By Robin G. Jordan
In reading Bishop Ray Sutton’s letter in response to Matt Kennedy’s Stand Firm article, “The ACNA and the Filioque: Decisions Matter,” I noted that Bishop Sutton frequently resorted to sophistry, or false argument, in his letter. A number of his arguments had no bearing upon the subject at hand, and gave the appearance of being designed to impress his readers with his erudition as well as to muddy the water and to obscure the truth. The views that he expressed were largely opinion, a particular interpretation of Church history. They were not fact. For example, Church historians disagree over whether the Forty-Two Articles were adopted. Charles Hardwick in A History of the Articles of Religion, pages 111-112, builds a well-reasoned case for their synodical approbation. In any event they were adopted by the Convocation of Canterbury and were promulgated at the order of King Edward VI.
Bishop Sutton displays great skill at misleading his readers and hoodwinking those who are not as well read as he is. Much of what he wrote was designed to sow doubts about the Protestant and Reformed character of historic Anglicanism in the minds of his readers and to lead them to draw the wrong conclusions. His letter was lengthy so its readers would become lost in the convolutions of his arguments.
Sutton is one of the bishops of the Reformed Episcopal Church who led his own church away from its Protestant and Reformed heritage into Anglo-Catholicism and ritualism. Whatever he writes is therefore suspect and cannot be trusted. Like John Henry Newman he is quite capable of leading his readers down the garden path, to use an old expression.
Entering into a Eucharistic intercommunion agreement with a church on the fringe of Eastern Orthodoxy is not going to advance the cause of ecumenism. The Anglican Church in North America would not be breaking new ground. The churches in the Eastern Orthodoxy mainstream, especially the resurgent conservative Russian Orthodox Church, are not going to recognize such an agreement. From an Eastern Orthodox perspective Roman Catholics are schismatics but Anglicans are heretics. In Eastern Orthodox eyes Anglican and independent Catholic orders and sacraments are not valid. Bishop Sutton is no priest, much less a bishop. He is only a layman. The Filoque, the Augustian doctrine of original sin, original guilt, and the total depravity of humankind, and the validity of Anglican orders and sacraments are not the only things that divide the Anglican Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Thirty-Nine Articles, the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, and the doctrine of the sacraments in the Prayer Book Catechism are also among a host of things that seperate Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
The history of Anglican-Eastern Orthodox relations from the time of the Non-Jurors has been marked by repeated Eastern Orthodox rebuffs of Anglican overtures. The Eastern Orthodox churches have no illusions about the character of the Anglican Church: It is Protestant and Reformed, and therefore heretical in their estimation as long as the Anglican Church does not fully embrace Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice. Even if the Anglican Church were to do the latter, it would not gain the full acceptance of the Eastern Orthodox churches. What then does the pursuit of such an agreement with a marginal Eastern Orthodox church accomplish?
I suggest that it accomplishes four things. First, the pursuit of this agreement gives the appearance that the Ecumenical Relations Task Force is serving a useful purpose. It is actively seeking after harmonious relations with other denominations. Money that might have otherwise been used to plant new churches, to spread the gospel, and to reach the spiritually disconnected and the unchurched instead of maintaining a growing ACNA bureaucracy is ostensibly being put to good use. The existence of the ERTF is justified.
Second, it serves as a test of GAFCON Primates’ acceptance of ACNA leadership in doctrinal matters. The ACNA is an American church, and Americans see themselves as being indubitably foreordained or marked out beforehand to be world leaders in business, international affairs, religion, science and the like. The nineteenth century idea of manifest destiny is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. This perception of America’s place in the world is driving the leaders of The Episcopal Church as much as their liberalism to export their liberal ideology to other provinces of the Anglican Communion and to ally themselves with the liberal elements in these provinces. The leaders of the ACNA will not be content to play second fiddle to the Africans. They will over time seek to take a position of leadership in conservative alliance that comprises GAFCON. They are already showing indications of movement in that direction.
As one of his arguments in support of the proposed omission of the Filoque from the Nicene Creed, Bishop Sutton appeals to the recommendations of the 1988 Lambeth Conference on liturgical revision. Thirty years have passed since the 1988 Lambeth Conference. The 1988 Lambeth Conference was held only nine years after the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The ecumenical movement was at its height. One of the criticisms of the ecumenical movement in the Anglican Communion in the past thirty years has been that it was Anglo-Catholic and liberal-led, and glozed over a number of major theological differences between historic Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. The compilers of the 1979 Prayer Book also used ecumenism to justify a number of doctrinal changes that were incorporated into the new prayer book, moving it further away from the doctrine of the 1662 Prayer Book. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group recognizes this problem in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today:
These developments have brought many benefits. However, sometimes the changes come with a theological agenda in which the focus on scripture, repentance, forgiveness, thanksgiving and praise is lost or subsumed. (p. 46)
If we were to look closely at the 1988 Lambeth Conference, I suspect that we will discover that the liturgical revision recommendations of that conference were the work of Anglo-Catholics and liberals, the two groups that has the greatest investment in the ecumenical movement and liturgical revision in the last century.
The ACNA leadership has not paid any attention to the Lambeth Conference in other areas. For example, the 1888 Lambeth Conference formulated the principle 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.” The ACNA is certainly classifiable as a new missionary church. The ACNA constitution and canons make no provision for clerical subscription to such Articles. The 1958 Lambeth Conference adopted the following resolution:
Church Unity and the Church Universal - Episcopi Vagantes
The Conference draws attention to the fact that there are "episcopi vagantes" who call themselves either "Old Catholic" or "Orthodox," in combination with other names. It warns its members of the danger of accepting such persons at their own valuation without making further inquiries. The Conference reiterates the principle contained in Resolution 27 of the 1920 Lambeth Conference, that it cannot recognise the Churches of such "episcopi vagantes" as properly constituted Churches, or recognise the orders of their ministers, and recommends that any such ministers desiring to join an Anglican Church, who are in other respects duly qualified, should be ordained "sub conditione" in accordance with the provisions suggested in the Report of the relevant Committee of the 1920 Lambeth Conference.
The ACNA College of Bishops has in the past twelve months recognized the orders of two bishops who fall within the purview of this resolution and received them as ACNA bishops.
If the ACNA leadership can overlook these resolutions, why is it insistence that the ACNA must abide by the resolutions of the 1988 Lambeth Conference? To my knowledge the ACNA leadership did not consult the GAFCON Primates before it disregarded the resolutions of the 1888 and 1958 Lambeth Conferences.
The next step in the appointment of CEEC Bishop Derek Jones as a suffragan bishop of CANA is to present his appointment to the Nigerian House of Bishops for their approval, if it has not already taken place. If the Nigerian bishops approve the appointment without requiring Bishop Jones’ “sub conditione” consecration, they will be following the ACNA College of Bishop’s lead in ignoring Resolution 54 of the 1958 Lambeth Conference and recognizing a church of “episcopi vagantes” and the orders of its ministers. This suggests that whoever championed going to the College of Bishops first may have wished Bishop Jones’ case to serve as a test case. Or the ACNA bishops in their reception of Jones may have decided to use his case to see how the Nigerians would react. The Anglican Mission discovered that when they tried something similar with the Rwandans, the Rwandans made it quite plain to the Anglican Mission that they were going to appoint as missionary bishops for the Anglican Mission those whom they thought were suited for the episcopate, not those whom the Anglican Mission wanted the Rwandans to appoint. Whoever championed this course of action or the College of Bishops may have thought that the Nigerians would be more amenable to accepting the ACNA bishops’ decision and would appoint Jones or that the Nigerians would have no other choice but accept the ACNA bishops’ decision and appoint him. Within the Provincial Council raising the prospect of an unraveling of the conservative alliance over a particular issue has been used on at least one occasion to force members of the Council to back down on a particular issue.
Third, The Episcopal Church has used ecumenism to divert the attention of members of the denomination away from the lack of growth of the denomination in new churches and new members. Seeking after more harmonious relations with denominations that have long histories of not recognizing the validity of Anglican orders and sacraments has been given priority over fulfilling the Great Commission. There has been sharp debate in the Church of England over whether it should in the face of declining attendance be pursuing better relations with other faiths or evangelizing the adherents of these faiths. The liberals, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, favour the first course of action; the evangelicals and the charismatics favour the second course of action.
Fourth, Bishop Sutton himself may have personal motives of his own for seeking the omission of the Filoque from the Nicene Creed that go beyond improved ecumenical relations. I am not going to speculate on what those motives are and will leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.
I am prompted to ask whether the ERTF have considered the ramifications of their pursuit of Eucharistic intercommunion with the Orthodox Church of America whose own standing with the churches in the Eastern Orthodox mainstream is at best shaky. If the OCA enters into a Eucharistic intercommunion agreement with the ACNA, it runs a very real risk of being excommunicated from the Eastern Orthodox community. Eastern Orthodoxy questions the validity of Anglican sacraments and certainly does not recognize their efficacy. The possibility of an organic union between the ACNA and the OCA is a pipe dream. It would require the ACNA to completely embrace Eastern Orthodoxy. Even if the ACNA adopted Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice and merged with the OCA, it would not improve its standing with the Eastern orthodox community. Its standing would be as shaky as that of the OCA.
Article 5 of the Thirty-Nine Articles affirms the Filoque. If the GAFCON Primates support the omission of the Filoque from the Nicene Creed, they take the ACNA position on the Thirty-Nine Articles, that is, they are a relic of the past, and repudiate the Clause 4 of the Jerusalem Declaration. Clause 4 of the Jerusalem Declaration upholds the Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Anglican Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today. Clause 6 of the Jerusalem Declaration also upholds the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer. In the 1662 Communion Service the Filoque is used in the Nicene Creed recited after the Gospel.
In Being Faithful: Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, the GAFCON Theological Resource Group point to our attention that the Articles have long been recognized as the doctrinal standard of Anglicanism, alongside the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. Acceptance of their authority is constitutive of Anglican identity (p. 35). The GAFCON Theological Resource Group further draws to our attention that the 1662 Prayer Book provided a standard by which other liturgies may be tested and measured. They emphasize:
On key principle of revision is that new liturgies must be seen in continuity with the Book of Common Prayer. (p. 47)
The GAFCON Theological Resource Group also stresses:
A second key principle of revision should be that of mutual accountability within the Anglican Communion. The further removed a proposed liturgy may be from the 1662 Prayer Book, the more important it is that it should be subject to widespread evaluation throughout the Communion.(p. 48)
If the ACNA presses the issue of omitting the Filoque from the Nicene Creed with the GAFCON Primates, it risks straining its relations with a number of GAFCON provinces, the FCA in the United Kingdom, and evangelicals outside of North America who support the ACNA. The Church of Nigeria and the Church of Uganda have provisions in their constitutions affirming the doctrine of the historic Anglican formularies. The Church of Uganda disclaims the right to alter these “standards of faith and doctrine”, as the fundamental provisions of its constitution describe them. The FCA in the United Kingdom has adopted Canon A5 as the doctrinal basis of that organization:
A 5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England
The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
Evangelicals outside of North America tend to be stronger in their support of the historic Anglican formularies than those in North America, in the ACNA. There are of course exceptions--the liberal Open Evangelicals in the Church of England in the first instant and the conservative Reformed-Evangelicals in the ACNA in the second instant. But these exceptions do not negate the validity of this observation.
If the GAFCON Primates changed their position on Clauses 4 and 6 of the Jerusalem Declaration, weakening their support of the historic Anglican formularies as the long recognized doctrinal standard of Anglicanism, it would strain its relations with evangelicals supporting GAFCON.
The developments that I have examined in this article strongly suggest that the ACNA membership need to break free from their accustomed passive acceptance of everything that their leaders are doing and to demand greater accountability and responsibility from their leaders. Bishop Sutton, the Ecumenical Relations Task Force, the Provincial Council, and the College of Bishops are by all indications playing a dangerous game, which could cost the ACNA goodwill and support and might prompt the rejection of the ACNA as an alternative province for orthodox Anglicans in North America. ACNA members need to phone, email, and write their bishops and Provincial Council members and to express their concerns. They need to urge their leaders to be less reckless and more measured in their dealings with GAFCON and supporters of the ACNA, and to take time to carefully weigh the possible consequences of any proposal before supporting it. They should not, any more than the members of the ACNA, leave major decisions to a small handful of leaders but should insist upon a more conciliar or synodical approach to decision-making that subjects all proposals to a thorough evaluation of their potential effects.
Recommended further reading:
An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, pp. 119-127
A Faith for Today (1) Articles 1-5
Alcuin Club Tracts XII Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book