Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The doctrinal basis of the “Anglican Communion Network” : Is a new doctrinal statement required?

Since it is a voluntary organization, made up of dioceses, parishes and persons, who already belong to an ecclesial body, the Episcopal Church [ECUSA], the Network decided to distinguish itself within that Church, by having its own statement of faith and vocation. In fact, because it came into being in a crisis situation it felt the need to specify wherein it is different from other bodies that use the names of “Episcopal” and “Anglican” in North America. The crisis was set in motion by actions in the ECUSA and Anglican Church of Canada which introduced innovatory doctrine and practice in sexual relations into these two Provinces of the Anglican Communion. In the ECUSA a divorced man, living in a same-sex partnership with another man, was consecrated as a bishop; and in Canada same-sex couples were given services of blessing on their union.

The “Confession and Calling of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes” agreed in 2004 begins with a preamble wherein the crisis is described as “a threat to historic Faith and Order that defines”. Then follow the three sections of the document: 1. Stewards of a Trust (i.e., of the Gospel and the Mystery of Faith); 2. [God’s call to be] Trustworthy in Obedience and Communion; & 3. [The need for] Repentance, Reconciliation, Reform & Renewal. Many paragraphs begin, “We confess, hold and bear witness before God…” which form of words reminds us of the old Continental European style of confessing the faith -- “We believe, teach and confess…” Alongside the Statement, verses from the Bible are supplied as proof-texts of the assertions being made.

I will now offer some [critical] comments upon the document in the form it appears on the official website of The Network (I say this as there may be another edition somewhere else).

  1. It reads in such way as to give the impression that the crisis caused by the introduction of the homosexual agenda into the churches is the greatest crisis to face North American Anglicanism in modern times. And it is able to do so because the presence of an active homosexual bishop within the ECUSA is so offensive both to many American social conservatives and, oversees, to many African bishops for whom any form of homosexual practice is both socially and biblically offensive. Further, its citing of the Barmen Declaration from Germany against the Nazi ideology and policy adds to the impression of the unique gravity of this North American crisis. (It is unique, I suggest, only in that it is the latest of series of innovations, each one building, as it were, on the success of the earlier ones.)
  2. It provides the impression that its author(s) are more at home in the world of Karl Barth and a modern, warm neo-orthodoxy, and the approach to the Bible from this school of thought, than they are in the world of the standard Anglican divines and of traditional Anglican forms of statement.
  3. The author(s) is/are well aware of recent writing in official reports from the Anglican Communion (e.g., the Virginia Report) wherein the actual reality of the communion in sacred things and fellowship amongst the provinces is seen as in some ways participating in and reflecting the actual, ineffable communion within the Blessed, Holy, and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I regard this attempt to link the communion of Churches with the Holy Trinity as a dangerous form of theologizing. The commitment to the Communion of Churches must be based on common Formularies not on the attempt to use the internal life of God the Holy Trinity as a basis!
  4. Though there is reference to our “common historical formularies, including the sixteenth and seventeenth century authorized Book of Common Prayer and Thirty-Nine Articles” there is no anchoring of these in the life and history of the Anglican Way in North America, either in the USA or in Canada. The first American authorized edition of the Book of Common Prayer was that of 1789 and of The Articles, was 1801. (Note that that there was also The Ordinal, not mentioned by the “Confession….”) Thus no claims are made for the orthodoxy of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA from the 1780s through to the present; and, significantly, there is no facing of the absolutely important question of the authority of the historic Formularies within the ECUSA (formerly PECUSA), that is of the classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles? One asks: Are they seen as authoritative by The Network? Or is the Network of the same mind as the official ECUSA which in 1976/79 abandoned the historic formularies and replaced them with the content of the 1979 Prayer Book, which belongs to a wholly different form of Anglican worship, doctrine, polity and discipline (and from this form has grown the fruit of the present crisis!)?
  5. Though there is a commitment in the Confession (at II.4) to the “ideal” of Christian marriage as between a man and a woman, there is no recognition at all that the laxity of marital discipline in the ECUSA, including within the dioceses of The Network, with regard to the marriage of divorcees in church (not to mention the cohabitation of many church members, a widespread commitment to a hedonist view of marriage where self-fulfillment is primary, procreation being seen as optional and so on) has actually paved the way for the entry of the homosexual agenda. Though there is perhaps no direct causal connection there is no doubt that serial monogamy with its related phenomena opened the door and created the climate for the homosexual activists to press their claimed rights.
  6. Further, there is no acceptance of the impact that the ordination of women (with its major support from the doctrine of human rights) had on opening doors for further innovations, especially when put in terms of rights for minorities or those previously left out.
  7. Also, there is no recognition that the Bible is interpreted by The Network differently with regard to the ordination of women and the re-marriage of divorcees, than it is with regard to homosexual practice. In the latter case, the use is basic and straightforward – the Bible condemns sodomy, therefore it is wrong in all cases. But in the former, ways are devised to get around the clear meaning of Bible verses and to find sophisticated means to neutralize them so as to allow the innovation. Which method of interpretation is favored by The Network?
  8. Though there are statements of penitence and sorrow for where the ECUSA has arrived doctrinally and morally, there is no sorrow expressed for the actual and specific sharing of the Network bishops in the serious innovations in the life of the PECUSA/ECUSA since World War II. The sorrow and penitence are too general to have real meaning and effect.
  9. The impression is given that if there is a major U-turn by the ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada in terms of the present crisis then there is a real possibility of a return to an acceptable reality. This may be so in Canada which has still in place the Solemn Declaration concerning the historic Formularies but in the USA the historic Formularies disappeared in 1979 and have not yet returned and will only return if the Network works hard to achieve this. And of course merely having the right doctrine in place in not enough; there must be worship and witness to go with it!


    In conclusion, I would suggest that this present Confession be seen as having a limited life and having now served its basic purpose, and that it be replaced by one that is truly Anglican in style and content and has a certain parallel nature to the doctrinal basis of the major African Provinces of the Communion of Churches:

    (a) which wholly commits to the authority of Scripture and the historic Formularies – classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles, and
    (b) contains a modern form of the Articles, addressed to the problems and heresies of today, to become a guide for Anglicans through the current mess (as were the original Articles in the 16th century).

    [See also the related essay on “The A-C Network: a reflection upon “Network” below]

    petertoon@msn.com November 29, 2005

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As usual, Dr. Toon is unhelpfully helpful. While I agree that there are weaknesses in the confessional statement, it seems a bit premature to launch a broadside that the Network at the moment.

For me its enough that there is a cohesive gathering of folks who want to be orthodox. We can sort out what exactly that means after we figure out a safe place to set up camp. It will be tough. It will take God's intervention to keep us all together, but first things first.