An Episcopal Ecclesiology of Apostolicity: Covenanted Charity and Unifying Generosity in the Writings of Thomas Bray and William Reed Huntington

Article excerpt

Given the ongoing interest in Christian unity, it may be useful to review some of the ecclesiological reflections found within Anglican and Episcopal theology, particularly in light of the historic Lutheran-- Episcopal document Called to Common Mission. Two theologians from the Episcopal tradition spent a good deal of time reflecting upon the nature of our ecclesiastical institutions and their apostolic nature. Perhaps a consideration of their work may give us an appreciation for the historic evolution of their ideas within the life of our church.

Among the theological reflections on Anglican and specifically Episcopal ecclesiology over the last three hundred years, one may find the writings of Thomas Bray and William Reed Huntington to be instructive, if not even characteristic of this Communion. Bray was an Englishman who straddled the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and whose writings tell us much about the colonial context of the Church of England.' Huntington was an American priest who straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and wrote for and about the Episcopal Church in the context of a radically changing, industrializing America. Nevertheless, one may see some links between their writings that are, if not obvious, then at least implied. While Bray writes at length about the notion of covenant and Huntington about unity, they both find warrants for these in particular notions of apostolicity. A comparison and analysis of apostolicity in the writings of these authors within the next several pages should help to manifest certain ecclesiological links between them. This text will move from a consideration of the Catechetical Lectures, to the Church-Idea (each section including references to ancillary, primary texts), to some concluding remarks.

Apostolicity in Thomas Bray's Writings: Covenanted Charity

Thomas Brays Catechetical Lectures draw deeply upon a covenant theology. With the Puritan movement of his day, Bray bases his reflections upon the mystery of election, a belief that God chooses whomever God wants for salvation and that the quality of a person's choices in response to this offer (via faith and repentance) will result in his or her eventual salvation.2 However, Bray develops this theology of election in a specifically ecclesiological manner. He posits that while God's offer of salvation and the human response to it are the heart of Christian soteriology, God has actually given an historical assurance of salvation through the ministry of the apostolic church. This is the promise or covenant of God, that the church would be the means for carrying on the work of Christ and his apostles through the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments.3 The historic episcopate carries on this work through historic links in apostolic succession. In Bray's view, this kind of apostolicity is a key element of God's covenant in salvation history.4 While God may hear the prayers of those beyond the apostolic ministry, such a hearing would fall to God's "uncovenanted mercies."5 The picture one gets from this discussion is that a structure has been historically instituted to offer Christ's salvation to the world, and persons who accept that ministry are to be fairly confident of God's mercies. A God concerned with structure and institution would appear most reasonable and attractive to an Enlightenment audience.6

The attraction of ideological reasonability and social order to an English-speaking audience at the beginning of the eighteenth century cannot be underestimated. One must remember that Bray grew up in the context of the Restoration. His religious and civil life was marked by a widespread desire to put an end to the social polarization to which Laudian and Puritan ecclesiologies contributed.7 Tolerance, order, and reason were the values sown in the Restoration and they flowered in the Enlightenment. These values were manifested in political, philosophical, and theological discourse. …