The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is in session in Edinburgh and the news has just come through that bishops-in-presbytery have been (to quote The Times) “utterly rejected as a proper price to pay for unity with the Anglican communion.” This adverse decision regarding the proposal contained in the Joint Report on Relations between Anglican and Presbyterian Churches (discussed on previous occasions in this column) that Presbyterianism should take episcopacy into its system was not unexpected. During the past week the discussion on this subject has been proceeding in the pages of The Times. It was sparked by a leading article, published on the day of the opening of the General Assembly, which observed that “the longer the Church of Scotland has looked at the proposal that it should take in bishops, the firmer has been its stand against it,” and we were reminded that “close on two-thirds of sixty-two Scottish presbyteries have spoken outright against the suggested change for Scotland, and the opposition of many of the rest can be inferred from their dour comments and questions.” The deep reason, “as revealed in the presbyteries’ reports,” continued the editorial, “is that the Scottish Church as a whole devoutly and sincerely believes that closer relations between two communions of the same faith should not be made dependent on changes in polity and structure. Why, it is asked, should closer unity require closer uniformity? The center of the present deadlock is to be found at precisely that point.” Scottish churchmen “had hoped that full intercommunion might be granted once the Churches pledged themselves to work towards unity.” They have been unable to escape the conclusion that “the Anglican insistence on the principle of episcopacy” has the effect of calling in question the validity of their own Presbyterian orders.
The following day there appeared a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury who, after describing the editorial phrase “Anglican insistence on the principle of episcopacy” as “strange words,” drew attention to the declaration of the Ordinal of the Church of England “that from Apostolic times there have been the three Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in Christ’s Church and that these Orders are to be continued, reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England.” Referring to the opinion concerning episcopacy not only of the Anglican communion and of the Roman, Orthodox, and other ancient churches, but also of the Church of South India and of the planners of reunion in Ceylon and North India, and of the Faith and Order Conference of 1927, the Archbishop asserts that “the problem here is for the Church of Scotland to show on what grounds this deeply established principle of Church Order is no longer to be regarded as requisite for progress in Church unity.” He repudiates the suggestion that there is any intention to pass adverse judgment on the spiritual status of the Church of Scotland and unequivocally affirms that “though between our two Churches there are diversities of gifts, ministrations, and workings … yet we are both within the same body of Christ, under the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God”—an affirmation, surely, which all would applaud.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement in turn called forth letters from Dr. Nathanael Micklem, doyen of Congregationalist scholars, and Dr. G. W. H. Lampe who, besides being professor of theology in the University of Birmingham, is a clergyman of the Church of England. “I should be prepared to argue on historical grounds,” says Dr. Micklem, “that the structure of the Church of Scotland, of which I am not a member, is much closer to the organization of the Church in the early centuries than is the Anglican; but the historical argument is not decisive. If, as he says, the Archbishop does not question the spiritual status of the Church of Scotland, why will not or cannot he receive communion in a Scottish church?”
Professor Lampe maintains that the Archbishop’s assertion that both Church of England and Church of Scotland are within the same Body of Christ, under the same Spirit, the same Lord, “must surely imply that we share the same Sacraments,” and, further, that “if … we acknowledge that the same Lord is truly present at his Table in both Churches, we ought to give practical effect to that recognition by some official encouragement, on the Anglican side, of the intercommunion which is already widely practised by individual communicants.” It is his conviction that “such a practical demonstration of our existing unity in Christ would show that Anglicans mean what they say when they assert that they are not ‘passing adverse judgment on the spiritual status of the Church of Scotland’.”
There are many members of the Church of England, including the author of this article, who are cordially in sympathy with the viewpoint of Professor Lampe (which, after all, is entirely in harmony with the faith and practice of historic Reformed Anglicanism), and also, it may be added, with his repudiation of “the ‘pipe-line’ theory of the transmission of sacramental grace.” The Preface to the Ordinal of the Church of England does no more than define and justify the threefold Orders of Anglicanism: it does not in any way seek to legislate for other Churches whose Orders do not correspond with those it has approved. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, indeed, significantly make no mention of episcopacy as an essential ministry of the Church of Christ. For example, Article XIX (Of the Church), which we would otherwise have expected to make some pronouncement on this subject, says nothing at all about Orders, but simply affirms that “the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” Episcopacy, though integral to the structure of the Church of England, was never demanded as a necessity either for the preaching of the pure Word of God or for the due ministration of the Sacraments for the Church of Christ in general, and it was only last century that, with the rise of the Tractarian Movement, the sacramentalist doctrine of episcopacy as the “essential” ministry came into the Church of England. Prior to that, the full validity of the Presbyterian Orders of the Reformed Churches in Scotland and on the Continent had been recognized and approved. A return by the present leaders and spokesmen of the Church of England to this historic position would do more than anything else to prepare the way for the realization and practical expression, especially at the Lord’s Table, of Christian unity with other Protestant churches.
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