By Robin G. Jordan
Almost three years ago I posted an article, “Add Inaccuracy to the Anglican Church of North America’s Growing List of Problems,” in which I drew attention to the fact that the Anglican Church in North America has posted a slightly altered version of the Common Cause Theological Statement on its website without identify this statement as that of the now-disbanded Common Cause Partnership. I noted:
A visitor to the website who is not familiar with the Common Cause Partnership and the Anglican Church in North America would assume that what they reading is the theological statement of the ACNA, not the Common Cause Partnership. They would be misled into believing that it states the beliefs of the ACNA.
I further noted:
The ACNA, however, incorporated only a part of the Common Cause Theological Statement into Article I of its constitution and not the entire statement. It dropped the article “the” from before the phrase “fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.” The statement on the website’s “Theology” page retains the article “the.”
The addition or omission of the article “the” makes a significant difference in meaning of the clause “expressing [the] fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.”
Earlier this week I was prompted to revisit the “Theology” page on the ACNA website after determining that a number of Anglican Ablaze readers had recently viewed the article. Nothing had been changed from when I first wrote the article. Visitors to the website would still be misled into believing that it was a present day statement of the beliefs of the denomination, and not a historical document from the days of the Common Cause Partnership.
Within the past six months I have been involved in a discussion with a poster on another website, who claimed that the Anglican Church in North America accepted the doctrine and principles set out in the Articles of Religion. He based his claim not on a survey of all the doctrinal statements that the ACNA has produced to date but on one clause in this statement, the same clause that has been altered in Article I of the ACNA constitution. Whether the poster in question was not aware that he was not citing an official statement of ACNA doctrine or simply “cherry picking,” I cannot say. In any event his use of this statement to support his claim points to the problematic nature of posting the statement on the website’s “Theology” page without identifying it for what it is—a historical document. This does not suggest that those who are responsible for the content of the website have a commitment to a high standard of accuracy. They have had ample time to rectify the problem but have done nothing about it.
This problem raises the question of how honest are those who occupy the place of power in the Anglican Church in North America in their dealings with the GAFCON Primates and other conservative Anglicans outside of the denomination. Is inaccuracy in the representation of the beliefs of the Anglican Church in North America confined to the denomination’s website? Is it more pervasive?
The Most Reverend Stanley Ntgali, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, in a statement regarding developments in the United States and the Episcopal Church related to same sex marriage describes the Anglican Church in North America as “an alternative and biblically faithful Anglican Church in North America.” In light of the doctrinal positions that its College of Bishops has taken to date, one is forced to ask, “On what basis does Archbishop Ntgali view the Anglican Church in North America as faithful to the Bible—an exhaustive survey of the doctrinal statements that the denomination has issued since its formation or the assurances of those occupying the place of power in the denomination?”
The Anglican Church in North America may be viewed as being “Biblically faithful” to a point. Beyond that point those occupying the place of power in the denomination and determining its official doctrine are guided not by Scripture but human tradition. The Anglican Church in North America maintains the Christian faith set out in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds where these creeds agree with the Holy Scriptures. The denomination to some extent takes a Biblical and traditional view of marriage and human sexuality: In its position on divorce and remarriage the denomination may be accommodating the culture in North America. However, in the case of the sacraments the Anglican Church in North America departs from the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine and principles of the Articles of Religion, which as the GAFCON Theological Resource Group points out in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today derive their authority from Scripture.
In the case of Holy Baptism the denomination officially takes a mechanical, sacramental view of the gift of the Holy Spirit, maintaining in its catechism that the gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed exclusively at baptism. In endorsing this position its College of Bishops is sanctioning the expounding of “one passage of Scripture in such a way that it disagrees with another,” which Article 20 tells us is unlawful for the Church to do. According to the Holy Scriptures the gift of the Holy Spirit may be bestowed at baptism but it may also be bestowed before baptism, after baptism, or not at all.
In the case of the Holy Eucharist the College of Bishops in its endorsement of Texts for Common Prayer endorsed the medieval Catholic doctrines of Transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass, doctrines embodied in the eucharistic rites in Texts for Common Prayer. These doctrines maintain that Christ is substantively present in the consecrated eucharistic elements and through the priest offers himself on the altar to God for the sins of the world. The Articles of Religion rejects both doctrines. Article 28 describes the doctrine of Transubstantiation as having no basis in Scripture and as being incompatible with the plain meaning of Scripture. It overthrows the nature of a sacrament and has given rise to numerous superstitions. Article 31 describes the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass as a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.
In the case of confirmation, absolution, ordination, marriage, and anointing of the sick the College of Bishops in its endorsement of To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism endorse the position that these rites are sacraments and “arise from the practice of the apostles and the early Church, or are states of life blessed by God from creation.” This position is in direct conflict with the position that the Articles of Religion take in regard to these rites. Article 25 points to our attention that these rites “have in part developed from a false understanding of apostolic practice and in part represent states of life allowed in the Scriptures.” Furthermore, the same rites “have no sign or ceremony commanded by God.” They are not the special channels of divine grace that the catechism claims that they are.
What we have here is not secondary matters on which Anglicans can agree to disagree. They affect our understanding of the economy of salvation and the gospel. Cumulatively the doctrinal positions that the College of Bishops has endorsed and the other doctrines associated with these positions, the theological freight that they carry, teach a different gospel from that of the New Testament. They obscure and undermine the New Testament doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Whatever affirmations the Anglican Church in North America may make in its constitution and canons and its College of Bishops in public statements and private conversations, these doctrinal positions and their theological freight show that the denomination does not fully accept the Holy Scriptures as its “ultimate rule and standard of faith.”