“While attending our Synod meeting recently, I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Iker deliver the following message at our Communion Service.” – Father Doug
We represented the two different extremes of the churchmanship spectrum. Our theologies were at odds with one another, and the only time anglo-catholics in TEC spoke about the Reformed Episcopal Church was in critical, even derogatory terms – and vice versa, I assume. The REC had little good to say about high-churchmen such as me.
My how things have changed. In a matter of two short decades, we have gone from being opponents to being allies. We have moved from being two separated churches to being part of one united body – The Anglican Church in North America: one, missionary, biblical, and uniting. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This does not mean that all our differences have suddenly disappeared, but it does mean that we now stress that what we disagree about is far less than what we have in common. There is more that unites us than divides us. And this new sense of our oneness in Christ and our unity as a church is something God has done, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit – not man.
The origins of all this go back to the Common Cause Partnership and the Round Table Discussions, as they were called, some six or seven years ago. The erosion of biblical authority and the rise of liberal theological revisionism in The Episcopal Church had begun to lead to significant fall-out. Those who stood for orthodox Anglicanism began to make common cause with others in different jurisdictions and church bodies, to stand together for the truth of the Gospel and to reject the false gospel that was undermining the Church. This made for some strange bedfellows, or so it seemed.
Your Presiding Bishop, Leonard Riches, was among those early leaders in making Common Cause with other conservative Anglicans and in finding a way forward, together. The Anglican Communion Network, the Reformed Episcopal Church, Forward in Faith North America, the Anglican Mission in America, and many other Anglican groups prayed together and talked together and sought God’s guidance together, and the goal was to have one united, orthodox Anglican province in North America. And by the grace of God, the Inaugural Assembly of ACNA was held here in the DFW area in June 2009, and a great renewed witness for the Gospel was unleashed in this country and in Canada, by biblical Anglicans.
We are here today to thank God for all that has been accomplished and to renew our commitment to doing mission together in the years ahead. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in the Epistle reading this morning: “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (II Corinthians 4:5) It’s not about us – it’s about Him. But what we preach to the world around us is much more credible and effective when we do it together, as one church, rather than separately, on our own.
Jesus reminds us that we belong together – and indeed are part of one another – in the teaching in today’s Gospel where He says: “I am the vine and you are the branches… He who abides in me … bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) What a wonderful image this is, of the Church as a fruit-yielding vine, with different branches, but all enlivened by our common roots, our one source of life. Abiding in Jesus in Scripture and sacrament and prayer. Abiding in Jesus in a common fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, united not divided – one, though we are many. Bearing much fruit to the Glory of God in making new disciples, in planting new churches, in standing for the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and in exhibiting the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. That is our common vocation and witness.
In my growing-up years in Cincinnati and even in my studies at the University of Cincinnati and then at General Theological Seminary in New York City, I do not recall having even met a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Oh, I knew what it was, and there was a passing reference to it in our American church history course. This meant that the REC was viewed with a certain degree of suspicion and even denigration. Are their holy orders valid? Are their bishops really in the historic apostolic succession? Are they truly Anglicans? Aren’t they just a little protestant sect?
The first REC Bishop I ever met was Bishop Ray Sutton after he came here to the Church of the Holy Communion. And after a few conversations with him, I began to think, “Well he’s not half as bad as I thought he would be.” – as an REC clergyman, not as a person. But as we got to know one another, the stereotypes began to crumble, preconceptions were set aside, and we came to understand that we shared the same faith and ecclesiology and Prayer Book spirituality. Now my greatest friends and allies in the ACNA College of Bishops, as a traditional Anglo-Catholic, are your REC Bishops – Royal Grote, Ray Sutton, Leonard Riches, Sam Seamans, and others. Our fidelity to the Scriptures and the Anglican tradition are paramount, not our past histories of estrangement.
You may be interested in knowing that the last four priests who have come into the Diocese of Fort Worth as new rectors have come from the REC – three of them from this Diocese of Mid-America and latest one even from this parish – prompting Bishop Grote to say: “Jack, stop taking all my best priests.” I think our friendship depends upon it.
But on a more serious note, there are some serious tensions and differences that we must address in our future life together in ACNA. I will comment on them very briefly. The biggest one, of course, is the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is not sufficient to simply say: “Well, some bishops do it and some don’t.” I am pleased that Archbishop Duncan has appointed a Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, which is now addressing this issue that some have called “the elephant in the room.” A final report is expected in January 2016, and then it will be decision time. I would simply observe that anglo-catholics and the REC stand together here. Those who do not ordain women make up a majority of the College of Bishops, and we see the ordination of women presbyters as a departure from the witness of Holy Scripture and the apostolic practice of the ancient Church. Pray for God’s guidance as we seek to resolve this deeply divisive issue, in the interest of deepening our unity in Christ.
Second, there is a continuing tension between evangelicals and anglo-catholics that we live with. This is true in the international GAFCON movement as well as here in the ACNA, where evangelicals seem to dominate. Evangelicals emphasize the 16th-century Reformation and the work of the reformers in the Church of England. Everything is referenced in terms of the 1662 Prayer Book and the 39 Articles. Anglo-catholics reference the ancient Church of the patristic fathers and emphasize the historic faith and order of the undivided church, before the division of the Church in the West from the Eastern Church. We rather like the 1549 Prayer Book as the standard. We would contend that Anglicanism flourished in England for many years prior to the Reformation era and that we are a reformed catholic church rather than a Protestant denomination born in the 16th century. Henry VIII did not found the Anglican Church and neither did the reformers. Dr. Edward Pusey, the early Tractarian and the spiritual father of the Oxford Movement, said we understand “reference to the ancient Church, instead of the Reformers, as the ultimate expounder of the meaning of our Church.”
Here too anglo-catholics and the REC stand together. We affirm the four essential elements for church unity called the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral.
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation, and our ultimate standard and guide in matters of doctrine and morals.
2. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as sufficient statements of the Christian faith.
3. The two Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion as instituted by Christ himself.
4. The historic Episcopate, which preserves the apostolic succession of bishops, priests, and deacons.
All of these are pre-reformation realities, dating back to the first apostles. They are not confessional statements originating in English Reformation theology.
So my dear friends in Christ, let us continue to stand together and witness together for what St. Jude calls “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (vs. 3) Let us give thanks to God for this goodly fellowship of faith, where God’s Word is truly preached and truly heard; where the Sacraments are faithfully administered and faithfully received; and where our lives are being fashioned according to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may show the power of His love to all among who we live.
This is our great heritage as Anglicans, living members – by God’s grace – of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the ages.