The Doctrinal Foundations of ACNA

house of bishops acna procession

Although the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) released a catechism, the catechism itself carries no doctrinal weight on its own (as far as I know). It is only useful as an explication of the doctrinal standards that are enshrined in ACNA’s Constitution. In the future, when there are doctrinal conflicts in ACNA, I envision appeals being made to what the Constitution says about doctrinal standards.

Before I look at what the Constitution says, it may be helpful to recall how it came into being. The Constitution imports language from the Common Cause Partners Theological Statement.

We, the representatives of the Common Cause Partners, do declare we believe the following affirmations and commentary to contain the chief elements of Anglican Reformed Catholicism, and to be essential for membership.

1) We receive the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God containing all things necessary for salvation, and as the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

2) We confess the historic faith of the Undivided Church as declared in the Catholic Creeds.

3) We believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times.

4) We hold the two sacraments of the Gospel to be ordained by Christ Himself, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, and to be administered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

5) We accept the 1549 through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its ordinal as the foundation for Anglican worship and the standard for doctrine and discipline.

6) We believe the godly Historic Episcopate to be necessary for the full being of the Church.

7) We affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as foundational for authentic Anglican belief and practice and as correctives to doctrinal abuses. )) A “Governance Task Force” drafted the Constitution, and that Task Force consisted of: Hugo Blankingship, Chair – CANA, Philip Ashey+, Esq. AAC, Larry Bausch+ FIFNA, Travis Boline+ Kenya, Jerry Cimijotti+ Southern Cone, Kevin Donlon+ AMiA, +Robert Duncan Southern Cone, Cheryl Chang, Esq. ANIC, Bill Gandenberger+ Southern Cone, +Royal Grote REC, +John Guernsey Uganda, Matt Kennedy+ AAC, +Martyn Minns CANA, +Bill Murdoch Kenya, +Chuck Murphy AMiA, Jim McCaslin+ Kenya, Ron Speers, Esq. Uganda, Scott Ward, Esq. CANA, Barclay Mayo+ ACiC, Wick Stephens, Esq. Southern Cone, Scott Ward, Esq.CANA and Robert Weaver, Esq. Southern Cone.

I am told that Kevin Donlon was front and center during the process. A participant told me that he “…had a lot of objections and suggestions and effectively vetoed some of the Reformed stuff people argued for.” We have a brief overview of the process in this press conference, but as with all such events, it did not in any way delve into the actual nitty gritty of what happened. Organizations necessarily put on a “sunshine and roses” take on their own deliberations, and the way to the truth is usually found when talking to participants off the record. I doubt we will see such an accounting of this process given the participants.

I tried to conceptualize what the Constitution says in the following chart:

The Constitution uses three words regarding the doctrinal standards: confess, affirm and receive. If the words imply weight to the different sources of doctrine, then I take confess to be the strongest, affirm the second strongest, and receive the weakest word. Even if they are weighted in such a way, the Constitution does say, “we identify the following seven elements as characteristic of the Anglican Way, and essential for membership.”

The GAFCON Statement and Jerusalem Declaration are affirmed in the Preamble, probably because they were issued very late in the process of drafting the Constitution, and so were presumably included at the last minute and not as one of the “essential elements” for membership.

Early on, Dr. Ephraim Radner pointed out the different weight that the Constitution’s words carry, and noted a move towards “indefiniteness” on the part of the writers:

The identification of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles as “standards” and “principles” has struck some as overly and perhaps impossibly precise. After all, have not Anglicans, through the Lambeth Conference now over 100 years ago, made formal the lack of explicitness with which these formularies are to be held as standards for all Anglicans. at least as it determines Communion-related “Anglican” identity? Yet we note the care with which the Constitution has cloaked these standards with a certain indefiniteness: “We receive the Book of Common Prayer…as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline” and as “the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship”; “we receive the Thirty-Nine Articles…, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles…”.

The clear implication is that there may be other legitimate “standards”, and that the BCP of 1662 is rather one among many, although obviously an acceptable one. Clearly, that the early BCP’s represent the standard for “the tradition” of Anglican worship is incontestable as a historical claim. Furthermore, a “tradition of worship” is itself a loose referent and already indicates an acceptance that the BCP’s of the Reformation and post-Reformation are no longer in explicit use among many Anglicans. Finally, it is hardly constrictive, let alone historically odd, that the Thirty-Nine Articles would be received as holding doctrine appropriate to its time of composition, that continues to express certain “principles” that cohere with “authentic Anglicanism”. For the Constitution does not claim that the Articles articulate necessarily all such principles, exhaustively, or straightforwardly (since “principles” can only be gleaned from historical records aimed at local moments and controversies), nor that all “authentic Anglicanism” is bound by them in any exhaustive way. None of this should surprise us, however, given that the proposed new province contains both Anglo-Catholic and evangelical churches and bishops, who, vis a vis the Thirty-Nine Articles, for instance, hold very different views, and for whom there are, therefore, perforce several “standards” and “principles” at work.

On this score, we must note the difference in the Constitution’s language from the GAFCON “Jerusalem Declaration” (no. 3) regarding the Thirty-Nine Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today”. Even this statement is open to some latitude in doctrinal reference however – does “authoritative for Anglicans today” mean for “all” Anglicans, necessarily? Can one be an “Anglican” and hold to some different (though perhaps not conflicting) standard? That the doctrine in the Articles is “true” does not clearly imply “exhaustively” true. And what exactly does “authoritative” mean in this context? Is it similar to the claims to salvation-status granted to certain beliefs by the Athanasian Creed? Probably not; indeed by their own standards, they are authoritative only to the degree that they are clearly supported by Scripture’s own teaching. Still, while the Jerusalem Declaration is itself hardly explicit in many ways, there is a definite move towards indefiniteness in the Constitution, one that is clearly by design, and most likely involves the reality of catholic and protestant sensibilities and commitments seeking incorporation in the same church. The Constitution “affirms” the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration (1.10), but such “affirmation” is itself general and necessarily loose in its meaning.

The “taken in their literal and grammatical sense” line about the Articles of Religion is the famous Anglo-Catholic evasion from Newman’s Tract 90, which reads: “For its enjoining the “literal and grammatical sense,” relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of their framers, a comment upon their text;”. 1)See this post for another take on the issues. This same kind of move away from the Reformed tenets of Anglicanism occurred during the second GAFCON meeting in Nairobi, as you can read here.

These moves to placate the famous “three streams” are understandable if you think of the Anglican realignment in America as stitching together a diverse group of Anglicans who do not agree doctrinally. Archbishop Duncan said that the Constitution provided, “flexibility, recognizing the diversity of Godly approaches common among the partners coming into union.” I believe that the Formularies, Prayer Book and Ordinal (alongside the Bible of course) provide us with enough tools of persuasion to make the case for Augustinian orthodoxy even in the current confused doctrinal environment of ACNA, but we should not be deceived about the fact that there are many camps under the banner of ACNA.

The reality for those of us who hoped for a Reformed rebirth in the realignment is that ACNA is a “here comes everybody” church. What we might hope for in the long run is a decade or two of Reformed church planters, Reformed clergy moving into the role of bishop, and an eventual change of the Constitution to read that “the Articles of Religion are confessed as the doctrinal standard of ACNA as proved by Holy Scripture.”

References   [ + ]

1. See this post for another take on the issues.

4 thoughts on “The Doctrinal Foundations of ACNA”

  1. You have a fundamental logic problem underlining this post. In that you’re using Radner+ to make your point that you want a more “Reformed Anglicanism” (I’ll leave off the discussion on if Anglicism was ever that reformed in how Calvinist use the term — there was a branch, but they had some interesting understanding of Roman 13 and fought two wars and beheaded a king and now a separate group). This post removes both Dr Radner+’s words and the who Theological Statement out of context.

    If your desire is for a Westminster Confession and catechism, or the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and their catechisms, then what you are criticizing is actually a step in that direction (opposed to the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilaterals which is all you had from PECUSA and why the canons took on theological importance like they do in Rome or other non-Protestant tradition). Dr. Radner+ has held to a catholic view of the Anglicanism that holds one can not split from another branch of the Communion based on a divergence of a standard such as Presbyterians and the Westminster Confession, thus Radner+ still retains his retains his connection to TEC. His critic is more that ACNA is moving from what defined Anglicanism in the 1990’s (basically nothing except the relational infrastructure of the four instruments of unity, which could all four say “no” and TEC give the middle finger to without any repercussions) towards exactly what you seem to desire.

    This post seems very strange to those who lived through that time and also have some inside information on what went on in CCP. I can say your Dolan+ statement seems out of place and I actually first learned much of him when AMiA thing blew up. However you would be correct in the CCP document is a compromise, as is all of Anglicanism if you read Anglican history (King James Bible is a compromise between factions).

    So I’d encourage any reader to read Dr Radner+ in context, to understand the Communion Conservative perspective and what his argument against Federal Conservative is in context. Also what was the context of Anglicanism in the 1990’s a decade before AMiA spit or CCP of FACA or any other move. This post contains some provocative positions that could be debated (how reformed is Anglicanism and what do you mean by “Reformed” — that produced 300+ comment thread on SFIF), but it has a foundational misrepresentation at it’s core.

  2. I have a second comment that actually unrelated to the first. But as a Protestant, isn’t it nice to have this descending order. I mean it saying the 1662 BCP, which it’s self is a compromise, a man created therefore possible flawed document based on an infallible document. Using the infallibility of Scripture verse inerrancy because it is the lesser standard and avoids are the translation inerrant or only the autograph and other arguments.

    [Comment come from a common pastor the blog author and I had, who when I had an objection told me I was not allowed to intrepid Scripture, we had priest and bishops to do that, having been educated in a Roman Catholic elementary school, I knew an appeal to the magisterium when I heard one and wondered how he claimed to be a Protestant — so the chart actually looks very Sola Scriptura to me, so a completely different angle that my comment above, is “what’s the problem” viewed in the light that the if the “affirms” where “confess” you can end up with tradition at the same level of Scripture. Your hermeneutic is vital to your exegesis, how a Methodist and Presbyterian can hold to dogmatically to points they disagree while both can agree the source document is inerrant, but a lessor standard on your tradition does not dismantle the reformation, where elevating them will make your tradition at the same level as Scripture, which is a caution I have for the one our former pastor came out of and now returned, for I often was confused which one of us was supposed to be the more catholic one and which was supposed to be the more protestant one].

  3. I understand where Radner is coming from and I do not agree with him. I am only using his quote to point out the various weights that the ACNA Constitution gives to different doctrinal standards.
    Donlon was indeed very active behind the scenes. He wrote the revised Rwandan canons and did a lot of work on the ACNA Constitution. I think Murphy referred to this a lot when AMiA was blowing up – how AMiA had been instrumental in setting up ACNA.

  4. In reply to Donlon+ — I crossed the CANA/AMiA boundary in 2007 and having much inside information for 4 admins in three key players (except AMiA) — I still disagree with you, I do not think Donlon played as key of a role as you present, but my information might just be as biased in the opposite direction (as AMiA was not seen favorably by many – oddly I think REC had the closest ties, but many still held a grudge from GC Y2K). Also one common trait with AMiA and +Minns’ CANA is the tendency to self-promote – I had to learn two different stories of that same event.

    One thing that that probably does not make your position too credible in my mind is that you have Blankingship, Ashey+ and Kennedy+ on the team. Now granted Donlon+ was AMiA’s heaviest hitter and probably was the one assigned to the detail teams while +Murphy and +Minns would gravitate towards different areas and Donlon+ sure knows his ecclesiastical politics.

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