By Robin G. Jordan
How does the Anglican Church in North America stack up when its teaching and practices are compared to those of authentic historic Anglicanism?
The English Reformers maintained and the majority of Anglicans have held since the early days of the English Reformation that the historic episcopate is of the bene esse of the Church. In other words, it is beneficial to the Church’s well-being but it is not essential to its existence.
The Anglican Church in North America in its fundamental declarations maintains that the historic episcopate is of the esse of the Church. It is absolutely essential to the Church’s very existence. This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church.
The English Reformers concluded from their study of the Bible that presbyter and bishop, while they were different offices were the same order. Evangelical Anglicans maintain this view to the present day. The Preface of the 1662 Ordinal does not exclude this view. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion takes no position on the issue.
The Anglican Church in North America in its ordinal maintains that presbyter and bishop are separate orders. It has altered the Preface of the 1662 Ordinal to reflect its view and to exclude the view of the English Reformers and Evangelical Anglicans.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Ordinal take the position that the bishop at the making of a deacon, the ordering of a presbyter, and the consecration of a bishop formally confers upon the candidate the authority to perform a particular ministry in the Church.
The Anglican Church in North America in its ordinal takes the position that the bishop on these occasions bestows upon the candidate a special grace, a position that it shares with the Roman Catholic Church.
The English Reformers eliminated from the Anglican Ordinal a number of ceremonies that formed a part of the Medieval Catholic rites of ordination and which were strongly associated with the Medieval Catholic doctrines of apostolic succession, eucharistic presence, and eucharistic sacrifice. They replaced these ceremonies with the presentation of the Book of Gospels or the Bible—a reminder that the newly-ordained minister was first and foremost a minister of God’s Word.
The ordination rites of the ACNA are remarkably similar to those of the Roman Catholic Church. The Anglican Church in North America in its ordinal revives the abolished ceremonies. While these ceremonies are for the most part optional, one is not—the presentation of the new presbyter with a chalice—a ceremony that has strong associations with Medieval Catholic sacerdotal view of the priesthood. The ACNA has also revived the associated ceremony of anointing the new priest’s hands with blessed oil—the same hands through which Medieval Catholics believed and present day Roman Catholics believe, Christ offers himself again and again for the sins of the living and the dead in the sacrifice of the Mass.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer recognize only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Thirty-Nine Articles classifies confirmation, absolution, ordination, matrimony, and anointing of the sick as having grown partly from “the corrupt following of the Apostles” and partly being “states of life allowed in the Scriptures.” The Articles do not classify them as sacraments, noting that they have no “visible sign or ceremony” ordained by God.
The Anglican Church in North America in its catechism maintains that confirmation, absolution, ordination, matrimony, and anointing of the sick are “sacraments of the Church” and confer a special grace. This is also the position of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion in very strong language rejects as inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible the Medieval Catholic doctrines of the sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation. Anything suggestive of the Medieval Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice has been eliminated from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Declaration on Kneeling in the 1662 Prayer Book maintains that the bread and wine undergo no change when they are consecrated. Christ is not substantively present in the consecrated elements.
Both forms of “Holy Communion” in the proposed ACNA Prayer Book incorporate elements that have a strong association with these two Medieval Catholic doctrines, which are also the doctrines of the present day Roman Catholic Church. These elements, where they are used in the two forms, and how they are used give expression to the same doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice and eucharistic presence.
The departures from authentic historic Anglicanism that I have identified in this article are not the Anglican Church in North America’s only departures from the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies. For example, the ACNA baptismal rite teaches baptismal regeneration; the exhortation in the two forms of “Holy Communion,” auricular confession.
Based on a comparison of the teaching and practices of the Anglican Church in North America with with those of authentic historic Anglicanism, a more accurate description of the ACNA is that the denomination is an independent Catholic Church, not an Anglican Church. The ACNA is creedal and takes a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality. However, it does not measure up to Anglicanism’s longstanding doctrinal and worship standard—the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal of 1662—in a number of key areas. Its deviation from the faith and doctrine commanded in the Holy Scriptures and taught in the Anglican formularies is not minor or insignificant.
The Anglican Church in North America is not homogeneous. The ACNA does include clergy and congregations that identify themselves as Protestant, fully accept the Bible as their rule of faith and life, and subscribe to the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Anglican formularies. The ACNA constitution and canons, however, makes no allowance for the presence of such clergy and congregations in the denomination. Under the provisions of the ACNA canons they are expected to conform to official ACNA doctrine as set out in its fundamental declarations, canons, catechism, and proposed Prayer Book.
Since its inception those leaders who occupy the position of power in the Anglican Church in America have shown no inclination to comprehend the beliefs of this group of clergy and congregations. Currently its presence is tolerated but for how long?
When one group entrenches its views and makes no room for the legitimate views of other groups, the term that describes what that group is doing is exclusion. It has adopted a policy of freezing out those groups that do not share its views.
It happened in the Episcopal Church. It is happening in the Anglican Church in North America.
Liberal Episcopalians did not eject conservative Episcopalians from the Episcopal Church. They just made it more difficult for conservative Episcopalians to practice their beliefs.
The same thing is happening in the Anglican Church in North America. In the ACNA members of the denomination who subscribe to a form of unreformed Catholicism are making it increasingly difficult for the denomination’s Biblically-faithful, fully Anglican members to practice their faith.