“It is Scriptural and Traditional to say that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” a senior bishop of the new Charismatic Episcopal Church in the United States said recently. But “the Church, at least denominationally, has become the very opposite of those things. Not one but divided. Not holy, but unholy. Not catholic, but protesting. And not apostolic, but tied to current culture.”
“I believe the Lord is raising up a `Renewed Catholicism’,” he continued. “I believe that the Lord is in the process of bringing a restoration of his Church and that we are moving into a period of significant restructuring in the Church worldwide.” The CEC is “part of a worldwide eschatological movement of restoration.”
Encouraging news! This is, as far as I can tell, as encouraging as it sounds. God seems to have added an unexpected group to the realignment of Christendom so many have predicted: Pentecostals who have discovered the Catholic Church while remaining fully Charismatic.
The CEC was formed three years ago by Pentecostal ministers who discovered Catholicism and decided to make their home in the Anglican (though not the Episcopal) version thereof. They are part of the “convergence movement,” a movement of charismatic leaders who like to speak of combining the “three streams” of Evangelical, Charismatic, and Catholic, which they feel have been separated in the Churches since the Reformation.
It seems to be an international movement, and the CEC is already setting up an international communion with similar groups in Kenya, the Philippines, Europe, and even Estonia.
From what I can tell, they also seem to have seen in their ministries the failing of the evangelical focus on conversion and the resulting inattention to the process of sanctification. Because it so emphasized feelings and immediate change, this evangelical piety was not a piety for the long haul, a piety able to stand the loss of good feelings, and I think they were drawn to Catholicism by its objectivity and its psychological wisdom. (By Catholic in this sense I include a sense of objectivity and history that classical Anglican Evangelicals share.)
Growing rapidly, the CEC, which derived its orders from several Old Catholic bishops, already has over 150 parishes, many of 500 to 1,000 members, and is growing rapidly.
Though they have been careful not to proselytize among Episcopalians, several Charismatic leaders and fourteen parishes have already joined, some by a unanimous vote of the congregation, and two dozen priests have come either by themselves or with a group. One
parish grew from 650 to 1,200 members in two years after they left the Episcopal Church and joined the CEC.
The CEC’s leaders are culturally and politically very conservative, and if I were to criticize I would say that they don’t seem quite to realize how their culture has affected their theology. Particularly, they are too lax about divorce and remarriage (two of their bishops are divorced and remarried), in a way that undermines their appeal in other matters to Scripture and Tradition.
However, “There is not a climate of `cheap grace’ in the CEC,” their presiding bishop, Randolph Adler, said in response to this. When people have been divorced “through no particular moral failure of their own,” he said, “we want to remain open (though not automatically so) to the reconciliation and full restoration of these persons both in the community and in their vocations.”
But nevertheless, an Episcopalian cannot throw stones, and one finds in the CEC’s members an unusual desire to submit themselves to the mind of the Church. The errors they make are the errors of a mature adolescent, who has grasped the principle but not all the applications. I would not be at all surprised in ten years to find the CEC as large as the Episcopal Church, and much livelier.
David Mills is the author of the regular “Letter from America” and the editor of The Evangelical Catholic, the journal of the Episcopal Synod of America.