Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Deciphering Archbishop Robert Duncan’s State of the Church Address to the June 2010 ACNA Provincial Council Meeting
By Robin G. Jordan
First in his address to the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Conference and now in his State of the Church address to the June 2010 ACNA Provincial Council meeting Archbishop Robert Duncan redefines as the ACNA’s mission—“to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus.” In Archbishop Duncan’s redefinition of the body’s mission—which by the way is no more original than the ACNA’s constitution’s definition of its mission—I find no reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have drawn attention to this defect elsewhere. One explanation is that ACNA clergy proclaim more than one gospel. In using euphemistic expressions like “to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus,” Duncan may be avoiding taking sides and endorsing a particular gospel. One the other hand, “the transforming love of Jesus” may be Duncan’s understanding of the gospel. If that is indeed the case, then his understanding of the gospel is not grounded in Scripture and the Reformation.
Archbishop Duncan goes on to state, “We have learned to describe the method for achieving this transformation in Christ Jesus as converted individuals, in multiplying congregations, fueled by the Holy Spirit.” The audience is left to figure out for itself what Duncan means by “converted persons.” “Converted to what?” we are left to wonder. He repeats a phrase he used in his Anglican 1000 address,” “There has never been a movement so well positioned at the beginning of an era multiplying congregations fueled by the Holy Spirit. As in his Anglican 1000 address he does not elucidate. As well as reusing this phrase, Duncan returns to another theme from his Anglican 1000 address—the “accountabilities.” In Anglican 1000 address he name four accountabilities—“Scripture, tradition, the Holy Spirit and society.” In his latest Provincial Council meeting address, he mentions only three:
“Moreover, we have been able to articulate a threefold accountability without which any congregation falls short of being reliably Anglican: accountable to the Holy Scriptures, accountable to the Great Tradition, accountable for the transformation of society. These understandings are, in themselves, remarkable achievements.”
He does not go into any detail by what he means by “a threefold accountability” but asserts that any congregation that does not have this accountability “falls short of being reliably Anglican.” In his redefinition of Anglicanism, for that is what it is, a congregation to be “reliably Anglican” must be accountable to “the Holy Scriptures,” “the Great Tradition,” and “the transformation of society.” As has been typical in his recent addresses and sermons, Duncan does not explain what he means by the Holy Scriptures, the “Great Tradition”, and “the transformation of society.” His audience is left to interpret for themselves what is meant by the three “other understandings” that “have been clarified” for the ACNA. They may have been clarified for the ACNA but they are not clarified for the audience. The audience is offered no explanation in regards to how they have been clarified. They are left in the dark. He proceeds to label “these understandings” with his characteristic use of hyperbole as “remarkable achievements.” “In what sense are these achievements remarkable?” I find myself asking.
Sometime between 1000 Anglican Church Planting Conference and this month’s Provincial Council meeting Duncan has dropped the Holy Spirit as one of the accountabilities. Does the omission of this accountability, this understanding, have anything to do with the decision of the Anglican Mission to became a ministry partner rather than a sub-provincial jurisdiction of the ACNA?
Duncan moves on quickly to his next talking point. We need, however, take a moment and examine the “three-fold accountability” to which Duncan has referred, especially since he is proposing it a criteria for what he terms being “reliably Anglican.” What he is asserting is that a congregation that is accountable in these three areas can be relied upon to be Anglican. It is identifiably Anglican. The three areas that he mentions are the Holy Scriptures, the “Great Tradition”, and “the transformation of society.”
By not explaining what he means by these three terms, Duncan provides himself with a high degree of deniability. He leaves to his audience to interpret these terms for themselves in according with their own aspirations and presuppositions. If a particular interpretation of the term makes him look bad, he can deny that is how he was using the term.
Being accountable to the Scriptures is something with which Conservative Evangelicals would have no argument except that they would use the term “subject” instead of “accountable.” Being accountable to “the Great Tradition” definitely raises their hackles. “Great Tradition” sounds awfully like “Holy Tradition” or “Church Tradition,” as Anglo-Catholics understand it. Archbishop Duncan is by his own admission and his wife’s admission an Anglo-Catholic. From a Conservative Evangelical viewpoint tradition is subject to Scripture and not the other way around. Making accountability to Church tradition as a part of a redefinition of Anglican identity is clearly unacceptable to Conservative Evangelicals. Being accountable to “the transformation of society,” or social transformation, brings to mind the Social Gospel of the nineteenth century and the humanistic, liberal and liberation theologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It also calls up thoughts of Anglo-Catholic worker-priests in the London slums, Bishop Gore, the Lux Mundi essays, Charles Kingsley, and settlements houses.
But did God send his only Son to transform society or to seek and save the lost, to be the propriation for our sins and the means of our salvation? Did Christ commission the Church through the apostles to go and transform society or to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation? A transformed society may be the byproduct or the result of transformed lives but it is not the mission of the Church. The Church’s mission is, going, moving out of its comfort zone, to make disciples of all peoples groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them everything that Christ has commanded. Christ commands us to love even our enemies, those who hate and despise us. The apostles urged believers to do as much good as they could while they could. Those who truly believe in Christ will bear the fruits of their faith in the form of good works. But, eradicating poverty, promoting racial and sexual equality, and otherwise affecting social change is not the mission of Church. This is not to say that they are not good causes. However, they are not the reason that God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The redefinition of Anglican identity that Duncan is advocating is moderately liberal Catholic identity. It is liberal enough to tolerate the ordination of women and divorce and remarriage of bishops and other clergy. It is not an identity that Conservative Evangelicals can, in good conscience, accept. Like the ACNA Constitution and Canons with their Anglo-Catholic doctrinal bias it excludes Conservative Evangelicals from meaningful participation in the ACNA.
Duncan’s next talking point contains a theme that Archbishop Duncan returns to over and over again in his address to the June Provincial Council meeting. Whatever is happening in the ACNA is God’s doing. It is a sign of God’s favour. In this particular address he introduces this theme in the third paragraph of the address. He suggests that God not only brought a divided and splintered orthodox North American Anglican community together at Bedford, Texas, but God also chose the time. It was a sovereign act of God. He repeatedly returned to the same theme in his 1000 Anglican Church Planting Conference address.
Archbishop Duncan emphasizes in the third paragraph and the fifth paragraph of the address that God did everything in “a people who were willing,” “a cooperating people.” He returns to this theme later in his address.
In a roundabout way Archbishop Duncan urges the Provincial Council to approve the three applicants for recognition as an ACNA diocese. In counting the number of congregations at Bedford Duncan includes the congregations of the Anglican Mission, and in counting the number of congregations at Amesbury, he continues to count those of the Anglican Mission. From what he says, the ACNA intends to count as its congregations all the congregations of the Federation of Anglican Churches, which is a Ministry Partner of the ACNA and whose congregations have requested inclusion in the ACNA church database and online Church Finder. If these congregations are counted, the resulting figure will not be an accurate representation of the ACNA’s actual size. Such a count is highly questionable and will make the ACNA look bigger in terms of number of congregations than it really is. Any count of congregations in the ACNA should not include the congregations in its Ministry Partners. They should be counted separately and reported separately in ACNA statistics. Whether Duncan realizes it to do otherwise is to bear false witness as to the actual size of the ACNA. Ministry Partners may work with the ACNA but they are not a part of the ACNA.
Duncan made no mention of the four congregations that the ACNA lost when the Diocese of Ontario withdrew from the Reformed Episcopal Church and the ACNA.
He goes on to identify the presentation of a balanced budget and a successful fund raising effort as another sign of God’s favour toward the ACNA.
Archbishop Duncan makes passing reference to three “substantive reports on Prayer Book, Catechumenate, and Ecumenical Relations.” It will be interesting to see if these reports are made public after the Provincial Council meeting and posted on the Internet. The preliminary report on Prayer Book received only limited distribution within the ACNA and those sympathetic to that body, and was not released to the public. Duncan himself makes no mention of these reports being made available to the public.
Duncan describes the decision of the Anglican Mission to not to become a sub-provincial jurisdiction of the ACNA but to petition for ministry partnership with the ACNA as “a bridge too far,” a reference to a military disaster of World War II in which British forces overextended themselves in their drive into Germany, and suffered a sharp defeat at the hands of the Germans. Some units were cut off and were forced to surrender. Others had no choice but leave behind their wounded in their hasty retreat. It was a serious bungle that resulted from poor intelligence, planning, and communication, excessive zeal, and senior officer incompetence and intractability.
Duncan notes that the Amesbury meeting “heralds the ending of many important oversight relationships with foreign partners” but he does not name these foreign partners, except the Diocese of Recife, and gives no details. .
Archbishop Duncan’s only references to the gospel in the entire address is made in conjunction with his recognition of the presence of Bishop of Recife Robinson Cavalcanti and later in conjunction with the Fourth Global South to South Encounter’s recognition of the ACNA as “a faithful expression of Anglicanism” and a “gospel partner.”
Archbishop Duncan identifies four areas that he believes need to become distinctives of the ACNA. First, the people know themselves to be the beloved of Jesus. Second, they become a people committed to personal holiness. Third, they understand their work as fore-runners of Jesus. Fourth, they are those who sacrifice for the sake of others. He argues that these distinctives would form the people of the ACNA into a different people. The same distinctives would direct the people of the ACNA from their engagement with Islam to their embrace of the tithe. While recognizing these distinctives is a great beginning, adopting them must accompany recognizing them. Duncan did not complete this thought.
Duncan acknowledges the division in the ACNA over the ordination of women to the presbyterate. It is noteworthy that he does not acknowledge the division over the ordination of women to the diaconate. He leaves the impression that all the ACNA constituent bodies are agreed on women in deacons’ orders, which is far from the truth. He mentions that the College of Bishops is devoting Friday morning to gaining “deeper understanding of the grounds of our divergent practice.” Duncan’s next statement is particularly worthy of note:
“Moreover, the GAFCON/FCA Primates Council has agreed to appointment of a theological task force to consider both the theological and structural issues that not only divide us, but also them. A healthy Church does not run away from its difficulties, nor does it act independently.”
Duncan does not touch on what other theological and structural issues that divide the ACNA, GAFCON, and the FCA. The appointment of this task force is an important development as any agreements on these issues are going to affect Conservative Evangelicals. Who will be appointed to this theological task force and whether they will adequately represent the Conservative Evangelical position on these issues should be a matter of concern to Conservative Evangelicals in and outside of North America.
Duncan calls attention to what he describes as “the increasing regularization” of “global relationships among Anglican Provinces” – a reference to the recognition of the ACNA and calls for recognition of that body. He affirms a popular interpretation of his invitation to be a celebrant at one of the 4GSEE Eucharists.
Archbishop Duncan claims that ecumenical recognitions and conversations have developed well beyond the early signs at Bedford but he does not elucidate. He goes on to claim that the ACNA’s commitment to what Anglicans have always been committed to has translated into other denominations concluding that the ACNA looks like what Anglicans have always looked like. He characterizes this development as a “general ecumenical assessment.” He asserts that as a consequence “doors are…opening everywhere.” Here again, he does not elucidate. What denominations form this “general ecumenical assessment”? We have only his word for it. If documentation is included in the report on Ecumenical Relations, he should have referred to that report.
It is important that any denomination that views the ACNA as being “Anglican” should be identified since its identity will provide insight into why it views the ACNA as being “Anglican.” A number of denominations have their own agenda for affirming a particular form of Anglicanism as representing the mainstream of Anglicanism. For example, the Roman Catholic Church affirms Anglo-Catholicism as mainstream Anglicanism even though Anglo-Catholics are a minority in the Anglican Communion. It serves the purposes of the Roman Catholic Church to reinforce Catholic identity, doctrine, order, and practice in the Anglican bodies. Any kindness that the Roman Catholic Church may show the ACNA in the present is motivated by the desire to move the ACNA in a more Catholic direction. Rome takes the long view, which includes Catholic Anglican bodies’ acceptance of the universal authority of the Pope and their eventual absorption and assimilation into Mother Church.
Duncan returns once again to the theme of everything that has happened being God’s doing. Here again he emphasize cooperation with God:
“We have cooperated, even in the hard things…perhaps especially in the hard things.”
Duncan then draws attention to what he describes as two symbols of all that he maintains the ACNA is becoming—All Saints Pro-Cathedral and Ministry Center, Amesbury, Massachusetts and Anglican 1000. He claims that all kinds of wonderful things are happening through that initiative. He concludes his address with an appeal for the ACNA to keep cooperating in what he characterizes as God’s agenda for that body, thanking the ACNA for entrusting him with the mantle of leadership and calling upon the ACNA to be unceasing in prayer.
Overall Archbishop Duncan paints a rosy picture of the ACNA and its future prospects. This, of course, is not particularly surprising. As the ACNA’s head cheerleader is part of his role.
The closing words of the third to last paragraph particularly attracted my attention. After referring “to a big laudatory spread in The Boston Globe,” which I found surprising, Archbishop Duncan repeated what sounded like a quote from the article:
“Accountable to the Scriptures. Accountable to the Tradition. Accountable for Social Transformation. Boundless vision. All things new. This is the Anglican Church in North America.”
When, however, I found the article on the Internet, it was clear that Archbishop Duncan was not quoting the article. It was also evident that his description of the article was another example of his characteristic use of hyperbole.
I will be watching to see if this description of ACNA replaces the description of the ACNA as a church that is truly Catholic, truly Pentecostal, and truly evangelical. If it does, it may signal a significant shift in the ACNA—away from an Ancient-Future/Convergence vision of the ACNA to a moderately liberal Catholic vision. Archbishop Duncan’s support for the ordination of women does place him with Affirming Catholics and Affirming Catholicism. However, his support of women’s ordination may be due more to charismatic or Pentecostal influence upon his views of ministry than to support for women’s equality. This influence which places a high value upon spiritual gifts as evidence of God’s calling of a particular individual to ordained ministry explains why Pentecostals who are otherwise quite conservative may ordain a woman to the ministry.
In an Anglican body in which Scripture, Tradition, and Social Transformation set the agenda, Scripture is likely to end in the backseat or even the trunk and Tradition or Social Transformation is likely to take the wheel with the one who is not at the wheel giving directions. Whatever it will be, such a body will not be a “faithful expression” of classical Anglicanism—the Protestant Reformed Religion of the post-Reformation Church of England and its formularies. Archbishop Duncan’s State of the Church address to the June ACNA Provincial Council meeting draws attention even more to the need for a confessional Anglican Church in North America, one that gives central place to the Scriptures and the historic Anglican formularies in its life and teaching. Duncan is certainly not leading the ACNA in that direction. In the days leading up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference Duncan called for a New Settlement in the Anglican Church. What we are seeing is his vision of the New Settlement as it relates to the ACNA—an Anglican body that is likely to be more accountable to Tradition and Social Transformation than Scripture, and certainly not accountable to the historic Anglican formularies, grounded as they are in Scripture and the Reformation.
In his address Archbishop Duncan repeats the twin themes of the ACNA being the work of God and of cooperation with God in his work. The unspoken message is for ACNA members to cooperate with their leaders and for their leaders to cooperate with him, as he, as the head of the ACNA, is acting on God’s behalf, as are the ACNA leaders. An unspoken corollary is that those who are uncooperative with him and the ACNA leaders are working against God. At the Bedford meeting the last two themes were not unspoken.
Are more congregations, more dioceses, more money, more statements of recognition, and affirmations of identity signs of special grace or just indicators of common grace from our heavenly Father “who makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV)? Only God himself knows.
Is the ACNA God’s doing? In Acts 5;33-38 Gamaliel advised the Sahedrin to take care with what it did with the apostles:
“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:38-39 ESV)
Time will tell whether the ACNA is indeed the handiwork of God. The flush of excitement that surrounded the formation of the ACNA has not yet ebbed. The ACNA is still benefiting from this excitement despite the setback of the Anglican Mission’s decision against integration into the ACNA and for a less close relationship with the ACNA.
The test of whether God is working in the lives of individual Christians is the fruits that they bear.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)
"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit”. (Matthew 12:33 ESV)
"For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45 ESV)
This same test is the one by which congregations and clergy and the para-church organizations to which they belong must be tried—what kind of fruit are they bearing?
Here we need to remember the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, applying them not just to others but also our selves:
“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4-8 ESV
In judging others we should not only be expect to be judged by the same measure but should be prepared to judge ourselves by that measure. What fruit are we bearing?
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 12:22 PM