Wednesday, February 03, 2010
By Robin G. Jordan
Conservative evangelicals are welcome in the Anglican Church in North America—but not as conservative evangelicals. Their money, gifts, talents, and energy are welcome—but not their particular school of thought. They are too Anglican, if by Anglican, “of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England” is meant. They are the spiritual heirs of the English Reformation, the Elizabethan Settlement, the Glorious Revolution, and the Evangelical Revival.
What other group of churchmen has been as faithful to the principles of the English Reformation and to the historic formularies of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England—the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Ordinal of 1661, and the homilies of Edward VI and Elizabeth I as conservative evangelicals have? The modern day Anglo-Catholics, the spiritual heirs of the nineteenth century Oxford movement with their strong affinity with Roman Catholicism cannot make this claim. Their claim that they are Anglicans is based upon the claim that their faith is that of the English Church before the Reformation, before the Reformers disowned and rejected the Roman innovations in doctrine and worship that defaced and overlaid the primitive faith in that church. They prefer the1549 and 1928 Prayer Books. They prefer the first because it is only halfway reformed and a step or two away from the pre-Reformation Medieval service books and the second because it moves the American Prayer Book closer to these service books and away from the more Protestant and Reformed liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Both of these Prayer Books they can supplement with various manuals—so-called “Anglican Missals” that bring the two Prayer Books even closer to the unreformed Medieval Roman Rite. If they take any interest in the Thirty-Nine Articles at all, it is to reinterpret them in a Rome-ward direction and then to argue that is how they should be interpreted.
The proponents of the via media school of thought also cannot make this claim. Despite their claim that their thinking truly represents historic Anglicanism, their school of thought is a relatively modern one. It has its origins in the thought of nineteenth century Oxford movement leader Edward Pusey and gained its current popularity in the twentieth century. Its proponents are likely to argue that the Thirty-Nine Articles are a thing of the past and the Anglican Church has moved on since that time. They prefer the 1979 Book of Common Prayer or the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services.
In regard to its attitude toward conservative evangelicals the Anglican Church in North America does not differ greatly from The Episcopal Church. TEC welcomes conservative evangelicals as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves, acquiesce to the working theology of TEC, and do not attempt to uphold and maintain what they believe.
The fundamental declarations of the constitution of the Anglican Church in North America like the Common Cause Theological Statement from which they were adapted are intended to protect the views of the Anglo-Catholic and via media schools of thought. The first school of thought reintroduced into the Anglican Church the Roman innovations in doctrine and worship that the English Reformers disowned and rejected at the Reformation. It also introduced the innovations that the Church of Rome adopted at the Council of Trent and afterwards. The second school of thought sees Anglicanism as a middle path between Catholicism and Protestantism or a synthesis of Catholic and Protestant elements, and is open to the innovations in both categories. This particular school of thought dominated the teaching literature of The Episcopal Church in the twentieth century, and has a connection to the liberal and revisionist thinking prevalent in TEC. It can even be described as a liberal and revisionist view of Anglicanism. The theological and liturgical views of this school of thought are responsible for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services.
Anglo-Catholics are willing to partner with the proponents of the via media school of thought because the latter accept some of their basic propositions and are open to others. Anglo-Catholics see it as a matter of time before they come around completely to the Anglo-Catholic way of thinking. Some of them are already halfway there. At the same time it is an uneasy partnership. Many proponents of the via media school of thought tend to have a progressive view of Anglicanism as something that is evolving and to support what are from a conservative or traditionalist Anglo-Catholic viewpoint unacceptable innovations such as the ordination of women and the divorce and remarriage of clergy. A significant number of them also lean more toward Protestantism than they do Catholicism. Anglo-Catholics perceive the inclusion of a strong conservative evangelical element in the Anglican Church in North America as a threat since the presence of that element might cause these Protestant-leaning proponents of the via media school of thought to move closer to the doctrine and practices of the conservative evangelical school of thought.
It makes no sense for conservative evangelicals to invest their money, gifts, talents, and energy in a church that has no room for their school of thought and shows no inclination to make room for that school of thought. But it goes beyond that. As James Crabtree and David Philips observe in their article, “Anglican Orthodoxy,” there are substantial differences between what Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics believe and what the Protestant and Reformed Church of England has historically believed. There has been a tendency in recent years to gloss over these differences and to act as if they have been reconciled when they actually have not. Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics have quite a different concept of salvation from that of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England. They preach a different gospel.
We hear a lot of talk in the Anglican Church in North America about spreading the gospel and planting new churches. But which gospel? The gospel as the Protestant and Reformed Church of England has historically understood it and as articulated in the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Homily on Justification? Or the gospel as Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics understand it? They are not the same. In the case of the gospel as the Protestant and Reformed Church of England has historically understood it, those who hear it and believe it are saved. It is the gospel of the New Testament. In case of the gospel as Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics understand it, those who hear it and believe it remain in their sins. It is “another gospel.” It is not only nonsensical to support a church that is spreading a false gospel, it is also “repugnant to God’s Word.” As the apostle Paul wrote the Galatians, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9 KJV) Paul also warned the Corinthians, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor 6:14-15 KJV) What we have here is not adiaphora, secondary matters, matters indifferent to our salvation. It concerns how we are saved, how we are made right with God. On such a matter there can be no compromise. To join with Anglo-Catholics who preach a different gospel and proponents of the via media school of thought who may not have a clear gospel message is the same as joining with liberal and revisionist Episcopalians who teach all people are saved no matter what they believe. This concern cannot be dismissed as an excessive preoccupation with doctrinal purity. The doctrine in question is a matter of life and death—eternal life and eternal death!
Planting new churches to reach the lost with the gospel of life, to make disciples, to teach them, and to equip them for the work of ministry is one thing. Starting new congregations to mislead people into believing that they can save themselves through the sacraments and other good works is another thing altogether.
The Anglican Church in North America needs to sort out what gospel it is going to proclaim. It cannot proclaim two gospels. To take that position is to take the position of The Episcopal Church that it does not matter what people believe.
The challenge facing Christians today is not just maintaining decency in face of an increasingly immoral world. It is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that has grown hard of heart. It cannot be any gospel. It must be the true gospel. Only the true gospel has power to touch hearts and transform lives.
There are those who are concerned that any division in the present alliance between Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals will lead to the victory of liberalism and immorality in the Anglican Communion. Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals, they argue, must stand together at all costs. However, the forces of spiritual evil at work behind the spread of liberalism and immorality are also going to win if Anglicans proclaim a false gospel or muddle the gospel message. Souls will be lost as they would be lost to the pernicious effects of liberalism and immorality.
Until the Anglican Church in North America has decided upon what gospel it will proclaim—and I pray that it will be the true gospel, and makes other needed changes, conservative evangelicals need to give thought to what they are going to do to spread the gospel of life. This entails more than what we do as individuals as important as that is. It also concerns what we do collectively.
Conservative evangelicals who are in the Anglican Church in North America and who believe that God has placed them there for a purpose need to organize to work together as “leaven in the lump,” yeast in the dough. They need to do everything they can to encourage the AC-NA to proclaim the true gospel. If the AC-NA does not proclaim the gospel of life, everything else it may accomplish is worthless. They cannot settle for being the faithful few who share the good news of Jesus Christ in a church that otherwise proclaims a false gospel. They should not forget the warning of the apostle John in his second letter. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:10-11 KJV)
Conservative evangelicals who are outside the Anglican Church in North America also need to organize. They need to join forces to establish a viable alternative to the AC-NA, a church that upholds and maintains the Protestant, Reformed and evangelical character of the Anglican Church. There is more to upholding and maintaining this character than preserving a heritage and passing it on to our posterity. At the heart of this character not only is the teaching of the Reformation but also the teaching of the apostles—we are saved by grace alone by faith alone. With these principles we convey to another generation the gospel through which God gives life and gives life abundantly.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 9:10 AM