ordinal. This departure may not leap from the pages of the new Ordinal but it is there.

Except for the change in the Examination in the ordination service for deacons and the optional Litany for Ordinations the 1928 Ordinal does not differ greatly from the classical Anglican Ordinal. On the other hand, the 1979 Ordinal introduced a number of significant deviations from the classical Anglican Ordinal, and encouraged some people to desire further changes and prepared others to accept them. In seeking to give expression to a more unreformed Catholic theology in the new Ordinal the Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force and the College of Bishops stand in continuity not with the English Reformers and the Restoration Bishops but the compilers of the 1979 Ordinal.

The new Ordinal gives expression to doctrines that are contrary to Scripture and at variance with the Biblical-Reformation theology of the historic Anglican formularies, including the classical Anglican Ordinal. The new Ordinal encourages Anglicans in North America to tolerate and accept these doctrines. It serves as a vehicle for disseminating these doctrines widely in the Anglican Church in North America and contributes to the erosion of Scriptural authority in that church. This erosion is a carryover from The Episcopal Church. Indeed it helps to explain the College of Bishop’s approval of the new Ordinal.

In the excitement of having their own modern language alternative to the 1979 Ordinal members of the Anglican Church in North America are not paying attention to the unscriptural doctrinal changes made in the new Ordinal. The struggle today, as it was at the time of the English Reformation in the sixteenth century, is above all else about the authority of Scripture. If the Anglican Church in North America is to be faithful to the Bible, its clergy must be faithful to the Bible. If its clergy are to be faithful to the Bible, its Ordinal must also be faithful to the Bible. The Anglican Church in North America cannot settle for anything less and honestly claim to represent authentic Anglicanism. In an upcoming article I will take a look at what changes need to be made in the new Ordinal to make it agreeable to Scripture and consonant with the historic Anglican formularies.

Previous articles in this series:

"The Doctrine of the New ACNA Ordinal: Classically Anglican? Or Troublingly Unreformed?"

"Archbishop Robert Duncan on the New ACNA Ordinal – Part II"

"What You May Not Know about the New ACNA Ordinal"

"Archbishop Robert Duncan on the New ACNA Ordinal"

"Further Thoughts on the New ACNA Ordinal"

"Prelates and Pontificals in the Anglican Church in North America"

"The New ACNA Ordinal: Shadows of Things That Will Be or Shadows of Things That May Be?"

"The 2011 Ordinal: A Foretaste of the New American Prayer Book"


Robert Ian Williams said...

A superb analysis..the whole series merits publication in a booklet.

However Cranmer never allowed for the annointing of hands in his 1550ordinal.

Robin G. Jordan said...


You will find a reference to the omission of the annointing of the new priest's hands from the 1550 Ordinal in paragraph 13, a little over half way through the article.