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A New Anglican Reformation

A New Anglican Reformation

Fr. Phil Eberhart / Fr. Edward Kironde
Resurrection Anglican Studies Forum

Questions?   We covered last week the Polity and Collegial (Mutual Submission) Governance of the Anglican Communion worldwide.  From the role and relative position of the Archbishop of Canterbury down to the roles of the parish priest, deacons and lay members.

We also covered, in brief, the period of the evangelical revivals in England and the expansion of the faith in missions, through the expansion of the British Empire and its colonial enterprises, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The names of Charles Simeon, William Wilberforce, John Newton, incidentally John Wesley and George Whitefield, all of whom were contemporaries at one level or another, were mentioned as shapers and movers in this period.


In the modern era though, a new phenomenon has arisen in the Anglican Communion which has "torn" the fabric of the communion.  It was that precise language that was used by the primates, in warning before the 2003 consecration by the US of its first actively gay man, Gene Robinson.  So what is this "reformation" all about?

Fr. Edward mentioned last Sunday the principle of Mutual Submission and I would add, Accountability.  But the question has been submission and accountability to what - to one another only or to the loudest or richest voices at the table?  Are we a church that is "democratic" as it pertains to doctrine - that is, where doctrine can be changed by majority vote?  Some say, "Yes!"  Others, "NO!"

There is a pervasive worldview in the west for the last century that has contributed to much of what we know today as our "culture wars."  They are actually "worldview" wars - progressive vs. conservative or traditionalist.  All of history is seen as something that can be rewritten for the sake of an "agenda" or a modern end.  We see the effects in the areas of both politics and religion in the west today.  Ancient pathways are being constantly challenged and stepped over.

For decades now, the Church in the west has been camped on top of this "fault line" that is shifting underneath us!  The fault line is responsible in large part for the pulling apart of our national political system and it is at the heart of the reason for the new reformation in the Anglican world.  For us in the Anglican communion, our anchor historically is in Holy Scripture.  Article VI of the 39 Articles is crystal clear in its scope and meaning: 

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

The phrase "all things necessary to salvation" is the key.  In the early discussions after the articles were penned, Anglican theologians were in the midst of the discussions of the Anglican Via Media, or Middle Way - between the "works" orientation of the Catholic Church that tended to add things to scripture as necessary for salvation,  and the radical Protestant orientation that said absolutely nothings is outside the purview of scripture - that all things are spoken of in holy writ and therefore we have no need of our 'reason.'  Neither are true.

Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, among others, steered a middle course, in his writings, between the Roman and the Protestant extremes, by saying, “What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience are due; the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after this, the voice of the church succeedeth.”

And not only are our reason and tradition subject to scripture but it is that which informs our knowledge of the other formularies of the tradition, i.e. the creeds and the history of the ecumenical councils of the church.  Even scripture itself, the articles warn, may not be used 'against' itself - so that one part is expounded as "repugnant" to another.  (see articles on the creeds and councils of the church)

The point is that Holy Scripture is the sole authority that is allowed in the church and it cannot be replaced or supplanted by "enlightened" reason.  Scripture is given first place and to it our allegiance alone is given in the "first promise" that we are asked to make in our ordination vows as priests of the church. 

Here is the fault-line that has pulled apart the communion of the Church in the West.  On the one hand those who hold to the historic formularies of Scripture, Creed and Council and those who simply discard them as easily as outdated pieces of furniture.  This is what the "fight" is over:

"Shall we continue to be subject to Holy Scripture as it has been historically received or shall we re-write is as simply a piece of our historical tradition and not as it is indeed, the very Word of God?"


Timeline of the New Reformation (see Anglican Realignment)

For our purposes here, we will start locally and move toward a more global understanding.  Over a period of three decades this discussion has been bubbling in the Episcopal Church USA with those who would revise scripture and tradition coming into ascendancy and power in the last half of the 20th century.  By the last decade the boiling point had been reached, and it came to a head as the bishops of the communion met at Lambeth in 1998 with a statement that repudiated the movement of the Western church toward a more open interpretation of scripture, specifically in regard to homosexual orientation and practice.  By a large margin the" Lambeth Conference in 1998 "voted to affirm the traditional teaching of scripture and to declare that "homosexuality" was "incompatible" with it. (see Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998)

From that time the American church began to openly repudiate the resolution as overstepping the bounds of our common life in a collegial and conciliar fellowship such as the Anglican Communion - so that one party (The Archbishop of Canterbury or the Lambeth Conference of bishops) cannot "tell another" what its practice is supposed to be.

In Denver in 2000, at the ECUSA's General Convention, another resolution was penned and approved, (D--039) which, in contrast to Lambeth, elevated and affirmed all sexual orientations and even lifestyle choices as valid, worthy of pastoral care and equally worthy of leadership in the church.

Beginning in January of 2000, as a response to the growing repudiation and tension in the American church, two men has been consecrated on foreign soil and sent back to America as Missionary Bishops.  After the repudiation of D-039, the Anglican MIssion in America was born, and a new Anglican Alignment was underway.

African provinces were deeply concerned about the drift of the American church, as the American dollars provided a great many programs and outreaches.  But the new "theologies" being forced on Africa were incompatible with their faith and the faith of the Bible, plain and simple.

Many churches joined the AMiA in those early years after 2001 and in 2003 a new development, the approval and consecration of an openly gay man as a bishop in New Hampshire, ECUSA, clarified the courses of both groups in the US.  It was clear that reform of the institution was not likely through political means and that a new alignment within the Communion was needed.

The course of action that AMiA had taken three-years earlier was now being considered by many, and indeed was taken by many.  Other African nations got involved in outreach to conservative Anglicans in America:  Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya to name a few.  South America was also involved as Bolivia began to oversee churches in the US as well.

There was a splintering effect for a time and then an effort to bring some unified shape began in the form of "Common Cause."  It was an effort to gather the troops around a common cause, literally - the re-formation of Anglican witness in the US.

That, through many fits and starts has become the Anglican Church in North America.  Formed of the broken parts of TEC (The Episcopal Church) the ACNA began in 2008.  It coincided with the formation of another group, which we call GAFCON.

2008 was the year of the every 10 year Lambeth Conference.  That conference was deeply effected by the divisions and alignment challenges of the times and the GAFCON conference (Global Anglican Futures Conference) was born, in Jerusalem in the late summer of 2008, to confer regarding a way forward as Biblical Anglicans around the world.

The Jerusalem Declaration came from the first GAFCON meeting and formed the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) which now has a secretariat office in London and a growing membership.

GAFCON II happened this past October in Nairobi, Kenya.  Fr Phil was invited and present at it. 1300 participants and 330+ bishops gathered for a week of prayer, discussion and teaching.  It is helpful to take time and read through the declarations and the work of GAFCON and the FCA to get a handle on the direction that the Communion is taking.

The story is not over yet!  We are very much in the midst of this reformation - this realignment in Anglicanism around the world.

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