Sunday, September 18, 2011
The Episcopal Church is Still a Protestant Church
In many of the articles on this site, you will see historical research and interpretation all supporting the central claim that the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States (PECUSA) were and are Protestant Churches and true branches of Christ's, one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. You will see how this affected every aspect of church life before the Oxford Movement, which sought to destroy the solid, Protestant foundation of the Church. If you read the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, you will find that the Church is still called, properly, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, "commonly called" The Episcopal Church. In fact, the copyrighted name of the organization is the Domestic and Foreign Missions Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, incorporated right here in New York. Not that nomenclature determines the nature of a thing but it is important to note that this reality still exists, at least on paper, one way in which Anglo-Catholicism could not rob the Church of her soul. I do not intend for this to be a long post but a simple one. There will not be much historical analysis for you to review but rather my humble opinion, based on the aforementioned research. I never intend to simply offer my opinion without backing my assertions with a piece of research or evidence to which I think properly supports my claim(s). I refer the reader to the American High Church tradition series or that of the English High Churchmen or any of the other posts on ceremonial to be directed to further areas of exploration.
A brief history of the Articles is necessary but this is far from exhaustive. There is a rich history of composing articles of faith in the Church of England, beginning in the Henrician era. Each confession reflects the circumstances in which they were written. There were the Ten Articles, the Six Articles, and after Henry, the 42 Articles, all of Cranmer's composition. Later the Articles were revised in 1563 to 38 in number and finally revised to their current form in 1571 and set with the Book of Common Prayer of 1559 and the Ordinal bound with it as well as the books of Homilies, as the formularies, or those documents containing the true doctrine of the Church of England. That faith came to America through the English colonists and developed a life of its own on American soil. After the War for Indpendence there was some momentum to abandon the theology of the Articles of Religion, in fact a revised form, containing only 20 Articles was proposed but never adopted. In 1801, PECUSA adopted the Articles in their revised American form and they have been bound with the Prayer Book ever since and contain the true doctrine of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. It is true that the clergy were never bound to an oath of subscription as in England but that does not cheapen the status of the Articles in the American Church, which were never called into question until the Oxford Movement.
In the Preface to the 1789 Prayer Book (and in all other historic Prayer Books), the Church maintains her stance, "this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require." One can see the limitations of the departures from that of the Church of England as local circumstances require in the 1801 version. In it, all references to the King have been removed, obviously, and unfortunately, the Athanasian Creed is removed as a source of authority, but it is still a "historical document" in the modern Prayer Book and may be used at any occasion. In the Ordinal, the Priest does have to pledge an oath to this question,"Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, according to the Commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your Cure and Charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?"
What does it mean for us to be a Protestant Church? It means that we strive to live in the simplicity of the early Church by adhereing to catholic principle. We have this through the doctrine contained in the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and Homilies of the Church. We have been given the best liturgy to be produced by any Church to use to our benefit and sanctification. Why do we neglect such a treasure? Yes, it is true, some will have to give up treasured devotions such as the Rosary or a lovely novena to some saint but consider what you will receive in return, Christ. Christ Himself, mediated through the preaching and reading of His Word and the faithful administration of the Sacraments of the Gospel; Christ. What medal could be traded for our Lord Himself? Receive Him in faith and you will never be let down that is the call of our Protestant identity, to live in faith, faith alone in Christ as Mediator, Judge, Savior, and Lord, of our souls and to trust in his, "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world," and to spread that Gospel of hope to the ends of the world.
I end with a quote from Bishop John Henry Hopkins. I have already used this quote in other articles on this site but I love the quote so much that I feel it important to repeat it again. It shows that this is not a partisan movement but a genuine appeal to all parties.
“The Church is a Protestant Church, emphatically and distinctly such, because her duty to PROTEST against error, is, in the natural things, inseparable from the right of REFORM. Is he ready to repeat her protest, to defend its duty, and to demonstrate its truth? The Church is a Catholic Church, that is, a branch of the ancient, Universal Church of Christ, in contradistinction from all heresies and schisms. Is he thoroughly persuaded of this fact, and ready to assert, against "all gainsayers, but chiefly and preeminently against that corrupt system which would fain be called the only Catholic Church, the purity and faithful consistency of her doctrines ? If not, let him be put back awhile until he learns to understand the office which the Church expects of him. He may have piety, he may have learning, he may have all high moral and intellectual capacities, he may be sound in the essentials of his individual faith so far as concerns his own salvation. But all this he might be, without any of the distinctive principles which can alone authorize us to clothe him with the commission of the ministry. Our power to give him this commission is a solemn trust, delegated to us on certain specified conditions. And if those conditions, or any of them, be manifestly wanting, we have, strictly speaking, no legal right to ordain”