A Very Brief Overview of the Reformed Episcopal & Free Church of England Declaration of Principles:
In response to Father Anderson's request to examine some of the foundational tenets of the REC I've prepared this very brief overview.
First let me state by saying that, like the Articles of Religion themselves, we must keep in mind the historical context in which the Declaration was written/adopted. Too often we read theology or actions within history without knowing what was actually being said and the context in which it was said or written. We rip apart the writings or actions of Luther or Cranmer (or Laud or Keble) for being "so extreme" without fully understanding what it was they were reacting to and why. We see the reasoned result of decades or centuries of theological debate and judge those that came before us with that rather unrealistic yardstick.
While the early Anglo-Catholics were reacting against lukewarm, rationalist, sedentary elements in the CofE that failed to see the CofE as the “Catholic Church in England,” it must be acknowledged that some of them went so far in equating “Catholicism” with 19th century Romanism (adopting the Latin Missal, Roman feast days, Roman doctrine, non-communicating High Masses, compulsory Confession, not allowing "non-Catholics" to the Eucharist, etc) that it was inevitable that many in the CofE and PECUSA would react against such extremism with their own manner of extremism. Not to say that the Declaration of Principles is "extreme," but many in the REC went so far in trying to eliminate all elements in Anglicanism that could possibly present "Roman germs" that it made Anglicanism into something like "Presbyterianism with a Prayer Book." In my opinion, neither side was right, but both had substantive objections as to why the other side was wrong.
This Church CONDEMNS and REJECTS the following erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to God's Word:
First, That the Church of Christ exists only in one order or form of ecclesiastical polity;
(Paraphrase of the 17th century Anglican divines; Andrewes, Cosin, and Laud, while believing in the Divine Right of the Episcopacy, did not believe that the lack of an Episcopacy in other Christian bodies "de-churched" them. This was a concept introduced in the Tractarian movement, hence the reason for the inclusion of the point here. It is true that the Free Church of England and the REC in America have usually held that Episcopacy is not of "essence of the Church" but is ancient and apostolic and there is no reason to do away with it because it was the most ancient form of Church structure. However, like the later Continuing Church, these bodies have always been careful to obtain and preserve the Anglican episcopate).
Second, That Christian Ministers are "priests" in another sense than that in which all believers are "a royal priesthood";
("The Articles of Religion allow the use of the word priest as the anglicized version of the word presbyter by their consistent use of it to describe a minister of the Word and Sacrament (XXXII, XXXVI), and not as someone who can uniquely provide atonement (XXXI)" (from the web pages of the Reformed Episcopal Church).
There is a sense in which the Eucharist is sacrifice, but it is not a new sacrifice which the priest offers on his own behalf, and it adds nothing to the Sacrifice made upon the Cross--it is a memorial sacrifice, a Eucharistic sacrifice, but its sacrificial nature is eternally linked to a single and all sufficient Sacrifice. There is also a very real sense in which the ministers of Christ, both in Word and Sacrament, are serving a priestly function via the preaching of the Gospel and administering Baptism, Eucharist, pronouncing Absolution, performing anointing, etc., but the danger is there in thinking that these functions can be viewed as somehow "apart from" the Body of Christ, the Church, which itself is a priestly Body because it is united to the One True High Priest, Jesus Christ. We must remember that when those in the REC and FCofE adopted the Declaration many Anglo-Catholics (Anglo-Romans) in the CofE and PECUSA were adopting Roman theories of both the Mass and the nature of Holy Orders, making pronounced distinction between their thinking and the writing of the 17th and 18th century Anglican divines.
Also, I always have to wonder what is wrong with the term "presbyter"?--it is more ancient than the use of the term "priest" in Christendom, and widely employed in Orthodoxy.)
Third, That the Lord's Table is an altar on which the oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ is offered anew to the Father:
(Only a rejection of Anglo-Romanism: Table and altar are used interchangeably in Holy Scripture (Malachi 1:10, 12)--there is no real problem in calling the Lord's Table an altar, for it is here that the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood is celebrated. However, there should be no difficulty in calling it the Holy Table either. Also, take note of the word "anew"--this is the line of demarcation between saying that Christ is sacrificed again at the Eucharist or He is not).
Fourth, That the Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine:
(Again, we have to take note of the word "in" the elements. The same view as that expressed by Cranmer, Hooker, Laud, etc; even Thomas Aquinas rejected the notion that Christ was localized in the elements. To paraphrase Cardinal Newman--when the host moves in procession, Christ does not move. A bit ironic using the official theory of Rome to explain and defend this stance, which I hold to, but there it is nonetheless. Even so, Keble and Pusey--to my knowledge--stick close to the Anglican Formularies and refer to the Presence of Christ's Body and Blood being "with and under" the bread and wine, not "in them" by way of a localized interpenetration. Rejecting Christ being "in" the elements is not a rejection of the objective Real Presence as presented by the Caroline Divines or by the early Anglo-Catholics. Again, take careful note of the phrasing: "The Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper"--Christ's Presence is acknowledged--is not "a presence in the elements of bread and wine." Nothing un-Anglican, nothing even that goes against the founders of the Anglo-Catholic movement, only a rejection of the "prisoner of the tabernacle" mentality that was already in existence in Roman Catholicism and was growing in branches of Tractarianism).
Fifth, That Regeneration is inseparably connected with Baptism.
(More elaboration is needed to fully understand this statement. Bp. Cheney affirmed the doctrine of "ecclesiastical regeneration" such as that taught by Lord Bp. Browne in his Exposition on the Articles, but felt that he could not use the word in good conscience due to its meaning having changed in use by the late 19th century--here in the Declaration there is only the rejection that Regeneration is inseparably tied to Baptism, but not that it occurs at Baptism. For a full explanation of the historical theology of this point see Bishop Sutton's text on this issue; for a full understanding of the traditional Anglican teaching on the Sacrament of Baptism, see Bishop Browne's Exposition on the Articles).