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Monday, July 30, 2012

Highways and Hedges Part II - Independent Charismatic Sacramental/Liturgical Churches Part One

A big part of my research in regard to this project has to do with a movement that I myself am part of - independent Catholic.   Doing this segment of the study can get a little confusing, due to the recent plethora of what are known as episcopi vagantes (bishops at large) out there with either questionable or nonexistent credentials.  These groups are known by a variety of names - Old Catholic, Independent Catholic, etc.  And, of the many groups that are legitimate, there have been a number that have piqued my interest due to their involvement either in the Charismatic movement, or the fact that they were either founded by or have experienced a boost in membership from former Evangelicals and Pentecostals.  I am going to focus on a few of these movements today, as they also relate to my own pilgrimage and I have first-hand experience or communication with them.   However, I wanted to first establish some criteria as we do this.

To begin, many of the groups I am examining here will be groups who are fairly conservative or traditionalist doctrinally.  That being said, I will not be dealing with any jurisdiction that is Liberal Catholic (Theosophy-influenced Old Catholics that came into existence at the beginning of the 20th century), nor will I be dealing with any other groups - New Age, Emerging Church, or "gay-friendly" bishops and churches - that fall outside the pale of theological orthodoxy.   Also, aside from a reference note, I will not be focusing much attention on Convergence groups like the Charismatic Episcopal Church or the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches for a couple of reasons.  First, Convergence churches already have been extensively researched, and although some of us share a heritage with them, there are many other sources to read about them.  Secondly, the Charismatic Episcopal Church and the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches do not qualify for my study due to their demographics - they are not true "highway-and-hedge" denominations anymore due to the fact they have experienced abundant growth and each boast constituencies over ten thousand members.  This is not to say that there are anything wrong with Convergence groups - on the contrary, I share a great deal with them in background and belief, although I don't formally identify with the movement myself.  Those ground rules being established, I want to now proceed.

I am going to divide this segment into two parts.  The first will involve background on several movements that many of the jurisdictions I am examining grew out of.  Essentially, there are three of those movements - the first is the "Free Catholic" movement of the 1930's, the second involves the movement of Evangelicals into sacramental/liturgical churches in the late 1970's through the early 1990's, and the third involves what is known as "Primitive Catholicism," which involves a number of Evangelicals and Pentecostals seeking to restore the worship and practice of the Ante-Nicene Christian Church.   These three movements have introduced a number of Evangelicals and Pentecostals to the Apostolic Christian faith of the historic Church, and they are to be credited with the recent surge among conservative Anglicans and the Antiochian Orthodox, as well as Roman Catholics (Scott Hahn, etc.) of converts.   Being a part of that myself, I speak from the perspective of a convert.  That being said, let us begin with the background.

Theological/Historical Background of the Independent Charismatic Catholic Movement

As mentioned, there are three distinct movements that aided in the formation of these various independent Catholic Churches, and they all ultimately lead back to some efforts by the Antiochian Orthodox, the Anglicans, and the Old Catholics to establish a church on American soil and reclaim Protestants back who were beginning to study the roots of their own faith.  The first of these was called the "Free Catholic" movement, and I will start with that. 

1.  The Free Catholics

The genesis of the Free Catholic movement that occurred beginning in the 1930's can be traced to the legacy of a Lebanese-born Antiochian Orthodox bishop, Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966).  Ofiesh was the immediate successor to one of the first canonized Orthodox Saints, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, and thus was one of the earliest hierarchs to have missionary vision.   However, Ofiesh's legacy isn't so much tied to the Orthodox Church (from which he later resigned to enter into marriage) as it is to the Independent Catholic/Orthodox movement in the US, of which many jurisdictions can trace their apostolic orders back to him.  One of those bishops in particular was a former Anglican by the name of William Albert Nichols, who was consecrated Bishop Ignatius of Washington by Ofiesh in 1932 .   (Pruter, Old Catholic Sourcebook {New York: Garland Publishing, 1983}, pp 34-36, and  According to Pruter, Nichols was largely responsible for a group of Congregationalists coming into the Church once they had embarked on a study of their own background and came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist and that worship centered around the Mystery of the Eucharist.   These Congregationalists soon came to be known as "Free Catholics."

Bishop Aftimos Ofiesh, early Antiochian Orthodox hierarch and spiritual father of many independent Catholic jurisdictions.

The Free Catholics, unlike later Protestants who embraced Orthodoxy or a more liturgical/sacramental faith, were theologically liberal in many cases.  One of those was noted Congregationalist minister Preston Bradley, who pastored the People's Church in Chicago, and was a noted theological liberal - he was cosecrated by Frank Dyer, another former Congregationalist, who in turn was consecrated by Nichols.   When the liberal United Church of Christ denomination was formed in 1948 by a merger of the Congregationalists and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, many Free Catholic advocates chose not to be part of the new body for various reasons, and the remnants of the old groups - such as the Midwest Congregational Christian Fellowship - didn't readily accept them.   Out of this, one former Congregationalist, Rev. Hugo Pruter, was consecrated by Bishop Dyer but eventually left the Congregationalist tradition and was later consecrated as Bishop Karl by the Orthodox bishop Peter Zurawetsky.   The communion he founded, Christ Catholic Church, became an Old Catholic jurisdiction as well as being a clearinghouse for Old Catholic literature.  At one time too, Bishop Pruter rectored the smallest cathedral, in Highlandville, MO, almost to the time of his repose.  His work continues today with a couple of other jurisdictions, one of which has communion with a "Continuing Anglican" church, the Southern Episcopal Church, and is located in the Boston area.

Bishop Karl Pruter and his "smallest cathedral' in Highlandville, MO.

The Free Catholics as a movement eventually faded out, being absorbed by the larger independent Catholic movement, but their role is pivotal in that they represented the first formalized migration of converts from Protestant churches into the Catholic tradition.   Unfortunately, many of the clergy of this movement were also very liberal, and even today some of the bodies that have this as part of their history still espouse liberal ideology.  Pruter himself was actually theologically moderate though, in that he upheld the Catholic faith as expressed in the Creeds of the Church, but due to his vision to see the independent movement have some kind of cohesion, Pruter often fellowshipped with bishops who ordained women, advocated homosexual priests and bishops, and even some Theosophical-leaning groups such as the Liberal Catholics.  Therefore, although their legacy is important, it must also be noted that the Free Catholics, unlike later converts, were not as conservative theologically.  It is also of interest that some of these people have a lot in common with the current Emergent Church movement, as a lot of the same inspirations propel their efforts.   However, the next movement we will examine has a lot more conservative roots, and by and large it is independent of the Free Catholics and also had differing inspiration for its motivation.  

2.  Evangelical Converts in the 1970's -1990's

With the Charismatic movement that began in the 1950's, coupled with the "Jesus People" legacy of the 1970's, many people felt a hunger to do more Bible studies and explore why they believed what they believed.  As many Evangelical and Pentecostal people did this, many of them started gravitating toward the Church Fathers, and what they found was something radically different than what many of them had been taught.   As more people did this, a need to network became evident, and in 1977 a document was drafted called "The Chicago Call" which called Evangelicals and Pentecostals to rediscover their roots in the historic Church.   Being it is a brief document, here is the text of the Chicago Call as it was drafted:

The Chicago Call

An Appeal to Evangelicals
Published, 1977

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Scripture. We recognize with gratitude God’s blessing through the evangelical resurgence in the church. Yet at such a time of growth we need to be especially sensitive to our weaknesses. We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a reduction of the historic faith. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage. Without presuming to address all our needs, we have identified eight of the themes to which we as evangelical Christians must give careful theological consideration.
A Call to Historic Roots and Continuity
We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures.
Therefore we call for a recovery of our full Christian heritage. Throughout the church’s history there has existed an evangelical impulse to proclaim the saving, unmerited grace of Christ, and to reform the church according to the Scriptures. This impulse appears in the doctrines of the ecumenical councils, the piety of the early fathers, the Augustinian theology of grace, the zeal of the monastic reformers, the devotion of the practical mystics and the scholarly integrity of the Christian humanists. It flowers in the biblical fidelity of the Protestant Reformers and the ethical earnestness of the Radical Reformation. It continues in the efforts of the Puritans and Pietists to complete and perfect the Reformation.
It is reaffirmed in the awakening movements of the 18th and 19th centuries which joined Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan and other evangelicals in an ecumenical effort to renew the church and to extend its mission in the proclamation and social demonstration of the Gospel. It is present at every point in the history of Christianity where the Gospel has come to expression through the operation of the Holy Spirit: in some of the strivings toward renewal in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and in biblical insights in forms of Protestantism differing from our own. We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the Gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that Gospel.
A Call to Biblical Fidelity
We deplore our tendency toward individualistic interpretation of Scripture. This undercuts the objective character of biblical truth, and denies the guidance of the Holy Spirit among his people through the ages.
Therefore we affirm that the Bible is to be interpreted in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the church. We affirm that the Scriptures, as the infallible Word of God, are the basis of authority in the church. We acknowledge that God uses the Scripture to judge and to purify his Body. The church, illumined and guided by the Holy Spirit, must in every age interpret, proclaim and live out the Scriptures.
A Call to Creedal Identity
We deplore two opposite excesses: a creedal church that merely recites a faith inherited from the past, and a creedless church that languishes in a doctrinal vacuum. We confess that as evangelicals we are not immune from these defects.
Therefore we affirm the need in our time for a confessing church that will boldly witness to its faith before the world, even under threat of persecution. In every age the church must state its faith over against heresy and paganism. What is needed is a vibrant confession that excludes as well as includes, and thereby aims to purify faith and practice. Confessional authority is limited by and derived from the authority of Scripture, which alone remains ultimately and permanently normative. Nevertheless, as the common insight of those who have been illumined by the Holy Spirit and seek to be the voice of the “holy catholic church,” a confession should serve as a guide for the interpretation of Scripture. We affirm the abiding value of the great ecumenical creeds and the Reformation confessions. Since such statements are historically and culturally conditioned, however, the church today needs to express its faith afresh, without defecting from the truths apprehended in the past. We need to articulate our witness against the idolatries and false ideologies of our day.
A Call to Holistic Salvation
We deplore the tendency of evangelicals to understand salvation solely as an individual, spiritual and otherworldly matter to the neglect of the corporate, physical and this-worldly implication of God’s saving activity.
There fore we urge evangelicals to recapture a holistc view of salvation. The witness of Scripture is that because of sin our relationships with God, ourselves, others and creation are broken. Through the atoning work of Christ on the cross, healing is possible for these broken relationships.
Wherever the church has been faithful to its calling, it has proclaimed personal salvation; it has been a channel of God’s healing to those in physical and emotional need; it has sought justice for the oppressed and disinherited; and it has been a good steward of the natural world.
As evangelicals we acknowledge our frequent failure to reflect this holistic view of salvation. We therefore call the church to participate fully in God’s saving activity through work and prayer, and to strive for justice and liberation for the oppressed, looking forward to the culmination of salvation in the new heaven and new earth to come.
A Call to Sacramental Integrity
We decry the poverty of sacramental understanding among evangelicals. This is largely due to the loss of our continuity with the teaching of many of the Fathers and Reformers and results in the deterioration of sacramental life in our churches. Also, the failure to appreciate the sacramental nature of God’s activity in the world often leads us to disregard the sacredness of daily living.
Therefore we call evangelicals to awaken to the sacramental implications of creation and incarnation. For in these doctrines the historic church has affirmed that God’s activity is manifested in a material way. We need to recognize that the grace of God is mediated through faith by the operation of the Holy Spirit in a notable way in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here the church proclaims, celebrates and participates in the death and resurrection of Christ in such a way as to nourish her members throughout their lives in anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom. Also, we should remember our biblical designation as “living epistles,” for here the sacramental character of the Christian’s daily life is expressed.
A Call to Spirituality
We suffer from a neglect of authentic spirituality on the one hand, and an excess of undisciplined spirituality on the other hand. We have too often pursued a superhuman religiosity rather than the biblical model of a true humanity released from bondage to sin and renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore we call for a spirituality which grasps by faith the full content of Christ’s redemptive work: freedom from the guild and power of sin, and newness of life through the indwelling and outpouring of his Spirit. We affirm the centrality of the preaching of the Word of God as a primary means by which his Spirit works to renew the church in its corporate life as well as in the individual lives of believers. A true spirituality will call for identification with the suffering of the world as well as the cultivation of personal piety.
We need to rediscover the devotional resources of the whole church, including the evangelical traditions of Pietism and Puritanism. We call for an exploration of devotional practice in all traditions within the church in order to deepen our relationship both with Christ and with other Christians. Among these resources are such spiritual disciplines as prayer, meditation, silence, fasting, Bible study and spiritual diaries.
A Call to Church Authority
We deplore our disobedience to the Lordship of Christ as expressed through authority in his church. This has promoted a spirit of autonomy in persons and groups resulting in isolationism and competitiveness, even anarchy, within the body of Christ. We regret that in the absence of godly authority, there have arisen legalistic, domineering leaders on the one hand and indifference to church discipline on the other.
Therefore we affirm that all Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to designated leaders in a church under the Lordship of Christ. The church, as the people of God, is called to be the visible presence of Christ in the world. Every Christian is called to active priesthood in worship and service through exercising spiritual gifts and ministries. In the church we are in vital union both with Christ and with one another. This calls for community with deep involvement and mutual commitment of time, energy and possessions. Further, church discipline, biblically based and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, is essential to the well-being and ministry of God’s people. Moreover, we encourage all Christians organizations to conduct their activities with genuine accountability to the whole church.
A Call to Church Unity
We deplore the scandalous isolation and separation of Christians from one another. We believe such division is contrary to Christ’s explicit desire for unity among his people and impedes the witness of the church in the world. Evangelicalism is too frequently characterized by an ahistorical, sectarian mentality. We fail to appropriate the catholicity of historic Christianity, as well as the breadth of the biblical revelation.
Therefore we call evangelicals to return to the ecumenical concern of the Reformers and the later movements of evangelical renewal. We must humbly and critically scrutinize our respective traditions, renounce sacred shibboleths, and recognize that God works within diverse historical streams. We must resist efforts promoting church union-at-any-cost, but we must also avoid mere spiritualized concepts of church unity. We are convinced that unity in Christ requires visible and concrete expressions. In this belief, we welcome the development of encounter and cooperation within Christ’s church. While we seek to avoid doctrinal indifferentism and a false irenicism, we encourage evangelicals to cultivate increased discussion and cooperation, both within and without their respective traditions, earnestly seeking common areas of agreement and understanding.

(document source:

One of the main drafters of this document was Dr. Robert Webber, a former fundamentalist Baptist who had, after embarking on his own journey, become an Anglican.   Others included another group of men who were involved with Campus Crusade for Christ that were led by Peter Gillquist, and at that juncture they called themselves the New Covenant Apostolic Order.  This group began a study session where for a week in 1975 they sequestered themselves on a remote island in Washington State to pray, study the writings of the earliest Church Fathers, and in general discern their direction as a group.   What they came up with was that the earliest worship in the Church could be divided into two parts - one was called the Synaxis, which was for all and welcomed all, and the second was the Eucharist, which was reserved for the faithful.   This was quite a revelation to the little group, but they were able to roll with it and opened themselves up to what they felt led God was calling them.   As they continued to grow, they formed an independent church called the Evangelical Orthodox Church, which in 1987 largely was received by Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and from henceforth was known as the Antiochian Evangelical Orthodox Mission (Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox {Ben Lomond, CA:  Conciliar Press, 1989} pp 29-34).  However, a small group does remain today as an independent Evangelical Orthodox Church, and they will be one of the groups I will be dealing more in detail with later in this segment. 

Dr. Robert E. Webber (1933-2007)

Fr. Peter Gillquist (1938-2012)

As the 1980's and 1990's progressed, something else began to happen in this movement, as many Pentecostals and Charismatics began to seek out more liturgical forms of worship.   This resulted in what came to be called the Convergence Movement, and drawing its inspiration from Robert Webber and others, Convergence churches began to spring up all over the country, so much so that in 1992, the first formal communion of them, the Charismatic Episcopal Church, was founded.   To define this a little, Convergence churches believe essentially that all "streams" of the Christian faith have validity, and in order to get a fuller picture of what the Church is supposed to be, it is important to preserve the best elements of those "streams" and "converge" them together into a more dynamic worship.  Generally,when someone in a Convergence context speaks of the "Streams," what they are defining are the following:

1.  Evangelical

2.  Charismatic

3.  Sacramental/Liturgical

True Convergence worship, they maintain, must incorporate all three.   Therefore, when one visits a church that has Convergence worship, they will find people who believe in the sacraments and liturgy, but also in the spiritual gifts and in the authority of Holy Scripture.   The best book I can recommend as far as the Convergence Movement goes would be Bishop Phillip Weeks No Nobis Domine (Maitland, FL:  Barnabas Ministries).  If you want contact information or are more interested in learning about it, please write me and I can provide you that. 

I was briefly involved with the Convergence Movement in the early 1990's, but in my experience, it is a stepping-stone to growth, and in time as you do grow spiritually you will come to a more balanced understanding of the Church, how it relates in regard to spiritual gifts, and also how to be more grounded in your faith.   I am, I suppose, what you would call "post-convergent" as I now belong to a more traditional Anglo-Catholic jurisdiction although I do firmly believe in the charismatic gifts.  I owe much personally to the Convergence movement, and to this day remain on good terms with many of its people.  However, personally, I have moved forward in many ways and no longer relate to the Convergence movement as a participant. 

However, the Convergence Movement did have a group that evolved out of it, and that is the third group we want to talk about here.

3.  The Primitive Catholic Movement

Since the early 1990's or so, another group of former Evangelicals have sought to be part of the historic Church, but unlike the Convergence people, they tended to be more simpler and conservative in their perspective.   These people, called "Primitive Catholics," believe the true essence of the Church must be restored due to the fact many things have corrupted its witness over the centuries.    They believe in the same valid priesthood as all other Catholics, they also very much believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and they do maintain that the Church was liturgical from the start.   Some go even further as they are also involved in Hebraic roots, and tend to incorporate Judaic elements into their liturgies.  Of all the groups, I would say this is one I probably have the most in common with personally, and wanted to give a little space to them as well. 

What is called "Primitive Catholicism" started back sometime in the mid-1980's, and it shares many common roots with the Convergence Movement as well as with other former Evangelicals and Pentecostals who have made a similar journey of faith.   One of its earliest proponents was a Texas attorney and former Jehovah's Witness by the name of David Bercot.  Like many of us, Bercot felt a leading to study the earliest writings of the Christian Church, and as he did so he came to the conclusion that many things modern Christians are doing were off-base in comparison with the Apostles and the other early Christians.   Later, Bercot and a group of disciples joined with the Anglican Church in America (a Continuing Anglican jurisdiction) where he was later ordained a priest.  Inspired by his studies, Bercot also founded the Society of the Good Shepherd, and published a number of writings through his Scroll Publishing.  Among those were two books I still reference quite extensively - one, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up? (Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publishing, 1989) dealt specifically with evaluating some aspects of the contemporary Evangelical Protestant churches in light of early Christianity, and what he writes can be shocking.   The second - and I believe more important - book he authored was entitled Common Sense (Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publications, 1992) that addressed the understandings of Scripture contemporary Evangelical Protestants have in light of what both the Bible and the Early Church taught themselves.   His third book, published by Hendrickson, was written years later and is one of the best reference sources available, entitled A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, which is arranged by topic regarding the Church Fathers' teachings on various issues.   The first two books have some material I don't personally agree with, but overall they are good material.   In recent years, Bercot has left the sacramental/liturgical tradition altogether and is now part of an Anabaptist group he formed located in Ephrata, PA.  He still remains one of the foremost figures as far as Primitive Catholicism goes, and his contributions cannot be underestimated.  

David Bercot - attorney, author, and founder of the Society of the Good Shepherd

Other groups of Primitive Catholics began to form as well, including the Synod of Saint Timothy (founded in 2007) and the Celtic Episcopal Church, among others.   Later on, we will document more of those groups in detail as they are important to this study.  


This basic overview shows the evolution of how so many Evangelicals and Pentecostals have made their way into the sacramental/liturgical Church, and more continue to do so even today.  A recent article I had read, as a matter of fact, noted that many younger people are discovering liturgy because they want real church, and the megachurches and fads and fashions of much of contemporary Christianity don't really reach them.   There is also a connection here as well with the Messianic Jewish movement, as it seems that the closer one gets to the New Testament Church, the more Hebraic and liturgical it gets.  That of course is the subject of a whole other discussion, but it does tie into all this as well.   When I continue, I will begin to chronicle a select number of sacramental/liturgical churches in earnest specifically that are "Highways and Hedges" bodies.