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Accepting Authority of Ordinations delaying Church Reunion

FEELING KEENLY that it would be a humiliating reflection upon the validity of their own ministry if they agreed to a reordination of the clergy as a requisite for church union, the Board of Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church have formally rejected the overtures of the Lambeth Conference.

As told in these pages several times, the Lambeth proposals, which were promulgated by a conference of Anglican and Episcopal bishops from all over the world in August, 1920, provide, in brief, for a reunion of the churches on the basis that priests of the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches would be accepted as priests of the Anglican Church if their own communions would reciprocate, while it is asked of the Protestant Churches that they should allow their ministers to submit to reordination by Anglican or Episcopal bishops. The proposals have not yet been accepted by any denomination, and their rejection by the Methodists is generally taken as indicative of the attitude of the other branches of the Protestant Church.

The "implied inferiority or insufficiency of their own authority and ordination" under the Lambeth scheme is regarded by the Methodists as an insuperable obstacle to the proposed reunion, and the Newark. News remarks that "doubtless the Methodist Bishops are correct in feeling that their ministry and laity would resent the intimation, however lightly laid, that the church, one of the largest Protestant denominations, has been without the pale of authoritative Christendom. One hundred and eighty long years have passed since John Wesley became the founder of Methodism as it endures to-day, and in that time the Bishops point out that the Church has been blest of God. Deeply as they are convinced of the unity of purpose of the Anglican Church and their own, they can not, even as a form, subscribe to a theory that Divine authority has not been theirs." On the other hand, " there can be no doubt of the sincerity and warmth of the union proposals which have been broached by a number of the eminent ministers of the Episcopal Communion," says The Christian Century (Undenominational). "The World Conference on Faith and Order, the proposed concordat with the Congregationalists, and the Lambeth Conference are all evidences of the spirit of what The Christian Century is pleased to believe is a majority opinion of the men and women of the Episcopal Church. Yet these various overtures have not been received with very much warmth by the evangelicals of this country. There has been courtesy in the replies, and a studied avoidance of anything offensive, but nothing that looked at all earnestly toward closer fellowship."

In rejecting the form of unity suggested in the Lambeth proposals, the Methodist Bishops affirm that they "recognize the desirability of a visible expression of the spiritual unity of all who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and man," and that in furtherance of the spirit of unity they have "gladly entered into fellowship with the brethren of the various communions, engaging with them in frequent interchange of pulpit ministrations and other forms of Christian service."

"But respecting the condition of union laid down in the Appeal with reference to ministerial orders, we are compelled, with all due regard for the earnestness of the proposal and in full view of the tremendous issues at stake, to register our dissent. We are not unacquainted with the history of ministerial orders. Holding that the ministerial orders of the Methodist Episcopal Church are fully valid and divinely sanctioned, we can not consent to make them secondary to any other. Nor can we, even for the sake of a united Church, cast any shadow of doubt, of invalidity, or of irregularity on them or on their ministrations which have been so signally honored of God.

"We are fully aware that the Lambeth Appeal denies any intention of questioning our ministerial orders, and proposes that reordination shall not be deemed as a repudiation of a former ordination, but solely as a qualification for officiating in the churches of the Anglican Communion. None the less we see in the demand for reordination, as well as in the present canonical laws of the Church of England and of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, and in the customs of both which make for exclusiveness, a theory of orders which we can not in conscience acknowledge. The fact that our Anglican brethren feel that they can recognize the orders of priests from the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, but demand reordination for the ministers of Protestantism, would indicate that they hold a theory of the 'Historic Episcopate' which we could not accept for ourselves and which we could not consent to demand from the ministers of our honored sister communions in the United States and elsewhere."

Accepting the Methodist position as correct, The Churchman, organ of the Low Church party in the Episcopal denomination, holds that "for a great Communion like the Methodist Episcopal Church, with its abundant evidence of God's gift of grace, to question the validity of the orders of its clergy, even if church unity could temporarily be furthered or even accomplished by so doing, would be, as it seems to us, an event of most tragic consequence to Christendom." In earlier comment on the subject The Churchman states that "what broke Christendom into fragments was not chiefly the disloyalty of the laity; it was the stubbornness and spiritual torpor of the clergy. It was those who made a profession, a living, out of religion, that destroyed the family life of the Church." The question, then, is:

"Shall we turn over the whole question of Church unity to the clergy and our ecclesiastical scholars? Shall we wait for a professional class to restore what they destroyed? Have we any reason for believing that the clergy are to-day any better fitted to create unity in divided Christendom than they were fitted to preserve what unity there was before the sixteenth century? We doubt it. There is a way for the bishops and other clergy of the Episcopal Church to show that their prayers and words are sincere as regards Christian unity. That way lies in fiction, not in hair-splitting discussions.

"Personally, we think we shall get nowhere while a minority, who sit in every commission on unity, are permitted to inject into the discussion as the sine qua non of unity a certain rigid doctrine of apostolic succession which Protestantism will never accept, and acceptance of which by the Protestant Church. would be nothing short of a calamity. We have the deepest respect for those nonconformist Churchmen in England who refuse to be decoyed by any of the Lambeth proposals which cast a doubt upon the validity of their orders. Church unity is not precious enough to Christendom to be purchased by such a concession.

"Nothing must be done, say a minority, which shall imperil our efforts towards unity with Rome. Nothing must be done, say others, and The Churchman is of the number, which shall make impossible unity with other Protestant Communions. The overwhelming majority of Anglican and American Churchmen would never feel at home in Rome—unless a miracle happened in Rome. For unity with Protestants no such miracle is required. And we are of the opinion that real unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church would require almost as great a miracle as union with Rome."

The Churchman then goes on to make a strong appeal for fellowship of the Episcopal Church in the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, declaring that "the General Convention has all along been timid and not altogether sincere in facing this question, and the Churchmen who are foremost in the discussion on Christian unity, and pretend to feel most keenly the sin of schism, are making it a matter of conviction to extend only cold finger-tips to their Protestant fellow-Christians and calling that chill touch the handclasp of fellowship. What is the damaging infection that will come to us by a larger contact with the Federal Council of the Churches? Let us speak out and say the harsh words. We are acting it. Why not say it?" What the bishops are afraid of, we are told, is an attack from "a certain minority in the Episcopal Church whose faces are toward Rome or the Balkans, and who will block every approach to unity with our Protestant brothers."

Source: The Literary Digest - February 18, 1922