Thursday, November 19, 2015

North American Anglicans on the Endangered Species List

By Robin G. Jordan

Catholic Revivalism takes two forms in the Anglican Church in North America—Anglo-Catholicism and convergence theology. Anglo-Catholicism has its roots in the Oxford Movement and the nineteenth century Catholic Revival in the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. Convergence theology is the beliefs and thinking connected with the convergence movement, a movement that was an outgrowth of the charismatic, ecumenical, and liturgical movements in the second half of the twentieth century. It led to what may be described as a Catholic Revival in a number of charismatic and evangelical denominations.

Among the developments that have characterized the convergence movement is an increasing openness to and acceptance of not just unreformed Catholic practices but also unreformed Catholic teaching. This is the most evident in the convergence denominations that were an offshoot of the convergence movement. What began as a a penchant for liturgy among evangelicals and charismatics in non-liturgical denominations would morph into a form of Catholic Revivalism.

What the convergence movement describes as a blending together or merging of “three major streams of thought and practice” was in actuality a shift away from Protestantism in the direction of unreformed Catholicism. It was claimed that the integration of these three streams was needed for the church “to be truly catholic in its faith and practice.” It was further claimed that the convergence movement was a work of the Holy Spirit. These claims and similar arguments were used to justify and rationalize this shift in theological outlook.

What was a watershed moment in this transition was the formation of the Charismatic Episcopal Church in the early 1990s. Its leaders would adopt an unreformed Catholic view of apostolic succession as a particular succession of bishops and seek re-ordination.  While the newly-formed denomination initially used the Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer, its liturgy increasingly began to resemble the liturgy from the Roman Missal.

The Charismatic Episcopal Church was not the first convergence denomination to embrace an unreformed Catholic view of apostolic succession. In the late 1980s a large segment of the Evangelical Orthodox Church would join the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America for this reason.

Both forms of Catholic Revivalism share a negative view of the Reformation and a common vision of the Church reconstructed upon the model of the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middle Ages – before the East-West Schism in the eleventh century. Both are openly at variance with authentic historic Anglicanism.

The adherents of these two forms of Catholic Revivalism evidence a similar approach to the Bible. They display a tendency to inject their own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever they want.

The adherents of these two forms of Catholic Revivalism promote their respective movements as movements of spiritual renewal. They seek to replace genuine Anglicanism with their own reinterpretation of the tradition.

The College of Bishops, the real nexus of power in the Anglican Church in North America, is dominated by adherents of these two forms of Catholic Revivalism. This has been evident in the actions of the College of Bishops to date.

Adherents of convergence theology in the Anglican Church in North America are far less homogeneous in their thinking and practice than adherents of Anglo-Catholicism. With the ACNA Catechism and the ACNA Prayer Book the College of Bishops are creating the kind of the environment in the Anglican Church in North America that will reduce the diversity in that wing of the denomination, resulting in greater homogeneity in thinking and practice.

Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and stand in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage are not the only endangered species in the Anglican Church in North America. Adherents of convergence theology who also identify themselves as charismatic or evangelical will have difficulty in maintaining that identity. The latitude of thought and practice that they presently enjoy will disappear.

They, like the first group of Anglicans, need to recognize that those occupying the place of power in the Anglican Church in North America are set upon forcing the jurisdiction into a particular mold. They too need to take steps to keep themselves from being pushed into extinction. 

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