By Robin G. Jordan
In a recent statement the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship expressed confidence that the AC-NA has remained faithful to the principles of Anglicanism that "unite us as Anglicans and and set the parameter for communion, as the Preamble and Declaration of the Church of Ireland (1870) make clear." Does the AC-NA merit that confidence? In this article I examine the AC-NA approach to the Anglican formularies and come up with a partial answer to that question.
For those who are not familiar with the Preamble and Declaration of the Church of Ireland’ Constitution, it has been reproduced below.
PREAMBLE AND DECLARATION
ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL CONVENTION IN THE YEAR 1870
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen: Whereas it hath been determined by the Legislature that on and after the 1st day of January, 1871, the Church of Ireland shall cease to be established by law; and that the ecclesiastical law of Ireland shall cease to exist as law save as provided in the "Irish Church Act, 1869", and it hath thus become necessary that the Church of Ireland should provide for its own regulation:
We, the archbishops and bishops of this the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland, together with the representatives of the clergy and laity of the same, in General Convention assembled in Dublin in the year of our Lord God one thousand eight hundred and seventy, before entering on this work, do solemnly declare as follows:
1. The Church of Ireland doth, as heretofore, accept and unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as given by inspiration of God, and containing all things necessary to salvation; and doth continue to profess the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church.
2. The Church of Ireland will continue to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded; and will maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry.
3. The Church of Ireland, as a reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby reaffirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject.
The Church of Ireland doth receive and approve The Book of the Articles of Religion, commonly called the Thirty-nine Articles, received and approved by the archbishops and bishops and the rest of the clergy of Ireland in the synod holden in Dublin, A.D. 1634; also, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the Church of Ireland; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, as approved and adopted by the synod holden in Dublin, A.D. 1662, and hitherto in use in this Church. And this Church will continue to use the same, subject to such alterations only as may be made therein from time to time by the lawful authority of the Church.
The Church of Ireland will maintain communion with the sister Church of England, and with all other Christian Churches agreeing in the principles of this Declaration; and will set forward, so far as in it lieth, quietness, peace, and love, among all christian people.
The Church of Ireland, deriving its authority from Christ, Who is the Head over all things to the Church, doth declare that a General Synod of the Church of Ireland, consisting of the archbishops and bishops, and of representatives of the clergy and laity, shall have chief legislative power therein, and such administrative power as may be necessary for the Church, and consistent with its episcopal constitution.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer
The sixth declaration (FD6) prescribes how AC-NA members should view the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal attached to the same Prayer Book.
In his article, “The ACNA Constitution: In Line with the Covenant,” Ephraim Radner draws attention to the indefiniteness with which the AC-NA Constitution covers or hides the Anglican formularies:
“We receive the Book of Common Prayer…as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline” and as “the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship”; “we receive the Thirty-Nine Articles…, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles…”. 
The AC-NA constitution qualifies the authority of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as “the standard of worship for the Anglican tradition.” The qualifier is the phrase, “the Books that preceded it….” It reduces the 1662 Prayer Book to one of several books that the AC-NA accepts as the worship standard of the Anglican tradition.
The phrase, “the Books that preceded it…” can be interpreted to include not only the pre-Reformation medieval service books but also the famous or infamous “Laudian liturgy,” the 1637Scottish Prayer Book, beloved by High Churchmen. The sixth declaration (FD6) does not specify that these “Books” must be Prayer Books or English Prayer Books.
A comparison of the “the Books that preceded…” the 1662 prayer Book reveals that they not only differ significantly in theology but also greatly in the worship principles embodied in them. Some permit liturgical practices that the others do not. For example, the pre-Reformation medieval service books, the 1549 Prayer Book, and the 1637 Prayer Book contain prayers for the dead. The 1552, 1559, 1607, and 1663 do not. The 1549 Canon and the 1637 Prayer of Consecration have a well-developed epiclesis, reflecting the influence of Eastern Orthodox Eucharistic Prayers. The 1552, 1559, 1607, and 1662 Prayers of Consecration have a muted or primitive epiclesis like a number of early Syraic Eucharistic Prayers. The result is a rather nebulous standard that is open to interpretation as even permitting the regular use of the Latin Mass.
The Anglican Church of Kenya and number of other Anglican provinces give a much larger place to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and to the Ordinal attached to that Book. They typical declare their acceptance of the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of the Church as these are set out in the 1662 Prayer Book and the attached Ordinal. They also accept the principles of worship set out in that Prayer Book. At the same time they reserve the right to draw up their own formularies of faith and to determine their own forms of service. They also authorize deviations from and additions or alternatives to the forms of service in the 1662 Prayer Book and new forms of liturgy consistent with the doctrine of that Prayer Book and its liturgical usages.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion
The seventh declaration (FD7) prescribes how AC-NA members should view the Thirty-Nine Articles. The view of the Articles that it lays down as the official view of the AC-NA is partisan, that is, it is aligned with a particular theological stream or school of thought.
The seventh declaration (FD7) incorporates one of what E.A. Knox called “evasions” in John Henry Newman’s Tract 90.  In his article, “Recovering Confessional Anglicanism,” Gillis Harp explains:
“The final evasion was that Newman contended that the reference in the Declaration to only ‘the literal and grammatical sense' of the Articles ‘relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of the framers a comment upon the text'. This last evasion is perhaps most significant for our purposes here for it effectively detaches the ‘train' of the Articles from its ‘engine' ( i.e., its original historical context and the original intent of its authors) and essentially allows one to pull Anglicanism anywhere one likes.” 
In his commentary, The Thirty-Nine Articles, E. J. Bicknell employs what Newman called the “literal and grammatical sense” to dismiss the historical context and to make such claims as the following:
“There is no denial of the Eucharistic sacrifice, but [only] of popular perversions of it, as embodied in the practical system of worship during the Middle Ages….So it is not ‘the sacrifice of the Mass' but the “sacrifices of masses' that is condemned: not any formal theological statement of the doctrine—for such did not exist—but popular errors.” 
The seventh declaration (FD) relegates the matters called into question in the Articles to the sixteenth century, treating them as no longer of concern in this century. For example, the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice may have been an issue in the sixteenth century but in this view it is no longer an issue today. This view of the Articles fails to recognize that Anglicans themselves are still to this day divided over the key issues with which the Articles deal. These questions are far from settled.
Radner has no difficulty with this view of the Articles:
“…it is hardly constrictive, let alone historically odd, that the Thirty-Nine Articles would be received as holding doctrine appropriate to its time of composition, that continues to express certain “principles” that cohere with “authentic Anglicanism”. For the Constitution does not claim that the Articles articulate necessarily all such principles, exhaustively, or straightforwardly (since “principles” can only be gleaned from historical records aimed at local moments and controversies), nor that all ‘authentic Anglicanism’ is bound by them in any exhaustive way.” 
The same view of the Articles is reflected in the statement of Catholic life, practice, and order that Forward in Faith North America adopted at the time it reaffirmed the “essentials” in the AC-NA constitution on June 21, 2009. FIFNA stated as fact in this resolution “the teaching that in the Holy Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ is represented…” and “…He is… to be worshipped, in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood,” a belief that is at variance with Articles XXII, XXV, XXVIII and XXXI. 
The declaration leaves room for another one of Newman’s “evasions.” The Articles are compared with a standard of doctrine that does not exist—an imprecisely defined “Catholic faith” to which the Articles must be conformed, “not by what they do say, but always by what they do not say.” 
The seventh declaration minimizes the part that the Articles have historically played as a confession of faith for the Church of England (and the Church of Ireland), providing the minimal doctrinal requirements for those ministering in that Church and setting the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness. It ignores “the centrality of the Articles to understanding the fundamental doctrinal character of Anglicanism.” 
The AC-NA constitution give a higher value or superior position to this Anglo-Catholic approach to the Articles especially as the most appropriate approach to this formulary and makes this approach binding upon the consciences of AC-NA members. The AC-NA canons also make the same approach mandatory for any “entity” desiring to become a “ministry partner” with the AC-NA. In doing so, the AC-NA constitution and canons discriminate against Anglicans who do not view the approach as valid, much less as the most appropriate, Harp himself describes the approach as “fanciful and ahistorical.” 
The AC-NA follows in the footsteps of The Episcopal Church and gives only a token place to the Thirty-Nine Articles. In 1801 the General Convention adopted a modified version of the Articles over considerable opposition in the House of Deputies. Subscription to the Articles was not required. Whether a member of the clergy adhered to the Articles was left to the individual conscience. In 1925 Anglo-Catholics and Broad Churchmen sought to remove the Articles from the American Prayer Book and obtained passage of a resolution to that effect in the General Convention. They were eventually thwarted in their efforts to do away with the Articles by the provisions of the Episcopal Church’s constitution. In 1979 the General Convention relegated the Articles to the historical section of the new Prayer Book. The seventh declaration (FD7) to a large extent leaves them there.
Harp identifies as a major contributing factor to the state of affairs in The Episcopal Church its neglect of the Thirty-Nine Articles. He attributes this neglect largely to the influence of Anglo-Catholicism upon Episcopalians.  The AC-NA continues The Episcopal Church’s neglect of the Articles.
Put in strong language, the AC-NA constitution emasculates the Anglican formularies. They are not recognizably the historic authoritative standards of faith and worship that they are in the Jerusalem Declaration, as well as the canons of the Church of England and the constitutions of a number of other Anglican provinces.
The intent of the AC-NA Fundamental Declarations does not appear to have been to make the AC-NA genuinely comprehensive, permitting a wide range of orthodox Anglican points of view. If that were the case, then a much simpler theological statement would have sufficed for the fourth, sixth, and seventh declarations. For example:
“ We hold the Christian faith as professed by the Church of Christ from primitive times and in particular as set forth in the Catholic Creeds and the Anglican Formularies, that is, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons issued by the Church of England in 1662.”
The apparent purpose of the AC-NA fundamental declarations is to give sanction to a particular view of the historic episcopate and the Anglican formularies. The AC-NA canons permit this view and no other.
In regards to the Anglican formularies does the AC-NA justify the confidence that the CIEF expressed in that ecclesial body? The answer is “no.” The confidence of the CIEF is clearly misplaced.
Ephraim Radner, “The ACNA Constitution: In Line with the Covenant,” The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc., January 5, 2009, electronic article on the Internet at: http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/2009/01/the-acna-constitution-in-line-with-the-covenant/
 E.A. Knox, The Tractarian Movement, 1833-1845 (London: Putnam, 1933),259-261
 Gillis J. Harp, “Recovering Confessional Anglicanism,” The Churchman, Issue 2002, 116, vol. 3, 226, electronic article on the Internet at: http://www.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_116_3_Harp.pdf
 Ibid., 228
 Radner, “The ACNA Constitution: In Line with the Covenant”
 Keith Acker, “FIFNA Affirms Catholic Essentials,” FIF North America, June 21, 2009, electronic article on the Internet at: http://www.forwardinfaith.com/artman/publish/article_485.shtml
Harp, “Recovering Confessional Anglicanism,” 226
 Ibid., 224