Wednesday, November 27, 2013


by Gerald Bray
November 2013


'It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's church; bishops, priests and deacons.' Thus begins the preface to the ordinal of the Church of England, which still remains one of its fundamental formularies and thus, by extension, one of the defining documents of the Anglican Communion.

When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote those words in 1549, he was not being particularly controversial. It is true that some protestant churches in Germany and Switzerland had abandoned the historic episcopate, but this had as much to do with the peculiar nature of bishops in the Holy Roman Empire as it did with underlying ecclesiological principles. In Geneva for example, the city had been governed by its bishop, and no reformation of any kind would have been possible there unless and until he were removed. Feelings against episcopacy were largely political, and only later did they acquire theological justification. John Calvin was not against episcopacy in England, and is said to have recommended it as the best form of church government for Poland.

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