One of Ussher’s major contributions to seventeenth-century debates about church government was The Reduction of Episcopacy which was probably composed in early 1641, but not appearing in print until after his death in 1656. This was an attempt to implement his vision of primitive episcopacy in the Church of England and was proposed as a mediating position between presbyterian and more conservative episcopalian polities.
Western Christians find themselves forced to navigate many different quandaries in the modern world. This assertion is not generally considered to be controversial. Controversy quickly ensues, however, when Christians attempt to more finely identify and address these challenges. In recent times, one frequently discussed item has related to a presumed “crisis of authority” afflicting (especially) the American church. What is this crisis? And does a renewed emphasis on the authority of the institutional church help us navigate through it?
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many Protestants, whether in the pews, the pulpit, or the academy, are apt to feel a bit uncertain about just how enthusiastically they can celebrate the Protestant doctrine of the church. After all, isn’t this doctrine the weakest link in Protestant theology, as modern-day Catholic apologists charge, and insecure Protestant theologians self-flagellatingly repeat? In The Davenant Institute’s newest publication, People of the Promise: A Mere Protestant Ecclesiology, our contributors argue, on the contrary, that the Reformers’ radical re-thinking of the definition of the church is one of the Reformation’s greatest treasures. Not only is “mere Protestant” ecclesiology firmly in concert with the multifaceted biblical witness, but it is also manifestly in accord with natural reason and the lived experience of Christians throughout the ages. This volume seeks to honor the Protestant heritage and encourage Protestant Christians today by remembering, reclaiming, and critically reflecting upon the relationship between the gospel promise and the community which it calls into being. Read more…
This article is taken from the first issue of Ad Fontes: a Journal of Protestant Resourcement. Subscriptions to the print edition are available for $5/month. This is one of two articles in our inaugural issue and is written by Bradley Belschner. Belschner is a systems analyst at Emsi, a determined generalist, and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.
Throughout Christian history there have been four main ecclesiologies:
- papal sacerdotalism (Roman Catholicism)
- magisterial sacerdotalism (e.g., Eastern Orthodoxy)
- magisterial evangelicalism (e.g., historic Protestants)
- anarchic evangelicalism (e.g., Anabaptists like the Amish and Mennonites)
First Distinction: Sacerdotal v Evangelical
The most important distinction above is sacerdotal vs. evangelical. Sacerdotalism refers to the role of the “priest” as a spiritual mediator between God and man, and also the notion that bishops represent the apostles by virtue of apostolic succession. In this view the clergy do not exist merely to promote good order in the church; rather, their offices are imbued with unique spiritual power that lay Christians do not possess. The church is conceived of as an institution, and the boundary of that institution is defined by the clergy. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox affirm different versions of sacerdotalism, since the former insists on a supreme Roman bishop within the clergy, but either way both churches share the same fundamental belief in the mediatorial role of the clergy. Read more…