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!