By Robin G. Jordan
The forms we use in our worship gatherings—the Scripture readings, the prayers and the other liturgical texts, and the hymns, the canticles, the psalms, and the other worship songs, influence and shape our beliefs and thinking subliminally as well as consciously. The same observation is applicable to the ceremonies that we use in these gatherings. They form and reinforce the doctrinal associations that we have with these ceremonies.
The collective impact of the forms and ceremonies we use in our worship gatherings is far greater than the impact of a pastor’s preaching from the pulpit and his teaching in the classroom. For these reasons Biblically-faithful Anglicans from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformers on have taken care as to what forms and ceremonies are used in services of public worship. They have sought to incorporate into the liturgy only those forms and ceremonies that teach and support what the Bible clearly teaches, recognizing that the Bible has plenary authority in all matters of faith and practice. While they have not always succeeded, they have endeavored to follow this important principle as closely as possible.
Beginning in the seventeenth century with the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book, there has been a discernible tendency in some quarters of the Anglican Church to give more authority to antiquity and tradition than to the Holy Scriptures in the compilation of their liturgies. The resulting liturgies have increasingly departed from the teaching of the Bible and have undermined biblical teaching in the Anglican Church.
In some cases this has occurred because those compiling a revision of a Prayer Book have adopted forms and ceremonies from other Prayer Books without carefully appraising the faithfulness of these forms and ceremonies to biblical teaching. They have modeled their liturgies upon the liturgies of Anglican jurisdictions that no longer fully accept the authority of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies. As a result one sees Anglican jurisdictions that, while they subscribe to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies, using liturgies that incorporates forms and ceremonies taken from unreformed Catholic liturgies. The use of liturgies incorporating such forms and ceremonies damages and weakens their adherence to these principles and may eventually lead to their departure from the principles altogether.
The 1958 Lambeth Conference with its recommendations and the ecumenical, liturgical, and convergence movements are the principal culprits in encouraging the indiscriminate use of forms and ceremonies from other Prayer Books and other liturgical traditions without sufficient attention to their faithfulness to biblical teaching and their consistency with the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage.
In other cases the departure from biblical teaching is premeditated, rising in a large part from a different understanding of the teaching of the Bible from how Anglicans have historically understood its teaching. Here the nineteenth century Catholic Revival and modernism have had the greatest impact. The nineteenth century would see the introduction of Roman Catholic doctrinal and worship innovations into the Anglican Church along with the reintroduction of pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic beliefs, forms and ceremonies. The twentieth century would see the adoption of liturgical revisions tied to humanist concerns—non-gender specific language, feminine imagery of God, and rites for the blessing of same sex unions. It would also see the introduction of non-Christian practices into the worship life of the Anglican Church—labyrinth walking, sand mandalas, readings from the Quran and Buddhist and Hindu texts, and the like.
Recognizing the need for a clear standard of orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the Anglican Communion, the first GAFCON conference and the Jerusalem Declaration called for the restoration of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies to a central place in its faith and life. For generations of Anglicans the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies had provided that standard. The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans was created to fulfill this purpose.
The restoration of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies to the heart of the Communion, however, requires more than rhetoric. It entails encouraging and implementing liturgical revision that fulfills this purpose. It means discarding a number of the liturgies adopted in recent years and starting afresh. It also means taking an active interest in the extra-provincial liturgical revision going on in the second decade of the twenty-first century and particularly in the Anglican Church in North America and in other member entities of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and drawing attention to any departure from the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies.
In the case of the Anglican Church in North America the GAFCON Primates have been negligent in this regard. They have preferred to turn a blind eye to the ACNA’s departure from these principles and its denial of official standing to the same principles to the point that it casts serious doubt upon their own commitment to the restoration of the Bible and historic Anglican formularies to a central place in the Communion’s faith and life. The glaring inconsistency between what they profess to believe and what they do in practice is not lost on Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies. It has the earmarks of what only can be described as a betrayal of the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies.
The GAFCON Primates appear to be willing to accommodate the Anglican Church in North America’s departure from these principles as long as it sides with them on the issue of marriage and human sexuality—even to the extent of recognizing the ACNA as an authentic expression of Anglicanism, which is from the perspective of the same principles far from the case. They also appear to be willing to oblige its denial of official standing to these principles. If this is indeed true, then it completely destroys their credibility as champions of historical Anglicanism and its formularies. It reduces the first and second GAFCON conferences to mere posturing and the Jerusalem Declaration to substanceless rhetoric.
The GAFCON Primates can correct this perception and redeem themselves in the eyes of confessing Anglicans by actively defending and advancing the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies in the Anglican Church in North America and in other member entities of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. This requires abandoning their present hands-off policy and intervening in the affairs of these entities where and when such intervention is warranted.
It includes scrutinizing the ACNA’s Fundamental Declarations, Canons, Catechism and proposed Prayer Book for any departures from these principles and openly and publicly drawing the attention of ACNA leaders to these departures. No whitewash but an in-depth and thorough critique. It also includes denouncing the ACNA’s denial of official standing to these principles and tying their support of the ACNA to its adherence to the same principles.
The GAFCON Primates need to put the ACNA on notice that if it wishes to retain their recognition and the recognition of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, it needs to bring its doctrine and practices into line with these principles. It is only right that, having enjoyed the support of the GAFCON Primates and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, it should conform more closely to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the historic Anglican formularies.
Is that likely to happen in the foreseeable future? I have my doubts. I do not believe that the GAFCON Primates are as strongly committed to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies as they might be. Segments of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans may be far more committed to these principles than the GAFCON Primates. The GAFCON Primates, however, are the ones calling the shots. They appear content to let the Anglican Church in North America to do what it pleases so long as it maintains a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality and supports them in their struggle against liberalism and modernism in the Anglican Communion.
Over the long haul I am convinced this policy will backfire. The unreformed Catholic leaders of the Anglican Church in North America have similar aspirations to the liberal leaders of the Episcopal Church. They see occupying a position of leadership in the global Anglican community as their manifest destiny. They are not going to be willing to play second fiddle to the GAFCON Primates for very long. They have already signaled in a number of ways their intentions to play a major leadership role in that community.
Where does this leave Anglicans who are a part of the Anglican Church in North America and who subscribe to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies? It leaves them to use an idiomatic American expression “caught between a rock and a hard place,” or for those with a classical education “caught between Scylla and Charybdus.” Under the provisions of the ACNA Canons, they have no choice but teach the doctrine of its unreformed Catholic Catechism and use the forms and ceremonies of its unreformed Catholic Prayer Book. The unreformed Catholic leaders of the ACNA dominate its College of Bishops, determine who may join them in the College of Bishops, and decide what legislation may be submitted to the Provincial Council. They set the agenda of the Provincial Assembly and orchestrate its business sessions. Bit by bit they are creating a theological climate in the ACNA inimical to these principles and to those who subscribe to them.
Anglicans who are a part of the Anglican Church in North America and who subscribe to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies can, like Odysseus who chose to pass close to Scylla and lose some members of his crew rather passing close to Charybdus and losing his ship, sacrifice a number of these principles in order to maintain their precarious existence in the Anglican Church in North America. Odysseus, however, eventually lost his ship and his entire crew. Odysseus would return to his native Ithica and his beloved Penelope after ten years of wandering. They may not be so fortunate. They may be captives in a foreign land until death closes their eyes.
The time has come for those segments of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans that are fully committed to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies to demonstrate that they are more reliable allies than the GAFCON Primates. While Odysseus lost his ship and his crew, he eventually would return home with the help of others. Anglicans who are a part of the Anglican Church in North America and who subscribe to the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies need help too. They need encouragement and support. They need a better option than remaining a part of the ACNA, compromising their convictions, and losing their theological identity.
If these segments of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans withhold their help, when they in turn need allies, they may find themselves friendless. If the GAFCON Primates are willing to sacrifice one group of confessing Anglicans, what is to prevent them from sacrificing another group and then another if it serves their purposes.
Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies need to band together, not just in North America but around the world. They need to unite to preserve the biblical and Reformation principles of historic Anglicanism and its formularies and to pass these principles on to future generations. They need to heed the Word of God and put not their trust in princes, in earthly rulers and prelates. They need to put their trust in one Lord alone—the Lord Jesus Christ.