Monday, August 24, 2015

The Anglican Church in North America: Shaped for Mission in the Twenty-First Century?

By Robin G. Jordan

In writing articles about the Anglican Church in North America, I have set for myself four tasks:

1. Dispel common misperceptions of the Anglican Church in North America particularly in regard to the character of the denomination, its adherence to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies;  its acceptance of the tenets of orthodoxy that the Jerusalem Declaration identifies as underpinning Anglican identity; and its commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

2. Draw attention to areas in the Anglican Church in North America in need of reform in particular to such areas as doctrine and practices, form of governance, appointment or election and term of office of bishops, and rites and services; stimulate thinking as to how these areas might be reformed; and advocate specific reforms.

3. Encourage for the purposes of evangelizing North America and furthering authentic historic Anglicanism in North America the formal and informal networking of orthodox Anglican clergy and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America, who fully accept the Bible as their rule of faith and life and the Anglican formularies as their standard of doctrine and worship.

4. Promote the establishment of an ecclesiastical province that is either an autonomous part of the Anglican Church in North America or independent of that denomination, which embodies the Protestant, reformed, and evangelical character of authentic historic Anglicanism, which holds to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies, is committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and has its own declaration of principles, governing documents, general synod, standing committee, moderator, bishops, Prayer Book, and catechism.

The outcome that I hope to see is a flourishing network of churches that is biblically faithful and genuinely Anglican, which is expanding throughout North America, which is not hampered by conventional thinking about the local church and its ministry and witness, and which is reaching and engaging the unreached and unengaged in all segments of the North American population—in the inner city, small towns, and rural areas as well as urban areas and the suburbs.

A denomination cannot hope to reach and engage the unchurched population of Canada and the United States if it is wed to solely one model of the local church. The late twentieth century model of the local church found in the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in North America and the Episcopal Church and centered upon the sacramental ministry of an ordained priest and the weekly celebration of the Eucharist has limited usefulness in the twenty-first century. It is a model that is resource-intensive and is not sustainable in a number of areas of Canada and the United States. It has become an impediment to the advancement of the Gospel in North America. Simpler, more flexible models are needed, models that enable every community and neighborhood to have a thriving Anglican church that gathers around God’s Word on Sunday or whenever it meets.

As long as a denomination clings to this model, its own expansion will be limited by its ability to supply congregations with ordained priests and congregations' ability to pay their stipends. Whether such a model facilitates the spread of the Gospel and the making of disciples is questionable. What it does is cater to a particular form of consumer Christianity in which ambiance and sacramental grace are the two goods that the local church is expected to provide. It damages both the local church and those pastoring it.

This is one of the reasons that I am concerned about the direction in which the College of Bishops is taking the Anglican Church in North America. The theology that the College of Bishops is endorsing is not only inconsistent with the Bible and the Anglican formularies but it also produces a dysfunctional local church. It makes the priest “the focus of local ministry” and encourages a consumer mentality in the people. A similar theology has been a major contributing factor to the decline of North America’s Continuing Anglican Churches North America. 

What is needed is a theology that is grounded in the Bible and shaped for mission and which restores local ministry to the whole church and empowers and mobilizes it in the service of the Gospel. A theology that emphasizes the sacerdotal office and sacramental ministry of the ordained priest is not that theology. Unfortunately it is such a theology that the College of Bishops has endorsed and which underpins the theology of the Anglican Church in North America's catechism and service book.

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