Episcopal Evangelical Heritage

I’ve been reading and enjoying Thomas Isham’s recent biography of Bishop McIlvaine, the best known of all the evangelical bishops of the Episcopal Church in the 19th century. He was Bishop of Ohio from 1832–1873, and a famous defender of the Protestant heritage of the Episcopal Church when Anglo-Catholicism was beginning to undermine it. He was also well known for his preaching (which caused a revival among West Point students when he was chaplain there), and his insistence that those who upheld the authority of Scripture had to support the abolition of slavery. Isham covers every aspect of McIlvaine’s ministry, and readers of this blog will find much in this biography to encourage their own witness to the authority of Scripture in today’s church. It’s also worth reading just for the joy of knowing that there once was a time when it was not unusual for a bishop to stand so publicly and uncompromisingly for that authority.

Isham is a member of the Episcopal Church, and was a member of EFAC-USA when that organisation was active. Thanks for keeping McIlvaine’s evangelical witness before the church!

The book is available here. The Banner of Truth edition of a collection of McIlvaine’s sermons, Preaching Christ: The Heart of Gospel Ministry, is also still in print, and available here.


John Stott, who transformed Anglican Evangelicalism, sleeps today where he has lived for over seventy years, in Christ. There’s nothing the Barnabas Project can add to the obituaries, a selection of which can be read here and here and here, except to say how much he supported the ministry of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church when he had the opportunity, urging people to stay and work for the reform of the church rather than leave it. Memorial services are being planned in London, Wheaton, New York, Dallas, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Delhi, Bangalore, and no doubt more to be announced. A memorial web-site has been established here by the Langham Partnership, the hub of his ministry for the last few years, and designated by him to carry it on into the future.

We truly will not see his like again. But God uses all of us, so let’s continue to work for the reform of the Episcopal Church anyway.

On the SCLM blog page for Sam Shoemaker Lamar Vest, President & CEO of the American Bible Society, added a comment saying how much Sam’s poem, ‘So I Stay Near the Door’ meant to him as a young man. The poem sums up evangelical ministry. Here’s the whole thing.


By the Reverend Canon Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., D.D., S.T.D.

I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world–
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it – – –
So I stay near the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door–the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch–the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter–
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it–because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him – – –
So I stay near the door.
Go in, great saints, go all the way in–
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics–
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, or sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening – – –
So I stay near the door.
There is another reason why I stay there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia.
And want to get out. Let me out! they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much;
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving–preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stay near the door.
I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door–
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But–more important for me–
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
For those I shall stay by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
I had rather be a door-keeper . . .
So I stay near the door

From Peter Adam, writing in the online journal The Theologian:

At least two groups of writers on Puritanism prefer the theory that Puritans cannot be Anglicans, nor can Anglicans be Puritans.  Some Non-Conformists take this stance because they want to emphasise the gulf between Anglicanism and Puritanism, to show that true Puritanism is found outside Anglicanism. Some Anglican writers take this stance because they want to claim that Puritanism has no place in mainstream Anglicanism.

However Patrick Collinson has shown that Puritanism was part of Anglicanism: ‘our modern conception [that] Anglicanism commonly excludes puritanism is…a distortion of part of our religious history,’ and A. G. Dickens claims that ‘Puritanism in our sense was never limited to Nonconformists; it was a powerful element in the origins of the Anglican Church and it was through that Church that it won its abiding role in the life and outlook of the nation.’

The leaders of Puritan Anglicans included: Archbishop Grindal of Canterbury, who tried to defend Puritan practice against the attacks of Queen Elizabeth; Archbishop Williams of York, author of The Holy Table, Name and Thing, a sturdy defence of the Reformed theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper; and Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, who together with Richard Baxter promoted a Reformed model of Primitive Episcopacy. Nigel Atkinson has shown that Richard Hooker, that great architect of Anglicanism, was clearly in the Reformed tradition, and was closer to Calvin in theology than some of his Puritan critics. Even in the days of the Commonwealth, 300 Episcopal Puritans [called ‘Evangelicals’ by a contemporary writer] used to meet regularly in Oxford for Anglican worship…

Just a reminder of the heritage we contemporary Evangelicals ought to live up to, or to which we ought to live up.

David Wilson, one of several Evangelicals in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who followed Anglo-Catholic Bob Duncan into the Anglican Church in North America, has written a description of a group of mostly evangelical clergy in the Pittsburgh diocese who met together for fellowship and encouragement from the mid-1980s to the division of the diocese in 2008. The group was given the nickname ‘Thunder on the Theological Right’ by Pittsburgh bishop Alden Hathaway, and became known as TOTTR.

It seems to me, though, that Hathaway got it wrong. Not about the ‘thunder’—if you know any of the people involved, you won’t quibble about that. But surely when Evangelicals thunder, they thunder on the left. It’s Anglo-Catholics who share characteristics with the political right: conservative, traditionalist, opposed to change, authoritarian. Evangelicals, on the other hand, are the party that has sought change in the church since before the Reformation, and who have never been satisfied that the degree of reformation so far achieved is enough; ‘but halflie reformed’ was our view of the Elizabethan church, and what Evangelical would say it’s any better today? Evangelicals have only one tradition, the truth in God’s Word Written, agreeing with Augustine that ‘custom without truth is error grown old’. Evangelicals are those who treasure the ‘blessed change’ wrought in them by the Holy Spirit, and pray for similar change in others and further change in the same direction for themselves. And Evangelicals have always asserted the Scriptural standard of shared ministry rather than clerical dominance, and preferred the designation ‘minister’ to ‘priest’ because of the hierarchical and authoritarian implications of the latter term.

If Hathaway had got it right, they would have been TOTTL, not TOTTR; ‘Total’, rather than ‘Totter’, might they have said? In my foolish dream, this simple change of nomenclature would have kept us standing together, rather than tottering, and there might still be a reform movement in the Episcopal Church.

Hobnobbing with some of my fellow Methodist colleagues for our community Good Friday service today, I could not help mourning what could have been had the early Methodists and Episcopalians united early on.  In the chaos after the American Revolution, John Wesley set apart Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as “superintendents” to continue to spread the Gospel and set up Methodist Societies in America.  However, the American societies, already functionally operating as churches, conferred upon them the title of “bishop.”  Coke extended an initial olive branch to Bishops White and Seabury.  Seabury’s response is unknown if he had responded, yet Bishop White met with Coke on three other occasions.  The exact substance of their conversations is lost to history, aside from speculations by White that Asbury did not seem to care about being a bishop as such, and that Coke seemed more keen on having “official” episcopal authority for the sake of his Methodist flock.  All  we know is that nothing akin to merger ever happened.  Perhaps the same forces were at work that split Methodism from Anglicanism in the U.K. came to the fore earlier in America thanks to the Revolution.

Yet to think of the potential impact in terms of missions, evangelism, even ecumenical endeavors is an exercise worthy of consideration.  If we can picture what an alternative past would have looked like, it can help us conceive of a different future we would like to work toward.  Jesus was willing to die to bring us back into relationship with himself.   How much are we willing to give in striving for a kingdom-focused approach to ministry?

From a fascinating article by Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the now standard biography of Thomas Cranmer:

“The Restoration Church [ie the Church of the 1662 Prayer Book]… destroyed the latitude that had made it possible for Lancelot Andrewes, Antonio del Corro, Elizabeth I, and Walter Travers more or less to coexist in the same church. Anglicanism has been asking questions about latitude ever since; but perhaps it has been hiding from some of the answers.”

Andrewes was high church catholic, del Corro a unitarian, Elizabeth more lutheran in theology than anything else, and Travers a presbyterian. And there really was room in the Elizabethan church for all of them and more besides. The idea that today’s Anglican Church, let alone today’s Episcopal Church, is a hotbed of diversity is… well, you tell me. But that’s only one of the answers from which the church has been hiding, according to MacCulloch; others will be of more interest to Anglo-Catholics than to Evangelicals—but they will need their smelling salts.

The article is called ‘The Latitude of the Church of the England’ and can be found in a collection of essays edited by Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, entitled Religious Politics in Post-Reformation England (Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2006).

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