The Proposed Reunion of Anglicanism and Congregationalism.

1889 307 On April 10th, 1889, a letter at the request of the bishops was addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Dr. Falding, the chairman of the Congregational Union, with a copy of an Encyclical Letter issued by the Conference at Lambeth. The Resolution referred to is an expression of their readiness to enter into brotherly conference with the representatives of other christian communions in the English-speaking races, in order to consider what steps can be taken toward corporate reunion, or toward preparing the way for it. The basis suggested consists of the Scriptures, the two shorter Creeds, the two Sacraments, and the "Historic Episcopate."

The reply of the English and Welsh Congregational Union, adopted at Hull on October 1st, reciprocates the goodwill of the Anglican Conference, and thanks the Archbishop for his official communication. There is the usual hailing of an increased spirit of catholicity, the usual deprecation of ecclesiastical divisions. An arrangement for meetings for worship and service from both sides is suggested as a seemly preparation for the larger question raised. The limitation of the proposed conference to questions of ecclesiastical incorporation, they feel, presents difficulty to them as believing that unity in diversity is nearer the Lord's mind than any incorporation now practicable. The Historic Episcopate they declare to be an insuperable obstacle, though maintaining that in a sense it is fully realised in their midst and by their churches. "Our pastors are bishops, and we strenuously affirm and teach that their 'Episcopate' is at once primitive and historical." … "This office our pastors hold by divine authority, and through divine appointment, their institution being of Christ, Who acts through the voice and election of the churches, whose one and common Head He is." Viewing the last point proposed by the bishops to be a surrender of their settled conviction as to what to them is of the essence of the church, they are compelled to decline a conference on that basis. Yet they cherish the hope that the Letter may be the beginning of happier relations. But with singular ignorance of the truth they "pray that 'the spirit of power and love and a sound mind' may be so bestowed on the members of the several christian churches of our land, that by one Spirit we may all be baptised into one body," etc. Now if not baptised already by one Spirit, there is no such thing as the church, the one body of Christ. It is a relationship already formed.

Thus the correspondence clearly enough shows where our brethren are. On neither side is there real intelligence of the church; still less is there any right estimate of our deplorable departure from that truth in practice. It is beyond measure sanguine to hope that Episcopalians and Congregationalists can join in an organic body. Even Presbyterians would find it all but impossible conscientiously to allow diocesan superiority over presbyters. Nor could there be honest union between those who believe authority comes from the Lord through apostles, and those who accept it through "the voice and election of the churches" — a principle wholly unknown to Scripture, save for those charged with the administration of temporal means. Not that the Anglicans have solid ground in fact, though their theory is nearer Scripture. For, as the church outwardly was falling to ruin, God took care not to perpetuate His sanction. His grace continued all that was vital and edifying; but He made no provision for the future maintenance of authority to ordain. Titus or others might ordain by the apostle's direction in a given sphere and at a given time; but there was no hint of an abiding successional authority. As the Episcopalians therefore have nothing but an unscriptural assumption in their "orders," the dissenters are still farther off; for they set up an anti-scriptural source in popular election., which never applies to ministry in the word.

The truth is that we are in a fallen and low condition; which only few see, and still fewer feel aright. This is the first want today, to search God's word and learn from Him how far we are in every way from the mind and heart of Christ. Dr. Conder referred to such men as Bishop Lightfoot and Vice-Principal Hatch, to whom he might have added Dr. Jacob, etc., conceding the whole contention as to the primitive churches and ministry. But the dissenters vainly seek to escape by refusing to own that the apostolic constitution of the church is the only legitimate model.

Nor is it in detail only that the discord is complete. Neither the established party nor the non-conformists seem to see that what Christ set up by the Holy Spirit was one body everywhere; meeting perhaps in a hundred localities throughout even a city no larger than Jerusalem, but all designated as the church there; meeting in hundreds or thousands of places in other lands and in other tongues, but all alike members of one and the same body. Churches there were in different towns and of different districts; yet not so as in our day, and for many sad years, where a member of one is for this reason not of another; but a member of God's church where he lived, and therefore a member of His church wherever he moved. The saints in Rome, in Jerusalem, in Corinth, in Antioch, and everywhere else, composed the church of God on earth.

It is well that some of the best informed men in the Anglican body own frankly how sad and deep is the change from apostolic order, the only one contemplated, as it was formed, by the Holy Spirit. Alas! the non-conformists cannot more distinctly condemn themselves than by denying the obligation of all to judge themselves by that only divine standard ecclesiastically as well as dogmatically. To depart from it is what the apostle in Titus 3 denounces as (not heterodoxy, but) heresy, which in the Epistles is always treated as sin. If some get rid of the sense of failure by the unbelieving denial of the standard God has given us, what can one think of others who own the wrong and yet go on with it as if right? The fact is that the glory of Christ is concerned in the highest degree; and is nothing due to the Spirit He has sent from heaven to guide the church across the desert to her heavenly Bridegroom and home? Further, a vast deal of N.T. Scripture, which it is our especial responsibility to receive, enjoy, and walk in, becomes misunderstood and unheeded, because a false position renders it practically inapplicable.

And what is the true remedy? To humble ourselves before God in the sense of common ruin, and so much the more, because we know that the coming of the Lord draws nigh; to cease to do evil, as far as we discern it in our conscience by His word; and by the same word to learn to do well, each in the measure of grace given and in the place the Lord deigns to use him, without pretending to more: a lowly position in good sooth, but how graciously provided of God for the present anomalous condition of the saints scattered once more, instead of gathered together in one as the fruit of Christ's death.