Monday, December 21, 2015

ACNA and AMiA Take First Step Toward Patching Up: Commentary

By Robin G. Jordan

The leaders of the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission recently held a meeting in Atlanta, Georgia “to take steps toward personal reconciliation.” The meeting concluded with the issuance of a joint statement.

This meeting in all likelihoods heralds the Anglican Church in North America’s eventual absorption of the Anglican Mission along with the PEAR-USA. The absorption of the “Mission” will bolster the number of churches in the ACNA but not substantially. By last report the AMiA has only fifty churches. It will not reverse the ACNA’s movement away from Biblical Anglicanism but will contribute to that movement. The AMiA, like the ACNA, has been strongly influenced by Catholic Revivalist – Convergentist thinking.

In the joint statement the ACNA and AMiA leaders who attended the meeting were very free in their use of the term “Biblical” in their description of the ACNA. By the standards of the Bible itself, the English Reformers, and historic Anglicanism the unreformed Catholic teaching and practices that are mandated or sanctioned in the ACNA’s formularies such as its canons, its ordinal, its catechism, its proposed rites of Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist, and its position statement on Blessed Oils are far from Biblical.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion uses phrases like “contrary to the God’s Word written,”  “ground upon no warranty of Scripture,” “repugnant to the Word of God,” “ repugnant to the plain words of Scripture,” “blasphemous fables,” “dangerous deceits” and the like in relation to such teaching and practices. The Ordinal of 1662 refers to such teaching as “erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word” and enjoins bishops to banish and drive away such teaching and to privately and publicly call upon and encourage others to do the same.

In their joint statement the ACNA and AMiA leaders bandy around such words as “united” and “missional” when the Anglican Church in North America is far from united and missional as it is far from Biblical. For example, the different groups that form the ACNA are not of one mind on the issue of the ordination of women. They are not in agreement over the place of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies in the life of the denomination or the unreformed Catholic teaching and practices mandated or sanctioned in the ACNA’s own formularies.

Only some ACNA churches are reaching and engaging the unchurched population groups in their respective communities. Only some are going out of their way to take the gospel to the lost. Others are doing nothing.

To claim that the Anglican Church in North America is “united,” “Biblical,” and “missional” when it falls short in all three areas is to break the Ninth Commandment and to bear false witness. Bearing false witness includes claiming as true what is untrue or half-true. Such claims are a form of deceit and deceitfulness does not come from God. It is the work of a corrupt human heart. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, not a spirit of deception.

Such claims cannot be justified. It would have been much better to have limited the joint statement to the admission that both organizations had made mistakes, and to the acknowledgment that the two organizations were committing themselves to improving their relationship with each other.

It is unfortunate that whoever drafted the statement could not resist the temptation to turn it into a propaganda piece. By doing so, the drafters of the statement cast a shadow on the meeting, raising questions about its real intent. Was the meeting a serious attempt at personal reconciliation or just a show for the respective organizations and their supporters?

In regards to the Anglican Mission it must be pointed out that the AMiA had drifted considerably from its original commitment to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrinal and worship principles of the historic Anglican formularies at the time of former AMiA Chairman Chuck Murphy’s break with Rwanda and its consequent split into PEAR-USA and the “Mission.” An Anglican Prayer Book published in 2008 and endorsed by AMiA’s then  senior most  bishops contains significant departures from the teaching of the Bible and the principles of the Anglican formularies.

Kevin Francis Donlan, an AMiA priest who served as a special adviser to former Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, drafted a set of new canons for the Anglican Church of Rwanda, which are Roman Catholic in their doctrine and governing principles. This included a section which was modeled on the canons of the Roman Catholic Church defining the relationship of the Pope and a Roman Catholic Archbishop and which gave the AMiA Chairman as Primatial Vicar complete authority over the AMiA in the absence of the Rwandan Primate and made the Primatial Vicar solely accountable to the Rwandan Primate.  The Primatial Vicar's authority included approving the candidates that the Council of Missionary Bishops submitted to the Rwandan House of Bishops for election as bishops of the AMiA. Donlan drew up a new charter for the AMiA based upon the revised Rwandan canons, which Kolini had promoted in the Rwandan House of Bishops as needed in order for the AMiA to amended its charter. Murphy broke with the Anglican Church of Rwanda when its new Archbishop, Onesphore Rawje, requested that Murphy give him an accounting of funds that the AMiA had given directly to various Rwandan individuals and organizations rather than through the Anglican Church of Rwanda. 

Donlan was a part of the American delegation to the first GAFCON Conference, which questioned the confessional nature of Anglicanism. He participated in the GAFCON Resource Group Meetings in Lagos, Oxford, Jerusalem and Uganda in which he championed a number of unreformed Catholic positions.  He had a hand in the drafting of the ACNA canons, which explains in part why they contain a number of provisions adapted from the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. He was also responsible for drafting the AMiA’s most recent governing documents. He is a frequent speaker at FIFNA gatherings and shares its commitment to the promotion of unreformed Catholic faith, order, and practice in the North American Anglican Church.The influence that he has been able to exert in the ACNA and the AMiA is one of a number of factors that cast doubt upon their commitment to Biblical teaching and historic Anglicanism.

Planting new churches and developing new leaders, for which the joint statement commends the AMiA, is meaningless if the new leaders and new churches do not fully accept the Bible as their rule of faith and life, do not wholeheartedly subscribe to the doctrinal and worship principles of the historic Anglican formularies, do not genuinely respect the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church, and do not faithfully share the New Testament gospel. Occupying a central place in the historic Anglican formularies and the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage is the Bible and the gospel. Where a robust commitment to historic Anglican formularies and the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage is found in the Anglican Church, one is also likely to find a robust commitment to Biblical teaching and gospel sharing. They go hand in hand.

The joint statement contains an agreement to say only positive things about each other and each other’s organization. Compliance with this agreement will create a false appearance of unity and is a form of deception. The Bible does not teach that we should speak positively about each other all of the time, ignoring or glozing over each other’s departures from Biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that we should speak the truth in love, always mindful of our own failings and faults and our own need for repentance and the renovating power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Bible calls us to give warning of threatening danger and to turn back from the error of their way those who stray from the truth. We are to admonish and reprove each other as well as to encourage and strengthen each other. It would have been far better if the joint statement had contained an agreement to refrain from unwarranted criticism of each other and each other’s organization and to observe biblical principles and Christian charity in their dealings with each other and each other’s organization.

This meeting is one of a number of recent developments that point to the pressing need for a genuine Biblically faithful, orthodox Anglican alternative to the Anglican Church in North America, as well as to the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. As the ACNA attracts more supposedly Anglican entities that are unreformed Catholic in their leanings, Anglicans who are a part of the ACNA but are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and stand in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage are going to experience greater difficulty in maintaining their theological identity particularly as their beliefs and practices have no official standing in the denomination. Such Anglicans need to act now to form a genuine Biblically faithful, orthodox Anglican province in North America. Not only is their future at stake but so is the truth of the gospel.

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