Friday, December 14, 2007

The Anglican Way as a Denomination & National Church in the U.S.A.

A few words of clarification answering questions & queries

In a previous short essay (discussion-starter) I pointed out that The Protestant Episcopal Church [PECUSA], in the Preface to its first American edition of The BCP (1789) referred to itself as a denomination. In this it recognized that in the thirteen states of the Union, it was not the only Church for there were others, and each was denominated by a name, such as Presbyterian.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that PECUSA knew it could never be, as is the Church of England, a National and an Established Church, it nevertheless thought of itself from the beginning as a Church for the whole nation. And as the nation grew, there were missionary dioceses leading to the whole of the territory of the U.S.A. being divided into dioceses. Thus PECUSA always saw itself as A National Church but not The National Church.

Certainly other Denominations sought to occupy each and every state; but there is a difference between the PECUSA understanding of inhabiting the whole territory and say the Presbyterian or the Baptist understanding.

PECUSA possessed, subordinate to the Holy Scriptures, what we call “The Anglican Formularies,” being The BCP, The Articles of Religion and The Ordinal. These presuppose that The Anglican Way is a National Church and that there is an orderly division of the given geographical area (country or region) into dioceses, with bishops who are in communion one with another.

Now there can be several Baptist churches in one given area but as they see themselves as gathered congregations without geographical-based parishes they can easily work alongside and even in competition with one other. And there is no problem with this. Their ecclesiology calls only for the general doctrine of the Church universal as Invisible, and the local church as a visible congregation of those who are united to Christ in the Invisible Church and who intentionally gather together locally.

For Episcopalians and Anglicans the Church is certainly Invisible but it is also visible also; and this visibility is seen in a local situation where there is the One Bishop with his presbyters and deacons and they are serving several or many congregations in that specific geographical region. And in that region there is no other Bishop along with his presbyters and deacons.

So despite the presence of other Denominations, the Anglican Way is by its character and nature committed to the principle of the Church as territorial, divided into provinces, within which are dioceses, and within which are congregations/parishes. It is by nature—as its Prayer Book, Articles and Ordinal presuppose and declare—a National Church or a Provincial Church or a Church whose polity requires it to be specifically related to territory.

In this it differs from Presbyterians, Baptists and so on, and is much more like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which are committed to the territorial principle.

Practically speaking it means—unlike the case with Baptists for example—that parallel or competing churches of the same faith and polity are not contemplated or allowed by Anglican Polity. The settled principle is of one bishop in each specific area (diocese) in communion with other bishops around him and also in specific areas.

The only exception to this is when a bishop becomes heretical or immoral and refuses to repent or be disciplined; then the surrounding bishops agree on actions to keep the churches within that diocese in good faith and practice. But this is done in an orderly and godly manner.

If there is any truth at all in what has been stated then the following realities in North America present serious problems for The Anglican Way:

(a) the existence of a variety of Continuing Anglican Church bodies outside PECUSA which show little cooperation between themselves and are organized to have overlapping jurisdictions throughout the U.S.A. & Canada.
(b) the variety of overseas Provinces that have established missions in the U.S.A. and Canada and as such are working alongside and over against each other—and not only against each other, but also against the Continuing Anglican bodies and parishes within PECUSA which deem themselves to be orthodox in intention.
(c) The plans of Common Cause Partners to form a Province contain the proposal that each of the Partners continues in its autonomy but enters into a full covenantal, interdependent relation with the others, so that there are multiple bishops in parallel provinces, dioceses and parishes.

Now if The Anglican Way were like the Baptist, Congregational and Presbyterian Ways then the above three examples would be no problem at all; they would merely belong to the mix and match of variety that is common to North America.

For Anglicans they present a very real and urgent problem of authenticity and ecclesiology. December 7, 2007

1 comment:

Mike Spreng said...

Could anything more be expected from the PECUSA Church? After all, they sought autonomy from CofE. Naturally an autonomous movement such as this would eventually fall apart. Maybe the problem is the lack of responsibility that the CofE had, and does have. They can't expect to send missionaries to America, and then just abandoned them to the Yankees/Presbyterians.