Saturday, January 16, 2016

North American Anglicans Need a Third Choice

One of the favorite adages of a friend of mine is, “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” He often quotes this adage when he compares the Anglican Church in North America with the Episcopal Church in the USA. The ACNA broke away from the Episcopal Church in the opening decade of the twenty-first century over the growing liberalism of the denomination and its consecration as the Bishop of New Hampshire a man who had divorced his wife to pursue a homosexual relationship with another man. 

While the Anglican Church in North America may be more conservative than the Episcopal Church, both denominations share the same DNA. The Anglican Church in North America is an offshoot of the Episcopal Church and the two denominations share a common history up until the time that the clergy and congregations which formed the ACNA broke with the Episcopal Church. Among the fundamental and distinctive characteristics that the two denominations share is that they both depart from the Bible, the historic Anglican Way, and what Anglican theologian J. I. Packer describes as the “Prayer Book Path.”

True, the two denominations go in different directions but they both stray far from foundational Anglican beliefs which are rooted in the Bible, the English Reformation, and the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement and articulated in the historic Anglican formularies and the writings of the Edwardian Reformers and the Elizabethan divines.

Both denominations do not fully accept the Bible as their “canon, or guiding rule of faith and life.” While the Episcopal Church’s departures from the teaching of the Holy Scriptures are more pronounced, the Anglican Church in North America also departs from their teaching in key areas.

The Anglican Church in North America as an offshoot of the Episcopal Church retains its attitude toward the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, historic Anglicanism’s confession of faith. Both denominations view the Articles as a relic of the past. Both denominations maintain the position that the Anglican Church is not a confessional church. The Episcopal Church relegates the Articles to the historic documents section of its Prayer Book. The Anglican Church in North America equivocates in its acceptance of the authority of the Articles in its Fundamental Declarations and Canons, using language that essentially gives its clergy freedom to misinterpret the Articles or to ignore them. The ACNA in its Catechism and in its proposed Prayer Book presently in preparation does just that—misinterprets the Articles or ignores them. Both denominations treat their Catechism and Prayer Book as their standard of faith and worship. Both denominations take the view that Anglicans have moved on since the sixteenth century and the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Articles are no longer relevant for today.

Both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America look to the partially-reformed 1549 Prayer Book and pre-Reformation service books and unreformed Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic liturgies for models for the rites and services in their respective Prayer Books. Both give little heed to the doctrine and liturgical usages of the Restoration 1662 Prayer Book and the reformed 1552 Prayer Book on which it is based. They may employ textual material from these books to give their own service books a superficial family resemblance to them. However, this textual material is used in their service books in a way that is different from the way it used in the Prayer Books from which it is taken and expresses doctrine that is not agreement with the doctrine of these books.

Both denominations subscribe to the doctrine of the Real Presence, that is,  a localized presence of Christ in or with  the consecrated elements in the Eucharist. Both denominations have adopted Eucharistic Prayers which ask the Holy Spirit to act upon the bread and wine, implying that the Eucharistic Prayer “by the action of the Holy Spirit effects a change in the bread and wine.” Both insert various devotions after the Eucharistic Prayer, separating the Words of Institution from the act of receiving, and inferring Christ is present in or with the consecrated elements. Both have also adopted Communion Rites and Post-Communion Prayers that contain language which is expressive of the doctrine of the Real Presence.

The two forms of Holy Communion endorsed by the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops contain liturgical elements which give expression to the pre-Reformation and Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion condemn this doctrine as "repugnant to the plain words of Scripture," overthrowing the nature of a sacrament, and causing “many superstitions.”

The Declaration on Kneeling in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer maintains that the bread and wine undergo no change in substance at the time of consecration and Christ is not substantively present in the consecrated elements.

The 1662 Communion Service is substantially the 1552 Communion Service. Archbishop Cranmer compiled the 1552 Prayer Book and was the principal framer of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. His mature thinking on the Eucharist must be considered in understanding the eucharistic doctrine not only of the 1662 Prayer Book but also of the Articles. (The Articles provide the doctrinal standard by which the Prayer Book must be interpreted.) Cranmer held that Christ is not present in any way in or with the consecrated elements but is spiritually present in the heart of the believer. This view of the Eucharist was held by the benchmark Elizabethan divine Richard Hooker and by the Carolinian High Churchmen who revised the Prayer Book at the Restoration. Cranmer held that the communicant receives the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, not through the elements themselves but through the actions of the Lord’s Supper, and the means by which the communicant appropriates these benefits is faith.

The Episcopal Church adopted in the 1979 revision of its Prayer Book, in its Eucharistic Prayers and its Catechism, what is called the Lambeth doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, that is, the Eucharist is a participation in the ongoing sacrificial activity of Christ. As J. I. Packer and Roger Beckwith show in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, this doctrine is not consistent with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures or the principles of doctrine laid out in the Articles.

While containing material expressive of the Lambeth doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, the eucharistic rites of the Anglican Church in North America embody the pre-Reformation and Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. Canon  899 §1 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law summarizes this doctrine:
The eucharistic celebration is the action of Christ himself and the Church. In it, Christ the Lord, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself, substantially present under the species of bread and wine, to God the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with his offering.
The Eucharistic Prayers in the Anglican Church in North America’s forms of the Holy Communion follow the order of the Roman Canon. They include the offering of the consecrated elements to God. The Communion Rite also contains elements taken from the Roman Rite and expressive of this doctrine.

Article 31 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion condemns the pre-Reformation and Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice as a blasphemous fable and a dangerous deceit.

The Episcopal Church in its Catechism refers to Confirmation, Absolution, Ordination, Matrimony, and Unction as “sacramental rites.” The Anglican Church in North America in its Catechism goes a step further and, like the Roman Catholic Church in its Code of Canon Law and Catechism, refers to these practices as “sacraments of the Church.”

The historic Anglican formularies, including the two Books of Homilies, recognize only two sacraments--Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They do not recognize these practices as  "sacramental ministries," sacramental rites, or sacraments of the Church.  Article 25 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion describes these practices as having "in part developed from a false understanding of apostolic practice" and in part representing "states of life allowed in the Scriptures."   

Both denominations have changed the Preface to the Ordinal so that it admits only one interpretation—an interpretation that is not consistent with the views of Archbishop Cranmer who drafted the Preface. Cranmer believed that the only difference between presbyters and bishops is the functions of their respective offices. They belong to the same order.

Both denominations have adopted Roman Catholic ordination practices that the English Reformers rejected on firm scriptural grounds in the sixteenth century. The Anglican Church in North America has gone a step further than the Episcopal Church and, like the Roman Catholic Church, mandates that the newly-ordained priest should be presented with a chalice as a part of his ordination. The ACNA also sanctions the prostration of the ordinand before the altar as an alternative to kneeling and the anointing of the hands of the newly-ordained priest and the forehead of the newly-consecrated bishop with blessed oil. All four practices are associated with the Roman Catholic doctrines of apostolic succession, ordination, eucharistic presence, and eucharistic sacrifice.

In the Episcopal Church we see one extreme. In the Anglican Church in North America we are witnessing the emergence of another extreme. In neither denomination do we find a strong commitment to the Biblical and Reformation principles of the Anglican Church at the denominational level. Neither denomination is ruled by the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies.

The state of the Anglican Church in the United States can be traced to the peculiar history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA–its early rejection of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, its adoption of a Prayer Book influenced by the High Church principles of the Scottish Usager Non-Jurors, and its openness to doctrine and practices that deviate from those of historic Anglicanism. Indeed, it may be described as an aberrant tradition in the Anglican Church, a tradition that from its very outset has exhibited the proclivity to diverge from historic Anglicanism, and which has since the late nineteenth century lacked a conservative evangelical wing standing in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage to act as a check and counterbalance to this tendency.

Both denominations contain an undetermined number of orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and seeking to maintain a genuine Anglican witness to the gospel by their presence in the denomination despite a theological environment decidedly unsympathetic if not openly hostile to their beliefs. In both denominations a group whose ideology has been identified as a major challenge to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies in the Anglican Church  occupies the place of power in the denomination and is entrenching its own views and excluding those who do not agree with them.  

In all likelihood the Episcopal Church at its next General Convention will not retreat from its policy of radical inclusivism and return to a Biblical view of marriage and human sexuality. With equal likelihood the Anglican Church in North America will continue in its present direction away from historic Anglicanism. Where does that leave confessing Anglicans in these two denominations?

Isn't it time that an Anglican jurisdiction which is faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and which stands in the Anglican Church's Reformation heritage is established in North America? 

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