Saturday, October 31, 2015

Looking Beyond the January Primates Meeting

By Robin G. Jordan

As Allen Haley points out on his blog, there are five possible outcomes to the January Primates meeting. The first possible outcome Haley lists is that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada will acknowledge their departure from the teaching of the Bible, admit their error, and agree to bring the their doctrine and practices into line with the Bible’s teaching.

This outcome Haley does not think anyone believes is going to happen. It could happen but it is highly unlikely. He then lists four other possible outcomes, none of which involve a change in the present direction of these two provinces.

The GAFCON and Global Primates who met in Cairo I presume considered all of these possible outcomes before they decided to accept Archbishop Welby’s invitation to the gathering.

I do not view as credible Archbishop Wabukala’s claim that the defense of the Anglican Church in North America and what it represents requires their presence at the meeting. The ACNA is not a particularly sterling example of Anglican orthodoxy and spiritual dynamism to make such a claim. From a theological perspective the ACNA in its official doctrine shows a marked leaning toward unreformed Catholicism of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox varieties.  Despite the seeming appearance of life and vitality in certain segments of the ACNA, the jurisdiction also exhibits characteristics associated with North America’s declining Continuing Anglican Churches.

The survival of the ACNA is not tied to the outcome of January Primates gathering. Other factors beside the outcome of the meeting will determine the success or failure of the ACNA. Some of these factors are external and others, internal. 

I suspect that this group of Primates has other motives for going to the gathering, including motives of which they may not be consciously aware or at least willing to admit to themselves. Among those motives they do not want to bear the blame for the breakup of the Anglican Communion, which blame the liberal provinces would be only too glad to shift away from themselves to the conservative provinces. The outcome of the meeting will also provide the same group of Primates with justification for the next step that they choose to take.

 Haley also comments on the fading of Anglicanism. Its vanishment can be attributed in large part to the influence of three movements—the Anglo-Catholic movement, the liberal movement, and more recently the convergence movement. All three movements have sought to change the identity of the Anglican Church to one consistent with their theological views and therefore more to their liking.

Anglicanism may be compared to an old family photograph displayed on the mantelpiece. Every time you look at the photograph, the more faded the photograph appears and the more indistinct are the faces of the people in the photograph.

The GAFCON movement with the Jerusalem Declaration and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans sought to arrest this process. It called the churches, provinces, and dioceses of the Anglican Communion to return to the touchstone of historic Anglicanism—the Bible and the Anglican formularies. But at the Cairo Global South Primates meeting the GAFCON Primates who attended that meeting further contributed to Anglicanism’ disappearance. They failed to stand up for the confessional nature of Anglicanism. They extended their unqualified support to a jurisdiction that in its formularies is opposed to confessional Anglicanism, taking positions that are not in line with the teaching of the Bible, much less the doctrine of the Anglican formularies.

In his October Pastoral Letter GAFCON Primates Council Chairman Archbishop Wabukala refers to restoring the Bible and the gospel to the heart of the Anglican Communion but makes no mention of the Anglican formularies. Among the four main purposes of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which together with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1662 Ordinal form the longstanding doctrinal and worship standard of historic Anglicanism, is to safeguard the truth of the gospel. This reference constitutes a significant shift in emphasis—a shift away from the GAFCON/GFCA emphasis on the Bible and the Anglican formularies.

It points to a major weakness of the GAFCON position on the Anglican formularies. How many of the Primates who attended the Cairo meeting fully accept the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group maintains in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today that acceptance of their authority is constitutive of Anglican identity. If acceptance of the Articles is the sin qua non of Anglican identity, how many of these Primates are really Anglicans. They may be creedal Christians. They may hold a Biblical view of marriage and human sexuality. But are they fully Anglican? Do they accept the Protestant and Reformed principles of the Anglican Church based on the Holy Scriptures and set out in the Anglican formularies, particularly the Articles?

The actions of these Primates at the Cairo meeting suggests that the answer to these two questions is “no.” They may style themselves as Anglican. When it comes to meeting the essential condition for being Anglican, however, they do not meet that condition.

Neither, it must be pointed out, do their liberal counterparts in the Episcopal Church (USA), the Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Acceptance of the Articles involves more than claiming to believe what they teach. It entails taking active steps to defend and advance the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in them. These steps include discountenancing the teaching and practices of supposedly Anglican ecclesial bodies, which conflict with these principles. They do not include rewarding with a seat on a council of the Anglican Church a Primate whose jurisdiction’s teaching and practices as set out in its formularies are at variance with the very same principles. Indeed they are antithetical to these principles.

Here is the nub of the problem. What real basis is there for fellowship between the various ecclesial bodies styling themselves as Anglican when they do not agree on a wide range of issues including the Anglican formularies? Even conservative “Anglicans” are divided among themselves on a number of these issues. The GAFCON/GFCA solution to this problem was to come up with a common confession to form the basis of fellowship between such bodies. This is a sensibly approach as long as the common confession forms the actual basis of their fellowship. In the case of members of the GFCA the Jerusalem Declaration appears to be less and less the basis of their fellowship. Rather a common position on marriage and human sexuality appears to have taken its place. The GAFCON Primates have shown too greater willingness to make exceptions for the Anglican Church in North America, effectively undermining the basis of that organization’s fellowship. The Jerusalem Declaration’s position on the Thirty-Nine Articles has been greatly damaged and weakened.

Perhaps the time has come for clergy and congregations that fully accept the teaching of the Bible and the doctrinal and worship principles of the Anglican formularies to organize their own communion with the touchstone of historic Anglicanism as the basis of their fellowship. 

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