Being Episcopal or Congregational?

I have always considered it a great privilege that I did both my master’s and doctoral levels of theological studies at the evangelical Anglican seminary Wycliffe College, here in Toronto. There I was exposed to the scholarship and piety of such men as R. K. Harrison, Richard Longenecker, Jakob Jocz, Oliver O’Donovan, and Alan Hayes, and profoundly shaped by the Reformed worship of the Book of Common Prayer. For a while in the 1970s, a fellow-student and I—he coming from a non-denominational charismatic background and I from a Fellowship Baptist context—considered becoming Anglicans, for there was much that we found attractive in evangelical Anglicanism. But I stumbled over two issues in particular, though I suspect there would be further issues today. First, I could not be reconciled to the idea of infant baptism. I could not—and still cannot— see any place for such a rite in the life of a church seeking to be in harmony with the New Testament. Then, there was one of the Six Principles of the College that well summed up the doctrinal orientation of the school. I could fully subscribe to five of the six, which encapsulated the Reformed piety of the Church of England when it was founded in the sixteenth century—for these principles, see “Six Principles” ( But I wrestled with the fifth one, which entailed subscription to “The historic episcopate, a primitive and effective instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church.”

As a student of Patristics, I knew something of the early roots of episcopacy. Ignatius of Antioch (died c.107) was clearly an early advocate of a threefold form of church government (bishop, elders, and deacons). But, as with baptism, I had to test episcopacy against the New Testament. And in that foundation document for the church, there are only two ongoing offices distinctly delineated—elders, sometimes called bishops or overseers, and deacons. Other ministries, like that of the Apostles, were foundational in the structure of the Church, but never intended to be ongoing. Moreover, studying the New Testament I was convinced that the congregation played a vital role in the governance of the Church. I thus embraced what John Owen (1616-1683), the “Calvin of England,” has called “the old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity.” For an historical study of this, see my “ ‘The old, glorious, beautiful face of Christianity’: Congregationalism and Baptist life”, The Gospel Witness, 84, No. 5 (October 2005).

So I did not become an Anglican but stayed a Baptist, more firmly and consciously committed to our Congregational heritage. But I am so glad I went through the struggle of determining what church polity best reflected that of the New Testament church. It deepened my love for and commitment to our Baptist heritage.