Thursday, September 14, 2006

A fresh look at The St Louis Affirmation of 1977 of Continuing Anglicans

A vocation for the Continuers in working for unity without relinquishing truth

Many of those who left The Episcopal Church in 1977 to form what it was hoped would be The [one and true] Continuing Anglican Church in North America met in St Louis in 1977 and eventually signed “The Affirmation of St Louis.” Those who drafted this (and they included the English priest Dr Truman) clearly intended that it be not a generally acceptable Anglican Statement which traditional evangelicals and traditional anglo-catholics with others could ALL sign. They intended that it be clearly only an anglo-catholic statement and at the same time prepare the way for possible union of this emerging Continuing Church with either Rome or Orthodoxy.

Why do I make this claim? For two reasons. The first is that this is what some of those present have stated to be the case. And the second is that the internal content of The Affirmation points in this direction.

In several significant ways The Affirmation goes well past the general confessional and liturgical stance of the Anglican Way as stated in the historic Formularies and in the Constitutions of the member Provinces of the Anglican Communion of Churches. For example:

It refers to Seven Sacraments without qualification and thereby speaks in what may be called in shorthand “Roman Catholic style.” The Articles of Religion refer to two Dominical Sacraments and to five ceremonies commonly called sacraments.

It requires the doctrinal decrees of Seven Ecumenical Councils even as do the Orthodox Churches. Yet nowhere is this requirement made in any Anglican Formularies or Constitutions of the Anglican Communion of Churches.

It sets forth a very high doctrine of the Episcopate which is not found in the Formularies and is a distinctively Anglo-Catholic way of describing it (e.g., of being of the esse not bene esse or even plene esse of the Church).

Of course everything that went beyond the Formularies in The Affirmation had been previously stated by individual Anglo-Catholic theologians and at one or another of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses earlier in the century. And that is exactly the point – The Affirmation is a distinctively Anglo-Catholic document. If we see it as such then we can rightly value it.

Why did the drafters choose to go in this direction and knowingly exclude traditional Evangelicals and “Prayer Book Catholics? The answer is that they looked into the future and envisaged the possibility of re-union of the Anglican Way with the Roman or the Orthodox Way and so they wanted to make clear to themselves and those in Rome and Constantinople their “Catholic” aspirations.

However, they do keep open for the interim the real possibility of the new Continuing Church being in communion with the See of Canterbury and other Provinces of the Communion than Canada and the USA. They stated:

We affirm our continued relations of communion with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto.

This statement, standing alone, could [just about] be a statement of 2006 made by the Common Cause Partners of the Anglican Communion Network! As far as I know the aspiration of 1977 for participation in the Anglican Communion has not yet been realized.

I want to suggest – and expect to be misunderstood or pilloried for so doing! – that in the present crisis of the Anglican Communion of Churches (which will surely last at least up to and through the Lambeth Conference of July 2008) there is an open door at least for a couple of years for the Continuing Anglicans (as they presently exist in the APCK, ACC, ACA, APA, UEC, TAC etc.) to re-engage in dialogue with members both of the Anglican Communion and such other bodies as the REC, EMC and so on. There are gifts and insights which the Continuers from 1977 have, and which can be fruitfully shared in dialogue and discussion with their fellow Anglicans – despite the fact that some of the latter have ordained women and use the “heretical” 1979 prayer book of ECUSA. As “Catholics,” the Continuers obviously prize the Unity of the One Church of God and they obviously desire Truth with Unity: that is PRESERVING UNITY AND COMMUNION WITHOUT RELINQUISHING TRUTH.

Let me close by observing that one never knows where genuine dialogue in a Christian spirit will lead! Therefore, this dialogue is worth working and praying for.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the Body, whose will it is that thy faithful people be united through the Gospel and for holiness in the One Body, inspire all baptized Anglicans to find ways to talk one with another in the bonds of peace, and in search of truth and love of the brethren. Amen"

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

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