My Review of Current Religious Thought published in the July 22, 1957, issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY was devoted to a consideration of the Report on the Relations between Anglican and Presbyterian churches which was the outcome of special conversations held in Great Britain. Since then, according to announcements which have appeared from time to time in the daily press, the report has, not altogether surprisingly, met with a somewhat stormy reception in different parts of Scotland. A Reply to the joint report has now been published under the title Glasgow Speaks (by the House of Grant Ltd.; price two shillings) giving the reactions of the Presbytery of Glasgow. In his Foreword to this Reply the Rev. Dr. G. M. Dryburgh, the Convenor of Glasgow Presbytery’s Committee, states that “nothing in the Church life of Scotland for many years back has caused so much serious debate and controversy as the Joint Report on Relations between Anglican and Presbyterian churches (popularly known as the Bishops’ Report) submitted to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May, 1957.” The Glasgow Reply, which is sent out with the approval of “an overwhelming majority” of the Presbytery, is, he asys, “a sincere and serious attempt to deal with the crucial issues raised by the Joint Report.”
The first part of the Glasgow Reply is concerned with the question of Church unity and uniformity of Church order. “The distinction between unity and uniformity is slurred over,” it complains. “Throughout the Joint Report runs the surely unwarranted assumption that our Lord’s prayer for unity would be answered if his people were bound together under one visible form of Church polity. The fact is, of course, that St. John 17 is not at all concerned with Church order.… Unity is a spiritual conception, uniformity an ecclesiastical concept.” Attention is drawn to the report of last year’s Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in which the following response to “the Presbyterian desire for immediate intercommunion” has certainly done nothing to allay misgivings.
It must, however, be recognized as a fact that Anglicans conscientiously hold that the celebrant of the Eucharist should have been ordained by a bishop standing in the historic succession, and generally believe it to be their duty to bear witness to this principle by receiving Holy Communion only from those who have been thus ordained. The existence of this conviction as a view held among Anglicans clearly makes it in practice impossible to envisage the establishment of fully reciprocal intercommunion at any stage short of the adoption of episcopacy by the Churches of Presbyterian Order, and the satisfactory unification of the Presbyterian and Anglican ministries.
This leaves the way open for no other conclusion than that “real unity between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland involving effective intercommunion is, on the Anglican view, ‘impossible,’ except on the basis of episcopacy.” The Lambeth attitude, according to the Reply, indicates a “fundamental confusion between Church unity and uniformity of Church order,” and it is suggested that “both the Church of Scotland and the Church of England seek again the true nature of the Church, if they would learn to express their unity in Christ.” It is difficult, too, to see how our Presbyterian friends could have avoided drawing the further conclusion that there is, in the eyes of those who have spoken for Anglicanism, “some imperfection or invalidity in the ecclesiastical system of Presbyterianism—namely, the lack of the “historic episcopate.”
The members of the Glasgow Presbytery, however, are conscious of no such deficiency. “The Scots Reformers,” they remind us, “make perfectly clear that far from setting up a schismatic body they were proclaiming their adherence to the true doctrine of the Church Catholic, which is based on the teaching of Scripture and which had been corrupted and obscured.” Thus in the Scots Confession of Faith (1560) it is affirmed that “the notes, signs, and assured tokens” by which the true Kirk is to be discerned “are neither antiquity, usurped title, lineal descent (Latin version: a perpetual succession of bishops), place appointed, nor multitude of men approving an error.” The necessary notes are three: “first, the true preaching of the Word of God (declared in the prophets and apostles); secondly, the right administration of the Sacraments of Jesus Christ, which must be annexed to the Word and Promise of God, to seal and confirm the same in our hearts; last, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby sin is repressed and virtue nourished.” Indeed, the Glasgow Reply does not hesitate to describe insistence on the “historic episcopate” (with its implication of apostolic succession) as “a lower doctrine of the Church.”
Certainly, nothing could be more Reformed than the assertion made in the Reply that, “if Apostolic Succession is to have any worthy Christian significance, it must be interpreted not as a measure of lineal descent, marked by an external ritual sign, but in a more profound sense as a historic continuity of apostolic faith and doctrine within the Church.” The proclamation, through the enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, of “the faith delivered to the Apostles given in the Scriptures, that Jesus Christ alone is Saviour and Lord—that is the essence of any true apostolicity.” Presbyterianism is not on insecure ground in claiming that (as the Reply says), “while the word ‘bishop’ has, for historical reasons, fallen into desuetude in the Church of Scotland, the idea of episcopacy, as oversight, is not new or alien to the Presbyterian doctrine of the Church. The fact is that there is and always has been a Presbyterian episcopacy, whose origin lies in the New Testament.”
That is boldly said; but it needed to be said. Writing as an Anglican, I would suggest that it is one thing to request the Church of Scotland to consider taking episcopacy into its system, and quite another to insist that it must do so as a sine qua non, and, moreover, that it is foolish to expect Presbyterianism even to consider adopting episcopacy so long as it is cluttered up with unscriptural notions of apostolic succession. I would add that the position defined in the Glasgow Reply is one which is fully in harmony with the teaching and outlook of historic Anglicanism, and also that there are in the Church of England many hundreds of clergy, quite apart from the laity, who would wholeheartedly agree that “the only realistic solution in the case of our two churches is a frank and unequivocal recognition of each other’s ministries as valid and regular ministries of the Word and Sacraments within the Church Catholic.”
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