Protestants Looking For Authority Convert to Rome

As part of trend, which has been observed here since October 2009, a retired Episcopal minister, Larry Gipson, has become a Roman priest. Gipson was formerly the rector of the USA’s largest Episcopal church. He’s in process of becoming a Roman priest via a procedure instituted that allows Anglican and Episcopal ministers to become Roman priests but to keep the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican liturgy (and their wife and children if they have them). According to the RNS story in the Washington Post, Gipson was accepted last month into the “Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.” This is the special path set up by Benedict XVI to receive Anglican/Episcopal ministers into the Roman communion.

He says that it was the question of “authority” that finally moved him to go swimming (across the Tiber). Doctrine in the Episcopal/Anglican Church has become “blurry.” He claims:

Anglicanism has always been hesitant to define doctrine because it has opposing factions. It has left doctrine blurry. People can believe almost mutually opposing beliefs.

I suppose it’s the word “always” that rankles this historian. Really? The 11th article of the Anglican Articles confesses:

XI. Of the Justification of Man.
WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or
deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most
wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is
expressed in the Homily of Justification.

To prevent any misunderstanding about what is meant by this “wholesome doctrine” and “full of comfort” the Articles continue:

XII. Of Good Works.
ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow
after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity
of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in
Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith,
insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a
tree discerned by the fruit.

Rome denies that good works are only a fruit of faith. Rome confesses that our good works are part of the ground (basis) and instrument of our righteousness with God. These are mutually exclusive confessions.

The Articles confess:

XIII. Of Works before Justification.

WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of
faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive
grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity:
yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and
commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of

Rome confesses, by contrast, that what the Articles teach is eternally condemned.  I am aware of the magic that John Henry Cardinal Newman tried to perform upon the Articles but his sleight of hand did not work. There is such a thing as objective reality and the Articles cannot be made to conform to Tridentine and modern, post-Vatican II Roman dogma.  Texts have intent. Our reception of them does not, hocus pocus, transubstantiate them.

There are other striking incongruities. The doctrines of predestination and election contained in article 17  has been eternally condemned by Rome at Trent. The doctrine concerning councils (article 21) flatly contradicts Roman dogma. No Romanist can say with the Articles say about purgatory, images, and relics:

XXII. Of Purgatory.

THE Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and
adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of
Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty
of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.

It is impossible to reconcile the Roman dogma of transubstantiation and the memorial, propitiatory, eucharistic sacrifice of the mass with the Anglican doctrine of the Supper:

XXXI. Of the one oblation [offering] of Christ finished upon the Cross.
THE offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption,
propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world,
both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for
sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which
it was commonly said that the priests did offer Christ for the quick
and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous
fables and dangerous deceits.

If Gipson is expecting to find in Rome an ecclesiastical home where blurriness is eliminated and doctrinal coherence is assured he has wandered into the wrong house. Disenchanted Protestants will not find in Rome the authority they hope. They will find that it is more difficult to make sense of Rome’s contradictory decrees than it is to make sense of God’s Word. Coherence is only to be found in the Spirit-inspired, perspicuous Word of God.

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  1. Hi Dr. Clark,

    My, my, my… Gipson is one of too many Episcopal/Anglo-Catholics who long ago cast off from their moorings in the clear authoritative and reformed harbor of the historic Anglican church only to set out adrift into the vast sea of relativism. His frustration with lack of doctrinal authority is the fruit of liberalism in the church and not its true heritage. Sadly today, that heritage of the Anglican formularies along with the voices of Cranmer, Jewell, Toplady, Ryle, and more recently that of M.L. Jones, Stott, Packer, and Lee Gatis doesn’t even register.

  2. They come…and they go.

    And the great work of Lord will continue. So many Protestants might as well go back to Rome, anyway…what with their ‘lot of God, and a little bit of me’ theology.

    There’s no precious little freedom on the Tiber…but then, so many of these folks are afraid of that, anyway.


    • Amen, Steve. Yet I don’t want to describe Gipson and his ilk as ‘Protestant.’ They long ago left that camp, maybe never belonged to it. I’m jealous to keep terms like Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical, etc. from those who, historically, don’t diserve them.

  3. Dr. Clark:

    The articles cited state very clearly and authoritatively the view of the Anglican Church of the 16th century. Evidently, the priest’s view of authority is something to be grasped only by the illumined ones because he could never provide a concise, objective, logical explanation that would satisfy the average man on the street.

    I suppose that what is “true” for you is not “true” for him.

  4. I was just listening to a review of a podcast where a former Presbyterian (PCA) minister was explaining his conversion to Rome. He stated that when you have the truth (i.e. Rome), no one can give a good argument against it. It was amazing to hear the man say that the teachings of Rome are biblically obvious. Yes, the idea of a Pope is biblically obvious; calling a man “Holy Father” is biblically obvious; belief in the Marian dogmas is biblically obvious. Oh, and the idea of Sola Scriptura is the idea of a “stupid” mind.

    • Purgatory and indulgences are quite biblically obvious, too.

      A need to add something to the finished work of Christ, is also painfully obvious to these steeped semi-Pelagains.

  5. I was raised in the mainline Episcopal Church (ECUSA), which our family attended faithfully. While I am a confessional Reformed Christian today (I’m a member and minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), in hindsight there is much of value that I learned from the Book of Common Prayer. While the preaching in the church of my upbringing was rarely substantive, in God’s good providence the liturgy of the church served as a catechism of sorts in my own experience (for example, through the liturgy I learned many Scripture passages, the Creeds, the ten commandments and the Lord’s Prayer). The liturgy had provided me with a basic biblical framework of understanding, so that when I finally did hear the biblical gospel of justification by faith alone it made sense to me (i.e., I didn’t have to be convinced of other more basic doctrines, like the Scriptures being the Word of God, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.; I had already learned those doctrines in the liturgy and creeds of the church which were recited week in and week out). The sad part of this is that I can never recall the doctrine of sola fide being explained to me by my priest or in my confirmation classes. I learned about the gospel through my own reading of Christian literature and through parachurch “ministries,” not in the church where I should have learned it (and hence I spent years wandering in the wilderness of revivalism and parachurchism before coming into the Reformed fold).

    I share these ramblings as an anecdotal example of how it is possible to be in a church with a (for the most part) sound liturgy and (for the most part) sound Articles of Religion saturated with Scripture and gospel truth, and yet to miss the gospel entirely. As I see it, the problem with the Episcopal Church today (aside from it being almost thoroughly infected in its leadership with the cancer of radical modernism and thus devoid of any genuine church discipline) is that few of its members are well catechized and/or instructed in the Articles of Religion. (I doubt that most Episcopal churchmen have ever taken the trouble to actually read and study the Articles of Religion, and I suspect that few Episcopal clergy today actually understand and accept the biblical truths contained in those Articles.) In my own experience it seems that what the Episcopal Church is on paper (in its liturgy, catechism and Articles of Religion) is not what it is in reality. The Book of Common Prayer is “window dressing” that provides elegant cover for a “church” infested with rank heresy, schism and apostasy. It seems that for many Episcopalians it is all pomp and ceremony, form over substance. With confessional ignorance and ceremonial nominalism holding sway, it does not surprise me that otherwise “conservative” Episcopal clergy are swimming the Tiber to join “Mother Church.”

    • Hi Jeff!

      This is helpful. To add one comment: In my experience it isn’t easy to find a real prayerbook service any more. Were a good version of the BCP in use the gospel would more clearly present but where it is absent then even the window-dressing is gone.

  6. Does the RCC actually recognize these guys as full-fledged priests? Do they receive holy orders? Can they conduct mass and communion? My guess would be no from what I have heard, but I haven’t really researched it. If no, then this seems like a bit of a demotion and seems like they will be treated as sort of second-class “priests.” I know this isn’t the primary concern here, but it is part of the whole. Perhaps these folks know this going in?

    • Actually, I also have not researched it, but it does seem that they are full fledged priests because of the Anglo-catholic relations and dialogue.

  7. My understanding is that the Anglican or Episcopal priest will be recognized as a valid Roman Catholic priest, even if married. That offer only extends to each particular priest, i.e. as an exception. It may be that the validity of their new ordination is limited to the newly accepted Anglican services/congregations. Rome is not setting up a new order of married priests nor a permanent sub-set within the Mother Church. A married Anglican non-clergy who swims the Tiber would not be able to become a priest.

    Additionally, only those aspects of Anglican liturgy that Rome approves will be allowed. And, this overall offer can be rescinded by a later Pope.

    Anglicans who convert have their baptism recognized as valid, but otherwise will have to be re-confirmed as Rome still doesn’t recognized the Sacraments (except for baptism) or ordinations of the Anglican Church. Thus confirmation by the Anglican Bishop is not valid in Rome’s eyes.

    This seems at best a one-time generation Anglican weigh-station within Rome that ends with the particular Anglican priest who converts. The goal, I think, is eventual full integration into Rome.

    • Hi Jack,

      This seems right. These will be valid Roman priests. If readers will track back through the older links there are posts and news stories that give the background.

  8. That’s it. I give up. It’s off to Holy Mother Church for me.

    I need a place where there’s complete peace, unity, harmony, unquestioned commitment to orthodoxy by all, and universal acceptance of authority. No heretics, no dissenters, just a willing and hearty embrace of clear, consistent Tradition.

    Oops. Never mind.

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