Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Life Boat for North America’s Confessing Anglicans?

By Robin G. Jordan

The Catholic Revivalist vision of the Anglican Church in North America is not that of an orthodox Anglican alternative to the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada but that of a "Catholic" alternative to these provinces. This vision of the ACNA is reflected in the jurisdiction’s governing documents and its working ecclesiology as well as its doctrine and practices.

Under the provisions of the ACNA constitution the Provincial Assembly, the largest and most representative body in the jurisdiction, has a largely consultative role, much like similar bodies in the Roman Catholic Church. It cannot initiate legislation nor can it modify the legislation presented to it for ratification. It may make recommendations but the way the business sessions of the Provincial Assembly are conducted, its delegates are given no opportunity to appoint a committee for that purpose on their own initiative, much less to consider a recommendation of a group of delegates working outside its official structure.

In the Provincial Council bishops and other clergy are represented in numbers disproportionate to the numbers of bishops and other clergy in the jurisdiction. The clergy have as many representatives as the laity. A provision permitting the cooption of additional members of Provincial Council permits the bishops and other clergy to add more Council members from their order. The diocesan bishops are de facto permanent members of the Provincial Council despite the canonical provisions requiring the rotation of Council members.

The College of Bishops has in a number of critical areas encroached upon the role of the Provincial Council, the official governing body of the jurisdiction, and usurped its authority and powers. Key decisions are not made in the jurisdiction’s Provincial Council which includes lay members but in its College of Bishops which consists solely of bishops. The College of Bishops has significant input into the makeup of the various provincial taskforces and their activities. Very little if anything is done without the College of Bishops’ foreknowledge and approval.

The doctrine and practices mandated or sanctioned in the ACNA Ordinal, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book originated with the College of Bishops. They have the finger prints of the College of Bishops all over them. They reflect the theological outlook of the Catholic Revivalists who occupy the place of power in the Anglican Church in North America and dominate its College of Bishops.

This kind of system is not one in which historic Anglicanism can flourish or meaningful reforms can be made. It is the kind of system that will stifle Confessing Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and stand in the Reformation tradition of the Anglican Church. It is also the kind of system that historically has stymied reformers. Those who see glimmers of hope in the Anglican Church in North America, I fear, are drowning men clutching at straws.

While some may dismiss me as being overly-pessimistic where the Anglican Church in North America is concerned, one has only to look at the history of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, the history of the nineteenth century Reformed Episcopal Church, and the more recent history of the Continuing Anglican Movement to draw similar conclusions. I believe that the time will come and indeed is now here when Confessing Anglicans will be faced with the choice that the sixteenth Protestant Reformers faced. If they were to bring the Church into line with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, their particular branch of the Church would have to break with the Church of Rome. In the case of Confessing Anglicans, if they are to remain faithful to the Bible and the Anglican formularies and to continue in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage, they must separate themselves from the Anglican Church in North America. They must establish a second province, one that is a part of the ACNA but has its own formularies and form of government distinct from that of the ACNA or is completely independent of the ACNA.

Based on the experience of the American Episcopal Church, I believe that the second option is the most workable of the two options. Catholic Revivalists do not look favorably upon jurisdictions whose self-understanding is protestant and reformed, that are within the mainstream of classical Anglicanism, and which give a full part in their doings to the laity. They are not likely to go along with the formation of a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, especially a second province that has its own doctrinal foundation, its own catechism, its own Prayer Book, its own bishops, and a synodical form of government.

Photo credit: Wales Online/OGL

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