Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Ball Is In the Archbishops’ Court

By Robin G. Jordan

Lorna Ashworth’s private member’s motion calling for General Synod to “express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America” was not amended and then adopted at General Synod yesterday. It was defeated as Anglican Essentials Canada accurately reported on its blog. It was gutted and in its place what amounts to a substitute resolution was adopted. While technically an amendment, the new language changed the entire tenor of the motion. The substitute resolution takes a different position as can seen from its text:

“That this Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,
“(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;
“(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and
“(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.”

Due to the spin that this motion has generated, it warrants a closer look.

First, the substitute resolution states that General Synod is conscious of the “recent divisions” in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church and of the “distress” that they are causing. The substitute motion does not describe the nature of the “divisions” that exist in these churches or their seriousness or the nature of the “distress” that they are causing or its extent. It does not fix blame or express sympathy with any particular party. It adopts a position of deliberate neutrality.

The substitute resolution acknowledges the existence of the wish of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to stay inside the “Anglican family” and accepts it as fact. The substitute resolution goes on to admit that “this aspiration”—the wish to stay inside the “Anglican family,” as it relates both to relations with the Church of England and membership in the Anglican Communion, raises certain issues. The resolution does not identify these issues.

Several news reports interpret the wording of the resolution to mean that the General Synod tacitly recognizes the Anglican Church in North America as a part of the Anglican Communion. They interpret “Anglican family” as synonymous with “Anglican Communion.” The subsequent references to “relations with the Church of England” and “membership in the Anglican Communion” do not support this reading. The resolution does not equate “Anglican family” with “Anglican Communion.” Rather in using the phrase “Anglican family” it appears to be speaking euphuistically. In referring to ”the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family,” it is referring to the wish of these individuals to continue be Anglican. A number of the ecclesial bodies that comprise the ACNA have evidenced this desire by retaining formal ties with the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone, the Anglican Church of Rwanda, and the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and in the case of the Anglican Mission continuing to operate under the constitution and canons of its parent province. They are not negotiating with the Roman Catholic Church to become a part of that denomination nor have they taken steps to establish themselves as a new denomination. One of the issues that their wish raises may be the exact nature of the relationship of the ACNA to the Anglican Communion. Those who interpret the resolution as tacit recognition of the ACNA as a part of the Anglican Communion may be engaging in wishful thinking or trying to put the best face on what happened.

While the resolution does not identify what issues that the ambition of those who have formed the ACNA to “remain within the Anglican family” raise, it takes the position that they merit further examination by the relevant authorities of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It goes on to “invite” in the sense of encourage or solicit courteously the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the two senior most bishops of the Church of England, to make an official or formal statement about the matter at General Synod in 2011.

Many members of the ACNA were disappointed by this resolution. It is not what they were hoping for. However, it is realistically about the most that they can expect from a church that is divided over the ACNA as well as a number of the same issues that have divided the Anglican Church of Canada and The Church of England and led to the formation of the ACNA. With this resolution General Synod have thrown the ball into the Archbishops’ court. What they do with it is anyone’s guess. In his address to General Synod Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams did not display much sympathy for those who have formed the ACNA. Archbishop Williams’ track record speaks for itself—the Eames Commission, the Windsor Report, the Panels of Reference, the New Orleans House of Bishops’ Meeting, and the Anglican Covenant.

I wonder if God let this happen in order to encourage the ACNA to do some needed soul-searching. Why is it starting new congregations--to spread the gospel and to lead lost souls to Jesus Christ or to build up its numbers so that it looks good and gains recognition? What are its motives? Do they really honor God?

What really makes a church Anglican—recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury or faithful adherence to the tenets of historic Biblical Anglicanism, including the doctrine of justification by grace alone by faith alone? In permitting the adoption of this substitute resolution God may be calling the ACNA back to these tenets.

Historically true “churchmen,” to use an old term, have been Bible Christians. They have accepted the Holy Scriptures as “God’s word written,” have believed what it taught, and have sought to “frame and fashion” their lives and the lives of their families according to its teachings. They have looked to the Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal as the standards of their faith because they are agreeable to Scripture. The Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church have to a great extent abandoned the Bible and these standards. The ACNA has not fully returned to them.

God tries us in fire like silver to purify us of all the dross (See Psalm 66:9-11, Isaiah 48:9-11, Zechariah 13:8-9, and Malachi 3:2-4). It is very likely that God is testing the ACNA, refining the ACNA to rid it of all its impurities. God caused the Israelites, to wander in the wilderness until all those who had been disobedient to him had perished. If the ACNA is indeed a chosen instrument of God, as its members like to believe and its leaders are want to tell them, it can expect many trials and much testing. Whatever it accomplishes will then clearly be the work of God.


Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

As a non-Anglican observer, reading the reactions and responses below, I am now totally convinced that Anglicans of whatever stripe are for all intent and purpose, mentally disfunctional.
Rose colored glasses in 3D no less!
Sad. So very very sad.
Go my children, be well fed and clothed on your way.

Joe Mahler said...

"The Ball Is In the Archbishops’ Court" And they play left handed.

Jim said...


As you may have read, I see the resolution as devastating for the hopes of some to find a way into the communion. If one reads the accounts of the debate, it is clear that the Synod considers AC-NA out of communion.

The invitation to report is interesting. It does not say what the report should cover. Simply observing that the communion processes have not begun might be a report.


Robin_G_Jordan said...


The language of the resolution leaves it entirely to the Archbishops to identify what issues that the ambitions of the AC-NA in respect to relations with the Church of England and membership in the Anglican Communion raise. What has been the attitude of Williams and Sentamu been toward the AC-NA so far? What was the attitude Williams expressed toward the AC-NA in his presidential address to the General Synod?

Did the General Synod send the AC-NA away empty handed? I think that it did. The resolution recognizes the existence of the AC-NA and the desire of AC-NAers to continue to be Anglicans but recognition of its existence and the aspiration of those forming the AC-NA to "remain within the Anglican family" is a far stretch from even tacit recognition that the AC-NA is a part of the Anglican Communion. In thanking the General Synod for hearing the AC-NA's case, I think that Duncan recognized that the General Synod had sent the AC-NA away empty handed--whatever spin he may eventually put on what happened. The talk on the Internet that the recognition of the Church of England does not matter, the ACNA has the recognition of the GAFCON Primates, and their recognition is what really counts suggests that a growing number of AC-NAers are recognizing that too.

What can we expect to see happen between now and the 2011 meeting of the General Synod? After that meeting? The way that the issue of women bishops has been handled in the Church of England offers some clues.

There is sympathy for the AC-NA in the Church of England. However, the divisions of that Church and its absorption with its own problems make it highly unlikely that the AC-NA will gain the kind of recognition that it covets. It is a painful reality that some AC-NAers have yet to accept.