(Living Church) Ephraim Radner: The Local Church Serves the Whole

The wake of the Revolution in America resuscitated the conciliar challenge in a concrete way. Here I read the history very differently indeed from Bishop Franklin. What had been the Church of England in the colonies had been sifted into the “local” in its most elemental forms: parish and at best the local state and its (often still-to-be-achieved) “episcopal” order. How would the conciliar process work from the ground up here? In the new polity of the Revolution, hostile to the English church and its establishment structures, these elements might gather only by “voluntary association,” as William White put it in his Case for the Episcopal Churches, and these associations (not “corporation” as Bishop Franklin puts it) would be ordered to the common good (“union and good government”) in the sense of peaceable order in ways that might not disturb the government: this was largely his concern.

The framework of external scriptural authority as well as the traditions of the Church of England ”” the “catholic” faith ”” remained in place for White and for those who first worked to organize the Protestant Episcopal Church. General Convention would serve the function of applying this framework for these local entities in their service of and life within the larger Church’s mission. White’s own notion of “catholicity” points to this (cf. his Dissertation II on the topic, or his discussion of the ministry in his Catechetical lectures, VII). (On the other hand, we might wonder altogether at White as a theological guide on the question of the Church Catholic in light of his own convictions that the papacy was being directly referred to in Revelation 13 or 2 Thessalonians 2!)

It is important to see how the conciliar vision has thus taken a peculiar shape in the United States: dioceses voluntarily take council, as it were, for the sake of a universal Church.

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