Can An Apple Tree Bear Oranges?March 5, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments
By Robin G. Jordan
Dom Walker in one of his posts raised a question that prompted this article. Can the new Anglican Church in North America bring about a revival of Confessional Anglicanism in North America? In this article I examine a number of factors that affect the ACNA and the likelihood of the ACNA producing such a revival.
No one has surveyed the actual theological make-up of the ACNA. While number of Anglo-Catholic clergy and congregations in the ACNA is unknown, Anglo-Catholics have historically exercised an influence both in North American and elsewhere disproportionate to their numbers. A number of Anglo-Catholic bishops hold leadership positions in the ACNA. Forward in Faith North America, an organization that promotes “Catholic order,” is a founding constituent body of the ACNA as are three Anglo-Catholic breakaway dioceses from The Episcopal Church.
Confessional Anglicans, on the other hand, do not have anyone in the ACNA leadership. They do not have any organization like FIFNA to represent their interests. They do not to my knowledge form a majority in any of the founding constituent bodies of the ACNA. Rather they are dispersed throughout these bodies and are largely isolated from each other and from confessional Anglicans outside the ACNA.
Charismatics in the ACNA do not form a homogenous group. Some come from an Anglo-Catholic background within The Episcopal Church. Some originally come from outside of The Episcopal Church from an evangelical background. However, when they joined The Episcopal Church, they were influenced by Anglo-Catholicism and then later became charismatic. Some joined an ACNA body from a charismatic denomination; some joined an ACNA body from an evangelical denomination and later became charismatic. Some are former Episcopalians who attended Episcopal churches that, while seemingly High Church in style of worship, were moderately Protestant in doctrine, and while still Episcopalians became charismatics or became charismatics after joining an ACNA constituent body.
Some whom traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and confessional Anglicans classify as charismatics are not really charismatics. They are simply attracted to a charismatic style of worship, including the use of contemporary praise music and praying and praising God with uplifted hands and other expressive forms of worship. A large number of the members of ACNA constituent bodies fit this category. I believe that we should take a close look at this group. They form one of the larger segments of the ACNA membership, and they may represent the emerging face of the ACNA.
As far as the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, this group show the influence of Anglo-Catholicism and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, holding to the doctrinal beliefs that the Lord’s Supper is more than the commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice but that Christians somehow participate in Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, and that Christ is present in the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. They are comfortable with Catholic terminology like calling a pastor a “priest,” addressing him as “Father, and calling a communion table an “altar,” and have no reservations about Catholic practices like wearing a stole or a chasuble, making the sign of the cross, putting candles, candlesticks, and crosses on the communion table, reserving the sacrament of the Holy Communion, and the like. At the same time they reject Catholic beliefs like purgatory, the invocation of the saints, and relics. They have a high view of the Bible and share the beliefs of contemporary American evangelicals outside of the ACNA. They, however, are not well acquainted with British evangelicalism and conservative Anglican evangelical groups such as the Church Society and Reform in the United Kingdom or The Episcopal Church’s own evangelical past. In the ACNA churches where they are the dominant group, there is often a deliberate blending of Anglo-Catholic, charismatic, and evangelical elements and the celebration of what are described as the three streams of Anglicanism. A frequently heard catchword is the “ancient-new church.” This group, while opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians and the blessing of same gender unions, is generally open to the ordination of women.
There are no strong voices in the leadership of the ACNA speaking on the behalf of confessional Anglicanism. Those whom were thought to be staunch proponents of evangelical and Protestant principles have shown a willingness to put the maintenance of unity in the ACNA and the Anglican Communion’s recognition of that body before everything else. They have on a number of occasions compromised these principles in order to prevent the forming of divisions in the ACNA that might jeopardize these aims.
The Reformed Episcopal Church is a constituent member of the ACNA. In 1873 Reformed Episcopal Church was formed in response to the growth and increased influence of Anglo-Catholicism and ritualism in the then Protestant Episcopal Church and the incipient unreformed Catholic theology of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer then in use in that denomination. Reformed Episcopal Church’s adoption of a new constitution, new canons, and a new Prayer Book in 2005 marked that church body’s retreat from the evangelical and Protestant principles of its founders. The Reformed Episcopal Church has been experiencing a Catholic revival of its own in the past few years. The changes in the REC constitution, canons, and Prayer Book reflect the influence of this homegrown Oxford movement in the REC. The segment of the REC membership that has embraced this movement to the greatest degree, express not only rejection of the principles of the REC founders but also contempt toward those within the REC who still espouse these principles. They derisively refer to the latter as “Presbyterians.” The conservative evangelical Church Society in the United Kingdom no longer classifies the REC as a Reformed church body.
The ACNA Provincial Council meeting in Bedford, Texas has been moved up to June 22, 2009, and according to a recent announcement will be more like an AMiA Winter Conference than a TEC General Convention. It will be what I anticipated in my article, “The ACNA Constitution: What You See Is What You Get,” a carefully orchestrated media event at which those groups of churches wishing to become constituent bodies of the ACNA will be invited to ratify the seriously-flawed provisional ACNA constitution and to consider the ratification of an expanded version of the provisional ACNA canons. The provisional ACNA constitution’s Fundamental Declarations, like the Common Cause Theological Statement upon which they are based, give a token place to the Anglican formularies, to the Articles of Religion of 1571, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and the Ordinal of 1661. The form of church government embodied in the provisional ACNA constitution is not synodical but corporate, with most of the power concentrated in the small, clergy-dominated Provincial Council rather than the larger, more representative Provincial Assembly. The Provincial Council is comparable to a board of directors and the Provincial Assembly to a stockholders meeting. In the synodical form of church government commonly found in the Anglican Communion the Provincial Assembly would be the governing body and the Provincial Council would be its executive body, subject to its control and direction.
The provisional ACNA constitution’s corporate form of church government is analogous to TEC striping the General Convention of its powers and giving them to the Executive Council. The liberals in TEC would love to implement this kind of church government in TEC. It would give them absolute control of that church body and they could pick up the pace of reshaping it to their liking.
Under the provisional ACNA constitution’s corporate form of church government the existing leadership of the ACNA will retain their hold on the reins of power in the ACNA and will continue to determine its direction. The present leadership of the ACNA and its constituent bodies and the extent that they shown by their actions that they are sympathetic to confessional Anglicanism and its concerns should give confessional Anglicans, both in and outside the ACNA, an accurate picture of how confessional Anglicanism will fare in the ACNA.
Under the provisional ACNA constitution’s corporate form of church government the Provisional Council is not accountable to the Provisional Assembly. The latter has no real power. It elects the Provincial Council and ratifies the amendments and additions to the ACNA constitution and canons. As the provisional ACNA constitution is worded, it must ratify these changes. It cannot initiate legislation of its own. It cannot conduct hearings and investigations. It cannot demand reports from the Provincial Council or ACNA officials. This corporate form of church government is particularly susceptive to manipulation. One theological affinity group can eventually come to dominate the Provincial Council and impose its agenda upon the ACNA—women’s ordination, Catholic order, or whatever. There are no safeguards to prevent the possibility of such a takeover happening.
The provisional ACNA canons require that a group of churches seeking to become a constituent body of the ACNA—cluster, diocese, or network—must have at least twenty churches with an ASA of at least 50 each and total combined ASA of 1000. This effectively excludes the recognition of small groups of churches or groups of smaller churches as constituent bodies of the ACNA, thereby barring a small group of confessional Anglican churches or a group of small confessional Anglican churches from becoming a constituent body of the ACNA and forming the nucleus of confessional Anglican witness in the ACNA. In order to be admitted to the ACNA such a group must affiliate with a group of larger churches with which it may not have any real theological affinity and to which it can be expected to play second fiddle. The provisional ACNA canons also require that the ACNA College of Bishops select the bishop of the new constituent body from a list of candidates nominated by that body. This means that whatever theological affinity group dominates the new constituent body would nominate the candidates for the body’s first bishop and that whatever theological affinity group dominates the College of Bishops would pick the candidate that they found most supportive of the direction in which they wished to take the ACNA. The first bishop of a diocese or other judicatory plays a key role in shaping the culture of that body and in turn the direction that it will take.
While the provision ACNA constitution makes provision for the formation of constituent bodies on the basis of territory or theological affinity, what has been happening since the ACNA began to accept applications for recognition of groups of churches as ACNA constituent bodies is that the bodies that have been seeking recognition have been largely forming on the basis of territory. Already different theological affinity groups are vying for dominance of these forming constituent bodies. The formation of constituent bodies solely on the basis of theological affinity would have reduced the occurrence of this kind of power struggle and would have given each theological affinity group a place in the sun. Confessional Anglicans in an ACNA constituent body dominated by another theological affinity group can expect a future of marginalization and minority status.
The provisional ACNA constitution and canons replicate conditions in the ACNA very similar if not identical to those in TEC. Confessional Anglicanism has not flourished in TEC. The replication of these conditions in the ACNA suggest that confessional Anglicans and confessional Anglicanism will not thrive in that body.
As one can tell from the results of this assessment and the title of this article, I am not optimistic about the prospects of ACNA bringing about a revival of confessional Anglicanism. I do not rule out the possibility. Anything is possible for God. But conditions in the ACNA do not appear to be conducive to the ACNA producing such a revival.
In North America the plight of confessional Anglicans outside the ACNA is not any better than that of confessional Anglicans in the ACNA. There are no truly confessional Anglican church bodies in the Continuum. The two Continuing Anglican church bodies that claim to be Protestant and Reformed belie their claim with their continued use of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with its unreformed Catholic and incipient liberal theology, their retention of High Church practices, including the wearing of distinctive clerical garb, and in the case of one body, its intermittent use of the original name of The Episcopal Church, a body that has not been Protestant, much less Reformed, since the 1870s.
The Episcopal Church experienced a revival of evangelicalism in the 1970s but the new evangelicals did not comprise a large segment of the membership of The Episcopal Church. By 2008 most of them had left TEC, joining an ACNA constituent body or an evangelical denomination. The presence of these evangelicals in TEC in the closing decades of the twentieth century does not qualify TEC as a Protestant church body except in the most broadest sense of the term “Protestant.” It certainly does not qualify TEC as a Protestant church body at the time of the adoption of the 1928 Prayer Book when Anglo-Catholics and Broad Church liberals were the two dominant theological affinity groups in TEC, all vestiges of genuine evangelicalism having disappeared from that denomination by 1900. Any Continuing Anglican church body claiming to be Protestant on the basis of its use of the 1928 Prayer Book and the original name of The Episcopal Church is deluding itself. It is claiming to be the successor of a denomination that has not been Protestant since the nineteenth century. A truly Protestant and Reformed church body would want to distance itself as far as possible from The Episcopal Church in that period of its history.
At this stage I believe that it is crucial for confessional Anglicans in the ACNA to network with other confessional Anglicans in ACNA and those in the ACNA who, while they do not identify themselves as confessional Anglicans, have theological affinity with them. Right now many in both groups are caught up in the excitement of the establishment of the ACNA and do not see the need for networking with like-minded individuals. However, when the excitement wears off and the disillusionment sets in, as it will, they will need the support of such a network. I also believe that it is crucial for confessional Anglicans outside ACNA to network with other confessional Anglicans outside the ACNA and those outside the ACNA who have theological affinity with them. These two networks need to network with each other and form a network that crosses denominational and provincial boundaries. A revival of confessional Anglicanism in North America is more liken to come from within such a network than from within the ACNA. I do not see the ACNA producing teaching material, service books, and other resources for confessional Anglicans. I do see confessional Anglicans producing such resources for themselves. If one looks at the history of evangelicalism in the Church of England, it is not the institutional church that helped to spread evangelicalism. It was the evangelicals themselves and their voluntary organizations. A number of dioceses of the Church of England were not friendly to evangelicals and evangelicalism.
It may be more accurate to speak of a reintroduction of confessional Anglicanism in North America rather than a revival. The heyday of evangelicalism in the former Protestant Episcopal Church was in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. While evangelicalism saw a revival in that denomination in the second half of the twentieth century, it largely was not confessional.
This is the situation that confronts confessional Anglicans in North America. I am not inclined to urge confessional Anglicans in the ACNA to leave that church body nor am I inclined to urge confessional Anglicans outside the ACNA to join that church body. Rather I believe that God has placed those in the ACNA there for a purpose and that God has also placed those outside the ACNA there for a purpose. I further believe that the networking together of confessional Anglicans in the ACNA and outside the ACNA and of those who have theological affinity with them is a step toward accomplishing that purpose. I do not pretend to know what that purpose is. But I do sense that God is not well served by confessional Anglicans isolated from each other.
Networked together confessional Anglicans and those who have a theological affinity with them can build each other up and in turn build up Christ’s Church. Isolated from each other they are like the coals in a fire that are raked apart. They cool and then die. Dying coals, when raked together, often burst into flame. Add more fuel and they become a blazing fire.
Individual sticks are easily broken. Bound together in a bundle with a cord wrapped tightly around them from one end of the bundle to the other, they are much harder to break.
I could give other illustrations. They all point to the same conclusion—networked together confessional Anglicans and those who have theological affinity with them can accomplish more they can separate from each other and alone.