Thursday, July 11, 2013

Anglicans and the "Validity" of other Protestant Ministers

"Anglicans and Apostolic Succession" has sparked some interesting discussions in various arenas for me. I thought it decent and proper to offer further clarifications regarding my thoughts on these subjects, for interested parties, it could be thought of as "somewhat of a sequel". This entry continues discussing similar topics as found in the previous post, perhaps from different angles than the first one.

In the first piece, I spoke of tactile apostolic succession and how that differs from doctrinal apostolic succession and subsequently distinguished between historical succession (= lists of consecrations) and apostolic succession (maintaining catholic faith). First, to speak to some of the implications of this line of thinking, it tends to open up the question of the validity of ministers in a way that subscribers to the tactile theory do not consider.

Firstly, the language of "valid" or "invalid" ministers is really alien language from classical Anglicanism. The reason is that it is tied too closely with Romanism (and the East), meaning it lacks certain biblical warrant off which we base our theology. The validity of our sacraments is not tied to the actions of our ministers but to the faith of the recipients of the sacraments. We have valid sacraments if we receive them worthily, that is in faith. This is all taken from the Articles of Religion, for instance, see Article XXVIII "Of the Lord's Supper", wherein is stated, "And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith." In other Articles, for instance, XXVI, "Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament," we learn that the Sacraments are "valid" of Christ's ordinance and institution and not tied to the minister. Christ ministers to his people in the sacraments and he is never invalid.

Secondly, there is a classification of ministers which we find in the formularies, that being one of "lawfulness". This is found in Article XXIII "Of Ministering in the Congregation". This relates to the Reformational understanding of authority as vested in the national church. Hence, in this article, congregationalism is condemned because it does not allow for those in proper authority to determine the lawfulness of the ordination of a minister, i.e. his qualifications. The lawful authority spoken of in the article is the Crown in England, noting that the bishops are Crown ministers in England. This ties into the Reformation distinction of national churches. Many people (wrongly) assume that the Protestant Reformation produced denominations, they were a product of the Act of Toleration in 1689, which causes problems for many of these questions when we arrive in New World settings where denominationalism is the norm. This is most assuredly not the case. The Protestant Reformation resulted from the reform of national churches by their own mechanisms. These national churches were reformed by their own means, taking into account the contexts in which they found themselves, often leading to some different realities after reformation. The remarkable thing is the doctrinal consensus achieved among them (apostolic succession) with one substantial difference between the Magisterial Reformers (Lutherans and Reformed, the Anabaptists were equally condemned by both), that being the nature of Christ's presence in the Sacrament, Lutherans holding to consubstantiation (or whatever they're calling it nowadays) and the Reformed "suprasubstantiation" (to use Horton's term, most commonly called receptionism). This wasn't a minor issue for the Lutheran and Reformed communities, albeit there were several attempts to reconcile these differences (Council of Tonneins, for instance), however, it is important to note that the Lutherans hold to the "highest" of all Reformation theologies of eucharistic presence, believing Christ's body and blood to actually be present in the elements, a point denied by the other Reformed Churches and the British Isles.

Another key difference which arose was that of the regulative vs. normative principle. This in itself is a huge topic but it played out mostly between England and the other Reformed Churches. (I must admit that I am not well-versed in this aspect of Reformation studies so one will need to consult other materials to verify these statements.) The language of "lawfulness" stems from the normative principle, which states that ecclesiastical norms and practices can be maintained, unless they contradict the teaching of Scripture. Hence the maintenance of bishops and the church calendar in England. The regulative principle essentially states that only practices which are in line with Scripture can be continued within the Church. This is seen in the various Continental approaches to the reforms of the liturgy (and granted, there is an American extremism seen in a lot of Reformed circles this side of the pond).

Church polity was a matter of adiaphora or things non-essential, to the Magisterial Reformers (divine right episcopalianism and presbyterianism would come later). Most of the Continent tended to abandon episcopacy, out of necessity, with a few exceptions, that being the Scandinavian Lutheran Churches, as well as the Polish and Hungarian Reformed Churches. And we know that the context in England allowed for the continuation of the episcopacy there. It is important to note that the Established Church of Scotland (not the Non-juring body) was both episcopalian and presbyterian at various points in its history.

To return to the question of validity, the only sense in which I would talk of validity of ministers is in relation to their teaching but this in itself does not affect the validity of the sacraments, which are of Christ, not of the minister. In the Anglican Churches, we have required that our ministers accept episcopal ordination since the 1662 Prayer Book, which is a good custom, but it is only the custom for our churches, not necessarily for those of others and we have no right going about telling them that it should be so. The requirement of episcopal ordination ties back to Article XXIII and the lawfulness of our ministry. The bishops are ministers of the Crown in England, and thus lawful judges of the qualifications of ministers and capability of serving the Church. In other realms, the lawful judge is likely some other individual or body.

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