Peter Toon 12/19/2007
In the context of much talk of the creating of a new Anglican Province in North America by the Common Cause Partners (assisted by some overseas Provinces but opposed by others), I wish to offer this form of argument concerning the Anglican Formularies and the local Anglican Church as a National Unit. I invite the architects of the proposed new entity to think in more depth of their plan. As Common Cause is based on the Formularies of 1662 I refer to them often.
1. There is clear teaching about the Church in the Articles, Ordinal and BCP [of 1662 or of USA 1928 or of Canada 1962] and this presupposes that the Church is national or provincial and is divided into dioceses with bishops.
2. In fact, part of the given doctrine of the Formularies is that the Church is a National Denomination or State Church and that its dioceses cover every part of the territory claimed by the Church.
3. Though it is envisaged in the preface of the American BCP of 1928 that there will be other denominations in the land, this does not prevent the Anglican (Episcopal) denomination from claiming to be a National Church/denomination.
4. It is clear that while the Formularies acknowledge other jurisdictions or branches of Christianity (e.g., Roman Catholic and Lutheran) as existing in parallel with the Anglican National Church or Denomination, the Formularies do not suggest that there can ever be more than one form of the Anglican Way in one geographical area.
5. This in part explains why successivel Lambeth Conferences, from the very first in 1867, labored hard to ensure that there were no parallel and competitive jurisdictions within the Anglican Communion of Churches. Where there was such (e.g., in South Africa following the Colenso incident and in Europe where there are English and American dioceses) it was imperative to put it right.
6. The other major reason for the insistence on one Church in one region was the well-known commitment of the Anglican Way to the following of the pattern of the Early Church.
7. The only occasion when one could suggest that a second Church on the same territory could be justified on the principles found within the Formularies would be (a) if the second was invited by the first to work say with tribes or immigrants in specific location; and there would be close cooperation between the host and the visitor, or (b) if the second were created because the first had become impossibly apostate; here the creation would be presumably in a cooperative way so as to ensure that one and only replacement church were created and with the approval of the Churches of the Anglican Communion.
8. While there is a great emphasis on right worship, doctrine and discipline in the Formularies—and thus Reformed Catholicism based on the Bible is most important—there is also the sense and presentation of the Church as existing visibly through space and time, as a people who witness, worship and practically serve God in the world. Thus it is that the unity of the Church in space and time within the one Anglican Polity is seen as part of what it is to be Anglican.
9. The Anglican Way began as the National Church of England and it spread abroad both through colonial and missionary expansion, but everywhere it went, it sought to produce a geographical Church, a Church or Denomination that inhabited a territory and divided up that territory into dioceses. It did this in America and it was understood that the diocese in Virginia was not to plant churches in the diocese of Georgia and so on. Then missionary bishops went sent by the General Conventions to establish dioceses in the new territories out West.
10. So it is that the Anglican Way has been and is territorial. Further, it has always seen the See of Canterbury as its primary See both in the C of E itself and then in the Communion of Churches, as the background and calling of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 clearly illustrate.
1. The USA is preeminently the country where there is the greatest variety of forms of Protestant groups and where also the general view is that this is normal and good. Here the competition of religions is no different from the variety of stores at the mall, alongside the roads, and goods advertised on TV and Radio—or the competition of political parties and candidates. Thus it is not surprising that the Anglican Way has encountered a major challenge to its Ecclesial Polity in the U S A in the modern era, after the arrival in powerful measure of civil and human rights.
2. The Protestant Episcopal Church stayed united (apart from the brief period of the Civil War and the secession of a few Evangelicals in 1873) from 1789 through to the 1970s. Since then it has undergone major internal innovations (in response to the powerful surrounding culture of rights and therapy) and experienced major secessions. The result is that Anglicanism in the USA is in the worst mess it has ever been in and shows no signs of being put right either from the left or the right.
3. The seceders of 1977 believed that the PECUSA was rejecting the Catholic Faith by ordaining women and changing the Prayer Book, and they intended to create an alternative national Church to continue the Anglican Way as they had known it. In the event, they ended up creating a set of distinct and competitive small denominations each of which sought to cover the whole country, albeit very thinly. The descendants of these 1977 seceders remain in 2008 in a set of distinct small denominations often with contacts abroad, but with no relation at all to the See of Canterbury. Some of them look for union with Rome. In effect there are a cluster of similar, small USA denominations that use the name of “Anglican” but have no relation at all to the Ecclesia Anglicana, the Church of England, and only minimal relation to her Reformed Catholic Formularies.
4. The seceders of the last decade, and more specifically of the last three years, have left the PECUSA primarily because it has actively encouraged the innovation of the blessing of same-sex partners and the ordaining of persons in such partnerships, most particularly Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. They were not against the ordination of women, for they had clergy women in their ranks, and they were not against the 1979 Prayer Book for they cherished it above the classic BCP of the Anglican Way; but they were against the innovations in sexuality where it involved persons of the same sex. They were for an experiential form of evangelical Christianity, whether of high or low ceremonial. Walking out of PECUSA they walked into the arms of bishops from Provinces of the Global South and this embrace has so much developed that there are now missions with missionary bishops on USA soil from four or five overseas Provinces. These seceders began by insisting that they were in communion with Canterbury but now they tend to reject Canterbury and look only to their backers in the Global South.
5. At the same time as congregations are exiting PECUSA, several dioceses are involved in strategies to exit and to unite with an overseas province—e.g. The Southern Cone of S. America.
6. An organization called Common Cause Partners is gathering most of the recent seceders, along with a few of the older seceders, with the aim of forging a federation or cooperation which will qualify as the nucleus of a Province to be accepted by some or all of the Global South (not Canterbury). Here will be a set of wholly autonomous groups agreeing to work together while retaining their own structures. As such there is no precedent for it in Anglican history or indeed in Christian history, for a province has always had one structure and not parallel and potential competitive jurisdictions.
The Anglican Way which was intended in the providence of God to be one Way in the U.S.A. is now broken into many ways which cover the whole spectrum of doctrine and churchmanship. Indeed the word Anglican, which has usually pointed to England and the Reformed Catholic Church therein, has since the 1970s been used by any and all as they will, even by those who are most criticial of the Church of England and of the See of Canterbury and even of the Anglican Communion of Churches.
In summary, since the 1970s the Anglican Way has conformed to the principles of the American supermarket of religions and into the free for all mindset therein.
One may hope that, as Romans 12:2 exhorts, we may be led “not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds."