Last week I asserted that the Word of God was silenced in the church in the Twentieth Century, and that all of us who were part of the leadership in those days are culpable. We have sinned and must repent. But what are some of the specifics? It has taken me many years to clarify my answers to such a question. Almost all of them depend upon understanding changes made in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. In that time major parts of the church and her leadership began to disbelieve that the Holy Scriptures are true in what they teach.
There would have been much dispute if this assertion had been made among the faithful at the time, however. Principally because of the beauty and orthodoxy of the church’s historic liturgy, many who were believers did not notice. They still believed the gospel, believed the Creeds, had a life of prayer and devotion, and were regular in their Sunday attendance at worship. But several things were converging to undermine them.
First was the cultural tide that was turning against Protestantism as historically understood. Romanticism was gaining ground in almost every area of human endeavor, and the church was no exception. An interest in the aesthetics of the Middle Ages in church architecture and liturgy was one expression of this trend. The heightened concern for the externals of worship changed the Sunday patterns in parish after parish, and the role of the ordained ministers of the church was widely transformed. Men went from being thought “pastors of souls” to “priests of the church.” Men called to be shepherds of souls became clerical professionals.
Concurrent with these trends was an elevation of the importance of Holy Eucharist as the central act of the church at worship. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, when a full range of Holy Scriptures would be read aloud, largely disappeared. When the Holy Communion is central, priestly ministry is elevated. Sermons suffered, and biblical literacy plummeted. Being one of “the set apart ones” became central.
But a further change was even more destructive. There was a turn away from the Reformed Theology that had characterized the English Reformation, and that had shaped the founding and growth of the Episcopal Church in this land. Gradually a modified Catholic sacramental theology began to become supreme. This was most especially noticeable as Infant Baptism became detached from the rite of Confirmation. If (as would finally be enshrined in the BCP of 1979), “baptism is full inclusion in the church” there is no reason for Confirmation. Without effective confirmation, more and more men in the church are not true believers. Faith alone began to die.
By the 1950’s most of the clergy of the Episcopal Church were going along with these changes. They broke the Word of God by doing so. And they gave a false model of leadership to the generation that came after them.
Next Week: Is That All?