Tuesday, March 15, 2011
A Comparison of the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church – Part I
By Robin G. Jordan
In a comparison of the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church what is noticeable is the similarities between the two churches as well as the dissimilarities. In this two-part article series I take a look at how the two churches are unlike each other and how they are like each other. I think that it is important to draw attention to the dissimilarities first because they are fewer than we might imagine. They show that the formation of the Anglican Church in North America was essentially a reaction to a handful of developments in The Episcopal Church and was not a part of a movement for the renewal of historic Anglicanism in North America even though its leaders may make that claim.
The most obvious dissimilarity between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church is its position on the ordination of practicing homosexuals, the blessing of homosexual liaisons, and “gay marriage.” The Anglican Church in North America takes the position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and all sexual activity belongs within such a union. This is the Anglican Church in North America’s chief dissimilarity from The Episcopal Church.
It must be noted that The Episcopal Church does contain a number of congregations and clergy that share the position of the Anglican Church in the North America. However, their position is not the position of the dominant church party in The Episcopal Church or the official position of that church.
Whether they can be described as holding a minority position depends upon whether the dominant church party’s position can be described as a majority position. Do the majority of Episcopalians espouse that position? Or do they passively accept the position? If the most vocal apologists for the position were not present in the room would they themselves advocate it? A church party does not need majority support to make its position the position of the church, only critical mass.
With the exception of the widespread opposition to the gay rights agenda in the Anglican Church in North America the dissimilarities between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church are less clear. The dissimilarities that I have identified are inferred from its Constitution and Canons, the actions of its College of Bishops, the statements of its official and unofficial spokesmen, the web sites of its churches, and its more vocal clergy and lay members on the Internet.
While the Anglican Church in North America is opposed to religious pluralism , it does not completely reject theological inclusivism. The Anglican Church in North America has not issued a doctrinal statement in which it affirms salvation by grace alone by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (opposed to sacraments and good works) as the essence of Gospel teaching.
Theological inclusivism is not the same as historic Anglican comprehensiveness, which is a policy of recognizing divergent opinions in a Church on secondary matters. Theological inclusivism celebrates diversity for diversity’s sake and embraces an ever-widening diversity of views. This includes divergent opinions on primary matters.
Theological inclusivism is willing to, in the words Bishop J. C. Ryle, “declare the Church a kind of Noah’s Ark, within which every kind of opinion and creed shall dwell safe and undisturbed, and the only terms of communion shall be willingness to come inside and to let your neighbour alone.” Theological inclusivism invariably leads to religious pluralism. Sooner or later its willingness to embrace opinions that are remotely Christian is extended to opinions that are not Christian by any stretch of the imagination.
Theological inclusivism is a form of liberalism and is one of the characteristics of what the nineteenth century Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson termed “liberal religion” in its early stages. The presence of theological inclusivism in the Anglican Church in North America is one of its similarities to The Episcopal Church in the closing decades of the Twentieth Century.
It must be noted that the Anglican Church in North America does contain a number of congregations and clergy that reject theological inclusivism along with religious pluralism, as does The Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church in North America, however, has not issued an official statement repudiating theological inclusivism. Its Fundamental Declarations, adapted from the Common Cause Theological Statement, in the wording of the declarations on the historic Anglican formularies take a theological inclusivist position. Its Archbishop has used theological inclusivist language in his addresses and sermons, adopting the language of the Convergence movement, which takes a theological inclusivist position on a number of doctrinal questions.
The Anglican Church in North America does not go as far as the liberal leaders of The Episcopal Church in their espousal of religious pluralism and universalism but it is only a few steps away from their position. At its heart theological inclusivism on the question of salvation is de facto universalism. Salvation by grace alone by faith in Christ alone and salvation by sacraments and good works cannot both be the essence of Gospel teaching. They are mutually exclusive.
The problem is that the Anglican Church in North America is a loose coalition of Anglo-Catholics and self-identified charismatics and evangelicals. The different groups in these three categories, which form this coalition may agree on some doctrinal positions but may disagree on others. They have tacitly embraced theological inclusivism as a solution to their differences. It puts them squarely on the same trajectory as The Episcopal Church.
Anglo-Catholics are the most uncomfortable with this solution. They would like to see the Anglican Church in North America move in a more Anglo-Catholic direction. Such a change of trajectory like the present trajectory would take the Anglican Church in North America further away from authentic historic Anglicanism. This accounts in part for their willingness to receive into the Anglican Church in North America congregations and clergy from Convergence and Independent Catholic Churches, which have been strongly influenced by the unreformed Catholicism of the Roman Catholic Church.
Another dissimilarity between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church is its position on women in ordained ministry. The difference between the two churches is largely one of degree. The Anglican Church in North America, like The Episcopal Church, ordains women to the diaconate and the presbyterate. The Anglican Church in North America, unlike The Episcopal Church, does not consecrate women to the episcopate. It recognizes that all its congregations and clergy have not received as valid or regular the ordination of women and reserves to its dioceses and other groupings the right to not grant licenses to woman deacons and presbyters and to disallow the ministry of women deacons and presbyters in their respective jurisdictions.
Most of the Episcopal congregations and clergy opposed to women in ordained ministry that did not join the exodus from The Episcopal during the 1970s have migrated to the Anglican Church in North America. While the number of congregations and clergy opposed to the ordination of women reportedly outweigh the number of congregations and clergy supportive of women’s ordination, the latter form a substantial minority. The Anglican Church in North America’s present Archbishop is a supporter of women’s ordination.
One of the fears that opponents of women’s ordination verbalize is that its proponents will gain the ascendancy in the Anglican Church in North America and change its foundational documents to permit the consecration of women bishops. Women’s ordination’s more vocal opponents champion what would be a pre-emptive abolition of women’s ordination in that Church. Such a move would split the new Church.
A number of the Convergence and Independent Catholic Churches from which the Anglican Church in North America has been receiving clergy, while they have been strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church’s unreformed Catholicism, do recognize the validity and regularity of women’s ordination. An influx of congregations and clergy from these Churches into the Anglican Church in North America might tilt the balance in favor of women’s ordination.
A fourth dissimilarity between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church is that the congregations and clergy in the Anglican Church in North America show a tendency to recognize the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible more than the congregations and clergy in The Episcopal Church. But it must be noted that The Episcopal Church also contains a number of congregations and clergy that recognize the Scripture’s divine inspiration and authority. The extent to which the congregations and clergy in the Anglican Church in North America recognize the Bible’s authority varies. Anglo-Catholic congregations and clergy recognize the authority of Church tradition alongside the authority of the Bible.
A fifth dissimilarity between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church is that the Anglican Church in North America contains a larger number of congregations and clergy identifying themselves as being charismatic, evangelical, or both than The Episcopal Church. A substantial number of the congregations and clergy that migrated from The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Church in North America identified themselves as belonging to one of these three categories. At the same time a substantial number of these congregations and clergy migrated to the Anglican Mission in the Americas, a parachurch organization that is a missionary outreach of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Their migration to the Anglican Mission in the Americas is paradoxical because the Anglican Church of Rwanda has a set of canons that incorporates the doctrine, language, norms, and principles of the Roman Catholic Church and affirms the dogmas of the Council of Trent. Article 12.1 of the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s constitution states, “We adopt the following statement as an affirmation declaration of the faith and tradition we share…d) The Articles of Religion as adapted through the ages [my emphasis]. The same article in section 1(c) recognizes only two sacraments—“Holy Baptism and Holy Communion”—while the canons recognize seven.
The evangelicalism found in the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church is more akin to popular American evangelicalism than it is to traditional Anglican evangelicalism. It sits loose to what have historically been the distinctives of traditional Anglican evangelicalism, which is strongly rooted in the Bible, the Reformation, and classical Anglicanism.
It must be noted that the Anglican Church in North America does contain a number of evangelical congregations and clergy that are closer to traditional Anglican evangelicalism in their stance, upholding the historic Anglican formularies and the Protestant and Reformed character of authentic historic Anglicanism. However, the Anglican Church in North American cannot be described as evangelical in the traditional Anglican sense on the basis of these congregations and clergy.
Many charismatics in the Anglican Church in North America define themselves as evangelicals, and visa versa. Charismatic experience in the Anglican Church in North America comes with more than one theology. Charismatics and evangelicals may also be found in The Episcopal Church but they are much less common than they once were.
There is some tension between Anglo-Catholics and charismatics-evangelicals in the Anglican Church of North America related to charismatic experience, primarily in the areas of music and worship. Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have criticized charismatic-evangelicals for the spread of rock and other contemporary forms of music and informal non-liturgical forms of service in the Anglican Church in North America.
The Anglican Church in North America vests very little authority in its larger, more representative Provincial Assembly in contrast not only to The Episcopal Church but also the Anglican Church of Australia, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Anglican Church of New Zealand, the Anglican Church of the Province of the Southern Cone of America, the Anglican Church of Rwanda, the Anglican Church of the Province of Uganda, the Church in Wales, the Church of England, the Church of Nigeria, and the Episcopal Church in Scotland. All of these Churches vest considerable authority in their Provincial Assembly or its equivalent. (Note that this list includes both conservative and liberal Anglican provinces.)
The Anglican Church in North America’s Provincial Assembly is modeled upon that of the Winter Conference of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is not a part of the system of ecclesiastical governance of that missionary organization. In the Anglican Church in North America the governing body is the smaller Provincial Council. The Provincial Council is the actual provincial synod of the Anglican Church in North America, not the Provincial Assembly.
The authority of the Provincial Assembly is limited to ratifying proposals for the amendment of the constitution or canons of the Anglican Church in North America and to making general recommendations. It cannot debate or amend the proposals submitted to it or return them to the Provincial Council with specific recommendations for changes in the proposals. It is restricted to ratifying a proposal or returning it to the Provincial Council.
The extremely limited authority of the Provincial Assembly is attributable to the rejection by then Common Cause Moderator Robert Duncan, the Common Cause Governance Task Force, and the Common Cause Partnership Leadership Council of the 1968 Lambeth Conference’s recommendation that "that no major issue in the life of the church should be decided without the full participation of the laity in discussion and in decision". The laity was blamed for the developments in The Episcopal Church, and the very large role that the bishops and other clergy played in these developments was ignored or minimized. General Convention and the deliberative process were regarded as major contributing factors to the state of affairs in The Episcopal Church.
An authoritative episcopal leadership was seen as the response to the challenges facing the Common Cause Partnership and its aspirations to become a new North American province. A reduced lay role was favored with broad powers placed in the hands of senior clergy and few restrictions placed upon their discretion. Then Moderator Robert Duncan emphasized the need for a retrograde movement to a more prelatical form of church government.
As we can see from this list of the six major dissimilarities between the Anglican Church in North America and The Episcopal Church, the differences between these two Churches are not as sharp as apologists for the Anglican Church in North America might claim. This becomes even more evident when we examine the similarities between the two Churches in the next article in this series.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 1:47 PM