The question of the reunion of the divided Church is very much in the forefront of theological thought in Great Britain at the present time. Events such as those connected with the Church of South India have forced this question from the sphere of speculative debate into that of practical politics, and “talks” are being carried on between representatives of the Church of England (Episcopalian), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and Methodist Church.
¶ A vexed aspect of the question is that of episcopacy and orders. In the June number of the Scottish Journal of Theology Professor J. M. Barkley of Belfast, contributing an article on “The Meaning of Ordination,” remarks that it is noteworthy that the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1563) and the “Bishops’ Book” (1537) and “King’s Book” (1543) of the Anglican Reformation “all declare the ‘presbyterate’ to be the highest order of the ministry,” and he maintains that it is only since 1662 that a distinction has been made in the Church of England between bishops and presbyters as separate orders. He rightly declares that today, as always, the Reformed Church must “submit herself to the leading and criticism of the Word of God.”
Professor Barkley stresses significantly that ordination in the New Testament is by prayer with the laying on of hands —prayer having the priority: “Owing to the doctrine of ‘lineal’ succession the laying on of hands with prayer was emphasized rather than prayer with the laying on of hands.” He further urges that, according to the New Testament, “the Ministry of Christ is the only ‘essential ministry’ in the Church, and all other ministries are derived from and dependent upon Him,” and that it is “the call of Christ and the gift of His Spirit” that alone validate any ministry. It is evident that the author has in mind the Anglo-Catholic teaching that episcopacy is the “essential” or “apostolic” ministry on which all other ministries depend.
Canon S. L. Greenslade of Durham, in an article entitled “Ordo” in the same issue, agrees that the Church “must be faithful to biblical principles” and emphasizes that “the ministry and priesthood of Christ is continued ;md shared by the whole Church, and not limited to an ordained ministry within it.” But he asks a number of questions without offering any answer to them, particularly in connection with the office of bishop: is episcopacy necessary to the being of the Church? are bishops successors of the Apostles? do they exercise functions which are withheld from or impossible for other ministerial orders? is it open to the Church to sanction ordination by presbyters? Many will feel that Professor Barkley’s article goes some way towards answering such questions.
¶ The Editor of The Modern Churchman states (in the March issue) that it is his conviction that “the Bishops of the Church of England … should take the first step on their side in the achievement of the much to be desired reunion” by declaring that all communicants of the Free Churches “are most welcome to communicate at the Lord’s Table in the National Church.” This is undoubtedly a practical and realistic proposal which would have the support of Evangelicals in the Church of England. There will be doubts, however, about the practicability of the further suggestion that the leading denominations of the Free Churches “should re-enter the National Church as Christian Corporations retaining their property, their buildings, their ministries and their organizations and powers of self-government.”
¶ Even the satisfaction of the lust for a united world Church would not solve the problems that distress us in this existence. As St. Paul foresaw, there will always be enemies within the Church as well as from without (Acts 20:29f.). The extremes of massive organization on a comprehensive scale and of the separatism of small independent and undenominational communities both imply perfectionism, whereas perfection will only be hereafter when the Church is exalted to her glorified state. We are inclined to agree with the anonymous reviewer of Professor Norman Sykes’s recent book Old Priest and New Presbyter who wrote in The Listener of July 19: “in England again now let inter-communion be consented to all round, and the impure ambition to re-unite will be sufficiently attained” (though we would have preferred the adjective “misguided” to “impure”).
Preaching to a congregation of Methodists in Durham Cathedral on June 30, the Archbishop of York, Dr. A. M. Ramsey, said: “My own dream is that one day the Methodists will by means of bishops be linked with the Church of England while retaining their own customs and methods, as a society.” A bishop, he explained, “is a bond of unity and continuity, a symbol of a Catholic Church coming down from the past and spanning the generations.” The editorial comment of the Church of England Newspaper of July 20 is apposite: “It is precisely those churches which have bishops in the ‘apostolic succession’ which find it almost impossible to speak to one another.” When bishops cease to regard themselves as apostolical prelates and are no longer appointed as administrative geniuses, but take their place with St. Peter as “fellow-presbyters” (I Pet. 5: 1), then the Archbishop’s dream will be nearer realization.
Archdeacon W. P. Hares, in an article on “St. Peter and Papal Claims” in the June number of The Churchman, writes: “The Bishop of Rome claims jurisdiction over the whole of Christendom because he is the successor of Peter. But from the Scriptures and the writings of the Early Fathers it is quite clear that Peter never claimed jurisdiction over anyone!” The arguments he adduces against the papal claims are not new, but they are none the less valid.
¶ A responsive echo will be evoked in many a heart by the protest made in the August issue of Theology by the well-known Anglo-Catholic theologian Dr. E. L. Mascall, of Oxford, against “the extreme verbosity which has come to characterize the writings of many modern theologians.” He draws attention in particular to the volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics which are still being translated into English and which he computes will reach at least a million words in length. In his opinion Barth’s work “would have lost nothing in content and would have gained much in clarity if he had written at one third of the length.” Is Dr. Mascall familiar with the Puritan divines of the seventeenth century, we wonder? They were prolific enough, but at least they were comprehensible! And what about the voluminousness of Thomas Aquinas, to whom Dr. Mascall is much addicted? Karl Barth is unlikely to outdo him! “Of making many books there is no end…”
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, B.D., M.A., is former secretary, Church Society (Church of England) and former vice-president, Tyndale Hall.
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