Sunday, May 06, 2007

Myths and realities in the history of the Episcopal Church

The latest Church Times has a useful article about the history of the Episcopal Church. There are some things here to ponder:
The Episcopal Church in the newly independent United States made a virtue of necessity, and repudiated the state connection when it no longer had it anyway.

So much for the myth: the historical reality is that Episcopalians have performed a crucial part in witnessing to the common faith of the Church. Its eucharistic liturgy remains notable for its fidelity to the Early Church. Its involvement of laity in the governance of the Church after independence was a critical model in the revival of synodical government throughout the Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church revived “missionary bishops”, who went ahead of settlers rather than following them. These likewise became the model for the expansion of the Church in the British Empire.

American and Canadian bishops essentially forced the calling of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 on a reluctant Archbishop Longley. They wanted to have their say on the theological developments represented by Essays and Reviews and by Bishop Colenso’s denial of the historicity of the Pentateuch. (They condemned them.)
The Americans also freely criticised the authority of the civil courts and the Privy Council over doctrinal disputes within the Church of England. All the time, they harked back to the model of the Primitive Church. English churchmen were resentful of colonials’ telling them how to run their Church.

Today, the issues are different and the roles are reversed. Now it is the American bishops who resist claims of reciprocal obligation. They resent the insistence that unless we are interdependent and mutually accountable, our Communion is meaningless.

1 comment:

Marshall Scott said...

This is indeed an interesting article. It does, however, miss one point. It argues that the separation of the American church differed from the Anglican Reformation in that the American church didn't require repudiation of foreign bishops. But in a very real sense it mirrored the Anglican Reformation: bishops in England had denied bishops for the Colonies and for the new United States of America. There was no American episcopate to separate from the Church of England. Thus, Scottish Nonjurors provided the first bishop. Did we seek orders first from English bishops? Certainly; but they could no more provide the episcopate now that they were "foreign prelates" than they had when they were not. Would that have changed had the Scottish bishops not acted? I don't know.

In any case, foreign prelacy was just as important an issue in the formation of the Episcopal Church as it was in the formation of the Church of England.