As a church with history and traditions, we are regularly bumping up against that which we have received from those who have gone before us. This is an attempt to dive into one such article (and perhaps to do so again on other topics in the future).
Today, we in the Episcopal Church recall the life and ministry of Fr. William Reed Huntington. Setting aside his many other contributions, Fr. Huntington in his work, The Church Idea, laid the foundation of what would eventually become the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (and which may be found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer on pages 876-878).
According to Lambeth Resolution II of 1888, the four “Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards Home Reunion.” Unity. Ecumenical dialogue. That we all might be one. This is what Fr. Huntington and many others sought in this endeavor.
Today unity feels like an elusive concept in the light of tumultuous times in everything from national politics and worldwide violence to relations within our own Communion. In some cases humility and gracious restraint appear to be in short supply, while in others the ability or even the desire to stand for truth and principle seems to be wavering.
We are ever in need of both categories. And so, I find myself pondering, not the final statement of 1888 but, the resolution from the U.S. House of Bishops in 1886. The whole resolution, the preface offered along with the four articles, strikes a weighty balance of humility and truth, of grace and substance, of compassion and principle, all for the sake of Christian unity which makes it, I believe, truly worthy of a fresh look.
Adopted by the House of Bishops
We, Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Council assembled as Bishops in the Church of God, do hereby solemnly declare to all whom it may concern, and especially to our fellow-Christians of the different Communions in this land, who, in their several spheres, have contended for the religion of Christ:
- Our earnest desire that the Savior’s prayer, “That we all may be one,” may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;
- That we believe that all who have been duly baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.
- That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;
- That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.
But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity . . .can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.
As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:
- The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
- The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
- The two Sacraments,–Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,–ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
- The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
Furthermore, Deeply grieved by the sad divisions which affect the Christian Church in our own land, we hereby declare our desire and readiness, so soon as there shall be any authorized response to this Declaration, to enter into brotherly conference with all or any Christian Bodies seeking the restoration of the organic unity of the Church, with a view to the earnest study of the conditions under which so priceless a blessing might happily be brought to pass.
Image from St. Peter’s Anglican Church