Liturgy and Doctrine Print
Written by Calvin Fox   
Monday, 22 June 2009 18:58

Does the Episcopal Church have a fundamental Faith and core Doctrine?  Where is it found?  The common answer to that question is given by Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.  Dr Baxter is a a major, respected Leader in TEC, having been Dean of the National Cathedral in DC and Rector of influential parishes.  He is highly educated and has several advanced academic and professional degrees. He should know the answer to this question.

Bishop Baxter's answer is found in his letter to his Diocese explaining why he is not voting to approve a Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Northern Michigan, Rev Thew Forrester.  The Bishop-elect considers himself to ba a Buddhist as well as a Christian and has apparently introduced major changes  in the Liturgies he uses in his current Parish which show the influences of his personal faith and are at odds with the Liturgies of the current BCP.  That letter is found here 

I have excerpted Dr Baxter's answer:

...the core doctrines and liturgical discipline of the Episcopal Church as broadly expressed in the Book of Common Prayer.

the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, particularly the Eucharist and Baptismal liturgies, represent not just approved ceremonies, but the core theology and Christology of the Episcopal Church.

Our liturgies are consistent and clear about the core doctrinal understanding of sin, atonement, and the centrality of Jesus in the salvation act of God.

The common answer as to what and where the Episcopal Church believes as a Church is that it is found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer,especially in its Liturgies. (This is different than policies of the Church which are determined by vote at General Conventions.  In practice, Resolutions approved at Conventions and those found in the Canons of the Church reveal the operational beliefs of the Church and are what observers of the Church perceive TEC believes.)

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer does contain Theology, actually several types.  It offers varieties of Liturgies or Alternative Forms and the Book is itself very different from the Theology in the 1928 BCP that it replaced.  If a man was ordained under the '28 Prayer Book, can he object to discipline or practices based on the '79 Book?  Those groups which are now leaving TEC have yet to agree on which version of the BCP to follow, including one that goes back to 1662 (my personal favorite) 

However, all this begs the question of interpretation.  What Theology exactly do the Liturgies embody?  Which Doctrines do they teach?  There is a wide range of options when discussing the matter with individual Clergy, including those who agree with using the Creeds of the Church while admitting that they do not personally believe a word in them, eg- about the Trinity or with the gender specific language.  There are such things as Eucharistic Theology and Liturgical Theology, but what is that Theology?  Interpretations vary widely, eg between Evangelical, Liberal and Anglo-Catholic Churchmen.  I personally believe strongly that the Priest must say, before distributing the Communion Elements, "Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving."  The Rubrics make that statement optional and many Celebrants do not use it, saying simply "The Gifts of God for the People of God." There are serious Theological differences between those options.  That is true between the 4 versions of the  Eucharistic Prayer.  For that matter, there are theological differences between Rite I and Rite II.  Who decides what to use?  On what basis?  All this is to illustrate that the BCP, while a wonderful resource for Worship, is an inadequate resource for determining the core Faith or Theology of the whole Church. What works better for that purpose?  Some might point to the Catechism, but it is not intended to be "a complete statement of belief, rather it is a point of departure" (p.844). The 39 Articles of Religion were intended for that purpose, but the '79 BCP relegates them to a section of Historical Documents.  I agree fully with another Bishop on this matter

Read what Bp J.C. Ryle wrote in 1887

Some clergymen and laymen in the present day are fond of saying that the Prayer-book, and not the Articles, is the real measure and gauge of a Churchman. "The Prayer-book! the Prayer-book!" is the incessant cry of these people. "We want no other standard of doctrine but the Prayer-book." Is it a controverted point about the Church? What says the Prayer-book? Is it a doctrine that is disputed? What says the Prayer-book? Is it the effect of baptism, or the nature of the Lord's Supper, that is under discussion? What says the Prayer-book? To the Articles these gentlemen seem to have a peculiar dislike, a hydrophobic aversion.

the true state of the case is exactly the reverse of what they are so fond of proclaiming. I am not going to say anything against the Prayer-book. It is a matchless book of devotion. But I am going to say, and to prove, that the Articles, and not the Prayer-book, are the first, foremost, and principal test of a true Churchman.

The Liturgy is an excellent book. But to say that in the nature of things it can serve the purpose of a standard of faith so well as the Articles, is absurd.

What I deliberately assert is, that the Thirty-nine Articles were always intended to be, and are at this day, the first, foremost, chief, and principal test of a Churchman, and that in this point of view there is nothing else that stands on a level with them

Let no one suppose that I think lightly of the Prayer-book, because I do not regard it as the Church of England's standard and test of truth. Nothing could be more erroneous than such an idea. In loyal love to the Prayer-book, and deep admiration of its contents, I give place to no man. Taken for all in all, as an uninspired work, it is an incomparable book of devotion for the use of a Christian congregation. This is a position I would defend anywhere and everywhere. But the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer was never intended to be the Church's standard of doctrine in the same way that the Articles were. This was not meant to be its office; this was not the purpose for which it was compiled. It is a manual of public devotion: it is not a Confession of faith. Let us love it, honour it, prize it, reverence it, admire it, and use it. But let us not exalt it to the place which the Thirty-nine Articles alone can fill, and which common sense, statute law, and the express opinions of eminent divines unanimously agree in assigning to them. The Articles, far more than the Prayer-book, are the Church's standard of sound doctrine, and the real test of true Churchmanship.  RYLE

The 39 Articles were first adopted in the Church of England 460 years ago The Articles were adopted by the Protestant Episcopal Church in America 208 years ago.  Bishop Ryle (in England) wrote his convictions 122 years ago.  The 39 Articles remained the official Doctrinal standard in the American Church until only 30 years ago!  I have absolutely no expectation that they will ever see the light of day again in TEC.  People who have come into the Church in the last 30 years do not even know of their existence, let alone their content.  This brings us back to the position taken by Bp Baxter above.

It is heartening to me that the developing new partnership between groups leaving TEC are working on a Statement of Faith they can all agree to.  It includes this:

   6.  We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.

   7. We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.

In all these things, the Common Cause Partnership is determined by the help of God to hold and maintain as the Anglican Way...
Read the entire Statement here HERE


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Last Updated on Sunday, 28 June 2009 13:15