I've been involved in a discussion about the REC Declaration of Principles with some people online. I've been reading and reflecting on them for some time now due to personal ties with the REC (in case you didn't know, REC = Reformed Episcopal Church). The Declaration was written at a specific time and is very much tied to the controversies of the day but not irrelevant nor has it lost any truth.
A brief historical summary of the situation correlates directly with the subject of this blog. The Reformed Episcopal Church was formed in 1873 under the suffragan Bishop of Kentucky, George Cummins. However, before the actual split, Evangelicals in the PECUSA had been complaining of the "germs of popery" in the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. They specifically disliked the language of the Baptismal liturgy regarding "regeneration," some of the questions in the Catechism, the priestly power of absolution, and the titles given to clergy in the Ordination services. The Declaration of Principles reflects the polarization in churchmanship which happened with the rise of Anglo-Catholicism. Before the Oxford Movement, churchmanship was much more fluid but with the Movement came the polarization and crystalization of churchmanship beliefs and practices.
Specifically, the REC was formed when Bishop Cummins participated in an ecumenical gathering in New York City. At this meeting, he presided over a Communion service for non-Anglicans. He was criticized by Anglo-Catholic clergy. He defended his position in a letter but eventually resigned from his position. In a meeting with twenty-one other Episcopal ministers, the REC was formed. The clergy agreed on this Declaration and a revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which was reduced to thirty-five in number.
I will go through each section of the Declaration examining its faithfulness to Anglican teaching.
The Reformed Episcopal Church, holding "the faith once delivered unto the saints," declares its belief in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, as the sole rule of Faith and Practice; in the Creed "commonly called the Apostles' Creed;" in the Divine institution of the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; and in the doctrines of grace substantially as they are set forth in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.”
This was probably written in “party strife” to clarify the uniqueness of the Word of God as the only infallible rule of faith. However, it does depart from classic Anglicanism in denying the three creeds, “The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture” (Article 8). And likewise the Apocrypha, which is denied in the 35 Articles of Religion, “The Book commonly called "The Apocrypha" is not a portion of God's Word, and is not therefore to be read in churches, nor to be used in establishing any doctrine” (REC Article 5). While the authoritative Articles allow and encourage the Apocrypha to be read in church, but not for doctrine, “ And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”
This Church recognizes and adheres to Episcopacy, not as of Divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church polity.
I have written about this elsewhere on my blog but the REC does not depart from historic, Anglican practice or thought with this statement. It does depart from Anglo-Catholicism, though, but Anglo-Catholicism parts ways with historic Anglicanism in many ways. The view maintained in the REC Declaration of Principles is that of the bene esse of the episcopacy, meaning it is good, ancient, and desirable but not necessary for the Church. This view allows the REC to recognize the orders of non-episcopally ordained ministers. Their old service books had a rite for the reception of presbyters into the REC. Historically, Anglican churches have required their ministers to be ordained by bishops and usually do not receive other ministers without episcopal ordination.
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."
Here, it appears the REC is opposing rigidity in liturgical worship, meaning the exclusion of extemporaneous prayers. This reflects the nature of party strife in the Anglican Church at the time. However, part of the successive Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy do require use of authorized liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. However, most modern Anglican service books allow a fair amount of extemporaneous prayers.
A note about the 1786 Proposed Book of Common Prayer for the PECUSA, it is revealing that the REC chose this as a model for their BCP. The 1786 BCP was modeled on the 1689 Liturgy of Comprehension and is notable for excluding the Creed from Holy Communion and the canticles from the Offices. The 1786 showed the influence of the 1662 in its Communion office, though, and did not have the Scottish prayer of consecration in it. This shows the early latitudinarian spirit in the REC.
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."
Even though this paragraph presents multiple points, I am going to address it as a whole because there are some common themes in the remonstrances listed above. The first assertion reiterates the point above about the episcopacy and also is intended to show the REC’s willingness to recognize the validity of other Protestant ministers, an important issue to Cummins and other early leaders of the REC. The second and third points are correlated even though they address different aspects of the same issue. The denial is that the Christian priesthood is sacerdotal, meaning that the priest offers a propitiatory sacrifice in Holy Communion. This was a smack in the face to Anglo-Catholicism, which affirms, contrary to historical Anglican thought, that the priest does offer a propitiatory sacrifice at the “Mass.” This theology is denied in the third point above. These beliefs are reflected in intentional changes to the REC liturgy. In their Prayer Book the word “priest” is replaced by the word “presbyter,” and like the 1662, the word “altar’ is not used to refer to the Lord’s Table. The fourth point reflects the common Evangelical concern with the wording in the Baptismal service in the 1662 BCP. While we can debate till kingdom comes about the exact meaning of the text, it have some apparent strong language about regeneration, which has caused High/Low debate in Anglican history since the publication of the 1662 BCP.