Friday, June 14, 2019

Provincial Assembly 2019: A Time to Celebrate, A Time to Be on Your Guard

By Robin G. Jordan

I am expecting the ACNA leaders who are not loyal to historic Anglicanism and who are seeking to replace the Elizabethan Settlement and the historical Anglican formularies with a "new settlement" of their own making will exploit the excitement that the tenth anniversary celebration of the Anglican Church in North America will generate at Provincial Assembly 2019  to further their agenda in one way or another. They are not going to pass up an opportunity to take advantage of this excitement for their own ends. They are quite capable of manipulating the delegates to achieve these ends.

Since these leaders play with their cards close to their chests, we may not learn about it until Provincial Assembly 2019 has concluded. They seldom give advanced notice of what action they are going to take.

Transparency and openness is not characteristics of these leaders. They do not encourage transparency and openness in their fellow leaders. Transparency and openness makes it more difficult for them to control the outcome.

I personally have little respect for leaders who operate this way, who keep everyone in the dark and make decisions behind closed doors. This is the kind of leadership that I associate with the Episcopal Church. To my mind it is not the way that "godly bishops" operate. It is the way that organized crime bosses and unscrupulous businessmen and politicians operate.

The episcopal office may blind some ACNA'ers to the actions of these leaders. But these actions are not the actions of servants and exemplars to their flock. They are not the actions of men who put their trust in God.

Some readers may object to this description of their leaders, or if they are an ACNA leader themselves, of their fellow leaders. But I believe that it is an accurate description of the leaders in question. Over the past ten years they have shown through their actions that they do not believe what binds the consciences of other men binds theirs. The rules that have been enacted for the governance of the province may constrain the actions of men of lesser rank but they do not constrain theirs.

The College of Bishops has tolerated this attitude in its members. Rather than taking them to task for contravening the province's constitution and violating its canons, it has taken steps to regularize their actions. The College of Bishops itself has taken actions that are beyond the scope of that body and which infringe upon the authority of the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly. The province's constitution and canons do not grant authority for these actions to the College of Bishops or recognize it as inherent in that body. These actions include claiming that its endorsement of a proposed ordinal, catechism, and service book gives official standing to these formularies. Such a claim is not supported by the province's governance documents which give the final determination of matters of doctrine, worship, and disciple to the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly. The Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly may consult the College of Bishops at their own discretion before making such a determination but they are not bound by the recommendations of the College of Bishops.

With the exception of the limited authority that the province's constitution and canons give the College of Bishops, the only other authority that body has is moral and spiritual. The College of Bishops, by its actions over the past ten years, has squandered that authority. If the College of Bishops wishes to regain that authority, it needs to restrain the authoritarian tendencies of its members and to uphold the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrinal and worship principles of the historic Anglican formularies.

The ACNA leaders who are seeking to substitute their own "new settlement" for historic Anglicanism in the Anglican Church in North America not only want to give the church a Catholic identity, Catholic doctrine, and a Catholic praxis but also a Catholic ecclesiology. They are seeking to model the the ACNA on the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In these churches the laity have a very limited role in the governance of the church. The bishops make all the major decisions. In the Roman Catholic Church bishops are chosen by the pope; in the Eastern Orthodox Church they are chosen by high-ranking bishops.

The bishops are not the only people that have a stake in the Anglican Church in North America. The other clergy and the laity have a stake in the province too. As stakeholders they should not just be consulted in regards to the direction of the church, they should, after extensive deliberations, make the final decision. Without the other clergy and the laity there would be no church. There would be only a group of men playing bishop of a church that exists on paper only.

As the apostle Paul tells us, no part of the body of Christ is more important than the other parts of Christ's body. No part of the body of Christ is less important than the other parts of Christ's body.

Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus did not entrust the apostles with the task of governing the church. He charged them to go and make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach them what he commanded. He gave that commission not just to the apostles but to the whole church in every place and in every time. Those who claim that God has ordained them to be the governors of the church have not foot to stand upon. Where the New Testament refers to elders and overseers, it is referring to the leaders of the local church, the church in  a particular community.

At the time of the English Reformation the Anglican Church retained episcopacy and the office of bishop, not because it was divinely-instituted but was, in the words of John Jewel, "ancient and allowable." A bishop does not have any authority of his own beyond what moral and spiritual authority he may exercise. His authority is whatever authority that the local churches comprising his sphere of ministry delegate to him and not the other way around as Catholic theology has taught. Christ is the head of his Church and the local churches derive their authority from him. A bishop can lose the moral and spiritual authority he exercises if he does not show himself worthy of the respect and trust of the clergy and congregations in his sphere of ministry.

An hour or two is not sufficient time for a deliberative body to reach an informed decision regarding legislation that may be presented to it especially when there has been little or no discussion of the legislation beforehand. It would be wise for the delegates to Provincial Assembly 2019 to postpone action on any legislation presented to that body until the whole Anglican community, not just the Anglican Church in North America,  had been given an opportunity to scrutinize the legislation and to offer feedback and recommendations.

The delegates to Provincial Assembly 2019 need to be wary of their body being used as a rubber stamp to give legitimacy to the decisions of the College of Bishops. They can be expected to be barraged by those lobbying for the ratification of the legislation as well as to be pressured by their fellow delegates. But the future of historic Anglicanism in North America is at stake.

My prayer is that God will give the delegates to Provincial Assembly 2019 the wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions and will not let the excitement of the moment and the lobbying and pressure-tactics influence their decisions.

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