By Robin G. Jordan
While I concur with Archbishop Wabukala that the Bible needs to be restored to a central place in the life of the Anglican Communion (see “What is at stake in Canterbury -- Eliud Wabukala”), I would add that the Bible also needs to be given a central place in the life of the Anglican Church in North America. As long as the ACNA subscribes to unreformed Catholic teaching and practices, the Bible cannot be said to occupy a central place in its life.
Unreformed Catholicism does not fully accept the Bible as its rule of faith and life, a point J. I. Packer makes in Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. The GAFCON Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future identifies not only liberalism as having undermined the central place of the Bible in the Communion’s life but also Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Catholicism is a form of unreformed Catholicism incorporating post-Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrinal and worship innovations as well as pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic teaching and practices. Its twenty-first century version also incorporates Eastern Orthodox elements.
It is hypocritical to criticize the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada for their departures from the teaching of the Bible while giving unqualified support to a supposedly orthodox Anglican entity that also departs from the teaching of the Bible. As I have pointed out elsewhere, it contributes to doctrinal incoherence that plagues the Anglican Communion. For consistency’s sake Archbishop Wabukala should be leveling criticism at the Anglican Church in North America as well as these two other entities. Otherwise, he loses his credibility as an orthodox Anglican leader.
The departures of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada from the teaching of the Bible are admittedly serious but so are those of the Anglican Church in North America’s. The unbiblical teaching and practices to which the ACNA subscribes prompted the English Reformation, which restored the Bible and the gospel to a central place in the life of the English Church.
The Anglican Church in North America not only subscribes to unbiblical teaching and practices but it also denies official standing to teaching and practices that are consistent with the Bible and the Anglican formularies. Its denial of official standing to such teaching and practices is a form of exclusion, the kind of exclusion that warrants the intervention of the GAFCON Primates and the formation of a new province in North America.
A major weakness of GAFCON and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is their lack of resolve to tackle the kind of problem that the Anglican Church in North America presents. In the case of the ACNA they exhibit a serious blind spot.
The Anglican Church in North America’s affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration is purely rhetorical. It is found in the preamble to the ACNA’s constitution where it is incidental to the account of the ACNA’s formation and is not binding upon the ACNA. In its fundamental declarations the ACNA equivocates in its acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and dilutes the authority of The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal of 1662 to a point where it is negligible. Its other formularies, its canons, its ordinal, its catechism, and its proposed rites and services, show little respect for Anglicanism’s longstanding standard of doctrine and worship. They make no room for the beliefs and practices of Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church. In its form of governance at the provincial level the ACNA resembles a subdivision of the Roman Catholic Church more than a province of the Anglican Communion.
The present state of the Anglican Church in North America should not come as a surprise. Before the first GAFCON Conference the ACNA’s first Archbishop was publically criticizing the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement and calling for a new settlement. The American delegation was the only delegation to the first GAFCON Conference that questioned the confessional nature of historic Anglicanism. A member of that delegation upon returning to the United States publically assured Anglo-Catholics in the Common Cause Partnership that the Jerusalem Declaration would have no effect upon life in the new province in North America. The Anglo-Catholic members of the provisional Provincial Council would oppose any meaningful alterations to the fundamental declarations and in effect would hold the Council hostage with their threat of an Anglo-Catholic withdrawal from the Common Cause Partnership. Anglo-Catholic and philo-Orthodox bishops dominate the ACNA’s College of Bishops. Having occupied the place of power in the ACNA, they have been entrenching their views and making it near impossible for views other than their own to flourish in the ACNA.
Reducing the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to observer status in the councils of the Anglican Communion and replacing these two provinces with the Anglican Church in North America is no solution to the problems that plague the North American Anglican Church. Indeed the ACNA embodies a number of those problems. If the GAFCON Primates are serious about restoring the Bible and the gospel to a central place in the life of the Anglican Communion, they need to take more seriously the task of restoring the historic Anglican formularies to a central place in its life. This includes tackling the failure of the ACNA to give a central place in its life to the historic Anglican formularies and its exclusion from its own formularies of beliefs and practices which are consistent with the Bible, the historic Anglican formularies, and the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage.
To prevent any misunderstanding, I must point out that I am not opposed to the disciplining of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. However, I do not believe that the Anglican Church in North America as it is presently constituted is a suitable candidate as a replacement province.
If the Anglican Church in North America is unwilling to modify its formularies to bring them in line with the historic Anglican formularies and to adopt a synodical form of ecclesiastical governance, the GAFCON Primates and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans should severe their ties with the ACNA and treat it as a rogue province. During the time the ACNA is allotted to make these necessary changes, the ACNA should be reduced to observer status in GAFCON and GFCA gatherings and a moratorium placed on its recognition as an orthodox Anglican province.