Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

The Anglican Church in North America: A church for all conservative North American Anglicans?

While I would not go as far saying that it is characteristic of all folks in the Anglican Church in North America, the ACNA does have its share of people who do not want to hear anything that is in their way of thinking even remotely critical of their denomination.

While I would not go as far saying that it is characteristic of all folks in the Anglican Church in North America, the ACNA does have its share of people who do not want to hear anything that is in their way of thinking even remotely critical of their denomination. They do not want drawn to their attention the areas in which the denomination needs reform. They exhibit a high level of defensiveness. On more than one occasion I have been told in so many words that if I do not have anything nice to say about the ACNA, I should not say anything at all. This is unfortunate because there is a real need for meaningful reform in the ACNA particularly at the denominational level if the ACNA is to be anything more than the latest Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican Church in the United States and Canada.

Among the areas in which the Anglican Church in North America is in greatest need of reform is that its most influential leaders evidences no commitment to creating an environment in the ACNA in which all schools of conservative Anglican thought can flourish. The doctrinal statements that the ACNA has produced to date favor the doctrinal positions and related practices of one particular school of conservative Anglican thought over the others. The adherents of the school of thought in question “identify with Roman Catholic teaching and liturgical practices and holds a high view of the authority of clergy and tradition.” [1] In recent years a number of its adherents have also come to identify with Eastern Orthodox teaching and liturgical practices. While some of its adherents idealize the early High Middle Ages period as a golden age of Christianity, others display a greater affinity with the Counter Reformation and post-Tridentian Roman Catholicism.

The Anglican identity of this particular school of thought has been controverted since the nineteenth century. Adherents of the school argue that it alone represents genuine Anglicanism. Critics draw attention to the numerous ways in which it departs from Holy Scripture and the Anglican formularies, the touchstones of historic Anglican identity.

One of the first writers to recognize the lack of such commitment in what was then the Common Cause Partnership leadership was the late Peter Toon. Toon was an Anglican presbyter, theologian, and author: has a complete list of his books. He coined the phrase, “Anglican Way,” to describe the distinctive characteristics of authentic historic Anglicanism. He wrote a number of articles drawing attention to the controversial positions that the Common Cause Partnership took in its Theological Statement. The constitution of the Anglican Church in North America incorporates into Article I the “seven elements” listed in the CCP Theological Statement as “the fundamental declaration of the province,” which Article I identifies “as characteristic of the Anglican Way” and “essential to membership.”

In a private email, “Proposed Doctrine for the Network: Can it be improved?”posted on the Internet, Toon points out that the original proposed CCP Theological Statement exhibited “problems of an internal lack of coherence” and took positions that “self-respecting educated Evangelical Anglicans” could not accept.

In regard to the statement’s position on the Councils of the Church, Toon goes on to point out if one follows Canon A5 of the Church of England Canons and carefully reads the Thirty-Nine Articles:

“…one will get a full and clear statement of the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures for instructing us in the way of salvation and godliness. One will also learn what are the Catholic Creeds and why they are accepted in the Church in relation to the Bible. And the same goes for the two Dominical Sacraments. (See also the Catechism in the BCP)”He further points out:


At the same time one will learn that Councils may err and so one will not accept automatically the teaching of “the Seven Ecumenical Councils.” And this is especially important with regard to the seventh, the Second Council of Nicea, whose teaching on the veneration of icons is effectively rejected by the Articles and specifically by the Book of Homilies to which Article XXXV points. The historic Anglican Way has always affirmed four general councils and stopped at that – leaving to the area of discretion by local churches whether to affirm more. (In this regard the Affirmation of St Louis set forth by Anglo-Catholic Continuers in 1977 went way past any previous official, provincial or Lambeth Conference Anglican statement in relation to the Councils by making 7 councils and their teaching mandatory – a big mistake.)”


In regard to the statement’s position on the Episcopate Toon notes:


“… if one reads the Articles and the Ordinal together then one will not be able to say on the basis of them (or by direct deduction from the New Testament) that the historic Episcopate is necessary for the full being of the Church. This statement is an Anglo-Catholic doctrine and belongs, I think, to the distinctions between the Episcopate seen as the bene esse (of the well being) or the plene esse (of the fullness of being) or the esse (of the necessary being). Anglicans have held varied doctrines of the relation of the Episcopate to the Church and it is not clear what is being claimed by the English expression, “full being” here. Whatever is claimed it excludes the majority of Anglicans since 1549 who have recognized other Churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian etc) as genuine churches with genuine presbyters, even if lacking the good thing of the Episcopate.”


In regard to the statement’s position on the Book of Common Prayer Toon notes:


“It is the 1662 edition that is in the Constitutions of the majority of the Anglican Provinces and this Book has been translated into 150 languages or more. (Go to provinces like Uganda and see it used each Sunday and find it written into the Constitution.) No official province of the Anglican Communion authorizes the 1549 or the 1552 or the 1559 or the 1604 editions. A very small continuing group here or there may authorize the 1549.”


The Common Cause Roundtable would modify the language of the proposed CCP Theological Statement but it did not retreat entirely from the Anglo-Catholic positions of the original proposed statement. In its position on the Book of Common Prayer, it would expand its standard of worship to include not only the 1549 Prayer Book but also the pre-Reformation Medieval service books. It would recognize the 1662 Prayer Book and the Ordinal appended to it as a standard of doctrine, which is a far cry from recognizing these two formularies as comprising with the Thirty-Nine Articles the longstanding doctrinal standard of authentic historic Anglicanism. The choice of wording did not exclude the 1549 Prayer Book and the pre-Reformation Medieval service books as standards of doctrine.


In his article, “The Ordaining and Consecrating of a Bishop – but what is his real identity?” Toon concludes the article with a discussion of the debate over whether bishops are essential to the church:


“It has often been observed that the original Ordinal of the Church of England left open various possibilities of the origin of the Threefold Ministry and its precise relation to the apostolic age. One question, often debated in the past, is whether the Episcopate is of thebene esse, the plene esse or the esse of the Church through space and time. By the Chicago Quadrilateral (later approved by the Conference – not Synod – of Bishops assembled at the Lambeth Conference) the Protestant Episcopal Church had virtually outlawed thebene esse approach (which had been and is very widely held by Anglicans) by insisting that the Episcopate was truly necessary for either the fullness of being or the very being of the Church. That is, the Church either is only really the Church when it has the Episcopate or is only the Church when it has the Episcopate (what does this approach do to the millions of Baptists, Methodists etc. in the U.S.A.?).”


Toon goes on to point out:


“The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral has of course no force in any province other than the American unless that province has actually adopted it by synodical action. Thus a majority of Anglicans worldwide still hold to the bene esse or at strongest the plene esse view of the Episcopate! The esse is seen as Roman Catholic or Orthodox in most places.”


Toon further points out:


“However, the strong temptation in the USA, in the competitiveness of the massive religious supermarket, is for the zealous in Episcopal Churches to claim that the Episcopate is either absolutely or very nearly absolutely necessary for there to be real and true, valid and efficacious, means of grace, sacraments and salvation. Anglicans in other lands where the competition is not so diverse and fierce can highly value the Episcopate without make it absolutely necessary!”


He then notes:


Regrettably, if I understand the document aright, the recent (mid August) proposed theological basis of the Common Cause of the A C Network, includes a commitment to what appears to be the doctrine that the Episcopate is certainly of plene esse of the Church and maybe of the esse! If so, it excludes most Anglicans worldwide today and excludes the millions of evangelical Anglicans who have been faithful Anglicans over the generations! It reads:


‘We confess the godly historic Episcopate as an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.’


This of course puts a particular spin on the 1662 Ordinal (which this Confession accepts) and prohibits the comprehensiveness that has always been part of the genius of the Anglican Way!”


With the adoption of the present ACNA constitution and canons and the ACNA College of Bishops’ endorsement of subsequent doctrinal statements it has become increasingly clear that Peter Toon was right in his assessment. The doctrinal positions of the Anglican Church in North America and the related practices disallow the comprehensiveness that has historically been a part of the distinctive character of Anglicanism. They treat as an undesirable element in the ACNA congregations and clergy who are evangelical in their theological outlook and who wholeheartedly subscribe to “the protestant and reformed principles of the Anglican Church based on Holy Scripture and as set out in the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles.” [2] They do not make room for the adherents of this school of conservative Anglican thought to prosper and thrive in the ACNA.

This particular school of thought stands in continuity with the English Reformers more than any other school of thought in Anglicanism. Its adherents in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the United Kingdom have recognized the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA has reciprocated by withholding its recognition of their theological views and making no provision for such views in its formularies. It is a classical case of biting the hand that feeds, repaying support with wrong.

It is quite within the realm of possibility to develop statements of doctrine that do not favor one school of thought over another and that articulate positions on which there is general agreement. Those in positions of influence in the Anglican Church in North America, however, have shown no interest in the development of such doctrinal statements. Rather they have exhibited a strong inclination to impose the doctrinal positions and related practices of the Anglo-Catholic-philo-Orthodox party on the denomination, at the expense of other groups in the ACNA. This makes the GAFCON/GFCA Primates’ support of the ACNA even more puzzling since they have also made a public commitment to intervene on the behalf of groups excluded by their province or diocese. It casts doubt on their credibility.

In upcoming articles I am going to look at how each doctrinal statement that the Anglican Church in North America has produced is partisan in the doctrinal positions that it takes and the related practices that it mandates or permits. I will show that there is clear and consistent pattern of favoring the theological and ecclesiological views of the Anglo-Catholic-philo-Orthodox party in the ACNA over those of other groups. This pattern points to what has all the earmarks of being a calculated policy of discriminating against these groups and excluding their theological and ecclesiological views from the official doctrine of the denomination. Such a policy serves only two purposes—to transform the denomination into a body that is solely unreformed Catholic in doctrine, ecclesiology, and practice and to reduce and eventually eliminate the presence of conservative evangelicals and other confessional Anglicans in the denomination.


[1] The Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Terminology and Glossary of Terms

[2] The Anglican Church League’s Policy Objectives

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