Friday, December 14, 2007

Lambeth Conference 1867: the crucial contribution of an American Evangelical

Bishop C.P., McIlvaine of Ohio on the world stage: The crucial contribution of an American Evangelical Bishop to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Thomas Longley, wrote to each of the 144 Bishops of the Anglican Communion in 1867 in this manner:

February 22nd, 1867.

I request your presence at a meeting of the Bishops in visible communion with the United Church of England and Ireland, purposed (God willing) to be holden at Lambeth, under my presidency, on the 24th of September next and the three following days.

The circumstances under which I have resolved to issue the present invitation are these : The Metropolitan and Bishops of Canada, last year, addressed to the two Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury the expression of their desire that I should be moved to invite the Bishops of our Indian and Colonial Episcopate to meet myself and the Home Bishops for brotherly communion and conference. The consequence of that appeal has been that both Houses of the Convocation of my province have addressed to me their dutiful request that I would invite the attendance, not only of our Home and Colonial Bishops, but of all who are avowedly in communion with our Church. The same request was unanimously preferred to me at a numerous gathering of English, Irish, and Colonial Archbishops and Bishops recently assembled at Lambeth; at which I rejoice to record it we had the counsel and concurrence of an eminent Bishop of the Church in the United States of America the Bishop of Illinois.

Moved by these requests, and by the expressed concurrence therein of other members both of the Home and Colonial Episcopate, who could not be present at our meeting, I have now resolved not, I humbly trust,
without the guidance of GOD the Holy Ghost to grant this grave request, and call together the meeting thus earnestly desired. I greatly hope that you may be able to attend it, and to aid us with your presence and brotherly counsel thereat.

I propose that, at our assembling, we should first solemnly seek the blessing of Almighty GOD on our gathering, by uniting together in the highest act of the Church's worship. After this, brotherly consultations will follow. In these we may consider together many practical questions, the settlement of which would tend to the advancement of the Kingdom of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, and to the maintenance of greater union in our missionary work, and to increased intercommunion among ourselves.

Such a meeting would not be competent to make declarations or lay down definitions on points of doctrine. But united worship and common counsels would greatly tend to maintain practically the unity of the faith : whilst they would bind us in straighter bonds of peace and brotherly charity.

I shall gladly receive from you a list of any subjects you may wish to suggest to me for consideration and discussion. Should you be unable to attend, and desire to commission any brother Bishop to speak for you, I shall welcome him as your representative in our united deliberations.

But I must once more express my earnest hope that, on this solemn occasion, I may have the great advantage of your personal presence. And now I commend this proposed meeting to your fervent prayers; and, humbly beseeching the blessing of Almighty GOD on yourself and your diocese, I subscribe myself,

Your faithful brother in the Lord,

United Church of England and Ireland, purposed (God willing) to be holden at Lambeth, under my presidency, on the 24th of September next and the three following days.

Out of the 144 invited some 76 arrived.

The Conference met on Tuesday, September 24th, the opening service being preceded by a Celebration of Holy Communion in Lambeth Palace Chapel, with a sermon from Bishop Whitehouse of Illinois.The meetings of the Conference were held in the upstairs dining-hall, or "Guard-Room," of Lambeth Palace, not (as was the case in 1878) in the great library. On the Archbishop of Canterbury's right sat the Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of London, the Presiding Bishop of the American Church, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Bishop of Calcutta and the Bishop of Sydney. On the left were the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Bishops of Montreal, New Zealand and Capetown. The other Bishops sat in front. The Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol acted as episcopal secretary to the meeting throughout its deliberations.
In his opening address, Archbishop Longley again defined, with some care, the position of the Conference. "It has never been contemplated," he said, "that we should assume the functions of a general synod of all the Churches in full communion with the Church of England, and take upon ourselves to enact canons that should be binding upon those here represented. We merely propose to discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action. Thus it will be seen that our first essay is rather tentative and experimental, in a matter in which we have no distinct precedent to direct us."

Special importance attached to the discussions of the first day, when, in the form of a preamble to the subsequent resolutions, the standpoint taken by the Anglican Church was in general terms described. All the leading Bishops took part in the debate, and its outcome will be best seen by comparing the submitted preamble with the one that was adopted and which had been written by the American Evangelical Charles P McIlvaine of Ohio.

[Bishop McIlvaine was deeply disturbed by what seemed to him to be the strong anglo-catholic overtones of the draft preamble prepared by the Bishop of Capetown, South Africa before the Conference and circulated with the expectation that it would be approved quickly. So encouraged by the English Evangelical Bishop, C. R. Sumner of Winchester, McIlvaine prepared a revised draft which to his surprise was passed after discussion.]

Here is what McIlvaine prepared and what the Conference officially adopted on its first day:

Here the priority of Scripture above all tradition is very clear and this was a theme that McIlvaine had written and preached about for the last thirty years!

The Preamble from the Bishop of Capetown in the view of McIlvaine and Sumner tended to make Scripture part of Tradition.

"We, Bishops of Christ's Holy Catholic Church, professing the faith of the primitive and undivided Church, as based on Scripture, defined by the first four General Councils, and reaffirmed by the Fathers of the English Reformation, now assembled by the good providence of GOD at the Archiepiscopal Palace of Lambeth, under the presidency of the Primate of all England, desire, first, to give hearty thanks to Almighty GOD for having thus brought us together for common counsels and united worship ; secondly, we desire to express the deep sorrow with which we view the divided condition of the flock of Christ throughout the world ; and lastly, we do here solemnly declare our belief that the best hope of future re-union will be found in drawing each of us for ourselves closer to our common Lord, in giving ourselves to much prayer and intercession, in the cultivation of a spirit of charity, and in seeking to diffuse through every part of the Christian community that desire and resolution to return to the faith and discipline of the undivided Church which was the principle of the English Reformation."

So the 76 bishops, having agreed on where they were starting from theologically, began to address several major problems facing the Anglican Communion at that time, not least the question as to what to do about Bishop Colenso of South Africa, who was teaching error.

(Part II of the 1867 Lambeth Conference to follow.)

The Revd Dr Peter Toon November 26 2007

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