Saturday, January 02, 2016

Revisionism in the Reformed Episcopal Church—Part 2


By Robin G. Jordan

In the second part of my article, "Revisionism in the Reformed Episcopal Church," I examine the Third and Fourth Principles in the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Declaration of Principles and how the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church understood them. I also examine the “clarifications” which the introduction to the Declaration of Principles on the Reformed Episcopal Church’s website maintains are essential to a proper understanding of these two Principles. As I noted in the first part of the article, these “clarifications” are designed to influence how the Declaration of Principles is interpreted and reflect a revisionist reinterpretation of the Declaration of Principles. They offer a different understanding of the Declaration of Principles from that of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s founders.

The Third Principle
“This Church, retaining a liturgy which shall not be imperative or repressive of freedom in prayer, accepts The Book of Common Prayer, as it was revised, proposed, and recommended for use by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, A.D. 1785, reserving full liberty to alter, abridge, enlarge, and amend the same, as may seem most conducive to the edification of the people, ‘provided that the substance of the faith be kept entire.’”
This Principle reflects a major concern of nineteenth century Evangelical Episcopalians and the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders—the revision of the Prayer Book which they were convinced had from the 1552 Prayer Book “been made less Protestant by every successive revision”, including the 1789 American revision. They believed that the 1552 Prayer Book itself was “far from perfect,” and the doctrine of the Baptism embodied in its Baptismal Services was unscriptural. The only Prayer Book revision that they viewed favorably and then only in part was the 1689 Proposed English Prayer Book, "the Liturgy of Comprehension," which sought to bridge the divide between Anglicans and Non-Conformists but which was shelved for political reasons. Their acceptance of the Proposed 1785 American Prayer Book was based on its incorporation of features of the 1689 Proposed Prayer Book. In their view the 1559, 1604, and 1662 revisions and the 1789 American revision contained the seeds of “Puseyism, Ritualism, Sacerdotalism, and Sacramentalism” which were then flourishing in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

In the preface to his lecture series, “The Book of Common Prayer—Revision a Duty and Necessity, The Departure from the Doctrine of the Reformers Made in the Revisions of Elizabeth and Charles II: An Historical Inquiry—In Two Lectures,” Mason Gallagher, a presbyter and founder of the Reformed Episcopal Church, gives voice to this concern:
The issue to-day is not between the Ritualists and the Reformed Episcopalians, but it is between the Romanizing tendencies of the present Prayer-book and the Reformers.

The crushing out of a few prominent Ritualists would be as effective in removing the spreading evil as lopping off some of the taller stalks would successfully rid a field of Canada thistles.

The roots of error are in the Prayer-book, and Ritualism and kindred errors are the legitimate and necessary outgrowth. These roots must be grubbed up, and that work the Reformed Episcopal Church has attempted. Revision thus became to us a necessity.
In the mid-nineteenth century the Evangelical party in the Protestant Episcopal Church, alarmed by the growth and spread of the influence of the Oxford Movement, had sought to ban Ritualism in the Protestant Episcopal Church and to introduce modest changes in the 1789 American Prayer Book. These changes would have permitted Evangelical clergy to omit sections of the Baptismal Service or use alternative language or provided an alternative Baptismal Service for their use. The High Church party which had come under the influence of the Oxford Movement defeated the proposed ban on Ritualism and refused to consider any changes to the 1789 American Prayer Book. It insisted that Baptismal Regeneration was the doctrine of the Protestant Episcopal Church and any changes in the Baptismal Service were non-negotiable. The High Church party enacted a canon prohibiting Episcopal clergy from associating with the clergy of any denomination that did not have bishops, exchanging pulpits with them, and receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in their churches. This canon was aimed at the Evangelical clergy who engaged in these practices. These developments would eventually cause the conservative wing of the Evangelical party to leave the Protestant Episcopal Church and form the Reformed Episcopal Church

“Freedom in prayer” was another major concern of nineteenth century Evangelical Episcopalians and the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders. Evangelical clergy had also come under fire from the High Church party for the practices of holding prayer meetings in their parishes and using extemporaneous prayer in their church services. In the Third Principle the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders seek to establish a middle ground between the exclusive use of extemporaneous prayer and the prohibition of its use in the Reformed Episcopal Church. 

A key to the proper understanding of this Principle are these two clauses, “as may seem most conducive to the edification of the people, ‘provided that the substance of the faith be kept entire.’” The Principle is not blanket permission to revise the Prayer Book in whichever way a later generation of Reformed Episcopal leaders might see as desirable. Any alteration, abridgment, enlargement, or amendment to the Prayer Book must be instrumental in building up the people in the Christian faith as the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders understood that faith, and not as a later generation of Reformed Episcopal leaders might understand it. It should not add to or subtract from “the substance of the faith,” here again as the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders understood it, but should preserve it untouched, in its entirety. Any change to the Prayer Book that made it less Protestant would not meet these two requirements.

For those wishing to learn more about the views of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders upon Prayer Book revision, I recommend the following publictions: 

In relation to the Third Principle the author of the “clarifications” in the website’s introduction to the Declaration of Principles offers this purported “clarification.”
“Third, the first Prayer Book of the REC was the 1785 American version of the 1662 BCP. Due to the allowance for revision, the current version of the Reformed Episcopal BCP is based on the 1662 BCP and includes the 1928 Order for the Holy Communion as an alternative rite.”
This "clarification" reduces the Third Principle to blanket permission for any kind of revision to the Prayer Book. It is disconnected from the real historical context of the Declaration of Principles, not the cooked-up “historical context” that the same author offers in its place. It is also disconnected from the intent of those who drafted the Third Principle. While a Prayer Book closely modeled on the 1662 Prayer Book might to some be desirable, it would not have been to the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders. Like the 1789 American revision, they viewed the 1662 revision as embodying an unscriptural doctrine of Baptism and containing “Romanizing germs.” A careful examination of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book reveals that it is largely based not upon the 1662 Prayer Book but the 1928 American Prayer Book and to a lesser extent upon the 1928 Proposed English Prayer Book, two books that contain not just seeds of “Ritualism and kindred errors” but flourishing weeds.

The Fourth Principle
This Church condemns and rejects the following erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to God's Word:

First, that the Church of Christ exists only in one order or form of ecclesiastical polity:

Second, that Christian Ministers are "priests" in another sense than that in which all believers are a "royal priesthood:"

Third, that the Lord's Table is an altar on which the oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ is offered anew to the Father:

Fourth, that the Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine:

Fifth, that regeneration is inseparably connected with Baptism.
In this Principle are articulated five longstanding Evangelical positions, positions that are consistent with Holy Scripture and are rooted in the English Reformation. They are positions that comprise together with other positions on key issues a legitimate school of Anglican thought.

The English Reformers themselves found no Scriptural mandate for one particular order or form of ecclesiastical polity. They “refused to make episcopacy a mark of the true church.” They rejected the Roman Catholic view of Apostolic Succession

The English Reformers recognized only three priesthoods—the Aaronic priesthood that ceased with Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world; the priesthood of Melchizedek, to which Christ as our great High Priest alone belongs, and the royal priesthood of all believers, to which all Christians belong.

The English Reformers rejected on Scriptural grounds the Medieval Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass. This doctrine maintains:
“1. The Mass is a true and proper sacrifice which is offered to God.

2. By the words, "Do this in commemoration of me" (Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24), Christ made the apostles priests. Moreover, He decreed that they and other priests should offer His Body and Blood.

3. The Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely an offering of praise and thanksgiving, or simply a memorial of the sacrifice on the Cross. It is a propitiatory sacrifice which is offered for the living and dead, for the remission of sins and punishment due to sin, as satisfaction for sin and for other necessities.

4. The Sacrifice of the Mass in no way detracts from the sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross (Council of Trent, Session XXII, September 17, 1562).”
Cranmer expunged from the 1552 Prayer Book any reference to the Lord’s table as an altar and everything else suggestive of the eucharist as a sacrifice. He did, however, retain the word, “priest,” and its retention has proven problematic since it is one of those phrases and expressions in the 1552 Prayer Book and its subsequent revisions that is “open to mistake and perversion.” The Reformed Episcopal Church would omit the word “priest from the services of its Prayer Book adopted in 1874 as well as from its Thirty-Five Articles of Religion adopted in 1875.

The English Reformers rejected the notion of a localized presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. This included a spiritual presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements as well as a substantive presence. Archbishop Cranmer held that Christ is not physically or corporally present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper but “is present in those who worthily eat and drink the bread and wine.” Christ “is present with his people by the virtue of the Holy Spirit.” Christ is received by the heart and enters the heart by faith. Only those who have a vital faith can eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. Cranmer emphasized the spiritual presence of Christ with the believer, not just in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper but in all of life. Cranmer held that those who a vital faith eat, drink and feed on Christ continually, as long as they are members of Christ’s body. The believer’s spiritual feeding on Christ entails “spiritually feeding on all the benefits of Christ’s finished works on the cross” and in that way receiving spiritual nourishment for his Christian walk. In Cranmer’s view grace “is conferred on the recipient of the Lord’s Supper, not by the action itself but by faith in the realities signified by the action.” The view of the Lord’s Supper that Bishop Cheyene articulates in “The Reformed Episcopalian at the Lord’s Table” corresponds with Cranmer’s. It is the same view embodied in the Service of the Lord’s Supper in the 1874 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book.

The Bible contains several passages that show that regeneration may occur apart from baptism and an individual may be baptized but remain unregenerate. The sixteenth century divine Richard Hooker in Laws of Ecclesistical Polity makes clear that the benefits of the sacraments  are “received from God himself—the Author of the sacraments—and not from any other natural or supernatural quality in them.” He further writes:
“They contain in themselves no vital force or efficacy; they are not physical but moral instruments of salvation, duties of service and worship; which unless we perform as the Author of race requireth, they are unprofitable. For all receive not the grace of God who receive the sacraments of his grace.”
The issue of baptismal regeneration would divide the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in the nineteenth century. The Tractarians in the Church of England and the High Church party in the Protestant Episcopal Church took the position that regeneration was inseparable from baptism while the Evangelical party in both churches took the position that regeneration was not inseparable from baptism. The  Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the Gorham judgment would rule that the Evangelical position was not inconsistent with the formularies of the Church of England and was a bona fide position of a legitimate school of Anglican thought.  For most Churchmen with the exception of those who held extreme Anglo-Catholic views this ruling settled the matter.

In Protestant Episcopal Church the outcome was the departure of the conservative wing of the Evangelical party from the church. The High Church party held sway over the General Convention and rejected Evangelical proposals for the revision of the Baptismal Services. The House of Bishops eventually came up with a compromise but it was too little too late.
  
In relation to the Fourth Principle the introduction to the Declaration of Principles offers this “clarification.”
Lastly, the denials of the 4th Principle clearly oppose any language defined to imply that the sacraments in and of themselves convey salvation apart from faith. However, a negative does not establish a positive. Particular terms such as priest, altar, and real presence are not actually forbidden, only their incorrect use. Specifically, these denials should in no way be understood as rejecting the clear language of documents subscribed to in the Declaration of Principles (The Scriptures, Book of Common Prayer, Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.)

(1) The Articles allow the use of the word priest as the anglicized version of the word presbyter by their consistent use of it to describe a minister of the Word and Sacrament (XXXII, XXXVI), and not as someone who can uniquely provide atonement (XXXI) is clear.

(2) Table and altar are used interchangeably in Holy Scripture (Malachai 1:10, 12), suggesting the table of Holy Communion is an altar of praise and thanksgiving.

(3) The Articles affirm belief in the real presence of Christ when they say, The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner (XXVIII).

(4) The Holy Scriptures (Titus 3:5) and the Catechism of the BCP speak of baptism as an outward sign of an inward grace such that regeneration should be understood as normally occurring at Holy Baptism, but not inseparable with Baptism.

Thus, the Declaration of Principles are not an attempt to depart from historic Anglican beliefs. Rather, they are an expression of a return to the old paths of the Protestant Episcopal Church and our English Reformers, in the words of Bishop Cummins. Moreover, their rejection of peculiar Medieval errors that have sometimes reappeared in the history of Anglicanism has held Reformed Episcopalians to orthodoxy without a single occurrence of schism or doctrinal deviation.
Here again we encounter the kind of evasions that John Henry Newman used in Tract 90. Statements such as “particular terms such as priest, altar, and real presence are not actually forbidden, only their incorrect use” and “specifically, these denials should in no way be understood as rejecting the clear language of documents subscribed to in the Declaration of Principles (The Scriptures, Book of Common Prayer, Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.)” follow the line of thinking that Newman used in that highly-controversial tract. Historical context and authorial intent are given short shrift. It is quite clear from the sermons and writings of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders that such claims do not hold up.

Bear in mind one of the major criticisms that conservative Evangelicals and the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders leveled at the “Ritualist and Sacerdotal party” was its misinterpretation of Scripture, the Prayer Book,and the Articles to support its views. From their perspective there were also sections of the Prayer Book and the Articles which did not agree with Scripture. While they accepted the plenary authority of Scripture, they recognized that their opponents were not past citing isolated texts out of context, expound one passage of Scripture to contradict another, and in other ways twisting the Scriptures. To their way of thinking the present leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church form a part of another crop of “Canada thistles” that has sprung up from the seeds of “Ritualism and kindred errors” in the revisions of the Episcopal and the Reformed Episcopal Prayer Books of the past 140 odd years. Whatever opinions these leaders express, from their point of view, are not to be trusted.

The last “clarification” includes a specific “clarification” for each clause in the Fourth Principle. The first of these “clarifications” maintains that it is acceptable to use the word “priest” because it is used in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Its use in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, however, is beside the point. There has been sharp debate since the sixteenth century over the retention of the word "priest" with Evangelicals objecting to its use and avoiding its use whenever possible and Anglo-Catholics overusing it and using it in the sense of a hieros, or a sacrificing priest. The Reformed Episcopal Church's founders eliminated the word from the Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book adopted in the 1874 and the Reformed Episcopal Church's Thirty-Five Articles of Religion adopted in 1875. The sermons and writings of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders are consistent in their opposition to the use of the word even as a contraction for presbyter due to its sacerdotal associations. Avoidance of its use is consistent with the Declaration of Principles. To learn more about the views of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders on priesthood, read Bishop Charles Edward Cheyene's sermons, "The Reformed Episcopalian and His Minister" and "The Reformed Episcopalian and His Bishop" in What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? and Bishop W. R. Nicholson's sermon, "The Priesthood of the Church of God."

In the second “clarification” it is claimed that in Malachi 1: 10, 12 altar and table of the Lord are used interchangeably, suggesting that Christians may use altar and Lord’s table interchangeably. In this passage in the Hebrew the word “misbeach” is used for “altar” and “shulchan Yehovah” is used for the table of the Lord. While they may appear in conjunction with each other, they are not referring to the same thing. One is referring to the stone altar on which offerings were burned; the other refers to the wooden table on which the offerings were placed before they were burned. What we have here is a classic example of Scripture twisting. While Christians are bound by the Old Testament moral law, they are not bound by the Old Testament ceremonial law. Even if the words for altar and the table of the Lord were actually being used interchangeably, Christians are not bound to do likewise. For the views of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founding bishop George David Cummins on the use of the word altar for the Lord’s Table , see “The Lord’s Table, and not the Altar.” Nowhere in the 1874 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book is the Lord’s Table referred to as an altar.

In the third “clarification” it is claimed that Article XXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion affirm belief in the real presence of Christ when it says, ‘The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.’” This view is traceable to Claude B. Moss, an Anglo-Catholic theologian of the last century. Moss in interpreting the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion followed in the footsteps of John Henry Newman and disconnected the meaning of the Articles from their historical context and the intent of their framers.  Neither Thomas Cranmer who framed the original Forty-Two Articles nor Matthew Parker who revised them and reduced them to Thirty-Two Articles believed in the real presence of Christ, that is, Christ’s localized presence in the elements of the Lord’s Supper either substantively or spiritually. Here the introduction to the Declaration of Principles on the Reformed Episcopal Church's website is attempting to use an erroneous interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion to overthrow the Declaration of Principles’ position on the doctrine of the real presence. The Reformed Episcopal Church's Thirty-Five Articles rejects both Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation and by extension all other doctrines of a localized presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements.

The fourth “clarification” claims on the basis of the Titus 3:5 and “the Catechism of the BCP” that the occurrence of regeneration at baptism is normative. What is the proper interpretation of Titus 3:5 divides not only Anglicans but Christians in general. The “clarification” does not identify the Prayer Book to which it is referring. If it is the 1662 Prayer, the section of the Prayer Book Catechism on the sacrament of Baptism is open to different interpretations with Anglo-Catholics favoring one interpretation and Evangelicals another. Anglo-Catholics would tie the outward sign and the inward grace closely together while Evangelicals recognize that a person may receive the inward grace before the outward sign or the outward sign before the inward grace. Both appeal to the Scriptures. One of the criticisms of the 1552 Prayer and subsequent revisions of that book was its Baptismal Service and its apparent support of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Church of England Evangelicals interpreted the language of the rite as being that of charitably presumption, arguing that it had to be interpreted in the light of the whole counsel of God in Scripture. Evangelical Episcopalians, however, accepted the High Church party’s interpretation of the rite and viewed the rite as evidence of what they called “Romanizing germs” in the Prayer Book. It was a major reason behind their push for Prayer Book revision. Maintaining that the occurrence of regeneration at Baptism is normative is departure from what the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders believed. See “The Reformed Episcopalian at the Baptismal Font” in What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? Eight Sermons Preached in Christ Church, Chicago. It certainly does not help the reader better understand the Declaration of Principles as the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders understood them.

The introduction to the Declaration of Principles on the Reformed Episcopal Church's website goes on to claim is that these “clarifications “ show that the declaration is not a departure from historic Anglican beliefs. One is prompted to ask whose beliefs—the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Church or its Evangelical wing?  While the declaration may not be consistent with the beliefs of the Anglo-Catholic wing, it is certainly consistent with the beliefs of the English Reformers and the Evangelical wing. The “clarifications” are unnecessary. So what purpose do they serve? They offer justification for the changes that present leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church have introduced into the doctrine and worship of the denomination—changes that are a departure from Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders and the doctrinal positions of the Declaration of Principles.

Using the language and imagery that the Reformed Episcopal Church's founders themselves employed, one can arguably say that today’s leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church are cultivating a fresh crop of Canada thistles and planting seeds of future crops of this invasive species, sometimes called “the lettuce from hell” and widely classified as a noxious weed. The changes that they have introduced and the questions that these changes raise about the depth of their commitment even to the historic Anglican formularies eliminate the Reformed Episcopal Church as a candidate for a North America enclave for clergy and congregations committed to the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church. By rejecting the Reformed Episcopal Church’s own Protestant and Evangelical heritage, the same leaders have also rejected the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage. Right now North America has no church body that is fully committed to that heritage.

Further Reading:
On Apostolic Succession
Primitive Episcopacy: A Return to the Old Paths of Scripture and the Early Church
The Catechism of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the Dominion of Canada
What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe?

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