By Robin G. Jordan
While I understand why the various GAFCON Primates might send greetings to the newly organized New Zealand chapter of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, I must question the Anglican Church League’s singling out of ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach from the other Primates in its article on that development. Why not mention the other Primates who sent their greetings, assuming that they also sent them to the newly-organized New Zealand chapter? Mentioning Archbishop Iliud Wabukala is understandable as he is GAFCON Primates Council Chairman and Bishop Richard Condie as he is chairman of FCA Australia. But why ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach? Has he become the poster child for GAFCON and the FCA?
The Anglican Church in North America is far from a sterling example of what the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans claims to stand for in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. A number of its leaders espouse an ideology that is at variance with the positions that the FCA takes in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, in particular, its position on the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, historic Anglicanism’s confession of faith. Unlike the FCA, they do not believe that “the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism” which defines Anglicans’ core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in the words of Canon A5 of the Church of England. They are not committed to this standard nor do they join with the FCA in calling Anglicans to reaffirm and return to it.
In the Jerusalem Declaration the first GAFCON conference and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans identify as a tenet of orthodoxy underpinning Anglican identity the upholding of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglican’s today. In its authoritative commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration, Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, the GAFCON Theological Resource Group takes the position that acceptance of their authority “is constitutive of Anglican identity.”
The Anglican Church in North America in its governing documents, its ordinal, its catechism, and its rites of Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and confirmation, and its position statement on the use of blessed oils repeatedly rejects the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and The Book of Common Prayer as historic Anglicanism’s longstanding standard of doctrine and worship. It mandates and sanctions unreformed Catholic teaching and practices that conflict with this standard and the biblical and Reformation theology of historic Anglicanism.
ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach is on record as having voted in favor of the endorsement of the ordinal and the other formularies and their unreformed Catholic teaching and practices by the ACNA College of Bishops. He is also on record as describing Anglicanism as “confessional” because it subscribes to the three so-called Catholic creeds—a viewpoint that embodies a revisionist understanding of Anglican confessionalism.
Highlighting Archbishop Beach’s greetings to the newly-organized New Zealand FCA chapter sends the wrong message. It implies that the Anglican Church in North America and Archbishop Beach are on the same track as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans when in actuality the ACNA is on a different track—a track of its own that leads away from the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and The Book of Common Prayer.
As Archbishop Wabukala has himself pointed out on several occasions, a primary aim of GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is to restore the Bible and the gospel to the heart of the Anglican Church. Such a restoration requires the restoration of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion to a central place in the faith and life of that Church. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, as the GAFCON Theological Resource Group points out in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, derive their authority from the Holy Scriptures. Their authority is the authority of the Bible. They do not bind the conscience any more than the Bible does. As J. I. Packer points out in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, the Articles embody what historically is the Anglican understanding of the gospel. Among their main functions is to safeguard the truth of the gospel and to prevent it from being lost again.
The Anglican Church in North America in its repeated rejection of historic Anglicanism’s longstanding doctrinal and worship standard is rejecting the authority of the Bible as well as the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Anglican understanding of the gospel embodied in the Articles. As well as embracing the error and superstition of church tradition in place of the truth of God’s Word, it is espousing what the apostle Paul described as “a different gospel.” The ACNA’s acceptance of a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality and the doctrine of the so-called Catholic creeds do not go far enough in offsetting this serious deficiency.
The Anglican Church League is supposedly committed to defending and maintaining the protestant, reformed, and evangelical character of the Anglican Church. If it is genuine in this commitment, the ACL should not even indirectly be holding up the Anglican Church in North America as a model for FCA chapters to emulate.
While Archbishop Beach’s video greeting may be entirely innocent—a show of solidarity with the newly-organized New Zealand FCA chapter, it does raise a number of questions about the genuineness of Archbishop Beach’s motivations due to the past actions of ACNA leaders and other factors. It is admittedly the twenty-first century and video greetings are not out of the ordinary. At the same time I believe that these factors merit our attention in seeking to understand the Anglican Church in North America and the actions of its Archbishop.
Was Archbishop Beach following in the footsteps of his predecessor and seeking to keep the Anglican Church in North America in the limelight, as the focus of public attention?
Was Archbishop Beach seeking to foster the impression that the ACNA is stalwart in its support of the FCA when the ACNA is doctrinally at variance with the FCA in a number of key areas Whatever its leaders may say, its formularies, its governing documents, its ordinal, its catechism, and its rites of Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and confirmation, and its position statement on the use of blessed oils, tells a different story.
Where the ACNA differs with the FCA falls into the realm of primary matters as well as into the realm of secondary ones. They involve matters on which Anglicans cannot agree to disagree. These differences are significant ones. They cannot be dismissed lightly. In its formularies the ACNA not only takes positions that put it at odds with other GAFCON member provinces and the FCA but also show a lack of tolerance toward the views of legitimate conservative schools of Anglican thought on the same issues, particular the school of thought that is closest to the English Reformers in its thinking. It makes no room for these views in its formularies. Its catechism is unreformed Catholic in its teaching in such important areas as the Holy Spirit, the order of salvation, justification, sanctification, and the sacraments. Its rites of Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, confirmation, and ordination and its position statement on the use of blessed oils embody unreformed Catholic doctrines and practices. While it is possible to make the various ACNA rites more unreformed Catholic, it is not similarly possible to do the reverse—to make them more protestant, reformed, and evangelical. A Catholic Revivalist bias is also discernible in its constitution and canons. The US chapter of the FCA is little more than a puppet of the ACNA, espousing its doctrinal positions, and supporting its leaders’ agenda.
Was Archbishop Beach seeking to establish a greater leadership role for the ACNA in the GAFCON movement and the FCA? As I have pointed out in previous articles, the leaders of the Anglican Church in North America, like their liberal counterparts in the Episcopal Church, are not satisfied with playing second fiddle to the global South Primates. One of the notions circulating in the ACNA is the belief that in the ACNA three major traditions are converging—Catholicism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism—and that the ACNA represents the future shape of Anglicanism. ACNA leaders see the ACNA as spearheading a reform movement in the Anglican Church—“a new reformation.” Unlike the Protestant Reformation, however this new reformation is not a spiritual movement to restore the Bible and the gospel to their rightful place at the heart of the Church.
This vision of the Anglican Church is tied closely to that of Catholic Revivalists in the ACNA. They are seeking to reshape the Anglican Church on the model of the supposedly undivided Church of early High Middle Ages in the eleventh century before the East-West Schism exposed the cracks in the Church. Those pushing this vision of the Anglican Church see this period of Church history as a golden age of Christianity. They ignore the fact that the Church has experienced divisions over doctrine ad practice since New Testament times. The existence or even widespread acceptance of a doctrine or practice in an early period in Church history does not guarantee that the doctrine or practice is apostolic. Indeed claiming the apostolicity of a doctrine or practice on this basis can be a form of humanism.
ACNA leaders share with their liberal counterparts in the Episcopal Church a sense of manifest destiny. This is the sense that they are destined to lead the global Anglican community. They cannot imagine Americans not in a leadership role, shaping the future of the Anglican Church.
The problem with this viewpoint is that the US Church historically has represented a deviant tradition in the Anglican Church. Among the characteristics of this tradition are an influential High Church and after the 1830s Anglo-Catholic wing, a Prayer Book influenced by the Scottish Usager Non-Jurors, no history of clerical subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and the loss of its conservative evangelical wing in the 1870s. While this tradition has fragmented into a number of sub-traditions, all of these sub-traditions depart from historic Anglicanism. Rather than reaffirming and returning to what the FCA believes is the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, the Anglican Church in North America as a jurisdiction in its formularies has become another sub-tradition of this tradition. For the former Episcopalians in the ACNA, this may represent continuity with the past but it is a past from which the ACNA needs to distance itself as it has distanced itself from the present situation in the Episcopal Church.
The Anglican Church in North America needs to rediscover or perhaps more accurately discover for the first time what it means to be an Anglican Church at its best—to be a church that is faithful to the Bible, the historic Anglican formularies, and to its protestant, reformed, and evangelical heritage; is shaped by the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement, is on fire for the gospel; is fulfilling the Great Commission; is empowered by the Holy Spirit; and is living its common life in accordance with God’s Word. The ACNA needs to become the kind of church that has a lasting positive impact upon the lives and the eternities of a broad segment of the unchurched population of North America and beyond. The first step the ACNA can take in this direction is to abandon its policy of exclusion of the teaching and practices of authentic historic Anglicanism from its formularies and to provide a generous space for biblical Anglicanism’s teaching and practices in these formularies.