Friday, April 23, 2010

Authority, Mission and the Anglican Church in North America - Part VII: Orthodox Faith and Practice in the ACNA

By Robin G. Jordan

While the ACNA has elements of a distinctive ecclesiology, which is grounded in the teaching of Tractarianism, liberal Catholic ideology, and Roman Catholicism, it does not have a clear definition of what constitutes Anglican “orthodoxy.” The seven points of the ACNA Fundamental Declarations establish what may be described as the limits of ACNA comprehensiveness, which, while tolerant of Catholic and Pentecostal theology, does not display the same tolerance toward the conservative Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical theology of the English Reformers, classical Anglicanism, and traditional evangelical Anglicanism. The particular definition of Anglican orthodoxy that they embody treats as acceptable a range of doctrinal views that not only conflict with each other on secondary matters but also on primary matters. At the same time it excludes the narrower definition of Anglican orthodoxy embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles since the Articles reject a number of these doctrinal views as “repugnant to the Word of God.”

Two related trend seen in the Anglican Mission and other member organizations of the ACNA is to blend together sacramental, Pentecostal, and evangelical piety and practice and not to press doctrine. The Anglican Church is viewed as a third way along side of Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Catholicism—Catholic and reformed but in our time is evolving, uniting the Catholic, evangelical, and Pentecostal traditions in a new way, in a way that is both ancient, as seen in the early Church, and future-oriented. In this view this convergence of traditions is seen as the work of the Holy Spirit and the Anglican Church in North America as its present focus. This view is an outgrowth of the more dynamic version of the via media theory popularized by former Unitarian F. D. Maurice.

These two trends are associated with what is known as the convergence or Ancient-Future movement. This school of thought and Anglo-Catholicism dominant Anglican thought in the Anglican Church in North America. Archbishop Robert Duncan’s speeches are peppered with convergence or Ancient Future buzzwords. In his address to the inaugural ACNA Provincial Assembly Archbishop Duncan described the ACNA as “truly evangelical, truly Catholic, and truly Pentecostal.” At the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Conference Archbishop Duncan painted the ACNA as “the ancient future movement of the 21st Century church.” Duncan went on to say:

“We have an identity. The charisms of catholic, evangelical and Pentecostal have been brought together in one church to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.”

The Anglican Mission also uses convergence or Ancient Future buzzwords. Its slogan “Catch the Wave” refers to the practice of surfers catching a big wave to ride into shore. In this case the wave is the wave of the Holy Spirit represented by the Anglican Mission. Anglican Mission literature and Anglican Mission leaders make frequent references to the slogan “three streams, one river,” taken from an article that Richard Lovelace wrote for the 1984 September issue of Charisma magazine, in which he approvingly noted the trend of Catholics, evangelicals, and charismatic/Pentecostals to move closer together.

This school of thought is not confined to the Anglican Mission and is evident in the other member organizations forming the ACNA. It views are reflected in the closing statement of the Common Cause Theological Statement:

“To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a “Mere Christian,” at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.”

The convergence or Ancient Future movement is not an Anglican movement. It began as a movement among charismatics and evangelicals who were attracted to the doctrine and worship of the first five centuries of Christianity and found elements of this doctrine and worship in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the ritualism of the Episcopal Church. Some became Episcopalians; others started their own denominations.

In his address to the participants in the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Conference Archbishop Duncan’s choice of the phrase “to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ” draws attention to a major weakness of this approach to doctrine. Duncan and other ACNA leaders are forced to use such euphemisms because the churches of the ACNA are proclaiming at least two gospels—the Anglo-Catholic gospel of sacramental salvation, of salvation by faith and works, and the New Testament gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

In tolerating a range of divergent opinions on primary matters as well as secondary ones, Archbishop Duncan and other ACNA leaders come dangerously close to the position of former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, current Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, and other liberal Episcopal bishops. They are treating primary matters as adiaphora, matters of indifference. In failing to press biblical teaching in such areas as the economy of salvation and Justification, they have adopted a position that is at variance with Article XVIII.

In today’s post-modern, post-Christian world it may be acceptable to preach two or more gospels since there is not absolute truth from a post-modern perspective, only opinion. Truth is relative and subjective. What may be truth for one person may not be truth for another. All opinions are equally valid and equally invalid. However, the Bible takes a different view of truth. In the Biblical worldview truth is an absolute. Jesus does not just speak the truth. He is the truth. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. The Bible does not recognize the existence of two or more gospels. It recognizes only one gospel. Even if an angel preached a different gospel, he is anathema, or accursed. Only those who hear the true gospel and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved. In not pressing doctrine, Archbishop Duncan and other ACNA leaders are making the post-modern, post-Christian worldview the default worldview of the ACNA.

If the Anglican Church in North American does not have a Biblical worldview, it cannot be described as upholding orthodox faith and practice. It is certainly not orthodox in the sense of being faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Historically being faithful to the teaching of the Bible has been essential to an Anglican identity. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group articulates in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today the position that adherence to the Thirty-Nine Articles is also essential to an Anglican identity. From a classical Anglican perspective being faithful to the teaching of the Bible and adhering to the Articles are synonymous because the Articles are themselves based upon the Scripture and derive their authority from it. Yet as we have seen, the ACNA is not fully faithful to the teaching of the Bible. It largely views the Articles as a relic of the past. It is not for the ACNA an authoritative standard of doctrine and worship.

How can GAFCON Primates then recognize the ACNA as being “authentically Anglican”? In response to the GAFCON Primates’ statement on the Pope’s offer of an Apostolic Constitution to Anglicans, issued November 10, 2009, the Council of the Church of England’s Church Society took issue with the GAFCON Primates’ claim that the papal offer “reflected the same commitment to the historic apostolic faith” that they had proclaimed in the Jerusalem Declaration of the Global Anglican Future Conference. In making this claim the Church Society’s Council believed that the Primates were “gravely mistaken.” The Council gave a number of solid reasons in support of their belief. They concluded their letter with the plea that the GAFCON Primates “recognise that authentic, historic Anglicanism does not agree with Roman Catholicism on fundamental truths and in particular on the nature of authority and the means of salvation.” If the GAFCON Primates can be mistaken about the Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to the historic apostolic faith, they can also be mistaken about the authenticity of the ACNA’s Anglican identity. Recognizing Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to the historic apostolic faith and the authenticity of the ACNA’s Anglican identity may have for the GAFCON Primates been politically expedient but it is theologically indefensible.

The Anglican Church in North America has ambitious plans to plant 1000 new churches in the next 5 years. What, however, is the purpose of these churches if the ACNA does not have a clear definition of Anglican orthodoxy and some parts of the ACNA do not teach and preach the true gospel? Is it to surpass the Anglican Church in Canada and the Episcopal Church in size? Is it to impress the GAFCON Primates and to retain their support? It is certainly not to fulfill the Great Commission. One church may be producing followers of Jesus; another church may be making disciples of men. One church may be teaching what Jesus commanded; another church may be imparting the traditions of men. Archbishop Duncan and other ACNA leaders are basically telling the ACNA membership that they do not need to share a common set of core beliefs to be the church together. Is that not what the liberals in the Episcopal Church have been saying? How then is the ACNA any different from the Episcopal Church except that it is experimenting with more authoritarian forms of ecclesiastical governance and does not countenance the normalization of homosexuality in the Church, consecrate women bishops, and embrace a number of the more extreme views found in the Episcopal Church—at least not yet?

The ACNA is reportedly preparing a catechism—by polling ACNA churches regarding what they believe. The catechism will not be based upon what historic, authentic Anglicanism has understood the Bible to teach but a survey of the diverse and often disparate beliefs of the churches forming the ACNA. If this report is correct, the resulting statement of faith will be a hodgepodge of these beliefs. The Catechism of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer rests upon on the teaching of the Bible and the Reformation, as do other historic Anglican catechisms such as Alexander Nowell’s Catechism, and Thomas Becon’s Catechism. They are not based on an inquiry into what beliefs are the most popular or widespread in a denomination.

One of the criticisms leveled at the ACNA is the shallowness of its theology and its lack of a definitive theology. This criticism is particularly applicable to two groups within the ACNA—those who identify themselves as evangelicals and charismatics. Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, do have what can be described as a definitive theology. Where there is a vacuum due to the theological shallowness and indistinctiveness of the other two groups, Anglo-Catholic theology tends to fill the vacuum, becoming the theology of the ACNA by default.

From a conservative evangelical perspective such a development is unfortunate since Anglo-Catholic theology does not stand by Scripture and historic Anglicanism in teaching that that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The doctrine of justification is the article upon which the Church stands and falls, a view that the churches of the Reformation including the Church of England share with Martin Luther.

The Thirty-Nine Articles subject the Church to the Bible. Anglo-Catholicism puts the authority of the Church in its role as interpreter of tradition above the Bible, arguing that tradition is as authoritative as the Bible, if not more so, and the Bible must be interpreted by tradition. In making this argument, Anglo-Catholicism gives the Church and tradition authority over the Bible. Ultimately the Church usurps the role of the Bible as the final test of the truth of a doctrine and the rightness of a practice.

Anglo-Catholicism revived and reintroduced into the Anglican Church doctrines and associated practices that the Anglican Church rejected at the Reformation for sound reasons. These reasons are as valid today as they were in the sixteenth century. They reestablished a system that makes its adherents obligated to the clergy for their salvation rather than to Jesus Christ.

In calling for the establishment of 1000 churches in the next 5 years, Archbishop Duncan did not identify the kind of church that he is seeking to see established. In his address to the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Conference he spoke in generalities—multiplying “ congregations fueled by the Holy Spirit,” joining what God is doing, meeting people where they are, not leaving them there, loving them where they are, and helping them to be transformed by God’s love. Such general statements could have been made to a gathering of progressive Episcopalians. They have a wide application. He also spoke of “four accountabilities”—“Scripture, tradition, the Holy Spirit, and society,” but did not go into specifics as to how the church is accountable to Scripture, tradition, the Holy Spirit, and society. This would have meant articulating a clear doctrinal statement that would reveal where he himself stands doctrinally. Such a revelation might disturb the fragile alliance between Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and charismatics at the heart of the ACNA and cause some ACNA leaders and members to have second thoughts about following his leadership. Rather he leaves to his audience to interpret for themselves what he means in a manner compatible with their own theological perspective. In doing so he does what a number of the more recent Anglican service books do in their use of “studied ambiguity” in the language of their rites. Two or more groups with different theological perspectives can use the same rites, interpreting them in accordance with their own particular theological perspective.

This is also what Archbishop Duncan has done in his call for 1000 new churches in the next 5 years without specifying the kind of church. He is leaving the kind of church to the imaginations of clergy and laity in the ACNA. For the Anglo-Catholic traditionalist the kind of church will be the traditional Anglo-Catholic parish with regular weekly and even daily celebrations of the Mass—the offering of the Holy Sacrifice for the living and the dead; adoration of the consecrated Host in the tabernacle or monstrance; auricular confession and priestly absolution; invocation of the saints; and prayers for the dead. For the charismatic the kind of church will be the Spirit-filled charismatic parish in which baptism in the Holy Spirit is emphasized and the gifts of the Holy Spirit including speaking in tongues will be practiced. For the evangelical the kind of church may be an Ancient Future faith parish blending Catholic, Pentecostal and evangelical piety and practice or a church reflecting the latest trends in popular American evangelicalism. Each church will be “Anglican” and “orthodox” in accordance with the understanding of the group planting it.

Where there is vision was Archbishop Duncan’s premise in his address to the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Conference, there is no reason for disagreement over theological differences. This is a back handed slap at those who draw attention to the lack of a common theology in the ACNA. The implication is that they suffer from a want of vision. Those who have caught the overarching vision of the ACNA, Archbishop Duncan’s vision, are not concerned by theological differences. They focus upon the vision and not each other.

This viewpoint does not differ greatly in its basic argument from that of Presiding Bishop Schori when she urged Episcopalians to moved past the issues of human sexuality and biblical authority and focus upon the mission of the church, envisioned in terms of carrying out the UN Millennium Goals. Archbishop Duncan and Presiding Bishop Schori have different visions but they make similar arguments. As in the Episcopal Church, the priority of mission in the ACNA, even though it is conceived differently than in the Episcopal Church, does not trump dealing with such issues as the lack of a common theology in the ACNA.

The future adoption of a common Prayer Book is not likely to resolve this problem. By the time such a book has been adopted, the theological differences seen in the ACNA will have become entrenched. It will at best create the illusion of a common theology and may not even attempt the undertaking, settling for the “studied ambiguity” that has become the mark of a number of the more recent service books or favoring one theological school of thought over the others represented in the province, as do also a number of these service books.

On the other hand, a common theology may emerge over time that is completely alien to the confessionalism of the historic Anglican formularies, classical Anglicanism, and traditional evangelical Anglicanism. This common theology may be a witch’s brew of Catholic, Pentecostal, and evangelical elements, and equally objectionable to traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals.

Archbishop Duncan speaks about leaving “Egypt’s patterns” as well as leaving Egypt, usually referring to things that he dislikes about the Episcopal Church. However, this bringing together of divergent elements is a pattern of Egypt. Ancient Egypt had many gods and goddesses. Its religion was a synthesis of a number of religions, reflecting the influence of the ancient Mid-East as well as that of ancient Africa. In the Episcopal Church we see a similar combining of religions in its early stages. In the Roman Catholic Church we see evidence of such combining not only in the past but also today with the acceptance of animal sacrifices to the ancestors in Africa and the movement to make Mary a co-redemptrix with Christ, a relationship that the Mother Goddess of the ancient Mediterranean world enjoyed with her dying and rising Son.

The process by which competing religions may be combined into a larger religious system or one religion absorb another and adopt its tenets helps to explain what is happening in the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church and the reaction of conservative or traditionalist Anglicans to these developments. At the heart of the history of ancient Israel is the struggle of the Jews to resist the influence of other Mid-Eastern religions and to maintain their devotion to the One True Living God. As we know from the Old Testament, they were not very successful in this undertaking. While God was faithful to them, they were unfaithful to him. When they were most successful was when they purged the foreign gods from their midst, renewed their devotion to God, and returned to the teaching of the Hebrew Bible. This was something that they had to do over and over again, as the influences that worked against their devotion to God were pervasive and persuasive and the human heart as the Old Testament tells us is deceitful, untrustworthy, and prone to rebel against God.

Times have not changed. The New Testament records the struggles of the apostles to preserve the teaching that they had received from Christ and to transmit it to posterity. The history of the Christian Church from apostolic times on is the history of how the primitive faith of the Church became corrupted, defaced, and overlaid by innovations in doctrine and worship. During the sixteenth century devote Christians, like the Jews of old, sought to purge the foreign gods from their midst, renew their devotion to God, and return to the teaching of the Bible. Since the Reformation there have been other movements to reform the Church.

The restoration of Anglican confessionalism and the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles to a central place in the life and teaching of the Anglican Church are critical to the reform of the Church in the twenty-first century. Yet the Anglican Church in North America, while claiming to represent the forces of reform and renewal in North American Anglicanism, clings to this pattern of Egypt, blending together disparate beliefs and practices, claiming precedent for its particular synthesis in the first five centuries of Christianity. Those who compiled the1979 Book of Common Prayer that contributed to the emergence of the Convergence/Ancient Future movement also maintained that its doctrines are justifiable on the same basis. The appeal to antiquity is a characteristic that Tractarianism, liberal Catholicism, and the Convergence/Ancient Future movement share. The Oxford Movement claimed continuity with the seventeenth century Caroline divines on this basis. However. Peter B. Nockles in The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760-1857 shows that its claim was spurious.

Those who support this synthesis also appeal to Anglican comprehensiveness and to Anglican via media theory. Their views of Anglican latitude in doctrine and liturgical usage and the Anglican middle road are very close if not identical to the views that were popularized in the Episcopal Church in the last five decades of the twentieth century, and reflect Anglo-Catholic, Broad Church, and liberal influences.

The primary difference between the doctrinal mix in the Anglican Church in North America and that in the Episcopal Church is that the ACNA has backed away from radical liberalism. The Episcopal Church claims to have no core doctrine. The ACNA does not press doctrine, except in the area of human sexuality and even in this area it falls short of expectations in the area of divorce and remarriage. With the exception of a modification of the Common Cause Theological Statement and the other provisions of its constitution and canons that explicitly state a particular doctrinal position or imply such a position, the ACNA has not adopted any statements of doctrine.

Is then the Anglican Church in North America upholding orthodox faith and practice—its raison d’etre? This is a highly debatable question. Some may argue that the ACNA is because their own churches are upholding orthodox faith and practice according to their own lights. The problem with this argument is that it makes two assumptions. The first is that what their churches are maintaining is orthodoxy. The second is that the rest of the churches in the ACNA are maintaining the same thing. The first assumption may be correct: their churches may be orthodox in their faith and practice as understood by historic Anglicanism. But it is quite a stretch to assume that the rest of the churches in the ACNA are also similarly orthodox in their faith and practice especially in a denomination that recognizes a broad range of divergent opinion and upholds its own version of “generous orthodoxy.” While the number of entrees and side dishes may be less—no Buddhist mock duck, Muslim lamb, and Wiccan sautéed wild mushrooms, and the hearty fare of classical Anglicanism is conspicuous by its absence from the steam table, the ACNA practices its own form of “cafeteria Christianity.”


aaytch said...

This article is simply brilliant. It needs to be read by all Anglicans inside and outside of ACNA.... before it's too late.

1662 BCP said...

Continuing Episcopalianism, making it up as they go along.