An Evangelical View
*As used in the title to this article, “the Anglican Church in North America” is not a reference to the ecclesial body by that name established in 2009.
By Robin G. Jordan
Since the nineteenth century there has been a growing need for an orthodox Anglican ecclesial body in North America that is faithful to the Scriptures and the classic formularies and maintains continuity with the beliefs and practices of authentic historic Anglicanism. This need has not been met nor has it abated.
The GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future identifies two challenges to the authority of the Scriptures and the classic formularies in the Anglican Church, which originated in the nineteenth century. They are Tractarianism and Anglo-Catholicism and higher criticism and liberalism. They would seriously undermine and weaken the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the Church of England and her daughter provinces.
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was particularly vulnerable to these challenges. The Protestant Episcopal Church did not adopt the Thirty-Eight Articles, its revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, until 1801, ten years after its founding. The General Convention did not give regulatory force to the Thirty-Eight Articles; Episcopal clergy were not required to subscribe to them; communicants were not required to accept their authority in order to be admitted to the Holy Communion. The first American Prayer Book, adopted in 1789, would begin a movement away from the standard of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer that grew more pronounced with each successive revision. The four most recent American service books published in past five years—An Anglican Prayer Book (2008), the Book of Common Prayer 2011, The Modern Language Version of the Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book (2011), and The Ordinal of the Anglican Church in North America (2011)—have not reversed that trend but have continued it.
Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism would flourish in the Protestant Episcopal Church. The growth and increased influence of Anglo-Catholicism in the Protestant Episcopal Church would prompt the secession of a group of conservative evangelical Episcopal clergy and laity who would form the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1874. The evangelicals who remained in the Protestant Episcopal Church would succumb to liberalism.
In the 1970s and 1980s a group of Episcopal clergy and laity would secede from the Protestant Episcopal Church over the issues of Prayer Book revision and women’s ordination. This group would produce the Affirmation of St. Louis in 1977. The Fundamental Principles set forth in the Affirmation of St. Louis are strongly Anglo-Catholic in tone. Historic Anglicanism affirms the first four Ecumenical Councils of the early Church but stops at that, leaving to the discretion of local churches whether to affirm more. The Affirmation of St. Louis goes beyond any previous provincial or Lambeth Conference statement in relation to the Ecumenical Councils and mandates the teaching of the first seven Ecumenical Councils.We repudiate all deviation or departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order…
The received Tradition of the Church and its teaching by “the ancient catholic bishops, and doctors,” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern. (Douglas Bess, Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement, p. 269)
This includes the Second Council of Nicaea whose teaching on the veneration of icons the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Homilies reject.
The Affirmation of St. Louis contains no specific references to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. It does, however, articulate this “principle of doctrine.”The Use of Other Formulae
In affirming these principles, we recognize that all Anglican statements of faith and liturgical formulae must be interpreted in accordance with them. (Ibid., p. 270)
The Affirmation of St. Louis joins with John Henry Newman and the Tractarians in insisting upon the interpretation of the Articles and the Prayer Book according to Catholic tradition.
At the very close of the twentieth century another group of Episcopal clergy and laity would break away from the Episcopal Church and form the Anglican Mission in America. This group had the support of a number of global South primates and bishops. It would adopt a Solemn Declaration of Principles in which it affirm in relation to the Ecumenical Councils the dogmatic definitions of the first seven Ecumenical Councils “the last three being seen as workings-out of the first four.” (Solemn Declaration, Constitution, and Canons of the Anglican Missionary Province of North America, pp. 2-3). Its Official Theological Elucidation concerning the Solemn Declaration contains the following statement:It is understood by this Church that subscription to Article 25 of the 39 Articles encourages the primary use of the consecrated elements in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to be that for which they were ordained, that is to be taken and eaten in faith. The Article, however, does not expressly forbid extra-eucharistic practices that some Anglicans treasure. It is therefore possible for the Ordinary to give permission to a Congregation to engage in these practices under the Ordinary's supervision when they are conducted and interpreted in a manner that accords with the clear teaching of the Articles, particularly Articles 28, 29 and 31. (Ibid., pp. 41-43)
This statement represents a departure from how the Thirty-Nine Articles were historically interpreted in regard to such practices before the nineteenth century, the Tractarian movement, and John Henry Newman’s Tract 90. The Official Theological Elucidation does not stop with the preceding statement. It goes on to state:Doctrinal development is inevitable, and important. Therefore, this commitment to the Doctrinal Norms, Formularies and Guidelines of this Church does not mean that we declare all deeper understanding of, doctrinal expression of, and appropriate application of the truth therein to have ceased. We do seek appropriate doctrinal development. However, faithful development must find significant roots in the Scriptures, and the doctrine, when developed, may not contradict the clear teaching of Scripture. Further, the public teaching of any doctrine that is perceived to be in uncertain relationship to the norms, formularies and guidelines of this Church must first be examined by, and when found to be in accord with them, be authorized for public teaching by the Provincial Synod of this Church. (Ibid., pp. 41-43)
With this statement the Anglican Mission leaves the door open for significant doctrinal changes in that ecclesial body.
The Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Missionary Province in North America, which were submitted with the Solemn Declaration of Principles at Kampala were never formally adopted and implemented. The Provincial Synod of the Anglican Missionary Province in North America was never established. The Anglican Mission would become a missionary jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Rwanda after the Anglican Church of Southeast Asia refused to become a sponsor for the Anglican Mission. The Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Rwanda would become the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Mission with very troubling consequences as we shall see.
The Anglican Church of Rwanda would promulgate a new set of canons in 2008. The 2008 Rwandan canons are the work of an American, Canon Kevin Donlon, a special assistant to Anglican Mission Chairman Chuck Murphy, a former Roman Catholic, ordained in the Episcopal Church and now with the Anglican Mission. Canon Donlon was also involved in the drafting of the Anglican Mission’s canonical charter. The Anglican Church of Rwanda has its origins in the evangelical Church Missionary Society’s mission to East Africa. The East Africa revival originated in Rwanda in 1935 and spread to other parts of Africa. The 2008 Rwandan canons are heavily indebted to the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, incorporating the doctrine, language, norms, and principles of that Code. They not only model the government of the Rwandan church upon that of the Roman Catholic Church but they also replace the doctrine of the classic Anglican formularies with the dogma of the Council of Trent. They have Romanized the Rwandan church.
The same priest has served as a member of the Common Cause Governance Task Force and the GAFCON Theological Resource Group. His involvement in the drafting of 2009 ACNA canons explains why they share provisions with the Rwandan canons and like the Rwandan canons incorporate doctrine, language, norms, and principles from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. He was involved in the drafting of The Jerusalem Declaration and the GAFCON Theological Resource Group’s commentary on that document and sought to move both documents in the direction of the unreformed Catholic doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. He presently serves as a member of the GAFCON Theological Education and Formation Committee, and has introduced a proposal for the revamping of Anglican ecclesiology.
Whether Canon Donlan’s efforts to move the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Anglican Mission, the ACNA, and GAFCON in a Roman direction represent the personal ambitions of one individual or are a part of a combined endeavour involving other like-minded persons with similar ambitions deserve further investigation. They point to how one person strategically placed can influence the direction of a missionary jurisdiction, an existing province, a province in the early stages of formation, and a movement like GAFCON. They are a strong reminder that liberalism is not the only threat to biblical Anglicanism. They hint at the possibility that the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church is not the only North American group seeking to export its agenda to Africa and the other global South provinces.
Beginning in 2003 a third group of Episcopal clergy and laity would break away from the Episcopal Church. They would join with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Mission in America in forming the Common Cause Partnership. The Common Cause Partnership would adopt a Theological Statement that the Anglican Church in North America would eventually adopt in modified form as its Fundamental Declarations.
In the proposed version of the statement the Common Cause Partnership in relation to the Ecumenical Councils affirmed the teaching of all seven Ecumenical Councils:We believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times.
The final version of the Common Cause Theological Statement modifies that position.Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, we affirm the teaching of the first four Councils, and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.
The Common Cause Theological Statement accepts the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline with the implication that other standards exist that are more binding for the members of the Common Cause Partnership. It further accepts the 1662 Prayer Book, with the Books that precede it” as the standard for Anglican worship. The books in question are open to interpretation as including the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic service books.
The Common Cause Theological Statement accepts the Thirty-Nine Articles 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 fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.” This is not the final version of the Articles that was adopted in 1571 and which along with 1662 Book of Prayer and the 1661 Ordinal are the widely recognized doctrinal standard of Anglicanism. They are an earlier version from which Article XXIX is missing. Article XXIX denies that the wicked and those in whom a vital faith is absent receive any benefit from eating and drinking the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Rather they eat and drink to their own condemnation.
The Common Cause Theological Statement quotes with approval the words of the Anglo-Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher:The Anglican Communion has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.
These words, while they were not included in the Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America not only appear on the ACNA web site but also the web sites of churches in the ACNA.
Before the 2008 Lambeth Conference then Bishop Robert Duncan, Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership, would in a public statement call for a new settlement, rejecting the Elizabethan Settlement, which has historically defined the character of Anglicanism. This call stands in sharp contrast to the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference’s affirmation of the Elizabethan Settlement and its call for recovery of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Anglican Church. The Articles form an integral part of the Elizabethan Settlement.
Bishop Jack Iker, returning from Jerusalem and GAFCON, would assure Anglo-Catholics in the Common Cause Partnership that the Common Cause Theological Statement, not The Jerusalem Declaration, would have regulatory force in the Common Cause Partnership Province. In the final draft of the constitution of the Anglican Church in North America the affirmation of The Jerusalem Declaration was relegated to the preface of the constitution where it was purely incidental to the account of how the province was established. At the Bedford Provincial Council meeting at which the final draft was adopted, the Anglo-Catholic Council members reacted with muted threats of a walkout to the observation that the part of the Common Cause Theological Statement incorporated into the constitution was too partisan and needed revising.
The final version of the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America that were adopted and ratified at Bedford contains doctrine, language, norms, and principles taken from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. This can be seen by a comparison of Title III.8.2 of the ACNA canons with Canon 375 §1 of the Roman Catholic Church’s canons.Title III.8.2. Concerning the Ministry of Bishop. By the tradition of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, Bishops are consecrated for the whole Church and are successors of the Apostles through the grace of the Holy Spirit given to them. They are chief missionaries and chief pastors, guardians and teachers of doctrine, and administrators of godly discipline and governance.
While there are some additions and alterations Title III.8.2 is clearly an adaptation of Canon 375 §1.Can. 375 §1 By divine institution, Bishops succeed the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who is given to them. They are constituted Pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance.
The ACNA canons confirm that Fundamental Declarations of the ACNA constitution mandate adherence to the Anglo-Catholic and Roman-Catholic esse position on the historic episcopate in the ACNA, as does the ACNA ordinal, authorized for use this past summer. They exclude the majority of Anglicans who have since 1549 maintained that bishops are of the bene esse of the church, of its well-being and not its essence.
Thirteen years after the 1998 Lambeth Conference, eight years after the consecration of Gene Robinson, and three years after GAFCON, what do we find in North America? We find the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in worse shape than ever—dwindling congregations, churches consolidated and closed, dioceses dissolved, cathedrals and conference centers up for sale, and millions of dollars spent on litigation to deny the use of church buildings to disaffected congregations. Both churches are intent upon promoting their notions of social justice irrespective of the cost.
We find a similar state of affairs in the Continuing Anglican Churches—declining congregations, shrinking dioceses, and visionless leaders. As liberalism has ravished the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church, Anglo-Catholicism has dehabilitated and weakened the Continuing Anglican Churches. God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light to make known what he has done through Christ, not to repeat or re-offer Christ’s sacrifice.
In the Anglican Mission we find an ecclesial body that, while claiming the label of Anglican, has parted company with authentic historic Anglicanism due the ambitions of its chairman, the mechanizations of its Anglo-Catholic wing, and the wishy-washy theology of its charismatic wing. The Anglican Mission may be planting new churches but to what end? So in their weekly celebrations of the Eucharist “Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, to God the Father, and gives himself as spiritual nourishment to the faithful who are associated with him in his offering.” (Title II. 17.1.1, The Canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, p. 25). This explanation of the nature of the Eucharist in the Anglican Church of Rwanda and therefore in the Anglican Mission as a missionary jurisdiction of that Church is taken almost word for word from Canon 899 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law.Can. 899 §1. The eucharistic celebration is the action of Christ himself and the Church. In it, Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering.
This is not the teaching of a church that upholds the Thirty-Nine Articles “as containing the true doctrine of Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.” (Clause 4, The Jerusalem Declaration) It is not the teaching of a church that proclaims the New Testament gospel as Anglicans have historically understood it. If acceptance of the authority of the Articles is constitutive of Anglican identity as the GAFCON Theological Resource Group maintains, the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the Anglican Mission are not properly Anglican churches. They may have been at one point but the 2008 canons severed their doctrinal ties to Anglicanism. If this was not their intent, they need to take steps to return to the teaching of the Scriptures and the classic Anglican formularies.
The Anglican Mission is structured on the prelatical model of the Roman Catholic Church with all authority derived from the Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda through its chairman and primatial vicar who is the supreme ecclesiastical authority of the Anglican Mission in the absence of the Primate of Rwanda and the sole legislator in the missionary jurisdiction. The laity has no role in church leadership and government except at the congregational level.
The present state of the Anglican Church in North America is no better than that of the Anglican Mission. While evidently desirous of the recognition of the global South provinces and GAFCON, the ACNA is not a strong proponent of The Jerusalem Declaration and what it stands for—the recovery of the classic doctrinal and liturgical formularies in the Anglican Church. In its attitudes toward these formularies it resembles the Episcopal Church. As noted bove, its canons, like the canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, show the influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. With the canons of a number of Biblically faithful orthodox Anglican dioceses from which the ACNA might have taken provisions, why did the Common Cause Governance Task Force incorporate doctrine, language, norms, and principles from the Roman Catholic Church’s canons into the ACNA canons?
The ACNA constitution and canons give a very weak role to the laity in church leadership and government at the provincial level. The past year has seen developments in the ACNA that weaken that role even further, and move the ACNA closer to the prelatical model of the Roman Catholic Church. In a church that does not display a strong commitment to the reformed catholicism of the classical Anglican formularies, these developments are not a good sign. The ACNA ordinal with its authorization of Medieval Catholic ceremonies and ornaments rejected by the Anglican Reformers and other departures from the classical Anglican ordinal also does not bode well for Anglicanism in North America.