By Robin G. Jordan
The GAFCON Primates prematurely recognized the Anglican Church in North America as an authentic expression of Anglicanism without waiting for the real theological character of that denomination to emerge. That character has emerged over the past five years and it is far from genuinely Anglican. The ACNA would more accurately be described as an independent Catholic jurisdiction rather than an Anglican one. The ACNA is officially unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and practices as evidenced by its own formularies—its Fundamental Declarations, its Canons, its Ordinal, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book. The doctrine and practices countenanced in these formularies are at odds with the biblical and Reformation principles of authentic historic Anglicanism. The denomination makes no room in its formularies for the doctrinal and liturgical views of confessing Anglicans—orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage.
Primary responsibility for the direction in which the Anglican Church in North America has moved in the past five years lies with the present ACNA leadership—its College of Bishops. Members of that body have spoken against the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement; have assured those who share their doctrinal and liturgical views that the denomination’s Fundamental Declarations, not the Jerusalem Declaration (and by the inference not the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies), would guide and inform the faith and life of the denomination; have blocked efforts to make the denomination more comprehensive; have called for a new Catholic Revival and taken steps to foster a movement toward that end; and have consistently voted in favor of giving a central place to unreformed Catholic doctrine and practices in the denomination’s formularies to the exclusion of genuine historic Anglican thought.
In terms of faithfulness to the Bible, the historic Anglican formularies, and the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage, the bishops of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (the operational name of the Church of England in South Africa) are far more deserving of an invitation to the 2020 Lambeth Conference than are the ACNA bishops. Julian Mann’s recent proposal that the GAFCON Primates leverage an invitation for the ACNA bishops to the 2020 Lambeth Conference by threatening a boycott of the conference if the ACNA bishops are not invited is not only high questionable from a moral and ethical standpoint but it also shows a lack of familiarity on Mann’s part with the present situation in North America. Mann is the vicar of a Church of England parish. Its website describes the Church of England as “a Bible-believing Church in the Reformed tradition.” If Mann’s theological outlook fit with this description of the Church of England, it is incomprehensible to me that he would make such a proposal. Why would he champion the cause of bishops who do not share his theological outlook and who have been fostering a theological climate in their denomination that is inimical to that outlook? It makes no sense.
The recent Primates gathering revealed one very troubling fact. A sizeable number of Primates of the Anglican Communion are not acquainted with developments in the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. That being the case, a strong likelihood exists that they are not familiar with developments in the Anglican Church in North America.
In searching the Internet for articles for Anglicans Ablaze I have repeatedly encountered articles in which opinions have been expressed that show that the leaders and members of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the GAFCON Primates themselves are not well-informed where the ACNA is concerned.
The Anglican Church in North America does have an orthodox Anglican wing of undetermined size, which is faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and stands in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage. This wing, however, does not occupy the place of power in the denomination. Its presence in the ACNA is tolerated—at least for the present time. This wing and the legitimate school of Anglican thought that it represents has no official standing in the denomination. Its position is precarious and its future is uncertain. Under the provisions of the ACNA canons the clergy and congregations forming this wing will be required to use the proposed Prayer Book upon its completion. This includes the ACNA Catechism and the ACNA Ordinal which will be incorporated into the book. If they do not conform to the doctrine and practices in these formularies, they are, under the provisions of the ACNA canons, subject to inhibition and deprivation in the case of the clergy and disaffiliation in the case of the congregations.
The form of governance of the Anglican Church in North America is modeled more on that of a sub-division of the Roman Catholic Church than a province of the Anglican Communion. Its canons incorporate doctrine, governing principles, and language from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. The disciplinary canons ignore longstanding principles of Anglican jurisprudence. Its College of Bishops functions like a conference of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. Its Provincial Assembly has negligible authority and serves a largely cosmetic function.
As one can see, the Anglican Church in North America as a replacement for the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada as the official branch of the Anglican Church on the North American continent falls short in a number of key areas. The ACNA does not represent authentic historic Anglicanism in its doctrine, practices, and its form of governance. It is not genuinely committed to the restoration of the Bible, the historic Anglican formularies and the gospel to the heart of the Anglican Communion.
Until the ACNA provides generous space in its formularies for the doctrine and practices of orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage and adopts and implements other much needed reforms, its bishop should at best be granted the status that is granted to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops at Anglican Communion gatherings—that of observers.
Until the Anglican Church in North America makes these necessary changes, what the GAFCON Primates can do to further the cause of biblical Anglicanism in North America is to support the formation of a convocation of Anglican churches in the United States and Canada that brings together into a single organization orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage—those in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as well as in the Anglican Church in North America and those outside these ecclesial bodies. The banner of biblical Anglicanism should not be allowed to fall to the ground. Confessing Anglicans in North America should not be left bereft of an ecclesial body that genuinely stands for what the Jerusalem Declaration upholds. The formation of such a convocation with the support of the GAFCON Primates would go a long way toward restoring their credibility as the champions of Biblical Christianity and authentic historic Anglicanism.