By Robin G. Jordan
While the second Anglican Church in North America has in its five short years in existence avoided the rapid breakup that overtook the first Anglican Church in North America at its formation, the same theological tensions that were present in the first Anglican Church in North America are also present in the second Anglican Church in North America. These tensions are largely between those who believe that classical Anglicanism is genuinely catholic, adhering in its teaching to the three catholic Creeds and the first four General Councils, and those who have historically viewed classical Anglicanism as not fully Catholic, not holding to the teaching of the Catholic Church in its Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox variants.
Freed from the restraints of the un-Catholic Episcopal Church in the United States, the latter group has sought to shape the second Anglican Church in North America according to their own particular vision of the Church. This is evident to a degree in the second ACNA’s constitution and canons but it it is most evident in the denomination’s Ordinal, Texts for Common Prayer, Being a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, and the proposed rites of admission of catechumens, baptism, and confirmation. It is also evident in the large role that its bishops are playing in the government of the denomination, a role not envisioned in its constitution and canons, but which its bishops have arrogated for themselves at the expense of the bodies to which the constitution and canons entrust the government of the denomination. The result in the long term will be a Church that while Catholic in teaching and practice is not reformed and therefore not Anglican.
These theological tensions have so far not come to a head. This may be explained in part by the fact that those pushing this particular agenda in the second Anglican Church in North America have not at this stage taken away what little flexibility congregations and clergy have to pursue a path at variance with their vision of the Church. They have, however, denied those who disagree with them on key issues any official standing in the denomination. The second Anglican Church in North America in practice and on paper recognizes only one legitimate school of thought in the denomination.
As the unreformed Catholic party in the second Anglican Church in North America becomes more aggressive in pushing its agenda, this flexibility will disappear. The final version of the Prayer Book that the College of Bishops endorses may bring these tensions into the open if the book is, as I anticipate, unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and liturgical usages and makes room for only a High Church style of worship.
Under the provisions of the denomination’s constitution and canons the adoption of a Prayer Book for the second Anglican Church in North America requires more than the endorsement of the College of Bishops. It requires formal authorization by the Provincial Council in the form of a canon and ratification of that authorizing canon by the Provincial Assembly.
While there is a strong likelihood these bodies will go along with anything that College of Bishops endorses, there is also a great opportunity at this stage as well as at earlier stages in its development to push for a Prayer Book that comprehends the entire range of conservative schools of Anglican thought in its doctrine and liturgical usages and which makes ample room for a wide range of worship styles—Low Church, charismatic, experimental, and contemporary, as well as High Church. This includes a revised Ordinal which is acceptable to conservative evangelicals and a revised Prayer Book Catechism that is truly acceptable to all conservative schools of Anglican thought.
If the College of Bishops should for any reason seek to dispense with such formal authorization of a Prayer Book to which it has given its endorsement, the rites and service of the Prayer Book would have no official standing in the denomination. Individual bishops might enforce their use within their jurisdictions but they would be doing so in violation of the denomination's governing documents. The constitution and canons do not recognize bishops as having the power to authorize rites and services in their diocese, only to ensure the doctrine rites and services are used in their diocese are agreeable to the teaching of the Scriptures. In permitting the use of the College of Bishops' endorsed Ordinal and Texts for Common Prayer in their respective dioceses, they have shown themselves to date to be incapable of doing so. Both the Ordinal and Texts for Common Prayer incorporate doctrine and liturgical usages that have no basis in Scripture or which are not consistent with what Scripture teaches.
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