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Anglicans Online last updated 10 December 2017

For Anglicans Online

The Brokenness of A Gift to the World:
Why the Episcopal Church should reject the recent proposal for full communion with the United Methodist Church

H. Jefferson Powell
Durham, North Carolina

Commemoration of George Berkeley and Joseph Butler, 2017

 

After years of discussion, a joint dialogue committee of the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Episcopal Church (the EC) has announced its proposal that the two churches enter into full communion. If the UMC and EC both accept the proposal, outlined in a document entitled A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness,[1] each church would fully recognize the ministries and sacraments of the other in all respects.

As a Christian and an Episcopalian, I hope and pray that the Episcopal Church rejects this proposal, for two reasons. First, A Gift to the World does not candidly acknowledge the significant problems with what it asks the Episcopal Church to do. Second, if the Episcopal Church does agree that A Gift to the World adequately represents its understanding of the essential principles of Christian ecumenism, the Episcopal Church will have departed dramatically from Anglican tradition and from its own past practices. If we are to enter into full communion with our United Methodist fellow Christians, I believe we should do so knowing what we are doing, and we should act as faithful stewards of our tradition.

The outline of the argument

The Episcopal Church, along with the rest of the Anglican Communion, has long insisted that Christian unity or full communion must involve the common acceptance of four principles, known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, concerning the Scriptures as the rule of faith, the authority of the two ancient creeds, the celebration of baptism and Eucharist using the traditional sacramental elements, and the maintenance of the historic episcopate. The Episcopal Church entered into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1999 and the Moravian Church (MC) in 2010 only after agreement on these essential principles.

A Gift to the World claims that its proposal for full communion between the UMC and the Episcopal Church is consistent with the Quadrilateral, but this claim is untrue. (1) UMC practice and principle do not accept any duty to celebrate the Eucharist using bread and wine. A Gift to the World does not ask the UMC to make any commitment to accept the Quadrilateral on this, and indeed simply ignores the matter. (2) Current UMC bishops are not within the historic episcopate, but A Gift to the World does not ask the UMC to accept the historic episcopate, as the Episcopal Church insisted and the Evangelical Lutheran Church agreed to do in 1999. Instead A Gift to the World redefines the term, and on the basis of its newly-minted definition, declares UMC bishops to be as much within the “historic episcopate” as are Episcopal Church bishops. (3) The Episcopal Church full communion agreements with the Evangelical Lutheran and Moravian Churches assert our shared understanding that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and the ecumenical doctrines of the ancient, undivided Church that the creeds express, provide a shared, normative framework for Christian belief. A Gift for the World makes no reference to the beliefs of the early Church and may suggest that the role of the creeds is primarily to assist individuals in coming to whatever conclusions they wish about the substance of Christian faith.

These discrepancies between the principles of unity of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the affirmations in A Gift to the World are neither technicalities nor trivialities. This proposal contradicts the Episcopal Church’s traditional understanding of Christ’s commands and of catholic Christian faith and order. Despite the importance of these issues, A Gift to the World seems artfully written to downplay or obscure them, and it makes no attempt to explain why the Episcopal Church should weaken or reject altogether principles to which it has explicitly adhered for over a century and on which it insisted in reaching its earlier full communion agreements. If the Episcopal Church accepts the proposal for full communion set out in A Gift to the World, we will have compromised our commitment to act as faithful stewards of our tradition’s vision of Christian truth.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Anglican perspective on full communion

A Gift to the World correctly identifies the four principles of “the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” as the basis on which the Episcopal Church has “engaged in dialogue with other churches ... taking agreement on these foundation principles as the essentials for sharing in mission and ministry with other Christian communions.”[2] The Quadrilateral was first adopted by the Episcopal Church House of Bishops in 1886 and then endorsed in a slightly revised form by the bishops of the world-wide Anglican Communion in the Lambeth Conference of 1888. As the 2010 report of an earlier UMC/EC dialogue committee, A Theological Foundation for Full Communion between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church, acknowledged, the Quadrilateral “has been reaffirmed by numerous General Conventions of the Episcopal Church, is contained in the historic documents section of the Book of Common Prayer, and has subsequently been received by the larger Anglican communion.”[3]

In the 1888 wording quoted by A Gift to the World. the Chicago-Lambeth principles are:

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.

The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

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.

The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into Unity.[4]

Let us be clear about what the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does, and what it does not pretend to do. In no sense does it purport to exclude other Christians from the universal Church of Christ. Indeed, before setting out the four principles in 1886, the Episcopal Church bishops unequivocally stated their belief that “all who have been duly baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.” The purpose of setting out the Quadrilateral’s principles of unity was, and has always been, to further ecumenical dialogue about how to “heal the wounds of the body of Christ,” wounds for which Anglicans are partly responsible, so that what the 1886 House of Bishops called “so priceless a blessing might happily be brought to pass.”[5]

At the same time, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral asserts that that full Christian unity or communion has to rest on Christian truth. The principles of unity that the bishops announced thus raise the possibility of continuing disunity because of principled disagreement between Anglicans and other Christians. “Everything is what it is and not another thing,” as the 18th century Anglican bishop Joseph Butler put it.[6] If Christianity has any intellectual, moral or social substance – which is surely common ground among all Christians – then some beliefs and practices will be essential parts of Christian truth, other beliefs and practices may be “adiaphora” (things indifferent), and still others will be mistakes, contrary to what Christianity is. As the House of Bishops explained in 1886, the Quadrilateral is meant to express the “principles we [Anglicans] believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees.”[7] The most sincere and loving hope for reconciliation on the part of two Christian churches may fall short of full communion because our non-Anglican fellow Christians cannot conscientiously accept principles that we cannot conscientiously disavow.[8]

A Gift to the World and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: two failures in candor

A Gift to the World unmistakably intends for the reader to believe that its proposal for full communion is consistent with the Episcopal Church’s traditional understanding of the “essentials for sharing in mission and ministry” with other Christian churches.[9] Unfortunately, that is untrue with respect to two of the Chicago-Lambeth principles. Judging by A Gift to the World, the UMC does not agree that the Eucharist is to be “ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him,” which is one part of the third Chicago-Lambeth principle. And the UMC does not agree that acceptance of the historic episcopate, as that term is used in the fourth principle, is necessary to Christian unity or full communion. A Gift to the World does not acknowledge the eucharistic disagreement at all, and it dismisses the disagreement between the UMC and Anglican views of the episcopate by redefining the Quadrilateral’s language. In reality, the dialogue committee is proposing that on these issues the Episcopal Church depart from the traditional Anglican position. The committee owed its reader a candid acknowledgment of that fact and an explanation of how such departures can be justified.[10]

The eucharistic elements. As an earlier UMC/EC dialogue committee recognized, the third Chicago-Lambeth principle that the sacraments should be celebrated “with unfailing use” of “the elements ordained by” Christ – in the case of the Eucharist, bread and wine – accords with Christian tradition going back to the apostolic Church: “Consistent Christian practice following the literal words of the New Testament has insisted on the use of bread and wine”[11] The UMC, in contrast, currently and formally rejects the use of wine in the Eucharist. According to the 2010 study A Theological Foundation, by a 1992 decision of the UMC General Convention, official UMC hymnals must include “the so-called ‘Welch Rubric’ that states that ‘The pure unfermented juice of the grapes shall be used in the celebration of the sacrament. This rubric remains in effect in The United Methodist Church.”[12]

It is fair to assume that A Gift to the World expects that the UMC will formally modify the Welch Rubric, although nothing in the proposal actually commits the UMC to doing so. In 2006, the two churches reached an agreement on “interim eucharistic sharing” providing that in joint celebrations, the “elements for the Lord’s Supper should include bread, wine, and grape juice.”[13] The 2010 study suggested that eucharistic practice under a full communion agreement could “follow the [interim sharing] guidelines ... for example, to use bread, wine and grape juice, allowing local practice to determine exactly how this should be done. United Methodists are encouraged to use de-alcoholized wine rather than grape juice, and the use of real wine in addition to grape juice.”[14] A Gift to the World “resolves” this hazy suggestion by ignoring the issue altogether. What is clear, if unstated, is that the UMC has not accepted the third Chicago-Lambeth principle with respect to the Eucharist. If the Episcopal Church accepts this proposal, therefore, we will disavow our traditional insistence on the unfailing use of wine in the Eucharist.

Why in end does this issue of grape juice versus wine matter? After all, there are Christians who for medical or other reasons should not receive wine in communion, and surely there must be a way to ensure their full participation in communion. More broadly, there are Old Testament and early Church antecedents for the UMC ideal of abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and even if the Episcopal Church need not accept that ideal for itself, surely we would be elevating form over substance to treat the UMC tradition as a barrier to full communion. What purpose would that serve?

The Anglican answer to these objections is, or ought to be, obvious. The primary purpose served in insisting on the “unfailing use” in Christ’s Eucharist “of the elements ordained by Him” is, first and foremost, obedience to His command. “Do this in remembrance of me” is the word Anglicans hear, not “do something that seems to you a reasonable adaption of what I originally did.” We obey His command literally out of our desire to be faithful disciples. In doing so, furthermore, we maintain the essential identity of our sacramental life with that of the ancient and undivided Church, and with all the Christian churches of today for whom ancient and ecumenical practice is normative. And we maintain faith with our own Anglican tradition and with our fellow Anglican churches, and with the ELCA and MC with whom we are already in full communion. To accept A Gift to the World requires the Episcopal Church to abridge or ignore a principle that our bishops in 1886 believed “incapable of compromise or surrender.”[15]

To say these things is in no sense to disparage the genuine commitment of the United Methodist Church to faithful discipleship or to obedience to Christ. We can and should recognize and rejoice in those commitments. But “everything is what it is and not another thing,” and the Anglican insistence that we obey Christ literally on this matter is not the same as the Methodist belief that we need not do so. We would be wrong to dismiss this disagreement, furthermore, as a mere difference of “opinion.” The UMC view, to the extent one can discern it in the 2017, 2010 and 2006 inter-church documents, is that the use of wine in the Eucharist is at most optional, a matter on which each local church may exercise its discretion, and that the contrary, traditional Anglican view is erroneous. We show no lack of charity in responding to our UMC fellow Christians that we believe them to be mistaken, and that until our two churches can come to a genuine meeting of the minds on how to obey our common Lord on this matter, full communion will remain impossible.

The historic episcopate. The fourth Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral principle of unity is maintenance of the “Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs” of Christ’s Church in different places and times.[16] What the Quadrilateral means by the term “historic episcopate” is perfectly clear. The 1999 ELCA/EC full communion agreement, Called to Common Mission, explained the phrase succinctly and accurately: “‘Historic succession’ refers to a tradition which goes back to the ancient church, in which bishops already in the succession install newly elected bishops with prayer and the laying-on-of hands. ... The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/1888, the ecumenical policy of the Episcopal Church, refers to this tradition as ‘the historic episcopate.’”[17] Whether someone is a bishop within the historic episcopate is, in other words, a question of historical fact, and as a factual matter, UMC bishops are not.[18]

In our dialogues with the ELCA and the Moravian Church over full communion, the Episcopal Church maintained the fourth Chicago-Lambeth principle that the historic episcopate in the sense of the ministry of bishops who stand within the historic catholic succession is a prerequisite to Christian unity. Indeed, EC insistence on to this traditional Anglican view posed what was probably the most difficult obstacle to full communion with the ELCA and the Moravian Church: ELCA bishops were not within the historic episcopate and there were historical questions about the Moravian episcopate. The churches achieved full communion only through a candid acknowledgment by each church of the initial difficulties, and a successful search for a principled resolution of those difficulties. Not everyone will agree with the theological arguments justifying the steps that each church took, but it is clear beyond doubt that in both instances the Episcopal Church and our dialogue partners shared a common understanding of what the historic episcopate is, and acted on that understanding in moving to full communion.[19]

The UMC/EC dialogue faced a parallel difficulty with respect to the principle of the historic episcopate. John Wesley was a priest of the Church of England, and he made strenuous efforts to keep the 18th century movement of Christian renewal he led within the institutional bounds of the Church.[20] But in the end, when Wesley was unable to persuade the bishop of London to ordain sacramental ministers for American Methodist congregations, in 1784 he himself ordained a superintendent with episcopal duties and elders. As the UMC/EC 2010 study recognized: “The ancient precedent of the consecration of bishops by other bishops was followed at the time of the Reformation by the Church of England. ... John Wesley’s ordinations, which led to the clergy orders of the Methodist Episcopal Church and eventually of the United Methodist Church broke the precedent of episcopal ordination and thus of episcopal succession for subsequent Methodist Episcopal bishops.”[21] UMC bishops, in other words, do not derive their episcopal status from the historic catholic succession of bishops.

A Gift to the World addresses the problem created by Wesley’s break with tradition at some length. Repeating an argument already advanced in the 2010 study, A Gift to the World happily announces “a major ecumenical breakthrough,” as a result of which there is no disagreement over episcopacy because UMC bishops actually are already within the historic episcopate. “We affirm the ministry of bishops” in both churches “to be adaptations of the historic episcopate to the needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context. We recognize the ministries of our bishops as fully valid and authentic.”[22]

A Gift to the World offers several unpersuasive justifications for this remarkable conclusion. (1) UMC bishops carry out episcopal functions – but so did ELCA bishops before the 1999 full communion agreement, and the ELCA agreed that they were not within the historic episcopate.. (2) The Episcopal Church and UMC episcopates are alike in the sense that both reflect post-Revolutionary adaptation to the American context – but the Episcopal Church deliberately obtained episcopal consecration for its bishops in the historic and ancient succession, while the early Methodists deliberately abandoned adherence to the historic succession for its ministers. (3) The “apostolic succession” doesn’t refer to bishops but means “succession in the apostolic faith[,] that is, to believe, preach, and teach the faith that the apostles held” – but the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not define the historic episcopate in terms of “apostolic succession,” a term it never uses.[23]

None of these arguments address the actual problem, which is that as a matter of fact UMC bishops are not within the historic episcopate as that term was used as a matter of fact by the bishops in Chicago and at Lambeth in the late nineteenth century, and by the Episcopal Church in its earlier full communion agreements. To be sure, A Gift to the World describes its treatment of the issue as the result of “the Episcopal Church [having] made important clarifications regarding the historic episcopate, historic succession, and apostolic succession.”[24] This claim is misleading, at best. The term “apostolic succession,” to the extent it is not simply a (perhaps grandiose) synonym for “the historic episcopate,” refers to the theory that the apostles were the first bishops or vested their authority in the catholic episcopate by initiating the line of episcopal succession. Nothing in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral requires that anyone, Anglican or otherwise, accept this theory, which rests on what is probably an oversimplification of early Christian history. There is, of course, no reason why the words “apostolic succession” should not be used as A Gift to the World proposes, but agreeing to do so does not address in any way the fourth Chicago-Lambeth principle that the historic episcopate, as the bishops used that term, is essential to Christian unity.

Although A Gift to the World never quite says so explicitly, the actual “breakthrough” on which it rests is the willingness of the Episcopal Church participants in the dialogue process to abandon the fourth Chicago-Lambeth principle. You do not “clarify” an essential principle by redefining its central term, and on the subject of the episcopate A Gift to the World announces not mutual agreement but outright EC surrender. The historic episcopate to which the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and long-standing Anglican tradition refer is one thing, and the “historic episcopate” as A Gift to the World defines the words is another. It is no disparagement of John Wesley or of later Methodists to observe the fact that the UMC’s episcopate is not within the historic episcopate in the Anglican sense. “Everything is what it is and not another thing.” If the authors of A Gift to the World want the Episcopal Church to recognize that we have been in error on what is essential in this respect, they should have said so directly.[25]

A Gift to the World and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: a troubling omission

The 1886 House of Bishops believed that the Quadrilateral’s principles are the essential basis for “Christian unity” because they are “the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence”[26] The Quadrilateral’s proposal is that Christian ecumenical discussion reach behind modern divisions, behind the abrupt fracturing of Western catholicism in the sixteenth century, and even behind the earlier, slow alienation of the Western and Eastern churches. Its principles attempt to minimize the obstacles to Christian unity but do not do so by endorsing a modern, least-common-denominator “Christianity lite.” Instead, and in accord with Anglican tradition, the Quadrilateral grounds ecumenical dialogue in the spiritually vibrant, intellectually rich, and robustly self-confident faith of the early Church. The second Chicago-Lambeth principle indicated this approach to unity through adherence to ancient and ecumenical Christian belief by defining the two ancient creeds “as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”[27]  Our full communion agreements with the ELCA and the Moravian Church expressly stated this shared understanding of the creeds. “We accept the Niceno-Constantinopolitan and Apostles’ Creeds and confess the basic Trinitarian and Christological Dogmas to which those creeds testify.”[28]

A Gift to the World, on its face, accepts the second Chicago-Lambeth principle. “Our churches affirm and use the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds as sufficient summaries of the Christian faith.”[29] A Gift to the World lacks the reference found in the ELCA and MC documents to “the basic Trinitarian and Christological Dogmas to which those creeds testify,” but that might be no more than the result of a different drafting history – after all, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral itself does not include that language. However, since we know that at other points A Gift to the World is artfully silent, there is reason for concern that its omission of language found in the two previous EC full communion agreements is not accidental.

The website of the UMC is, I assume, a reliable source for the official perspective of the United Methodist Church. In answering the question why Methodists recite creeds during worship, the website explains: “The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church. ... The United Methodist Hymnal contains nine creeds or affirmations. ... Affirmations help us come to our own understanding of the Christian faith.” Perhaps all the UMC website means by saying that the UMC is “not a creedal church” is that the UMC does not insist on affirmation of “a strict list of beliefs as a condition of membership,” and that “United Methodists are not required to believe every word of the [nine UMC] affirmations.”[30] That is equally true of the Episcopal Church: the second Chicago-Lambeth principle does not impose on individual Anglicans a duty of accepting every statement in the two ancient creeds as a condition of membership.

On the other hand, the Quadrilateral’s second principle does not treat the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as mere tools to “help” individual Christians “come to our own [subjective] understanding of the Christian faith.” The principle’s underlying point is objective and normative: from the Anglican perspective the creeds summarize the intellectual, moral and spiritual truth of the ancient, ecumenical Christian faith. Christian churches have an obligation to uphold this truth, whatever the doubts or questions of individual Christians, to insure that our faith is in continuity with that of the early and undivided Church. As the full communion agreements with the ELCA and the Moravian Church correctly reflected, the traditional Anglican view is that in acknowledging the authority of the creeds we acknowledge as well “the basic Trinitarian and Christological Dogmas to which those creeds testify.” The second Chicago-Lambeth principle thus rejects any understanding of Christianity that reduces it to a collection of religious opinions among which we should feel free to pick and choose what is congenial to our individual judgments. The Gospel is a message given to us all, not an invitation to each of us to craft a personal worldview.

I do not believe it is possible, on the basis of A Gift to the World, to determine whether the UMC position and the traditional Anglican understanding of the creeds are in accord. But it is hard to dismiss the concern that A Gift to the World deals with the role of the creeds more briefly than the earlier ELCA and Moravian proposals for a substantive reason. Were the UMC members of the committee unwilling (no doubt for good reasons from their perspective) to agree to a more robust endorsement of the Anglican belief that the ancient creeds and ecumenical dogmas express Christian truth?

Why does any of this matter?

A Gift to the World begins by describing its purpose in beautiful words: “to bring our churches into closer partnership in the mission and witness to the love of God and thus labor together for the healing of divisions among Christians and for the well-being of all.”[31] With such goals in view, why should anyone worry about wine at the Eucharist, or the details of how the United Methodist Church came to have bishops, or exactly how two 21st century churches ought to treat 4th and 5th century formulas?

The Anglican answer is, or ought to be, that we can only witness to the love of God if we witness to God’s truth as we understand it. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is an attempt to outline what Anglicans have thought is essential to the catholic vision of that truth. To say this is in no way to claim that the Quadrilateral states all of Christian truth, or that Anglicans have nothing to learn from other Christian churches. I do not doubt that we Episcopalians have much to learn from our UMC brothers and sisters. But we offer them no insult when we reiterate our belief that full Christian unity and communion can exist only through common acceptance of the essential signs of catholic Christianity, as traditionally understood. The members of the UMC act rightly if they decline to accept aspects of the Anglican understanding of Christianity that they do not conscientiously believe. Episcopalians honor neither the United Methodist Church nor God if we surrender or compromise principles that we do accept and believe to be essential.

A Gift to the World shows that the UMC/EC dialogue committee reached agreement not because the two churches share the principles Anglicans have thought essential but because the committee’s EC members were willing to surrender some of those principles. The committee could have stated openly that its proposal compromises two of the four Chicago-Lambeth principles and leaves unclear the UMC position on a third. It chose not to do so, and its uneasiness with the likely reaction to a more candid presentation can be seen in the document’s silences, ambiguities, and misleading attempts to treat the rejection of Anglican principles as “clarifications” or an “ecumenical breakthrough.” I do not doubt that the UMC and the Episcopal Church members of the dialogue committee sincerely believe that their proposal is an appropriate basis on which to proceed to full communion. But A Gift to the World’s lack of candor is, without more, reason enough to reject the proposal. For those of us who believe that the Episcopal Church should adhere to the Chicago-Lambeth principles, A Gift to the World is fatally flawed in substance as well.

Conclusion

This essay may well contain errors of fact or judgment, and if I so I welcome correction and better information. But if my argument is fundamentally correct, the Episcopal Church should reject A Gift to the World’s proposal for full communion with the UMC. Doing so will in no sense deny that the Holy Spirit is at work in the UMC’s life and ministry. Rejecting A Gift to the World will leave unchanged our welcome to our baptized UMC brothers and sisters to receive communion at any Episcopal altar rail. Rejecting A Gift to the World should not interfere with any common projects of Christian mission or service that our two churches are undertaking or may enter into in the future. Rejecting A Gift to the World ought not prevent Episcopalians from continuing to learn from the uniquely Methodist witness to Christianity. What rejecting A Gift to the World’s proposal will do is bear witness to the world, to other Christians, and not least to ourselves, that the Episcopal Church remains committed to what “we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church.” Reaffirming our fidelity to the truth of Christ as we understand that truth would truly be a gift to the world.

Appendix: the historic episcopate and the full communion agreements with the ELCA and the Moravian Church

The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who were installed before 1999 were not within the ancient, historic succession, as the ELCA acknowledged. The ELCA, furthermore, was not prepared to surrender the traditional Lutheran position that the historic episcopate is not essential to Christian unity.[32] Full communion proved possible, nonetheless, because the ELCA and the Episcopal Church managed to find common ground without sacrificing theological principle. Nothing in Lutheran theology, after all, rejects the value of the historic episcopate as a sign of unity in the apostolic faith. Indeed, Called to Common Mission quoted one of the central Lutheran confessional documents, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which “refers to this episcopal pattern by the phrase, ‘the ecclesiastical and canonical polity’ which it is ‘our deep desire to maintain.’” On its part, the Episcopal Church “endorse[d] the Lutheran affirmation that the historic catholic episcopate under the Word of God must always serve the gospel.” On the basis of this common ground, the ELCA “freely accept[ed] the historic episcopate” by pledging to insure that its future bishops would be installed with the participation of Episcopal bishops or other bishops “already sharing in the sign of the episcopal succession,” and the Episcopal Church agreed to recognize immediately the priestly ministry of ELCA bishops and pastors who were already ordained in anticipation that the two “churches will over time come to share in the ministry of bishops in an evangelical, historic succession.”[33]

The fourth Chicago-Lambeth principle presented a different problem in the Episcopal Church dialogue with the Moravian Church. As the 2010 MC/EC full communion agreement, Finding our Delight in the Lord, stated, like the Anglican Communion “the Moravian Church has … demonstrated its intent to maintain the office of bishop” in historic continuity with the ancient Church, and the traditional Moravian belief was that their episcopate “preserved a ‘pure’ succession dating from the pre-Constantinian Church.” For many years, however, some Anglicans expressed concern over the uncertainty of the historical links between the early catholic episcopate and the modern Moravian episcopal succession. Full communion proved possible, nonetheless, largely because the Episcopal Church came to recognize the theological significance of the tremendous efforts Moravians have made to maintain the historic succession of bishops “despite extensive persecution” and “the near extermination of the ancient Unitas Fratrum [the original Moravian Church] ... following the Thirty Years’ War.” It became clear, in other words, that Moravians have historically lived out their adherence to the principle of the historic episcopate beyond any fair question: “We affirm the local adaptation of the ministry of bishops through the tremendous faithfulness that the Moravian Church has demonstrated in maintaining a succession of bishops which they had originally understood to be of apostolic origin.”[34]



[1] A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/document/gift-world-co-laborers-healing-brokenness (visited June 14, 2017) [henceforth, in footnotes, AGW].

[2]  AGW 3.

[3] A Theological Foundation for Full Communion between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church 30-31,  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/document/theological-foundation-full-communion-between-episcopal-church-and-united-methodist (visited June 14, 2017) [henceforth, in footnotes, ATF]. A Gift for the World states that A Theological Foundation “should be read in conjunction with this document” and in discussing the 2017 proposal I shall assume it is intended to be consistent with the 2010 report. AGW 2.  

[4]  AGW 4. This is the later, 1888 version of the Quadrilateral. Both are in the Historical Documents of the Church section of the Book of Common Prayer 876-78 [henceforth, in footnotes, BCP].

[5]  BCP 876, 877.

[6]  Joseph Butler, Preface to Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, The Works of Bishop Butler 44 (David E. White ed. 2006).

[7]  BCP 877.

[8]  Twice in the last two decades the Episcopal Church has entered into full communion with another Christian church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1999, and the Moravian Church – Northern Province and the Moravian Church – Southern Province in 2010. In both cases, the jointly-composed documents setting out the basis for full communion fully affirmed and adopted the Chicago-Lambeth principles as a foundation for the churches’ actions. See Called to Common Mission: A Lutheran Proposal for a Revision of the Concordat of Agreement, http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Called_To_Common_Mission.pdf?_ga=2.110016130.625295317.1497295166-1933421817.1495484860 (visited June 14, 2017) [henceforth, in footnotes, CCM], Finding Our Delight in the Lord: A Proposal for Full Communion Between the Episcopal Church; the Moravian Church – Northern Province; and the Moravian Church – Southern Province, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/finding_our_delight_official_text.pdf (visited June 14, 2017) [henceforth, in footnotes, FOD].

[9]  AGW 3.

[10]  I do not think the statement that the 2010 document A Theological Foudation “should be read in conjunction with” the 2017 proposal satisfies the dialogue committee’s duty in this regard. A Gift to the World directly asserts that “The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church affirm common doctrines and practices” about, among other matters, “the sacrament of the Eucharist” and that they “acknowledge and recognize that both churches have adapted the historic episcopate to particular circumstances.” AGW 5,7. It should not be necessary for the reader to refer to a different, much longer document in order to discover that neither of these assertions is, in fact, completely true. 

[11]  ATF 24.

[12]  ATF 24.

[13]  Common Guidelines for Bishops, Clergy and Laity for the Implementation of Interim Eucharistic Sharing between The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church 1, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/Common_Guidelines.pdf.

[14]  ATF 25.

[15]  BCP 877. I have no doubt that the Church can and should make pastoral accommodation for those who ought to abstain from wine, but A Gift to the World proposes no pastoral accommodation.

[16]  BCP 878.

[17]  CCM para. 11.

[18]  Eastern Christians generally believe that standing alone, the fact of having been consecrated a bishop in the historic succession is not sufficient to permit recognition of the individual as holding valid episcopal authority: adherence to orthodox Christian faith is also necessary. But they agree with the Western tradition that consecration in the historic succession is necessary for someone to be a bishop in the historic catholic episcopate.

[19]  I discuss the issues and their resolution in 1999 and 2010 in more detail in the appendix.

[20]  My personal sympathies are almost entirely with Wesley in his conflicts with the Anglican hierarchy, which refused to see the work of the Holy Spirit in his preaching and that of his colleagues. Wesley’s encounters with Bishop Butler, whom I have quoted, are the most famous example, but Wesley’s disagreement with Butler was not directly related to his later difficulties with other English bishops.

[21]  ATF 27-28.

[22]  AGW 4, 7. The wording here is misleading. The fourth Chicago-Lambeth principle gives no basis for doubting that the ministry of UMC bishops is a “fully ... authentic” Christian ministry – the House of Bishops addressed the original version of the Quadrilateral “to our fellow Christians ... who, in their respective spheres, have contended for the religion of Christ.” BCP 876. But referring to episcopal orders as “valid” traditionally means that the bishops in question stand in the historic catholic succession. A Gift to the World has, without notice, redefined the term “valid,” consistently with its redefinition of “the historic episcopate.”

[23]  AGW 4-5, 7-8. See also ATF 27-32.

[24]  AGW 4.

[25] A Gift to the World does not quite display the courage of its convictions at one point. Among its specific proposals for implementing full communion is a commitment by the Episcopal Church to enact “a temporary suspension, in this case only, of the 17th century restriction that ‘no persons are allowed to exercise the offices of bishop, priest, or deacon in this Church unless they are so ordained, or have already received such ordination with the laying on of hands by bishops who are themselves duly qualified to confer Holy Orders.’” The purpose of the suspension is “to recognize the authenticity of UMC elders and deacons” to exercise the offices of priest and deacon in the Episcopal Church. This language was borrowed from the 1999 ELCA/EC agreement, where it served an important purpose: since ELCA pastors at that time had not been ordained by “duly qualified” bishops in the historic episcopate, the 17th century rule would have barred them acting as priests in the Episcopal Church. But the promise to suspend the rule with respect to UMC elders and deacons makes no sense if, as A Gift to the World assures us, UMC bishops are within the historic episcopate. If so, then UMC elders and deacons were ordained “by bishops who are themselves duly qualified to confer Holy Orders.” (The 2010 agreement with the Moravian Church recognized MC bishops as “duly qualified” and logically made no reference to the 17th century restriction.) I do not know, of course, why A Gift to the World provides for an Episcopal Church action that its logic makes unnecessary. Perhaps this is a simple drafting error, or perhaps the dialogue committee was concerned that not all Episcopalians would accept their redefinition of “the historic episcopate” and thought it best to remove at least one objection to UMC clergy carrying out priestly duties in the EC.

[26]  BCP 877.

[27]  BCP 877.

[28]  CCM para. 4; FOD 35.

[29]  AGW 5.

[30]  Why do we say creeds?,  http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/why-do-we-say-creeds (visited June 14, 2017).

[31]  AGW 1.

[32]  “At present the Episcopal Church has bishops in this historic succession, as do all the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at present does not, although some member churches of the Lutheran World Federation do. ... By thus freely accepting the historic episcopate, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does not thereby affirm that it is necessary for the unity of the church.” CCM para. 11, 18.

[33]  CCM para. 11, 13, 18, 19, 8.

[34]  FOD 18 & n. 51, 19, 20.


Jeff Powell is a Professor of Law at Duke University who also holds a Master's of Divinity from Yale and a Ph.D. in theological ethics from Duke. He is a parishioner at St Luke in Durham, North Carolina.