Saturday, February 27, 2016

ACNA and Conservative Lutherans Report Progress in Talks

By Robin G. Jordan

Participants in the interdenominational dialogue  between the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and two conservative Lutheran bodies, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS),and Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC), have released an interim report in which they claim  that they have reached “significant doctrinal agreement.” What was particularly surprising about this report was its focus on the Anglican Formularies as the supposed basis of this agreement.

The ACNA in its constitution and canons equivocates in its acceptance of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and dilutes the authority of The Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal of 1662 to such a degree that it is negligible. In its own Ordinal, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book, it distances itself from both the teaching of the Holy Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican Formularies, aligning itself with the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church on a number of key issues. Why then did these talks focus on the Anglican Formularies?

The answer in part to this question is found in the report itself, in its particular interpretation of the Anglican Formularies. For example, the report claims on the basis of the First Exhortation of the 1662 Communion Service that Anglicans and Lutherans are in agreement on confession and absolution. This, however, is far from the case. Anglo-Catholics and Lutherans may be in agreement but Evangelicals and Lutherans are not.

Whether auricular confession was a doctrine of the Anglican Church was a bone of contention between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in the Anglican Church in the nineteenth century and is one of the issues that historically have divided the two schools of thought. Nineteenth century Anglo-Catholics argued that auricular confession was a doctrine of the Anglican Church on the basis of the First Exhortation in the 1662 Communion Service. Evangelicals pointed out that Anglo-Catholics were misinterpreting the exhortation, not taking into consideration its historical context and the intent of its authors. They were also disregarding what was the received interpretation of the exhortation, that is, the minister of God’s Word, after the individual with the unquiet conscience had opened his grief to him, did not absolve him of his sins but showed him from the Holy Scriptures that if he was truly penitent and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, God forgave his sins. He was absolved of guilt.

From its own formularies it is quite evident that the ACNA mishandles the Anglican Formularies in one of three ways. It ignores them. It misinterprets them or misquotes them. It makes selective use of them, citing them when they appear to support its doctrinal positions on key issues. Its proclivity to mishandle the Anglican Formularies explains in large part the focus of the talks on the Anglican Formularies.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion take a Reformed view of the sacraments, recognizing only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It does not regard absolution as a sacrament but as a corrupt following of the apostles. The 1662 Prayer Book also embodies a Reformed view of the sacraments. Both the Articles and the Prayer Book reject the Lutheran view that Christ is present with the consecrated bread and wine. While the nineteenth century Catholic Revival and twentieth century ecumenical and liturgical movement may have caused some Anglicans to take a realist view of Christ’s presence in or under the forms of bread and wine after consecration, this view is not the view of the Articles or the Prayer Book. It is not the view of authentic historic Anglicanism. It is not the view of Anglicans who stand in the heritage of the English Reformation and the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement.

The ACNA, however, is not representative of authentic historic Anglicanism in its teaching and practices. It is unreformed Catholic.

Like the talks between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the twentieth century, the talks between the ACNA and the LCMS and LCC gloze over important difference between Anglicanism and Lutheranism. While the positions they may agree upon may be acceptable to Anglo-Catholics, they are not to genuine Evangelicals.

As the late Peter Toon pointed out, the Lambeth Quadrilateral was a recommendation of the 1888 Lambeth Conference. It was a proposal for the reunification of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church. It is binding only on those provinces of the Anglican Communion that adopt the recommendation.

Anglicans are historically divided on whether the adoption of the episcopate is essential to closer relations between denominations. Anglo-Catholics maintain that it is. Evangelicals insist that it is not.

Anglo-Catholics view apostolic succession in terms of a particular succession of bishops and the transmission of the grace of the Holy Spirit tactually from one bishop to another. Evangelicals, however, view apostolic succession as a succession of doctrine. They point out that God confers the grace of the Holy Spirit upon whomever He wills. They view as a needless barrier to closer relations with other denomination the Anglo-Catholic insistence upon their adoption of the episcopate.

The release of this report serves to divert the attention of ACNA members away from the problems and weaknesses of the denomination. This announcement of progress on one front helps to keep their mind off the lack of progress on other fronts. But which is more important—developing closer relations with two other small denominations or spreading the gospel and making disciples? A very large segment of the North American population does not know Jesus Christ. They face a Godless eternity.

Typically denominations that focus on ecumenism are denominations that are not reaching and engaging the unchurched. Here in western Kentucky only a very tiny segment of the population is Anglican and Lutheran. The diminutive size of this population segment says a lot. It suggests that the energies of the leaders involved in these talks might be put to better use. It also suggests that the denominations in question might need new leaders. The top evangelistic churches have evangelistic pastors. The top evangelistic denominations have evangelistic denominational leaders.


The Rev Canon David Wilson said...

Are you saying ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach is not an evangelistic leader?

Robin G. Jordan said...

Good question, David. What is Archbishop Beach’s record of encouraging and supporting the existing and new churches in his diocese in reaching and engaging a wide segment of the unchurched population in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the other states that fall within his jurisdiction since he became the ordinary of the Diocese of the South? Since he became Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America?

I cannot comment on Georgia and Tennessee or the other states. But I can comment on Kentucky. There has been negligible at best evangelistic and church planting activity in Kentucky since he became the ordinary of the Diocese of the South. That did not change after he became Archbishop. From what I gather from reliable sources in the ACNA Archbishop Beach has not launched any special evangelistic and church planting initiatives targeting Kentucky. Rather he has turned over responsibility for leading the Kentucky deanery in evangelism and church planting to deanery leaders.

Both of my former bishops in TEC launched special evangelistic and church planting initiatives in the diocese which resulted in the establishment of a number of new churches. Only when they took an active role did anything happen in the diocese. When responsibility for evangelizing the deanery and planting new churches was turned over to deanery leaders, nothing happened. This was before 2003. The events of 2003 effectively undid all the work that had been done up to that time.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Robin G. Jordan said...

David, are you familiar with the Peter Principle. In an hierarchy people rise to their level of incompetence. A member of the clergy who may be a great rector, when he is elected or appointed bishop, may turn out to be a terrible bishop. A mediocre bishop may turn out to be an ineffectual archbishop upon election or appointment to that position. We have seen a number of instances of the Peter Principle at work in the upper levels of ecclesiastical hierarchies in the past few years. Politics, not the kind of leadership skills needed for higher office, is the determining factor in who is selected for that office--considerations such as the candidate's willingness not to rock the boat, acceptability to various special interest groups, and so on.