Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Free Church of England on the Same Trajectory as the Reformed Episcopal Church?

By Robin G. Jordan

In his article, “The Roman and the Anglican Way Contrasted,” the late Peter Toon draws attention to one of the dangers of liturgical revision, the temptation to use such revision to introduce changes in doctrine and practice. New doctrines and new practices are introduced in the guise of enrichments to the liturgy. Toon notes that Anglicans are particularly susceptible to this temptation. A study of the history of liturgical revision in the Anglican Church beginning with the retrograde 1637 Scottish Prayer Book, the infamous Laudian liturgy, supports the accuracy of this observation.

Among the latest self-identified Anglican entities to use liturgical revision to introduce such changes are the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America. The 2005 REC Prayer Book incorporates material from the 1928 Prayer Book and with that material the doctrine of that Prayer Book. The 1928 Prayer Book was compiled when Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church latitudinarianism were the two dominant schools of thought in the Episcopal Church. Both schools of thought had been influenced by theological liberalism. All three influences are evident in the 1928 Prayer Book. For an in-depth examination of the defects of the 1928 Prayer Book, readers are referred to my article, “What Is Wrong with the 1928 Prayer Book?” The REC also permits the use of the services of the 1928 Prayer Book as an alternative to those of its 2005 book. 

The Anglican Church in North America has gone even further than the Episcopal Church in the early twentieth century and Reformed Episcopal Church in this century in its introduction of changes in doctrine and practice through the process of liturgical revision.

In its Ordinal the ACNA has altered the historic Preface to the 1662 Ordinal so that it is open only to an Anglo-Catholic interpretation. It has introduced into the Ordinal such practices as prostration of the candidate for ordination before the altar, the presentation of the new priest with a chalice, the anointing of the new priest’s hands, and the anointing of a new bishop’s forehead, practices that are associated with ordination in the Roman Catholic Church and which were rejected by the Anglican Reformers on firm Biblical grounds.

The Anglican Church in North America has replaced the formula spoken at the impositions of hands in the ordination of deacons with one similar to the imperative formula used at the same point in the service in the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops. In The Anglican Ordinal: Its History and Development from the Reformation to the Present Day, Paul F. Bradshaw makes this important point:
"In spite of the importance attached by many Anglicans to the imperative formulas at the imposition of the hands in the Anglican rites, particularly that in the rite for the priesthood, their continued use can no longer be defended. They have no place in the primitive pattern of ordination, and they only serve to detract from the ordination prayers and induce erroneous ideas about ordination.; they suggest, for example, that the grace of Order can be bestowed by command rather than sought in prayer (p. 209)."
This particular interpretation of the imperative formula is shared by Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics who believe that with the imposition of hands the bishop imparts a special gift or grace of the Holy Spirit.

The alteration of the Preface, the introduction of Roman Catholic ordination practices, and the use of the imperative formula in all three ordination rites have been used along with the incorporation into the ACNA canons of language from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law describing the ministry of bishops, and the ACNA’s catechism’s adoption of the Roman Catholic Church’s sacramental system to replace the Biblical, Protestant, and Reformed theology of the historic Anglican formularies with unreformed Catholic theology in the Anglican Church in North America.

The ACNA ordination rites are not the only rites in which liturgical revision have been used to make unreformed Catholic teaching and practices the official doctrine and practices of the Anglican Church in North America. Unreformed Catholic theology underpins the proposed rites of the Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. The two forms of the Holy Eucharist is modeled upon the Roman Catholic Mass. While the language is more muted, the Eucharistic Prayers are modeled upon the Roman Canon. Both forms of the Holy Eucharist also incorporate other material from the Roman Mass, for example, the second formula for the invitation to Communion, “Behold the Lamb of God....”

At the Free Church of England’s Convocation this past May, the delegates gave final approval to the use of the services of the Prayer Book of the Reformed Episcopal Church as an alternative to the services of the denomination’s own Prayer Book. The previous May the FCE Convocation had approved “the use of new ordination services for bishops, presbyters and deacons, reflecting a greater range of Scriptural and traditional imagery.” I have not examined these services but their description suggests that they may depart from the 1956 ordination services.

Among the unique features of the 1956 FCE ordination services is a formula at the imposition of hands, which does not suggest that the bishop in laying his hands upon the ordinand is imparting a special gift or grace of the Holy Spirit. A number of presbyters join the bishops in laying hands on the candidate at the consecration of a new bishop. Otherwise, the 1956 FCE ordination services are basically the 1662 ordination services.

The adoption of new ordination services and the approval of the use of the services of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book do not bode well for the future of the historic Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Free Church of England. When one considers these two developments in the light of the FCE’s flirtations with the ACNA, the Nordic Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, and the Traditional Anglican Communion the future of these principles looks grim in the FCE. The FCE  is clearly on the same trajectory as the Reformed Episcopal Church—away from the bright light of the Protestant Reformed faith into the pitch darkness of unreformed Catholicism.

Also see
The Free Church of England Plays with Fire

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