The Progressive Christian Alliance and its place in the Independent Sacramental Movement

For me the PCA is very much a part of the Independent Sacramental Movement or at least a part of it is. But before I go into that some reading this may be going the Independent what?

So lets start with that from Wikipedia which in this instance is actually not that bad of a place to start as it gives a brief overview:

The Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM) is a collection of sacramental Christian individuals and groups (and, depending on how one draws boundaries, some Christo-Pagans and Thelemites) who are not part of historic sacramental Christian denominations such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches. Many in the ISM originated in schisms from sacramental Christian denominations, and claim to preserve the historical episcopate or apostolic succession, though this claim by some of these churches would be seriously questioned,[why?] if not rejected,[why?] by the ecclesiastical authorities of Rome,[1] Constantinople, Union of Utrecht (Old Catholic), and Canterbury. The Union of Utrecht and some jurisdictions[which?] within the Anglican Communion have engaged in ecumenical conversation with some groups[which?] which could be included in the ISM.[according to whom?]

Most of the churches listed by ISM adherents as being part of the movement have no historic connection to the movement and share almost nothing with this movement other than apostolic succession. In addition, some churches or other groups which are structurally similar to each other but which do not claim apostolic succession have been claimed by ISMsources as part of their movement.[clarification needed (see talk)]

Groups within the ISM (often known as Independent CatholicOld CatholicLiberal Catholic, Autocephalous Orthodox, Free Sacramental,[further explanation needed] etc.) have a number of common characteristics:[according to whom?]

  • solitary clergy and small groups
  • centrality of the sacramental life (especially the Eucharist)
  • a mediatory priesthood mostly composed of volunteers
  • ordination potentially available to a significant percentage of the membership
  • experimentation in theology, liturgy, and/or church structure.[further explanation needed]

The term was popularized in 2005 by John Plummer, in The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement,[2] although it was used earlier, in 2002 by Richard Smoley, in Inner Christianity,[3] and perhaps first used in the mid-1970s by a short-lived cooperative organization called the Synod of Independent Sacramental Churches.[speculation?] ISMgroups range from the broadly inclusive[example needed] (including marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of women) to the socially conservative;[example needed] also from the traditionally orthodox to the esoteric, although the term is most commonly employed to refer to the liberal end of the spectrum. While the term “Independent Sacramental” originated as an etic description,[by whom?] it has been used increasingly as an emic self-description by members of some of these churches and groups.

Currently, just as within the new monasticism movement, interspiritual expressions are arising.

So our brothers and sisters in Churches like the Old Catholic Apostolic Church or Liberal Catholic Church are generally and example of the Independent Sacramental Movement(ISM) but as hinted at in the Wiki entry above that isn’t necessarily it.

Indeed the ISM comprises of Independent Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Franciscans, and more really if you can think of a Christian denomination you will likely find a branch within the ISM.

My reason for stating the PCA or at least a part of the PCA is indeed a part of this movement is varied but let’s looks at the shared characteristics that the Wiki entry gave and go from there.

  • solitary clergy and small groups

We of course in general really do fit the mold for this or we at least tend to start out this way, we tend to start off as a small group of like minded people indeed one could the formation of the PCA was based on this.

  • a mediatory priesthood mostly composed of volunteers

We are all volunteers here, those of us lucky to make a living doing ministry do so in what would be called a self supporting manner, or also have secular work that enable us to live and we run our ministry in conjunction with secular work. There is something very Apostle like in this manner or at least in my opinion there is.

  • ordination potentially available to a significant percentage of the membership

Yes indeed we fit this perfectly, and there isn’t much point in elaborating on this further, not in the context of this blog anyway.

  • Experimentation in theology, liturgy, and/or church structure.

It has been mentioned by myself on the Facebook page before and I will do so again you will not likely find such a diverse group of theological and liturgical diversity as you find in the PCA and each of who do Ministry will likely have varying degrees of structure and Liturgy used.

Of course you may have noticed I missed one of the common characteristics out from that Wiki entry and my reason for doing so goes back to the start of this blog, the PCA or at least a part of the PCA is a part of the ISM and it is because of this characteristic:

  •  centrality of the sacramental life (especially the Eucharist)

This is where my interest in History also comes into play, I have been told repeatedly from different members of the PCA who have been around a lot longer than my few years, who have said that one or two of the original founders had very much in mind a very sacramental orientated life and form of ministry.

Now obviously the PCA in its modern incarnation has a much broader range of ministers and layity and congregants, ranging from this very traditional sort of view point to those who are at the polar opposite end of the spectrum who would not have a high view of Christ for example or who have a faith completely outside of the Christian tradition.

For me one of the most educational and rewarding aspects of the PCA is this diversity of thought and belief, but also that we all have a strength of faith that allows us to express our views on faith, on theological matters without descending into labeling each other heretics and the like. However in my own ministry and in the ministry of those who do have a more traditional view of Ministry I look to a number of fellow countrymen and women who like me are Independent Anglicans, or my Brothers and Sisters who given recent events are now independent Methodists, and across the globe those of us in the PCA who as I said have a more traditional view of ministry but are considered too Liberal from the traditions we have come from.

For me and for those that I have just mentioned and those I have not mentioned, where the Sacraments especially the Eucharist is very much central to our lives, it is this part of the PCA that is without question as part of ISM, sharing all the common characteristics of Churches that are part of ISM.

You may say Rob, ahh but that Wiki entry mentions Apostolic Succession, Indeed for many Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and a few others this is a important thing, the reason of course relates to the validity of ordinations within these said churches, Rome itself has stated publicly that for churches like the Old Catholic Apostolic Church (Churches that typically trace succession back to the Union of Utrecht which rejected doctrines of the first Vatican Council)

Bishops that have performed ordinations without the consent of Rome or the Papacy are Valid but Illicit, of course as already mentioned some of the ISM don’t place any emphasis on the Apostolic succession as they believe as backed up by scripture that God and their faith in Christ have called them to a royal priest hood (1Peter 2:9).

Some of us within the PCA of course may have come from being Priest in other denominations certainly if any of us are former Catholic, Anglican priests etc then they would have a line of Apostolic succession which in most church structures is performed by a Bishop, however the PCA doesn’t use these titles preferring and I think rather appropriately titles like Servant Leader. My point being is that for those where Apostolic Succession is of the up most importance the PCA in some situations can follow this.

That isn’t to take away from those within the PCA who don’t put any importance in such things or for those that feel no connection with the ISM as I said for the PCA only a part of us is in the ISM and that is because of the mass breadth and diversity present in the PCA.

The reason that I have wanted to write this blog is to really reach those within the PCA who may have an interest or feel a call and connection to this part of the PCA and how this part of the PCA is connected to a wider movement that itself is centuries old.

In fact speaking as both the Member at Large of the PCA, currently seeking Ordination and currently in Ministry that falls within the ISM a lot of our thinking and theology can be traced back to the early Church Fathers, such as Origin, Gregory of Nyssa, all the way to more recent theologians such as Karl Barth, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke, Robin Parry and many more. The point is of course that this makes us both new and old at the same time something that I find deeply ironic but also with something that I feel Gods guiding hand in.

The PCA is a broad church of diversity and theological discussion and persuasion as mentioned already (perhaps as an Anglican its why I feel drawn to it the way I do) but this blog intention has not been to separate or divide the PCA with those who hold a similar view to me and those who don’t, but rather make aware those who share my views or similar views of the deep history that we have as a part of the ISM.

As time goes on I intend to write more on the Independent Sacramental Movement and within my own Ministry and in my capacity as the PCA member at Large is to build some more connections with other churches within the ISM such as the Old Catholic Apostolic Church, The Open Episcopal Church etc.

But it goes to show just how Universal Christ’s Church truly is and I hope those who have read this have found it informative and have at the very least been able to detect the deep passion involved with writing this, even those who don’t consider themselves within the ISM but now understand how the PCA or a part of the PCA is clearly a part of the ISM.

God bless.

Rob Ponsford          

Member at Large

Progressive Christian Alliance

3 responses to “The Progressive Christian Alliance and its place in the Independent Sacramental Movement

  1. Love it!

  2. Gregorio Bufkin

    Thank you. Expresses to a “t” most of my thoughts.

  3. Absolutely a fantastic and heartfelt piece of writing, that reaches out to all of us.

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