Friday, June 08, 2012

The state of the Anglican Church in North America: Is it time for a reality check?

By Robin G. Jordan

In his state of the church address Archbishop Bob Duncan made this incredible statement: “Two amazing things, at least, have come out of the adversity of this situation. One is that the vision given by God to us in the Common Cause days – the vision of a biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in North America – is owned by more of us than ever before.” Archbishop Duncan would have us believe that the Anglican Church in North America embodies a biblical, missionary, and united Anglicanism. But does it?

Paying lip service to the authority of the Bible does not make the Anglican Church in North America biblical. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life identifies two challenges to the rule of the plain sense of Scripture and the classic formularies in the Anglican Church in the last two centuries—Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism. Both Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism are flourishing in the ACNA. Anglo-Catholicism is the dominant theology of a large segment of the ACNA. Evangelicals and charismatics subscribe to Anglo-Catholics beliefs and engage in Anglo-Catholic practices as well as those who describe themselves as Anglo-Catholics. The ACNA constitution and canons takes Anglo-Catholic positions on a number of key issues that historically have divided Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals. The variety of liberalism in the ACNA is not as radical as the variety in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church USA but this fact does not make it any less liberalism. The ACNA College of Bishops endorsed Anglo-Catholic and liberal doctrinal positions with its approval of the ACNA “theological lens” and the ACNA Ordinal.

Holding mission conferences does not make the Anglican Church in North America missionary. Anglicans have historically understood mission in terms of commitment to proclaiming the gospel. This is not any gospel but the gospel of the New Testament. While some churches in the ACNA may be proclaiming the New Testament gospel, the leaders of the ACNA cannot claim that the denomination is missionary solely on this basis. The entire denomination, at every level, must be oriented to a high degree to mission, in practice and not just on paper. All its clergy and laity must see themselves as missionaries commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel. This requires a common understanding of the gospel. The ACNA, however, does not fully accept the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which articulates the Anglican understanding of the New Testament gospel. What we find in the ACNA is multiple understandings of the gospel.

Glozing over the very real divisions in the Anglican Church in North America does not make it united. Among the issues that divide the ACNA is the ordination of women. Discontent with the ACNA’s official policy of permitting women’s ordination is widespread.

A growing number of evangelicals who have affiliated with the ACNA are not happy with the direction in which the denomination is moving. They resent the requirements of the ACNA governing documents that evangelicals affiliating with the ACNA must sacrifice their theological convictions. They cannot teach or practice what they believe. They also do not observe in the ACNA a genuine commitment to the classic formularies and The Jerusalem Declaration.

Describing the Anglican Church in North America as Anglican does not make it Anglican. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today state that the Thirty-Nine Articles “have long been recognised as the doctrinal standard of Anglicanism, alongside the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal,” a reference to the 1662 Prayer Book and the 1661 Ordinal. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group goes on to state, “acceptance of their authority is constitutive of Anglican identity.” The GAFCON Theological Resource Group draws to the reader’s attention: “The Jerusalem Declaration calls the Anglican church back to the Articles as being a faithful testimony to the teaching of Scripture, excluding erroneous beliefs and practices and giving a distinctive shape to Anglican Christianity.”

If an ecclesial body genuinely accepts the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles and recognizes as its doctrinal standard the Articles, alongside the other classic formularies, we may reasonably assume that ecclesial body to be authentically Anglican. When it comes to the classic formularies, however, the ACNA equivocates. Take a look at the fundamental declarations in the ACNA constitution and you will see what I mean. A sizeable number of the clergy and laity in the ACNA do not fully accept the authority of the Articles. The ACNA “theological lens” gives lip service to their authority but then proceeds to ignore their doctrine. It takes the indefensible view that the semi-revised 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the retrograde 1928 American Prayer Book are classic formularies of the Anglican Church. Consequently Archbishop Duncan's description of the ACNA as Anglican defies belief.

Archbishop Duncan may emphasize in his state of the church address that church planting is the central task of the Anglican Church in North America. He may make high sounding statements like this one: “We have long ago stopped talking about where we came from and long since focused on what God has called us to do. If we are to reach America, we must plant churches.” However, church planting is meaningless if the churches planted do not teach what the Bible teaches. It is meaningless if they do not proclaim the New Testament gospel to people of all ages, in all walks of life. It is meaningless if none of them embody the Reformed evangelical tradition in Anglicanism, which is recognized as having the greatest continuity with the beliefs and practices of the Anglican Reformers. It is meaningless if the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and the Ordinal of 1661 are not living formularies for these churches.

Yes, it’s time for a reality check!


RMBruton said...

Simply put, Bob Duncan and his followers are lying to themselves and everybody else. The apple fell precisely where I predicted it would, at the foot of the Episcopal tree.

David.McMillan said...

You may be right....but is this assembly at least trying? They are conservative are they not? They are trying to be in Christ and absorb the different strands.

Robin G. Jordan said...


The term "conservative" covers a lot of territory. A person can be politically conservative, socially conservation, and/or theologically conservative. Because someone is conservative in one area, he may not be conservative in the others.

"Conservative" also means different things to different people. Compare a conservative Anglo-Catholic and a conservative evangelical. They have quite a different set of beliefs and practices.

Your comment reminds me of a conversation that I had with an woman at a local Continuing Anglican church. She was entertaining becoming a Roman Catholic. "They're conservative like us," she told me. I refrained from pointing to her attention that, while the Roman Catholic Church officially takes a conservative position on a number of issues, its members take a more liberal position on these issues. The Roman Catholic Church also has liberal bishops, priests, nuns, and congregations. The position of the Roman Catholic Church on a number of key doctrinal issues differs from that of the Anglican Church as represented by its formularies.

"Being in Christ," like being "conservative," means different things to different people. I know a number of liberals who would argue that they are trying to be in Christ.

As for absorbing the different strands, one only has to examine the ACNA governing documents and the ACNA "theological lens" to see that is really not the case. The ACNA does exclude one major strand of Anglicanism beside radical liberalism--traditional Anglican evangelicalism. Conservative evangelicals desiring to affiliate with the ACNA must pay a hefty price: they must sacrifice their theological convictions. They must subscribe unreservedly to the Anglo-Catholic doctrinal positions of the ACNA governing documents.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

The only doctrinal commitments that demand unreserved subscription are 1) The Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments as the word of God, containing all things necessary for the salvation of men; & 2) The 3 ecumenical creeds. That is the only subscribed doctrine.

There are principles and positions, but they do not have either the force or weight of law. As you describe Evangelical, they may be uncomfortable in the ACNA...but not prohibited. The same is true of many AngloCatholics...they are uncomfortable with the ACNA, but they are not prohibited from believing, preaching, or teaching whearty they believe. (The same is not true of Anglopapalists...a number of them have been shown the door.)

What I saw at the Assembly was a mix of heartening and disheartening things. The ladies in clericals: bad. The excited young people: good. The unformed new clerics (who range from liturgical Baptists to pentecostal Methodists): bad. The spirit of prayer and mutual respect and humility to learn from each other: good.

I think that we must be equally satisfied with the order of the theological house as we are with the external houses of religion...they are still getting organized. But the leaders of the AC around the world recognize this as our chance to get together. It is probably our last chance to unite. If we fail now, all that will be left is party spirit. It will be a new Continuum with sects for AngloCatholics, Evangelicals, Charismatics...but no unity.

Offer constructive criticism...we need it. But if you wish to be heard, at least give us the courtesy of being recognized as Anglican (which 80%+ of the AC already does).

Robin G. Jordan said...


I would have to disagree with what you claim in regards to doctrinal subscription. The ACNA governing documents require unreserved subscription to more than what you state. Unreserved subscription means that clergy must not only accept a doctrine mandated by the ACNA governing documents or by the ACNA ordinal and eventually the ACNA prayer book, they must also teach that doctrine. They cannot teach something else in its place. Otherwise, what is the point of unreserved subscription?

Despite its acceptance of women's ordination the ACNA goes further in making room for Anglo-Catholics than it does for conservative evangelicals. A truly comprehensive church would make room for both. The ACNA holds out the welcome mat for Anglo-Catholics but conservative evangelicals must leave their theological convictions at the door.

After 3 years the argument that the ACNA is just getting organized is loosing its credibility. It isn't believable anymore.

The GAFCON Primates recognize the ACNA as "Anglican," not 80% of the Anglican Communion. What else can the GAFCON Primates do? The ACNA is their baby. But if you apply the standards found in The Way, the Truth, and the Life, The Jerusalem Declaration, and Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today to the ACNA, the ACNA comes up short in a number of areas.

It may irritate you when I draw attention to this fact. But what is the point of the GAFCON Primates' endorsement of these documents when they themselves do not take them seriously.

Despite the urging to put unity before truth a number of the clergy and congregations forming the ACNA left the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church USA rather than give up what they understood is the teaching of the Bible. If they had bought into the argument to put unity first, they would not have left. If we apply the same logic to the Reformation, the English Reformers were wrong in breaking with the Church of Rome.

I do not buy the argument that the ACNA is the last chance for Anglican unity in North America. What you have in the ACNA is an attempt at man-made unity and despite the hype from Archbishop Duncan not a very good attempt at that. True unity is God-made. It does not require organizational unity.