Project Canterbury

Why Unite with the Presbyterians?

By Gardiner Mumford Day.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship, 1943.

When a discussion of the proposed union of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches arises, the most frequent questions which Episcopal laymen ask are the following:

Why do we want Church unity, or, why should we strive toward a united Christendom?

Has the Church really made any progress towards unity?

Why did the Episcopal Church invite the Presbyterian Church to unite with it?

Why should the Episcopal Church unite with a portion of the Presbyterian Church?

Will it interfere with union with other churches?

What would be the values resulting from such a union?

How would such a union affect the life and worship of the individual parish?

Before attempting to answer these questions, let us read the Declaration adopted by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1937 when the present negotiations looking toward reunion with the Presbyterians originated:

"The two Churches, one in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, recognizing the Holy Scriptures as the supreme rule of faith, accepting the two sacraments ordained by Christ, and believing that the visible unity of Christ's Church is the will of God, hereby formally declare their purpose to achieve organic unity between their respective Churches."

The Declaration was approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1938.


The answer to this question is given in the originating declaration, namely, that we believe that "the visible unity of Christ's Church is the will of God." We desire unity because we believe it is the will of God expressed by His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We cannot believe that God sent Jesus into the world, to found several hundred different denominations. "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their work; that they all may be one" (St. John 47:30) is St. John's recording of Jesus' ideal. St. Paul echoed Jesus' thought when he said of the Church, "There is one body and one Spirit ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." And our Prayer Book reminds us of our "unhappy divisions" although most of us are not so unhappy about them as we ought to be or these divisions would not have continued so long.

Furthermore, do we not all recognize the need for a united witness for the Christian faith on the part of all the Protestant Churches in the world today? Twenty years ago a Church leader said, "A divided Church cannot face a united world." If that was true twenty years ago in peaceful days, it is even more true today that a divided Church cannot bring healing to a divided and torn world. It is difficult to see how the Church can with good grace suggest to the nations that they get together when the churches themselves do not give a greater example of union. The beam is in our own eye.


While the first Christians were united in their loyalty to Jesus Christ, they differed widely in their interpretation of Christian faith and practice as the New Testament clearly shows. After the Church had developed into a large, highly organized institution the first major schism came to a head in 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox Churches gave their allegiance to the Bishop of Constantinople, while the Church in Western Europe continued to give its allegiance to the Pope in Rome. The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century was the inevitable reaction against the growth and corrupt use of the power of the Church by the papacy, and the denial of all liberty of thought or practice. The originators of the Reformation did not desire to found a new Church, but rather to purify the Roman Church. But their attempt at reformation led to excommunication. Divisions in the Protestant Church continued to increase until the end of the 18th century, the last large division being the separation of the Methodist Church from the Church of England. John Wesley, founder of Methodism never wished to form Another denomination, and indeed died within the Church of England, but unfortunately, owing to the narrowness of the Church of England at that time, the Methodists were forced to separate.

As we, look back after three hundred years it is almost impossible for us to realize, how serious and severe these divisions were. Impenetrable walls of belief, feeling and prejudice separated the various denominations. Rhode Island was founded because the Puritans would not allow heretical Baptists to live in Massachusetts. When the President of Harvard University became a Baptist in 1650 he was compelled to resign. As late as 1816 when the American Bible Society was founded, it was not possible to have prayer offered at the meetings of the Board because the members could not agree upon what kind of prayer to use.

The tide, however, turned in the 19th century. Taking advantage of the newly developed means of travel, missionaries from England and America; carried their good news, to the corners of the globe. By the middle of the century when the first interdenominational meeting was held, men of vision among our missionaries emphasized the need and value of church unity in the mission field. Increasingly, our best missionaries have rebelled against the idea of having to perpetuate in Africa, the Orient and other places, the denominational divisions of the western world. Increasingly they have found it difficult to explain to an inhabitant of China or Africa why he should be an American Protestant Episcopalian Chinese Christian or an American Evangelical and Reformed African Christian.

A missionary conference was held in Edinburgh in 1910, to which came representatives of most of the mission fields of the world. One result of this conference was the decision of the foremost Protestant missionary societies of the world to establish the International Missionary Council as a means of increasing understanding and cooperation. The first general meeting called by the Council was held in Jerusalem in 1928, at which for the first time representatives of the "younger" churches (those established in the mission fields) were present. Another international missionary conference was held in 1938 at Madras, India. It was probably the most representative conference—nationally, racially and denominationally—ever held by the Christian Church anywhere in the world. As the native churches in the mission fields of the world have gradually become stronger, and in many cases autonomous, they are pressing on the mother churches with ever increasing urgency the desirability of unity. A notable example of this is the formal statement of the representatives of these younger churches at the Madras Conference in which they said:

"During the discussion it became abundantly clear that the divisions of Christendom were seen in their worst light in the mission field. Instances were cited by the representatives of the younger churches of disgraceful competition, wasteful overlapping, and of groups and individuals turned away from the Church because of the divisions within. Disunion is both a stumbling block to the faithful and a mockery to those without. We confess with shame that we ourselves have often been the cause of thus bringing dishonor to the religion of our Master. The representatives of the younger churches in this section, one and all gave expression to the passionate longing that exists in all countries for visible union of the churches. They are aware of the fact of spiritual unity; they record with great thankfulness all the signs of co-operation and understanding that are increasingly seen in various directions; but they realize that this is not enough. Visible and organic union must be our goal. This, however, will require an honest study of those things in which the churches have differences, a widespread teaching of the common church membership in all things that make for union and venturesome sacrifice on the part of all. Such a union alone will remove the evils arising out of our divisions. Union proposals have been put forward in different parts of the world. Loyalty, however, will forbid the younger churches going forward to consummate any union unless it receives the whole-hearted support and blessing of those through whom these, churches have been planted. We are thus often torn, between loyalty to our mother churches and loyalty to our ideal of union. We, therefore, appeal with all the fervor we possess, to the missionary societies and boards and the responsible authorities of the older churches, to take this matter seriously to heart, to labor with the churches in the mission field to achieve this union, to support, and encourage us in all our efforts to put an end to the scandalous effects of our divisions and to lead us in the path of union—the union for which our Lord prayed, through, which the world would indeed believe in the Divine Mission of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ."

Student Movement

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, our country as well as others saw the beginning of the mass movement of youth to colleges and universities. The local churches in these college communities were not equipped to minister to the sudden influx of students. The Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. jumped into the breach and established student divisions to undertake this ministry under the leadership of such men as D. L. Moody, Luther Wishart, Robert E. Speer and Robert Wilder. Out of this grew two great interdenominational student organizations, the World Student Christian Federation and the Student Volunteer Movement, whose influence in unifying Christians of all denominations through fellowship, in work and worship has been of inestimable value in providing leadership in the movement towards, greater interdenominational understanding and cooperation. Today the World Student Christian Federation has members, in nearly every country of the world. Though small numerically and rapidly changing with the passing generations of college students, it has an enormous influence in the increase of understanding, fellowship, cooperation and unity.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral

In 1886, almost the same time that the first student intercollegiate conference was held at Northfield, the House of Bishops of our Church, meeting in Chicago, issued a declaration of the four principles which they believed to- be the essential basis for the union of the Episcopal Church with any other communion. They were as follows:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed
Word of God.
2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
3. The two Sacraments—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.

In 1888 this Declaration was reaffirmed with slight modifications by the Anglican Bishops meeting at Lambeth, and has since been known as the "Lambeth Quadrilateral." Since then it has been the basis for all discussion in our Church looking towards organic union with other groups.

Faith and Order

In the year 1916 simultaneously in out Convention and in that of the Disciples of Christ, a Commission, on Faith and Order was appointed to attempt by the conference method to pave the way for unity by ironing our denominational differences and by strengthening the areas of agreement among the different Communions. The moving spirit in this, effort within our own Church was the late Bishop Brent, and in the Disciples' Church the late Peter Ainslie. Eleven years later a Conference on Faith and Order, composed of representatives of most of the larger non-Roman Churches, was held at Lausanne, Switzerland, under Bishop Brent's chairmanship. For the first time since the original division in 1054 all branches of the Church which "confess our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour," except the Roman Catholics, came together "for the consideration of questions touching faith and order."

While the Faith and Order Movement was developing, another group of Christians, feeling that the union of the different denominations would come more quickly through cooperative work in social, economic and political fields, began the movement known as the Life and Work Movement. The prime mover in this instance was Nathan Soderblöm, Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of Sweden. A Conference was held in Stockholm in 1925 at which 1000 delegates from the churches of 37 countries were present.

As a result of this deepening spirit of unity the two movements—Faith and Order, and Life and Work—met together in two conferences at Oxford and Edinburgh in the summer of 1937, and a committee was appointed to draw up a plan for a World Council of Churches in which all the non-Roman churches of the world would be represented. While the war, intervened to prevent the calling of a general assembly, eighty representatives of the various churches met at Utrecht, Holland, in 1938 and adopted a Constitution for a World Council of Churches. It is at the present time functioning under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Temple, and awaits only the conclusion of the war to call a general Assembly of the representatives of all the member Churches throughout the world. Already seventy-seven churches in twenty-eight countries, including our own Church through the action of General Convention in 1940, have officially joined the World Council.

The Federal Council of Churches

Such representative gatherings of Christians could not possibly have been held even with the finest leadership unless work had been going forward in each country to bring the local churches, in village, town and city closer together. December 2, 1908 is a red letter day in the growth of the movement toward Church unity, for on that day a group of Christians who had-been working on the missionary boards of a number of churches met in Philadelphia to form the Federal Council of Churches, in order (and I quote their original declaration), "more fully to manifest the essential oneness of the Christian Churches of America in Jesus Christ as their Divine Lord and Saviour." Their purpose was not organic unity, but rather federation, and the Council has slowly but steadily grown in the scope of, its work and influence until it now comprises representatives of twenty-five denominations including all the larger Protestant denominations except the Southern Baptist Convention and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri. Our Church joined the Council at the General Convention of 1940. Since then, the other churches have indicated their appreciation of the contribution which they believe the Episcopal Church can make by electing our Presiding Bishop as President of the Council. Space does not permit even a summary of the work of the Federal Council here. Suffice it to say that through representative commissions it has done more than any other single organization in this country to develop cooperation between the churches in almost every phase of community and national life. It has committees or commissions working in the fields of Social Service, Marriage and the Home, Labor and Industry, Research Information, Prison Chaplains, Refugees, Military Camps and Defense Areas, Prisoners of War, Religious Education, Religion, and Health, Religion, and Race, etc. In addition, no one organisation has had as great an influence in promoting cooperation among the churches of, the local community. It is hard for us to realize that fifty years ago a gathering of the Protestant ministers of any community Was a very rare thing, not to mention participation in. services of worship. Now there is scarcely a community in which the ministers do not at least meet in local associations to discuss common problems and projects, and in most states there are state councils coordinating the work of the local councils in many fields of endeavor.

Organic Union

Meanwhile, as a result of the same influences that caused the formation of the Federal Council of Churches, twenty-eight denominations have merged into twelve denominations. These actual instances of organic union, which are the result of long and arduous labor, bear so definite a witness to the deepening spirit of Christian unity, and yet are so little known, that the list itself is impressive:

A major part of the Cumberland Presbyterian joined the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 1906; The Free Baptist Church joined the Northern Baptist Convention in 1911; Three Lutheran Churches merged into the( Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917 and three other Lutheran Churches into the United Lutheran Church the following year; The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Episcopal Church joined the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 1920; The Evangelical Association reunited with the United Evangelicals to form the Evangelical Church in 1922; the Reformed Church in the U.S. and the Hungarian Reformed Church in America united in 1924; the Congregational Church united with the Evangelical Protestant in 1924 and with the Christian Church in 1931. Three separate Lutheran Synods joined to form the American Lutheran Church in 1931. The Reformed Church in the U.S. and the Evangelical Synod of North America united in the Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1934. The Methodist Episcopal, the Methodist Episcopal South, and the Methodist Protestant united in 1939 to form the Methodist Church. And the Northern and Southern Baptists recently met together to explore the possibilities of reuniting their two communions that separated in 1845. At present union is being considered between the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren and between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern). To sum up, it can be said without danger of contradiction that more progress has been made toward the union of the Protestant Churches in the world in the forty-three years of the present century than in the previous four hundred.

Before closing this very sketchy account of the movement toward Church unity, we must pay tribute to a few men whose influence has been of untold value in its accomplishment. It is a happy coincidence that the first on our list is an American layman who has given his life to the promotion of deeper understanding and cooperation among all Christians, namely, Dr. John R. Mott, for many years head of the International Y.M.C.A. and one of the founders of the World Student Christian Federation. To the names of our own Bishop Brent and Peter Ainslie whom we have already mentioned, we must add the names of a Presbyterian, Dr. William Adams Brown, and a Congregationalism Dr. J. H. Oldham, Secretary of the International Missionary Council and Editor of the Christian News-Letter. God grant that more men of vision will arise in our own Church and indeed in all the churches in the days ahead.



These two questions are so closely related that they may best be answered together. In the first place, the two churches occupy the position of being the mediating churches between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy on the one hand and Protestantism in all its separatism and freedom on the other hand. Both churches hold a "high" view of the Church as a Divine Institution and of the sacred and representative function of the ministry in the Church. We can indicate the mediating position of the two churches by three contrasts:

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches are both hierarchical churches in which the power to save or not to save souls rests with the Priest in the sense that apart from priestly functioning salvation is uncertain. Both agree that salvation is found only within the Church. The Protestant denominations in general dispense with the hierarchy, emphasize lay participation and assert that salvation depends, upon the belief and action of the individual, irrespective of whether he is within or without any particular church. The Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches have maintained the hierarchical form of government, but have so checked it by lay participation as to prevent serious corruption or abuse of power by the clergy. The two churches teach certain things as necessary to salvation, but do not limit salvation to members df their own communions.

The worship of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is marked by a liturgy and elaborate ceremonial conducted by the Priest, while the worship of the Protestant Churches is usually marked by a simplicity and freedom of spirit, designed to appreciate the movement of the Holy Spirit not only through the Priesthood, but through the laity. The Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches again are "mediating churches" in that they both believe in the Church as a divine institution and emphasize the importance of continuity and the maintenance of church order.

The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches list seven sacraments as necessary to salvation, while the Protestant Churches vary from the Methodist Church which teaches two to the Society of Friends which allows none. The Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches both give a high place to the two great sacraments. Each teaches that only two sacraments are necessary for salvation. The Episcopal Church, further, either provides for or permits five other rites, commonly called sacraments, which are not "generally necessary" to salvation in the sense that everyone must receive them. Moreover, the Episcopal Church traditionally allows considerable latitude in the interpretation of these rites, some view them as sacraments, in Catholic fashion, and others simply as ordinances in Protestant or Reformed fashion.

Furthermore, The Alliance of the Reformed Churches Throughout the World Holding the Presbyterian System comprises the largest Protestant group in the world and our Church when viewed as part of the whole Anglican Communion is one of the larger Protestant denominations. Should the union of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. be realized, it would preface the way for a possible union of the Presbyterian Communion and the Anglican Communion all over the world. This would mean the birth of a new Church, probably greater in size, and we believe, in quality than any non-Roman Church that the world has ever known. And may we not believe that this new Protestant Church would gradually be, joined by the other Protestant communions and eventually result in a United Protestantism?

To achieve such a union it is obviously necessary to make a beginning at a particular point. The similarity of theological viewpoint of the two churches as well as their similar concept of the Church would seem to indicate that the point at which a successful start may best be made is through their union. At the same time this would not in any way interfere with a union of other Presbyterian Churches in this, country—or of the Episcopal Church with any other non-Roman communions.


The answer to this question is most emphatically, No, it will not so interfere. This is true because the proposed union will only be effected on the basis of the acceptance of the Lambeth Quadrilateral by the Presbyterian Church so that the essential catholic position of our Church will be preserved. Therefore our fundamental theological position will be the same in the event of an approach to all other communions, either Catholic or Protestant, but we shall have broadened the scope of our activity, strengthened our spiritual and material resources, and make stronger and more effective our witness to the Christian Faith.


Each Church would bring the best of its life and worship to the United Church so that the new Church would be a greatly enriched Church. Our Church would contribute that book which next to; the Bible is the greatest religious book in the world, namely, the Book of Common Prayer, as well as the historic episcopate. At the same time, the Presbyterians would contribute the ruling Eldership symbolizing deeper lay participation in the life of the Church, and the power in preaching and in life that comes from greater emphasis upon and knowledge of the Bible than is characterized in our Episcopal nurture. Of course, it would mean also the uniting of our work in such fields as religious education, social service, in community, state, and nation. The Presbyterian chaplains with the Armed Forces would be able to administer Communion to Episcopalians and Episcopal chaplains to Presbyterians. Missions at home and abroad would be combined. In small communities where there are now two churches with poorly paid ministers, there would be one with a minister paid a living salary, who would minister to the members of both churches.


There would be no immediate change in the life and worship of the local parishes. The services would be continued as in the past. No Episcopal Church would have to give up the Prayer Book, sit during prayers, use grape juice at communion, or adopt any other Presbyterian usages; nor would any Presbyterian Church be compelled to adopt the Book of Common Prayer, kneel, or employ any other specifically Episcopal practices for its worship. Confirmation would continue in each church as in the past. However, wherever a Presbyterian parish wished to have Confirmation by a Bishop, as in our Church, it would be able to do so. In other words, the two churches would gradually grow together.

This is as it should be, for people cannot be regimented in worship and practice today any more easily than in the days of Peter and Paul's disagreement about the necessity of the practice of circumcision. Our vision is of unity of work and worship and not uniformity of belief and practice.

Thus the united Church would be an enriched Church, and because of that would be a more effective instrument for God's will. It would hasten the healing of the divisions of Protestantism and lead to the eventual establishment of a United Protestant Church which is a necessary step toward the reunion of all Christendom.

The path toward unity is not smooth because we are dealing with prejudices of long standing, deep-rooted beliefs, strong sentiments and man's fundamental dislike of change, particularly in the realm of religious beliefs.

It is inevitable that there should be some opposition in each Church to the union, and it is only fair to mention it, although to discuss it with any adequacy would necessitate another pamphlet. The opposition comes from the fundamentalist Protestants in the Presbyterian Church who believe that the Bible is literally inspired and who recognize that this is not the view taught by the Episcopal Church. The opposition in our Church comes from the fundamentalist Catholics who believe that the Episcopal Church is endowed through the tactual apostolic succession with an essential quality which the Presbyterians lack. It is seldom that two organizations of considerable size can merge without leaving a small remnant of irreconcilables who cannot see their way to agreeing with the majority. It is hard to believe, however, that such difficulties as the opponents of the proposed union set forth can be insuperable barriers to the grace of God. What we need at the present time is a faith than can conquer fear and enable both Churches to move into the future on the basis of mutual trust and confidence in the power of God to blend our united efforts into a far greater witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ than most of us have believed possible.


This matter is relevant to the life of every single Episcopalian and every single Presbyterian. The two churches cannot be united effectively simply by their leaders no matter how large their vision. Union can be achieved only if the leadership of the churches have the confidence and backing of the vast majority of the members. In the ecclesiastical sphere we clergy are far more conservative than the laymen. Not infrequently matters that are of small moment appear to us inordinately important. In all honesty, we who are the clergy must confess that we cannot see the forest for the trees. Therefore, it is extremely important that the laymen and women of our churches think seriously about this proposed union. Released from the intricacies of theological discussion, laymen more frequently are able to view the forest as a whole and to challenge us with their vision of the United Church. We Episcopalians are particularly given to talking extensively about unity, but it is a sad fact that as yet we have not been able to unite with anyone. Therefore it is to be earnestly hoped that we do all we can to see to it that out Church officially strives to practice unity not only with its lips, but in its life.

In closing, let us recall the exhortation of the distinguished missionary, E. Stanley Jones: "Christians of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose except our dividing walls. The truth of each will then belong to the whole."

Project Canterbury