By Robin G. Jordan
While the Anglican Church in North America has a Confessing wing that stands in the tradition of historic Anglicanism, identifies itself as Protestant, and subscribes to the Anglican formularies and the Biblical faith and doctrine taught in them, its beliefs and conviction have no official standing in the denomination. The ACNA is based upon a doctrinal foundation that is different from the one that the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans recognizes as defining core Anglican identity. The ACNA’s fundamental declarations equivocates in its acceptance of the authority of the Anglican formularies and its catechism and proposed Prayer Book countenance teaching and practices that conflict with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Anglican formularies.
The ACNA’s Confessing wing is not to be confused with the ACNA’s branch of GFCA. The latter is essentially a creature of the Anglican Church in North America, created to give the appearance of solidarity with the GFCA. It is closely aligned with the ACNA.
What is happening in the Anglican Church in North America is a repetition of what happened in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA in the nineteenth century and the Continuing Anglican Churches in twentieth century. A church party that is very close to Roman Catholicism in its teaching and practices has occupied the place of power, is entrenching its views, and is excluding other groups that do not agree with its teaching and practices.
As the Church Society Council drew to the attention of the GAFCON Primates in an open letter in 2009, “authentic, historic Anglicanism does not agree with Roman Catholicism on fundamental truths and in particular on the nature of authority and the means of salvation.” It is a grave mistake to claim that the Anglicans and Roman Catholics share “the same commitment to the historic apostolic faith.”
The nineteenth century counterpart of this church party drove the conservative Evangelicals out of the Episcopal Church; its twentieth century counterpart squeezed the “Anglican Loyalists” out of the Continuing Anglican Churches. This church party has shown a decided unwillingness to share any supposed Anglican jurisdiction with any other group except on its terms.
Among the notable characteristics of this church party is its vision of the Church. In the nineteenth century that vision was of the Anglican Church once more within the orbit of the Roman Catholic Church—one with the Roman Catholic Church in its teaching and practices, the orders of its clergy enjoying the recognition of the Roman pontiff.
More recently its vision of the Church has shifted to reconstructing the Anglican Church on the model of the supposedly undivided Church of the early High Middles Ages before the East-West Schism in the eleventh century. Proponents of this vision of the Church view this period of Church history as being a golden age of Christianity.
In the nineteenth century its critics labeled it as “Romanist” and “Ritualist” based on its strong leaning toward Roman Catholic theology and Roman Catholic ceremonial and liturgical forms. When its members were not trying to abolish the Thirty-Nine Articles as the Anglican Church’s confession of faith, they were reinterpreting the Articles in a Rome-ward direction.
Douglas Beth in his history of the Continuing Anglican Movement refers to its twentieth century expression as “Catholic Revivalist.” This term may be a more accurate description of this church party in the twenty-first century.
While the origins of some elements of this group are traceable to the nineteenth century Oxford Tractarian movement, the origin of other elements in this group may be traced to the twentieth century convergence movement. Since its beginning in the early 1970s the convergence movement has moved increasingly in the direction of unreformed Catholicism of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
In The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future, Catholic Revivalism is identified along with liberalism as a major challenge to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies in the twenty-first century Anglican Church.
Whether this church party may be viewed as “Anglican” is open to debate. Among the significant reforms of the English Reformation was to subject all doctrine and traditions of the Church to the authority of the Holy Scriptures. It is an Anglican distinctive. Catholic Revivalists, on the other hand, give far greater weight to the doctrine and traditions of the Church than they do to the Holy Scriptures, to the extent of interpreting the Scriptures to conform to that doctrine and traditions. This is just one of a number of fundamental differences between Catholic Revivalism and historic Anglicanism.
Forward in Faith North America which represents traditionalist Anglo-Catholics in the Catholic Revivalist wing of the Anglican Church in North America adopted a new Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose in 2013, in which it affirms the doctrine of Transubstantiation — the true, real, and substantial presence of Christ under the species of the bread and wine; the teaching of the first seven Councils of the undivided Church; and seven (not two) sacraments.
Former FIFNA President Bishop Keith Ackerman has called for FIFNA to spearhead a “new Oxford Movement.” Bishop Ackerman is presently serving as a consultant to the ACNA Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force, which is compiling the proposed ACNA Prayer Book.
FIFNA has gone on record as seeking to export its teaching and practices to the Global South and to influence the direction of global Anglicanism, as well as seeking to make the Anglican Church in North America more “Catholic”.
Among the members of the FIFNA Council are ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker and REC Diocese of Mid-America Bishop Coadjutor Ray Sutton. Bishop Sutton is also Dean of the Anglican Church in North America, in which capacity he serves as deputy and representative of its Archbishop Foley Beach.
If the Catholic Revivalists in the Anglican Church in North America displayed more tolerance toward the views of Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and loyal to the Anglican formularies and historic Anglicanism, I would not be writing this article. Having occupied the place of power in the ACNA, they show little inclination to make room in the denomination for the Biblical and Reformation faith and doctrine of historic Anglicanism. They have been busily entrenching their own unreformed teaching and practices to the exclusion of all other theological traditions in the denomination, in particular conservative evangelicalism, which more than any other such tradition stands in continuity with the English Reformers.
The Anglican Church in North America has no “conscience clause” in its constitution to protect from punitive action Confessing clergy and congregations if they teach as did the English Reformers that the episcopate is not essentially the existence of the Church or if they refuse to conform to Catholic Revivalist teaching and practices mandated in the ACNA’s formularies and to use ACNA’s catechism and proposed Prayer Book. The ACNA has no provisions to protect from discrimination members of its Confessing wing seeking ordination. It has no provisions guaranteeing the placing of Confessing clergy in charge of Confessing congregations or the placing of such clergy and congregations under the oversight of Confessing bishops.
These developments do not bode well for the Anglican Church in North America, as well as for its Confessing wing. Whether or not Catholic Revivalist are willing to acknowledge it, Catholic Revivalism’s particular views of Scripture and the role of the Church in interpreting it helped to paved the way for the ascendancy of liberalism in the Episcopal Church (USA). It created a Biblical illiterate church membership who did not have the discernment to recognize false teaching for what it is. Episcopalians’ lack of familiarity with the Scriptures and the sound principles of Bible interpretation made them easy prey for false teachers.
While a number of factors have contributed to the decline of the Continuing Anglican Churches, the contribution of Catholic Revivalism to their decline was far from inconsequential. It sapped these jurisdictions of their evangelistic vitality. It produced inward-looking churches that were disconnected from the communities in which they were located.
The sacerdotalism and sacramentalism that form an integral part of Catholic Revivalism also imposed a limit upon denominational growth. A chronic shortage of ordained clergy greatly restricted that growth.
In making the teaching and practices of their theological tradition the only teaching and practices that enjoy official standing in the Anglican Church in North America, the Catholic Revivalists have restricted the flow of evangelicals and charismatics into the ACNA, reducing it to those who are open to their views. This will impact the effectiveness of the denomination in the areas of church planting and evangelism.
Catholic Revivalism in its teaching and practices proclaims and propagates a different gospel from the New Testament gospel—what may be described as a gospel of sacramental salvation. One of the main functions of the Thirty-Nine Articles is to safeguard the truth of the gospel. In their failure to uphold the Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today” (The Jerusalem Declaration, paragraph 4), the Catholic Revivalist leaders of the Anglican Church in North America have withdrawn this important safeguard.
While global Anglican leaders who are committed to Biblical Anglicanism should be concerned about liberalism in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada and its influence upon the global Anglican community, they should also be concerned about Catholic Revivalism in the Anglican Church in North America. North American Catholic Revivalists have shown a similar willingness to export their views, even going about it in what may be described as an underhanded manner.
As I have already noted, FIFNA has numbered among its goals the exportation of its teaching and practices to the Global South and the influencing of the direction of global Anglicanism. A North American Catholic Revivalist priest, a frequent speaker at FIFNA events, was involved in the revision of the canons of the Anglican Church of Rwanda with the result that the revised canons of that province affirm the dogmas of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catholic sacramental system. The same priest was involved in the drafting of the ACNA governing documents
Former ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan commended the ACNA catechism to the global Anglican community. In its introduction its general editor J. I. Packer claims that the doctrine contained in the ACNA catechism is acceptable to all legitimate schools of Anglican thought. A close scrutiny of the catechism shows that this claim has no basis. In a number of key areas the catechism is decidedly Roman Catholic and even Eastern Orthodoxy in its leanings.
While Catholic Revivalists may be creedal in their beliefs and may maintain a traditional view of marriage and human sexuality, they have their own agenda. They do not share the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ commitment to remain faithful to the standard expressed in the words of Canon A5 of the Church of England. They are not one with the GFCA in calling upon others in global Anglican community to reaffirm and return to this standard. Indeed they are working at cross-purposes to the GFCA. This is particularly evident in the Anglican Church in North America.
They are not the allies in the struggle against liberalism that members of the GFCA naively imagine them. They will cooperate with the GFCA as long as it serves their own self-interest and keeps the GFCA from taking a too closer look at what they themselves are doing in the ACNA and elsewhere. If, however, one does closely scrutinize what they are doing, it is clear that they are in a number of areas working against the GFCA and Biblical Anglicanism in general.