Episcopal Evangelical Heritage


Tom IshamReaders of this blog will be familiar with the 19th century leader of the evangelical party in the Episcopal Church, bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine, having read about him here and here. Tom Isham has a new article about McIlvaine in the latest issue of Crossway, the quarterly magazine of Church Society, arguing that he is America’s equivalent of England’s J. C. Ryle. Ryle is also familiar to our readers—too many posts about him to list here, type his name in our search box and you’ll find dozens.

More information about Crossway, including a subscription form, can be found here; the new issue also has articles on the life and ministry of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the advantages of long-term persistent expository preaching, an article on “preaching the negatives” as well as the positives, and a helpful look at the confusing subject of transgenderism, and how Christians should respond to it.


At the recent conference of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, Tom Isham brought a wonderful message from the leader of the evangelical wing of the 19th century House of Bishops (believe it or not, Evangelicals and Revisionists were pretty evenly matched in those days): no matter how few of you there may be, keep a high view of Scripture, a warm spirituality, a sound and well defined theology, an informed conscience, and the courage of your convictions. Check it out here:

Bishop McIlvaineAn evangelical layman, Tom Isham of Trinity Episcopal Church in Marshall, Michigan, is working with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to add the 19th century evangelical bishop, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, to the calendar of the Episcopal Church. The Commission is more likely to do this if there are already commemorations of McIlvaine taking place in some Episcopal Churches, and clerical readers of this blog are asked to consider using the propers below, and the brief biography, on or near March 12, the anniversary of his death.


Proverbs 4: 20-27
Psalm 119: 121-136
Romans 8: 31-39
Mark 8: 31-38


O gracious God, you kindled in your servant Charles Pettit McIlvaine a burning zeal for the salvation and sanctification of souls, and equipped him to those ends with great gifts of leadership, preaching and writing. Grant us to heed the example and teaching of this your servant Charles, that we too may have a hand in bringing to faith those whom you have called; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Biographical note:

As a man of great and varied gifts, Charles Pettit McIlvaine did many things and he did them well. Combining evangelical fervor and liturgical dignity in equal measure, he distinguished himself as a leader, author, scholar, educator, preacher, revivalist, reformer, ecumenist, and Sunday school pioneer. His literary and scholarly gifts advanced the evangelical cause in the Episcopal Church, defended Christian doctrine, and addressed social issues. He was an active delegate at the first Lambeth Conference.

Throughout his career, Bishop McIlvaine emphasized spiritual rebirth. Hence he preached at numerous revivals, conducting them in good Episcopal fashion, ‘decently and in order.’ His awakening at age seventeen matched the experience he recommended. ‘It was in the college of which I was a student,’ he recalled. ‘It was powerful and prevailing, and fruitful in the conversion of young men to God; and it was quiet, unexcited, and entirely free from all devices or means, beyond the few and simple which God has appointed… In that precious season of the power of God, my religious life began. I had heard before; I began then to know.’

Though raised in the East, McIlvaine served as Ohio’s second bishop for forty-one years. Earlier, he served churches in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, N.Y.; twice served as U.S. Senate chaplain; lectured on Christian evidences at the University of the City of New York, and served as chaplain and professor at the U.S. Military Academy, where he transformed the reigning secular ethos into one of Christian awareness, setting a new tone for the nation s officer corps.

During the first dozen years of his episcopate, he also served as president of Kenyon College and Seminary. He stabilized the college’s finances, built academic structures and faculty housing, and set the standard for racial harmony.

Early in the American Civil War, he served President Lincoln as envoy to Britain, where his wise counsel and diplomatic bearing assured the British would not ally themselves with the Confederacy. Later, he brought the Gospel to soldiers in the field, tended the wounded, and sought reconciliation between victors and vanquished.

It will be important to report any commemorations held to the SCLM; any reports added to this post as a comment will be forwarded to them, or you can e-mail Tom directly at ishamthomas [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Puritan RecordTomorrow is commencement at Harvard. Their commencement hymn, which I believe they still sing, assumes those who have studied there have ‘deepen’d the streams/That make glad the fair city of God’, and prays ‘Let not moss-covered error moor thee at its side/ As the world on truth’s current glides by’, and urges the graduates to ‘Be the herald of light, and the bearer of love,/Till the stock of the Puritans die.’

No doubt many of the graduates hold fast to the biblical principles which guided those who founded the school, but they didn’t learn them there, and nor did anyone who came there without having learned them. (‘There’ being the institution itself; no doubt there are some wonderful campus ministries and local churches bringing students to faith.) As far as Harvard is concerned, the stock of the Puritans is already dead.

John Harvard was a Church of England clergyman, a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, founded during the English Reformation for the express purpose of training preachers. He took 400 books with him when he sailed for Massachusetts, and served briefly as a minister at Charlestown. He died of consumption after only a year in the new world, leaving his books and half of his capital to the school being organised not far away. Since that bequest tripled the seed money for the proposed college, it was named after him.

In 1638, the year of his death, many of its clergy, even those serving in the plantations, still hoped that the Church of England would complete or return to its reformation, depending on how they read the history, Emmanuel graduates especially. It is those who still have that hope for the Church of England’s daughter in the new world that are Harvard stock, and they are not dead.

In various conversations in which I’ve taken part recently, a desire has been expressed for evangelical lay people to be involved in one project or another, but in the diocese where I serve, at least, they have been hard to find, and hard to recruit when found. One rector I approached, asking for names of such people in his parish, told me that those he knew were ‘gun-shy’—presumably a reference to what it was like the last time they became active outside their own parish.

When the English Reformation was brought to a sudden halt on the death of Edward VI, and Protestants who refused to return to Roman Catholicism were threatened with death at the stake, the vast majority of those who refused to be intimidated were lay people—men and women, some of them still in their teens. Matthew Foxe, who kept a record of all those who were put to death, said of one congregation that its members were “exceedingly well learned in the holy Scriptures, as well women as men, so that a man might have found among them many that had often read the whole Bible through, and that could have said a great sort of St Paul’s epistles by heart, and very well and readily have given a godly learned sentence in any matter of controversy”. When any controversial question arose, Anglican lay people knew that the answer was to be found in Scripture, and they knew their Bibles well enough for any of them to be able to answer for themselves. In the trials that led to the burnings, the question was constantly being asked, “Who are you, a tailor or a housewife or a miller, to challenge the judgement of the best theological minds of the Church?” The inquisitors—many of them conforming Anglican clergy just a year or two earlier—were scandalised that ordinary people claimed to be as able to “give a godly, learned sentence” as the theologians, but they did claim exactly that, because they had learned God’s word.

The Episcopal Church needs another generation of lay people who have learned God’s word so well that they are no longer reluctant to face those who would order the church according to the word of Man rather than the word of God. The cure for timidity in the face of false teaching or immoral living is a better knowledge of God’s word. When evangelicalism began to revive in the Episcopal Church in the 1960s and 70s, the means of reforming the church was the foundation of an evangelical seminary to train clergy. That doesn’t seem to have worked. It’s time for lay people to reclaim their Anglican birthright.

Not a few Evangelicals in recent years have longed for some point of contact with Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and have tried to blend one of those traditions with our own. Dewey Wallace‘s book, published last year, Shapers of English Calvinism 1660–1714 (Oxford University Press), reminds us that if we will only revisit our own tradition, this un-natural blending will not be necessary. He examines the life and thought of five Church of England Calvinists, including Peter Sterry, the Calvinist mystic. Michael Brydon, reviewing the book for the latest  Journal of Theological Studies, observes that ‘Calvinists are supposed to be hostile to mysticism, for fear that it might compromise the evangelical message of the Reformation. In fact, the tradition of Reformed mysticism can be traced back to Calvin, and Sterry continued to give it a distinct identity by setting out a mystical model that was to be lived not by solitary celibates, but within the family and community. He was also able to describe classic Calvinist emphases in mystical ways, as shown by his description of predestination as the ravishing of the soul by God.’

The idea of my soul being ravished has no appeal for me, even (especially?) when described in terms of predestination, but some readers of this blog will be glad to know. The stained-glass window featuring him is in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Anyone willing to read up on Sterry and tell us more?

Next Page »