The founders of the Free Church of England must be turning in their graves. While searching the Internet for the Christmas messages of the leaders of various Anglican entities around the world, I visited the Latest News page of the FCE website. Here is what I learned:
In October of this year the FCE Bishop Primus, its lead bishop, met with representatives of the Traditional Anglican Communion for talks. The Bishop of the TAC in Britain and the FCE Bishop Primus signed “a letter of intent to work toward closer unity.”
What is not mentioned in the Latest News entry is that the Traditional Anglican Communion is an Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican entity. Among the documents that the TAC website identifies as significant to the Continuing Anglican Movement and by implication to the Traditional Anglican Communion are Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Tract 90, in which Newman claimed the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were not inconsistent with the dogmas of the Council of Trent.
The Traditional Anglican Communion in its Concordat of 1990 states:
“3.3. We affirm as integral to the history and essential to the formation of this Communion all of the doctrinal, moral and other theological principles set out in the Declaration of loyal Anglicans gathered in the Congress of St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America in the year 1977, generally known as The Affirmation of St. Louis.”
For those unfamiliar with The Affirmation of St. Louis it is a statement of principles adopted by the “Catholic Revivalist” or “ultra-Anglo-Catholic” wing of the Continuing Anglican Movement in North America. Among the principles of doctrine laid out in this statement is this principle related to tradition.
“The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by "the ancient catholic bishops and doctors," and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.”
“If [one], following the C of E Canon, carefully reads the Thirty-Nine Articles, one will get a full and clear statement of the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures for instructing us in the way of salvation and godliness. One will also learn what are the Catholic Creeds and why they are accepted in the Church in relation to the Bible. And the same goes for the two Dominical Sacraments. (See also the Catechism in the BCP)
At the same time one will learn that Councils may err and so one will not accept automatically the teaching of “the Seven Ecumenical Councils.” And this is especially important with regard to the seventh, the Second Council of Nicea, whose teaching on the veneration of icons is effectively rejected by the Articles and specifically by the Book of Homilies to which Article XXXV points. The historic Anglican Way has always affirmed four general councils and stopped at that – leaving to the area of discretion by local churches whether to affirm more. (In this regard The Affirmation of St Louis set forth by Anglo-Catholic Continuers in 1977 went way past any previous official, provincial or Lambeth Conference Anglican statement in relation to the Councils by making 7 councils and their teaching mandatory – a big mistake.)
The original proposed “Theological Statement of the Common Cause Partners” came very close to the position of The Affirmation of St. Louis on the “Seven Ecumenical Councils,” an early indicator of the Catholic Revivalist leanings of those who drew up that statement:
“We believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times.”
If I recollect rightly REC Bishop Ray Sutton, now Dean of the Anglican Church in North America, claimed to have authored the statement.
In relation to the sacraments The Affirmation of St. Louis lays out this principle:
“The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance and Unction of the Sick, as objective and effective signs of the continued presence and saving activity of Christ our Lord among His people and as His covenanted means for conveying His grace. In particular, we affirm the necessity of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (where they may be had) -- Baptism as incorporating us into Christ (with its completion in Confirmation as the "seal of the Holy Spirit"), and the Eucharist as the sacrifice which unites us to the all-sufficient Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and the Sacrament in which He feeds us with His Body and Blood.”
Both principles are clearly at odds with the “Protestant and Evangelical principles” based upon the Holy Scriptures and set out in the FCE Articles of Religion and the 1956 FCE Prayer Book and Ordinal.
Earlier in the year, in July, the FCE Bishop Primus held meetings with ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach and ACNA Bishop Bill Atwood at the International Congress of Catholic Anglicans—an Anglo-Catholic gathering, held at Fort Worth, Texas. The FCE Bishop Primus had previously met with ACNA Archbishop Beach and REC Presiding Bishop Royal Grote in April. Among the areas in which the Latest News entry reported the possibility of future collaboration is “the formalising of a canonical relationship between the Free Church of England and the Anglican Church in North America.”
Even before its formal establishment in 2009, in its Common Cause Partnership stage of development, the Anglican Church in North America showed evidence of unreformed Catholic leanings. These leanings have become more evident since that time. In my article, “Archbishop Wabukala Dodges the Problem of the Anglican Church in North America,” I briefly describe the present state of affairs in the ACNA:
“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 Anglican Church in North America requires any entity seeking to become a "ministry partner" with it to unreservedly subscribe to its fundamental declarations (Canon I.7.1). This includes its weak position on the historic Anglican formularies and its Anglo-Catholic position on the episcopate.
A careful examination of the Free Church of England Wikipedia article shows the influence of the revisionists in the Reformed Episcopal Church. The article includes this spurious claim: “The founding bishop of the REC, George David Cummins, had been strongly influenced by William Augustus Muhlenberg, who advocated 'Evangelical Catholicism' as a means of combining the best of both the Evangelical and Catholic traditions.”
Cummins and Muhlenberg were poles apart in their doctrinal and liturgical views. Cummins was a conservative Evangelical who left the Protestant Episcopal Church due to the growing influence of the Catholic Revivalist movement in that church and its spread of unreformed Catholic teaching and practices. Cummins was a strong opponent of the Ritualist movement. Muhlenberg held views similar to those of the Catholic Revivalist leader Edward Bouvrie Pusey. He also was an early proponent of the Social Gospel. Muhlenberg is described as “the father of the Ritualist movement in the Protestant Episcopal Church.”
The revisionist leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church have been promoting the false idea that Cummins was a disciple of Muhlenberg in order to justify their own Catholic Revivalist - Ritualist leanings, arguing that these leanings are consistent with what they claim were Cummins’ views. They have also reinterpreted the REC Declaration of Principles to make it appear to support these leanings. They have introduced into the REC the PECUSA’s 1928 Prayer Book which is far more unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and practices than the 1789 Prayer Book. One of the reasons that Cummins and conservative Evangelicals like him left the PECUSA was that 1798 Prayer Book was, to their minds, incipiently Roman Catholic in its doctrine and practices, containing what they described as "Romanizing germs." .
To those who are unfamiliar with the present state of affairs in the Reformed Episcopal Church, I recommend that they read my article, “Changes in the Doctrine and Worship of the Reformed Episcopal Church.” The REC under its present revisionist leaders has undergone a dramatic shift in doctrine and practices.
Clergy and congregations seeking to affiliate with an ecclesial entity that upholds the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the founders of the Free Church of England and the Reformed Episcopal Church should look elsewhere than the modern-day FCE and REC. The two entities are on the same trajectory—straight into the arms of what the Preface to the 1956 FCE Prayer Book describes as the “Sacerdotal and Romanizing Party.” The two entities are playing with fire and any member of the clergy or congregation that adheres to these principles and affiliates with either of them is going to get burned.