Monday, May 9, 2011

The Baptismal Controversy

In the nineteenth century a major controversy that divided the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church was the baptismal controversy. This controversy centered upon the doctrine of the Baptismal Offices in the English and America Prayer Books. With the exception of the Scottish Prayer Book they were the only two Prayer Books in use at the time. (The Church of Ireland did not adopt its own Prayer Book until disestablishment in 1871.) The controversy was sparked by the adherents of Tractarianism, the Oxford High Church movement led by John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey, and others in the Tracts for the Times 1833-1841. The Tractarians asserted that the Baptismal Offices of the two Prayer Books taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. In the Church of England the controversy was eventually settled at least officially by the Gorham Judgment, which ruled that baptismal regeneration was not the doctrine of the Church of England.

In the Protestant Episcopal Church the controversy would take a different turn. A number of Evangelical Episcopalians would come to the conclusion that the Tractarians were right in their interpretation of the 1789 Prayer Book. They would at first campaign for the revision of the American Prayer Book. When their calls for Prayer Book revision were snubbed by a General Convention sympathetic to Tractarian principles, they came to the conclusion that their only option was to leave the Protestant Episcopal Church, form a reformed Church, and adopt a reformed Prayer Book. In 1873 they established under the leadership of the former Assistant Bishop of Kentucky, the Right Reverend George David Cummins, the Reformed Episcopal Church. With the formation of this breakaway Church the Protestant Episcopal Church would loose the conservative nucleus of its Evangelical wing. The remaining Evangelical Episcopalians would be absorbed into the Protestant Episcopal Church’s Broad Church wing.

The following articles come from A Protestant Dictionary that was published seventy years after the first of the Tracts for the Times. In the Preface the book’s editors state that the object of A Protestant Dictionary is to provide “a handy work of reference for Protestants on the Romish controversy.” The work was produced under the auspices of the Protestant Reformation Society, and givs special attention to questions involving the Book of Common Prayer and of particular interest to Evangelical members of the Church of England. In addition to these four articles I have posted an excerpt from “The Baptismal Service” in Dyson Hague’s The Protestantism of the Prayer Book.

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