An attempt to move forward genuine reform and renewal in The Network.
I have been accused, by an earnest supporter of “The Network” in the ECUSA, of “hav[ing] swallowed the revisionist charge that the orthodox coalition of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals is simply hung up about sex”. And he continues, “ Dr. Toon, we are not standing together because we are homophobes and sexually obsessed bigots. We stand together and will not be moved precisely because the validity and the authority of divine revelation has been and is being denied, not in an isolated and impotent way by a few renegade bishops, but officially and legislatively by the ordained leaders of an entire province.”
Several people have defended me and my many writings [for some of them visit www.american-anglican.fsnet.co.uk ] and have emphasized – as I do consistently -- that what seems to be avoided by The Network is this: that the innovation of the blessing of homosexual partnerships – though most offensive to the holy Lord and wholly repugnant to the authentic Anglican Way – is neither the first nor the most serious of the innovations introduced by the ECUSA into its corporate life since the 1950s. And this innovation would not now be in place if other innovations (some embraced over the years by current leaders of The Network) had been opposed and expelled by “the orthodox” [I prefer “would-be orthodox”] of the ECUSA during the last thirty to forty years.
Let us be clear. As Anglicans we do not only seek to be wholly conformed to and subject to biblical teaching, to the authority of Divine Revelation written in Scripture, but we also are conformed to what we call Formularies, from Creeds to the classic BCP, Ordinal & Articles of Religion. For by these Formularies we confess before God and to the whole Church what is the nature of the Anglican jurisdiction – a reformed Catholic Church. Thus it is extremely important that we treat both Scripture and its translation reverently and wisely and also give due emphasis and respect to the Formularies.
To use a badly translated English version of the Bible does great harm to our souls and the life of the Church.
To change a received Formulary of the Anglican Way causes the ECUSA and each of us to go astray.
As far as I can tell, The Network (together with the Anglican Communion Institute and related groupings) as a body has not publicly repudiated major innovations and has not expressed regret, penitence and shame for them. True enough, doctrinal Statements that have the appearance of confessing classic orthodoxy have been produced; but they are so worded so as to avoid facing up front to those innovations which apparently The Network as such embraces and feels no shame for.
Further, essays by the intellectual leaders of The Network avoid facing these innovations, passing over them as though they do not exist or as though they are of minimal importance compared with the issue of blessing homosexual partnerships.
Innovations officially entered the ECUSA because the General Convention of this Province exercised its autonomy in ways which (a) deliberately rejected the inter-dependency that is supposed to be present in the Anglican Communion of Churches; (b) deliberately abandoned the doctrinal and liturgical Tradition of the Anglican Way, and (c) self-consciously brought It into line with contemporary secularist thinking and practice.
We are all aware that the second half of the twentieth century was a period of powerful secular movements which found every open door and window in the churches to enter and to make their presence felt. One result of all this is that the language of rights has now virtually become the basis for the moral language of the churches. Thus the Commandments are hidden behind rights. Another result is that there is now much less respect for Tradition in terms of worship, doctrine, discipline, dress, manners and so on. We tend to use the past selectively, to justify what we do in the present.
Let us take as an example of innovation the Title of the Prayer Book of the ECUSA which the General Convention approved in 1976 & 1979. I deal only here with the title – I have dealt with the content in other places (see e.g., the book, Neither Orthodoxy nor Formulary – call 1 800 727 1928 for a copy).
As far as I can tell, The Network, does not seem to care about this matter in the least! BUT…
Did the General Convention have the right and authority as a Christian institution called to be truth-telling to co-opt the title of a specific form of liturgy, a form established in various editions from 1549 through 1662 in England and from 1789-1928 in the USA, for a totally new type of liturgy? Did it, in the name of justice and honesty, have the right to do what no other Province was doing or intended to do? Is there a limit to the autonomy of a Province as it stands before God and in communion with its brethren overseas?
If a business in the secular world, with standards below that of the Church, appears to take the title or name of an already existing brand or product in the commercial field, there is usually a court-case by the original holder of the title/name in order to prevent the other using it. Would any of us call a Ford automobile by the name of a General Motors automobile or Hershey’ chocolate by the name of Cadbury’s chocolate?
Do any of us feel guilty when we steal?
The Liturgical Commission & the House of Bishops of the ECUSA knew in 1976 that in other places where new books of liturgy were being produced the new was being carefully kept separate from the received content of The Book of Common Prayer and was being called by such a name as “A Book of Alternative Services”. Yet instead of maintaining inter-dependency and fellowship in truth with other Provinces, the General Convention deliberately called its own collection of totally new services (for all those taken from the traditional BCP and called Rite I for inclusion were doctored and changed and thus had a new shape & revised content) by the ancient name of “The Book of Common Prayer.” Because of the separation of church and state it was not possible to challenge this act of piracy by the ECUSA in the secular courts and there was and is no court in the Anglican Communion to take up this case!
The approval of this title and the publication of the varied services under this title were deliberate acts and as such became the incorporation of lies and falsehood into the very life, the very worship, the very heart of the ECUSA. No wonder the ECUSA from this time went deeper into apostasy with each succeeding Convention! And in 1979 seemingly the whole Episcopate set to work to persuade all churches to use this new Book and to put their copies of the traditional BCP into storage or the furnace. From those days millions of lies have been told, as much by “the orthodox” as the “liberals”, as this Prayer Book has been named with its false title in canon law, diocesan rules, church bulletins, talks, sermons, essays, conversations and so on. (With others, I consistently call it the 1979 American Prayer Book to avoid sharing in this multiplication of a lie, but every member of the ECUSA shares in this corporate sin and will do so until it is cleansed.)
But there is more. Once the lie is in place there are consequences. What a man sows he shall also reap…
This new Book became the Formulary of the ECUSA, that is became its primary standard of Faith, for the classic BCP (latest edition being 1928) was relegated to the archives. It is therefore also the Formulary of The Network and the American Anglican Council and the Forward in Faith North America, unless they deliberately and clearly repudiate it as such. Merely to place it alongside the authentic editions of The Book of Common Prayer (e.g., 1662 & 1928) as though it is purified by association will not do. This is to avoid facing the truth. The 1979 Book is not an authentic edition of the BCP and all attempts to make it look so are further acts of dishonesty. BUT it is the Formulary of the ECUSA and therefore, on this basis alone, the ECUSA is not “orthodox” and neither is anyone who uses it – that is unless they use it as a book of varied services under the doctrinal standards of the classic BCP & Ordinal.
How can there be genuine reform, renewal and the recapturing of the authority of Divine Revelation when truth-telling is avoided at the very center, in the public worship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, A Unity in Trinity, and the God of all Truth?
But there is more!
The Network needs also to consider repentance for the influence of ECUSA’s Prayer Book abroad. The example of not being truthful at the very center of its corporate life has spread from the ECUSA to other Provinces, most notably to the West Indies where in 1995 a book of varied services, much commended by Archbishop Gomez, was falsely called “The Book of Common Prayer”. And this very year, 2004, the small Province of Ireland, led by the liberal Primate Dr Eames who is heading the Commission charged to find ways of healing the wounds of Anglicanism, has done the very same thing! Amazingly, the leader of the commission seeking to bring unity and truth to the Communion in 2004, has led his own church into a major act of dishonesty!
A final word…merely restoring officially the classic Formularies and calling the 1979 Book by a name appropriate to its content and shape is not sufficient, it has to be accompanied by hearty repentance for all the innovations, together with fervent commitment to the will of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the cause of his Church in the world.
P.S. If the Ordination of Women is to be accepted as a possibly appropriate innovation by The Network then it must be and can only be on the basis of the doctrine of reception, as set out by the Reports of the Eames Commission from the 1980s – see my large booklet on this topic , Reforming Forwards? The Process of Reception and the Consecration of Woman as Bishops, London, 2004 (www.latimertrust.org)
According to this doctrine the discerning and testing of the ordination of women, whether it be of God or “of man/woman” is in process still!
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon September 4 2004