By Robin G. Jordan
The Anglican Church in North America, which the Common Cause Partnership launched in response to the GAFCON Primates’ call for a new orthodox Anglican province in North America, is substantially a continuation of The Episcopal Church from which most of its congregations and clergy come. Those of its leaders who are not former Episcopalians or former Reformed Episcopalians come from non-Anglican denominations.
The Episcopal Church is not known for its strong attachment to the Thirty Nine Articles or the central place it has given them in its teaching and life. Successive revisions of the American Prayer Book moved it away from biblical and Reformation teaching of the 1662 Prayer Book toward the unreformed Catholicism of the pre-Reformation Medieval service books. Anglo-Catholicism dominated the church from the mid nineteenth century until liberalism displaced it in the mid twentieth century. The Episcopal Church’s once vibrant evangelical wing either abandoned the church in the 1870s due to the growing influence of ritualism or succumbed to liberalism and adopted Broad Church principles. The Episcopal Church’s brief evangelical revival in the 1960s-1980s touched only a small part of the church. Charismatic renewal swept through the Episcopal Church during the same period.
The Anglican Church in North America has adopted a similar attitude toward the Thirty-Nine Articles as The Episcopal Church. It is not given a prominent place in its teaching and life. The ACNA uses the Episcopal Church’s most recent and most liberal Catholic of the revisions of the American Prayer Book—the 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books. It also uses the two most recent Episcopal hymnals, The Hymnal 1940 and The Hymnal 1982. Most of the ACNA congregations and clergy who are self-described “evangelicals” are actually charismatic and even charismatic Catholic. The two dominant theological influences in the ACNA are the Anglo-Catholic movement and the Convergence movement. The doctrine of the constitution and canons favor the Anglo-Catholic position on a number of key issues. A number of decisions of the Provincial Council and College of Bishops have supported the Anglo-Catholic position on these issues. In their preoccupation with denominational growth the leaders of the ACNA show a willingness to open the church to independent Catholic and Convergence groups that have no Anglican history, much less loyalty to authentic historic Anglicanism. As long as a group is Catholic or friendly to Catholicism the Anglo-Catholic leaders are willing to welcome its members into the ACNA and as long as a group is charismatic, the charismatic leaders are willing to welcome its members. The group’s connection to the Anglican tradition is a minor consideration if it is considered at all.
Confessional (or conservative) evangelicals with their roots in the English Reformation and the Evangelical Revival and their strong commitment to the Protestant Reformed faith of the Church of England and her formularies are a weak element in the ACNA, and are not represented in its leadership. They are scattered throughout the dioceses and other groupings of the ACNA. While at least three dioceses are Anglo-Catholic and the Provincial Council created a special diocese for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, the Diocese of All Saints, the Provincial Council has so far shown no inclination to modify the doctrinal positions of the constitution and canons to make them less objectionable to confessional evangelicals or to invite conservative evangelicals to establish their own enclave within the ACNA.
With the emergence of a new orthodox Anglican province in North America Anglicans in and outside of North America had hoped that the Thirty-Nine Articles would be given a central place in its teaching and life. There is little likelihood of that happening on a large scale in the ACNA. Considering the position that the Jerusalem Declaration takes on the Articles, it is surprising that they have not been given more prominence in what is regarded outside of North America as GAFCON in North America. It is also surprising that the ACNA has not distanced itself from the American Prayer Book tradition, which is so closely identified with The Episcopal Church and its liberal Catholic drift.
A substantial portion of the ACNA congregations and clergy are more Episcopalian than Anglican in their identity. The Episcopal Church had already moved too far from authentic historic Anglicanism before they left. They do not have a strong Anglican identity. For example, the Articles that are an essential element of Anglican identity are unfamiliar to them. The American Prayer Book tradition with which they are acquainted has deviated significantly from the English Prayer Book tradition, which, even though it has produced a number of contemporary language service books, retains the 1662 Prayer Book as its authorized standard of faith and worship. For Episcopalians the current American Prayer Book has been their authorized standard of faith and worship. Its doctrines and practices have changed with the Episcopal Church’s doctrines and practices. The Episcopal Church’s theory of Anglican identity has also changed with the times. The bulk of those who comprise the ACNA are still very Episcopalian in their thinking. For this reason it is more accurate to describe this segment of the ACNA membership as conservative Episcopalian rather than Anglican.
Most of the congregations and clergy in the ACNA do not identify with the peculiarly English conservative form of Reformed Protestantism that is authentic historic Anglicanism; much less give adequate expression to it. They have come to accept in its place traditional Anglo-Catholicism; the older, more moderate form of liberal Catholicism; Convergentism; or some other ideology that its proponents have represented as genuine Anglicanism, redefining Anglicanism and even reinterpreting and revising Anglican Church history in order to lend credibility to their claim. Like the doctrines and practices of the American Prayer Book, this definition changes with the times. A new ideology comes upon the scene and the definition of Anglicanism is changed to accommodate it. Anglican Church history is rewritten. This is what Dean Philip Jensen refers to as “sociological Anglicanism” in his article, “Why Anglican?” Whatever a church with a historical connection to the Church of England believes and practices at a particular time in its history is defined as Anglican. The result is a constantly changing, developing Anglican identity that sets no boundaries to what may be described as Anglican, and which J. I. Packer has compared with the Roman Catholicism of John Henry Newman.
Confessional Anglicanism, on the other hand, views the historic Church of England formularies and to a lesser extent the two Books of Homilies, as authoritative standards by which the doctrines and practices of churches claiming to stand in the Anglican tradition may be measured and tested. To be authentically Anglican, the doctrines and practices of a church must be in continuity with these standards.
A similar view of Anglicanism was taken by the 1888 Lambeth Conference that resolved that new missionary churches should be recognized as Anglican only if “their Clergy subscribe Articles in accordance with the express statements of our standards of doctrine and worship,” adding that “they should not necessarily be bound to accept in their entirety the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion,” an allowance that parts of the Articles assume and name political structures that do not directly apply to Anglicans or Anglican churches outside the United Kingdom. It recognized that the Articles are “the Anglican version of the Catholic tradition of Faith and Discipline.” Loyal Anglicans may not form any other version.
An Anglican province does a disservice to the global Anglican community when it endorses as a genuine expression of Anglicanism the doctrines and practices of a supposedly Anglican body without a comprehensive and thorough assessment. Both the liberal Western churches and the conservative global South churches are guilty of doing so—the Provinces of Canterbury and York in their continued recognition of The Episcopal Church and the Provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Southern Cone, and Uganda in their recognition of the ACNA. Neither TEC nor its would-be replacement is close to the standards of the Church of England formularies. In the past twelve months the two churches have become even more removed from them.
It is difficult to see the basis upon which the Provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Southern Cone and Uganda recognized the Anglican Church in North America as “a genuine expression of Anglicanism.” The wording of the sixth and seventh declaration of the ACNA Fundamental Declarations effectively neutralizes the authority of the historic Anglican formularies as standards of doctrine and worship for the ACNA. Congregations and clergy in the ACNA may hold a different version of “the Catholic tradition of Faith and Discipline” than the Anglican version. Among the requirements that they must meet is that they must accept the Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic view of bishops being essential to the existence of the church, a view over which Anglicans historically have been divided and are still not in agreement to this day. The ACNA has adopted the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession in its canons and the College of Bishops in its reception of Bishops Lipka and Jones as bishops of the ACNA affirmed this doctrine. Implicit in the canons are a number of other Roman Catholic doctrines.
The Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria stipulate that the Church of Nigeria “shall be in communion only with Anglican churches, dioceses and provinces that that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Article of Religion.” The first of the Fundamental Provisions of the Constitution of the Church of Uganda states:
The Church of Uganda doth hold and maintain the doctrines and sacraments of Christ…as the Church of England hath received the same in the Book of Common Prayer, and in the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and further it disclaims for it’s the right of altering any of the aforesaid standards of faith and doctrine.”
The Fundamental Declaration of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone states:
The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone is established as a Province of the Anglican Communion, a branch of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which professes the historic Faith and Order as contained in the Holy Scriptures, … and as observed in the Book of Common Prayer and the administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies, in the form and manner of Consecration, Ordination or Institution of Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons and the Articles of Religion….
Of the four churches, only the Anglican Church of Kenya makes no reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles in its constitution and canons. It does, however, “declare its acceptance of the doctrine, Sacraments, and discipline of the Church as these are set forth in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Form ordering Bishops, Priests and Deacons attached to the same Book.” All four churches signed the Jerusalem Declaration with its affirmation of the authority of the historic Anglican formularies.
Their recognition of the Anglican Church in North America as “a genuine expression of Anglicanism,” however, raises the question of how committed are these four churches in actuality to the historic Anglican formularies. It casts doubt upon the sincerity of that commitment. Having provided oversight and support to components of the ACNA, they may have believed that they had no other choice. However, it reflects poorly upon the four churches that they did not do a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the ACNA before certifying it to be authentically Anglican. It also raises the question of what criteria did they use in making that determination and how objective and reliable is that criteria.
If political expediency was the primary reason for their recognition of the ACNA as “a genuine expression of Anglicanism,” it brings up the question of what do the four churches gain from recognizing as Anglican a church that is at best marginally so. While it must be admitted that the ACNA does have congregations and clergy that are more than marginally Anglican, their existence in the ACNA does not mitigate the marginality of the Anglican identity of the church as a whole. The church needs to take a number of steps to strengthen its Anglican identity but it shows no indications of moving in that direction. Indeed it is moving in a direction that weakens its marginal Anglican identity.
How do the four churches benefit from supporting a marginally Anglican church? They realize a number of their aspirations. They assume a position of leadership in the world Anglican community. They enhance their prestige in the eyes of their fellow Africans. They acquire Western allies in their struggle with liberalism in the Anglican Communion. They expand their sphere of influence. They acquire a new source of financial aid to replace The Episcopal Church and reduce their dependence upon the liberal Western churches.
These benefits, however, come at a high cost. The marginally Anglican church that they are supporting does not represent authentic historic Anglicanism, and consequently the pressing need for a genuine Anglican witness in North America, ground in the Bible and the Reformation, is going unmet. The drift away from the Protestant Reformed faith of authentic historic Anglicanism is going uncorrected, and the retrograde movement toward the corrupt unreformed Catholicism of pre-Reformation Medieval Church and the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church is going unchecked.
Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism have not shown themselves particularly immune to the influence of liberalism and modernism. This is especially true in North America. As Lesley Fairfield has shown, “Catholic Modernism,” to which he attributes primary responsibility for the present state of affairs in The Episcopal Church, is an outgrowth of Anglo-Catholicism, influenced by liberalism and modernism.
The highest cost takes the form of the continued widespread abandonment of the New Testament gospel in the North American Anglican Church for “a different gospel.” The gospel of justification by faith and salvation by grace recovered at the Reformation after having been so long lost to the Church of England has been lost once again to her daughter churches. Whatever they proclaim from the pulpit and in their liturgical celebrations, it is not the gospel of grace. North American Anglicanism, if it can be rightly called that, has reached one of its lowest watermarks.