By Robin G. Jordan
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a saying from the early twentieth century. The photo show what looks like the sanctuary of a traditionalist Episcopal, Canadian Anglican, or Continuing Anglican church in North America—an altar vested in Roman purple, candles on the altar, poinsettias massed around the foot of the altar, a pulpit for the Gospel reading and sermons and a lectern for the Epistle reading, Roman purple paraments on the pulpit and the lectern, a wall cross prominently displayed above the altar, a processional cross in its stand on one side of the altar and a credence table on the other, a rail separating the sanctuary from the people, banners on the walls. Here is the sanctuary of the same church decked out for Easter.
If you are an American Episcopalian, a Canadian Anglican, or a Continuer, you have likely visited more than one church whose sanctuary resembles the sanctuary of this church. From looking at the church’s sanctuary, you would not guess that a church of the same denomination a hundred years ago would have contained none of these furnishings and ornaments. It would have had a pulpit and a communion table, pews, and little else—no candles, no crosses, no crucifixes, no flowers, no paraments, no paintings, and no pictures. What you are looking at in these two photos is the sanctuary of a modern-day Reformed Episcopal church. Both photos show how far the Reformed Episcopal Church has departed from the Protestant and Evangelical principles of its founders. They show how much the Reformed Episcopal Church has succumbed to the influence of “Ritualism and kindred errors” whose growth and spread in the then Protestant Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century led Bishop George David Cummins and the Reformed Episcopal Church’s founders to leave the Protestant Episcopal Church and establish a “Reformed Church.”
Article IX of the original Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church adopted by its Second General Council in 1874 prohibited Ritualism:
No church decorations, ornaments, vestments, postures, or ceremonies, calculated to teach—either directly or symbolically –that the Christian ministry possesses a Sacerdotal character, or the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrifice, shall ever be allowed in the worship of this Church nor shall any Communion Table be constructed in the form of an altar.
If its framers were to take a time machine to the twenty-first century, they would be appalled by what they would find in Reformed Episcopal churches today.
The shift of the Reformed Episcopal Church toward “Puseyism, Ritualism, Sacerdotalism, and Sacramentalism” can be traced to five developments—the movement within the Reformed Episcopal Church to merge that denomination with the Episcopal Church; the adoption of a succession of Prayer Books influenced by the Episcopal Church’s Prayers Books, beginning with the 1930 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book; an influx of Anglo-Catholics and other Ritualists from the Episcopal Church; the emergence of the present leadership of the Reformed Episcopal Church; and the movement within the Reformed Episcopal Church to merge with the Anglican Province of America—an Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican Church. These developments were both contributing factors to and symptoms of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s abandonment of its founders’ Protestant and Evangelical principles.
The Reformed Episcopal Church’s involvement in the Anglican Church in North America, which broke away from the Episcopal Church in the wake of the election and consecration of a practicing homosexual as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, has hastened its departure from these principles. While the ACNA does not identify itself as Anglo-Catholic, it is officially unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and its practices. When the Reformed Episcopal Church formally adopts the ACNA Catechism and the ACNA proposed Prayer Book, there will be no doubt left about its slide into unreformed Catholicism. What was once a bright light of the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage in North America will be extinguished and North American Anglicanism will be plunged into darkness.
While North America has an undetermined number of clergy, congregations, and para-church organizations that stand in varying degrees in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage, they are not united in one ecclesial body. Very few, if any, of the Prayer Books in use in North America are Scriptural and Protestant. Almost all reflect the influence of Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism, both of which have been identified as major twenty-first century challenges to the authority of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies in the global Anglican Church (see The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future, pp. 96-97 ) This includes the 1928 American Prayer Book and the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book as well as the 1979 American Prayer Book and the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services. The proposed ACNA Prayer Book is no different from these books.
The situation that exists in North America in the opening decades of the twenty-first century is not too different from that in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. There is a clear need for a Church and a Prayer Book that embodies the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the English Reformers. Such a Church is not to be found in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Continuing Anglican Churches, the Anglican Mission, or the Anglican Church in North America. Such a Prayer Book is not to be found in the liturgies of these ecclesial bodies.
In 2016 Christians can expect to face all kinds of challenges. Yet it is also a year filled with promise—new souls led to Christ, new churches planted to enfold them, new networks of churches organized to advance the Gospel. One of the principles that is taught at the church with which I am sojourning is that if you see a need, you do what you can to meet that need, including involving others in meeting the need. Here is a need for a Church and a Prayer Book that embodies the Protestant and Evangelical Principles of the English Reformers. What are you going to do to meet this need? How are you going to involve others in meeting it?
Photo credit: Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church, Roanoke VA
Photo credit: Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church, Roanoke VA