Friday, October 19, 2007

The Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine Society—a proposal from an old-timer to the new-timers

(An Evangelical Anglican Society committed to the Preaching of the Gospel, the planting of churches and the renewal of The Anglican Way in the U.S.A., based upon the authority of the Holy Scriptures and guided by the content of the historic Formularies [Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer & Ordinal of 1662/1789/1892/1928])

Who was McIlvaine?

Bishop McIlvaine (born 1799 in New Jersey) was Bishop of Ohio (1832-1873), leader of Evangelical Episcopalians, theologian, apologist, educator, evangelist, church planter, diplomat and family-man. He visited Great Britain often and was a close friend of leading Evangelical Churchmen there. Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities gave him the Doctor of Divinity Degree. In the Civil War he was sent by President Lincoln as his personal ambassador to Britain.

Why a Society named after and for him?

In the third millennium in the U.S.A. there is a growing number of Evangelical Anglicans, mostly under forty, who wish to be classic Evangelical Anglicans, the modern equivalent of the famous nineteenth century English Evangelicals (Charles Simeon, William Wilberforce, J.C. Ryle etc.), who were deeply committed to the historic Formularies and used the Book of Common Prayer (1662) daily.

Regrettably in the Episcopal Church from the first World War to the 1970s there were hardly any Evangelicals at all, and those who came on the scene as from the 1970s were not particularly committed to a distinctive Formularies-based evangelicalism. Further, most took the innovative 1979 Formulary of the Episcopal Church as their norm. This situation is at last in 2007 beginning to change but ever so slowly.

McIlvaine as the friend and follower of Charles Simeon, and as one educated in solid Protestant theology at Princeton, presents a fine example on American soil of the classic Evangelical, well-known in England through the nineteenth century. Not only was he committed to serious Bible study and theological reflection, but he also was on the American frontier both an evangelist and church planter. His books are of various kinds—sermons, diocesan charges, lectures to evangelical societies, exposition of Justification by Faith, opposition to ritualism and opposition to rationalism. He should be better known amongst those seeking to renew the Anglican Way in the U.S.A. and Canada.

What do I propose?

I propose that those—especially the under 40s—who wish to continue their search for, and commitment to, The Anglican Way in its historic, Evangelical form (which is deeply committed to the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures and guided by the historic Formularies) form themselves into “The Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine Society.” I also suggest that they find association at first through a web-site and e-mail communication, and that as interest grows they move on to arrange conferences, local and national. Further, I suggest that this Society be actively run by the under-40s (or under-45s) and that initially I act briefly as the midwife to get a list of Names together—so please e-mail me at Finally, if this idea and proposal has acceptance in heaven, it will no doubt get off the ground eventually and you will hear more from the under-45 classic Evangelical Anglicans.

A final word—the aim is not to begin “party-warfare” in the Anglican Way in the U.S.A. but to recover a major heritage which is needed in any comprehensive expression of the Anglican Way today.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. October 19, 2007


DomWalk said...

Princeton, eh? Was it common for Anglicans to study in orthodox (at the time) Calvinist/Presbyterian seminaries back then?

Jason Wells said...

If it was then, it isn't now. I'm an Episcopal priest who graduated from Princeton, so you can argue that it still goes on. The student body of about 400 had about 6 Episcopalians in it around 2001.

Of course, there are a number who would slur the differences between ECUSA and PCUSA as 'mainline merger into mush.' But, Princeton still clearly teaches Reformed theology and has a stellar Biblical studies program, to which I am seriously indebted and thankful.

Jason Wells said...

That said, the concept of a Bishop McIlvaine Society sounds intriguing to me. I very much like the idea, but wonder about how practical it would be.

Sooner rather than later, I'm hoping to read Diana Butler Bass's book _Standing against the whirlwind_ which details the fall of the Episcopalian evangelical party through the biography of Bishop McIlvaine.

The Bishop I know protested against consecrating any church that contained an Altar rather than a table. Are these stands that we ought to be making today? What part of his legacy is it that needs to live? Would we be setting ourselves up to 'stand against a whirlwind' all over again?

I like the idea and I'm going to keep thinking and praying about it.