By Robin G. Jordan
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God….” Psalm 146: 3-5 ESVUI
I personally cannot see why the GAFCON Primates continue to support an ecclesial organization like the Anglican Church in North America when a growing body of evidence shows that a plurality of its leaders are working to undermine GAFCON’s efforts to return the Anglican Church to the Bible and its historic formularies—not just in North America but around the world. The development of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism with its unreformed Catholic teaching for use in provinces of the Anglican Communion as well as the Anglican Church in North America is evidence their intentions as is former ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan’s championing of what he describes as a “new settlement.” The recent participation of ACNA leaders in the International Congress of Catholic Anglicans, a gathering for strengthening Anglo-Catholic influence in the Anglican Church, points to the same conclusion.
This group of ACNA leaders is not interested in following the lead of Global South primates and bishops but aspires to take the lead itself, an aspiration it shares with the leaders of the Episcopal Church. Both groups of leaders espouse ideologies that have undercut the authority of the Bible and the historic formularies in the Anglican Church in the United States and elsewhere. The principal difference between the two ideologies is one ostensibly holds to the faith of catholic creeds and to a largely biblical view of marriage and human sexuality. Its view of marriage is not entirely biblical as it maintains that marriage is a sacrament, not a state of life allowed in Scripture (Article 25).
The GAFCON Primates may view the Anglo-Catholic ideology of a plurality of ACNA leaders as the lesser of two evils. But this still does not fully explain their continued support of an ecclesial organization in which a large segment of its leadership is opposed to GAFCON’s aims and which is denying official standing to the beliefs and convictions of orthodox Anglicans in that organization who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies. It does not make sense.
One possible explanation that a South American bishop pointed to my attention in regard to a different matter altogether is that bishops tend to listen only to bishops. This particular tendency makes them vulnerable to deception. Primates and bishops from the Global South have given credence to the assurances of American bishops in the past only to discover that these bishops were telling them what they knew was complete false. The same bishops had equivocation and perfidy refined to an art but the primates and bishops from the Global South were taking them at their word rather recognizing them for the brazen liars that they were. The bishops in question had no qualms about telling the primates and bishops from the Global South what they wanted to hear and then returning home and telling their own people something entirely different.
The GAFCON Primates may be looking at the Anglican Church in North America through the filter of their relationships with individual bishops in the ACNA rather than objectively. Instead of looking at the ACNA through such a filter, they need to undertake a thorough investigation of the ACNA particularly its exclusion of orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies. If their fellow primates are unwilling to join them in such an investigation, individual primates may need to undertake it on their own.
The evidence is there to support the contention that this particular group of ACNA leaders is not making even a cosmetic effort to comprehend in the Anglican Church in North America the beliefs and convictions of orthodox Anglicans in the ACNA who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies. Rather they are pursuing a policy of exclusion. This can be seen from the unreformed Catholic doctrine and practices that characterize the ordination, eucharistic, baptismal, and confirmation rites that the College of Bishops has endorsed to date as well as the unreformed Catholic doctrinal views that characterize To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, which the College of Bishops has also endorsed.
While the bishops as a whole may not be at the present time actively preventing individuals with those beliefs and convictions from ministering in the ACNA, what the College of Bishops is doing in the long haul will have this effect. This is not to say that cases in which an ACNA bishop has denied ordination to a candidate or licensure to a member of the clergy on the basis of their holding of these beliefs and convictions are not surfacing from time to time. These cases show that some bishops are taking a more aggressive stance.
Under the provisions of the ACNA canons all clergy and congregations will be required to use the ACNA Prayer Book and conform to its doctrine and liturgical usages once it is formally authorized for use in the ACNA. The ACNA canons do not provide clergy and congregations with any other alternatives. In all likelihood To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism will be incorporated into the final version of the ACNA Prayer Book. Clergy and congregations will face the choice of conforming or finding another denominational home. They will have no other options unless they create them before the formal authorization of the final version of the ACNA Prayer Book.
A second possibility is that the GAFCON Primates realize what is happening in the Anglican Church in North America—that the ACNA is emerging as something other than a model of what GAFCON stands for—and they are too embarrassed by this development to acknowledge it, having played a role in the ACNA’s formation and having recognized the ACNA as “a genuine expression of Anglicanism.” Acknowledging the development means also admitting that they made a mistake in supporting the Common Cause Partnership’s formation of the ACNA and recognizing the new denomination. It also might mean providing liberals with ammunition to use against GAFCON.
A third possible explanation is the GAFCON primates do not feel in a position to criticize developments in the Anglican Church in North America because their own provinces do not fully accept what GAFCON stands for. For example, the Anglican Church of Kenya recognizes only the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as its authoritative doctrinal and worship standard. In its revised catechism the Anglican Church of Kenya describes confirmation as “a ministry by which, through prayer with the laying on hands by the bishop, the Holy Spirit is received to complete what he began in Baptism and to give strength for the Christian service and witness.” It describes ordination as “the ministry in which, through prayer with the laying on of hands, our Lord Jesus Christ gives the grace of the Holy Spirit, and authority, to those who are being made bishops, priests or deacons.” This is essentially the position of The Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church and The Catechism of the Catholic Church except that these documents describe confirmation and ordination as sacraments, not ministries. The Anglican Church of Kenya’s revised catechism goes on to describe absolution and healing in sacramental terms in language very similar to the same documents. It basically teaches all four rites are sacraments without labeling them as sacraments. Its teaching is hardly an affirmation of what the Jerusalem Declaration identifies as a tenet of Anglican orthodoxy, that is, the Thirty-Nine Articles contain the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and are as authoritative for Anglicans today. From the standpoint of the Thirty-Nine Articles such rites are not sacraments and have “developed from a false understanding of apostolic practice.”
All three possibilities may be to a certain extent true. The clergy and congregations whose beliefs and convictions are being denied official standing in the ACNA can draw no comfort from this likelihood. They are being left to face their exclusion from the ACNA alone. If the GAFCON Primates are willing to abandon to exclusion orthodox North American Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies, who else might they turn their backs on?
The Old Testament tells us that the people of Israel, when they put their trust in foreign allies rather than God, they suffered defeat after defeat and eventually were forced into exile. The Old Testament also tells us that when they put their trust in God, they were victorious against overwhelming odds. It further tells us that while God sometimes performed miracles on their behalf, the greatest miracles that he performed were through their own actions when they were at their weakest.
If anything can be learned from what the Old Testament tells us, it is that orthodox North American Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies should not look for outside intervention in response to their plight or passively wait for a miracle but should put their trust in God and act.
Whatever they do should flow out of a desire to please God—to spread the gospel and make disciples. Any enclave that they form within the ACNA or alternative province that they form outside the ACNA should be devoted to these ends. Christ himself has promised to be with those who obey his command to go and make disciples of every nation.
We may never know what is immobilizing the GAFCON Primates and preventing them from intervening on the behalf of orthodox Anglicans in the Anglican Church in North America who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the historic formularies but whose beliefs and convictions are being denied official standing in the ACNA. They simply may not regard it as a serious enough problem to merit their attention, which, if true, speaks volumes about their actual commitment to the stated aims of the GAFCON movement.