Tuesday, August 17, 2010
A view of the emerging Anglican Church in North America
By Robin G. Jordan
I am posting this brief description of the Anglican Church in North America primarily for my readers outside of North America. They do not have a good picture of how the ACNA is developing as an independent, extramural Anglican province and its actual commitment, as opposed to its professed commitment, to GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration.
The two dominant groups in the ACNA are the Anglo-Catholics and the Convergentists. Convergentism emphasizes the convergence or coming together of Catholic, evangelical, and charismatic (or Pentecostal) practice and piety and does not press doctrine. In its openness to Catholic piety and practice and its attitude toward doctrine the Convergent movement resembles the Broad Church movement of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Convergentism embraces F. B. Maurice’s dynamic evolutionary theory of the via media in a modified form. In its modified version of that theory Anglicanism in its present stage of evolution and particularly in the Anglican Church in North America is where these three traditions are converging. This convergence is the work of the Holy Spirit. The slogan of the Convergentist movement is “three streams, one river” and its chief apostle was the late worship-guru Robert Webber.
Another name for this movement is the Ancient-Future Church movement. Like the Anglo-Catholic movement it has its own particular interpretation of Scripture and like the Anglo-Catholic movement it gives a prominent place in its thinking to the rule of antiquity. Both movements claim that the Holy Spirit is operative in their particular interpretation of Scripture. Archbishop Robert Duncan often uses Convergentist phraseology and themes in his sermons. Unlike Anglo-Catholics, Convergentists are generally open to the ordination of women.
Anglo-Catholics and Convergentists are not strong supporters of the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration. Both groups regard those who promote the historical Church of England formularies as authoritative Anglican standards of faith and worship as seeking to freeze Anglicanism in a particular period in Anglican church history, and view them as being out of step with the “mainstream” of Anglicanism. The two groups interpret themselves as being the Anglican “mainstream,” as do the liberals in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church.
Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Fort Worth Jack Iker has gone on record, assuring Anglo-Catholics that the Anglican Church in North America will be operating in accordance with the Common Cause Theological Statement and not the Jerusalem Declaration. The Common Cause Theological Statement is different in its wording and emphasis than the Jerusalem Declaration and is incorporated into the ACNA constitution as its fundamental declarations. In striking contrast to the Jerusalem Declaration, which sees “acceptance of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles as constitutive of Anglican identity” (Being Faithful, p. 35), it treats the Articles as a relic of the past. Instead of recognizing the 1662 Prayer Book as “a true and authoritative standard for worship and prayer” and “a standard by which other liturgies may be tested and measured” (Being Faithful, p.47), it creates a nebulous standard for “the Anglican tradition of worship” in which the 1662 Prayer Book is just one of a number of books forming the basis of this standard. The latter is worded in such a way that the pre-Reformation medieval Catholic service books and the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book, the so-called “Laudian Liturgy,” may be interpreted to be a part of the standard of “the Anglican tradition of worship.” The ACNA affirmation of the GAFCON Statement and Jerusalem Declaration are relegated to the constitution’s preamble where they form a part of the preamble’s explanation for the existence of the ACNA.
With the ACNA College of Bishops’ reception of the Rt. Rev. Derek Jones, a bishop from the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, as a bishop of the ACNA this past June suggests that the ACNA is moving closer to the charismatic Convergentist churches like CEEC and toward the independent Catholic churches. The CEEC claims to have the apostolic succession in the Catholic sense from the Old Catholic Church and the Syrian Jacobite Church. The CEEC bishops Old Catholic line of succession includes the Valette episcopi vagantes line of succession; the Syrian Jacobite line of succession is very murky and may also be considered an episcopi vagantes line of succession. In Resolution 54 the 1958 Lambeth Conference strongly recommended against the recognition of the episcopi vagantes churches and the orders of their ministers. A number of independent Catholic churches also have episcopi vagantes orders, as do a number of the Continuing Anglican churches.
The Convergentists are the dominant group in the Anglican Mission, formerly the Anglican Mission in America, or AMiA, which is now a ministry partner of the ACNA. The Anglican Mission also has a small but very influential Anglo-Catholic wing. The Anglican Mission remains a missionary outreach of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, which has adopted a set of canons that are Roman Catholic in their doctrine, language, norms, and principles, having been based upon the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law. For example, the Rwandan canons affirm the Council of Trent’s doctrines of the substantive presence of Christ in eucharistic elements, the eucharist as a sacrifice, baptismal regeneration, confirmation, and ordination. The Anglican Mission’s canonical charter also shows the influence of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law.
Neither Anglo-Catholics nor Convergentists represent historical Anglicanism, that is, the faith of the reformed Church of England and its formularies, what the Coronation Act of 1688 describes as “the Protestant Reformed Religion.” The Anglo-Catholic movement is an offshoot of the nineteenth century Oxford Tractarian and Ritualist movements. Its claim to being “Anglican” is based upon its claim to maintain the Catholic faith of the pre-Reformation medieval English Church and is tied to the description of that church as the ecclesia Anglicana, literally the English Church in Latin documents before the Reformation. The English Church, however, was also used in Latin documents after the Reformation. Latin was the international language of theologians in the sixteenth century. Anglo-Catholicism also accepts the dogmas of the Council of Trent and other Roman Catholic innovations in doctrine and worship that were not introduced until after the English Reformation. Anglo-Catholics justify their acceptance of these innovations with the spurious claim that they would have been a part of English Church doctrine and practice if the English Reformation had not occurred.
Anglo-Catholics generally use the 1979 edition of The Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church. They also use the 1928 edition of the Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book. Forward in Faith North America, an Anglo-Catholic organization that is one of the founding entities of the ACNA, officially encourages the use of the services of the 1549 and 1928 Prayer Books, supplemented by additions from the American Missal or the Anglican Missal. Both Prayer Books are much more Catholic in doctrine than the earlier Prayer Books of the Episcopal Church, and show the influence of twentieth century theological liberalism in different stages of its development. Anglo-Catholic worship tends to be High Church in style.
The Convergentist movement is an offshoot of twentieth century Neo-Pentecostalism. In some ways it resembles the nineteenth century Irvingite movement that blended a fascination with the charisma, or manifestations, of the Holy Spirit with a penchant for ritualism. Both movements looked to ancient times for precedent for their practices. The Protestant Reformation does not play a large part in its thinking.
Convergentists generally use the 1979 Prayer Book. Their worship tends be charismatic in style but may incorporate High Church elements to various degrees, depending upon the church.
Both the Anglo-Catholics and Convergentists in the Anglican Church in North America are taking full advantage of the global South primates’ statement that the ACNA is a genuine expression of Anglicanism. They claim the global South primates’ statement as an endorsement of their particular strain of nominal, non-confessional Anglicanism.
The ACNA shows a preoccupation with being larger than the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church, outstripping them in numbers of clergy and congregations. This seems to be driven in part by a desire to be seen as dynamic, growing, and healthy North American equivalent of one of the African Anglican provinces that have experienced phenomenal growth in recent years. It appears to be motivated in part by a wish to highlight the perceived and real damage that liberalism has caused to these two Anglican provinces. The question, however, that must be raised about the growth of the ACNA is how much of this growth is real gospel growth? How much does the ACNA’s growth come from disaffected Christians from other denominations and how much does it come from the growing unbelieving, unchurched segments of the North American population? As James Packer and Roger Beckwith point to our attention in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, the Articles are the Anglican answer to the question, “What is the gospel?” If the two dominant groups in the ACNA are not giving a central place to the Articles in their teaching, what place are they giving to the gospel in their preaching? Church growth that is not gospel growth is ephemeral. Like the flowers in the grass it is transitory: it last only a few days and then is gone forever. Gospel growth lasts for eternity.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 12:19 PM