« Prev The Protestant Episcopal Proposals Next »

1. The Protestant Episcopal Proposals.—Following the action of the General Convention of 1886 proposing four articles as a basis of Church 955union, the House of Bishops declared 'their desire and readiness to enter into brotherly conference with all or any Christian bodies seeking the restoration of the organic unity of the Church with a view to the earnest study of the conditions under which so priceless a blessing might happily be brought to pass,' and appointed a Commission on Christian Unity 'to open communications with various bodies of Christians in this land.' Prolonged communications were had with the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches. The Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church forthwith declared that it could not agree to the historic episcopate or to the Nicene Creed 'as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.' The Baptists made no official reply, but insisted on the principle of Church independence. The Methodists also made no official reply except to declare its readiness to fraternize with other Churches.

The National Council of Congregational Churches, 1889, responding 'to the courteous and fraternal appeal of the House of Bishops of 1886,' pronounced the 'declaration of the episcopate indispensable' a barrier to union. The effort to secure co-operation or union between the two bodies has been continued, measures now originating with the one and now with the other. In 1910, the National Council 'voiced the earnest hope of closer fellowship with the Episcopal Church in work and worship.' A notable episode in the dealings between the two bodies was opened with an unofficial discussion between members of the two meeting together, the results of which were brought before the General Convention, 1919, in the shape of 'proposals for an approach toward unity.' The proposals were not adopted by the National Council. Three years later, the Bishops at the General Convention adopted a canon recog­nizing clergymen of other Churches with the right to perform clerical ministrations in the Protestant Episcopal Church and at the same time to continue 'their fellowship or ministry in the communions,' from which they came and, in case such ministers became settled over Episcopal parishes, they were to 'conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church and thus become for all purposes ministers of this Church.' For such ordination, while subscription to the historic episcopate was not explicitly mentioned, the acceptance of 'the historic faith of the Church as contained in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed' was required. The act of the Convention went beyond the resolution of the Lambeth Conference of 1920, which permitted a bishop 956to give 'occasional authorization to ministers, not episcopally ordained, to preach in churches in his diocese.'22642264See Newman Smyth: A Story of Christ. Unity, including the Lamb. Conf. and the Cong.-Episc. Approaches. New Haven, 1923, 87 pp. The Conference at the same time refused to allow ministers not episcopally ordained to celebrate the communion for Anglican congregations, and declared as the general rule 'that Anglican communicants should only receive the communion at the hands of ministers of their own Church' or a minister otherwise episcopally ordained. The action of the American Bishops, 1922, was found not to have been ratified by the House of Deputies, when Dean Brown and Professor Bainton of Yale University appeared before the Bishop of Connecticut and on that account were denied ordination.

The Communications between the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. and the Protestant Episcopal Church were prolonged, lasting from 1887 to 1896, and involved a clear statement of the ecclesiastical principle on which they differed, the principle of Church polity or the relative standing of bishops and presbyters.22652265The communications are found in a pamphlet Church Unity giving the 'progress and suspension of the negotiations between the two bodies,' 45 pp., Philadelphia, 1899. See Journals of the General Convention, 1895, Appendix XI., pp. 595–613, "Negotiations with the Presbyterians," and Journals, 1892, Appendix X., pp. 545 sqq. In accepting the Episcopal invitation and appointing its Committee, 1887, the Presbyterian General Assembly expressed 'its own sincere desire that the conference may lead, if not to a formal oneness of organization, yet to such a vital and essential unity of faith and spirit as shall bring all the followers of our common Lord into hearty fellowship and to mutual recognition and affection and to ministerial reciprocity in the branches of the one visible Church of Christ.' At the same time, the Assembly set forth its conception of the terms of Christian unity in the following words, 'proclaiming them to the world': 1. All believers in Christ constitute one body, mystical yet real, and destined to grow into the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. 2. The Universal Visible Church consists of all those throughout the whole world who profess the true religion, together with their children. 3. Mutual recognition and reciprocity between the different bodies, who profess the true religion, is the first and essential step toward practical Christian unity. With regard to the historic episcopate, the Assembly declared that, although it accepted another origin of the Christian ministry, it 'would find no difficulty with those who interpret the 957bishops of the New Testament and the primitive Church differently from ourselves, provided our own liberty of interpretation is not infringed.' The reply of the Protestant Episcopal commission was that, so far as the historic episcopate went, the Church in whose name it acted was bound by the words of the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer, namely, 'it is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors that from the Apostles' time there have been three orders of ministers in Christ's Church, bishops, priests and deacons.' On the question of original historic fact, the two bodies were thus placed in irreconcilable conflict. In one of its communications the Commission stated that 'in days gone by it was the habit of men to glorify divisions, now the great evil of them is generally conceded and the sin of them acknowledged and deplored.' Without replying to the statement, which it certainly would have accepted only with modifications, the Presbyterian committee pronounced that 'external unity' did not seem possible at that time and expressed the hope that measures might be devised to bring the two Churches together in practical Church work, especially on the mission field.

Correspondence with the General Convention was declared stopped by the General Assembly, 1894, until such time as the Convention took action on the Assembly's resolutions of 1887 and had expressed itself 'upon the doctrine of mutual recognition and reciprocity.' In reply to further action of the Episcopal commission, the General Assembly of 1896 declared it 'impossible for it to negotiate with another Christian body on the subject of Christian unity except on terms of parity and the explicit acknowledgement of the Presbyterian Church to be a Church of Christ and its ministry a divinely authorized ministry.' In 1929, the Assembly received from the Episcopal commission an invitation to confer with it and other like commissions in the study of Christian morality, looking toward organic unity—a proposal which it adopted unanimously.

« Prev The Protestant Episcopal Proposals Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection