Thursday, October 01, 2015

Let's Not Allow a Visit from Pope Francis to Overshadow the Plight of North American Anglicans

By Robin G. Jordan

One of the reasons that I posted the articles on the papacy and the Reformation was to draw attention to the differences that separate Roman Catholics and Protestants. Similar differences separate those who identify themselves as Anglican but whose theology is largely Roman Catholic and Anglicans who adhere to the Biblical and Reformation doctrines and principles of the Anglican formularies, including the two Books of Homilies.

Contrary to what Wikipedia may assert, the theology of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was not a via media between Lutheranism and Calvinism. Based upon his mature thinking Cranmer may be ranked among the sixteenth century Reformed theologians along with Martin Bucer, Henry Bullinger, John Calvin, Peter Vermigli, and Ulrich Zwingli.  While Cranmer consulted the Augsburg Confession in drafting the Forty-Two Articles, he only used wording from the Augsburg Confession where Lutheranism and early Reformed theology agree. It is therefore inaccurate to claim on this basis that Cranmer subscribed to Lutheran views.

Nor is Historic Anglicanism a via media between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism—a view first propounded and later rejected by the Oxford movement leader John Henry Newman. Various Anglo-Catholic writers would subsequently try to read this view back into the works of earlier Anglican theologians like John Jewel and Richard Hooker. However, this view originated with Newman who at the time was trying to reconcile the Protestantism of Historic Anglicanism with his own increasingly Roman Catholic beliefs. Newman would eventually abandon the Church of England and become a Roman Catholic.

The nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic movement as it would come to be known would seek to change the identity of the Anglican Church from Protestant to Roman Catholic. While its original purpose was to bring about the reunification of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church, that movement has in more recent times substituted as its goal the reshaping of the Anglican Church along the lines of the purportedly undivided Church of the early High Middle Ages before the East-West schism, which it views as the golden age of Christianity. While some elements in the contemporary Anglo-Catholic movement lean toward Eastern Orthodoxy, the movement has for a large part a Roman Catholic flavor.

In the twentieth century in the United States the Anglo-Catholic movement formed an alliance with the Broad Church movement. While they were stymied in their attempt to remove the Thirty-Nine Articles from the American Prayer Book, they were successful in introducing a number of far-reaching and radical changes in that Prayer Book. These changes would bring the American Prayer Book closer in its teaching and practices to Roman Catholicism.

In the twenty-first century in the United States the Anglo-Catholic movement has formed a new alliance with what is variously described as the Ancient-Future, Worship Renewal, or Convergence movement.  The result of that alliance to date is the Anglican Church in North America, Texts for Common Prayer, and To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism. The Biblical and Reformation doctrines and principles of the Anglican formularies have been thrust side for teaching and practices barely distinguishable from that of the Roman Catholic Church and to a lesser degree the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Clergy and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America that fully accept the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies occupy a very precarious position in that jurisdiction. While their beliefs and convictions are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, they do not enjoy official standing in the jurisdiction.

In the excitement of a visit from a popular pope, it is not only possible to lose sight of the differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics but also to forget the plight of these Anglicans. They need the support of Anglicans who like them are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies. They also need a separate province of their own—either as a part of the Anglican Church in North America but with its own doctrinal foundation, governing documents, bishops, synodical form of government, Prayer Book, and catechism, or independent of that jurisdiction. As the pressure for consolidation of the Anglican Church in North America into a smaller number of geographically-based dioceses grows, their position will become even more precarious. 

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