Friday, March 29, 2013

A Prayer Book Holy Week

It's a bit out of place to issue a post as such but I feel I must address an issue I find particularly annoying. That is, supposedly "Prayer Book" parishes, not using the Prayer Book, especially for Holy Week. This is especially true of traditionalists and those people who are supposedly mad at the Protestant Episcopal Church for not using the 1928 BCP. Yet, I have to wonder why PECUSA should use the Prayer Book, if its sharpest critics are not using it either?

Let me be clear about what I am referring to. The Prayer Book does not provide services or forms for the blessing of palms, the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, the popular services of Good Friday, the long services of the Easter Vigil, or other "popular" aspects of Holy Week. In fact, some of these things were specifically condemned and prohibited at the Reformation, the blessing of palms (the English Reformation, and Anglicanism, does not have a theology of sacramentals and the blessing of inanimate objects was abandoned at the Reformation as an unbiblical practice). There's also an issue of nomenclature. The 1662 English BCP tends to prefer simplicity to complexity and in thus tends to reject uncommon names for holy days. For this reason, we have "The Sunday next to Easter", "The Thursday before Easter", etc. instead of Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday (re-insterted with "commonly called" in the 1928 BCP, a formula, which, in the 1662 BCP is often used to mean "popularly called X but better called Y, such as the "Nativity of our Lord, commonly called Christmas, meaning the first is preferred to the latter). While using one name over the other is nothing to worry about, I do think there is merit in the English BCP's simplicity.

The next issue is that of services. The English and American BCPs provide propers for each of the days of Holy Week (with the 1928 BCP adding proper collects for Monday-Wednesday, while in the 1662 BCP these fall under the Sunday Next to Easter's Collect), meaning that each day in Holy Week has an Epistle and Gospel thus meaning that Holy Communion can be consecrated and celebrated on each day of Holy Week. The Reformers rejected many of the practices popularly associated with Holy Week (both then and now) and preferred instead for the people to focus on the Word of God (the Propers contain very long Gospel readings, re-telling the story of Jesus' Passion). As aforementioned, the Reformers, following biblical practice, properly rejected the blessing of inanimate objects such as palms and ashes. These were properly excised from the English Liturgy and have not been re-introduced into a proper Prayer Book, with the exception of the optional blessing of wedding rings in the 1928 BCP. The other problem is the veneration of the cross in the Good Friday Liturgy which smacks against Reformed teaching that only God can be adored, not physical objects. In theory, there is nothing wrong with the traditions associated with Maundy Thursday and Easter Even, yet, it remains to be an issue of fidelity and honesty. If one pretends to be a Prayer Book Christian, he must follow the rubrics of the Prayer Book.

All of this to say, it is not necessarily wrong to hold these services (except where mentioned above), but they must be regarded as extra-liturgical. The main service of each day should be the Prayer Book service of either the Daily Office or Holy Communion (or both with the Litany), if a parish claims to be following the Prayer Book.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On the Polity of the Protestant Episcopal Church

(A slightly revised old article).

I wrote an article a while back concerning the polity of the Episcopal Church.  The original article was something that I wrote out of curiosity without a clear vision as to what it was that I was trying to prove.  Recent events in the life of the Church have led me to return to the subject, specifically in concerning the role of the Presiding Bishop in the life of the Church and the authority of the Diocese in relation to the National Church.  I write as a layman not a cleric or canonist.  Moreover, I write as someone who is formally trained in linguistics, not canon law, neither history, nor theology, however, as a baptized Christian, I view it as my duty to be informed on matters of faith.  I happen find this subject remarkably fascinating, and, at the same time, remarkably frustrating.  I write as a "regular" churchgoer, with two eyes and a God-given brain, with these I read and analyze the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, relating them to the history of this Church, and the current practice of the leadership of said Church, which, sadly, seems to be promoting a polity alien to its own foundational documents.  

While the American Revolution was an interesting and, as its name implies, revolutionary event, perhaps, the ecclesiastical revolution which accompanied the new political establishment was the more radical of the two revolutions.  As seen in history, the future of the Episcopal Church seemed bleak at the beginning of our nation.  Many loyalist clergy and laity had fled to England, many others gradually drifted away to other forms of Protestantism or irreligion, due to the former's departure.  There were no bishops, cathedrals, deans, chapters, provinces, synods, canons, or anything as such to hold together a church and beyond that the prospect of obtaining bishops seemed just as unlikely an event as actually organizing an Episcopal Church in the nascent country.  However, through the efforts of one man, William White, a national church was eventually organized as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, developing a unique polity expressing a uniquely American approach to episcopacy.

The structures which would eventually come to govern the life of our national church in America have their roots in the anomaly of colonial Anglicanism.  When English citizens arrived here in the New World, they brought their religion with them.  Puritans and Pilgrims dominated the scene in New England, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Anglicans in Virginia and Maryland (obviously an oversimplified picture!) which contributed to the religious diversity to which we are accustomed in the US.  There were relatively few Anglican parishes in New England in colonial times (and few in some southern colonies like Georgia and North Carolina), however, the Church was established by law in Virginia and Maryland and the number of parishes shows it (the Church was established in many colonies by law but that did not necessarily correspond to an active, Anglican parochial system).  The American Church was very autonomous with hardly any interference or intervention from the mother Church.  The colonial parishes fell under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London (being considered part of his diocese), however, no episcopal visit ever occurred.  This lack of concern for colonial parishes from the English bishops stemmed from 18th century English conceptions about what a bishop should be (serving as a temporal and spiritual Lord of the Realm, not fit for “mission” work in the Colonies).  This is not to say that there was no concern for the colonial church.  Most notably, Thomas Bray, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, visited the Colonies around 1700 to investigate the state of affairs in colonial parishes.  His “Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion on the Continent of North America,” published in 1701, prompted the foundation of the Society, which worked hard to provide clergy and resources for the Colonial Church.  One of the SPG’s main concerns was to acquire a bishop for the Colonies.  However, for various reasons this plan failed, “The English Church did not see the need for bishops in the colonies, since they were already under the rule of the Bishop of London, and the S.P.G. (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) seemingly was unable to argue successfully for Episcopal oversight” (Gundrum 1982:3).  One of the reasons was the colonial attitude to bishops, especially when considering the autonomy they had enjoyed without an episcopal presence.  This brings to light the power of vestries in the colonial parishes, especially in Virginia, where vestries had assumed a great deal of power in the absence of traditional authority structures in place in England.  This was one of the main concerns southern churchmen had with the introduction of episcopacy which would have limited their new-found power.

The greatest opposition to the episcopacy being established in the colonies emerged, as would be expected, from those areas, especially in the south, where vestries and parishes fairly well “ran their own show”, so to speak, by being able to successfully maintain the right to select and call their own rector… In Virginia, for example, the vestry selected the minister, wardens were the executives of the parish, and the vestry even raised a tobacco tax for church support.  In the absence of clergy, they selected lay-readers, many of whom, throughout the colonies, were ordained after being trained in America.  The use of lay-readers was a wide-spread custom, but the lay-reader was selected by the vestry to lead the congregation in worship.  The powers of the Virginia vestries over clergy presented what seems to many a new and lasting type of clerical- lay relationship” (Gundrum 1982:3).

Differences about episcopacy reflected more fundamental churchmanship divisions. In Pennsylvania and the south, low-church views, influenced by the moderate Enlightenment, prevailed; many of the laity, and indeed the clergy too, could be categorised as Deists.  In New England, by contrast, the clergy were predominantly high churchmen – many of them converts from Congregationalism who had come to believe in episcopacy. Their high churchmanship was sustained by their close connection with the high-church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (Podmore 2008:135).  These differences in churchmanship and perhaps a bit of politics delayed the consecration of a bishop for the colonies until after the Revolution.  This sense of autonomy would permeate the foundational documents of the Protestant Episcopal Church (a name first used by the Church in Maryland in 1780 [135]).

The American Revolution nearly destroyed the Colonial Church, most notably in its strongholds in Virginia and Maryland.  Many thought that Anglicanism would perish with the small band of parishioners left after the independence of the Colonies was secured from Great Britain.  However, one man would galvanize remaining Anglicans into organizing a national church in the United States.  White’s plan for the organization of this Church would differ radically from the mother Church in England.  Perhaps its boldness can be seen by first briefly examining the structure and organization of the Church of England.  Fundamentally, the Church of England differs from the Protestant Episcopal Church in one key aspect, that being its origin.  The Church of England was established by missionaries who established episcopal sees which later came to house a diocesan cathedral.  English dioceses are named after the see of the bishop and from his episcopal office stems the entire identity of the diocese, “. An English diocese has no separate existence from its bishop: the definition of a diocese is that it is the area in which a bishop exercises his ministry” (139).  Early missionaries established sees and from that central location sent further missioners to establish parishes under the pastoral care of the bishop.  This is a fundamental difference which must be grasped for it comes to dominate the structure envisioned by White in his proposals for the organization of the Church in America.  The most fundamental difference, however, differs in a parish’s identity.  In England, a parish is a “subdivision of a diocese” and without this connection to the diocese, it cannot exist as a parish (Podmore 2008:135).  As we shall see, this was not the case in the Episcopal Church.  Besides the fundamental distinction between the diocese as the main unit of the Church in England (and as we shall see) the parish as the central unit in America, there is the issue of the equality of dioceses.  The English Church is a metropolitical Church, meaning that authority stems from a central location and flows down.  In the case of the English Church, this temporal and spiritual authority rests in the Crown, as the Supreme Governor of the Church.  The next in the line of authority is the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, heads of the two Provinces of the Church of England, organized on the ancient pattern centering on the metropolitan (being Canterbury and York in England).  The authority flows down through diocesan bishops and eventually ends up at the parish level in the parish priest.  The structure of the Episcopal Church is completely different in outlook as we shall investigate here.  

The differences are in stark contrast, primarily due to the way in which the Church functioned in the colonial period, largely operating under a congregational polity.  Parishes were not tied to a diocesan bishop, except loosely the Bishop of London, who most colonists never saw.  Podmore adds, "In America, by contrast, the original state churches existed before they had bishops, and at first they were not called dioceses or required to have a bishop at all; they were certainly not defined by having a bishop. The bishops took their title from the state, rather than having a see that would give their diocese its name" (139).  It was this reality in which William White wrote his famous, “The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered,” published in 1782, “America was still at war with the English and it preceded the signing of the preliminary peace treaty on November 30, 1782, which became final on September 3, 1783.  Adding to this picture of the fast-moving events, by act of Parliament, English bishops were able to ordain colonial aspirants after August 13, 1784, and all congregations and clergy were freed from all controls of state legislatures by 1784” (Gundrum 1982:5).  White dismisses the (then) popular notion that the Episcopal Church could not survive without the rule of Great Britain, “A prejudice has prevailed with many that the episcopal churches cannot otherwise exist than under the dominion of Great-Britain.  A church government that would contain the constituent principles of the church of England, and yet be independent of foreign jurisdiction or influence, would remove that anxiety which at present hangs heavy on the minds of many sincere persons” (2).  The following is an excellent summary of White’s plan,

White’s plan, as set forward in the Case, was simply that the American Church should build from the bottom to the top, rather than from the other way around as in England, i.e. from parish to diocese. White’s ideas were in complete agreement with those of the Revolution, that people’s interests and good government are the same, and the very best way to insure this ideal was to allow and provide for people to have maximum input into the creation and formulation of that free government…
From the Case, William White, later Bishop White of Philadelphia, produced six fundamental principles:

  1. The Church is and ought to be free and independent of all foreign authority, ecclesiastical or civil;
  1. The Church in The United States should have full and exclusive power to regulate concerns of its own communions;
  1. The doctrines of the Gospel as then professed by the Church of England and uniformity of worship be continued, as near as may be possible;
  1. The succession of ministry in three orders:
  1. Bishops
  2. Priests
  3. Deacons
And the rights and powers of the same shall be ascertained and exercised according to reasonable law to be duly made;

  1. Canons shall be made by no other authority than that of a representative body of the clergy and laity, acting co-jointly; and
  1. No powers shall be allocated to a general ecclesiastical government except such as cannot be conveniently exercised by local congregations.

Without question, White intended to present a plan which fully preserved the faith, doctrine, and worship of the Church of England while changing the form of governance of the Church for the circumstance found in the United States.  His changes in government followed a contract-theory of government, and the de facto recognition that local government was already the fact; there
was no existing domestic episcopacy; and there had been no dioceses formed; thus leaving the parish as the basic unit of the Church in this country” (Gundrum 1982:6).

Gundrum also adds,

White’s changes in governance, mitigated by the American circumstance, has:
a) Clergy and Laity – meeting and voting in one body;
b) No area of Church government is beyond the authority of such a gathering of clergy and laity, and individuals do not possess a veto;
c) Every communicant or member of the Church has a right to participate in the development of Church government through the parish delegate to the diocesan convention;
d) Bishops should continue to serve as a rector, confined to a small district; and
e) No power shall be given to any diocesan, regional, or national Church, except those which cannot conveniently be accomplished by the clergy and laity in their respective congregations”(7).

In brief, “White’s proposal was that the congregations should unite, in ‘voluntary associations’, and accordingly they formed state churches (later called dioceses), which in turn united in the General Convention,” which could have been adopted due to the nature of how the Episcopal Church had been organized, largely as autonomous parishes without a bishop or diocese.  The pre-existence of parishes before the creation of dioceses, shows the parish to be the basic unit in the Episcopal Church and similarly, the pre-existence of dioceses before the General Convention presumes certain autonomy on the part of the dioceses.  White’s plan was enshrined in our Constitution, as Podmore notes,

The Constitution of the General Convention still treats dioceses seeking admission into union with the General Convention as pre-existing entities. According to the Constitution, the new diocese is formed ‘with the consent of the General Convention’, and the relevant canon speaks of the formation being ‘ratified’ by the General Convention, but both forms of words make it clear that it is not the General Convention that creates the diocese. A ‘primary convention’ of the new diocese adopts a diocesan constitution, and the new diocese is then ‘admitted into union with the General Convention” (131).

Part of White’s plan seems to have been motivated by a desire to return to a more primitive model of episcopacy, “The primitive churches were generally supplied by popular elections; even in the city of Rome, the privilege of electing the bishop continued with the people to the tenth or eleventh century” (3), contrasting with England, where, “bishops are appointed by the civil authority.”  Gundrum confirms that this would have been less suspicious to Americans, who had grown weary of English prelacy, “The idea of a “primitive episcopate” in no way brought forward the kinds of emotions and fear as was provoked by the English style of episcopacy” (2).  In his “Case,” White provides a sketch of his ideas about what the structure of the Church should look like.  White’s ideas gave birth to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, as Podmore notes, “‘Episcopal’ was understood in a very limited sense. White envisaged that each convention would elect a ‘presiding minister’, who would continue to be a parish priest (because the congregations would not be able to pay for a separate presiding minister). He understood a bishop as being a priest to whom the power of ordination and confirmation was given, together with certain administrative duties. In the early Church, he believed, ‘the bishop was no more than a president’.  Bishops should be elected by the clergy and laity and could be tried, and if necessary deposed, by those who elected them” (135).  And in White’s own words, “the very name of “Bishop” is offensive; if so, change it for another; let the superior clergyman be a president, a superintendent, or in plain English, and, according to the literal translation of the original, an overseer.”  Similar Low Church views were expressed by the Church in Virginia at their convention in 1785, which defined the duties of a bishop as, “ordaining, confirming, superintending clergy conduct and presiding at ecclesiastical meetings; the power to suspend or dismiss clergy, including the bishop, should rest with the convention”(136).  Perhaps colonists were reacting against the worldliness of English bishops, but whatever the cause, episcopacy was not something early American Episcopalians considered all that important in the life of the Church,

By and large, the office of bishop was defined in the early American church as being no different from that of any other clergyman, except that he could ordain, confirm, make clerical visitations; and finally by 1789, was given permission to serve as the presiding officer of ecclesiastical assemblies.  In all of this, the primitive aspect of the episcopacy, not the princely aspect of the office, was put forward, always with care to separate church and state while stressing the servanthood of the office” (Gundrum 1982:2).

As one could imagine, High Churchmen in the northern Colonies were not impressed with White’s Low Church episcopacy.  Contrast White’s statements with this statement from Bishop Hobart (obviously not writing at the same time),

The Church is a divinely constituted society, of which Christ is the Head. Its officers must derive their commission from him its Head. This commission [27/28] is transmitted through a superior order of the ministry, among whom ranked Timothy and Titus, subsequently called Bishops. By union with the Church the mystical body of Christ is our union in the exercise of penitence and faith to be maintained with him its Head. Union with the Church cannot exist where we are not in union with the ministry deriving their power through the legitimate channel from the Head of the Church. The Churchman believing that this order is the order of Bishops, would think that, in separating from their ministrations, he cut himself off from the communion of the Church, and was guilty of the sin of schism” (The Churchman).

The convention of clergy in Connecticut met in March 1783 to discuss White’s “Case” and also elected Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) to be their bishop, and the first bishop on American soil.  They wrote to White, “We think an Episcopal Church without Episcopacy, if it be not a contradiction in terms, would, however, be a new thing under the sun… Nothing can be more clear than that our Church has ever believed bishops to have the sole right of ordination and government, and that this regimen was appointed of Christ himself” (Podmore 2008:136).  The story of Seabury’s consecration does not concern us here but perhaps a brief summary will remind the reader of some interesting bits of history.  Seabury left the States to acquire consecration of English bishops in London but due to complications arising from the oath to the Crown in the English Ordinal, they were unable to perform consecration (they would change their opinion later and consecrate Provoost and White).  Seabury, either acting on his instincts or “Plan B,” headed to Scotland and was consecrated by Scottish bishops.  This act created a special relationship between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States and the Episcopal Church of Scotland, even influencing our liturgy (hence why our Communion Office resembles the Scottish Liturgy and not the English).  Bishop Seabury was not impressed with White’s plan and would not lead the Connecticut Church into participating with the other churches without some modification to the plan.  “The government of the Church by Bishops, we hold to have been established by the Apostles, acting under the commission of Christ, and the direction of the Holy Ghost; and therefore is not to be altered by any power on earth, nor indeed by an angel from heaven” (Seabury, 137).  He was principally concerned with White’s appropriation of the term “bishop” to someone who did not hold episcopal powers, according to the plan, “The rights of the Christian Church arise not from nature or compact, but from the institution of Christ; and we ought not to alter them, but to receive and maintain them, as the holy Apostles left them’. Furthermore, the episcopal office was one of government: ‘If a man be called a Bishop who has not the Episcopal powers of government, he is called by a wrong name, even though he should have the power of Ordination and Confirmation” (Seabury, 136).  Seabury was able to change the initial plans of White.  White had originally envisaged a unicameral legislature for the Church comprised of bishops, clergy, and laity.  Through Seabury’s protests, the plan was amended to include two houses, one for Bishops and one for other clergy and laity.

As history can prove, the 19th century would be a century of immense change in the Protestant Episcopal Church, stemming from the Tractarian Movement growing in England and influencing the Church by the 1840’s.  Before the Oxford Movement, however, there was an indigenous, High Church movement, led by Hobart, which led to emphasize the Episcopal office against the Latitudinarian character of the early Episcopal Church here.  Bishop Hobart led this indigenous movement from his parish in New York City as a parish priest and later as Bishop of New York.  These High Churchmen were committed Protestant Catholics (explored elsewhere on this blog) but they did not like the approach to bishops embedded in the Constitution.  Most notably, Hobartian churchmen influenced the thinking surrounding the foundation of new dioceses.  Rather than following White’s model of a group of parishes forming a “voluntary association” and then electing a presiding minister or “bishop,” future Episcopal Dioceses would be founded in the more traditional sense, flowing from a bishop who would build up a diocese around him.  The Hobartian churchmen also influenced one other significant aspect of Episcopal ecclesiology, dealing with the trial of bishops.  Up to that point, bishops were tried by their respective state churches.  The proposed reform would subject the trial of bishops to the General Convention, thus, at least subjecting bishops to the judgment of their brother bishops and not diocesan conventions (Podmore 2008: 139, 140).  This native movement merged with the foreign Tractarianism which had begun to impact the Protestant Episcopal Church by the late 1830’s and has continued to do so until the present day.  One of the issues that Tractarianism brought with it was how apostolicity and catholicity were to be understood.  Old High Church rhetoric focused on the bishop ruling his diocese as a picture of what apostolicity looked like in an Anglican context.  Tractarians had a different point of view entirely, focusing on the sacrificing priest, instead.  Podmore quotes R.B. Mullin, “Broadly speaking, if the central image in the high church imagination during the Hobartian period had been the patriarchal bishop governing from his apostolic office, for later churchmen the central image became the priest serving at the altar . . . [N]ew concerns pointed to a far greater concern for the sacerdotal role of the priest than for the apostolic role of the bishop” (R.B. Mullin on 140).  I argue that this change in emphasis (and theology) has led to a constant centralization in the Protestant Episcopal Church up until the present day, which we can see in the legal actions taken against Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina.

At this point, I would like to review the present structure and organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, also known as the Episcopal Church, which is incorporated in New York State as the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.  We will see that White’s plan, although altered, is still the framework on which the Episcopal Church functions today.

First, I would like to briefly discuss the identity of our church which has been sinking further into confusion since the 19th century.  The official name of our Church as said above is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, thus highlighting within our name the reformed catholic nature of our Church.  Many want to diminish either the Protestant aspect or the Catholic aspect of our Church, which in turn destroys the whole Church.  From the Preamble to the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church:

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order\ as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions”

Canon 13 deals with parishes of the Episcopal Church, parishes are to belong to the diocese in which they are geographically located.  Their status in the diocese allows them all the rights in Diocesan Convention in the diocese in which their clergyman is resident.  The geographical boundaries of parishes are established by Diocesan Convention and new parishes established must have the consent of the Bishop and Standing Committee.  Every parish must have a vestry elected by law, “In every Parish of this Church the number, mode of selection, and term of office of Wardens and Members of the Vestry, with the qualifications of voters, shall be such as the State or Diocesan law may permit or require, and the Wardens and Members of the Vestry selected under such law shall hold office until their successors are selected and have qualified” (14.1).  Likewise the vestry serves as the legal representative of the parish and the Rector should serve as the president of the vestry, unless there are conflicts with law.  

The dioceses of the Episcopal Church, especially the oldest members, which predate the first General Convention, were made up of parishes which pre-existed those dioceses.  As White termed them, “voluntary associations,” they offer much more power to the laity as opposed to English dioceses.  Most notably, Episcopal dioceses all have a constitution and set of canon law separate from the Church’s Constitution and Canons.  The General Convention has not historically interfered with diocesan constitutions or canons and it is not required to notify or obtain consent from the General Convention for changing diocesan constitutions and canons.

The Constitution of the General Convention requires that in each diocese there shall be a standing committee elected by the diocesan convention.  Typically, the standing committee (of which the bishop is not a member) has four lay and four clerical members, who choose their own president… The overall impression is not of the bishop as central to the life of the diocese, with a synod to advise him, but of the diocesan convention as central to the life of the diocese and supreme in its power, and of the bishop as its officer, able to act in many important matters only with the consent of the standing committee that the convention elects” (Podmore 2008:144; compare with Canon 12 of the C&C).

Episcopal dioceses are treated as equal in relation to their representation at General Convention, which is not weighted by size or metropolitcal seniority.  Each diocese elects four lay and four ordained deputies for their representation at the House of Deputies.  “The Church in each Diocese which has been admitted to union with the General Convention, each area Mission established as provided by Article VI, and the Convocation of the American Churches in Europe, shall be entitled to representation in the House of Deputies by not more than four ordained persons, Presbyters or Deacons, canonically resident in the Diocese and not more than four Lay Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church, in good standing in the Diocese” (Article 1 Sec.4).  Likewise there are no metropolitical sees as in England, with Canterbury and York as having metropolitical authority over other dioceses.  All dioceses and sees are equal in authority in the Episcopal Church.  “Because all diocesan bishops are equal, and because bishops are essentially officers of their diocesan conventions, no bishop is subject to the jurisdiction or authority of another bishop” (Podmore 2008:146).  The Episcopal Church has grouped its dioceses into “provinces” beginning in 1913 (for instance, Albany is in Province II), “but, lacking metropolitans, these are not provinces in the traditional sense. There is an elected president of the province, but he or she has no jurisdiction and (since 1979) may be a priest, deacon or layperson, although, if that is the case, the vicepresident must be a bishop.  There is what is called a ‘provincial synod’ but it has no ‘power to regulate or control the internal policy or affairs of any constituent Diocese’” (Podmore 2008:146).  The Constitution and Canons define the nature of Provinces, “Dioceses may be united into Provinces in such manner, under such conditions, and with such powers, as shall be provided by Canon of the General Convention; Provided, however, that no Diocese shall be included in a Province without its own consent” (Article VII).  This reflects a pattern I have noted when reading on the history of Episcopal polity over the past century.  That pattern being the adoption of traditional, Western ecclesiastical terms but not adopting the totality of that structure to the organization of the American Church.  For instance, as we shall see momentarily, the office of the Presiding Bishop has expanded considerably since the time of White or even Hopkins and has accumulated various responsibilities but the office is still an elected office with no metropolitical powers tied to the office as is the case of an archbishop.  The same trend can be seen with our provinces, which adopt the language of traditional provinces but not the inherent structure of them.  I believe this is the cause of the influence of Anglo-Catholicism in our Church which seeks to undermine the Protestant nature of our church.  This trend was also influenced by corporate culture in America which can be seen in the changing duties of the Presiding Bishop.  Holmes notes this centralization which began to take place in the early 20th century, “The Episcopal Church attempted to create greater efficiency and corporate consciousness by centralizing its previously uncoordinated denominational boards in the six-story Church Missions House . . . in New York City”(Holmes 145).

The office of the Presiding Bishop is an excellent example of how this gradual centralization has occurred in the Protestant Episcopal Church.  Until 1919, the Presiding Bishop was not elected but rather the senior bishop by date of consecration, since 1919, the Presiding Bishop has been elected as we know now, which is detailed in the Constitution, “At the General Convention next before the expiration of the term of office of the Presiding Bishop, it shall elect the Presiding Bishop of the Church. The House of Bishops shall choose one of the Bishops of this Church to be the Presiding Bishop of the Church” (Article 1, Sec.3) and, “The term of office of the Presiding Bishop, when elected according to the provisions of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, shall be nine years” (Canon 2.2).  It is important to note that before 1901, the Constitution read “Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops” (Podmore 2008:158) and it is also important to note the nomenclature of the office.  Our Church does not have an Archbishop but a Presiding Bishop, thus confirming that the Episcopal Church is not a metropolitical Church with varying sees of differing authority but rather an egalitarian episcopacy where all bishops are equal and elect one among them to preside over General Convention.  Because our Church is not a metropolitical Church, “[The Presiding Bishop] possesses no jurisdiction over any diocese and no power of visitation in the canonical sense. Bishops neither promise nor owe ‘due obedience’ to the Presiding Bishop… ‘The Presiding Bishop possesses no independent authority. His authority and actions derive from the ultimate ecclesial authority of the General Convention’(Podmore 2008:160).  The Presiding Bishop’s primary role is to preside over General Convention as the general officer.  According to Canon 2.3, a Bishop elected as Presiding Bishop must resign from previous jurisdiction(s) in order to serve in that office (such as Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori resigned from her post as Bishop of Nevada).  Now, I will quote at length the duties of the Presiding Bishop according to the Canons of the Episcopal Church:

The Presiding Bishop shall be the Chief Pastor and Primate of the Church, and shall:

  1. Be charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy in the Church and speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention;
  1. Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity;
  1. In the event of an Episcopal vacancy within a Diocese, consult with the Ecclesiastical Authority to ensure that adequate interim Episcopal Services are provided;
  1. Take order for the consecration of Bishops, when duly elected; and, from time to time, assemble the Bishops of this Church to meet, either as the House of Bishops or as a Council of Bishops, and set the time and place of such meetings;
  1. Preside over meetings of the House of Bishops; and, when the two Houses of the General Convention meet in Joint Session, have the right of presiding over such Session, of calling for such Joint Session, of recommending legislation to either House and, upon due notification, of appearing before and addressing the House of Deputies; and whenever addressing the General Convention upon the state of the Church, it shall be incumbent upon both Houses thereof to consider and act upon any recommendations contained in such address;
  1. Visit every Diocese of this Church for the purpose of:
  1. Holding pastoral consultations with the Bishop or Bishops thereof and, with their advice, with the Lay and Clerical leaders of the jurisdiction;
  1. Preaching the Word; and (iii) Celebrating the Holy Eucharist.
(b) The Presiding Bishop shall report annually to the Church, and may, from time to time, issue Pastoral Letters” (Canon 2.4)

The title ‘Chief Pastor’ was added in 1967… The title ‘primate’, added in 1982, presumably denotes membership of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion established four years earlier in 1978. It cannot mean what that term has traditionally meant in the western Church; the Presiding Bishop is not the bishop of the first or primatial see of the United States – there is no such thing – and indeed he or she is not now the bishop of any diocese. (The Presiding Bishop does, however, have a cathedral, known as ‘The National Cathedral’, which was begun in 1907 and completed in 1990.) (Podmore 2008:146, 147).  One can see the increasing centralization and power vested in the Presiding Bishop, which probably led us to the problems we face today.

I would like to add one final note about the office of the Presiding Bishop and how that office relates to the Executive Council which is also the Board of Directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missions Society.  The Presiding Bishop is chair and president of the Executive Council, which also functions as the board of directors of the Domestic and Foreign Missions Society of which the Presiding Bishop is president (of both).  “There shall be an Executive Council of the General Convention (which Council shall generally be called simply the Executive Council) whose duty it shall be to carry out the program and policies adopted by the General Convention” (Canon 4.1a) but it shall be, “accountable to the General Convention” (4.1b).  The Presiding Bishop can appoint officers to positions created by the Executive Council as well.

Now we move to discuss the real power in the Episcopal Church: General Convention.  The first article of our Constitution defines and establishes the General Convention, “There shall be a General Convention of this Church, consisting of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which Houses shall sit and deliberate separately; and in all deliberations freedom of debate shall be allowed. Either House may originate and propose legislation, and all acts of the Convention shall be adopted and be authenticated by both Houses” (Art. 1, Sec. 1).  As we have seen the General Convention is a bicameral legislature, comprised of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which has all the real authority in the Episcopal Church.  It enacts canons, amends the Constitution, revises the Prayer Book, elects bishops, Presiding Bishops, and admits new dioceses and meets every three years.  Now from the canons, concerning the House of Bishops, “Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop… shall have a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops” (1.2).  The House of Deputies admits, “The Church in each Diocese which has been admitted to union with the General Convention… , shall be entitled to representation in the House of Deputies by not more than four ordained persons, Presbyters or Deacons, canonically resident in the Diocese and not more than four Lay Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church, in good standing in the Diocese” (1.4).  As stated earlier, the General Convention does not possess all authority as it rarely intervenes in diocesan constitutions and canons.  Podmore reflects that the General Convention lacks the “ecclesial density” that the (according to the author) General Synod of the Church of England possesses, “That means that it cannot develop the sort of corporate life that characterises the General Synod, in which the same people meet together two or three times a year for five years. It is not a body which is ‘together on the way’ (the meaning of the term ‘synod’) in quite the same manner. Indeed, the entire legislative process for an amendment to the Canons takes place at a single meeting of the General Convention; only amendments to the Constitution and the Prayer Book must be considered at two successive meetings. Thus, quite radical change can occur – and has occurred – very quickly” (130,131).  I hope that you have noticed the gradual centralization of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which started as a church consisting of parishes in voluntary association with each other, to a church comprised of dioceses united in General Convention.  Gundrum notes this transformation, first by discussing the nature of the Convention, “As you can begin to see, and as we will point out later on, “the legal supremacy of the General Convention was built on a base of broad powers, granted, retained, and exercised on the local and parish level”, regardless of the theological concept that the bishop  of a diocese is the central focus and symbol of the unity of the diocese, and that the basic unit of the Church is the diocese.  In the colonial period (and, one might say, with residuals existing in some places today), the basic unit of the Church was at the parish level” (3).

I end once again with this quote from Bishop Hopkins which I have reflected on much since I read it.

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”


Constitutions and Canons Together with the Rules of Order for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as the Episcopal Church.”  Adopted and Revised in General Convention, 1789-2009.

Gundrum, The Rev. Canon James R.  “General Convention: Understood Authority or Ecclesiastical Chaos.”  Arrington Lectures 1982.  

Podmore, Colin. “A Tale of Two Churches: The Ecclesiologies of the Episcopal Church and the the Church of England Compared.”  International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 8.2. (2008): 124-154.

Posey, Walter B.  “The Protestant Episcopal Church: An American Adaptation.”  The Journal of Southern History 25.1 (1959): 3-30.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Defense of the Parish Band

There seems to be a tendency (especially here in the US) to confuse "traditional or classical Anglicanism" with 1950's Episcopalianism. Now, the Episcopal Church in the 50's was a slightly more orthodox place, yet it was not a bastion of classical Anglicanism, in any sense. This line of thought essentially presents Bicknell's, liberal catholic, commentary on the Articles of Religion as normative for Anglicanism. While his interpretation is a possible (yet very bad) interpretation of the Articles, it is hardly normative or "classical". However, the point of this brief article is not to criticize 1950's Episcopalianism nor Bicknell's interpretation of the Articles but to address a point. It seems that "Anglicanism" is often associated with the organ, perhaps given this association with the first half of the 20th century, this association makes a bit more sense. This was the zenith of the Anglo-Catholic takeover of the Protestant Episcopal Church. This often leads the average churchman to associate the organ with "classical Anglicanism". Although it is a beautiful instrument and has a unique advantage in leading congregational song, it is still a rather new expression of music in Anglican parishes.

The point of this is to really distance classical Anglicanism from 1950's Episcopaliansim. A brief glance back into the history of Anglican music should confirm this, especially if we consider the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The main form of song in those days was not the hymn but the metrical psalm (which will not be discussed in detail here) -- essentially a "translation" of the Psalms to meter, or popular song. These were sung to popular (and secular) tunes. Notable Queens hated them, styling them "Geneva jigs". However, despite royal distaste, the metrical psalm was the Anglican way to sing in church (and outside of church too). Now, obviously musical custom was not identical in every place and there was considerable variation, even organ usage in cathedrals and collegiate chapels. However, the most common form of music offered in parish churches was the parish band, which consisted of unpaid parishioners. The form that became the most popular is often called "west gallery music" today, before that time it appears that most music was unaccompanied (a cappella). The "west gallery" refers to a space added in the 17th century for musicians above the nave in "prayer book parishes".

The most common instrument played was the fiddle, which was cheaper and available in most villages. Some parish bands had the bass, cellos and flutes. The downfall of the west gallery style of music is attributed to the Oxford Movement, which ultimately desired to "restore" the Church of England to the medieval standards, thus making this style of music irrelevant and also introducing Anglicanism to the organ as the staple for parish music ever since.

Now, I'm usually not one to agree with the neo-Anglicans but I can't seem to find a reason for classical Anglicans to be opposed to modern forms of music, if we accept hymnody and organ music. These two things were vehemently opposed by Anglicans in ages past (especially the singing of hymns -- most notably by High Churchmen). It's ironic that the reasoning why many "traditional" churchmen oppose contemporary music is also the same reasoning that traditional Anglicans opposed singing hymns!

That being said, I think that west gallery style music offers a good balance between two extremes and can show us some guidance on how to incorporate contemporary music into our services. Lastly, I am not condemning organ music, I love it, but I think that there is no "case" against contemporary music, from an Anglican perspective, and it can be helpful in reaching our younger friends with the Gospel of Christ.

The first principle is that the musician(s) should not be converted into "stars". The west gallery musicians played behind the congregation. Modern "church growth experts" tell us that putting our musicians behind us will kill congregational singing. While I cannot comment on the veracity of their findings, I tend not to doubt their expertise. However, there are other ways of diminishing the musicians' role by placing them off to the side. I think so long as they are not "center stage' and not blocking the pulpit or table, they should be fine. The second principle is that the parish band should incorporate a variety of instruments and talents. A modern equivalent of the fiddle is the guitar. Other musical instruments can be incorporated, keyboards, (certain) drums, flutes, violins, various percussion, etc. I think drum sets should be avoided but bongo drums can add a nice sound to a service. The third point is that the parish band should be something to be proud of, it demonstrates the commitment of the parish and can be something to aspire to as a parishioner. The parish band can edify the people of God if approached correctly and should not be avoided for artificial "Anglican" reasons.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Call No Man Father: Reconsidering Priestly Titles

You might read the title of this post and think, "Oh boy, here comes another anti-Catholic rant from this crazy blogger!" Fortunately, I can convince you that my intentions are not anti-Catholic nor anti-Roman, really, but rather pro-Catholic and pro-Anglican.

However, to begin, I should address the common biblical approach against this sort of title. The passage (usually) cited is Matthew 23:9. I will post the verses surrounding this verse to bring out a bit of the context of the passage in question:
23 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
First, we should note that Jesus is speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, not of his disciples nor of believers. This is an important distinction to make when discussing the possible interpretations of this passage nowadays. The Reformers advocated the plain or literal (not literalistic) interpretation of Scripture, avoiding the allegorical methods of the latter Middle Ages. I think it would be far-fetched to conclude that Jesus is attempting to give some protocol as to the nomenclature of Christian ministers in this passage. However, if we were to conclude that this is Jesus' intent, we would have to exclude use of the word "Mister (Mr.)"which is derived from the Latin, magister, (master), also condemned by Jesus in this passage. We would also have to exclude of words related to "teacher", for this is the meaning of "Rabbi". If we were to carry this to the next level, we might conclude that any title is inherently opposed to Jesus' Gospel. Moreover, what are we to call our biological fathers? I hope this series of questions reveals that this is not the plain meaning of this text. Rather, I believe it is a condemnation of the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes who sought human praise and recognition through their titles. If we accept this interpretation, we can safely conclude that this passage has little to do with Christian ministers and what they should be called (if anything).

I hope this clarification has placed me safely outside the "fundamentalist" camp. However, I do wish to present a Catholic and Apostolic case against the use of the title "Father" for Christian priests. I wish to do so by laying out some reasons against this practice which fall neatly within the Anglican desire to imitate the practice of the early Church. Secondly, I believe that there is enough evidence to conclude that this practice is a distinctly Roman Catholic practice, originating from the latter 19th century. Lastly, I do think what words we use can convey meaning that is (either intentional or) unintentional; we have to think about what sorts of messages we are sending when we choose to use certain words.

First, the history of the term is interesting. There is no evidence that Christian priests were called "father"in the early Church, this resulted from the advent of the mendicant orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. However, there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that Christian bishops were called "father" in the early Church. In fact, this is where the title "pope" comes from, it was originally a title reserved for all bishops. It comes from the Greek word pappa which is best translated "daddy". It was gradually applied only to the Bishop of Rome in the West and was only used for him by the time of the Papacy of Leo the Great (440-461), although, this usage was never solely applied to him, for the (Coptic) Bishop of Alexandria is styled the "Pope of Alexandria". As time progressed, parish clergy were generally called "Sir" (in England) or "Dom" (in Italy), which comes from the Latin "Dominus" or Master. As mentioned earlier, the mendicant orders were established as part of a reform movement in the 1200 and 1300's. Clergy belonging to this order were generally called "Father" (or Romance equivalents, Pere, Padre, etc.). The older Benedictine Order maintained the title "Dom" for its clergy members.

After the Reformation, both Catholic and Anglican clergy were addressed the same in England. The choices were "Sir", "Mister", or "Doctor" (if the priest had a doctorate). The discovery of the New World led to an increased use in the term "Padre" for clergy, among Spanish-speakers, since the establishment of Catholicism in the New World was brought by Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans, all of whom were "Padres".

This ties into the second reason listed above, the application of the title "father" to English (Catholic) clergy occurred with the reestablishment of the Roman hierarchy in England and the immigration of Irish Catholics to the US. The latter used the title to distinguish from Anglican clergy and many of the Irish priests in the US were religious clergy, not secular. At this point, roughly in the 19th century, we see the divergence of Anglican and Catholic usage of titles for clergy, which before had been identical. The mainstream Anglican Church did not adopt the Catholic usage of "Father" for two reasons, one, the Anglican Church of England did not have monasteries and, hence, had no religious priests, because monasticism was rejected at the Reformation; second, Anglican ministers were not sacrificing priests as Roman priests are believed to be, hence, Anglicans had a way of distinguishing their clergy from Roman clergy (remember that in England, the cassock is a sign of Protestantism, not Romanism). However, a small group of Anglican ministers began to adopt the title "Father" for themselves, believing it to be the more Catholic and Apostolic usage. These men were the Tractarians, and especially the later Ritualists. The problem, of course, is that the usage of the title "Father" for secular clergy is not an apostolic practice. Ironically, by adopting the Roman usage of the 19th century, Tractarians actually abandoned the Apostolic practice, which is extant in the Prayer Book. Consider the address to the Bishop at the beginning of the "Ordering of Priests", "REVEREND Father in God, I present unto you these persons present, to be admitted to the Order of Priesthood..." (p. 569). The Church of England (and her daughter Churches) had maintained the truly primitive practice all along, yet the Tractarians did not trust the Formularies to accurately present the Catholic faith, and instead, rejected that primitive, Catholic, and Apostolic practice for the 19th century customs of the Roman Church. Unfortunately, it stuck with the broad church crowd and is now mainstream Anglican practice.

The third reason listed above is a brief point, however, it is one we should consider. To the unchurched mind, "Father" = Roman (sacrificing) priest, not a Christian minister of word and sacrament. Now, this is a point that should not be exaggerated, nor should we reject things on the sole reason that Rome accepts them, however, we should pause and think what sort of message we are sending when we style our clergy in this manner. What would Cranmer and the other Reformers think of this? Those men who died for rejecting the errors of Rome in the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the real presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine (which is why they were burnt alive).

The last issue to be addressed is the remedy. If we are not to call our priests "Father", what are we to call them? The human mind seems to feel more comfortable with titles, especially those of us of English descent. I attempt to offer some alternatives here. First, one can use the classical Anglican formula, "Sir" or "Mister" for parish clergy, "Canon" "Dean", etc. for clergy in those offices. The title "Reverend" is not meant to be a way of addressing clergy directly. It is certainly appropriate in third person references. Another popular alternative is the use of "Pastor" as a title, "Pastor So-and-So". I'm not opposed to using "Rector" "Vicar" and "Curate" as titles either.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

General Convention "Hath Erred"

I was thinking the other day about the gravity of the situation in The Episcopal Church (TEC), as it is commonly styled today, I still prefer the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA). Obviously, the present situation is far from anything that is to be desired, especially by traditional Episcopalians. The problem I am having with the present situation is the surprise that many churchmen express over the recent decisions of General Convention. What we are seeing is the direct result of Tractarianism via the liberal catholic theology of Gore and Co. There is almost a direct link from Newman to Schori. When the Bible and Formularies were withered away by Anglo-Catholics, there was much left to erode for the liberal catholics and subsequent "progressives". It's really of no surprise to me, then, that supposed "conservatives" have left the Church in such numbers that they have, because they have no exposure to the classical formularies. Why does exposure to the formularies matter in the current context? Precisely because the Formularies mention the present situation in which we find ourselves as Episcopalians.

Unfortunately, the Episcopalian must do a bit of additional research to arrive at the conclusions that I have. The article which I am referencing was deleted (somewhat) from the 1801 Protestant Episcopal version of the Articles of Religion, for political reasons, however, the text of the original article is preserved in the American Prayer Books regardless. The text that I have in mind is the 21st Article, which reads:
GENERAL Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.
This article is generally problematic in the American context because it assumes that councils of the Church will be convened under the authority of the Princes. Obviously, America does not have princes. General Convention is usually thought of as a "general" council of the Church, in this land, since the Protestant Episcopal Church is the part of the Catholic Church residing in these United States. The authority of General Convention can be thought of as under the authority of the bishops, without going off tangent on the nature of how a council is convened. The part of this article that interests me is the latter half. However, before discussing that part, let us recall briefly what authority the Church has. "The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith" which teaches in contrary to some other Protestant traditions, because the visible Church does have authority over several things. However, the Church may not "ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." The Church does not have authority to do these things according to our Articles of Religion. (Later on, we will discuss what to do when the Church does do these things). The last part of Article 20 offers additional perspectives on the authority of the Church, "Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation," meaning that the Church should not enforce anything which is not contained in Holy Scripture, or which is condemned therein.

Returning to the content in Article 21, we see again that General Councils "hath erred" and will continue erring, because, "forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God" meaning that not all General Councils are guided by God's Spirit and do not teach the truth, rather, "they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God." This statement says two things, first, they may and have erred in things human, such as is our condition, but they have also erred in their teaching about God, such as General Convention has done (multiple times, might I add).

The final question is, what should we do if General Convention (or any council) declares to be truth that which is not taught in Scripture? Article 21 gives us the answer, "Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture." Because these declarations have no Scriptural warrant, they have no authority, and are nothing more than declarations of men. We have no obligation to follow them, rather, we should continue to teach the truth of Scripture (and of the Episcopal Church, might I add, see what our Prayer Book and Canons teach about marriage). Because they lack any authority of God and his Word Written, these declarations also lack any "strength", they should not take over us as Christians, as God's chosen people. We have the Truth on our side, with that we have nothing to fear, nor should we give the attention due to these false teachers, other than ignoring their "work" and teaching Christ's Truth instead.