By Robin G. Jordan
Over the past five years the Anglican Church in North America has shown no evidence of changing its direction from that reflected in the particular theological bias of its doctrinal statements to date—NONE WHATSOEVER!!
Folks in the ACNA who maintain that the denomination is a work in progress and that it is too soon to draw any conclusions about what it will become theologically are indulging in wishful thinking. This type of thinking may enable them to remain in the denomination despite the mounting evidence that the most influential denominational leaders—those who are determining its present direction—are NOT committed to creating an environment in the denomination in which ALL schools of conservative Anglican thought are able to flourish. But it is wishful thinking nonetheless.
Without serious, meaningful reform the ACNA will keep moving in its present direction. The same leaders have a vested interest in ensuring that it does. They have a particular vision of the denomination.
Their vision does not include the creation of an environment in which conservative Evangelical congregations and groupings of congregations are able to thrive alongside Anglo-Catholic ones. It is the vision of a denomination in which various forms of Anglo-Catholicism are flourishing but not confessional Anglicanism It is the vision of a denomination in which those congregations and groupings of congregations that are not fully Anglo-Catholic in doctrine, order, and practice are moving progressively in that direction.
Folks in the ACNA who do not see any evidence of a theological bias in the denomination’s doctrinal statements are choosing to ignore a substantial body of evidence which shows that its doctrinal statements favor the views of the denomination’s Anglo-Catholic – philo-Orthodox wing over those of the other groups in the ACNA. Denial of the existence and extent of this body of evidence may be what enables them to remain in the denomination.
Folks in the ACNA who tell conservative Evangelicals that they should look elsewhere if they want to be a part of a Reformed denomination are the most honest with themselves and others out of the three groups. They are willing to say what those shaping the official doctrine of the ACNA are not willing to say. Saying it might cost them the support of the GAFCON/GFCA Primates and they are not willing to burn that bridge—at least not at the present time. It offers them a connection with the global Anglican Communion and legitimacy that they might otherwise not have. Telling conservative Evangelicals to look elsewhere would be acknowledging that they are pursuing a policy of exclusion.
Since the nineteenth century Anglo-Catholics have sought to dislodge the Thirty-Nine Articles from its central place as Anglicanism’s confession of faith and to change the identity of the Anglican Church. See J. C. Ryle’s essay, “The Thirty-Nine Articles” in Knots Untied (1877). They have not only attacked what Ryle in Knots Untied calls “Evangelical Religion,” but have endeavored to rid the Anglican Church of Evangelicals and their theological outlook. They succeeded in the Episcopal Church in the United States in the late nineteenth century. In South Africa the result was two churches identifying themselves as Anglican—one faithful to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Articles, the other embodying Anglo-Catholic principles.
The struggle over what is constitutive of a genuine Anglican identity did not conclude in the nineteenth century but continues to this present day. Among its results is the split between liberal Anglican provinces in the West and conservative ones in the global South, the unsuccessful Anglican Covenant, the Global Anglican Future movement, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement.
This struggle has not been confined to the provinces of the Anglican Communion but has also affected the extramural Anglican churches. Douglas Bess has documented the struggle over what is constitutive of a genuine Anglican identity in North America’s Continuing Anglican Movement in Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement (Apocryphile Press, 2006). The result would be the early demise of the first Anglican Church in North America, the dominance of an “extreme form of Anglo-Catholicism” in most of the resulting splinter churches, a fragmented movement, and declining and dying churches. The particular form of Anglo-Catholicism that has come to dominate the Continuing Anglican Movement seeks to reconstruct Anglicanism along the lines of the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middle Ages before the East-West Schism.
This struggle has also been evident in the Reformed Episcopal Church since the closing decades of the twentieth century. There has been a concerted effort to substitute a revisionist reinterpretation of the Evangelical principles of the denomination’s founders for their views on key issues. This reinterpretation reflects the Anglo-Catholic leanings of the REC’s present leadership and is intended to persuade the folks in the REC that the direction in which that leadership is taking the REC is consistent with what its founders believed, taught, and practiced. Anyone who takes the time to read the writings of the REC founders and to study the history of the REC knows that that is not the case.
I have received credible reports of the hostility that Anglo-Catholics in the REC show toward those who continue to uphold the REC founders’ Evangelical principles, dismissively referring to them as “Presbyterians.” I have myself been the object of their hostility when I have drawn attention to the discrepancy between what they believe, teach, and practice and what the REC founders believed, taught, and practiced.
I have also received credible reports of how Anglo-Catholic REC bishops have discriminated against candidates seeking ordination in the REC and clergy seeking reception into the REC from a protestant denomination because they adhered to the REC founders’ Evangelical principles. In addition, I have received credible reports of the unethical conduct of REC bishops in their dealings with clergy. A REC bishop who at the time was a member of the Common Cause Partnership’s Governance Task Force and director of communications for his denomination told me that I had approached the wrong person when I contacted him with a proposal for an alternative constitution for what would become the second Anglican Church in North America for the consideration of the REC bishops. It was an obvious lie albeit a sixteenth century Jesuit might argue that the bishop in question was not being entirely dishonest with me: He was not the right person to approach with the proposal as he supported the Common Cause Partnership’s Governance Task Force’s proposed constitution for the ACNA which he had helped to draft.
When viewed together, the doctrinal positions taken in the ACNA’s constitution, canons, ordinal, trial eucharistic liturgy, catechism, and other doctrinal statements represent a revisionist reinterpretation of Anglicanism, one that is closely related to “the extreme form of Anglo-Catholicism” that has dominated the Continuing Anglican Movement and which is antithetical to “the protestant and reformed principles of the Anglican Church based on Holy Scripture and as set out in the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles.”
The Anglo-Catholic Movement would benefit from the Broad Church Movement’s acceptance or tolerance of its beliefs and practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The retrograde 1928 Prayer Book is a product of their collaboration. The two movements also collaborated on a passage of a 1925 resolution that sought to drop the Thirty-Nine Articles from the American Prayer Book. The Episcopal Church’s canons did not require clerical subscription to the Articles. However, both Anglo-Catholics and Broad Churchmen objected to their inclusion in the Prayer Book as they were an irritating reminder of Anglican Church’s “protestant and reformed principles,” principles which they did not themselves uphold.
The liberalism that eclipsed Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church from the mid-twentieth century on has its roots in both movements. The ordination service for deacons in the 1928 Prayer Book does away with the requirement that candidates for the diaconate in the Episcopal must “unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.” It removed that particular obstacle to modernism which had been making substantial inroads in the Episcopal Church. Interestingly the ACNA Ordinal also does away with this requirement.
The Anglo-Catholic Movement has benefitted from the Convergence Movement’s acceptance or tolerance of its beliefs and practices in the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century. The Convergence Movement has championed a number of these beliefs and practices among North American evangelicals and charismatics. Both the Anglo-Catholic Movement and the Convergence Movement are strongly represented in the ACNA.
The adherents of both movements warm to two ideas that former ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan champions. Along with the regression of the North American Anglican Church to the beliefs and practices of an earlier period in Church history, to those of a time before the Reformation, Duncan advocates what he described as a “new settlement.” The Elizabethan Settlement, he argues, is outdated. Contemporary Anglicans have entirely different views on a number of doctrinal issues and related practices that were argued about in the sixteenth century. This “new settlement” would reflect these views.
As Roger Beckwith and others have pointed out, the Elizabethan Settlement is what has shaped the particular character of the Anglican Church—a church when it it is true to the principles of the Anglican Reformers, is protestant, reformed, and evangelical. What Duncan is championing is a complete change of Anglican identity, something that Anglo-Catholics have been promoting since the nineteenth century and liberals since the twentieth century. It is noteworthy that the GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future identify Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism as the two major challenges to the authority of Holy Scripture and the Anglican formularies in the Anglican Church from the nineteenth century on (pp. 32-33.)
Whatever they may say, Duncan and those who share his views or have similar views are constitutionally and ideologically opposed to GAFCON’s affirmation of the Elizabethan Settlement in The Way,the Truth and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future; the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ position on the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, on what defines core Anglican identity; the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement; and Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today.
Present ACNA Archbishop Foley Beech ostensibly supports “the renewal of Anglicanism.” But his actions as well as a number of his public statements suggest that what Beech really supports is a reconstruction of Anglicanism. He has joined with the other members of the College of Bishops to endorse the doctrinal statements that the ACNA has produced to date. He has taken steps to implement these documents in his own diocese.
Beech has also voiced the opinion that Anglicanism is confessional because its adherents accept the authority of the catholic Creeds. This is a revisionist reinterpretation of Anglican confessionalism. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth and the Life in its discussion of the struggle with theological pluralism equates Anglican confessionalism with Anglicans’ acceptance of the authority of its reformed confession of faith, The Thirty-Nine Articles (p. 24). Their view of Anglican confessionalism is the longstanding, historical view of such confessionalism.
What is coming to the fore in the Anglican Church in North America is not support for the recovery of confessional Anglicanism, which the GAFCON Theological Resource Group identifies as essential to a clear definition of Anglican identity but support for a purportedly new understanding of Anglicanism, one which is in actuality an old Anglo-Catholic understanding of Anglicanism in a new guise.
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