Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Anglican Church in North America: A Jurisdiction with Its Own Share of Problems

By Robin G. Jordan

As we saw in yesterday’s article, the two forms of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer are unreformed Catholic in their eucharistic doctrine. Despite the retention of the phrase “…may be partakers in his most precious Body and Blood…” and the muted language associated with the oblation of the consecrated bread and wine in the Eucharist Prayer in the Long Form, the rite is clearly open to interpretation as teaching that in the Eucharist, “Christ.., through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering” [Canon 899 §1, Code of Canon Law] This particular doctrine is what the Thirty-Nine Articles refers to as the doctrine of “transubstantiation” and the doctrine of “the sacrifice of the Masses,” doctrines which are rejected by 1662 Book of Common Prayer, as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles.

The eucharistic doctrine of the two forms of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer is not the only evidence that the College of Bishops espouses the Roman Catholic sacramental system. To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, which the College of Bishops unanimously endorsed, teaches that absolution, confirmation, matrimony, anointing of the sick, and ordination are sacraments as well as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While the first Prayer for the Confirmands at the conclusion of the 1928 Prayer Book’s Offices of Instruction infers that the Holy Spirit is given at confirmation, its Order of Confirmation contains a reading from Luke 8,  and its Office for the Visitation of the Sick refers to “the ministry of healing through anointing or laying on of hands,” the 1928 Prayer Book does not claim that these rites are sacraments. The 1979 Prayer Book’s Outline of the Faith refers to absolution, confirmation, matrimony, anointing of the sick, and ordination as “sacramental rites.” To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism, however, adopts the language of the Roman Catholic Church's  Code of Canon Law and Catechism of the Catholic Church and refers to them as “sacraments of the Church.”

What we see happening in the Anglican Church in North America is a continuation of the divergence from the Biblical and Reformation principles of doctrine and worship laid down in the Anglican formularies, which began in the Episcopal Church. The two movements that contributed to this divergence in the nineteenth century were the Anglo-Catholic and Broad Church Movements. Beginning in the late 1800s and picking up pace in the post World War I era, this divergence would move progressively in the direction of modernism and theological liberalism. It is evident in the 1928 Prayer Book and 1979 Prayer Book but would be the most pronounced in the supplemental liturgical material that the Episcopal Church would produce. It should be noted that the movement toward modernism and theological liberalism was manifested in both the Anglo-Catholic and Broad Church Movements. It was not confined to one movement. From the 1980s on modernism and theological liberalism would become the dominant ideologies in the Episcopal Church, eclipsing Anglo-Catholicism which had at one time been the dominant ideology. 

The Episcopal Church has not had an evangelical wing since the late nineteenth century. Evangelicalism would enjoy a brief revival in the late 1960s and early 1970s only to be overshadowed by the charismatic renewal movement. It would have no influence upon the 1979 Prayer Book. The principal influences discernible in the 1979 Prayer Book are the Anglo-Catholic Movement, the ecumenical movement, the liturgical movement, and modernism and theological liberalism.

What we are observing in the Anglican Church in North America is the continuation of the movement toward unreformed Catholicism, which the ascendancy of modern and theological liberalism interrupted in the Episcopal Church. Behind this movement is not only the Anglo-Catholic Movement with its roots in nineteenth century Tractarianism and ritualism but also the Convergence Movement, also known as the Ancient-Future Movement or Worship Renewal Movement, an offshoot of the charismatic renewal and Third Wave movements. Both movements idealize the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middle Ages before the East-West Schism, which in their estimation was a golden age of Christianity. Both movements seek to reshape the Anglican Church along the lines of that Church. Both movements take a negative view of the English Reformation, the Elizabethan Settlement, and the Biblical and Reformation doctrinal and worship principles of authentic historic Anglicanism laid out in the Anglican formularies.

Complicating the matter is that a segment of the Anglican Church in North America do not want to accept the fact that the College of Bishops in endorsing Texts for Common Prayer, including its most recent additions, and To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism are embracing teaching and practices that deviate significantly from those of authentic historic Anglicanism. This may be attributed in part to their failure to recognize these deviations for what they are. They have been encouraged to believe revisionist redefinitions of Anglicanism and to go along with ever widening deviations from the Anglican formularies--historic Anglicanism’s standard of doctrine and worship.

While the clergy of the Episcopal Church were not bound to conform to the doctrine of its revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the doctrine of that revision did not figure greatly in the teaching of the Episcopal Church, Anglo-Catholics and Broad Churchmen would work together early in the twentieth century to have the Thirty-Nine Articles removed from the American Prayer Book. This movement would lose its impetus with the adoption of the 1928 Prayer Book. As E. Clowe Chorley points out in The New American Prayer Book, published a year after its adoption, the 1928 Prayer Book introduced a number of “radical changes” in the American Prayer Book. It was not the “gentle revision” that the late Peter Toon described it. These changes, while favored by Anglo-Catholics and Broad-Churchmen, would provoke a negative reaction from Low Church Episcopalians, but this reaction would not reach the proportions of the negative reaction to 1979 Prayer Book. With the 1979 Prayer Book the Thirty-Nine Articles were relegated to the historic documents section of the American Prayer Book as a relic of the past, epitomizing what had become the attitude of American Episcopalians toward this important Anglican formulary.

This attitude toward historic Anglican’s confession of faith has been carried over into the Anglican Church in North America. It is reflected in the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church in North America, which equivocate in their acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles as a major part of the jurisdiction’s doctrinal and worship standard. They also dilute the authority of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, reducing it to one of a number of standards to which the jurisdiction looks for guidance. The Common Cause Partnership from whose Theological Statement the fundamental declarations were taken was composed for a large part of former Episcopalians.

The College of Bishops’ endorsement of unreformed Catholic teaching and practices clearly shows that the Anglican formularies have negligible influence upon the decisions of that body. The bishops’ approval of such teaching and practices points to the precariousness of the position of the segment of the Anglican Church in North America who recognize Anglicanism for what it is—a form of Protestantism, and who full accept the Bible as their functioning rule of faith and life and the Anglican formularies as their standard of doctrine and worship. The Biblical and Reformation beliefs and convictions of this segment of the Anglican Church in North America has not official standing in the jurisdiction. It also raises questions about the bishops’ acceptance of the Bible’s authority as the Anglican formularies derive their authority from the Bible.

What we have here are legitimate concerns that should not be dismissed out of hand simply because they do not fit with how one segment of the Anglican Church in North America chooses to perceive the jurisdiction and show that the jurisdiction is not the great improvement over the Episcopal Church as they would like to see it. The Anglican Church in North America has its own share of problems, a number of which are quite serious. At the same time those who are in a position to correct these problems exhibit very little motivation to do so. Indeed their lack of motivation is one of the more serious of the problems. Rather than denying the existence of these problems, their nature, their extent, and their seriousness, Anglicans in and outside the jurisdiction who are genuinely committed to the teaching of the Bible and to Biblical and Reformation doctrinal and worship principles of the Anglican formularies should be working together to develop and implement solutions to these problems.

I for one do not want to see the Anglican Church in North America become another independent Catholic jurisdiction masquerading as a Continuing Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in North America is presently headed in that direction. The twenty-first century North American mission field needs the ministry and witness of a genuinely Anglican Church committed to the Great Commission, the Bible, and the Anglican formularies and working alongside other evangelical denominations and church networks to reach and engage the unreached and unengaged segments of the population. 

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