A Blatant Disregard of our Anglican Ecclesiology?
In June 2001, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Carey, told the Primates of
S. E. Asia and of Rwanda that their ordaining and consecrating four
missionary bishops for North America was “a blatant disregard of our
Now “blatant” is not a word in common use but its meaning points in the
direction of excessive --- “noisy especially in a vulgar or offensive
manner; vociferous; offensively or vulgarly clamorous.”
Thus the two Primates are charged with not only disregarding (a strong
enough accusation) Anglican ecclesiology but also with doing so in a vulgar
and offensive way (an extremely strong accusation)! Presumably this charge
is made because they did not consult the American hierarchy before
proceeding with the ordinations.
The crime of which the two Primates are accused relates to ecclesiology,
that is to the ecclesia, the Church of God. It is presumed that they as
Primates and Archbishops know the rules and content of Anglican
ecclesiology and that they flagrantly paid no attention to them with
reference to these consecrations in Denver, Colorado, USA.
Many books have been written by Anglicans on ecclesiology and they present
us with many theories and opinions. The doctrine of the Church presupposed
in the classic Formularies from the 16th century [BCP, Ordinal & Articles of
Religion] relates to the situation in England and to the national,
established Church of England. Once the Church of England engages in mission
and plants churches in other lands then there has to be an adaptation of the
Formularies to the political situation there (as happened for example in the
USA in the late 18th century). We are still as Anglicans working out this
ecclesiology for we live as an international family in a great variety of
contexts and situations.
But Dr Carey seems to be referring not to the whole of ecclesiology but only
to a certain understanding of the relation of provinces and dioceses to each
other within the Anglican Communion, an understanding that has been spelled
out at various Lambeth Conferences and that is found also in the
constitution and canons of the provinces. This understanding includes the
following principles -- that each Province is autonomous; that no Province
should meddle in the internal affairs of another Province; that no bishop
should enter the territory of another bishop except he/she is invited so to
do; and that no clergyperson should move from one diocese to another without
the permission of the two bishops concerned.
In terms of these rules, the two Primates certainly must be judged guilty.
Whether they are guilty in the court of heaven depends on whether these
rules are, in this instance, the law of God.
The Territorial Bishopric – Sacred?
Let us be honest and recall that there is a very long tradition of what we
may call the territorial bishopric in the Christian Church – one specific
geographical area, one bishop. This was the general rule in Europe right up
to the time of the Protestant Reformation. And in the Elizabethan
Settlement of Religion the Church of England retained the fact and the
practice of the territorial bishopric. In the Churches that have grown from
the Church of England, what we now call the Anglican Communion of Churches,
this tradition of the territorial bishopric has continued and is in place
now. (Yet it must be admitted that it has come to exist in a situation where
it overlaps often with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran dioceses, not
to mention the geographical arrangements of other churches.)
Let us also be honest and note that the doctrine of the territorial
bishopric has been modified to some extent through the appointment of
suffragan, area, assistant and coadjutor bishops, making there to be several
bishops in one place. It has been further modified through the creation of
non-territorial (= ethnic or cultural dioceses) for native peoples (as in
the USA & New Zealand) and for the armed forces (as in England and the USA).
Then, also, it has been seriously questioned by the creation of an office of
a Presiding Bishop or Archbishop (e.g., in the USA and Canada) to which no
territorial or cultural or ethnic bishopric is attached. Further, in Europe
there are overlapping dioceses, one belonging to the Church of England and
one to the Episcopal Church, USA, and in the USA there is a Church of South
India jurisdiction which overlaps various Episcopal Church dioceses.
We rehearse these facts merely to point out that while the Lambeth
Conference may speak loudly about the commitment to the territorial
bishopric, in practice this commitment is modified or abandoned by
individual provinces and dioceses according to felt need in differing
And let us be realistic and recall that in the major cities of the West and
most particularly in North America the fact of overlapping jurisdictions
belonging to the various Orthodox Churches of the East and to the various
Eastern Rite and privileged jurisdictions of the Roman Catholic Church is a
fact of life and seems to be accepted without question by all concerned.
The Guilty Primates
Now back to the “guilty” Primates. It seems as if (from what they have said
as well as from what they have done) they came to the conclusion that there
was ample justification for the abandonment of commitment to the
territorial bishopric in the USA. They judged that the state of the
Episcopal Church, that claims territorial jurisdiction over the whole of the
USA, was at such a spiritual, moral and doctrinal low as to justify the
setting up of a mission led by bishops to evangelize and teach the Faith as
it is known in the Holy Scriptures and the classic Anglican Formularies.
Thus they judged their loyalty was to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Gospel
and to the orthodox Anglican Way before it was to the principle of
We recall that in the late 1970s a similar judgment had been made by many
priests and laity and this led through the Congress of St Louis to the
formation of the Continuing Anglican Church, which is very much still with
us but in several parts and jurisdictions. Thus we have up to 100,000
Anglicans outside the official Province of the Anglican Communion in the
It would seem that the Archbishop of Canterbury, for whom we have great
respect and affection, needs to re-examine his ecclesiology in the light of
the facts we have rehearsed. Further he perhaps need to ask whether it is
even working in England, in the Established Church, where there is a
prolonged and loud call for a Third Province for traditional believers, a
province that would overlap the present Provinces of York and Canterbury.
The time for the acceptance by the Anglican Communion of the principle of
cultural [and thus overlapping] jurisdictions seems to have arrived. They
are needed in the West/North and may soon also be needed in the South. And
they need to be implemented now, but with great care and patience and
The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon
August 4th 2001