Sunday, July 6, 2008

GAFCON (1): Being Anglican

The word “Anglican” is derived from the Latin Anglicanus (-a, -um), which means “English.” Ecclesia Anglicana is the English Church, normally phrased as “The Church of England.” The highest-ranking cleric in the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England. A number of other national churches derived from (some might say, “were emitted by”) the Church of England. The first of these was the Scottish Episcopal Church. Whether in the eighteenth century they would have been considered as, or considered themselves as, “Anglican,” I don’t know. I’m not sure what their relationship with Canterbury was. They were, after all, non-jurors; they were not C of E. I don’t know that the issue of their “Anglicanism” really ever arose, although the C of E did extend some support and sympathy to the small and sometimes persecuted Scottish Episcopalian minority, with whom they felt a relationship.

Then at the end of the eighteenth century the United States secured its independence, and the previously Anglican congregations (hitherto under the jurisdiction, such as it was, of the Bishop of London) constituted themselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. As we know, the parishes in Connecticut were unable to secure the consecration of a bishop from Canterbury (for legal reasons that were at least technically valid), but successfully did so from the Scottish church, who were not so constrained. Subsequently the Church of England obtained legal provisions for consecrating Bishops beyond the C of E (whether out of the goodness of their missionary hearts, or because they knew that if they didn’t the Scots would), and several additional bishops were consecrated for the Episcopal Church in the U.S. At that point the American episcopate became self-sufficient. But although the Preface to the American Book of Common Prayer (1789) acknowledges the debt of the Episcopal Church to the Church of England and states the intention of TEC not to depart from the C of E in any essential point (“or further than local circumstances require”), it is not clear that the notion of an “Anglican identity” or membership in an “Anglican Communion” had yet emerged. Presumably the Episcopal Church was “in communion with” the Church of England, as well as with the Scottish Episcopal Church — after all, they had consecrated our first bishops — but it isn’t clear what if anything that might actually mean. (Bear in mind that the United States and Great Britain were at war again from 1812 to 1815, and that Great Britain supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War.)

But by the middle of the nineteenth century, particularly as the Church of England’s missionary activity followed the development and expansion of the British Empire, the C of E was becoming a church of international scope. The “Anglican Communion” as such can arguably trace its inception to the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. Since then the Anglican Communion, and its influence and that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, have continued to grow. In the late nineteenth century the Church of Ireland was disestablished and in the early twentieth the Church in Wales. Other formerly colonial or dominion churches have become independent and autonomous, so that now the majority of the Anglican Communion are not members of the Church of England. Nevertheless, membership in the Anglican Communion is defined as being in communion with the Church of England/the Archbishop of Canterbury (with the relatively recent Anglican Consultative Council serving as “membership secretary”).

It is certainly true that there is an “Anglican tradition” (or “Anglican traditions”), Anglicanism as a “style” of being Christian, and there are some things that can be identified as “mainstream Anglican” and others that are “marginally Anglican” or even “not really Anglican at all.” Obviously there is no general consensus as to what any of things specifically are! Which simply reinforces my contention that Anglicanism is not “confessional” or even very specifically doctrinal (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is arguably about as close as many of us are willing to get). That doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as theological truth or theological error, but it does mean that we deal with disagreement by discussion (yes, and passionate argumentation!), but not by decree or power.

It means that to be an Anglican means to be a member of the Church of England, or of a church that is in communion with the Church of England through the Archbishop of Canterbury. That’s what “Anglican” means. So if you are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you are not an Anglican. Period.

There are a number of churches that have an Anglican heritage and share a great many things with Anglicans in terms of doctrine, liturgy, etc. An early example would be the Methodists. John and Charles Wesley, of course, lived and died as priests of the Church of England. But the English Church was remarkably obtuse about the spiritual renewal that the Methodists were advocating, and the Methodists were eventually driven to separation. Methodists are not Anglicans. Many of them do not even remember that they once were Anglicans. If the new American Episcopal Church had exercised greater ecumenical imagination early in our history, it might have made immense difference in the history of American Christianity. Alas, by the time of William Reed Huntingdon it was already too late in regard to the Methodists. A somewhat later example is the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States, who split with the Episcopal Church over “high” liturgical practices and baptismal regeneration. They thought they were upholding traditional Episcopal/Anglican principles: But:

"Not being Anglican in spirit, [Bishop George] Cummins [Assistant Bishop of Kentucky and leader of the schism] and his followers could not endure the tensiion which characterizes a comprehensive Church. Essentially sectarian in their conception of the Church, they could be satisfied with nothing short of uniformity. They departed ... because they thought the Church was not energetic enough in suppressing convictions which they opposed....They could breathe freely only in a body where there were none to disagree." (James Thayer Addison, The Episcopal Church in the United States 1789-1931, 1951; quoted in Powel Mills Dawley, Our Christian Heritage, rev. 1978.)

(GAFCON and FOCA, please copy.)

The last generation or so has seen a number of other small schisms (yes, they are small, but also yes, they are schisms) which often use the word “Anglican” in their institutional title. They are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore, despite a substantial Anglican heritage, they are not Anglicans no matter what they claim on their letterheads. Perhaps most notable currently is the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, originating from a schism in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. They have placed themselves under the (all too eager) jurisdiction of the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, but they are not recognized by Canterbury and are therefore by definition not Anglican. (Stay tuned. Film at 11:00.) Several other separatist groups have latched on to Primates in East Africa and in the Southern Cone of the Americas, claiming thereby to demonstrate their authentic Anglicanness. So far the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) isn’t buying it.

Comes now the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), with their spin-off organization (assuming it does get organized), the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA). [“But I thought you said a moment ago that Anglicanism is not confessional!” Well, yes. Boys and girls, can you say “oxymoron”?] Following its meeting in Jerusalem, GAFCON issued (or, as some might say, emitted) a Final Statement on 29 June 2008 (to which was attached “The Jerusalem Declaration,” which was somewhat odd since the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem had explicitly asked them not to meet in Israel) The Statement can be found at

In the main body of the Statement they said:

"While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury."


Over on the other side of the River Tiber, I wonder how far one would get with the statement, “While acknowledging the nature of Rome as an historic see, we do not accept that Roman Catholic identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Pope.”

As I write this essay, the Church of England is holding its regular General Synod in York. We shall see what emerges (or is emitted, if you like) from that meeting. In the meantime I plan to make further comments about the GAFCON Final Statement. Watch this space.


Doorman-Priest said...

Thanks for the history lesson: most informative. I;'m very much looking forward to the next piece.

airedale said...

I ditto doorman's comment

Kelvin said...

Thanks for this long post. In fact, the Scottish Episcopal Church did not come from the C of E at all. Historically it is a distinctive Scottish church with origins in the undivided pre-reformation church in Scotland

WSJM said...

Well, sort of, Kelvin. Thanks. Of course the Scottish Church had a very long history, arguably longer than the English Church. But in the late sixteenth century the Church of Scotland became vehemently Presbyterian. Under James VI/I and Charles I, episcopacy was restored (sort of), but I don't know if there were any surviving Scottish bishops or whether this new generation obtained episcopal consecration from England. During the English Revolution the Church of Scotland once again became Presbyterian, but at the Restoration the Scottish episcopate was once more restored. (Again, I don't know whether it required English consecrations to do it.) Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 the Church of Scotland permanently reverted to Presbyterianism and the remaining Episcopalians ultimately organized the relatively small (and disestablished) Scottish Episcopal Church (which today is still relatively small, but healthy).

At least that's my understanding.