Good Morning ACNA
By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins
Editor’s Note: Canon Collins prepared this address for the ACNA Synod. It stands as a great informational warning to those in British jurisdictions who wish to see reform.
There are a number of ways to explain Reformation Anglicanism, but most importantly, this church subscribes to sola Scriptura (Scripture as the divinely inspired authority for doctrine and worship). Our formularies tell us that the Bible is clear enough for the simplest person to live by, deep enough to challenge highest intellectual abilities, clear enough for everyone to understand essential matters, and it is to be interpreted as a whole, such that one portion is not repugnant to another (I.e., Scripture interprets itself).
The Bible is centrally about Jesus as Article 7 states; Augustine of Hippo famously said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New Testament the Old is revealed.” And “tradition” is to be honored, not as a separate and competing authority, but as an interpretative tool for understanding Scripture over time (I.e., the catholic and canonical reading of Scripture). It is no accident that the first homily is “The Reading of Holy Scripture” in which Thomas Cranmer writes, “As drink is pleasant to those who are dry, and meat to those who are hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of holy scripture, to those who desire to know God, or themselves, and to do his will” (Gatiss edition).
The English reformers had no greater hope than to get the Bible into the hands and hearts of the English people for their transformation and for the transformation of society.
One cannot read the Bible for more than a day without stumbling into the Bible’s primary concern: how can mortal man be right before God and pure before his Maker (Job 4:17)? The central message of Scripture is justification by grace through faith alone. This was the main driver for reform in the Church of England. Richard Hooker, said, “The grand question, which hangeth yet in the controversy between us and the Church of Rome is about the matter of justifying righteousness.”
He went on to say that a right understanding of God’s justifying mercy “is so repugnant unto merits that to say we are saved for the worthiness of anything which is ours is to deny we are saved by grace.” When John Jewel was challenged by his nemesis, Thomas Harding, about his use of “faith alone” (sola fides), Jewel quoted St. Paul that we are justified quite apart from our works, and then he went on to say: “what else then leaveth he but faith alone?” He then followed this with a series of quotes from the church fathers, all whom approved and employed the expression “only faith.”
And Thomas Cranmer wrote: “This justification or righteousness, which we receive by God’s mercy and Christ’s merits embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and counted by God as our perfect and full justification” (Homily 3, Gatiss). And again in the Thirty-nine Articles: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith” (Article 11).
Announcing the finished work of Christ for our salvation – Jesus who lived, died and rose from the dead – is the Christian gospel and the underlying theme of all Anglican formularies and the central message of our worship Sunday by Sunday. Dom Gregory Dix famously wrote that the 1552 Book of Common Prayer is “the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’.”
Another biblical doctrine recovered in the English Reformation is the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5) which directed Church of England ministers away from the Medieval hierarchal understanding of ministry. Anglicans have never understood that ordination involves some imagined ontological change with the laying on of hands to suddenly make an ordinary Christian into an Old Testament -like sacrificing priest for the people of God.
That idea was a 19th century importation of a pre-Reformation ideal. Reformation Anglicans understand that every Christian has direct access to God himself or herself without the need for a confessor intermediary. And “apostolic succession” is the succession of apostolic teaching passed from the apostles as the Bible teaches (2 Timothy 2:2), not some unbroken pipeline of holy bishops. The idea that bishops are today’s apostles is a Roman Catholic idea that has no warrant in our history.
We have always upheld the three-fold order of ministry (bishops, priests and deacons) as biblical and helpful for the order of the church (bene esse), not as the essence of the church (esse). Rather, the church is defined in the Thirty-nine Articles as the gathering of the faithful “in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance” (Article 19).
The Archbishop of Canterbury was first among equals, until relatively recent times when he has acquired pope-like status. In fact, as our history shows, Canterbury, bishops, priests, and deacons are only as helpful as they uphold the teaching and authority of the Word of God preached and the sacraments duly administered. It is Anglican theology grounded in Scripture that gives this church its authority, not some invented ecclesiastical order carried over from the Middle Ages. Modern attempts to bring Anglican order apart from our theology (E.g., Instruments of Unity, Anglican Covenants, etc.) all fall flat in the face of our history.
Both doctrines of justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers fed into the Reformation’s attitudes towards worship. For the first time, worship in the Church of England was in the language of the people with congregational engagement and responses. The Book of Common Prayer abolished the large collection of unbiblical and extra-biblical ideas, including purgatory, the veneration of objects, prayers to the saints, clerical celibacy, and the sacrifice of the mass.
The lectionary was designed to lead worshipers to encounter the whole of Scripture in a year. The liturgy was designed to move communicants each Sunday from our need to God’s provision, from law to gospel, from the Summary of the Law and Kyrie to the sermon and the creed. Churches replaced altars (and rails!) with communion tables, preaching gained a new confidence alongside in importance to the sacraments, and ceremonial acts, clerical dress, and architectural decorations were greatly simplified of everything that couldn’t be understood clearly by everyone as supporting the message of justification by faith. The sacraments became two in number, and were viewed as God’s spiritual and transforming presence in the hearts and wills of those who receive the grace of the sacrament by faith. The blessed bread and wine were not raise up to be seen and worshipped; they were eaten for the reunion of unworthy sinners to a holy and gracious God – Christ’s real presence is more real and far more powerful than gazing upon bread and wine on a holy altar.
I believe the ACNA is at a critical junction in which we can either reinvest in our rich heritage or continue to limp along with a buffet of beliefs to choose from. Those who call on the Great Tradition as our authority are doing what the English reformers did who supported everything “Anglican” by the supreme authority of the Bible and the teaching of the church fathers. But to call on the Great Tradition as an excuse to ignore the particularity of our Anglican formularies leaves us drowning again in a sea of untethered ideas and practices. The church that believes everything will fall for anything. With God as our helper, we can again find a firm foundation in the particularity of this church which is thoroughly biblical, pastorally generous, theologically confessional and reformed, and liturgically beautiful. With God’s help we can.