Gleaning - The Growth of Prelacy
[Hat tip to a 2011 article by Robin Jordan]
A disturbing trend in Anglicanism is the emergence of prelacy as the established form of episcopacy. The principal support for prelatical episcopacy comes from the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism. Anglo-Catholics hold that bishops are indispensable to the Church. They believe that God has vested bishops with supreme authority over the Church as the successors to the apostles.
That belief has no real basis in Scripture. The English Reformers found no warrant for any particular order or form of ecclesiastical polity in the Bible. They rejected the exclusive claim of both episcopalians and presbyterians and recognized episcopacy not as of divine right but as merely an ancient and allowable form of polity. If they were here today, they would say that just as episcopacy has come to be associated with Anglicanism, a presbyterial form of governance would not have been incompatible given different historical circumstances.
The singularity of Anglican identity is not fixed to its form of governance but rather to its form of worship. While we acknowledge the Ordinal as one of our Anglican "Formularies" and desire to maintain its tradition, it is not an essential or fixed formulary like the liturgies of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion.
A number of factors contribute to the emergence of prelacy as the established form of episcopacy in today's Anglicanism:
- We live in a time of uncertainty and in such times people turn to more authoritative forms of leadership. Authority is apt to become confused with infallibility.
- The departure of conservative Anglicans from the extremes of liberalism has removed a major obstacle to Anglo-Catholic aspirations that promote Catholic faith, order, and practice. By “Catholic” they do not mean the reformed catholicism of historic Anglicanism. They seek to move Anglicanism closer to the so-called apostolic churches—the Independent Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Churches. These churches are prelatical in their form of ecclesiastical governance as well as unreformed in their doctrine and practice.
- Concepts of leadership and management imported from the business world have influenced the thinking of Anglican churches and have increased their receptivity to authoritative leadership, especially at the provincial and diocesan levels.
- The attribution of explosive growth in African provinces to its forms of authoritative leadership. What is promoted as an African style of leadership is upon closer examination an errant interpretation of a leadership style that owes very little to Africa and a great deal to corporatism and the Roman Catholic Church. African Anglicans have incorporated more safeguards, checks, balances, and accountability mechanisms than have other Anglican churches that seek to imitate them.
- The laity has been made the scapegoat for the ascendancy of liberalism. Those who promote prelacy in the Anglican churches mistrust the laity and have an irrational fear of representative legislative assemblies.
In the minds of many of today's Anglicans, episcopacy is synonymous with prelacy. It points to the strong influence of Anglo-Catholicism, but this thinking is incompatible with the views of Reformed Anglicans.