Friday, March 25, 2016

The Anglican Church in North America—a Dynamic Force for the Evangelization of North America?

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


Daniel Sparks said...

Robin, I think you are onto something here. I have summarized my perception of the ACNA: increasingly Anglo-Catholic bishops, a majority of charismatic congregations, and a handful of evangelicals. The Anglo-Catholic influence over liturgy and doctrine become more pronounced each day.

Robin G. Jordan said...

I am disinclined to characterize the majority of congregations in the ACNA as “charismatic.” Here is why. While they may evidence the influence of the charismatic renewal movement to varying degrees and this influence may be observable in their style of worship, most of them are not charismatic in the sense that they regularly practice the “sign gifts” such as singing in the Spirit, prophesying in tongues, praying with laying on of hands, accompanied by miraculous healing, being “slain in the Spirit,” etc.

Charismatic renewal came to my former parish in the 1990s and I am familiar with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit that attend that renewal and which characterize the worship of a church in the midst of renewal. I have worshiped with a small number of AMiA and ACNA churches since the Episcopal Church and I parted ways. While some readers might describe these churches as charismatic, these manifestations were not evident in their worship.

The music was a mix of traditional hymns and praise choruses and contemporary Christian music. People lifted their hands usually when they sang and sometimes when they prayed. A few may have prayed quietly or silently in tongues. But that would describe the United Methodist church and the three Southern Baptist churches with which I have worshiped. None of these churches is charismatic in the least.

Gerald Bray coined the term “charismatic open evangelical ritualists” to describe what he believes comprises a large number of the members of the ACNA. As a group these folks are not fully Catholic, not fully charismatic, and not fully evangelical.

In the nineteenth century Bishop J. C. Ryle characterized as “liberal evangelicals” clergy who identified themselves as evangelical but were open to unreformed Catholic teaching and practices.

From the 1870s on Episcopal clergy who fitted this description joined the Broad Church wing of the Episcopal Church. Could we be observing the emergence of a new Broad Church wing, one that is open to charismatic teaching and practices as well as unreformed Catholic teaching and practices?

While I believe that this may be a possibility, I also believe that we may be observing the emergence of a new breed of Anglo-Catholics. (I prefer the term “Catholic Revivalists.”) While they are open to a number of unreformed Catholic positions, they came to these conclusions by a different route than the traditionalist Anglo-Catholic. While they themselves may have never been a part of the convergence movement, they have been influenced by that movement.

What concerns me is a number of members of this wing of the ACNA, while they claim to embrace a range of theological perspectives, are not open to a policy of comprehending biblical/confessional/historic Anglicanism in the ACNA’s formularies. In this regard they are closer to Anglo-Catholics than modern-day latitudinarians whose personal philosophy includes a tolerance of other views. They may claim to be tolerant of other views but they are not in practice.

Part of it may be that they have been influenced by secular thinking. Since the adherents of biblical Anglicanism in their estimation are intolerant of the views that they tolerate, they do not see themselves under any obligation to tolerate the views of biblical Anglicanism’s adherents.

The two categories that Douglas Bess uses to classifying Continuing Anglicans in his history of the Continuing Anglican Movement may be more helpful than Anglo-Catholic, charismatic, and evangelical. These categories are “Anglican Loyalist” and “Catholic Revivalist” Anglican Loyalists believe that historic Anglicanism is sufficiently catholic in its acceptance of the three creeds and the first four general councils. Catholic Revivalists, on the other hand, for various reasons, seek to move the Anglican Church closer to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in doctrine, order, and practice.