By Robin G. Jordan
While it may not be feasible to start new Anglican congregations in every community across North America, it is within reach to start Anglican missional communities in most of those communities. A missional community is a flexible expression of church. It does not own a building. Its main point of contact with the neighborhood or network of relationships that it is seeking to reach and engage is not a public service of worship. It is typically the size of an extended family—mum, dad, kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, fiancées, girlfriends, and boyfriends.
The primary focus of a missional community is making and forming disciples. Unlike conventional expressions of church missional communities do not expect potential disciples to come to them. They go to the potential disciples. They take seriously Jesus’ words, “going, make disciples of all people groups.”
Missional communities put into practice the principles of “simple church.” Whatever they do serves the discipleship process. Both their short-term and long-term goal is to produce fully-functional followers of Jesus.
Fully-functional disciples are capable of reproducing themselves, of making and forming disciples like themselves, who are in turn capable of making and forming more fully-functional disciples. They are self-feeders, nourishing and sustaining themselves from God’s Word. They fully use their natural talents, learned skills, and spiritual gifts in the service of their Lord and for the advancement of the Gospel. They are bright lights shining in a dark and shadowy world.
I believe that missional communities will play a vital role in the evangelization of North America in the twenty-first century. Any denomination that is committed to fulfilling the Great Commission will encourage their formation and support their work.
The Anglican Church in North America’s proposed Prayer Book currently under preparation with its emphasis on the sacerdotal, sacramental ministry of the priest is not the kind of service book that will help the laity fulfill the role envisioned for them in its constitution and canons. Rather it will keep God’s people in a state of overdependence, spiritual immaturity, and servility. It is idolatrous in that it assigns to the priest a role that is Christ’s and Christ’s alone—that of intermediary between God and his people and of dispenser of God’s grace. It is not the kind of service book that will encourage the formation of missional communities, much less support their work.
The proposed Prayer Book currently under preparation looks not to the church of the New Testament as its model for the Anglican Church in North America but to the church of the early high Middle Ages, to a time when the traditions of men had taken the place of the Word of God as the Church’s standard and rule of faith and practice. One might say that those who are preparing the proposed Prayer Book and who are approving its rites and services have substituted a vision of their own for that of the constitution and canons. But it is more likely that what the constitution and canons envision was incorporated into these documents solely for appearance’s sake. The rites and services of the proposed Prayer Book reflect the real vision of the province of those who now occupy the place of power in the province, a vision that they have held from the start.
The signs were there for those willing to see them—the positions which the Common Cause Partnership’s original theological statement took, Bishop Duncan’s call for a new settlement to replace the Elizabethan Settlement, Bishop Akerman’s call for a new Oxford Movement. Duncan now chairs the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force and Ackerman serves as its special consultant.
As the proposed Prayer Book moves closer to completion, it becomes more and more evident that it will not serve the needs of modern-day Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican Formularies and committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is a Prayer Book designed for a time now past. It is not designed for the twenty-first century North American mission field. It is a Prayer Book that reflects the particular interests of one wing of the Anglican Church in North America, its theological thought and its liturgical ideas. It is a party book. At its heart is a vision of the Anglican Church reshaped along the lines of the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middle Ages in the eleventh century before the East-West Schism. Douglas Bess in his history of the Continuing Anglican Movement equates this particular vision with “an extreme form of Anglo-Catholicism.”
The English Reformers regarded the Bible as the Church’s ultimate standard and rule of faith and practice. This was not the Bible interpreted through the lens of men’s traditions but by Scripture itself. Their vision of the Church was a Church that conformed to the Scriptures in its teaching and practices. While those who sought refuge in Geneva during the Marian persecutions differed in their interpretation of Scripture on such matters as church polity and vestments from those who sought refuge in Zurich, the two wings of the reformed English Church shared this common vision of the Church. This vision of the Church is also the vision shared by the adherents of biblical Anglicanism. It is a Church ruled by the Bible and the Anglican Formularies, which derive their authority from the Bible.
What we see in the Anglican Church in North America is an unacknowledged conflict between biblical Anglicanism and Catholic Revivalism. On three fronts Catholic Revivalists have made substantial gains. These fronts are the province’s episcopal bench, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book, which includes the province’s Ordinal. The resulting losses to biblical Anglicanism are not trivial. They greatly affect the capacity of the province to fulfill Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples of all nations, to spread the gospel to the remotest corners of the earth. They rob the province of one of its greatest assets—a biblical faith. Without such a faith the likelihood of the province becoming the dynamic force for the evangelization of North America, which its leaders like to claim that the province is, is negligible. This will become increasingly evident with the passage of time.
Photo: A field of steal-thistles