Thursday, January 14, 2016

Primates’ Gathering Votes to Suspend Episcopal Church’s Anglican Communion Membership (COMMENTARY)

By Robin G. Jordan

The Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury have, by  two-thirds majority vote, suspended the membership of the Episcopal Church USA in the Anglican Communion. The Primates have given the Episcopal Church three years in which it can decided whether it is going to return to the teaching of the Bible on marriage and human sexuality and remain in fellowship with the other member provinces of the Anglican Communion. This vote occurred after the Primate of Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, walked out of the gathering in protest of the failure of the gathering to move swiftly to discipline the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Archbishop Ntagali’s explanation of his reasons for leaving the gathering may be found here. For further details, see Christian Today’s Mark Woods’ article, “Primates Meeting suspends US Episcopal Church over same-sex marriage policy,” and Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter’s article, The FAQs: Anglican Communion ‘Suspends’ Episcopal Church.” The Primates' Statement may be found here.

The call for the formal recognition of the Anglican Church in North America by the See of Canterbury has followed quickly on the heels of the news of the Primates’ vote. One encounters on the Internet the argument that such recognition is a natural progression in the light of Archbishop Foley Beach’s participation in the gathering and the Primates' vote.

It would, however, be premature for the Archbishop of Canterbury to extend formal recognition to the Anglican Church in North America until the expiration of the three year suspension and the outcome of the 2018 General Convention. The natural progression is to extend such recognition to the ACNA only if the Episcopal Church's General Convention refuses to change the jurisdiction's position on marriage and human sexuality and a subsequent gathering of the Anglican Communion’s Primates vote to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion and then after a careful review to determine whether the ACNA itself is fully and genuinely Anglican, not only in its doctrine and practices but also its form of governance.

One of my concerns is that in the excitement following this historic vote and the increased possibility of the eventual formal recognition of the Anglican Church in North America by the See of Canterbury, orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church will lose sight of their precarious position in the ACNA. They and the legitimate school of Anglican thought that they represent have no official standing in the ACNA. The ACNA has taken no steps to date toward comprehending their views in its formularies (e.g., fundamental declarations, canons, catechism, proposed prayer book, etc.). Rather the Anglo-Catholic and philo-Orthodox bishops that dominate the College of Bishops have been systematically entrenching their own views and effectively excluding those who do not agree with them.

As well as not comprehending in its formularies the views of orthodox Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and standing in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage, the Anglican Church in North America has adopted a form of governance at its provincial level, which bears only a superficial resemblance to that of a member province of the Anglican Communion and which shows the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church upon the framers of its constitution and canons. The canons of the ACNA incorporate language, doctrine, and governing principles taken from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. The description of the ministry of bishops and the minimum age for bishops in the ACNA are just two of a number of sections of the canons that come from Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law .

The second method for choosing bishops, which the canons recommend to existing diocese that presently elect their own bishops and prescribe for new dioceses is derived from the method by which bishops are chosen in the Roman Catholic Church. In the Roman Catholic Church designated nominators in a diocese submit the names of candidates for the episcopate in the diocese to the Holy See. The Pope selects new bishop from these names. He is not bound to select one of the candidates nominated by the diocese’s nominators. In the ACNA’s adaptation of this method the diocese nominates a slate of two or three candidates and the College of Bishops makes the final selection. Like the Pope, it is not bound to choose a new bishop from a diocese’s nominees. It may repeatedly reject the diocese’s nominees until the diocese nominates someone to its liking. The canons do not prohibit the College of Bishops from choosing its own nominee. This method of choosing bishops permits one group or faction in the ACNA to dominate the College of Bishops and to determine who becomes a member of that body.

The College of Bishops has encroached upon the powers and prerogatives of the Provincial Council, the jurisdiction’s official governing body, as well as arrogated to itself powers and prerogatives that the constitution and canons do not vest in that body or recognize as inherent in it. It functions like a conference of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Provincial Assembly has no authority to initiate, amend, or enact legislation and is nothing more than a rubberstamp. Its business sessions are kept so short that its delegates have no opportunity to discuss in depth proposals submitted to it for ratification or appoint committees to investigate matters of interest to the delegates and to report their findings and recommendations to the delegates.

As a candidate to replace the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in North America leaves much to be desired. Both jurisdictions do not fully accept the Bible as their rule of faith and life. Both depart from the Protestant and Reformed principles of the Anglican Church based upon the Holy Scriptures and set out in the historic Anglican formularies, including the two Books of Homilies. Both embrace ideologies that have been identified as major challenges to the authority of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies in the Anglican Communion in the twenty-first century.

The Anglican Church in North America might put the next three years to fruitful use setting its own house in order. Whatever the ACNA does, confessing Anglicans in the ACNA need to take steps to secure their own future. They gain nothing by doing nothing. 

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