By Robin G. Jordan
Congregations and clergy for which Anglicanism is a confessional stance and that genuinely uphold the historic Anglican formularies and maintain a substantial measure of continuity with the English Reformation and classical Anglicanism in their doctrine and practice face a number of challenges in North America. One of the greatest challenges facing confessional Anglican congregations and clergy is preserving the spiritual heritage that is their legacy from the Protestant Reformed Church of England. In none of the existing Anglican jurisdictions in North America do confessional Anglican clergy have any assurance that the pastor who succeeds them will keep that spiritual heritage alive when they accept a call to a new church, retire, resign, or die. Likewise confessional Anglican congregations have no assurance that they will be able to call a new pastor who is on the same page as they are in doctrine and practice. This uncertainty extends to the service books that confessional Anglican congregations and clergy use, the new churches that they plant and to confessional Anglicans who seek ministerial training, ordination, and licensing. Friendly bishops may turn unfriendly or unfriendly bishops may replace them.
Antagonism to the very concept that the Anglican Church is a “confessional institution” is widespread in the existing Anglican jurisdictions in North America. The “unwillingness…in some parts of the Church to bind itself to confessional formulae, such as the Thirty-Nine Articles” (TWTTRL, p. 24), to which the GAFCON Theological Resource Group refers in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future, is commonplace in these jurisdictions, both conservative and liberal. This includes the two newest jurisdictions—the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which were supposed to form together a new orthodox North American Anglican province. At best, the Thirty-Nine Articles are accepted “as a historical background which informs our life and witness, but not as a test of faith” (TWTTTL, p. 24). What passes for Anglicanism in North America is non-confessional.
How confessional Anglican congregations and clergy can hope to maintain their particular identity in this hostile environment is not easy to descry. In both the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission in the Americas we see Anglo-Catholics sedulously at work to shape the ecclesiology, governance, liturgy, and theology of these two jurisdictions. In the Anglican Mission they have gone as far as introducing changes into the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, which thoroughly undermine its Anglican identity and replace that identity with a identity that is a few steps short of Roman Catholicism. Anglo-Catholicism is already heavily entrenched in the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions. The small number of Continuing Anglican jurisdictions that claim to be Protestant have not escaped the influence of the Anglo-Catholic movement and use an Anglo-Catholic service book, ceremonies, and ornaments.
In their failure to band together to save their spiritual heritage from oblivion and to pursue their common interests confessional Anglican congregations and clergy appear to have chosen the path to extinction for that spiritual heritage in North America. It is hard to imagine that they are so preoccupied with the ministry of the local church not to look around them at what is happening in the jurisdiction with which they are affiliated. But that seems to be the case. They may be clinging to the misapprehension that the particular diocese or network with which they are united will be the exception in a jurisdiction unfriendly to their particular distinctives. I suspect that the passage of time will show that they are mistaken in their belief. By then it may be too late to do anything but acquiesce to the doctrine and practice of the dominant school of thought in the judicatory and compromise their own beliefs and principles.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Teetering on the Brink
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 7:38 AM