Monday, June 11, 2012

The Doctrine and Practice of Episcopacy in the Anglican Church in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

Anglicans agree that as the episcopate has been accepted from early times, it may in this sense be regarded as historic. They, however, do not agree upon a doctrine of the relation of the historic episcopate to the church. Anglo-Catholics historically have taken the position that episcopacy is of the essence of the very existence of the life of the church. This doctrine is known as the esse doctrine of the historic episcopate’s relation to the church. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have held that episcopacy is of benefit to the life of the church. This doctrine is known as the bene esse doctrine. In the 20th century a third doctrine—the plene esse. doctrine—was advanced. It maintains that episcopacy is of the fullness of the church’s life.

A comprehensive church would recognize the existence of all three theories of the relation of the historic episcopate to the church but it would not favor one theory over the others. This is not what has happened in the Anglican Church in North America. Its Fundamental Declarations adopt the Anglo-Catholic position. They assert that the Anglo-Catholic position is the only acceptable Anglican position. Anyone who describes himself as an Anglican but does not espouse this position is not authentically Anglican. The ACNA governing documents require all clergy and other church leaders, all dioceses and other groupings, and all congregations to subscribe unreservedly to this position.

The esse doctrine is a minority position in the Anglican Church. The majority of Anglicans since 1549 have recognized other churches as genuine churches with genuine presbyters and genuine sacraments even though they do not possess the historic episcopate.

Canon III.8.2 of the ACNA Canons is adapted from Canon 375 §1 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law (1983): “Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the Church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance.” Both canons identify bishops as “successors of the Apostles through the grace of the Holy Spirit given to them.” Both canons affirm the Anglo-Catholic-Roman Catholic doctrine of tactual succession. This doctrine is essential to the Anglo-Catholic-Roman Catholic understanding of ordained ministry and the sacraments. The rubrics of the ACNA Ordinal permitting the anointing of the hands of a newly-ordained priest and the forehead of a newly-consecrated bishop are an embodiment of this doctrine.

The second of the two modes of choosing bishops provided in the ACNA canons is derived from the Roman Catholic Church’s mode of choosing bishops. The primary difference is that the ACNA College of Bishops, not the Pope, makes the final choice. The ACNA canons identify the second mode as the preferred mode.

While the ACNA canons contain provisions for the election or appointment of diocesan, coadjutor, and suffragan bishops and bishops for special missions, they are silent on the matter of assistant or auxiliary bishops. This silence has been interpreted to mean that the ordinary of an ACNA diocese is free to appoint assistant or auxiliary bishops as he sees fit. His appointment does not require the confirmation of the ACNA College of Bishops. To date this interpretation has not been brought before the ACNA Provincial Tribunal for its ruling on the matter.

The ACNA has no mandatory retirement age for its bishops.

Under the leadership of Archbishop Bob Duncan the bishops of the ACNA have taken a much larger role in the governance of the province than prescribed by the ACNA governing documents. Archbishop Duncan created an Archbishop’s Cabinet which has usurped a number of the functions of the Provincial Council and its Executive Committee. The Provincial Council is the official governing body of the ACNA. The College of Bishops is hearing and approving reports from committees and taskforces on matters that the ACNA canons place under the regulation of the Provincial Council.

Add to this picture the growing numbers of ACNA bishops since the province’s formation in 2009 and the hefty compensation packages that they are commanding. This has prompted the criticism that the ACNA is becoming top-heavy with bishops. The question has been raised as to whether the ACNA needs so many bishops to operate, whether the ACNA can afford them, and whether it is receiving full value for its money.

Under the provisions of the ACNA constitution the Archbishop of the ACNA is elected by its College of Bishops from the members of the College of Bishops. The Archbishop holds office for a five-year term and may be re-elected for a second five-year term. The role of the Archbishop envisioned in the ACNA constitution is essentially that of a presiding bishop and spokesman. The ACNA constitution does not recognize the Archbishop as the metropolitan of the province nor does it give him metropolitical jurisidiction over the province. The ACNA constitution, however, does stipulate that the Archbishop “carries out such other duties and responsibilities as may be provided by canon.” Under Archbishop Duncan’s leadership the Provincial Council and its Governance Task Force have made use of this stipulation to give him extraordinary powers that in a number of instances go beyond that of a metropolitan of a province with metropolitical jurisidiction over the province. They have also used the model diocesan constitution and canons to give him additional powers. In a number of instances these powers represent a significant infringement upon the long-recognized prerogatives of the ordinary of the diocese and upon the autonomy of the diocese. Archbishop Duncan has also taken upon himself powers that he is not given by the ACNA canons—creating the offices of dean, canon, and archdeacon of the province and making appointments to these offices. He also created the Archbishop’s Cabinet and made appointments to that body.

The doctrine of episcopacy stated or implied in the ACNA governing documents and the ACNA Ordinal and the constitutional and canonical requirements of unreserved subscription to the doctrine of the ACNA exclude from the ACNA conservative evangelicals who hold classical Anglican evangelical views on episcopacy. The way episcopacy is practiced in the ACNA also makes the ACNA extremely unattractive to conservative evangelicals holding such views and committed to syndodical forms of church governance.

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