Anglican Ink has posted on its front page a press release from the organizers of the recent International Congress of Catholic Anglicans, which met in Fort Worth, Texas, on July 13-17, 2015. The Congress was sponsored mainly by Forward in Faith North America. The Congress featured a number of preachers and speakers, which included former ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan, present ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, and ACNA Dean Ray Sutton. With the Congress its organizers are hoping to revive the high successful Anglo-Catholic Congresses of the early twentieth century, which one participant maintained caused the occurrence of “a golden age” of Anglo-Catholicism. They are also hoping that “a broad coalition of orthodox, catholic-minded Anglicans” will also come out of the gathering. The Congress issued a statement, which is included in the press release.
Despite its elevated language, use of Greek terminology, and citation of the Articles of Religion, which give all appearances of being intended to impress readers, the Congress’ statement is a rehash of what are established Anglo-Catholic positions. It covers no new ground. The statement essentially serves notice that Anglo-Catholics are not retreating from the Anglo-Catholic movement’s longstanding aim of Catholicizing the Anglican Church—to undo the effects of the English Reformation and to change the Anglican Church’s identity.
The citation of Article XX in support of one of the statement’s arguments struck me as particularly disingenuous. Throughout its history the Anglo-Catholic movement has sought to dislodge the Protestant Articles of Religion from their place as the Anglican Church’s confession of faith. If any movement has been characterized by a tendency “to expound one passage of Scripture in such a way that it disagrees with another,” it is the Anglo-Catholic movement.
John Henry Newman, one of the early leaders of the Anglo-Catholic movement and later a Roman Catholic cardinal, tried to reinterpret the Articles in a Rome-ward direction in an effort to reconcile the doctrinal principles of the Articles with his own unreformed Catholic beliefs and convictions. He eventually came to the conclusion that the Articles could not be reconciled to unreformed Catholicism. Newman left a legacy of disregarding the historical context and the intent of their authors in the interpretation of the Articles and making the Articles do whatever the interpreter wanted them to do—a legacy that has influenced Anglo-Catholic interpretation of the Articles to this day.
Nineteenth century English Anglo-Catholics lobbied against clerical subscription to the Articles of Religion. They described the Articles as burdensome and onerous to “true Churchmen,” comparing the Articles with the number of lashes the apostle Paul received the five times that he was scourged by the Jews—“forty stripes less one” (2 Corinthians 11:24).They systematically went through the Book of Common Prayer and identified every word, phrase, and text to which they could give a “Catholic sense,” interpreting the Prayer Book without regard to its historical context and the intent of its authors and the received understanding of the meaning of words, phrases, and texts. They then demanded that the Prayer Book should be recognized as the Church of England’s only standard of doctrine and worship.
Twentieth century American Anglo-Catholics tried unsuccessfully to have the Articles of Religion removed from the back of the American Prayer Book in the 1920s. They joined forces with the Episcopal Church’s Broad Church wing to adopt the retrograde 1928 Prayer Book, which made a number of radical changes in the American Prayer Book and was itself a repudiation of the doctrinal principles of the Articles. They were successful in having the Articles relegated to a historical documents section in the 1979 Prayer Book.
More recently Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church in North America were largely responsible for the language of equivocation that the denomination’s fundamental declarations adopt in regard to the Articles of Religion. Anglo-Catholics in the provisional Provincial Council would block revision of the fundamental declarations that might have resulted in clearer language.
The statement’s claim that there is no church without bishops is reminiscent of the position American Anglo-Catholics took in the nineteenth century, arguing that that bishops were of the essence of the Church, its esse. They unchurched evangelical Christians whose denominations did not have bishops, viewing their churches as religious societies at best, and their ministers as laymen. They insisted that denominations should not only have bishops but also have bishops in a particular line of succession in order to be regarded as being a part of the true Church and having valid orders and sacraments. They enacted a canon in the Episcopal Church prohibiting evangelical Episcopal clergy from fraternizing with evangelical clergy of other denominations, preaching in their churches, and attending their gatherings and receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion at these gatherings. This position is reflected in the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America, which maintains that the episcopate is a part of the apostolic deposit.
The English Reformers found no evidence that the Holy Scriptures prescribed any particular form of church polity. They retained the office of bishop because it was an ancient and was allowed by Scripture. From their study of the Holy Scriptures they concluded that presbyters and bishops, while they performed different functions, belonged to the same order. They recognized the orders and sacraments of their Continental Reformed brethren who had conflated the offices of bishop and presbyter into the office of pastor. While the seventeenth century Caroline divines took a higher view of the office of bishop, they also recognized the orders and sacraments of the Continental Reformed Churches.
As Anglo-Catholics have in the past, the Congress characterizes the Anglo-Catholic movement as a movement of renewal, a claim that rings hollow in the light of the movement’s efforts to undo the effects of the English Reformation and negate its influence in the Anglican Church. The Reformation was in England as in other countries a spiritual renewal movement restoring the Holy Scriptures and the gospel to the Church. Anglo-Catholic notions of renewal of the Anglican Church are directly in conflict with those of the Global Anglican Future Conference which calls the Anglican Church back to the Holy Scriptures and its historic formularies.
Anglo-Catholics have not only taught doctrines and revived practices that were abolished in the Church of England at the time of the English Reformation on solid biblical grounds but also have introduced doctrinal and worship innovations that the Roman Catholic Church had adopted from the sixteenth century on. They have argued that if the English Reformation had not occurred, these doctrinal and worship innovations would have been the teaching and practices of the English Church.
Anglo-Catholicism with its emphasis on the role of the Church in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and its fostering of an excessive dependency upon the teaching and sacramental ministries of the priesthood has fostered conditions in the provinces of the Anglican Communion, particularly the Episcopal Church, that have made these provinces vulnerable to the inroads of liberalism and modernism. It has produced a laity who are woefully ignorant of the Holy Scriptures and are unable to feed themselves upon the bounty of God’s Word, and who are consequently unable to fulfill their primary calling as ministers and missionaries of the Church. It teaches that there is no hope of salvation except through the priest’s offering of mediation and sacrifice between man and God and the sacramental grace that the priest dispenses. It has turned the laity into lackeys and satellites of the clergy. It has not only obscured the gospel with its teaching but has substituted error for the gospel. Anglo-Catholics are hardly the force for the renewal of the Anglican Church, which they see themselves. Rather they would lead the Church back into the darkness and superstition of the early High Middle Ages.
Evangelical Anglicans need to respond to the challenge of the Congress’ statement with a gathering of their own and a statement reiterating GAFCON’s call for the restoration of the Bible and the formularies to their rightful place in the Anglican Church as its authoritative standards of doctrine and worship. What would be a better occasion to announce the formation of an organization to bring together evangelical Anglicans in North America for the advancement of the gospel and the furtherance of biblical Christianity and authentic historic Anglicanism? It would also be the perfect occasion to launch the movement to establish a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, one which is fully committed to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the formularies. Such a gathering would also show where individual ACNA leaders stand. Evangelical Anglicans have much to gain and nothing to lose by convening their own assembly.
If the hope of the Congress’ organizers that a broad Anglo-Catholic coalition emerges from the event is realized, Anglo-Catholics in that coalition presently not in the Anglican Church in North America could eventually become a part of that jurisdiction. The press release quotes one of the Congress’ participants who identified the “proliferation of jurisdictions” as one of the challenges facing the contemporary Anglo-Catholic movement and the “overriding purpose” of the Congress” as addressing this “ecclesial deficit.” With its endorsement of the new baptismal and confirmation rites the ACNA College of Bishops has made the jurisdiction more attractive to traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. What deters traditionalist Anglo-Catholics from other jurisdictions from becoming a part of the Anglican Church in North America is that the ACNA ordains women priests and has made no provision for the retention and use of the 1928 Prayer Book and the various Anglican missals to which traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have a strong attachment. For most bishops in these jurisdictions becoming a part of the ACNA would mean they would be bishops without jurisdiction over a diocese. They would at best be relegated to the position of assistant or suffragan bishop.
An influx of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics from other jurisdictions would bolster the size and influence of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Church in North America. How the wing of the ACNA that Gerald Bray describes as “charismatic open evangelical ritualists” would respond to such an influx is hard to say. Their own fidelity to the gospel and commitment to evangelism and church expansion might be the deciding factors. The traditionalist Anglo-Catholics in these jurisdictions are not gospel-centered and they have not shown themselves as being adept at evangelism and church expansion.
For Anglicans who fully accept the Bible and the formularies as the Anglican Church’s authoritative doctrinal and worship standards but whose beliefs and convictions do not enjoy official standing in the Anglican Church in North America such an influx would, I suspect , seal their fate. While I would not expect it to greatly increase the size of the Anglo-Catholic wing, it would give the Anglo-Catholic – philo-Orthodox element occupying the place of power in the denomination plausible grounds for ramping up their Catholicization of the denomination. Making the Anglican Church in North America more attractive to traditionalist Anglo-Catholics already to certain extent provides these grounds.
Photo credit: Peter Cawley