A LUTHERAN LOOKS AT . . . EPISCOPALIANS. By James F. Pope.
A LUTHERAN LOOKS AT . . . EPISCOPALIANS. By James F. Pope. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2008. 107 pages. Paper. $12.99.
Reviewed by Timothy Maschke, Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, WI.
When the ELCA officially entered into full communion fellowship with the Episcopal Church (USA) on Epiphany 2001, Lutherans of the other synods wondered what brought about such a decision. Professor James Pope, a clergyman of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and professor at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, has prepared a wonderfully edifying overview of the Episcopal Church, especially as it exists in the upper Midwest of the United States. A balanced evaluation of Episcopal/Anglican central doctrines and ecclesiastical practices make this a worthwhile read and study document for all Lutherans.
Observations of Episcopalians by Lutherans are not new. Since its origin in England in the sixteenth century, Lutherans and Anglicans have had theological and liturgical ties beginning with Thomas Cranmer, later Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, who lived in Wittenberg for a year and a half in the early 1530s. Cranmer followed many of Luther’s teachings, particularly on justification by grace through faith alone and the real presence in the Lord’s Supper as well as Luther’s liturgical reforms. After coming to the United States, Lutherans adopted an English translation of the Divine Service from the Book of Common Prayer. However, as Pope notes in his introduction, “sharing common worship forms does not mean they share the same beliefs in all matters” (v).
Organized into nine chapters, Pope’s book briefly touches on the historical founding of the Anglican Church under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century and its identity as an “umbrella” church (chapter 1). The episcopal hierarchy of the Anglican Church and the four “instruments of unity,” along with its organization into the “Anglican communion” (chapter 2), illustrate the challenges for providing a united expression by and a common understanding of Episcopalians. The Episcopal approach to worship and Scripture (chapter 3) and to salvation and the sacraments (chapter 4) form the bulk of this book. These chapters are especially helpful from the perspective of a strong confessional Lutheran distinctive in light of the diversity of doctrinal toleration in Anglicanism.
Doctrine is not the only distinction between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans. In recent years, the Episcopal Church’s social views, specifically on homosexuality and abortion (chapter 5), have resulted in greater concerns even among some Episcopalians. From the perspective which cherished liturgical uniformity over doctrinal integrity, chapters six and seven address the ecumenical practices of Episcopalians. Helpful are the insights on the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s understanding of church fellowship and its full communion practices with the Episcopal Church in America.
Bishop James Jelinek of the Minnesota Diocese, Rev. Paul Rider of St. John parish in Mankato, and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, through personal interviews or email correspondence, provided first-person insights into contemporary Episcopal perceptions of strengths, controversies, and views of Lutherans in chapter eight. A conversation with several members of a local Minnesota parish again illustrated the diversity of opinions held by Episcopalians (chapter 9). A concluding chapter reiterates the observation of the basic Christian beliefs held by the Episcopalian Church, yet stresses the need for Lutherans to direct their Episcopalian neighbors back to the Scriptures “where we find truth, unchanging truth” (102).
Unfortunately, the diversity of which the Episcopalian Church and its members are particularly proud is also problematic. The author, using an Episcopalian image of their church body as a broad tent (or umbrella) enveloping a wide variety of theological and practical expressions, concludes as follows: “After examining the church, one can only conclude that the canvas of the tent is stretching and tearing, and some of the tent pegs are being pulled out. Many Episcopalians see and hear the same things and are concerned” (101).
Renewed interest in dialogue between church bodies is reflected in this Wisconsin Synod supported series of studies. This first volume is a well-researched and carefully documented analysis of the Episcopal Church in contemporary America and promises to be a model for future studies. The author’s concerns are carefully stated, yet the commonalities between Lutherans and Anglicans are recognized with joyful respect.
Yearning for the unity expressed by Christ in John’s Gospel, Christians of all stripes will appreciate Pope’s even-handed approach to ecumenical study. Lutheran pastors and lay people will benefit from this book as a resource for personal conversation with Episcopalians as well as for Bible study into several contemporary Christian teachings and practices—from Scripture and the sacraments to homosexuality and abortion. Northwestern Publishing House is to be commended for this study series and the volumes which will be produced in the next several years. Orthodox confessional Lutheranism can provide a clarion voice for the twenty-first century theological conversations.