Explaining the Episcopate

Glenn Davies

Last fortnight's developments in the TEC convention delayed my response to those who queried the reference to the 'historic episcopate' in the Fundamental Declarations of the ACNA. I would first like to thank David Palmer for his warning at the beginning of last month's blog and for his salient conclusion to the dozen blog entries. However, I think that that there must be a fairly narrow audience of one or two others who participate in these blogs, namely Mr Jordan (by a mile) and Mr Dungey. I often wonder at the value of these blogs, as I am not personally inclined to be sitting on my computer all day revealing my responses to the latest entry.

Nonetheless, perhaps some response is needed.  I tabled the Fundamental Declarations of the ACNA so that readers could be well informed as to what the new province stood for. I recognise that 'orthopraxis' must always accompany 'orthodoxy' (both of which must spring from 'orthokardia') to ensure that faith and obedience hang together. However, I have no intimate knowledge of the practices of North American Anglicans and therefore began with their statements of belief.

The main sticking point seems to be article 3.

3. We confess the godly historic Episcopate as an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.

My own research of the term 'historic episcopate' reveals that the term has an elastic meaning conveying many interpretations. It can refer to the monarchical episcopate of the ancient and medieval church, with all the distinctive developments of those times. However, it can also refer to the 'historical' order of bishops in the New Testament church (Philippians 1:1). Since the ACNA claims it is 'part of the apostolic faith and practice', then this use of the term 'historic episcopate' must have had its origins in the New Testament. One can only assume that the 'episcope' to which they refer is that which is actually mentioned in the New Testament, as for example in 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:7 and Acts 20:28. Of course the episcopate evolved during the three centuries following the apostolic church, where bishops more readily reflected the ministries of Timothy and Titus, than the average presbyter/episkopos. However, its roots and history are clearly in the New Testament. It is therefore not at all surprising that one of the readings for the consecration of a bishop in the Ordinal of 1662 must be from either 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Acts 20:17-35.

I do not think that it can be proved from Scripture that what emerged in the medieval church in terms of the 'historic episcopate' satisfies Article VI of the 39 Articles:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Only that historical ministry of bishops (episkopoi), practised and taught by the apostles, can be proved by Scripture and thus be in the words of ACNA, 'an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.'