Saturday, December 05, 2015

Changes in Doctrine and Worship in the Reformed Episcopal Church

I originally posted this article more than five years ago. The observations made in the article are even more relevant today than they were then. I have also posted links to related articles.

By Robin G. Jordan

This article began as a reply to one of the questions of my readers in the comment section of a previous article. Due to its length I decided to post it as an article. It may also answer several other readers’ questions.

I excerpted the following sections from Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church as adopted by the Seventeenth General Council, May, 1903; as Revised by Subsequent Councils through the Forty-fourth General Council, May 1984, (Philadelphia: The Reformed Episcopal Publication Society, 1984)

Title III – Of the Ministry and of the Doctrine and Worship of the Church

Canon III – Of Deacons

Sec. 4. No Deacon shall administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, except he be licensed by the Bishop.[my emphasis] Such licensure shall in every case be for a limited time, and a specified field of work, and shall in no case be valid outside of the jurisdiction of the Bishop licensing.

Under the provisions of this section of Title III, Canon III, as late as 1987, if not later, a deacon might be licensed to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This was not to administer the reserved sacrament but to consecrate the elements himself and then to distribute them to the congregation. This practice has some precedent in the early Church albeit the practice was eventually suppressed due to the growing protests from presbyters who considered the administration of the sacrament their prerogative in the absence of the bishop. It shows that the Diocese of Sydney’s proposal for diaconal administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not new. The Presiding Bishop of the Church of England in South Africa may, under special circumstances, issue a one-occasion license for a deacon to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in that church. This is similar to what was the practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA, the principle difference being that the ELCUSA permitted the licensing of laypersons as well as deacons.

Canon IV – Of the Reception and Dismissal of Deacons

Sec. 1. Any Minister of another Church, whose ecclesiastical standing in the said Church corresponds to that of a Deacon, rather than that of a Presbyter in the Church may be received by a Bishop and Standing Committee, as a Deacon of the Church; provided, that he shall produce a Letter Dismissory from the Church with which he was connected or, in default thereof, satisfactory evidence of his good standing and religious character, and of the propriety of his motives in leaving said Church; provided also, that he shall satisfactorily pass the examinations prescribed for deacons in Canon III, Section 1, of this Title.

Note that the provisions of this section do not require the re-ordination of a deacon received from another church if he was not episcopally-ordained.

Canon VI Of the Reception and Dismissal of Presbyters

Sec. 1. Any Minister of another Church, whose ecclesiastical standing in the said Church corresponds to that of a Presbyter rather than to that of a Deacon in this Church, being so ordained according to the usage of said Church [my emphasis], may be received by a Bishop and Standing Committee as a Presbyter of this Church; provided that he shall produce a Letter Dismissory from the Church with which he was formerly connected, or, in default thereof, satisfactory evidence of his good standing and religious, character, and the propriety of his motives in leaving said Church; provided also that he give adequate proof, by examination or competent testimony, of his literary and theological acquirements in accordance with Canon V., Sec. 2, of this Title, and shall have signed the Declaration contained in Canon V, Sec. 3.

We can also see from the provision of this section that as late as 1987, if not later, presbyters were received from other churches without re-ordination as long as they were ordained presbyters according to the usage of the church from which they came. This means that at that time the REC accepted presbyters who were ordained in accordance with the practices of Baptist and Congregationalist churches, as well as Presbyterian and Reformed churches. In the case of Presbyterian and Reformed churches the usual practice is for the presbytery of the Presbyterian church or the equivalent body of the Reformed church to examine the candidate and determine his suitability for ordination and then ordained him if he is suitable for ordination. In the case of Baptist and Congregationalist churches the practice is to call a council of the ministers of the Baptist or Congregationalist churches in a given area. The council then examines the candidate and determines his suitability for ordination. If he is suitable, the council ordains him. In the case where the council does not find the candidate to be suitable for ordination, the local church, if it disagrees with the findings of the council, may ordain him. The final decision is the congregation’s. A minister who is ordained by a council is more readily accepted by other churches than one who is ordained by his own church. If there is no other Baptist or Congregationalist churches within a reasonable traveling distance of the church, a Baptist or Congregationalist church may ordain a minister without a council.

Canon VII – Of Persons Not Ministers of this Church Officiating in any Parish Thereof

Sec. 3. Nothing in this Canon shall be understood to preclude pulpit exchanges by Ministers of this Church with Ministers in good standing of other evangelical Churches, or as prohibit the occasional occupancy of the pulpits of this Church by such Ministers of other Churches.

Compare the preceding section with the 2002 draft canon related to the same matter.

Canon 21 - Of Persons Not Ministers in this Church Officiating in any Congregation Thereof

No Minister in charge of any congregation of this church, or, in case of vacancy or absence, no Churchwardens, Vestrymen, or Trustees of the Congregation, shall habitually permit any person to officiate therein, without sufficient evidence of his being duly licensed or ordained to minister in this Church; Provided, that nothing herein shall be so construed as to forbid occasional ecumenical gatherings of Christian people in which Ministers not in communion with this Church participate, or for communicants of the Church to act as Lay Readers; or to prevent the Bishop of any Diocese or Missionary Diocese from giving permission to Christian men, who are not Ministers of this Church, to make addresses in the Church, on special occasions.

Note the change of attitude toward Ministers of other Churches.

Canon IX – Of Bishops

Sec. 9. This Church recognizes the Episcopate as an Office, not an Order[ my emphasis]; and no person who has held the Office of Bishop in any other Church, coming into this Church, shall ordain, confirm, or perform any other act of the Episcopal Office in this Church, unless and until he shall have been so authorized by specific action of the General Council, and shall have signed the Declaration at the end of Title III, Canon V, Sec. 3.

The provisions of this section reflect the view of the English Reformers as well as conservative Evangelicals. They considered presbyters and bishops to be of the same order. The duties and responsibilities of a bishop are essential that of a presbyter but in a different sphere of operation and with some additional functions—confirmation, ordination, etc.

In an article entitled “Reformed Episcopalians,” and written in early twentieth century, W. Russell Collins wrote, “It [i.e., the Reformed Episcopal Church] recognizes the validity of all Evangelical orders, confirmed in the laying on of hands of the presbytery; and holds communion with, and exchanges pulpits with, all Evangelical Protestant Churches, and receives from them by letters dimissory, clergy and laity without reordination or reconfirmation, and dismisses to them, as to parishes in her own communion.” The Rev. Collins’ description of the Reformed Episcopal Church no longer fits the modern-day REC.

Sometime around the turn of the century the Reformed Episcopal Church began to draft a new constitution and set of canons. These documents introduced changes that were far-reaching (and from the perspective of previous generations of Reformed Episcopalians radical). They reflected the influence of The Episcopal Church in language and content and revealed a definite shift in doctrine from that of the founding fathers of the REC. The draft constitution and canons were supposed to be adopted at the 2002 General Council but the new constitution and canons were not adopted in their final form until 2008. In the meantime, the REC had adopted a new Prayer Book, which also revealed the same shift in doctrine. The REC Prayer Book was purportedly a cultural adaptation of The Book of Common Prayer of 1662. In actuality, the new book drew heavily upon the former Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was the first major revision of the PECUSA Prayer Book and shows the influence of the two predominate theological schools of thought in the PECUSA at the time of its adoption—Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church liberalism. The theology of the 1928 Prayer Book is far removed from that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

This doctrinal shift can be attributed to a number of factors—a pre-1970s movement for re-unification with the then Protestant Episcopal Church; an influx of Episcopalians, clergy and laity, from the mid-1970s on; what has been described as a belated Oxford movement in the REC, especially its seminaries; the emergence of an Anglo-Catholic wing in the REC; the spread of ritualism and related doctrine in the REC; and the present REC leadership. My study of the 1930-1932 REC Prayer Book suggests that this shift may have begun as early as the 1930s. Just as Bishop George David Cummins and the nineteenth century Evangelical Episcopalians saw “the germs of Romanism” in the 1789 PECUSA Prayer Book, I have detected signs of an incipient Catholic theology in the 1930-1932 Prayer Book. The compilers of that book made a number of changes that the English Reformers and the REC founding fathers would not have countenanced, as they were associated with the sacerdotalism that they rejected. The compilers also incorporated material from the recently adopted 1928 Prayer Book.

This doctrinal shift has caused the same kind of dislocation in the REC as radical liberalism has caused in The Episcopal Church albeit on a smaller and less dramatic scale. Consequently, it has received much less attention. The effect of the doctrinal shift has been the reinterpretation or denigration of the original REC Declaration of Principles and the isolation and marginalization of those loyal to the beliefs and practices of the REC founding fathers. The REC Anglo-Catholic wing contemptuously refers to them as “Presbyterians” because they are Reformed in their theology. They have not only been isolated and marginalized, they have also been pushed to the margin of the REC and then out of that body. The new REC does not have room for conservative Evangelicals any more than does the ACNA. Conservative Evangelicals are too closely tied to the old REC—to the Bible and the Reformation. They are too Protestant and too Reformed in their beliefs and principles.

The 2002 REC draft constitution and canons, like the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, relegates the Thirty-Nine Articles to the historical documents section. The 2008 REC constitution and canons consign the Articles to the appendix in a section diplomatically titled “Received Documents.” In either case it is seen as a relic of the past. This is the position of the ACNA as Ephraim Radner has pointed to our attention in his assessment of the ACNA Fundamental Declarations. The Fundamental Declarations give lip service to the Articles as a classical standard of Anglicanism with the other Church of England formularies but they are not really viewed as authoritative for today’s Anglicans as in the Jerusalem Declaration.

In the ACNA we see the emergence of a “new settlement” that brings together Anglo-Catholic theology and Convergence thinking. The self-identified Evangelicals of the ACNA for the most part speak the language of the Ancient-Future movement, not classical Anglicanism and Reformation Christianity. They make frequent references to the converging of the three “streams”—evangelical, Pentecostal, and Catholic. They describe the ACNA and their own local churches in terms of the three “Ss”—scriptural, Spirit-filled, and sacramental. They minimize the serious theological divisions between Evangelicals, charismatics, and Anglo-Catholics.

From the perspective of Ancient-Future enthusiasts conservative Evangelicals are much too doctrinaire for the ACNA. Conservative Evangelicals are much too pedantic, much too dogmatic, when in their way of thinking circumstances require greater tolerance and flexibility—a more “generous orthodoxy.”

From a conservative Evangelical perspective Ancient-Future enthusiasts emphasize practice and piety to the neglect of doctrine. They lack depth in their theology and accommodate postmodernism in their thinking. If asked to describe the doctrinal views of Ancient-Future enthusiasts, conservative Evangelicals are likely to use words like “mushy” and “soft” for not only Ancient-Future enthusiasts in the ACNA but also in general. A major concern of conservative Evangelicals is that Anglo-Catholic theology has become the default theology of the ACNA due to the shallow theology of Ancient-Future enthusiasts and their Convergence thinking.

Anglo-Catholics also do not see a place for conservative Evangelical in the ACNA. They like conservative Evangelicals understand that doctrine is important. The practices of a church should correspond with the beliefs of the church. They recognize that their beliefs and those of conservative Evangelicals do clash with each other. Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evangelicals may share some core beliefs but on a number of primary matters affecting salvation, they are on quite different pages. The emergence of a hard-core conservative Evangelical wing in the ACNA is something that Anglo-Catholics do not relish.

On the other hand, Anglo-Catholics find Ancient-Future enthusiasts much more congenial than conservative Evangelicals. They are malleable and open to Catholic doctrine, order, and practice. They are not unyielding in their beliefs and principles like conservative Evangelicals and are willing for the most part to oblige Anglo-Catholics on theological, ecclesiological, and liturgical matters. They like Anglo-Catholics give much more authority to antiquity and tradition than do conservative Evangelicals. This is not to say that there are not tensions between the two groups. These tensions are evidenced primarily in four areas—interpretation of Scripture, ordination of women, music and worship, and divorce and remarriage.

In some ways this coalition between Anglo-Catholics and Ancient-Future enthusiasts resembles the coalition between Anglo-Catholics and Broad Church liberals between the two world wars. During that period what Leslie Fairfield, retired professor of Church history at the Trinity School for Ministry, has characterized as Catholic Modernism made inroads into the then Protestant Episcopal Church. The effects first manifest themselves in the 1950s. Among the results produced was the consecration of Mary Glasspool this past Saturday.

The doctrinal shift in the REC is part of a larger movement away from classical Anglicanism and Reformation Christianity in North American Anglicanism. This author is more familiar with developments in the United States and the former Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA than in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, and will confine himself to developments below the 49th parallel. The onset of this movement is traceable as far back as the establishment of the PECUSA and earlier. Three theological “streams” are evident in the fledgling church—the High Church principles of Bishop Samuel Seabury and his party, latitudinarianism, and the Evangelicalism of Bishop William White and his party. In the early nineteenth century we see competition for hegemony between the High Church party and the Evangelical party. During the 1830s the High Church party would fall under the influence of the Oxford movement and ritualism.

The years before and after the Civil War were marked by a death struggle between the High Church party and the Evangelical party. The two parties clashed over ritualism and the theology of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. A pivotal issue was baptismal regeneration. The Evangelical party sought to outlaw ritualism, revise the Prayer Book, and improve relations between the PECUSA and other Evangelical Protestant churches. The Prayer Book revisions for which the Evangelicals called were modest ones—alternative wording or alternative forms for the Baptismal Services. The High Church party defeated the measure outlawing ritualism, blocked Prayer Book revision, and prosecuted Evangelical clergy for their efforts at ecumenicalism.

A segment of the conservative wing of the Evangelical party succeeded from the PECUSA and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873. The new church adopted a constitution and a set of canons in the same year, and adopted a revised Prayer Book in 1874. The remaining Evangelicals came to be increasingly more liberal, eventually losing their Evangelical identity and becoming Broad Church liberals. By 1900 conservative Evangelicalism had disappeared from the PECUSA.

No classical Evangelical party existed in the Episcopal Church from 1900 to the 1960s. The former Bishop of South Caroline Fitzsimmon Alison in private correspondence with the late St. Luke’s Seminary Dean Terry Holmes lamented that the only “Evangelicals” in the PECUSA were actually “liberal Low Churchmen,” not Evangelicals at all.

The 1970s saw a revival of classical Anglican Evangelicalism in the United States. This revival involved only a very small part of the Episcopal Church. Most of those involved in the revival were English Evangelicals or were influenced by the English Evangelical movement. Neither Anglo-Catholics nor liberals in the Episcopal Church welcomed this development.

The primary influences of the self-identified Evangelicals in the ACNA have been popular North American evangelicalism, the charismatic renewal movement, the seeker-sensitive/church growth movement, and more recently the Ancient-Future or Convergence movement. All these influences downplay doctrine. The self-identified Evangelicals in the ACNA have not had much of a classical Anglican Evangelical grounding. Their understanding of Anglicanism reveals both Anglo-Catholic and liberal influences.

In 2004 conservative Anglo-Catholics, Ancient-Future evangelicals and charismatics, and the new Reformed Episcopalians united in an alliance against radical liberalism and the homosexual agenda in the Anglican Church in Canada and The Episcopal Church, known as the Common Cause Partnership. In the Theological Statement that the Common Cause Partnership Roundtable drafted in 2006, the movement of North American Anglicanism away from classical Anglicanism and Reformation Christianity is discernable. It is even more discernable in the ACNA adaptation of this statement that forms the ACNA Fundamental Declarations.

The doctrinal shift in the REC has reinforced the Anglican Church in North America’s rejection of Classical Anglican Evangelicalism and the Biblical-Reformation doctrine of the reformed Church of England and its formularies. In turn, the ACNA’s disowning of Anglicanism’s Protestant, Evangelical, and Reformed heritage has further strengthened and supported the REC doctrinal shift. We have seen how things have turned out in The Episcopal Church after that church put aside the same heritage.

What has followed from these developments is that North America does not have a church that truly represents Classical Anglican Evangelicalism and the Biblical-Reformation doctrine of the reformed Church of England and its formularies. In future articles I will explore what might be done to remedy this state of affairs.

Also see
Among its failings is North American Anglicanism's lack of a genuine commitment to the confessional nature of authentic Anglicanism.

In his article Dr. Mark D. Thompson, now principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia, notes that in the theological discussions leading up to GAFCON the only serious doubts to the confessional nature of authentic Anglicanism was raised by some American Episcopalians. These American Episcopalians came from what is today the Anglican Church in North America and now occupy positions of influence in the ACNA.

Its attitude toward the Thirty-Nine Articles has historically set the American Episcopal Church apart from the rest of Anglicanism and continues to characterize the liberal Episcopal Church and the conservative breakaway churches--the Anglican Church in North America and the Continuing Anglican Churches.

In their interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles as well as their attitude toward the Articles, the liberal Episcopal Church and the conservative breakaway churches may be described collectively as a divergent branch of Anglicanism of questionable authenticity.
The Articles of Religion: The Free Church of England Revision
Book of Common Prayer (2011): A Review 

Photo credit: Faith Church (Reformed Episcopal)

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