Kenneth Peck Weighs In On Unqualified Accession and the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church

Kenneth Peck, M.Div., M.Ed., priest retired

Diocese of West Texas, although in the Diocese of Dallas since 1992.

Formerly

Priest-in-Charge, Our Merciful Saviour, Kaufman, TX

Priest-in-Charge, St. James’, Gatesville, TX

Rector, St. Christopher’s, Bandera, TX

Priest-in-Charge, Trinity Church, Junction, TX

Deacon, St. Paul’s Church, San Antonio, TX

One of the bits of the PB’s mouthpiece is a reference to a Constitutional requirement of “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church.” (Article V, Section 1 on the admission of new dioceses)

I am not sure what actual legal force such a phrase might actually have, just as I am uncertain what legal force the current vow of clergy to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of “this Church” might have. (I made a more sensible promise when I was ordained using the language of the 1928 BCP, to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by this Church.)

There are two problems with the 1978 ordinal as I see it. First of all we shouldn’t be worshipping “this Church” – it’s properly the “worship of Christ” as the 1928 BCP correctly has it. But that is, perhaps a verbal quibble, as important as the point and the quibble might actually be.

Second, how can one rationally give “unqualified assent” to something which, at the time such assent is given, is unknown?

For example, when I gave my “unqualified assent” to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by this Church *as received*, it can reasonably argued that a seminary trained candidate, having passed the examination of the diocesan board of examining chaplains could plausibly know to what he was acceding. For example, in 1962 & 3, when I was ordained the discipline of “this Church” as received was that the orders of presbyter

(priest) and bishop were limited to male candidates. That represented nearly 2,000 years of the discipline of the catholic Church as well as the centuries old discipline of the Anglican Communion and even “this Church.”

Similarly the discipline of “this Church” (most would have said doctrine as

well) was that sexual intimacy was appropriate only between a man and a woman within the context of their marriage to each other, and that other sexual intimacies were sinful, requiring repentance and amendment of life.

Again that represented nearly 2,000 years of the doctrine and discipline of the catholic Church (not to mention the even older doctrine and discipline of Judaism) and the centuries old doctrine and discipline of catholic Church as well as the centuries old doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Communion and “this Church.”

So one making the vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by this Church had some idea that such did not include

(a) the ordination of women to the presbyterate or episcopate, (b) the blessing of same sex unions and (c) the ordination to the diaconate, presbyterate or episcopate of those living in sexual relationships outside of that of the marriage of a man and a woman. And, indeed, anyone believing that any of those things were proper within “this Church” ought not, morally, to accede to the vow. And anyone who had taken such vows had, effectively, violated his ordination vows if he “changed his mind” and acted on this new opinion.

But the vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church is open ended. One has no idea as to what (s)he is acceding. If General Convention were to pass a canon requiring civil insurrection, one has vowed to engage in civil insurrection. If General Convention were to amend the BCP to require prayers to Kali, one has vowed to engaged to pray to Kali. If General Convention were to pass a canon requiring members of “this Church” to murder fundie, literalist, bible thumping evangelicals or catholic Anglicans, clergy who refused could be presented, tried and deposed.

Now the requirement that dioceses “accede” to the Constitution and Canons of “this Church” in an unqualified way has the same quality. Note, that the constitutional requirement has to do with dioceses seeking admission to “this Church.” It does not, in point of fact, address what dioceses already admitted to “this Church” may do with respect to amending their Constitutions and Canons. But the fact is that when any diocese sought admission to “this Church” what they gave “unqualified accession” to was an unknown. How that can be legally binding at some future date is utterly unclear.

Certainly most dioceses when they originally adopted an “unqualified accession” to the Constitution and Canons of “this Church” assumed (apparently unrealistically) that such Constitution and Canons would be consistent with Holy Scripture, Christian Tradition and Right Reason *as

received* by “this Church.” Such was a known “entity” at that time. To claim that such “unqualified accession” might cover any departure from “the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received” really does go beyond the realm of reason – even for the untheological legal mind.

Certainly there is an assumption in acceding to the Constitution and Canons of “this Church” that in so doing one is acceding to a Christian institution which, as its Constitution specifies “is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship with in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” If “this Church” elects to depart from that Communion, from that One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order, then such “unqualified accession” is null and void.

4 Responses to “Kenneth Peck Weighs In On Unqualified Accession and the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church”


  1. 1 Connie November 10, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Brad – many, many thanks for posting this on your blog. It is brilliant. Kudos aplenty to Father Peck! Of course, it uses excellent logic, so it mahy be unfathomable to KJS.

  2. 2 Craig Goodrich November 11, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    There is only one additional point to be added to this excellent piece, namely that the notion that doctrinal decisions would be placed in the hands of the laity was quite foreign to ECUSA (or Anglicanism generally); GC — like the vestry at the local level — was to administer all the material resources of the Church, but doctrinal decisions were (by implication and universal tradition) left in the hands of the bishops.

    So much for TEC’s “polity” …

  3. 3 Christopher Cantrell+ November 12, 2007 at 1:10 am

    Bravo!
    Unqualified accession only makes sense upon entering into union with General Convention. It is a reasonable thing to expect a diocese to fully agree with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. But there is no requirement for the maintenance of that unqualified accession. It wouldn’t make sense as things can and do change as Fr. Peck so wisely observed.

  4. 4 Christopher Cantrell+ November 12, 2007 at 1:16 am

    I left out “at the beginning.” from the end of my second sentence. It should have read – It is a reasonable thing to expect a diocese to fully agree with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church at the beginning.


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