May We Dare to Hope…?

January 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 181 Comments

By Robin G. Jordan

“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV)

 

In 1869 B.B. Leacock wrote then Assistant Bishop of Kentucky George David Cummins:

 

“The fact is impressing itself more and more fully on observant minds in the Evangelical party that we are not only to have a Revised Prayer Book but a Reformed Church. This means a new Church. The Lord is working out the problem. Our Evangelical bishops must not think that they can stand in the way and stay the progress of this movement. Before they know it, the swelling wave will sweep over them, and past them, and will leave them high and dry, without friends and supporters, in the old Romanized Church.In my judgment the new Church is a fixed fact. The men are deeply in earnest who are working and praying for this thing, and their numbers are on the increase, and when we get our new Church we want its foundations laid solid on the Word of God, and its doors opened wide enough to receive within them all who love the Lord Jesus Christ. We hope to see it, with God’s blessing, the Church of this land.”

 

Cummins would found the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873. But one wonders whether he would recognize that church today.

 

When the 2005 revised Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church are compared with the Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church as adopted by the Seventeenth General Council of 1903 and revised by subsequent Councils through the Forty-fourth General Council of 1984, one is struck by how sweeping have been the changes in the Reformed Episcopal Church. In a space of less than twenty-five years the Reformed Episcopal Church has shed its Protestant and Reformed identity.

 

In 1984 the Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church did not contain any affirmation of the doctrine in the three Ecumenical Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in their 1801 form, or the Lambeth Equilateral of 1886-1888. Article VIII—Of Erroneous Direct or Symbolic Teachings states:

 

“Nothing calculated to teach either directly or symbolically that the Christian Ministry possesses a sacerdotal character, or that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, shall ever be allowed in the worship of this Church. No Communion Table shall ever be constructed in the form of an altar, no retable erected, and no candle, candlestick, or cross shall ever be placed upon any Communion Table.”

 

In 2005 the General Council replaced the provisions of Article VIII with those of Article IV, Section 1 of the new constitution:

 

“Nothing calculated to teach that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the elements of the bread and wine are changed into the natural Flesh and Blood of Christ, shall ever allowed in the worship or teaching of this Church. Nor shall any practice that teaches or promotes doctrines or practices specifically prohibited by the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion be permitted in this Church.”

 

These provisions take advantage of the fact that the Thirty Nine Articles specifically prohibit only one particular doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, the doctrine of “the Sacrifices of the Masses” that claims that the Church repeats Christ’s sacrifice or adds to it. Under the provisions of the new constitution Reformed Episcopal clergy can teach and promote the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice that claims that the Church does more than commemorates Christ’s sacrifice: the Church participates in it. However, J.I. Packer has shown in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today that, while the Articles say nothing about this twentieth century development directly, they say a good deal about it indirectly. The Articles rule out the Lambeth doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice as misshapen. [1]

 

Reformed Episcopal clergy are also free to teach and promote the idea that they act as intermediaries between God and humankind.

 

In contemporary Reformed Episcopal parishes one can now find altars and retables with candlesticks and candles upon them. One can see clergy in stoles and eucharistic vestments.

 

In 1984 the Reformed Episcopal Church was not organized into dioceses but synods like a number of Lutheran church bodies in Australia, Canada, and the United States. The parishes within a synod elected lay deputies to the General Council. A synod consisted of at least ten parishes and at least ten presbyters. It could adopt its own constitution. Its ecclesiastical authority was its standing committee or its bishop if it had one. The boundaries of Reformed Episcopal parishes were not geographical.

 

In 1984 the Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church did not state that bishops held their office and ministry for life. An ordained minister in good standing of another denomination could become a presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church without being reordained. A deacon could be licensed to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion under special circumstances. This included consecrating the bread and wine. The Reformed Episcopal Church had no licensed lay eucharistic ministers who brought the reserved sacrament to the sick and to shut-ins. Indeed Reformed Episcopal presbyters did not reserve the sacrament.

 

These are just a few examples of how the Reformed Episcopal Church has retreated from the Protestant and Reformed doctrine and principles of its founders.

 

How would B.B. Leacock react if he were to visit a Reformed Episcopal parish this coming Sunday? He would think that he was in a Protestant Episcopal parish of his day. He would take one glance at the Prayer Book now used in Reformed Episcopal churches and call for a revised Prayer Book. He would hear the parishioners addressing their pastor as “Father” and referring to him as their “priest” and call for a reformed Church.

 

The intention of this article is not to bash the Reformed Episcopal Church. Rather it is to draw attention of one of the realities of the twenty-first century. We have no Anglican church in North America like the one Cummins founded that seeks to be thoroughly Protestant and Reformed in its doctrine and principles. The emerging Anglican Church in North America has no judicatory that fully espouses such doctrine and principles. The Reformed Episcopal Church has abandoned its Protestant and Reformed heritage. The Anglican Orthodox Church and the Traditional Protestant Episcopal Church, while they claim to be Protestant and Reformed on their websites, belie their claim with their continued use of the Protestant Episcopal Church’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer, a service book that is decidedly not Protestant and Reformed in its theology of the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and confirmation. This leads to our next question: Do we need a Protestant and Reformed Anglican Church in twenty-first century North America? 

 

The answer to this question depends upon how much we personally value the Protestant and Reformed tradition in Anglicanism—evangelical Christianity as Anglicans have understood that faith and practiced it, whether we believe that it is valuable enough to pass on to another generation, and whether we think that another generation can get along without it. Does it matter if no Anglican Church in North America accepts and unfeignedly believes all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as given by inspiration of God, and containing all things necessary to salvation” and continue profess to the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church? Does it matter if no Anglican Church in North America continues to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord has commanded? Does it matter that no Anglican Church in North America as a Protestant and Reformed Church maintains a constant witness against all the innovations in doctrine and practice by which the Primitive Faith has been from time to time defaced and overlaid, and which at the Reformation the Church of England did disown and reject?

 

We need to reflect upon these questions in the coming year. We need to pray over them. At the same time we should not give too much time to reflection and prayer. We must make up our minds. Where do we stand?

 

Do we have any less observant minds than those of the Evangelical party of B.B. Leacock’s day? Are we to have a revised Prayer Book and a reformed Church—a new Church? May we dare hope to see that new Church, with God’s blessing, the Church of this land? 

 

Endnotes:

J. I Packer and R. T. Beckwith, The Thirty Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 81-85.

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