At present, faithful Americans of the Anglican Way, whatever their jurisdiction, have before them a double task. The first part of this task is to interpret with both a charitable and a discerning spirit the statement issued by the Anglican Primates on October 16, after their recent emergency meeting at Lambeth. Did the Primates respond adequately to the crisis of authority provoked by the General Convention’s approval of the election of a divorced, non-celibate man, living with a same-sex “partner,” to be the Bishop of New Hampshire? Was it clear enough that the Diocese of New Westminster has left both Christian and Anglican ground by adopting the formal blessing of same-sex relationships, despite the Scriptural teaching that absolutely forbids such arrangements? Did the Primates leave an opening for the American faithful themselves to address these matters and to act in support of traditional Christian doctrine and morality?
We believe that they did (please see our earlier paper, “Rebuilding the Anglican Household in America – a task for 2004: A response to the Primates’ Statement of October 16, 2003, and a vocation for faithful Anglicans”). Thus, the second part of the task that confronts the faithful in America is to determine for themselves whether or not they are capable of organizing an actual province-in-being of the Church, as a traditional canonical basis for seeking fellowship with the Anglican Communion or the several Provinces that make up that communion.
Can the currently dispersed elements of the faithful Americans of the Anglican Way, whether Anglicans in ECUSA, Anglican exiles from ECUSA for conscience’ sake, members of the Anglican Mission in America, or the Anglicans of the Continuing Churches and of the Reformed Episcopal Church, find a center of faith and practice that will hold them together as one household of Christ? Can the Americans accept the hard work of cleaning their own house?
We believe that they can, but only when action comes from clarity of thought, rather than from reaction to the errors of others. We offer the following propositions and observations to foster further discussion and to pursue that clarity of thought.
1. The secular political model of “winners and losers” does not fit ecclesiastical circumstances, and should not be applied to the issuance of the Primates’ statement of October 16. No spiritual problem has a political solution, and thus, the more godly a primate, the less likely he is to be an effective politician or to produce documents of a political nature. Jesus Christ has won the only victory that matters, and it is our calling to witness, preach, and manifest that one victory, until the Lord returns in glory.
2. Ecclesiastical reality, however, does not exclude the possibility of there being genuine opponents of the Gospel or self-conscious defectors from the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our midst. As St. Paul warns, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Since St. Paul concludes this discussion with the words “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15), we know, as a matter of fact, that every form and method of resistance to error is available to us, except hatred and enmity.
3. The pastoral and parental vocations contain within them a duty to protect the flock of Christ, and children in particular, from exposure to uncorrected error and sin—from “every brother that walketh disorderly.” While the conduct of major reformations and renewals of the local churches on earth, including the disposition of their temporalities, may be a slow process, the pastoral and parental duties of protection are immediate and incapable of postponement. The flocks must be protected now, if necessary at the expense of their corporate temporal property, since the gain of the whole world is not worth the price of their souls.
4. No governing body of a local church in need of reformation, of whatever size and scale, has ever given the faithful permission to engage in reformation. If the governors were orthodox and promoting Scriptural orthodoxy, there would be no need for reformation.
5. The English Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries was premised on the claim that national churches, such as the Church of England, have an inherent right and obligation to reform themselves, regardless of their other ecclesiastical associations, past or present.
6. It follows, then, that the Church in the United States or the Church in Canada has the same right and obligation of reform, regardless of what any other national church or communion of national churches has to say. Furthermore, even if the various other Anglican national churches of the present day have forgotten the historical and theological basis of their self-government under Christ, as opposed to their obligatory submission to a centralized ecclesiastical polity, the American and Canadian churches can lose their innate authority to reform, and if necessary to reorganize themselves, only if they repudiate the Anglican Reformation itself.
7. If, therefore, we insist that the bishops and primates of other national churches take on the duty of reforming the American churches, we also ask them to deny basic Anglican principle. It is the duty of the faithful people in the United States and Canada to present themselves to Christ and to the world as faithful churches, and not the duty of the churches in other nations. We may certainly ask them for help, and we ought always to seek their fellowship in the true faith of Jesus Christ, but we cannot demand that they protect us absolutely from the sacrifices and labors of our own national duty to Christ.
8. Those who believe that their calling is to be Anglicans must persist in the Anglican Way, as epitomized by the historic formularies that are our basic statements of self-definition as servants of Jesus Christ in the Anglican Way.
9. Without rancor, if only because as Anglicans we do not believe that membership in a particular sect is necessary for salvation, we plead with those faithful people who cannot in conscience follow the Anglican Way to seek the peace of their consciences in some other household of Christ’s Church. Those whose consciences affirm the central government and authority of Rome should embrace Rome. Those who wish to live the life of the Orthodox should find a place in one of the Orthodox churches. Those who desire to live under a Presbyterian polity or according to the beliefs of modern Open Evangelicalism should join with their brethren in faith, rather than wearying their souls by fighting both the opponents of historic Anglicanism and historic Anglicanism itself at one and the same time.
10. The Anglican Way is a reformed catholic faith and discipline. Even allowing for different emphases, we must come to see that one cannot be an Anglican without embracing both the Reformation and the catholic faith of the undivided Church of Jesus Christ.
11. It is time to notice how much of current practice, even among those who would call themselves “low church” or “evangelical” is derived from Vatican II and its aftermath in the Roman Church. The various innovations that proceed from this source ought to be evaluated for their consistency with a reformed catholic faith and discipline.
12. It is also time to notice that the so-called “doctrine of reception,” which has been used thus far to justify the innovation of ordaining women, is inconsistent with Biblical Christianity because its essential premise is a trial usage of what is perceived by large numbers of the faithful as a departure from Scriptural authority, on the dubious basis that in the indefinite future agreement among members of the Church will be reached and that agreement will obligate God’s acceptance of the new practice.
13. It is useless to propose new, self-governing provinces of the Church in North America, if those provinces are expected to begin with an internally impaired communion among their own members.
14. When the American and Canadian households are in order, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to pursue fellowship and communion with either the Anglican Communion or its faithful remnant. Just as civil governments cannot recognize nations that have yet to come into existence, so, too, other national churches cannot recognize or enter into formal communion with the Americans or Canadians until they constitute existing and coherent national churches themselves.
The Rev’d Dr Louis R Tarsitano & the Rev’d Dr Peter Toon October 21, 2003