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Anglicanism is like all Reformation churches, "confessional."

Anglicanism is like all Reformation churches, "confessional."

By Chuck Collins
June 28, 2022

Our confessions/formularies, and subscription to them, has kept a fragile peace, but peace nonetheless, until modern times. The built-in generosity of the formularies and our dismal failure to hold people accountable to them (failure to mention "church discipline" is the weakness of Article XIX) has always been a problem.

But even the pre-Tractarian high churchmen didn't question the authority of Scripture and the historic formularies, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was no more than the first among equals whose authority was as valuable as he upheld the authority of the Bible and the Anglican heritage (otherwise completely dispensable!). Unity based on a three-legged stool, Communion Partners, Instruments of Unity, and an invented communion relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury was unthinkable.

Our unity was theological, not conciliar, as Tay and Kolini wrote George Carey (the occasion of the consecration of John Rogers and Chuck Murphy): "Any strategy that seeks to ground the unity of the Anglican Communion with its foundation in political accommodation rather than in the essentials of the Christian faith is doomed.

Only an unapologetic and firm insistence in the Faith entrusted to us will keep us together." The GAFCON writers of "The Way, the Truth, the Life" said the same thing: "The Anglican Church has always been a confessional institution..."

It is also clear that the ACNA began otherwise. Bob Duncan's announcement that "Anglicanism is neither papal, nor confessional, it is rather apostolic and conciliar" ("Anglicanism Come of Age") is a way of saying "We believe the Bible, and we find our identity in partnership with those who don't follow Lambeth and intensely despise what the Episcopal Church stands for" - the AMiA, Forward in Faith, REC, etc. are in this together (Common Cause).

I know the ACNA glass is either half empty or half full. I'm choosing "full." The Preamble of our Constitution tries to marry Confessional and Conciliar, but it should be evident to everyone by now that there will be no lasting unity based on our common disdain. If we do not recognize Anglican identity in the gospel of God's love for sinners and in the authority of Scripture found in the recognized formularies (Thirty-nine Articles, the two books of Homilies, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), we are left with what we commonly despise. That is bound to fail, as a church that stands for nothing will fall for anything. We are clear about what we are against, but what are we for?

I see glimmers of hope in the ACNA Constitution. In the Preamble we affirm our indebtedness to GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration (2008). This is great! I suggest that we rewrite the Preamble without the second paragraph describing ourselves in Common Cause Partnership. Our unity (and hope!) is confessional, not conciliar, even if we started as a conciliar movement. This will reconnect us to our historic Anglican heritage.

And why not begin the "Fundamental Declarations of the Province" with the gospel of Christ, the central message of Holy Scripture:

1. We confess the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

2. We confess our commitment to the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations.

I love that the two dominical sacraments are mentioned (# 2) setting us against the Anglo-Catholic attempt to capture ground for seven sacraments. And the historic episcopate is described as "integral" (bene esse) rather than as necessary (esse) to the fullness and unity of the church. I also love that the Creeds are affirmed (#3) constituting our connection to catholic Christianity. Number 5 of our Constitution is a mess and misses the point that General Councils "may err, and sometimes have erred" (Article XXI) and are altogether subordinate to the authority of Holy Scripture. There is nothing sacred about councils, even though Lancelot Andrewes was looking for a convenient "four" for his immortal statement: "One canon, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries." I suggest we rewrite #5 to simply say:

5. "We affirm the Councils of the church in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures."

Number 6 in the Constitution affirms the authority of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, but then it spoils the recipe by including all the Prayer Books that precede this one, including the 1549 Prayer Book that, according to theologians and historians, was never considered to be a permanent book for belief or worship. I see the slight-of-hand accommodating our framers were trying to do, but it's the 1662 Book that represents the Edwardian and Elizabethan settlement, and therefore the standard for theology and worship. We should just say this plainly as the Jerusalem Declaration does.

I do love that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of 1571 are recognized as "expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief" and to be "taken in their literal and grammatical sense." However, there is no mention in our Constitution of the two books of Homilies. Is this because our bishops and priests have not read them? The Homilies, according to the preface of the Edwardian homilies, were intended to deliver the people "from all errors and superstitions" (Gatiss Edition). I would love to see the Anglican Homilies mentioned in our Constitution as they are recognized as authoritative in our history and in the Thirty-nine Articles (Article XXXV).

And just as the Articles include matters concerning "doctrinal issues controverted at that time," I wonder why the two moral issues of our day are buried in the basement of the ACNA Constitution. Why not include them front-and-center in the Fundamental Declarations of the Province (I realize that the suggested 8 & 9 are mentioned in Canon 8, Sec 2 & 3). I suggest the ACNA Constitution be revised to include 8 and 9 in the Fundamental Declarations of the Province to read:

8. We confess that physical sexual expression is appropriate only within the lifelong, monogamous union of husband and wife as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer (1662).

9. We confess the God-given dignity and sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death.


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