By Robin G. Jordan
The Anglican Church in North America has a doctrine problem. The problem originated during the days of the Common Cause Partnership. It has grown progressively worse since the formation of the Anglican Church in North America. Let’s take a brief look at that problem and how we might respond to it.
What is the “official doctrine” of the Anglican Church in North America?
Beyond the doctrinal statements and inferences in its constitution and canons, what may be considered official ACNA doctrine—at least at the present time—are the doctrinal views endorsed by its College of Bishops. These doctrinal views may be explicit or they may be implied—typically associated with a practice endorsed by the College of Bishops. They are found in two documents—Texts for Common Prayer and To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism.
The Anglican Church in North America’s constitution and canons do not vest in the College of Bishops the authority to determine matters relating to the faith, order, and worship of the denomination or recognize this authority as inherent in the body. The constitution identifies the “chief work” of the College of Bishops as propagating and defending the faith and order of the Church and serving as “a visible sign and expression of the unity of the Church.” Whether the propagation and defense of the Church’s faith and order extends to the determination of matters relating to the faith, order, and worship of the denomination is debatable.
The constitution vests in the Provincial Council authority to make canons ordering the denomination’s common life in respect to such matters as safeguarding of the denomination’s faith and order, common worship, and standards for ordination among other things. The constitution also recognizes the Provincial Council as the governing body of the denomination. Based upon the provisions of the constitution, the Provincial Council is the denominational organ that has authority to determine matters relating to the denomination’s faith, order, and worship, not the College of Bishops.
For the foregoing reasons I deliberately avoid the use of terms like “adopt” or “approve” to describe the decisions that the College of Bishops makes as a body regarding matters related to the faith, order, and worship of the denomination. If the College of Bishops and the Provincial Council were operating strictly in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and the canons, these decisions might be described as recommendations by the College of Bishops to the Provincial Council. The Provincial Council would decide whether it would act on these recommendations or the recommendations of other bodies that it had created to make recommendations to it on matters related to the denomination’s faith, order, and worship.
The College of Bishops’ endorsement of particular doctrinal views must be seen in the light of the present situation in the Anglican Church in North America. The College of Bishops has been progressively encroaching upon the authority of the Provincial Council. The Provincial Council has to date made no attempt to resist that encroachment and to assert its prerogatives. Rather the Provincial Council is abnegating its authority over such matters and deferring to the College of Bishops. What is endorsed by the College of Bishops may under the circumstances be viewed as official ACNA doctrine albeit provisionally.
The College of Bishops is the only denominational organ that is doing anything that approximates issuing doctrinal statements—endorsing the doctrinal material produced by a number of denominational task forces under its supervision and with its input. These taskforces are technically organs of the Provincial Council. As can be seen from this description of the present situation in the Anglican Church in North America how the organs of the denomination are supposed to operate according to the provisions of the constitution and how they operate in practice are two different things.
The result is that the College of Bishops’ endorsement of particular doctrinal views has weight as long as the Provincial Council or any ecclesial organization or network in the denomination does not challenge such endorsement. They do not, however, have the force of law: They have not been incorporated into the canons.
The result is also a state of affairs not unlike that in the Episcopal Church in which the denomination has not formally adopted a doctrinal position on a number of key issues. In order to file charges of heresy against a bishop, the House of Bishops must poll its members as to what in their opinion is the official doctrine of the denomination and whether the bishop in question holds views inconsistent with that doctrine.
Doesn’t the Anglican Church in North America affirm the Jerusalem Declaration?
As I pointed out in a number of articles, the Anglican Church in North America’s affirmation of the Jerusalem is only incidental to the narrative of the denomination’s formation in the preamble to its constitution. As it is only incidental to that account and appears in the constitution’s preamble, it is not binding upon the denomination. This is the reason that it was moved from the fundamental declarations in Article I of the constitution to the preamble. If it has been retained in the fundamental declarations, it would have technically had the force of law and would have binding at least on paper upon the consciences of congregations and clergy in the denomination, including its bishops. Whether the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America would have paid any more attention to it than they have other provisions of the constitution is a matter for conjecture.
It is quite evident from the doctrinal views that the College of Bishops has endorsed to date that the College of Bishops as a body does not fully accept the tenets that the Jerusalem Declaration identifies as underpinning Anglican orthodoxy. It is quite evident from statements made on the Internet that a segment of the denomination, clergy and laity, also do not fully accept these tenets. The cumulative evidence belies the claim on the ACNA website that the denomination wholeheartedly embraces the Jerusalem Declaration.
Doesn’t the Anglican Church in North America receive the Anglican formularies as doctrinal and worship standards?
When used in relation to a standard, the term “to receive” means “to accept as authoritative, true, or accurate; to believe.” When one examines the ACNA fundamental declarations what stands out about its reception of the Anglican formularies as standards are the qualifiers. These qualifiers limit its reception of the Anglican formularies as standards.
For example, the fundamental declarations state that the denomination receive the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a doctrinal standard, in other words, one of a number of doctrinal standards, which the fundamental declarations do not identify and may include that amorphous body of beliefs which John Newman referred to in Tract 90 as “Catholic tradition.”
The fundamental declarations state that the denomination receives the 1662 Prayer Book as its worship standard along with the books that preceded the 1662 Prayer Book. Among the books that preceded the 1662 Prayer Book were the partially reformed 1549 Prayer Book and the unreformed pre-Reformation medieval service books.
In regard to the Articles of Religion of 1571 those who drafted the fundamental declarations use language that avoids committing the denomination to fully accepting as authoritative the doctrine and principles set out in the Articles. They add an additional qualifier in form a phrase from the Royal Declaration of Charles I, which Anglo-Catholics associate with John Newman’s reinterpretation of the Articles in a Roman direction. Newman used this phrase as justification for his disregard of the historical context of the Articles and the intent of their authors.
What is official ACNA doctrine relating to grace, faith, baptism, the Holy Spirit, and regeneration?
What the College of Bishops has endorsed is the view that the work of prevenient grace is faith, not regeneration. Faith is the cause of regeneration, not its fruit. This is essentially the Scotian-Arminian view of the ordo salutis historically associated with Roman Catholicism and Wesleyanism. It is not the Augustian-Reformed view of the order of salvation articulated in Article 10 and further expounded in “the Homily for Whitsunday,” “the Homily on the Misery of Man,” and “the Third Homily for Rogation Week.”
While tying the gift of the Holy Spirit to water baptism, To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism shies away from connecting the new birth, or regeneration, to water baptism. The Order for Holy Baptism, however, connects the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new birth to water baptism. Members of the College of Bishops had a hand in the drafting of both documents which have received the endorsement of the College of Bishops.
What are the implications for Anglicans in and outside of the Anglican Church in North America?
The Order for Holy Baptism leaves no doubt as the direction in which the College of Bishops is taking the Anglican Church in North America. It is certainly not responding to GAFCON’s call to return to the Bible and the Anglican formularies. Rather the College of Bishops has embraced Roman Catholic views of the priesthood and the sacraments and Eastern Orthodox views of the Holy Spirit and sanctification. It has turned its back on the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies.
In England, as in other countries, the sixteenth century Reformation was a movement to restore the New Testament gospel to its rightful place in the Church. Whatever its motivations the College of Bishops appears set on undoing the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement and reshaping the Anglican Church along unreformed Catholic lines. Under its leadership the Anglican Church in North America is becoming a denomination that proclaims a “different gospel” from the New Testament Gospel—a gospel of sacraments and works.
These developments and other developments in the Anglican Church in North America should be a major cause for concern to Anglicans who uphold the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies and who see the renewal and revitalization of confessional Anglicanism as the most reliable bulwark against the encroachment of liberalism and other systems of beliefs that threaten the authority of the Bible and Anglican formularies in the Anglican Church. The College of Bishops is itself espousing such a system of beliefs.
Sooner or later the College of Bishops is going to take the step of calling for a canon to enforce the use of the ACNA service book and catechism and to push such a canon through the ACNA legislative process. There is already a canon on the books requiring the use of the ACNA service book once it is adopted. In the case of the ACNA service book the only thing required for the enforcement of its use is its formal adoption. A canon enforcing the use of the ACNA service book and catechism would make conformity to their unreformed Catholic teaching and practices a canonical requirement. The doctrine endorsed by the College of Bishops would have the weight of canon law behind it, not just the backing of the bishops.
One response to developments in the Anglican Church in North America is to do nothing. The result of inaction is that the present situation in the Anglican Church in North America will not only persist but it will also grow worse.
A second response is to undertake a major overhaul of the denomination—its doctrinal foundation, its governing documents, its rites and services, its catechism, and the like—and to replace its existing leaders with fresh ones. This involves trying to work within a system that was created to prevent such changes from happening. It would be a futile exercise.
A third response is to establish new orthodox Anglican province fully in line with the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies and to provide an alternative not only to the Anglican Church of Canada, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Episcopal Church but also the Anglican Church in North America. A drawback of this response is that it would add to the raft of Anglican entities competing with each other in North America.
A fourth response is to establish such a province but within the Anglican Church in North America itself—a second province with its own doctrinal foundation, governing documents, rites and services, catechism, bishops, and synodical government. This would require congregations, clergy, and others in the Anglican Church in North America, committed to the full acceptance of the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies, to take the initiative and to form such a province within the ACNA despite the opposition of those who do not see the need for a second province. It would also require boldness and resolve on the part of the group forming the second province.
As for Anglicans outside of North America, they also have four choices. They can do nothing. They call for meaningful reforms in the Anglican Church in North America and put pressure on the denomination to undertake them. They can back the formation of a new orthodox Anglican province in North America. They can give their support to the group forming a second province within the Anglican Church in North America.