By Robin G Jordan
The leaders who are exercising the most influence and calling the shots in the organs of governance which are the locus of power in the Anglican Church in North America are very myopic and have not learned from the lessons of history—particularly the history of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Giving the denomination a doctrinal foundation that is unreformed Catholic rather than classically Anglican, they have not only deprived of any official standing existing Anglican congregations and clergy in the denomination but they have also closed the door to breakaway evangelical groups from other denominations and evangelical pastors, pastors in formation, and lay persons attracted to liturgical forms of worship but not to unreformed Catholic teaching and practice.
The Anglican Church in North America is at a similar point in its brief history as the Episcopal Church was in the nineteenth century when August Muhlenberg and others petitioned the House of Bishops for greater flexibility in the denomination’s policy toward evangelicals in other denominations. The Episcopal Church could have made tremendous strides in advancing the cause of the gospel had the House of Bishops listened to the petitioners and implemented the changes that they were espousing. But short-sightedness and narrow interests prevailed then as they are prevailing in the Anglican Church in North America today.
Bringing about meaningful reforms in the Anglican Church in North America would require dislodging this group of leaders from the position that they have established for themselves in the management of the affairs of the denomination. The structure and form of government of the denomination makes that near impossible. They are clearly designed to enable one special interest group to dominate the denomination’s institutions and to determine its future.
Replacing this group of leaders with leaders committed to a more comprehensive vision of the Anglican Church in North America would require more than time. It would require a revolution. The same group of leaders have positioned themselves so that they are the ones who decides who joins them in the top leadership circles of the denomination.
Those who are loyal to authentic historic Anglicanism in the Anglican Church in North America give the impression of having no appetite for putting up any kind of resistance, much less for spearheading a revolution. They appear to be resigned to their own marginalization and the eventual disappearance of genuine Anglicanism with its protestant and reformed principles from the Anglican Church in North America. This may be attributed at least in part to the failure of the GAFCON Primates to show them any kind of support despite a public commitment to help groups that are excluded from their province or diocese.
Perhaps they believe that if they keep a low profile, they can somehow maintain a genuine Anglican presence in the Anglican Church in North America. I personally do not see how they can. The same group of leaders has stacked the deck against them.
North America does not need another unreformed Catholic Church, even one masquerading as an Anglican Church. It has a raft of such Churches. It also has a number of these Churches which are misrepresenting themselves as Anglican. None of them is doing too well. What it does need is a network of churches that are Biblically orthodox, genuinely Anglican, and evangelizing and discipling the unchurched.
Anglicans both in North America and outside of North America who are loyal to the protestant and reformed principles of authentic historic Anglicanism need to overcome the inertia that presently grips them and join forces to establish and grow such a network of churches in North America. If the classical Anglican formularies are in agreement with Holy Scripture as they believe, they are not being Biblically faithful when they accommodate unreformed Catholic teaching and practice that conflict with these formularies. Such teaching and practice conflicts not only with the formularies but also with Scripture.
Their inaction points to a serious lack of confidence in their own beliefs as well as confusion over what is genuinely Anglican. This confusion has its origins in the liberal consensus of the last century, which turned the Anglican Church into what J. C. Ryle in 1884 described as a Noah’s ark in which Anglicans may hold any kind of opinion and creed. The result was a “doctrinal free-for-all” in which the different sections of Church, while holding disparate views on key issues, were recognized as legitimately Anglican.
As the GAFCON Theological Resource Group draws to our attention in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to an Anglican Future, this consensus has broken down along with the broad comprehensiveness that it maintained. Liberal Anglican leaders and theologians would come to “have problems with a comprehensiveness that included the orthodox.” What the GAFCON Theological Resource Group fails to note is that liberals are not the only ones in places of power who are insisting on entrenching their views and excluding those who disagree. So are Anglo-Catholics.
The publication of The Way, the Truth, and the Life before the formation of the Anglican Church in North America partially explains this oversight. While The Way, the Truth, and the Life identifies Anglo-Catholicism as a major challenge to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies along with liberalism in the twenty-first century Anglican Church, its primary focus is the deleterious effects of liberalism.
While congregations and clergy in the Anglican Church in North America who are loyal to the protestant and reformed principles of authentic historic Anglicanism may be committed to a comprehensiveness that embraces all Christians who believe the core doctrines that are widely accepted as essential to Biblically orthodox Christianity, the Anglo-Catholic-philo Orthodox leaders who are running the show in the Anglican Church in North America are not. They are only willing to make room in the denomination for those who share their convictions on the ordo salutis, apostolic succession, episcopacy, the sacraments, and other key issues.
These leaders have broken faith with their coalition partners in the Anglican Church in North America who do not share their convictions. They are essentially saying that they no longer need the coalition partners who joined with them in establishing the Anglican Church in North America. Under the circumstances the coalition partners whom they exploited and now are rejecting are not bound by any moral obligation or restraint to support their leadership or the Anglican Church in North America. They are free to withdraw from the Anglican Church in North America and to form with other like-minded Anglicans a Biblically orthodox, genuinely Anglican, mission-oriented church network. If their departure weakens the Anglican Church in North America, it will not be their fault but the fault of the leaders who broke faith with them.
The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, if it truly upholds the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies, needs to address the Anglo-Catholic challenge to their authority. An ally that rejects your beliefs and doing all it can to stamp out those beliefs within its jurisdiction as is the case of the Anglican Church in North America is not an ally. If anything, it is unfriend who is taking advantage of what it views as a temporary alliance to achieve its own ends. Throughout history those who have adopted a policy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend have seen it backfire. The Muslim leader to whom the Arabic proverb 'عدو عدوي هو صديقي' ('Adu 'Aduyi Hooweh Ssadikki - My enemy's enemy is my friend) is attributed was himself murdered by one of his “friends.”
Photo credit: Pixabay, public domain