By Robin G. Jordan
I thought that it would be helpful to go back over what I wrote in my last article, offer clarification and more detail, and point out further implications. This I believe will give readers a better understanding of what I was driving at in that article.
If orthodox Anglican clergy and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America are going to fulfill the Great Commission in their generation, they need a Prayer Book that emphasizes the gospel and embodies the Biblical, Reformation, and revivalistic doctrine of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. They also need a Catechism, or outline of the faith, which also incorporates this doctrine. Since the rites and services and the catechism produced in the Anglican Church in North American over the past five years do not meet this critical requirement, they must band together and compile their own Prayer Book and Catechism.
Through a series of irregular, unconstitutional, and uncanonical actions the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops has in effect nullified the contractual agreement underlying the governing documents of the Anglican Church in North America and thereby rendered these governing documents invalid and without force. The nature of this type of contractual agreement, which typically underlies voluntary associations, is that if one or more parties to the agreement fail to abide by its provisions, the agreement itself becomes null and void. None of the other parties are required to abide by its provisions. The next step is usually for the voluntary association to develop a new contractual agreement by which all parties are willing to abide or to disband. Typically the first option involves reorganization and a leadership shakeup. The parties may choose to take other steps.
A major defect of the Anglican Church in North America from the outset has been that the clergy and congregations forming the denomination do not share a common vision of the Church. Anglo-Catholics whose beliefs are largely based upon tradition and orthodox Anglicans whose beliefs are grounded in the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies do not see the Church in the same way. This is one of a number of significant differences between the two groups.
A second major shortcoming of the Anglican Church in North America is that its governing documents—its constitution and its canons—lack clarity and necessary detail. At the Anglican Church in North America’s inaugural Provincial Assembly former Archbishop Robert Duncan touted the two flawed documents as an improvement over the governing documents of the Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church in North America was majoring in the majors, as he put it, and derided those who wanted greater clarity and more detail in the two documents. He compared them with the people of Israel who wanted to return to Egypt.
The Anglican Church in North America’s so-called streamlined governing documents, however, have failed to show that they are really an improvement over those of the Episcopal Church. In reality, the Anglican Church in North America needs to discard its present constitution and canons and start again from scratch.
A third major failing of the Anglican Church in North America is that its College of Bishops under the leadership of former Archbishop Duncan repeatedly violated its constitution and contravened its canons. Duncan himself was particularly flagrant in his violation of the constitution and his contravention of the canons. Rather than taking Duncan to task for his irregular, unconstitutional, and uncanonical actions, the members of the College of Bishops made themselves accomplices and accessories to these actions. Their actions suggested that they, like Duncan, had a low regard for constitutionalism and the rule of law. The College of Bishops repeatedly encroached upon the role of the Anglican Church in North America’s provincial synod, the Provincial Council, which the constitution identifies as the governing body of the denomination and to which it gives authority over all matters of faith, order, and worship, and usurped an increasingly larger part of the Provincial Council’s role.
By its actions the College of Bishops cancelled the contractual agreement that forms the basis of the Anglican Church in North America’s governing documents. It is this agreement that gives effect or force to the constitution and canons. These governing documents have no effect or force of their own other than that which the parties to the agreement give them. If one party chooses to disregard the provisions of the constitution and the canons, they are also ignoring the contractual agreement underpinning these governing documents. If they repeatedly violate the constitution and contravene the canons, they render the agreement null and void. The other parties are under no constraint to abide by its provisions either. They are free to take whatever steps that they consider to be appropriate under the circumstances.
In the case of orthodox Anglicans committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and to adherence to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies , they can band together and compile their own Prayer Book and Catechism. They can also form their own voluntary association for the purposes of mission, credentialing of clergy, and the like. They can establish a united plan of giving for mission and other purposes. This may be the only realistic way forward for them. They can chose to remain a part of the Anglican Church in North America but in a separate organization of their own—a second province. Having formed such an organization, they can choose to withdraw from the Anglican Church in North America and to part company with that denomination if circumstances warrant such a move.
Whatever decision they make, they need to bear in mind two things. The first is that our Lord has an agenda for his Church. It is spreading the gospel, reaching and engaging the lost, discipling them, and enfonlding them into new churches. An influential segment of the College of Bishops has a different agenda. It is to promote “Catholic faith, order, and practice.” The two agendas have different priorities. One is the saving of souls from an eternity of separation from God. The other is maintaining a particular cultus.
The second thing that they need to bear in mind is that the College of Bishops’ infraction of the Anglican Church in North America’s governing documents is not going to stop on its own accord. It is likely to spread to other areas in the life and ministry of the Anglican Church in North America. It is a form of episcopal abuse and episcopal abuse left unchecked tends to expand and grow. A fourth major weakness of the Anglican Church in North America is the lack of any accountability mechanisms affecting the episcopate.
The next step is theirs.