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What kind of evidence would indicate that it is under the blessing of God in 2004?

By Peter Toon

Since the sixteenth century, Anglican Churches, first in Britain and then in other countries, have claimed that together as a Communion they represent a legitimate jurisdiction within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The form of Christianity to which they are historically committed may be described as a biblically based Reformed Catholicism. The Church of England, known for centuries before the Reformation as Ecclesia Anglicana, claimed that what happened to her in the sixteenth century was a washing of her dirty face, a restoring of her original faith and practice, not the adoption of a novel religion.

However, Anglicans have always been aware of the fact that any one or more of their Churches or Provinces, or dioceses therein, could reject or revise the received, historic Faith and thereby enter the slippery slope into apostasy. There are grave warnings in Holy Scripture of the danger of apostasy and the history of the Church provides examples thereof.

In 2004, the claim of many Anglicans worldwide and an increasing minority of American Episcopalians, who still belong to dioceses or parishes of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., is that this Church as a whole in terms of both its governing Convention and many of its dioceses and parishes has crossed the line from error to apostasy. The reason for this amazing claim is the embracing by the General Convention (= Synod) of the ECUSA of a series of innovations in doctrine and morals, culminating in the acceptance of same-sex marriage and the consecration of a “gay” priest as a bishop – and all this without as yet the slightest sign of repentance, despite calls to this from all over the Anglican world. This minority of Episcopalians within the ECUSA is united under the banner of “The Network”.

But this group is certainly not the sole representative that is claiming to express an authentic form of the received Anglican Way in the U.S.A.. We need to be aware that at least since the 1970s there have been secessions from the Episcopal Church and these have led to what we may call Extra-Mural Anglican groups, and they are organized in a variety of small jurisdictions (e.g., the Anglican Church of America and the Anglican Mission in America) which now exist alongside the Reformed Episcopal Church , which originated in the nineteenth century. There are some signs of cooperation and inter-communion not only between some of these bodies but also with yet another grouping, Pentecostalists on the Canterbury trail (e.g. the Charismatic Episcopal Church). What they all have in common is the belief that the ECUSA is either apostate or virtually so and that they are preserving the whole or major aspects of the genuine, historic Anglican Way.

Let us now return to the question with which we began: What kind of evidence would indicate that this motley crowd of Episcopalians and Extra-Mural Anglicans, seen as a whole, is under the blessing of God and is in some way or another an expression of the genuine Anglican Way of Christianity in the multi-cultural society which is America?

Let us be clear that this is a different question to: Are there individual parishes and congregations faithfully worshipping, witnessing and working for the Lord? We can all agree that seen as isolated units not a few of the local churches in this motley crowd are fellowships where God is truly honored and people are genuinely blessed. But let us remember that one unit is neither a jurisdiction nor a communion of churches.

For the motley crowd of jurisdictions, missions and societies really and truly to be a genuine expression of the Anglican Way I suggest that the following principles must be evident in and amongst them:

1. That they are fully aware of and committed to the classic foundations of the Anglican Way, that is to the Scriptures as the Authority for Faith and Conduct, and to the historic Creeds and Formularies [classic BCP, Ordinal & Articles of Religion] as the standards of worship, doctrine and discipline. [This is a very demanding principle for all because, on the one side, The Network and former Episcopalians are tempted to regard the 1979 ECUSA Prayer Book and its Catechism as genuine Formularies; and, on the other side, the extreme Anglo-Catholics are tempted to insist that the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council on images/icons and the doctrines of the Tridentine Roman Mass on Transubstantiation and Sacrifice are to be held by all true believers.]

2. That they recognize that there is a genuine comprehensiveness in the Anglican Way and within it there is a full place for both Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, Charismatics and others. And that this comprehensiveness is based upon a common commitment to the Scripture and the Formularies but allows a generous latitude in terms of churchmanship, music, apologetics, clergy dress and so on. [It is regrettably all too common – to give two examples -- for the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion to talk as though all Anglicans ought to be Anglo-Catholics and for members of The Network to act as though all ought to be Charismatics.]

3. That they are doing all they can to promote centripetal spiritual and moral forces leading to dialogue, a growing cooperation, fellowship and common worship. And that they are doing all they can to minimize centrifugal forces leading to the majoring on minors and to a growing apart. [Thus they are looking for ways to do theological education, evangelism, church planting, communications together and not apart and not in competition with one another.]

4. That they are doing all they can to deal with the culture, context and failures which allowed the acceptance of innovations in doctrine and morality within the ECUSA and the liberal north American denominations. [For example, that they are seeking to develop a healthier attitude towards sexual relations and thus working to minimize such things as abortion, trial sex before marriage, divorce, remarriage of divorcees in church, ordaining divorced and remarried persons, allowing divorced and remarried bishops to function, and so on.]

5. That they are seeking to cut down the number of bishops being consecrated and making efforts to have fewer bishops who are then accepted across the jurisdictions. [The Anglican Way in the USA managed for over a century from the 17th into the 18th without any bishops at all! Today there are at least 120 bishops amongst the extra-mural Anglicans, too many by any reckoning.]

6. That when there is a meeting where members of diverse groups are present the primary acts of worship should be based upon services in the classic Formulary or on services whose style and content are agreed in advance by all parties. [Anglicans who were once united by their use of The Book of Common Prayer translated into 150 or so languages have become divided by their use of a vast array of alternative and semi-extempore forms of service. So great sensitivity is needed here.]

7. That there are seeking together to communicate with leaders from other parts of the Anglican Communion, to share what is going on, and making sure that visits from overseas Anglican bishops are made to a variety of jurisdictions and not only to present or former ECUSA congregations. Likewise overseas leaders from the Traditional Anglican Communion visit a variety of Anglican bodies in the USA.

This is not a complete List but what it attempts to do is to indicate that certain signs must surely be present for a movement/jurisdiction to claim to be, as a movement/jurisdiction, under the blessing of God and a genuine constituent member of the authentic family of jurisdictions which make up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church on earth.

A corollary of this argument is that if the above signs are not present and not likely to be present (for whatever reasons) then the Anglican Way in the U.S.A. is no longer viable and that its members ought to seek another valid jurisdiction of the Church of God on earth and to do so in the fear of the Lord and for the salvation of their souls.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.), is rector of
Christ Church, Biddulph Moor & St Anne's, Brown Edge. He can be reached at peter@toon662.fsnet.co.uk


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