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Has the General Convention power to change, or

to set aside, the Apostolic Threefold Ministry

of the Holy Catholic Church?


If these "Basic Principles" were accepted what

would the Episcopal Church then be?


Sermon preached by



in the


on Sunday, September 12, 1943


Additional copies may be obtained from
Synod House, Cathedral Heights
New York City

"But continue thou in the things thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them."

11 Timothy III, 14.

The Episcopal Church is facing at this time a most grave and serious situation. In the midst of the present World Tragedy and Crisis, when the whole thought and strength of the Church

ought to be centered upon its spiritual work and ministrations, an issue is being forced upon us which is creating division and disunity in the Church, and is bringing distress, apprehension, and dismay to great numbers of our faithful clergy and people.

I refer to the Proposals termed "Basic Principles" now presented by our Commission on Approaches to Unity, to merge the Episcopal Church with one of the several Presbyterian Churches in the United States. These Proposals are strongly opposed by many in the Presbyterian Church who recognize their artificiality and unreality, and in our own Church they cannot possibly be accepted by any who wholeheartedly believe the principles and teachings of the Church as set forth in our Prayer Book. I yield to no one in respect and esteem for our brethren of the Presbyterian Church. I honour them truly for their forthrightness and for their loyalty to their convictions, and; I know that many of them realize that if organic union is to be achieved between the two Churches it will have to rest upon agreements far more real, and more forthrightly stated, than those now suggested by our Commission on Approaches to Unity.

With this situation before us, I speak with deep sense of responsibility as a Bishop of the Church, I speak in behalf of the peace and unity of our own Church, and I speak also in behalf of the cause of Christian Reunion, for these Proposals as now presented are not unifying Proposals, they are divisive and disruptive Proposals, as the present situation all too fully shows. [3/4] It is to be noted that our Commission on Approaches to Unity is itself not united as to these Proposals; some of the members of the Commission are presenting a Minority Report which takes grave issue with the Proposals of the Majority Report. I commend this Minority Report to your careful attention.

Our Lord and His Apostles founded the Church, and the Ministry of the Church has come down to us in the Threefold Order of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

The Episcopal Church holds this belief as to the Ministry of the Church in common with, all the historic Catholic Churches of the World both of the East and of the West, in common with the whole Anglican Communion throughout the World, in common, that is, with three-fourths of all the Christians in the World at this time. No one with regard for history can doubt that this has. been the belief of the Holy Catholic Church from Apostolic days, and no one who understands the official formularies of the Church can doubt that this is what the Episcopal Church holds and teaches as to the Ministry. It should be unnecessary to say that this belief as to the Apostolic Threefold Ministry is not the mere opinion of some group or party in the Church, it is not "high church" or "low church", it is the doctrine and teaching of the Church itself as set forth in all her official formularies, and shown by her unvarying practise. In clear and solemn words, the Prayer Book declares that "from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."

But the Proposals now offered by our Commission on Approaches to Unity cannot by any possibility be reconciled, with the Faith and Order of the Holy Catholic Church as this has come to us "from the Apostles' time" and is declared and given to us in our Prayer Book. These proposed "Basic Principles" are [4/5] contrary to, and destructive of, the principles and teachings of the Prayer Book as to the Apostolic Ministry.

These "Basic Principles" are expressed in ambiguous language. The Report uses words in a way which will mean one thing to Episcopalians and a different thing to Presbyterians. The words Bishop and, Priest are used, but a careful study of the Report shows that the Apostolic Threefold Ministry is in fact abandoned and set aside.

The whole Report is based upon the declaration that the Presbyterian Church "is willing to accept the Historic Episcopate while not prepared to accept a particular doctrine concerning it," and we are told by members of our Commission that in view of the terms of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and of the willingness of the Presbyterians to accept "the Historic Episcopate", we are now bound in honor to unite with the Presbyterian Church. But a study of the Report and of the "Basic Principles" shows that the Presbyterian Commission has by no means expressed its willingness to accept "the Historic Episcopate". The "Historic Episcopate" means, and has always meant, the Episcopate in succession from the Apostles and in relation with the other two orders of the Apostolic Ministry, the Order of Priests and the Order of Deacons. This is the only meaning that "the Historic Episcopate" can possibly have. This is the meaning that these words have, and have always had, in the Lambeth Quadrilateral. But the proposed "Basic Principles" show quite clearly that the Presbyterians have not accepted this.

In the proposed "Basic Principles" the office and work of a Bishop is to be no more than that of a Superintendent or Presiding Elder. The Episcopate is no longer to exist as an order of the Ministry distinct from the Presbyterate but is to be equated with, and merged into, the Presbyterate. The local Presbytery [5/6] is to exercise exactly the same spiritual duties and powers that the Bishop exercises, including the power to Ordain Ministers and to Confirm. Can anyone say, with truth, that this is "the Historic Episcopate?" This is not "accepting" the Historic Episcopate; this is abandoning the Historic Episcopate. In the official covering letter sent out from the office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to the constituent Presbyteries with these "Basic Principles" it was stated truly, and quite honestly, that "the office of Bishop as herein set forth is Presbyterian in its conception".

As to the second Order of the Ministry, the Priesthood, these "Basic Principles" are equally far from acceptance of the Apostolic Threefold Ministry. The word Priest is used,. but not in the natural and historic meaning of the word, the meaning which it has had always in the Holy Catholic Church and which it has in our Prayer Book. There is no assurance that "Episcopal Ordination" is to be necessary for the Minister who celebrates the Holy Communion. The Report gives the Presbyterians the impression that in the Second Ordination Sentence in the Prayer Book the word Priest has a meaning different from that which it has in the First Ordination Sentence, a gravely misleading suggestion, for there are not two grades of Priests in the Episcopal Church. The word Priest in the Second Ordination Sentence has exactly the same meaning that it has in the First Ordination Sentence and everywhere else in the Prayer Book.

In these proposed "Basic Principles" Confirmation ceases to be a Rite coming to us with Scriptural and Apostolic Authority. Its use is to be made optional, which means that it is to be of no importance, and when used; it is to be administered either by a Bishop or by a "duly authorized" Presbyter. As the Minority Report says "It is a serious matter to trespass upon the Holy Scriptures and to break with nineteen centuries of Christian precedent by separating the Rite of Confirmation from Episcopal [6/7] administration but in this case the Rite itself is further emasculated by allowing the laying on of hands to be purely optional .. . The name Confirmation is retained in the Basic Principles but

As to the third order of the Apostolic Ministry, the Order of the Diaconate, these "Basic Principles" frankly propose that it shall disappear entirely and, shall be merged with the Presbyterian "Licentiate". The Licentiate in the Presbyterian Church is not an ordained minister at all but corresponds to our "Lay Reader". One member of the Commission on Approaches to Unity, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Michigan, in hic published defence of these "Basic Principles", says definitely that the question for us to consider "is whether the Diaconate, as we have it, is inherently worth preserving"--but the Prayer Book teaching is that "from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church Bishops, Priests, and Deacons".

As we study these proposed "Basic Principles" we may well ask,

First--Has the General Convention power to change, or to set aside, the Apostolic Threefold Ministry of the Holy Catholic Church?

Second--If these "Basic Principles" were accepted what would the Episcopal Church then be?

I hope that every Deputy to the Convention will consider these two questions.

The answer to the first question is that the General Convention has no such power. The General Convention cannot change the Apostolic Threefold Ministry any more than it can [7/8] change the Scriptures, the Creed, or the Sacraments. Over all four of these great Divinely-given Agencies of the Church, and over all of them equally, there is written a "Once for all". The Scriptures, the Creed, the Sacraments, and the Threefold Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, all stand on the same basis and all come to us with equal authority. The New Testament Scriptures, the Creed, and the Episcopate were all equally brought forth under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the Episcopate was developed and established earlier than either the Canon of Scripture, or the fully formulated Creed. The view held by some today that modern scholarship has weakened the grounds for belief in the Apostolic Ministry is simply incorrect and, not in accord with the facts. With the late Dr. Streeter's conjectures all before them, and having in view all that modern scholarship has said on the subject, the Committee on the Unity of the Church at the last meeting of the. Lambeth Conference, in 1930, a Committee of seventy-four Bishops, said in their official Report--"Without entering into the discussion of theories which divide scholars we see no reason to doubt the statement made in the Preface to the ordinal that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church--Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."

I repeat that neither the General Convention nor the Lambeth Conference, nor any other Body, has power to change the Faith and order of the Holy Catholic Church as this has come to us from the Apostles' time.

The answer to the second question is equally clear. If these "Basic Principles" were accepted the Episcopal Church would no longer be the same Church that it has always been. If these "Basic Principles" were accepted the Episcopal Church would no longer be the Church in which we were Baptized, Confirmed, Admitted to the Holy Communion, and Ordained to the Ministry. [8/9] If these "Basic Principles" were accepted the Episcopal Church would no longer be the Church for which Seabury and White, and our fathers in the Faith who stood; with them, made such sacrifices and endured such great trials to secure the Apostolic Ministry, and to which John Henry Hobart gave his great watchword--"Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order." These "Basic Principles" are not really a Proposal for Union between the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, they are a Proposal for the Episcopal Church to accept essentially the Presbyterian form of the Ministry, and so become a Presbyterian Church.

I do not believe that these "Basic Principles" will be accepted by our General Convention, but if they were it is certain that the cause of Christian Unity would not be helped and, that the Episcopal Church would be faced with actual crisis. I use these words advisedly. The Clergy and People of this Church still believe that the teaching of the Prayer Book is true and that the Historic Episcopate the threefold Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons comes to us from Christ and, His Apostles. They cannot, and will not, accept these "Basic Principles".

Our efforts and our prayers for Christian Reunion must continue, but these proposed "Basic Principles" should be definitely rejected, and there should be no vague and general resolution adopted; which will afterwards be taken to mean that these "Basic Principles" have been in some measure endorsed. A new Commission should be appointed as the Minority Report urges, a Commission more truly representative of the whole Church and with clearer realization of the principles of the Holy Catholic Church as given to us in the Prayer Book, and the work of the Commission should be broadened to include approaches not only to the Presbyterians but to the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Congregationalists, and all others, both Catholics and Protestants, who believe in Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.

[10] This is a time for unity in our own Church and for fellowship in spirit with all Churches. As I said to our Diocesan Convention last May, our true course, as a Church, at this time, is to

work side by side with the Presbyterian Church, and with all other Churches, and not to attempt to force measures for organic union, for which none of the Churches, our own included, are spiritually ready, and which if prematurely forced will produce not unity but disunity and disruption. Our true course is to be loyal to the teachings of our own Church, to do all that we can to strengthen the spirit of mutual appreciation and brotherly love between all Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, to cooperate with others in all good works to the fullest extent possible without compromise of conviction, and to strive especially to get rid of mere party spirit and partisan prejudice in our own Church. If we will do this we shall be helping towards the day when, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, organic union will be possible.

At this time, let us give our whole thought to the spiritual work and ministrations of the Church, and let us stand in fellowship with all Churches, and with all the Religious Forces of our land, to uphold our people in this great World Battle against Evil, Cruelty and Terror and to hasten the day of Victory for Right and Truth, that Victory which we pray shall bring true and lasting Peace, and shall open the way for this to be a better and, a more Christian World.

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