Tuesday, May 04, 2010
By Robin G. Jordan
If you read the letters, sermons, and other works of such sixteenth century Church of England luminaries as Thomas Cranmer, John Hooper, Thomas Becon, John Foxe, Edmund Grindal, John Jewel, Alexander Nowell, Thomas Rogers, and John Whitgift you comes away with the distinct impression that they would not be welcome in the Anglican Church in the North America. If you read the writings of later Anglicans luminaries such as Charles Simeon, George Whitfield, William Grimshaw, Henry Venn, Charles P. McIlvaine, J. C. Ryle, Dyson Hague, W. H. Griffith Thomas, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Leon Morris, William Broughton Knox, and contemporaries such as Reform’s David Holloway, Latimer Trust’s Mark Burkill, and Roger Beckwith, you are forced to conclude that they would also would not be welcome in the ACNA. They are not only too Protestant, too evangelical, and too reformed for the ACNA but they also take doctrinal positions that contradict those taken by the ACNA Fundamental Declarations and canons. In accordance with the ACNA understanding of the Christian faith and the “Anglican Way” as laid out in the Fundamental Declarations, they are not orthodox Christians, much less Anglicans. The only way that they might be welcomed is if they bit their tongues, did not make a fuss about the beliefs and practices sanctioned in these documents, pledged their unquestioning and unqualified support to the ACNA, and became one of the ACNA’s tame evangelicals.
In various comments to me Anglo-Catholics in the ACNA have made it quite plain to me that they do not relish the prospect of any real evangelicals in the ACNA. Some but not all are happy to share the ACNA with the tame variety—those who are open to Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice or at least not critical of them. They are fairly docile and easy to manage. But real evangelicals—those who might call for a central place for the Article of Religion in the teaching and life of the church and even subscription to the Articles—they have no desire to give them even a chair in the back of the room, much less at the table. Real evangelicals are far from tractable. Real evangelicals in the ACNA would not only make the para-church organization much less agreeable to Anglo-Catholics but also it would pour cold water on their dreams for the future of the ACNA, for a Anglican province that is Catholic in doctrine, order, and practice.
Clergy and church members of the ACNA who define themselves as “evangelicals” may take exception to my drawing of a distinction between tame evangelical and real evangelical but making this distinction gets my point across to the reader of this article. Real evangelicals are rightly so called. They show evangelical spirit. Their evangelicalism has not been diluted. They are not part evangelical and part something else. Much of what passes for evangelicalism in the ACNA would have in the nineteenth century been classified as “liberal evangelicalism.” Nineteenth century liberal evangelicals in the Church of England were open to Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice. In the Protestant Episcopal Church they were absorbed by the liberal Broad Church movement. Many of the ACNA’s tame evangelicals are more Broad Church than evangelical. They are liberals (albeit the radicalism of the liberals in The Episcopal Church makes them to appear conservative.)
If the leading Anglicans that I mentioned earlier in this article would not be welcome in the Anglican Church of England, how then can the Anglican Church in North America represent itself as “Anglican”” How can the 4GSSE recognize the ACNA as being the true heirs of the Anglican tradition on the North American continent? To argue that Anglicanism has changed since the sixteenth century is to adopt the same argument as The Episcopal Church. If that argument does not hold water for TEC, it does not hold water for the ACNA. In both cases it is a leaking sieve.
To be regarded as genuinely Anglican, the Anglican Church must include real evangelicals in the mix, not just tame ones. They represent a major theological stream in Anglicanism and are from a standpoint of doctrine and practice the successors to the English Reformers and classical Anglicanism.
How then do we address the concerns of our Anglo-Catholic friends who are far from pleased by the possibility of real evangelicals in the ACNA? Shortly after the adoption of the provisional ACNA constitution I put forward a proposal for an alternative constitution for the ACNA. It would have grouped congregations in the ACNA into convocations by theological affinity rather than geographic proximity. The idea was that each theological affinity group represented in the ACNA would have one or more convocations, each with its own bishop. They would have formed parallel networks of congregations and ministries, sharing the same territorial jurisdiction (see David Holloway’s Reform discussion paper, “The Reform of the Episcopate and Alternative Episcopal Oversight”). Under this plan a convocation might consist of five or more congregations of the same theological affinity group that are in close proximity to each other or widely scattered, depending upon the numerical strength of the particular theological affinity group. I envisioned that over a period of time several convocations of the same theological affinity group would be established in different regions of Canada and the United States.
My more recent thinking is to rename these convocations as “dioceses.” Each diocese would be a voluntary association of congregations of the same theological affinity group with its own diocesan bishop and diocesan conference. A diocese would not be so much a geographic district as the sphere of authority of a particular bishop and conference. Diocesan bishops would normally be the rector or senior pastor of a congregation as in the Church of England in South Africa.
The dioceses would in turn be grouped into convocations by theological affinity. A meeting of the convocation would be held annually and would consist of the bishops and clerical and lay representatives of the constituent dioceses. The convocation would meet as a single body except when there was a call for a vote by orders. It would make canons, confirm the election of diocesan and assistant bishops, and approve the convocation’s budget and program. It would elect a part-time president bishop of the convocation from the bishops of the constituent dioceses and an executive council from the diocesan bishops and diocesan clerical and lay representatives. The executive council would conduct the business of the convocation between its meetings. The president bishop would preside at the meetings of the convocation and the executive council and perform such other duties as prescribed by the canons of the convocation or the province. The president bishop of the convocation would be normally the bishop of a diocese as in the Anglican Church of Australia.
Each convocation would in turn be represented in a provincial synod by the bishops and elected clerical and lay representatives of the dioceses of the convocation. The provincial synod would elect a part-time president bishop and a provincial executive council. The part-time president bishop would preside at the meetings of the provincial synod and the provincial executive council and perform such other duties as prescribed by the canons of the province. The office of part-time bishop would be rotated among the convocations. The president bishop of the province would normally be the bishop of a diocese.
Under this proposal the fundamental declarations would be much more general than the present ones and use theologically neutral language. The canons would be clearer and more detailed and would also not be aligned with the doctrine of any particular theological affinity group. Certain categories of the canons affecting the whole church would require the assent of a diocesan conference as in the Anglican Church of Australia before a canon in these categories would be binding upon the diocese. A diocesan conference would be able to rescind this assent.
In respect to the ordination of women and the Articles of Religion the church would be a microcosm of the Anglican Communion. Under this plan each convocation would adopt its own policy on women’s ordination. The constitution would limit bishops to male presbyters and would require the assent of all the dioceses to change this provision. The constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia has several provisions that require such assent for their amendment. While the church would as a whole recognize the Articles with the other historic Anglican formularies as classical standards of Anglicanism, each convocation would decide how central the Articles would be to the teaching and life of the convocation. This is not an ideal solution but it is a workable one.
Eucharistic sacrifice and justification are thornier issues to address but there needs to be some kind of agreement within the limits of the Articles upon the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and the means by which we are accounted righteous before God. Clergy in the ACNA cannot go on preaching and teaching two different gospels. This still leaves considerable freedom of thought in the area of eucharistic presence. There also needs to be some kind of agreement upon the rites of confirmation, matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, anointing of the sick, and ordination. Anglo-Catholics view these rites as sacraments while real evangelicals do not. This is not to say that God does not show his goodwill and favour towards us through these rites or that God cannot work in us what he purposes through them. Rather God does not automatically confer grace through them, change a person’s status in relation to himself, or mark a person’s character through them. Such agreements need to be acceptable not just to Anglo-Catholics and the tame evangelicals but also to the real evangelicals.
It is pointless to hold church planting conferences and to urge the churches of the ACNA to focus their attention upon church planting instead of doctrine. The result may be more ACNA churches. But they will be churches with no common theology of salvation. They will not preach a common message of grace.
Several years ago a new model of the local church was presented to the General Convention delegates of The Episcopal Church. This model envisioned a church whose members held a wide diversity of theological views but were united by the Sunday celebration of the Holy Eucharist and mission. The latter was defined in terms of ministry to the poor, social justice, world peace, etc. The working model of the church being advanced by Archbishop Robert Duncan is not too different from this model but on a larger scale. The unifying factor, however, is mission defined in terms of planting new churches.
This model is really not new. It is simply not previously known to North American Anglicans. The Congregationalists tried to implement a similar model of the church in the nineteenth century. The unifying factor was a common devotion to Jesus Christ, as each member of the church understood him. This particular model sought to bring together those who believed that Jesus was a great religious teacher with those who believed he was God incarnate. The model did not work. Conservative Congregationalists formed conservative congregations; liberal Congregationalists formed liberal congregations. These congregations in turn formed associations that reflected their particular theological leanings.
A common dedication to establishing new churches is not enough to unite a denomination. It needs a common theology—agreement on the essentials and freedom on the non-essentials. This theology needs to be grounded in the teaching of the Scriptures and the Reformation if it is to be authentically Anglican.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 11:16 AM