Back to Basics

Christopher has a statement up for consideration in light of other statements to be presented at General Convention.

Here’s the heart of it:

Therefore, rather than a program for persuading the Church to a particular point-of-view on matters of justice or on matters of ecclesiology, we recognize that our unity is founded in and maintained by Jesus Christ through Whom in the Holy Spirit we are all children of a merciful Father.

It then goes on to reaffirm the fundamentals:

  1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
  2. The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
  3. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
  4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
  5. The Book of Common Prayer as authorized in this Church in General Convention as the normative standard of worship in this Church.
  6. Service of the needs of our neighbors and the world in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These are the basics of who we are as Anglicans. Please—read it and, if you agree with it, sign it.

17 thoughts on “Back to Basics

  1. Anastasia

    how do we mean the historic episcopate here? couldn’t a person argue that certain practices comprise a departure from the historic episcopate? Or is that what “locally adapted” is intended to cover?

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    The words are right out of the Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral:

    The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the
    varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

    One of the realities of those ecumenical discussions and their current state is the recognition that Lutherans are close to Anglicans in aim and liturgical nature. More or less. And the only Lutheran branch to retrain unbroken Apostolic Succession was the Church of Sweden. Historically speaking, the potentially weaselly “locally adapted” may be an attempt around that but I don’t know for certain.

    Since CCM, of course, ELCA bishops have been brought back into the Succession.

  3. Christopher

    I would add our own recognition that our Lutheran kin did not lose apostolicity in toto–we recognized in CCM that the four of the Quadrilateral coupled with prayer and mission interweave to form a whole (after all, we know of a certain bishop emeritus who is in the historic succession who teaches anything but the apostolic faith of such succession):

    Apostolicity contains four major strands – faithful teaching, the sacraments, a recognized ministry, and involvement in mission – “the Church’s continuity with Christ and the apostles in its movement through history.” Apostolic succession is “a dynamic, diverse reality” embracing faithfulness to apostolic teaching; participation in baptism, prayer, and the eucharist; “sharing in the Church’s common life of mutual edification and caring, served by an ecclesiastically called and recognized pastoral ministry of Word and sacrament;” and “continuing involvement in the apostolic mission” of the church by proclaiming the gospel through word and deed. Apostolic succession is not to be understood “primarily in terms of historic episcopate.”

    In other words, the apostolic succession is not only the laying-on-of-hands from one bishop to another over the centuries, but a cord formed by four important strands. While Anglicans have maintained the historic ministry explicity through the episcopate, the historic ministry has also been maintained through the Lutheran tradition as well, even in the absence of bishops. Similarly, while Anglicans have always preached the Gospel, the Lutherans have upheld its centrality most forcefully.

    This emphasis on a four-fold strand is vital and allows us to reach both to Protestant kin and to Roman Catholic and Orthodox kin.

    More here:

  4. Huw Richardson

    I love the Anglican Quadrilateral, but I don’t go in for the BCP fundamentlism which would cut out every parish I’ve ever attended since 1981. I don’t know where are these by-the-book places are…

    Thanks Christopher for your clarification – it’s that multi-strand idea of Episcopacy that finally freed up ECUSA/Anglicans from looking for “Bishops-by-touch” when, despite the tradition, we have no proof (and ample evidence – provided by RCs – that we’ve broken it anyway, as well as some research that indicates the early catholic Christians didn’t do it that way as well).

    The “local” option has also allowed ECUSA to begin talking to the Methodists and others. Thank God!

  5. Christopher


    I think first that the Prayer Book is far more flexible than you might realize. The rubrics have lots of “mays”. But no one is supposed to insert a Eucharistic Prayer or Baptismal rite of their own choosing/composition within that flexible framework. The results often are bad theology forced on folks because of the priest’s tastes.

    Remember that the RC decision was political. The Orthodox on the whole thought and think differently on this matter. The history of apostolic succession is complex, and it is precisely this multiple strand approach to the episcopacy that you find in St Irenaeus. It’s not a freed up, it’s quite in touch with the earliest tradition.

  6. Huw

    You’re right about the BCP being flexible now… it hasn’t always been so. Your stipulation about the BCP would have ruled out the Anglo-Catholic Movement as well as most of ECUSAs most vibrant and growing parishes now. And I actually think, in my more uncharitable moments, that that is what you want to do. I’d feel comfortable with “BCP and other liturgies and text authorized by convention and the ordinary”

    Anglicans like to make a lot about that statement on Anglican Orders. We fail to understand Orthodoxy when we do.

    The Orthodox decision was *aslo* political in the classic Orthodox way. It picked a side with the Brits against the Ottomans and it only applied to *one* synod: it wasn’t a statement of “the Orthodox”. If you ask an Orthodox theologian today you will be told that what that statement actually means is “if you call this man a Bishop then, for you, he is a Bishop. For you.”

    In some Orthodox quarters, a Roman priest is received by simply being vested by the Bishop – not ordained. Roman orders are considered valid. But anywhere an Anglican clergyman goes, if he becomes Orthodox, he has to be ordained – not simply revested. Anglicans are, really, the only people who consider Anglican orders “valid” in the way Anglicans mean when they say that.

  7. bls

    It’s interesting to me that a phrase that reads “The Book of Common Prayer as authorized in this Church in General Convention as the normative standard of worship in this Church” gets translated into “BCP fundamentalism.” IOW, the mere sniff of emphasis on following our own ecclesiology is now a heinous act. Amazing.

    Surely priests who get ordained in the Episcopal Church are aware of this:

    The Bishop says to the ordinand

    Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of
    Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in
    accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and
    your work?


    I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I
    do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.

    I mean, that seems pretty simple: “I promise to follow the rules of this church.” And now a rather gentle reminder to priests that they have taken this vow becomes shocking burden? Bizarre; don’t people realize what the word “vow” means? Once again I wonder how any of us hoi polloi would fare if we disregarded the rules of our own professions. Not very well, I’d say.

    Interestingly, I know many places that are by-the-book. I really wonder why it’s apparently so hard for some people to make the story of salvation interesting. I wouldn’t think it was the fault of the Book of Common Prayer, or of its various supplements. (I mean, if you can’t find something to say from among 12 Eucharistic prayers, perhaps the problem is yours?)

    This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument, though, I admit. That priest from Illinois, or wherever it was, who thought it was bizarre to “worship” the Book of Common Prayer, and encouraged other priests to create their own rites. You really have to wonder why they never noticed which Church they were being ordained into. I mean, we really don’t have many rules, and the BCP was written specifically to allow a wide variety of worship practices. Please, by all means: find a lovely Congregational church where you can do anything you like; it just doesn’t happen to be this one.

  8. bls

    (What’s really ironic, actually, is that the same people who are always going on about the importance of “the ministry of the people” – us, the layfolk in the pews, that is – think nothing of ignoring us completely when it comes to their precious “liturgies.”

    The General Convention is the only place laypeople have any kind of voice. But, apparently, Father-Knows-Best is more important….)

  9. Christopher


    You make an important point and one that is deeply implicit in Point 5. Part of our self-recognition is the Prayer Book and its use throughout a particular Church/Province. This relates very largely to our ecclesiology which is grounded in our Prayer Book as containing a canonical christology and pneumatology in which our ecclesiology is rooted. The various eucharistic prayers, collects, etc. are a canon imbibing the riches of Scripture within a Nicene orthodoxy. The multivalence of this is vital to our comprehension.

    Related to this, as you note is a matter of order, which is a part of our ecclesiology. Priests do not have the right to impose their own idiosyncrecies upon the congregation. Nor a bishop upon a diocese in matters of liturgy. We have a multivalent, rich book that ensures our central rites are theologically sound and consonant with the breadth of our tradition. New prayers may develop but they are done so not through whim but by national consultation in General Convention with appropriate processes.

    We seem to have a want to use history not to help us understand ourselves better a la Robert Taft, SJ, but rather to tear down any order at all, a la Elaine Pagels.

  10. Huw Richardson

    I understand – deeply, believe me – the concerns you have about “personal rites”. Anyone who has known me long enough knows that at one point ECUSAn-type insanity sent me on a quest into Eastern Orthodoxy where I sought refuge from all this.

    I read from bls’ comments referencing 12 prayers than he agrees with me that the BCP, alone, isn’t enough – but we need all the supplemental texts and “other rites authorised”? One of those prayers I first hear in a certain parish… and it moved through the process and has now become authorised for use in the whole church. How cool is that? After my sojourn in Orthodoxy, my first trip to an Episcopal Church was to the Cathedral in Asheville. There I heard on that first Sunday that one prayer that had followed me all the while and waited to welcome me home.

    Anglicanism has, also, a rich tradition of ignoring that vow in the Ordination service. That’s how we got the Non-Jurors – and thence our own American Episcopal succession. That’s how we got the Anglo-Catholics. It may well be how we get whatever comes next.

    The Non-Jurors and the Anglo-Catholics, themselves, came on a spectrum. Some thought of themselves as openly breaking unjust rules for a higher purpose, and some felt they were following the rules in a “higher sense” and, with hindsight, most of us, today, would agree with some form of that same reading – even though, at the time, the conservatives saw these folks as heretical and idolaters. These heretics and idolaters gave us the church we now have – more Catholic, more inclusive than ever.

    I think both voices are needed, of course – but it’s in the combination of voices that we reach the center, not in saying one is centrist and the other isn’t. And then only in hindsight.

    The irony, of course, should not be lost on anyone that I’m a gay man asking for tolerance of liberal and conservative at an altar open to both. The one side would reject me and the other side would sort of hold me up as a shield to ward off the enemy.

    the church, however, is meaningless and pointless without both. At times I think I understand better how my parents must have felt, sitting in the front seat of a car while we kids are in the back saying “DAD! The liberals/conservatives won’t stay on their side of the seat!”

  11. bls

    The Non-Jurors and the Anglo-Catholics, themselves, came on a spectrum. Some thought of themselves as openly breaking unjust rules for a higher purpose, and some felt they were following the rules in a “higher sense” and, with hindsight, most of us, today, would agree with some form of that same reading – even though, at the time, the conservatives saw these folks as heretical and idolaters. These heretics and idolaters gave us the church we now have – more Catholic, more inclusive than ever.

    I again wonder why arguments from 300 years ago – and from a different kind of situation – are being proffered to make the case.

    The Church of England is (and was) very different from the Episcopal Church; it’s Established, for one thing, which means the King/Government was and is and must be involved in its decisions. I’d probably be a non-Juror in that case, too.

    However: in TEC, we already have in place a means to make changes to the Book of Common Prayer, if we want to. (And the supplements are, obviously, also authorized, via GC, so I’m not clear on why that’s being made an issue here, either.)

    It’s been amusing to me that priests who seem to have no clue what “obedience” means and think nothing of ignoring General Convention are so shocked when it turns out that laypeople no longer have much respect for them, or care follow them anywhere, either.

    There are times when rebellion is warranted. Since we have a means to change things in our church, the (mostly very tedious, in my experience) “creative” rewriting of liturgy is not.

    I’m not even that big a fan of the present BCP, BTW; I can think numerous things that I’d like to see added or excised. However, it’s what we have at present – and I’ll just have to wait to see my preferences in writing, won’t I? And gosh, I’ll even have to make an argument about why they should be enacted….

  12. Huw Richardson

    Why the same arguments? Because the liturgical conservatives are, essentially, making the same arguments: “After several years of jerky and sudden changes, things are fixed now; after centuries of being bad, we don’t need any more sudden changes.” They miss that such sudden changes and constant evolution seem to be the sign of a living church save in the Dark Ages. I’d rather not go back there, thanks.

    Sorry that I missed your earlier comment as well, viz the power of the people. I have been in one place where the clergy make such changes “behind closed doors” and spring it on the congregation (including me) at random times, to “spice things up” and yes, Trinity Church, Buffalo, lives up to your worries: the whims of the pastor are exactly what pilot it. Worse, the laity seem totally disempowered. Ask them about why we sing the same music week after week, and they will shrug their shoulders and point at the priest. He will site the canons that put the rector in charge of liturgy.

    On the other hand I have been in places where the parish together evolved the liturgy. I’m sure your toes are curling, but the laity were totally involved. This was the source of the liturgy that welcomed me home in the above story.

    CS Lewis has a brilliant passage in the Screwtape Letters where Uncle Sccrewtape notes that if we were really following the “weaker brethern” command the Low Church folks would be crossing themselves and bowing to keep the High Church brethren from the sin of irreverence, and the High Church folks would be avoiding the same things to keep their Low Church brethren from the sin of idolatry.

    I know I’m not going to win this argument, simply by a lack of majority support in this readership community. But my point is not to win – I’d much rather see all sides back down and come to fellowship begging forgiveness of each other. This is the same sort of things I saw to the more-liberal readership at Episcopal Cafe (etc.). Instead, the popular piety on all sides seems to say “I can’t fellowship with *them* – they are *wrong*.”

    That line of argument has been resulting in schisms since St Paul. We’re enjoying one now – and we’re just cooking up a new flavour of the “worship wars” for another schism in the future.

  13. bls

    I have no idea what you’re talking about, sorry. What does “after centuries of being bad” mean, and what does have to do with this discussion? I just have no clue at all.

    Let me repeat myself: we already have in place a means to change the liturgy. And yes, the problem is that the “rector is in charge of the liturgy” – which is why there are supposed to be controls on them, i.e.: they are supposed to keep the promises they made, and the bishop is supposed to discipline them when they violate the rules. They are not supposed to force their own tedious agendas on unwilling people (and it’s hilarious that they then become shocked, shocked when they are roundly detested for it). (I’ve heard one rather well-known “liberal” priest admit that one of the perks of the job is that he can stand up in front of his congregation and say anything he wants to without fear of contradiction. That seems to be true in several cases in my own experience, to be quite honest, so I don’t he was being ironic. I often don’t find “liberals” to be very “liberal,” to be honest; many that I’ve run into are just as rigid as the “conservatives” they decry. Recently I had a discussion with a priest about “facing East”; she said she simply wouldn’t ever take a job where she had to do that. So who’s really got the problem in that case: people who would like, in their own parish, to be allowed to face East, even if nobody else in the entire church does – or people who would refuse to do it on any account? I don’t really see much difference between “liberals” and “conservatives” in the Episcopal Church.)

    I’m really not quite understanding why it’s so important, either, that the laity “evolve” anything – although at least they are not breaking any vows. If people want to “evolve” a liturgy, they should feel free to do so by bringing their suggestions and ideas to GC, where the church as a whole can discuss it. I was given to understand that was the process; in any case, making changes to the liturgy just ain’t the immediate crisis some people want us to believe it is.

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