Monday, November 30, 2015

For the Sake of the Gospel

By Robin G. Jordan

Clergy and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and standing in the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church have reached a critical juncture. The decisions that they make over the coming months will impact the cause of the gospel in North America as well as determine their own future and the future of biblical Anglicanism in North America.

What the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops is seeking to pass off as “Anglicanism” is in reality a form of unreformed Catholicism, which conflicts with the Protestant Reformed faith of authentic historic Anglicanism. This form of unreformed Catholicism has its origins in the nineteenth century Catholic Revival and the Anglo-Catholic movement and has received fresh impetus from the twentieth century Catholic Resurgence and the Convergence movement. It is antithetical to the Biblical and Reformation theology of classical Anglicanism.

What is involved are not secondary matters—matters of indifference over which Anglicans may agree to disagree—but the gospel itself. The College of Bishops in the teaching and practices that it has mandated or sanctioned to date is imposing upon the Anglican Church in North America a sacramental system at the heart of which is a different gospel from the New Testament gospel. It is a sacramental system that the Anglican Reformers rejected on firm Scriptural grounds in the sixteenth century.

This sacramental system and the false gospel associated with it are inseparable. One comes with the other. There is no way around it. While the leaders of the Anglican Church in North America may subscribe to the creeds, they have in the most critical area of all embraced false teaching and are propagating such teaching.

Their acceptance of the creeds does not mitigate their propagation of a false gospel. It is not something that can be excused or overlooked. It is a very serious matter.

How can the Anglican Church in North America be hailed as a Biblically faithful orthodox Anglican alternative to the Anglican Church in Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States when in fact it is not? Doctrinally and liturgically it does not make the grade. Until it does, it should not be recognized even as an Anglican province in formation, much less that its leaders should be given a seat in Anglican councils.

If we are honest with ourselves, North America right now has no jurisdiction that is Biblically faithful, theologically orthodox, fully Anglican, and mission-oriented. There are clergy and congregations that, if they were brought together into a single organization, would meet these requirements. The challenge is bringing them together into such an organization.

As long as they are comfortable in their present situation, experiencing no difficulty or uncertainty, they have little motivation to form a new jurisdiction or any other kind of ecclesial organization.

I suspect that what they are presently experiencing is the lull before the storm. Right now they have breathing space.

They are inclined to think the way that things are now will be the way things will always be. They have not given a lot of thought to the ramifications of final authorization of the Anglican Church in North America’s proposed Prayer Book and how it will impact the jurisdiction, their diocese or network, and themselves.

Being comfortable in one’s present situation also tends to encourage complacency and a false sense of security. When harmful changes are introduced at a slow enough pace so as not to disturb the equilibrium of a local church, it is more likely to come to terms with these changes than it is to resist them.

These dynamics make this stage in the life of the Anglican Church in North America and the local churches in that jurisdiction a particular dangerous one. I believe that it is a serious mistake to underestimate the harmful effects of present developments in the ACNA upon the jurisdiction and the local church. It is not a time to let down one’s guard.  

What makes this stage even more dangerous is the tendency to dismiss as alarmists those who draw attention to the implications of what is happening and to listen to those who down play its seriousness. This proclivity is essentially a defense against the anxiety and discomfort that such warnings may cause.

The final authorization of the proposed Prayer Book will be the game changer. The breathing space will disappear. Clergy and congregations will no longer be able to enjoy the doctrinal and liturgical latitude that enjoyed before its adoption. The canons require conformity to its doctrine, which includes the doctrine of the jurisdiction’s catechism. The canons do not provide any wiggle room.

I do not recommend that clergy and congregations in the Anglican Church in North America who are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and stand in the Anglican Church's Reformation heritage wait until they reach such a tipping point to organize. The advantages of organizing far outweigh the disadvantages. Banding together with other Anglicans with whom they share a doctrinal and liturgical affinity will transform this wing of the Anglican Church in North America. It will open their eyes to the possibilities for the future of authentic historic Anglicanism in North America.

The Catholic Revivalist wing of the Anglican Church in North America, I anticipate, will seek to discourage the organization of the jurisdiction’s Confessing Anglican wing. While it is leaderless and disorganized, it represents no threat to the Catholic Revivalist hegemony in the jurisdiction. The Catholic Revivalist wing has to date shown no inclination to make a bona fide effort to accommodate or comprehend genuine Anglican thought and practice in the jurisdiction. This is clearly evident from the jurisdiction’s governing documents, its ordinal, its catechism, and its proposed rites and services.

The Anglican Church in North America’s Catholic Revivalist wing cannot be expected to welcome the emergence of a major nexus of biblical Anglicanism in the jurisdiction.  It is willing to tolerate the presence of confessional Anglicanism in the jurisdiction as long as its influence is weak and its adherents are dispersed throughout the several dioceses of the jurisdiction.  At this stage the activists in Catholic Revivalist wing are content to create an environment in which biblical Anglicanism and its adherents will have little likelihood of flourishing, anticipating the eventual disappearance of confessional Anglicanism and its adherents from the jurisdiction. The unreformed Catholic teaching and practices mandated or sanctioned in the jurisdiction’s Ordinal, Catechism, and proposed Prayer Book are not accidental.

Biblically faithful, orthodox Anglicans cannot hope to survive, much less flourish in their present disorganized state. While they are likely to face opposition to their organizing, banding together is not just essential to their survival and the survival of confessional Anglicanism but most importantly it is necessary to safeguard the truth of the gospel.  

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