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Does Canterbury Own the Anglican Communion?

Does Canterbury Own the Anglican Communion?

By David W. Virtue, DD
January 30, 2019

Eugene R. Schlesinger has written a piece for COVENANT Magazine in which he argues that the only authentic Anglican is one who is in communion with Canterbury.

In an article titled Against Anglican Myopia: GAFCON, Canterbury, and Lambeth, (TLC) he writes; "At one level this myopia is exemplified in a growing consensus within GAFCON, recently restated by Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, that a church need not be in communion with the See of Canterbury to be authentically Anglican. This statement is patently wrong, at least on one level. As long as there have been Anglican churches, communion with Canterbury was not regarded as optional or dispensable."

He accuses the Global South Provinces, particularly those aligned with GAFCON as suffering from "myopia" because they refuse to attend Lambeth 2020. GAFCON leaders say the reasons are profoundly theological in nature and have nothing to do with racial, cultural or ecclesial differences. Profound differences over human sexuality, including the consecration of homosexual bishops in the US and Canada and the open promotion of homosexual marriage are communion breaking issues, precisely because they are salvation issues.

Not for Schlesinger. While acknowledging that the "turmoil only seems to deepen", he fails to provide any theological litmus tests for the Anglican Communion staying together.

He argues that remaining at the level of Anglican identity risks thinking of Anglicanism as an end in itself, as something ultimate. This is the case when GAFCON seeks to redefine Anglicanism by insisting the Anglican Church in North America or the Anglican Church in Brazil are provinces, while suggesting a future without Canterbury. It is also the case when these attempts at redefinition are met with nothing more than a reassertion of Anglicanism's identity markers."

Schlesinger offers an eschatological answer; "Anglicanism is good, but it is not ultimate, only provisional. Only Jesus Christ is ultimate, and one day, even if only on the Last Day, all denominational identities will give way to the creedal and confessed one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." However, this still begs the question as to what we do in the meantime before the Lord returns and dissolves our denominational differences.

Canon Phil Ashey, President of the American Anglican Council confronts this head on, arguing that membership in the Anglican Communion is not decided by the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

"To be part of the Communion, a province needs to be in communion with the See of Canterbury and to be a member of the Instruments of the Communion. ACNA is not in communion with the See of Canterbury--and has not sought membership of the Instruments. There is a long-standing process by which a province is adopted as a province of the Communion... ACNA has not gone through this process," says ACC chief Josiah Idowu-Fearon.

Ashey argues that the Secretary General ignores the recognition of the Anglican Church in North America as a "partner province" of the Global South by the Primates of the Global South while helping to form a new 'province" of the Anglican Communion in Sudan.

Ashey acknowledges that Resolution 49 of Lambeth Conference 1930 defined membership in the Anglican Communion as a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury. He argues that the 2005 decision of the Church of Nigeria, the largest province of the Anglican Communion, to change its Constitutional definition of membership in the Anglican Communion from "relationship with the See of Canterbury" to relationship with those who uphold the historical formularies of the Anglican Communion (The Bible, the 39 Articles and the BCP 1662 and Ordinal) is, in fact, based on a common confession-- and not geography or mere "bonds of affection." That decision sent shock waves throughout the Anglican Communion.

This, in turn, shaped the definition of membership in the Anglican Communion in the Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2008), says Ashey. According to Principle 10.4 of the PCLCCAC, "the relationship of ecclesial communion within the Anglican Communion is based on the communion of a church with one or more of the following (a) the See of Canterbury...; or (e) all churches which profess the apostolic faith as received within the Anglican tradition."

"Clearly, relationship with the See of Canterbury is no longer the prerequisite that it was in 1930 for membership in the Anglican Communion. And, in fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury has never refused to recognize as a member of the Anglican Communion any Church which has been moved forward by 2/3 of the Primates to the ACC for addition to the Schedule of Churches in the Anglican Communion. Whatever approval the See of Canterbury offers comes at the end of the process--not at the beginning.

"According to its Constitution, the ACC has only an advisory role in the formation and recognition of new Churches in the Anglican Communion in their October 2016 Communique. In other words, the process of recognition of the Anglican Church in North America as a member Church within the Anglican Communion is already a 10-year process initiated by Primates of the Anglican Communion, representing Churches of the Anglican Communion, and in keeping with their "long-standing" procedural authority to do so.

Ashey cites Resolution 12 of ACC-10 which does not give jurisdiction to the ACC to create or withhold recognition of a new Church within the Anglican Communion.

"The Secretary General is in error when he claims that a new Province must apply to the ACC, much less "the Instruments," before it can become a province.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no official regulations guiding the formation of a province--merely suggestions. In 1996 ACC legal advisor (now Canon) John Rees said the ACC-10 guidelines were not intended to be a legal requirement but rather a flexible aid in provincial formation."

Canon Ashey's full essay can be found here:

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