Commentary by Robin G. Jordan
While the Church of Christ has existed in time and space as well as in the spiritual realm, we must not confuse any particular church with Christ’s Church as does the Church of Rome, maintaining to this day that it is the only true Church and salvation cannot be found outside it. In his Apology of the Church of England Bishop John Jewel articulates the position of the reformed Church of England and classical Anglicanism. "God’s grace is promised to a good mind and to one that feareth God," he writes, "not unto sees and successions." The true Church is found where the word of the apostles is handed on from one generation to the next, and through the apostles’ word each new generation believes in Christ. A particular see or succession of bishops may have a pedigree stretching back to apostolic times. But if this see or succession does not teach the faith as the apostles taught it, this pedigree is spiritually meaningless. Any claim of a longstanding connection with the see or succession is likewise meaningless.
Augustine’s mission to a small Saxon kingdom at the invitation of its ruler did not bring Christianity to the British Isles. An indigenous Celtic Church had flourished in Great Britain for several centuries. The Church had sent bishops to Council of Arles in 314 AD and evangelized Ireland in the fifth century. While the Celtic Church had been forced into a temporary retreat with the invasion of Angles, Frisians, Saxons, and Jutes, it had already begun to evangelize the invaders. It was the Celtic Church and not Augustine’s mission that evangelized the North of the British Isles and most of the South. Augustine and his monks occupied an existing church building that the Saxon king gave to them for their use and the mission confined itself to his territory. Before Augustine had crossed the English Channel, he was forced to wait on the Gallican bishop whom Pope Gregory had asked to consecrate him. The Gallican bishop apparently shared Peter Toon’s scruples about a foreign church consecrating a bishop for a territory when there was an existing church and bishops in that territory. Augustine eventually persuaded the Gallican bishop to overcome his reservations and consecrate him. One might say that Augustine set a precedent for all subsequent boundary crossings.
Augustine certainly was not the first bishop in the British Isles. Indeed, he met with a group of bishops of the Celtic Church after his arrival. The meeting, however, was short-lived. Augustine demanded that the British bishops submit to the authority of the Church of Rome and to his own authority and that of his See. The British bishops refused and departed. To say that the primacy of the See of Canterbury has been never been questioned until recently, as Dr. Toon asserts in "See of Canterbury to be replaced by Lagos or Singapore?" is patently untrue. It was disputed at its very beginning.
For a number of years the two churches uneasily coexisted with each other. What Augustine achieved was to establish a tiny foothold in the British Isles for the Church of Rome. From this foothold the Roman Church spread its influence to the surrounding kingdoms. Eventually the Church of Rome would gain ascendancy in the British Isles.
In the sixteenth century Henry VIII broke with the Bishop of Rome over his divorce from Catherine of Aragorn and abolished Papal authority in his kingdom. The English Parliament at Henry’s insistence adopted legislation that recognized the English monarch and not the Pope as the supreme head of the Church in England.
Does it make sense then in a church that has rejected the jurisdiction of the Pope and which has for a good part of its post-Reformation history regarded the Church of Rome as heretical, to recognize as the primary see of the reformed Church of England and reformed churches of the Anglican Communion a see through which papistry and Romanism first established a bridgehead in the British Isles?
Anglicans in the global South have been questioning the primacy of the See of Canterbury for longer than "the last year of two," as Dr. Toon would have us believe. The largest number of global Anglicans is found in the global South provinces. African provinces like Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda have been enjoying explosive growth. The average Anglican is Black, African, female, under 30, lives on 2 dollars a day, has three children, walks two kilometers for water, is related to someone with HIV/Aids, and is evangelical. Unhappiness with the See of Canterbury and the liberal western churches’ domination of the organs of the Anglican Communion (i.e. the Anglican Communion Office, the Anglican Consultative Council) go as far back as the 1998 Lambeth Conference and earlier. At the 1998 Lambeth Conference the liberal western churches tried to manipulate the African bishops. The African bishops, however, resisted this manipulation. They were largely responsible for bringing Resolution 1:10 to the floor and for ensuring its passage.
Archbishop Williams’ predecessor, Lord Carey, cultivated good relations with the African bishops and consulted them on important matters. When the Africans invited Williams to the All-African Bishops Conference following his appointment, he snubbed them. He claimed a prior engagement. As a result of this snub Williams lost the confidence and respect of the African bishops. It has become increasingly evident since then that Williams is more comfortable with the leaders of liberal western churches and more sympathetic to their views. He gave assurances to the newly elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katherine Jefferts Schori that her province would not be ejected from the Anglican Communion and his subsequent actions have demonstrated that he has no intention of disciplining the turbulent province. His unwillingness to hold a meeting of the primates following New Orleans House of Bishops meeting shows a growing rift between the African bishops and himself.
Both African and North American Anglicans have raised the question whether the senior most bishop of the Church of England, who is appointed by the English government and whose appointment is subject to the vagaries of English politics, is the best choice for the lead primate of an international fellowship of churches, which spans the globe. The Church of England is declining. There are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than Anglicans. The Church of England is also tainted by liberalism and modernism. The Anglican Communion is divided over the normalization of homosexuality. The official position of the Communion is that homosexual practice is not consistent with the Bible and the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of persons involved in such unions cannot be countenanced. However, the Church of England permits domestic partnerships between members of the same sex, both clergy and laity. Williams himself approved the appointment of gay bishop whose celibacy was disputed but withdrew his approval when it created a public furor.
Would it not be better to elect the lead primate of the Anglican Communion from the college of primates, much as the president of CAPA is elected from the bishops of the participating provinces? The Archbishop of Canterbury would occupy a titular position in relationship to the Anglican Communion similar to that which the Queen occupies in relationship to the Commonwealth of Nations.
Unfortunately the liberal western churches are likely resist such a proposal since it would threaten their dominance of the Communion’s organs. It would also likely create further division with the provinces that believe their interests would be better served by leaving things as they are aligning against those who believe that their interests would be better served by changing the leadership structure.
In his Advent Letter Archbishop Williams made two proposals. He wrote:
"I wish to pursue some professionally facilitated conversations between the leadership of The Episcopal Church and those with whom they are most in dispute, internally and externally, to see if we can generate any better level of mutual understanding. Such meetings will not seek any predetermined outcome but will attempt to ease tensions and clarify options. They may also clarify ideas about the future pattern of liaison between TEC and other parts of the Communion."
He went on to write:
"I also intend to convene a small group of primates and others, whose task will be, in close collaboration with the primates, the Joint Standing Committee, the Covenant Design Group and the Lambeth Conference Design Group, to work on the unanswered questions arising from the inconclusive evaluation of the primates to New Orleans and to take certain issues forward to Lambeth. This will feed in to the discussions at Lambeth about Anglican identity and the Covenant process; I suggest that it will also have to consider whether in the present circumstances it is possible for provinces or individual bishops at odds with the expressed mind of the Communion to participate fully in representative Communion agencies, including ecumenical bodies. Its responsibility will be to weigh current developments in the light of the clear recommendations of Windsor and of the subsequent statements from the ACC and the Primates' Meeting; it will thus also be bound to consider the exact status of bishops ordained by one province for ministry in another."
When biblically faithful Anglicans in North America consider Archbishop William’s appointments to the directorship of the Anglican Communion Office and the Secretary Generalship of the Anglican Consultative Council, the chairmanships of the Eames Commission and the Panel of Reference, the flaws of the Windsor Report, the ineffectiveness of the Panel of Reference, the unconcealed sympathy of the ACO director, the ACC Secretary General, and the Eames Commission and the Panel of Reference chairmen for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, the intransigence of the Episcopal Church, the failure of Archbishop Schori to recuse herself from the Joint Standing Committee, the involvement of the ACO and ACC in the drafting of the New Orleans statement, the premature release of the Joint Standing Committee’s assessment of the New Orleans statement, the divided response to the assessment, the liberal efforts to dilute the proposed Anglican Covenant, the Chicago Consultation’s plans to mobilize the joint resources of the gay-liberal alliance in the cause of normalizing homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, the ambivalent and ineffectual leadership of the Archbishop Williams, his assurances to Presiding Bishop Schori following her election, his statements after the New Orleans meeting, his refusal to call another meeting of the Primates, his unwillingness to exclude the consecrators of Gene Robinson from the 2008 Lambeth Conference, his willingness to invite Robinson as a guest or observer but to exclude the North American missionary bishops of several African provinces, and his recent meeting with lesbian and gay clergy in the United Kingdom, they do not see any good coming from these proposals. Both Kendall Harmon and John P. Richardson (Leadership and Lambeth - Dr. William's Advent Challenge to the Communion and The Archbishop’s Egg) have offered thoughtful assessments of Dr. William’s Advent Letter. Both point to inconsistency and lack of clarity in William’s thinking and raise concerns about what he proposes.
After the experiences of the past four years, biblically faithful North American Anglicans and the global South Anglicans with whom they have aligned themselves no longer have the patience to wait and see what the 2008 Lambeth Conference produces. They have seen what has happened during these years under William’s leadership. They believe that they can expect more from the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Liberals in the Episcopal Church have robbed biblical faithful US Anglicans of their church. The same liberals are likely to rob them of the buildings in which they worship God and practice the apostolic faith. Liberals at the 2008 Lambeth Conference may rob them of their Anglican identity. But they cannot take from them the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
If the See of Canterbury persists in recognizing as branches of the One Holy and Catholic Church churches that have abandoned the apostolic faith and embraced heresy, as Williams has shown himself willing to do, whatever the role Canterbury has played in the history of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, the See itself is no longer apostolic. As the apostle John tells us, those who welcome false teachers participate in their wickedness (2 John 9-11). There can be no communion with an apostate See. Indeed the See must be considered vacant until the appointment of a new Archbishop who actively holds to the apostolic faith and reverses the actions of his predecessor. Until that time it is both agreeable to Scripture and reasonable for those churches that were in communion with that See before it became apostate and which continue to teach and maintain the apostolic faith themselves, to minister to the faithful in the See, as well as choose one or more bishops to perform the functions of the apostate Archbishop in relation to themselves.