By Robin G. Jordan
When I look at the Anglo-Catholic wing of the North American Anglican Church, I see a group that gives all the appearance of being well on its way back to ascendancy in that Church, a position that they enjoyed before the rise of the liberal wing. Anglo-Catholics are fairly well organized. They are active in promoting Catholic faith, order, and practice. A number of Anglo-Catholics hold episcopal office in the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Mission, and the Continuing Anglican Churches. The Anglo-Catholic bishops form a voting block in the ACNA College of Bishops. The Archbishop and Primate of the ACNA is an Anglo-Catholic who is shaping the government of the ACNA at the provincial level and even the diocesan level along unreformed Catholic lines. Forward in Faith North America, a leading Anglo-Catholic organization, has its own non-geographic diocese, the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, in the ACNA. The clergy of this diocese are required to be members of FIFNA. The ACNA has adopted as its fundamental declarations a doctrinal statement that is more sensitive to Anglo-Catholic concerns than it is to evangelical ones, even though for some Anglo-Catholics the fundamental declarations do not go far enough in an unreformed Catholic direction. They would have the fundamental declarations affirm all the teachings of the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the early church and recognize confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and extreme unction as sacraments. They would also have the ACNA’s weak affirmation of the Thirty-Nine Articles removed from the fundamental declarations altogether.
The affirmation of The Jerusalem Declaration, which was at one stage included in the proposed fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America has been relegated to the preface of its constitution where it has no regulatory force but is incidental to the explanation of why the ACNA was founded. The leading Continuing Anglican Churches have recently reaffirmed their commitment to the Affirmation of St. Louis, a decidedly Anglo-Catholic doctrinal statement that subordinates Scripture and the classic Anglican formularies to unreformed Catholic tradition. The ACNA College of Bishops also recently authorized an ordinal that permits the optional use of ceremonies and ornaments “treasured by Anglo-Catholics” and in doing so sanctions the Medieval Catholic and post-Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrines and practices associated with these ceremonies and ornaments. The English Reformers rejected these ceremonies and ornaments and the associated doctrines and practices as not agreeable with Scripture. The long awaited ACNA Prayer Book is expected to be equally as unreformed Catholic in tone as the ACNA ordinal. A number of Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican Churches are moving toward federation and may eventually partner with the ACNA.
When we look at the evangelical wing of the North American Anglican Church, I see a different picture. I see no discernable effort on the part of evangelicals to restore the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the North American Church. If any group appears dedicated to its own extinction, it is the evangelicals. In the Anglican Church in North America they show no inclination to stand up for longstanding evangelical Anglican distinctives, much less the Scriptures, the classic formularies, and historic Anglicanism.
If the evangelicals find themselves an increasingly marginalized group in an Anglican Church in North America in which the Anglo-Catholics have gained ascendancy, they have themselves to blame. They have made no attempt to organize for their own self-preservation. They do not take the very real possibility of marginalization with the seriousness that it deserves.
If they believe that the Anglo-Catholics will in the long-term show them the kind of tolerance that they are presently displaying toward the Anglo-Catholics, they are fooling themselves. Once the Anglo-Catholics have entrenched themselves in the Anglican Church in North America, they are going to make it increasingly difficult for non-Anglo-Catholics to retain their identity.
The present situation of evangelicals in the Anglican Mission is not any better. One Anglo-Catholic priest, strategically placed in the Anglican Mission, was not only able to change the organization and structure of the Anglican Mission but also was able to change the organization and structure and more importantly the doctrine of Anglican Church of Rwanda. In doing so, he also changed the official doctrine of the Anglican Mission. The Anglican Mission is, after all, a missionary jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. With the 2008 canons the Anglican Church of Rwanda not only adopted an organization and structure modeled upon that of the Roman Catholic Church but also the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The official teaching of the Anglican Church of Rwanda regarding the eucharistic presence and the eucharistic sacrifice come almost word for word from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. The same priest served on the Common Cause Governance Task Force that drafted the ACNA canons. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law is also discernable in the ACNA canons.
It appears to have become politically correct in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission to maintain that the differences between Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals are simply a matter of emphasis. One hears the view that being Anglo-Catholic is not incompatible with being evangelical. This view, however, glozes over major theological differences between Anglo-Catholicism and traditional Anglican evangelicalism particularly in the critical areas of revelation, salvation, and the sacraments. A number of these differences “constitute opposed positions based upon very different readings of the Bible” (Gillis Harp, “Navigating the ‘Three Streams’: Some Second Thoughts about a Popular Typology,” Mandate, September/October 2009) Traditional Anglican evangelicalism shares the same understanding of justification and sanctification as classical Anglicanism. Anglo-Catholicism, on the other hand, has a quite different understanding of justification and sanctification. Anglo-Catholics arguably preach a different gospel from the New Testament gospel, which the English Reformers sought to safeguard with the Thirty-Nine Articles.
The failure to recognize and to admit real differences between Anglo-Catholicism and classical Anglicanism and traditional Anglican evangelicalism, the lack of a strong evangelical Anglican identity, and a preoccupation with parish ministry to the neglect of larger concerns accounts in part for the increasingly weakening position of evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission. The low-church wing of the Continuing Anglican Churches succumbed to the Anglo-Catholic onslaught decades ago. It has never recovered.
In The Way, the Truth, and the Life the GAFCON Theological Resource Group identifies two challenges to the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the Anglican Church, which originated in the nineteenth century. They are Anglo-Catholicism and modernism. In its application of the “three streams” topology to Anglican faith and practice, it stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is first and foremost, evangelical. The gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is at the heart of the apostolic message. The Anglican understanding of the New Testament gospel is set down in the Thirty-Nine Articles interpreted in its plain, natural, and intended sense. For Anglicans who uphold the Thirty-Nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today the essence of gospel teaching is that we are saved by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is catholic in that it values the catholic Creeds and the first four Ecumenical Councils of the early church recognizing them to be the Scripture-derived rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group stresses that Anglican orthodoxy is charismatic in that it recognizes the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit are essential to its life and mission. This is not how the “three streams” topology is frequently applied in the North American Church.
Evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission who are faithful to Scripture and the Anglican formularies and committed to the gospel imperative need to be weighing very carefully whether there is really a future for them in these two ecclesial bodies. They need to come together in a North American Anglican Future Conference to explore their options. One of those options is to establish a North American Anglican missionary province that, like themselves, is faithful to biblical teaching and committed to the Great Commission.