Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Is the Anglican Church in North America “a Faithful Expression of Anglicanism”?
By Robin G. Jordan
In its communiqué the Fourth Global South to South Encounter recognized the Anglican Church in North America as “a faithful expression of Anglicanism” and called for the recognition of the ACNA by other Anglican bodies. As an Internet commentator who has been closely following developments in the Common Cause Partnership and its successor, the Anglican Church in North America, since the inception of these para-church organizations, I was forced to greet this statement with nothing short of open-mouthed amazement and dropped-jawed incredulity. The statement was ludicrous beyond reckoning.
According to The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1932), “faithful” means “loyal, constant, (to), true.” “Loyal” means “faithful (to), true to allegiance.” “Constance means “having constancy; not subject to variation; continual, never ceasing for long.” “Constancy” means “tenacious adherence to or to principles or beliefs.” “True” means “loyal or faithful or constant (to).” “Express” means to “represent, make known, in words or by gestures, conduct & c.” “Represent” means “call up by description or portrayal or imagination, place likeness of before mind or senses, serve or be meant as likeness; symbolize, act as embodiment of, stand for, correspond to, be specimen of.” “Anglican” means “of the reformed Church of England.” “Reform” means “make better by removing or become better by abandoning, imperfections or faults or errors; abolish or cure (abuse). The Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines “the Reformation” as “16th century movement to reform the Western Church,” “reformational” as” of the Reformation,” and “reformer” as “(esp.) leader in the Reformation.”
For an Anglican body to be “a faithful expression of Anglicanism,” it must be loyal to the reformed Church of England in its representation of that Church and the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of that Church. It must be a true likeness of reformed Church of England. Its doctrines and practices must correspond faithfully to that of the reformed Church of England.
Being able to trace its origin to the Church of England or maintaining ties with the Church of England does not qualify as “a faithful expression of Anglicanism.” An Anglican body must tenaciously adhere to the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England. Its doctrine and practices must be those of the English Church after the English Church rejected and disowned the errors of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. It must be a true embodiment of the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed English Church.
The Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England are found in the writings of the sixteenth century English Reformers. They are particularly articulated in the historic Church of England formularies, i.e., the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, the two Books of Homilies, The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons according to the Order of the Church of England of 1661.
How faithful is the Anglican Church in America in expressing the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England? Does it place before the mind the reformed Church of England itself? It is a true specimen of a reformed Church after the 16th century English model?
To the English reformers episcopacy was an acceptable and even commendable form of church government but it was not an essential form of church government. They rejected the argument that the rule of bishops was divinely instituted along with the argument that the rule of presbyters was divinely instituted. They found no particular form of church government in the Bible. On the other hand, the Anglican Church in North America, takes the position that “a godly historic episcopate” is “an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice” and consequently “integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.” This is far removed from the position of the English reformers or that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which make no mention of any need for bishops at all. In its view that bishops are essential to the life of the Church the ACNA owes more to the teaching of Roman Catholicism, the 19th century Tractarian movement, and 20th century liberal Catholic ideology than to the doctrine of the reformed Church of England, that is, the doctrine of the Bible and the Reformation.
To the English reformers apostolic succession meant a succession of doctrine. A church retained the apostolic succession along as it transmitted the teaching of the apostles, as recorded in Holy Scripture. The English reformers shared this view of apostolic succession with the continental reformed churches and the Lutheran churches. The Anglican Church in North America, on the other hand, takes the position that apostolic succession is a succession of bishops. Here again the ACNA owes more to the teaching of Roman Catholicism, the 19th century Tractarian movement, and 20th century liberal Catholic ideology than to the doctrine of the reformed Church of England.
The English reformers retained the three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. At the same time they also recognized the ministry of the continental reformed churches that had not retained the three-fold ministry. They recognized the validity of presbyterial ordination and the validity of the sacraments administered by presbyterially ordained ministers. The Anglican Church in the North America, on the other hand, only recognizes the ministry of a church that has bishops in a particular succession. Ministers from other churches must be re-ordained. Once more the ACNA owes more to the teaching of Roman Catholicism, the 19th century Tractarian movement, and 20th century liberal Catholic ideology than to the doctrine of the reformed Church of England.
The English reformers rejected on solid Biblical grounds such beliefs that the Eucharist is a re-presentation or reiteration of the Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and that Christ is substantively present in the consecrated elements. They also rejected on similar grounds such practices as the invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics, the elevation and adoration of the consecrated Host, and processions with the Host. The Anglican Church in North America, on the other hand, countenances such beliefs and permits such practices. As in the case of its view of episcopacy, apostolic succession, and the three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, here also the ACNA owes more to the teaching of Roman Catholicism, the 19th century Tractarian movement, and 20th century liberal Catholic ideology than to the doctrine of the reformed Church of England.
The English reformers rejected the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, which made an individual’s salvation dependent upon the clergy and not God. They recognized only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The English reformers taught that what were “commonly called,” that is, misapprehended to be, sacraments—“Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction” were corruptions of apostolic practice or states of life “allowed in the Scriptures” and did not have the nature of a true sacrament as they did not have “any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” The Anglican Church in North America, on the other hand, views matrimony to be a sacrament and in doing so by implication regards rites of confirmation, reconciliation of a penitent, ordination, and anointing of the sick to also be sacraments. Here again the ACNA owes more to the teaching of Roman Catholicism, the 19th century Tractarian movement, and 20th century liberal Catholic ideology than the doctrine of the reformed Church of England.
As we can see, the Anglican Church in North America does not even come close to the mark in faithfulness in expressing the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England. The ACNA certainly does not place that Church before the mind. Rather the ACNA calls up a church that has undone the reforms of the 16th century and returned to the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. The ACNA is by no means a true specimen of a reformed church after the 16th century English model. If anything, it is a specimen of a de-reformed church after the 19th century Tractarian model, not only leaning sharply toward Roman Catholicism in its theology but in the case of its largest founding entity—the Anglican Mission in the Americas, embodying Roman Catholic doctrines, principles and norms in its ecclesiology.
If the Anglican Church is not true to the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England, how then can the fourth Global South to South Encounter recognize the ACNA as “a faithful expression of Anglicanism”? First, the conference may have been poorly informed in regards to the ACNA. Its members may have not investigated developments in North America for themselves. They may have relied on the accounts of the Global South primates and bishops who intervened in North America as well as those of the ACNA leaders who present at the conference. Consequently, they may have heard what are only filtered accounts of what is happening.
Second, the leaders of several Global South provinces who support the ACNA are also leaders of the Global South to South Encounter and the Global South Primates’ Standing Committee. They may have influenced the content of the communiqué. They have a vested interest in the recognition of the ACNA. They may recognize its problems and weaknesses but fear the possibility of liberal exploitation of any acknowledgment of its defects. On the other hand, they themselves may be in denial in regards to ACNA’s problems and weaknesses or may not be cognizant of ACNA’s defects.
Third, the members of the conference themselves may have departed from historical Anglicanism and may have their own “revisionist” definition of Anglican orthodoxy. Revisionism is not confined to liberals or to the 20th or 21st centuries. The Tractarians reinterpreted English Church history as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles, The Book of Common Prayer, and The Ordinal. The conference members themselves may have become disconnected from the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England.
For a number of years it has been a widely circulated belief that the African provinces are not only more conservative than their Western counterparts but also more “evangelical.” My study of the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the parent province of the former Anglican Mission in Americas, has lead me to question this assumption. The canons of the Rwandan Church are heavily indebted to the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. The Rwandan canons have not only incorporated the language of the Roman canons but also their doctrines, principles, and norms. The Rwandan canons are also indebted to the Episcopal canons, as revised through 1967. The Canonical Charter for the Ministry of the Anglican Mission in the Americas evidences indebtedness to the Roman canons. The structure and governance of the former AMiA bears a strong resemblance to the structure and governance of a Roman diocese. I would be interested in knowing from where the Roman influence came in both documents. Did it come from a source within the Rwandan Church? Or did come from a source within the former AMiA? This points to the possibility that not only are the Africans influencing the ACNA but also the ACNA is influencing the Africans.
A number of supposedly African institutions that the ACNA has borrowed are in actuality Roman Catholic institutions that the Africans have adapted to their needs. In borrowing these institutions the ACNA has shown a tendency to remove or abandon any procedural safeguards and checks and balances that the Africans may have included in their adaptation of the Roman Catholic institutions. The result is the ACNA version of the supposedly African institutions more closely approximates the Roman Catholic original. These institutions, Bishop John Rogers in his essay “The ACNA Constitution – An Evangelical View,” which has been removed from the Internet, describes as “new” and “a breath of fresh air.” Such institutions, however, are far from new, except in the sense they may not have been previously known to some North American Anglicans, and they hardly represent “a breath of fresh air.” They are not even African institutions even though they may have entered the ACNA from one of the African provinces. They are Roman Catholic.
This raises the question, “In what other ways is Roman Catholicism influencing African thinking?” It certainly has influenced the Rwandan view of apostolic succession, ordination, and the sacraments. This raises another question, “Are African primates and bishops who themselves may have been heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism in a position to recognize as ‘a faithful expression of Anglicanism’ a para-church organization that itself shows the influence of Roman Catholicism?”
These questions may not trouble those who as a result of their experience in The Episcopal Church are inclined to think of Anglicanism as a form of Roman Catholicism but without the Pope. But they should deeply disturb those whose understanding of Anglicanism has been shaped by the English Reformation, the historic Anglican formularies, and classical evangelical Anglicanism, and not by 19th century Anglo-Catholicism or 20th century liberal Catholic ideology.
Is then the Anglican Church in North America “a faithful expression of Anglicanism”? At best we can say is that some congregations and their clergy within the ACNA may be a true representation of the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles that characterized the reformed Church of England. But the larger part of the ACNA, however, like the larger part of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church is not a faithful expression of what genuine Anglicanism is about. It has come to accept a substitute for the real thing. This should not surprise us. The ACNA is largely comprised of former clergy and members of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. What shaped the more radical thinking of liberals in these two churches, has also marked them. Except for a penchant for authoritarianism and a dislike of liberal radicalism and liberal championing of homosexuality they are not far removed from their brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church.
If the Fourth Global South to South Encounter is going to recognize the Anglican Church in North America as “a faithful expression of Anglicanism,” the conference might as well, for what it is worth, recognize the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church as loyal embodiments of “Anglicanism” too. If the conference can apply a coat of whitewash to the ACNA, it can likewise apply a coat of whitewash to the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. None of these churches is faithful in its expression of the Protestant and evangelical beliefs and principles of the reformed Church of England.
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Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 9:21 AM