By Robin G. Jordan
Evangelicals outside of North America recognize that the Anglican Church in North America falls short in a number of areas. However, they are reluctant to say anything out of fear that it may strengthen the position of the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. They also do not want to alienate the Africans who support the ACNA and whose support they also need. The extent to which the Africans recognize these problem areas and their seriousness is unknown. No one—evangelical or African—shows any willingness to say any thing that is critical of the ACNA. In the ACNA their silence is construed as unqualified support of developments in the ACNA. Through their silence both evangelicals and Africans are unwittingly aiding and abetting a number of development that they may come to regret in the future.
ACNA leaders are taking advantage of the evangelical and African avoidance of any criticism of the ACNA and the seeming unqualified evangelical and African support of whatever direction in which they lead the ACNA to pursue their own agenda. While the Africans see themselves as the future of world Anglicanism, the ACNA leaders harbor a different vision.
In the view of ACNA leaders Anglicanism is evolutionary and evolving, a view that they share with liberals in The Episcopal Church. Where they disagree is the direction in which Anglicanism is evolving. ACNA leaders see the ACNA as a new phase in the evolution of Anglicanism, the locus of a convergence of three streams—Catholic, evangelical, and Pentecostal—into a single river. They see this bringing together of Catholicism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism as the work of the Holy Spirit and they see themselves as the Holy Spirit’s agents. The ACNA is the future of world Anglicanism. It is the “Ancient-Future Church.”
The reality is, however, that three disparate and divergent theologies cannot be combined in a synthesis without downplay, glozing over, and discarding elements from these theologies. Catholicism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism do not agree on a number of primary issues as well as secondary ones. The two theologies that have suffered the most at the hands of the synthesizers are evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Both have been stripped of their Protestant elements. Evangelicalism has been also denuded of its Reformed elements. The theology that has suffered the least is Catholicism.
Evangelicalism has been reduced to an emphasis on the Bible and evangelism. Pentecostalism is interpreted in terms of the importance that it attaches to the charisma, or manifestations, of the Holy Spirit. It is often compared with Eastern Orthodoxy on the basis that the latter lays great emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments, in particular the consecration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Its Protestant origins are minimized or ignored.
What has been labeled “Convergentism” is as a result very Catholic in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Catholic, and Roman Catholic sense in its essential theology. Since it sees its task as uniting the different branches of “orthodox Christianity,” it is friendly toward Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Catholicism, and Roman Catholicism. Due to its friendliness toward various forms of Catholicism, Anglo-Catholics are much more tolerant of Convergentism than they are traditional evangelical Anglicanism, popular American evangelicalism, or conservative Pentecostalism.
Convergentism shares with affirming or liberal Catholicism, liberal Protestantism, and some Pentecostal denominations the willingness to ordain women. This proclivity sets it apart from Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Catholicism, Roman Catholicism, and traditional evangelical Anglicanism. The latter finds no support in the Bible for the practice of ordaining women as presbyters and consecrating them as bishops and only very weak support for the practice of making women deacons. Convergentism also shares with affirming or liberal Catholicism, liberal Protestantism, and popular American evangelicalism the willingness to countenance divorce and remarriage even in clergy.
Convergentism, like Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Catholicism, and Roman Catholicism, accepts the authority of the rule of antiquity, but not completely as can be seen from its support of women’s ordination and divorce and remarriage. The rule of antiquity assumes that the more ancient a doctrine or practice and the closes its origin is to the apostolic age, the more likely the doctrine or practice is apostolic or consistent with the teaching and practice of the apostles. If the ancient church held a doctrine or practiced a custom, it concludes that we are bound to hold the belief or practice the custom. The problem with these assumptions is that antiquity of a doctrine or practice or even the Church’s subsequent recognition of the doctrine or practice is no assurance that a doctrine or practice is apostolic or consistent with apostolic teaching and practice. Even in the time of the apostles false teaching was rife as was erroneous and deceptive practice. Anglicanism historically has measured and tested doctrines and practices against the Bible, and has accepted only those consonant with Scripture. This includes doctrines and practices mentioned in the writings of the early Church fathers.
The Protestant Reformation on the European continent and its counterpart in the British Isles does not play a significant role in Convergentist thought. Convergentism gives little, if any, weight to the Articles of Religion of the reformed Church of England and the other Reformation confessions. Convergentists prefer to overlook the contribution of the early phase of the English Reformation in the reign of Edward VI and the later phase of the English Reformation from the reign of Elizabeth I to the Glorious Revolution in shaping the Protestant and Reformed character of Anglicanism. The exception may be the Catholic Reaction, Archbishop William Laud, and the Caroline High Churchmen and the Non-Jurists.
As Gillis Harp has called to our attention his Mandate article, “Navigating the Three Streams,” Convergentist interpretation of Scripture is highly problematic. This can be attributed in part to the influence of Pentecostalism. Pentecostals themselves have criticized their own tradition for its questionable exegetical principles and its poor Scriptural exegesis. It is also accountable in part to the desire on the part of Convergentists to find in the Bible passages of Scripture that bear out what they believe and practice. Consequently, they are apt to read passages out of context and imposed upon or read into passages meanings that cannot be read out of them.
An issue that divided the charismatic renewal movement in the 1980s was the rhema-logos debate. Some charismatics insisted that more recent revelations of the Holy Spirit supplant and supplement the Bible. The late David Watson, himself a charismatic leader in the Church of England, argued strongly for the Anglican view of the Bible as the supreme and final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice and the submission of such revelations to the Scriptures. The Anabaptists in the sixteenth century had made similar claims, and the Forty-Two Articles, the predecessor of the Thirty-Nine Articles, rejected these claims for the Bible as the ultimate authority in matters of doctrine and practice. This issue has not gone away.
Some readers may regard my description of the ACNA as “apostate” in my article, “The Apostasy of the Anglican Church in North America” as representing an extreme view. However, the term “apostasy” means to abandon previously held beliefs and practices or stand in continuity with those who have deserted such beliefs and practices. When an ecclesial body like The Episcopal Church over a period of two hundred odd years abandons the Protestant faith of the reformed Church of England and her historic formularies and adopts a different set of beliefs and practices, it is apostasy. Apostasy may involve more than the abandonment of basic Christian beliefs such as belief in the Trinity and belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. A new ecclesial body that separates from an apostate church body but clings to the beliefs and practices that the apostate church body adopted in the process of deserting its formerly held beliefs and practices is itself apostate.
The ACNA has hung onto the beliefs and practices of the Episcopal Church that it began to follow as it turned its back on the Protestant faith of the reformed Church of England and her venerable formularies in the nineteenth century. There was a concerted effort in the early twentieth century to not only remove the Articles from the American Prayer Book but also to completely change the character of the American Prayer Book, making it much more Roman Catholic in doctrine and practice. The ACNA authorizes the use of the resulting book, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and its affirming or liberal Catholic successor, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, in its congregations.
The ACNA has not repudiated the Romanization of The Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century. For those unfamiliar with the term Romanization, it means to make Roman Catholic, to adopt or cause to adopt Roman Catholic beliefs or practices. [The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 1932] Nor has the ACNA fully disowned and rejected liberalism, modernism, and pluralism. At least two different gospels are preached in the ACNA.
The ACNA permits the use of the more Protestant and Reformed 1662 Prayer Book but has not made a concerted effort to promote its use or the use of contemporary language services that are actually based upon the 1662 Prayer Book.
The ACNA reception of the 1662 Prayer Book as an authoritative Anglican standard of faith and worship is a sham. It does not stand up to close examination. Look at the wording of the sixth declaration of the Common Cause Theological Statement, which was incorporated in altered form into the ACNA constitution as its Fundamental Declarations.
We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, ,em>with the Books which preceded it,/em>, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.
Note the 1662 Prayer Book and 1661 Ordinal are received as “a” standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline. Implied in the statement is the existence of other standards for doctrine and discipline for Anglicans and in particular the ACNA. Note that the 1662 Prayer Book and the 1661 Ordinal are not identified as an authoritative standard. This leaves open the possibility of the existence of more authoritative standard than the Prayer Book and Ordinal among these unidentified standards. It is left to the interpreters of this declaration to determine what is the authoritative standard for them—the partially reformed 1549 Prayer Book, the moderately liberal Catholic 1928 Prayer Book with additions from the American or Anglican Missal, or the more liberal Catholic 1979 Prayer Book.
Note that the 1662 Prayer Book is received as the Anglican standard for worship and prayer “with the Books which precede it.” A number of books preceded the 1662 Prayer Book. They include the unreformed pre-Reformation Sarum medieval service books, the partially reformed 1549 Prayer Book, the 1552 Reformed Prayer Book, 1559 Elizabethan Prayer Book, the 1604 Jacobean Prayer Book, and the 1634 Laudian Scottish Prayer Book. In the use of the term “Books” the sixth declaration does not limit the liturgies that preceded the 1662 Prayer Book to post-Reformation Prayer Books. For its standard of worship and prayer the ACNA accepts a small library of service books, not the historic Church of England formulary and classical Anglican Prayer Book—The Book of Common Prayer of 1662.
Put into plain English, the 1662 Prayer Book is no authoritative standard of faith and worship for the ACNA at all.
The ACNA reception of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Anglicanism’s confession of faith, as an authoritative standard of faith and worship is not any better.
We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.
The wording of the seventh declaration in the ACNA constitution differs slightly from the wording of the original in the Common Cause Theological Statement.
We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.
These alterations, while slight, are significant. In the Thirty-Eight Articles of 1563 Article XXIX Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper was omitted. There were other differences between these Articles and the revised Articles adopted by Convocation, approved by Parliament and assented to by Elizabeth I in 1571. The latter Articles are what are the present-day Thirty-Nine Articles, which are a historic formulary of the reformed Church of England. Dropping the article “the” before the phrase “fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” completely changes its meaning.
In the nineteenth century Tractarian leader John Henry Newman interpreted the phrase “taken in their literal and grammatical sense” to mean that interpreters of the Articles could disregard to historical context or authorial intent in their interpretation of the Articles and could interpret them in a Rome-wards direction. Anglo-Catholics have interpreted the inclusion of this phrase in the seventh declaration as implying that they may do likewise. The phrase “as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time” infers that the Articles are relics of the past and the disputes over the issues that they address have been resolved. The reality is that the Articles are as authoritative today as in the sixteenth century, as the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference affirmed in the Jerusalem Declaration, and Anglicans and Roman Catholics and Anglicans among themselves are still divided over a number of these issues. Implicit in the phrase “as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” is that the Articles only express some tenets of authentic historic Anglicanism. It represents a disclaimer of the view of the Articles as the confession of faith of the reformed Church of England and Anglicanism confession of faith, a view that the Church of England has held from the reign of Elizabeth I and has never formally disowned or rejected, and constitutes the view of a large number of evangelical Anglicans around the world.
Like its reception of the 1662 Prayer Book and 1661 Ordinal, the ACNA reception of the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 is pretended, counterfeit. The ACNA has made no concerted effort to promote the Articles as central and pivotal to its teaching and life.
Very early in their history Anglicans in the United States took a wrong turn in the road. Since that time they have taken more wrong turns and each wrong turn has brought them further and further away from the Protestant faith of the reformed Church of England and her formularies. They desperately need to retrace their steps back to where they made the first wrong turn and return to authentic historic Anglicanism, to the Prayer Book, to the Ordinal, and to the Articles. Their present path will led them even further away from their Anglican heritage and even further into the wilderness. As the ACNA absorbs more congregations and clergy who do not share that heritage, retracing their steps will become much more difficult if not impossible.
Some people may argue that it does not matter how Anglican the ACNA is, as long as it is Catholic or Christian or Spirit-filled. It does, however, matter if the ACNA is going to represent itself as “the” Anglican Church in North America. As long as the ACNA seeks to speak for “orthodox North American Anglicans” in the councils of the Anglican Communion and the global South Anglican provinces, then it needs to be a genuine specimen of authentic historic Anglicanism, to uphold the authority of its historic formularies, and embody its beliefs and practices. If, however, the ACNA sees its mission as a charismatic Catholic umbrella church for independent Catholic and charismatic Convergence groups, then it needs to drop the pretense of being Anglican and leave the formation of a new orthodox Anglican province in North America to those who are committed to the maintenance of a genuine Anglican witness on the North American subcontinent, a witness grounded in the Bible and the Reformation. North America does not need another Episcopal Church, a church that long ago abandoned authentic historic Anglicanism but continues to masquerade as Anglican.