By Robin G. Jordan
In his article, “Sea Change in the Anglican Communion: Thoughts on the Standing Committee Minutes,” written for the American Anglican Council, Professor Stephen Noll examines the unraveling of the Anglican Communion since the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He concludes the article with these words:
The only question – and I believe this is a serious one – is whether the younger churches of the Communion will find a way to work together to form a vital Communion or whether they will remain a loose confederation of orthodox Anglicans preoccupied with local affairs. The 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference laid out a blueprint for a wider and more permanent movement, including a theological basis (the Jerusalem Declaration) and a governing body (the Primates’ Council). It is not yet clear whether that movement leads to a sea change in Anglican history, not only rejecting the travesties of Western liberalism, but also presenting a fresh expression of the historic faith as Anglicans have received it to a needy world.
Developments in Africa and North America suggest that the younger churches of the Anglican Communion are likely to remain a loose confederation of “orthodox” Anglicans. Earlier this summer I completed an exhaustive study of the canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. I systematically went through the Rwandan canons and identified the sources of their provisions. While the Anglican Church of Rwanda is one of the provinces that convened the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), set up the GAFCON Primates’ Council, and ratified the Jerusalem Declaration, its canons are a repudiation of a number of the tenets of orthodoxy that the Jerusalem Declaration assert form the underpinnings of Anglican identity.
The Rwandan canons draw heavily upon the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. As a consequence the Rwandan canons not only employ the language of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law but also incorporate the doctrine, norms and principles explicit and implicit in that Code of Canon Law. This includes the dogmas of the Council of Trent, a body of beliefs that the English Reformers and historic Anglicanism rejected. Other sources of the Rwandan canons are the canons of the Church of Nigeria, the Church of Uganda, and the Episcopal Church. The Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law and various editions of the Episcopal Church’s canons, however, are the primary sources.
The Rwandan canons are the work of an Anglican Mission priest, Canon Kevin Francis Donlan. Canon Donlan is a special assistant to senior Anglican Mission bishop, chairman, and primatial vicar Chuck Murphy. Donlan served on the GAFCON Theological Resource Group. He was a member of the Common Cause Governance Task Force that drafted the present constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America, which like the Rwandan canons shows the influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law in its language, doctrine, norms, and principles. He presently serves on the GAFCON Theological Education Committee and has been promoting “a revamping of Anglican ecclesiology.”
Donlan is not known for his enthusiastic support of the Jerusalem Declaration; he championed an Anglo-Catholic interpretation of a number of its provisions in the GAFCON Theological Resource Group meetings. Donlan, while serving on the Common Cause Governance Task Force, was sharply critical of a number of proposals to modify the fundamental declarations of the draft constitution of the Anglican Church in North America. These proposals would have made the fundamental declarations more comprehensive of the doctrinal and ecclesiological views of a wider range of orthodox Anglicans, including conservative evangelicals, and would have strengthened the affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration in the draft constitution.
The Anglican Church of Kenya is preoccupied with a famine not only in its own country but also neighboring Somalia. The Church of Nigeria is distracted by Muslim violence and political instability in Nigeria. The Church of Uganda has its share of problems to divert its attention from the work of building a vital Communion. The Province of Southern Cone is experiencing a split over women’s ordination.
While the GAFCON Primates have recognized the Anglican Church in North America as the legitimate Anglican Province in North America and as an alternative authority to the official Anglican Provinces in Canada and the United States, one sees little real support in the ACNA for the Jerusalem Declaration that is the theological basis for the wider and more permanent movement for which the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference laid out a blueprint. Upon returning from that conference, Bishop Jack Iker in an interview stated that the doctrinal positions articulated in the Common Cause Theological Statement, not the Jerusalem Declaration, would be binding upon the new North American province. These doctrinal positions were subsequently adopted as the theological basis for the Anglican Church in North America and form its fundamental declarations. They not only differ in wording and emphasis from the Jerusalem Declaration but also reject a number of its positions. The final version of the ACNA constitution relegated the ACNA affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration to its preamble where that affirmation is incidental to the explanation of the formation of the ACNA in response to the GAFCON Primates’ call for a new North American province.
A number of the provisions of the ACNA canons contain doctrine that is in conflict with Anglicanism’s long-recognized doctrinal standard of the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons of 1661. The Jerusalem Declaration, on the other hand, calls the Anglican Church back to the Thirty-Nine Articles “as being faithful testimony to the teaching of Scripture, excluding erroneously beliefs and practices giving a distinctive shape to Anglican Christianity.” The Jerusalem Declaration affirms the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This includes the Anglican Ordinal, which has been bound within the Book of Common Prayer since 1552.
Under the leadership of Archbishop Robert Duncan the Anglican Church in North America has not followed a course that has brought it theologically closer to GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration. As Moderator of Common Cause then Bishop Duncan chaired the Common Cause Roundtable that drafted the Common Cause Theological Statement from which the ACNA fundamental declarations were taken. Duncan pushed the draft ACNA constitution and canons through the inaugural Provincial Assembly, not permitting any lengthy debate of their provisions or amendments to these documents from the floor. Having secured their ratification, Duncan has shown little regard for their provisions, treating them as a mandate to what he thinks fit. His actions have been very revealing into his own doctrinal and ecclesiological views. Under his leadership the ACNA College of Bishops adopted a new Ordinal, which itself is a repudiation of the Jerusalem Declaration.
The Anglican Mission’s backing away from full integration into the ACNA was not theologically motivated. Chairman Chuck Murphy did not want to dismantle the organization that he had built up. He also would not have been as big a wheel in the ACNA as he is in the Anglican Mission. Under his watch the Anglican Mission has been moving in the same direction as the ACNA. He appears to have no problem with the ACNA fundamental declarations, to which the Anglican Mission as an ACNA ministry partner must unreservedly subscribe. The Anglican Mission also played influential role in the formulating of the Common Cause Theological Statement and the drafting of the ACNA constitution and canons. To use an old saw, the ACNA and the Anglican Mission are “birds of a feather.”
Other developments in the ACNA include Bishop Keith Ackerman’s call for a new Oxford Movement and the Reverend Keith Acker’s publication of the 2011 Book of Common Prayer Book. Bishop Ackerman’s call for a new Oxford Movement is hardly an endorsement of GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration. The 2011 Book of Common Prayer moves the American Prayer Book even further away from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer than the 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books. It repudiates the doctrine of the historic Anglican formularies and embraces the teaching of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic and post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Churches. Both Ackerman and Acker are involved in the work of Forward in Faith North America, a founding entity of the Anglican Church in North America and a leading champion of Anglo-Catholicism in the ACNA. FIFNA is committed to promoting “Catholic doctrine, order, and practice.”
These developments prompt observers like myself to greet with incredulity the statement of GAFCON Secretary Archbishop Peter Jensen that the ACNA is GAFCON in North America. What would my grandfather say? “Pull the other leg, it has bells on!”
The unpleasant fact is that “the breach of biblical faith and practice” to which Professor Noll refers in his article is not confined to the Anglican Church in Canada and the Episcopal Church. It includes his own denomination, the Anglican Church in North America, and its ministry partner, the Anglican Mission. They may have not willfully rejected the biblical and traditional understanding of sex and marriage. They may not be promoting same-sex “blessings” and marriage and ordaining practicing homosexuals as deacons, priests, and bishops. They are, however, permitting divergent opinions in a number of key areas where the Anglican Church has historically required uniformity of belief. At the same time they are requiring uniformity of belief in number of key areas where the Anglican Church has historically permitted divergent opinions. While the Anglo-Catholic beliefs that conflict with the Bible and historic Anglicanism are tolerated and even accepted, conservative evangelical beliefs that are compatible with the Bible and historic Anglicanism are disallowed.
The likelihood of the GAFCON movement leading to a sea change in Anglican history and “producing a fresh expression of the historic faith as Anglicans have received it to a needy world” is nil. What we see happening in North America is history repeating itself. The ACNA and the Anglican Mission have only turned back the clock a few years, to a time when liberalism was making inroads into the North American Church but had not yet gained ascendancy. The global South Anglican provinces are too preoccupied with local affairs to further intervene. If there is to be a renewal of historic Anglicanism in North America, which The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future emphasizes is a confessional stance, it must begin at the grassroots level, and it must begin with the rejection of the leadership of those who deny the confessional character of Anglicanism. The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future stresses:
Authentic Anglicanism is a particular expression of Christian corporate life which seeks to honour the Lord Jesus Christ by nurturing faith , and also encouraging obedience to the teaching of God’s written word, meaning the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New testaments. It embraces the Thirty-nine Articles of the Religion (published in the year 1571) and the Book of Common Prayer (the two versions of 1552 and 1662), both texts being read according to their plain and historical sense, and being accepted as faithful expressions of the teaching of Scripture, which provides the standard for Anglican theology and practice.
While authentic Anglicanism makes no claim to be perfect, and respects Christians of other traditions, it nevertheless insists on certain basic theological commitments. They are to be found in the classic documents of the Anglican tradition, but they need to be reiterated and reaffirmed in each generation.
We have yet to see a genuine reiteration and reaffirmation of these basic theological commitments in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission.