By Robin G. Jordan
A disturbing trend in the Anglican Church in North America is the emergence of prelacy as the form of episcopacy in the ACNA. This trend is more evident at the provincial level than at the diocesan and local congregational levels at this point in time but having become established at the provincial level, it will influence ecclesiastical governance at the diocesan and local congregational level as it is already showing signs of doing.
The principal support for prelatical episcopacy comes from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Church in North America. Anglo-Catholics holds that bishops are indispensable to the church. They subscribe to the belief that God has vested bishops with supreme authority over the church as the successors to the apostles.
This belief, however, has no real basis in Scripture. The English Reformers found no warrant for any particular order or form of ecclesiastical polity in the Bible. They would reject the exclusive claim of both episcopalians and presbyterians. They recognized episcopacy, not as of divine right, but as an ancient and allowable form of polity.
A number of factors are contributing to the emergence of prelacy as the form of episcopacy in the Anglican Church in North America. In this article I touch upon six of these factors.
One factor is that we live in a time of uncertainty and in times of uncertainty people turn to more authoritative forms of leadership. Authority is apt to become confused with infallibility.
A second factor is that the elimination of the more radical forms of liberalism from the Anglican Church in North America has removed a major obstacle to Anglo-Catholic aspirations. Anglo-Catholics no longer have to deal with competition from the adherents of these ideologies for hegemony. Anglo-Catholic organizations like the Forward in Faith North America and the Society of the Holy Cross have an agenda, which is to promote Catholic faith, order, and practice in the ACNA. By “Catholic” they do not mean the reformed catholicism of historic Anglicanism. They seek to move the ACNA closer to the so-called apostolic churches—the Independent Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Churches. These churches are prelatical in their form of ecclesiastical governance as well as unreformed in their doctrine and practice.
A third factor is that entrepreneurial concepts of leadership and management imported from corporate America have influenced thinking in some quarters of the Anglican Church in North America and have increased receptivity to authoritative leadership especially in the area of new church development. A popular approach to church planting is to assemble a launch team of experts headed by a lead pastor. This approach has demonstrated its effectiveness in the establishment of new churches. A major drawback of this approach, however, is the tendency of church leaders to fail to implement needed accountability mechanisms at the appropriate stage in the church plant. The result is church leaders with extensive authority but negligible accountability. A temptation is to take this approach and to apply it at the provincial and diocesan level as well as the local congregational level. This is what happened in the Anglican Mission, and appears to be happening in the Anglican Church in North America at the provincial level.
A fourth factor is the attribution of the social and theological conservatism and explosive growth of the African provinces to the authoritative leadership of the African bishops. By emulating their style of leadership, it is argued, similar results may be achieved in North America. This argument fails to take into consideration the differences between Africa and North America. What works in Africa may not work in Canada and the United States. It also ignores or minimizes other factors beside authoritative leadership lying behind these developments in Africa. This includes God.
What is promoted as an African style of leadership in North America upon close examination turns out to be a North American interpretation of an African leadership style that owes very little to Africa and a great deal to corporate America and the Roman Catholic Church.
In my study of the governing documents of a number of African provinces I found that the Africans incorporated more safeguards, checks, and balances, and accountability mechanisms in these governing documents than the Common Cause Governance Task Force did in the final version of the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America. Archbishop Robert Duncan pushed what he described as a minimalist set of canons but as it turned out his intention was not to streamline the governance of the province but to provide himself with a mandate to do what he saw fit. He has repeatedly disregarded the provisions of the ACNA governing documents and encouraged other ACNA leaders to do the same. He has promoted the development of an ecclesiastical culture that shows negligible regard for constitutionalism and the rule of law.
A fifth factor is that the laity has been made the scapegoat for the ascendancy of liberalism in the Episcopal Church. Those who promote prelacy in the Anglican Church in North America not only display mistrust of the laity but also synodophobia, the irrational fear of representative legislative assemblies.
A sixth factor is that episcopacy is equated with prelacy in the minds of North American Anglicans. The equating of the two is not surprising in Anglo-Catholics but it is in other groups represented in the Anglican Church in North America. It points to the strong influence of Anglo-Catholic views of bishops and episcopacy. This is seen in various articles on the Internet, which treat these views as if they are the views of the Anglican Church rather than of one school of thought in the Anglican Church.
This trend is particularly disturbing to a conservative evangelical Anglican like myself who has made more than a cursory study of Anglican Church history. Prelacy in Anglican Church history is not associated with a strong commitment to the Scriptures and the Anglican formularies. Rather it is associated with times in which the Scriptures and the Anglican formularies have been neglected and the gospel of salvation by grace by faith in Jesus Christ has gone unpreached. False and strange doctrine contrary to God’s word has flourished as has ungodliness and worldliness.
The emergence of prelacy as the form of episcopacy in the Anglican Church in North America and the accompanying concentration of power in the ACNA in the hands of a small elite are two of a number of reasons that Anglican pastors and churches strongly committed to the Scriptures, the Anglican formularies, the Great Commission, and responsible, synodical church government should think twice before they affiliate with an existing ACNA judicatory or seek recognition as a new ACNA judicatory. In a future article I will examine the serious challenges affiliation with an existing ACNA judicatory or recognition as a new ACNA judicatory represent to Anglican pastors and churches that have a strong commitment to the Scriptures, the Anglican formularies, the Great Commission, and responsible, synodical church government.
Related article: Foundation Stones: Responsible, Synodical Church Government
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Prelacy in the Anglican Church in North America
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 7:47 AM