Monday, February 04, 2008


Bishop Bob Duncan is very much at the center of the movement within American Anglicanism to bring reform and renewal to the Anglican Way. First of all I shall summarize part of the talk he gave on February l, 2008; and then, secondly, I offer a few observations and criticisms. I begin with a brief explanation of “Mere Anglicanism.”

The expression, “Mere Christianity,” pointing to that basic relation to God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Lord, which all true disciples of Jesus know experientially, can be extended not only into “Mere Anglicanism” but also to “Mere Lutheranism” and the like. Here the idea is of being committed to the basics and essence of Christianity, but within the general provision of the Ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments, along with the discipline and habits of daily devotion, of a particular jurisdiction—e.g., The Anglican Way.

The argument of Bishop Duncan in his talk at the “Mere Anglicanism Conference” in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 1st, was that “Mere Anglicanism” is difficult or impossible to maintain and experience in the old ecclesiastical Anglican structures and ethos of the West; but, in contrast, it is the very heartbeat and essence of the religion of the Anglican Churches/Provinces in what is known as The Global South—particularly the African Provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. And, further, if the Global South is to retain true Christian Anglicanism, then it needs to be free now—not tomorrow--of the control and influence of the Anglicanism of the West.

Then, in justification of this position, he offers the argument (as though it were universally accepted) that “the Elizabeth Settlement” of 1559 applies to and governs not only the Church of England by law established, but also in a less direct but yet very real way also governs the Anglican Provinces created from the Church of England in other lands. His major reason for claiming that this Settlement still governs Provinces in other lands is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England within the Settlement, has much authority today in the Anglican world, specifically by his control over the Lambeth Conference and other central bodies, or “instruments of unity,” of the Anglican Communion.

He asserts in strong terms that this Settlement has failed both in England and in the rest of the Anglican world and that its emphasis on the authority of the Scriptures and the Formularies (BCP etc.) no longer applies as liberal theology dominates in the West; further, he explains that in the rest of the Anglican world the Settlement has failed because the Archbishop of Canterbury does not stand full square on the historic, orthodox biblical Faith and is ready to compromise with those in the West who undermine it. Thus the See of Canterbury has become a barrier to the true mission of the Church and the doctrinal purity of the Communion. Further, Duncan claims that the demise of “Mere Christianity/Anglicanism” in the West and the direct or indirect, willing or unwilling, real participation in this demise by the See of Canterbury makes this left-over of the Elizabeth Settlement irrelevant to most of the Anglican Family—certainly irrelevant to the dynamic parts in Africa, for example.

So as the Elizabeth Settlement collapses on all sides, Duncan states, the Anglican Family goes into seeming dysfunctionality and chaos; one manifestation of which is currently focused on attendance by all invited Bishops to the Lambeth Conference in July 08, that is, whether those who stand for “Mere Christianity” in the Anglican Way ought to absent themselves on grounds of conscience. And not merely absenting themselves but also attending another Conference (GAFCON) committed, it is claimed, to true mission and communion.

So, sad to relate, the Global Anglican Communion is divided into two basic camps—(a) one says that the Anglican Communion is in the providence of God to be necessarily united in communion with the ancient See of Canterbury (which, let it be recalled, was there centuries before the Elizabethan Settlement), just as the Catholic Church is related to Rome and the Orthodox to Constantinople; (b) the other says the Anglican Communion does not any longer belong to the West and to necessary communion with an ancient See; but, it is now a global fellowship free of control of the Church of England, and it will find its own center and leadership as God leads.
Bishop Duncan is very much aware of the divided state of Anglicanism—and very much in the USA in shatters—but he is optimistic. Often he states: “This look at the Elizabethan Settlement has taught us that we are in a period of disintegration but a new consensus will emerge.” He hopes that even as the Common Cause Partners in the U.S.A. will grow together into a federation and then a Province, so the faithful parts of the present Anglican Global Communion will also grow together into a viable new Global Communion free of the pernicious influence of western liberalism and revisionism.


First of all, I must say that the Bishop is very optimistic in asserting that out of the current disintegration will come a new consensus. If the Global Anglican Communion does not very quickly cease to disintegrate, then it will find itself in several parts and unable to recover the fragile unity of a year or two ago, let alone the stronger unity of a decade ago. There will be permanent schism. And the latter is almost nearly inevitable in the U.S.A. when all the cultural, social and religious conditions are tilted to creating more denominations rather than uniting these in existence. Common Cause Partners will at best become an unstable Federation due to the powerful American individualism and prized autonomy of the participating groups!

Secondly, I think that he overstates the claimed orthodoxy of those of the African Provinces, and those who follow them. True enough, they are not commending sexual immorality as such, but in terms of the great dogmas of the Early Church concerning Who is God, and Who is Christ, and What is salvation, not a few of those claimed as “the orthodox” use liturgies which at best dumb down, and at worst undermine, these great truths of the Catholic Faith. Then, in terms of the Evangelical Faith of the Reformation, not a few of those involved use liturgies which dumb down or undermine the great truth of Justification by Faith alone through Grace alone by Christ alone (see e.g. the 1979 TEC liturgy and the 1996 Nigerian Liturgy). One cannot make a neat line of distinction between the old West and the Provinces of Nigeria, Kenya etc.

Thirdly, he does not mention the most important fact that part of the Global South is against the boycotting of Lambeth 2008 and sees the need for the focus on the See of Canterbury today –e.g. the Provinces in Asia and the West Indies. I think that Bishop Duncan needs to hear carefully what these Provinces say.

Finally, and I cannot develop this in detail, I must state that the use of the Elizabethan Settlement as a basis for his argument, is not so straightforward as the Bishop assumes, for its sixteenth-century form was modified in various ways as the centuries went by, including the last century, with the creation of the General Synod of the Church of England. However, the same Formularies of the Settlement of 1559 are still in place now as the Formularies of the present Church of England—the classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles of Religion—and not a few parishes use this Prayer Book weekly. Thus the asserted collapse is not so clear as the Bishop assumes.

February 2, 2008

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