By Robin G. Jordan
The roots of a number of developments in the Anglican Church in North America go back to the Common Cause Partnership—a coalition of conservative Anglican organizations that was established in 2004. The original members of this coalition were the Anglican Communion Network, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Anglican Mission in America, Forward in Faith North America, the Anglican Province of America, and the American Anglican Council. The Anglican Province of America would subsequently drop out of the alliance after a planned merger with the Reformed Episcopal Church fell through. The coalition would draft a theological statement in 2006. The Common Cause Partnership would lobby the global South Primates to support the formation of a new Anglican province in North America. Its efforts would see fruition in the Jerusalem Statement issued by the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference.
As early as 2006, if not earlier, it was evident that the various organizations forming the Common Cause Partnership were not committed to the Anglican confessional formularies. This included the Anglican Mission in America. In its Solemn Declaration the AMiA appeared to commit itself, its clergy, and its congregations to the Anglican confessional formularies. But by 2006 it was becoming increasingly evident that this commitment was largely rhetorical.
The Common Cause Theological Statement equivocated in its acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles as the Common Cause Partnership’s doctrinal standard, treating the Articles as if it is a historical document rather than a living formulary. The wording of the Common Cause Theological Statement implied that the Articles were not the only doctrinal standard for the Common Cause Partnership. The Common Cause Theological Statement did not identify what these other doctrinal standards were and appeared to be alluding to the amorphous body of Catholic tradition to which John Henry Newman appealed in his infamous Tract 90.
Rather than recognizing the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as its worship standard, the Common Cause Theological Statement adopted a worship standard that consisted of the 1662 Prayer Book and all the liturgical books that preceded it. Such a standard included all the liturgies that survive in manuscript form or are described in the writings of various historical Church figures from the earliest days of the Church to 1662. This is a very broad and nebulous standard that permits the modeling of modern-day liturgies upon the unreformed liturgies of the late Middle Ages as well as the partially reformed 1549 Prayer Book and the retrograde 1637 Scottish Prayer Book.
The Common Cause Theological Statement also took a decidedly partisan doctrinal stance on the issue of bishops. Evangelical Anglicans have historically taken the view that bishops are not essential to the existence of the Church. This was the view of the sixteenth century English Reformers. They found no warrant in the Scriptures for a particular form of church governance. They would retain bishops because the Scriptures, while not prescribing episcopacy as the sole form of government for the Church, did not prohibit bishops as a part of whatever form of government that the Church adopted.
The form of church government that was adopted was modeled on that of the Swiss Reformed Churches. With the exception of the Church of Geneva in which the Company of Pastors governed both the church and the city, the magistrates in Zurich and the other Protestant Swiss city-states had authority over the churches in the city-state. The magistrates selected the pastors of the city-state’s churches. The pastors in turn served as the conscience of the magistrates.
In the case of the reformed Church of England the magistrate was the reigning monarch. Bishops in the reformed Church of England served as officers of the Crown, deriving their authority from the Crown. No episcopal elections could be held except at the instigation of the Crown. Only Crown-nominated candidates could be elected bishops. Even archbishops could be suspended by the Crown and royal commissioners appointed to perform most of their duties. The laity in the form of the Crown and the Parliament played a substantial role in the government of the Church. Bishops were bound by the law as were other ministers.
On the other hand, Anglo-Catholics and those who share their views of bishops take the position that bishops belong to the essence of the Church. The nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic movement maintained that the Church did not exist without bishops. Its adherents did not regard as churches ecclesiastical organizations that did not have bishops. They also took the position that bishops were above the law. They maintained that councils and synods derived their authority from the episcopate and the episcopate was not bound by their decisions. Episcopal compliance with ecclesiastical canons was purely voluntary, not obligatory. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral with its insistence that the “historical episcopate” was necessary to Church reunification reflects their thinking. The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops that adopted the resolution was dominated by Anglo-Catholic bishops. The Common Cause Theological Statement took the Anglo-Catholic position.
The seven points of the Common Cause Theological Statement would be incorporated into the Anglican Church in North America’s provisional Constitution and draft Constitution as essential to its understanding of “the Anglican Way.” All congregations and clergy desiring to become a part of the denomination would be required to subscribe to these seven points. Under the provisions of the provisional and draft Canons so would ecclesiastical organizations desiring to enter into mission partnership with the Anglican Church in North America.
The provisions of the final version of the canons would expand the requirement for clergy to subscribe to these seven points to include conformity to “the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church.” This would includes not only the doctrine stated or implied in the canons themselves but also future doctrinal statements. Among the doctrinal statements the Anglican Church in North America has produced so far are its ordinal, its trial services of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion, its catechism, and its proposed rites for admission of catechumens, baptism, and confirmation.
The late Peter Toon took issue with a number of the points of the original version of the Common Cause Theological Statement. See the accompanying article, “The Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America: The Insights of the Late Peter Toon.” Toon proposed the substitution of a modified version of the Church of England’s Canon 5A in place of that statement. The Jerusalem Statement identifies the words of Canon 5A as giving expression to “the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans.” While the final version of the Common Cause Theological Statement addressed one of Toon’s concerns, it failed to address the others.
For those who may be interested in the background to the original version of the Common Cause Theological Statement, the new Provincial Dean of the Anglican Church in North America, REC Bishop Ray Sutton, claims to have authored that document.
The problems identified with Common Cause Theological Statement’s positions on the confessional Anglican formularies and bishops were brought to attention of the Common Cause Governance Task Force and the Provisional Provincial Council. The presentation of these concerns elicited no response from Common Cause Governance Task Force. The Anglo-Catholic members of the Provisional Provincial Council threatened what amounted to a walk-out if any changes were made to the seven points of the Common Cause Theological Statement incorporated into the draft Constitution. The only change they would permit was the correction of the date of the Thirty-Nine Articles from 1562 to 1571.
The leaders of the Common Cause Partnership to a large part constitute the present leaders of the Anglican Church in North America. As the College of Bishops they control who may join them as leaders of the denomination. Under the provisions of the ACNA canons the College of Bishops confirms the election of new bishops, in some cases selects new bishops, in other cases vet candidates for appointment or election as bishops,and receives bishops from other denominations. The College of Bishops has also played a significant role in the development and modification of the ACNA governing documents as well as influenced how the denomination’s form of governance actually works. There is a growing discrepancy between how the denomination’s form of governance is supposed to work according to the ACNA constitution and canons and its actual operation. The College of Bishops has arrogated to itself powers not given it by the constitution or canons nor recognized as inherent in that body or its members. It has also usurped the role of the Provincial Council in a number of key areas. It has shown little regard for constitutionalism and the rule of law.
The Anglican Church in North America has produced a number of doctrinal statements to date. The College of Bishops has not only influenced the content of these statements but has also endorsed them as a body. They therefore can be said to represent the mind of the College of Bishops. These statements show a consistent pattern of not fully accepting the Scriptures as the canon or functioning rule of faith and life for Anglicans and the Anglican confessional formularies as the standard of doctrine and worship for Anglicans. They not only mandate or sanction Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice but also take a permissive attitude toward Orthodox and Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. At the same time they exclude historic Anglican doctrine and practice and the Biblical and Reformed teaching upon which they are based.
The College of Bishops did not go to the trouble of incorporating a particular theology and its related practices into the official doctrinal statements of a denomination for no reason. What they have done goes well beyond ensuring that the Anglo-Catholic theological perspective and Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices “will be permitted, protected, and honored” in the Anglican Church in North America. It makes room for the beliefs and practices of only one school of thought in the Anglican Church in North America, a school of thought that has no commitment to historic Anglicanism and the Biblical and Reformed teaching that forms its doctrinal foundation and constitutes the core of Anglican identity.
In his article, “Three Steps in a Language Audit” Eric Geiger draws attention to the problems associated with “multiple definitions for the same sounding word.” “Anglican” and “Anglicanism” has become such a word. When a word is “constantly thrown around without any definition,” the word “gives the false impression of alignment when in fact multiple directions exist.” With the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans sought to define “Anglican” and “Anglicanism.” But it has been quite evident from the outset that Anglican Church in North America is not on the same page about the definition of “Anglican” and “Anglicanism” as the GFCA. In the doctrinal statements that the Anglican Church in North America has produced so far, the ACNA has established its own definition of these two terms. It is a definition that does not give a central place to the Anglican confessional formularies and the Biblical and Reformed teaching upon which they are based.
Those who dismiss the seriousness of these developments need to think again. The College of Bishops has essentially outlawed in the Anglican Church in North America any theological perspective but an Anglo-Catholic or philo-Orthodox one. The College of Bishops has in essence banned from the Anglican Church in North America clergy, dioceses, networks, and congregations that seek to uphold the doctrine of the Anglican confessional formularies and to maintain the Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical character of the Anglican Church.
In The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future the GAFCON Theological Resource Group identifies Anglo-Catholicism along with liberalism as a major challenge to the authority of the Scriptures and the Anglican confessional formularies in the global Anglican Church. Since the nineteenth century the Anglo-Catholic movement has sought to counter and undo the reforms that the Anglican Reformers implemented in the sixteenth century. Chief among these reforms was the recovery of the gospel and the basing of Church doctrine and practice on Scripture, not tradition.
Those who take comfort in the thought that the College of Bishops cannot enforce such a ban are assuming that its enforcement would require dramatic steps that would in turn precipitate the secession of clergy, dioceses, networks, and congregations from the Anglican Church in North America. The possibility of such an exodus would deter the College of Bishops from taking such actions.
But the reality is that the longer clergy, dioceses, network, and congregations remain a part of the Anglican Church in North America, the more difficult it will be for them to extricate themselves from the ACNA. Clergy, dioceses, networks, and congregations that have experienced the trauma of breaking away from the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Anglican Mission in America are also not going to be easily persuaded to break with their new denomination.
The College of Bishops can take its time in eliminating what it clearly views as an undesirable element in the Anglican Church in North America by a gradual process of attrition. Bishops in the Anglican Church in North America have the final say as to who may receive theological and ministerial training, what training they may receive, and where; who may be ordained; who may be licensed to minister in their dioceses; who may be received as a minister of the diocese and whether they must receive additional training and/or undergo re-ordination; who may be appointed or called as pastor of a congregation in their dioceses or networks; and who may plant new congregations, what kind of congregations they may plant, and whether a new congregation may be admitted to the diocese or network and under what conditions. As previously noted, the College of Bishops has the final say as to who may become a bishop of a diocese or network.
The ACNA constitution and canons contain no provisions that prevent an Anglo-Catholic or philo-Orthodox bishop from discriminating against any group or individual who does not share their particular theological perspective. Indeed the College of Bishops has endorsed one doctrinal statement after another that has the effect of institutionalizing such discrimination in the Anglican Church in North America.
In any event ACNA bishops have shown negligible respect individually and collectively for constitutionalism and the rule of law, it is doubtful that the addition of anti-discrimination provisions to the ACNA constitution and canons at this late date would keep them from discriminating against those whom they have so far sought to exclude from the Anglican Church in North America. I am not talking about theological liberals but Anglicans who subscribe to the doctrine of the Anglican confessional formularies and the Biblical and Reformed teaching on which they are based and are committed to a Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical vision of the Anglican Church.
I have covered in this article what may be familiar ground by now to some of my readers from previous articles. But I believe that it is necessary to reiterate what I written elsewhere to provide a complete picture of the present situation in the Anglican Church in North America for those who have not read these articles. This situation has grown worse over the past five years and can be expected to continue to do so over the next five years.
There is clearly a need for further Anglican realignment in North America. Clergy, dioceses, networks, and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America, which are committed to upholding the Anglican confessional formularies and maintaining the Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical character of the Anglican Church need to be exploring their future options.
I see three ways forward for these groups and individuals. Here again I am not covering new ground. First, they need to network with each other and establish a voluntary association of clergy and congregations within the Anglican Church in North America. Second, they need to ally themselves with like-minded and sympathetic groups and individuals outside the Anglican Church in North America. Third, they need to establish an alternative structure to the Anglican Church in North America for clergy and congregations that cannot in good conscience remain a part of the ACNA.
The Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America: The Insights of the Late Peter Toon