Next week, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) gathers as a Province for its annual meeting to make decisions about our future. Given the times in which we find ourselves, this is no small thing. How should we pray for the 2021 ACNA Provincial Council?
Our prayers should be informed by the facts. And as I have written in Anglican Conciliarism: The Church Meeting to Decide Together (Anglican House, 2017), there are some important facts to know about this annual meeting.
First, Provincial Council is an example of the supreme legislative body that governs each of the churches of the Anglican Communion across the globe. This is a regular and necessary feature of decision making among all Anglicans and not merely “episodic” or “as needed” (see Principles of Canon law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion(London, 2008) at Principle 15.6). Among Anglicans, the legislative branch of church government lies typically in the central legislative assembly of a Church. In our case, this legislative authority is vested in both Provincial Council and Provincial Assembly. Article 7 Paragraph 1 of the ACNA Constitution states that the Provincial Council is the governing body for the ACNA and has authority to adopt canons and constitutional amendments for ratification by Provincial Assembly (which meets at least twice every five years) and to establish the program and budget of the Province.
In addition, Provincial Council has powers to affirm such covenants entered into by the archbishop or college of bishops that define relationships with Anglicans internationally and with other Christian jurisdictions. This is what Provincial Council 2020 did last year in ratifying the Global South Anglican Cairo Covenant (2019) which unites Anglicans in North America with biblically faithful, mission focused Anglicans throughout the Global South.
Secondly, Provincial Council is a synod (from the Greek word which means travelling together), and it is representative of the whole Church. Why? The reasons extend back to the ancient Roman principle that “what touches all should be decided by all” (The Code of Justinian). Therefore, the ACNA Provincial Council will not be the domain of the bishops or clergy only, but of bishops, clergy, and laity meeting and praying together to determine God’s best and God’s will for the whole Province. For this reason, every diocese in the ACNA is represented at Provincial Council by one bishop, one member of the clergy, and two lay persons. Please note the importance of the laity; they are equal in number to those in Holy Orders (Canon I.1.2).
Thirdly, there is a commitment among Anglicans to always seek the larger good—the common good—for the whole Church. Historically, one can trace this commitment to Paul’s command in Philippians 2:5-11 that we should always seek the mind of Christ “who considered not equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself…” Why? For the sake of the Gospel and the extension of the Kingdom of God, through his death and resurrection, so that “every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.”
In other words, when attending Provincial Council, you’re not attending to represent a particular party, purpose, or agenda. Historically, synods of the Church are called to reinforce and to manifest the common good or purpose for which the Church exists.
Of course, there’s great confusion in the Anglican Communion today about the nature of this common good/purpose. In the largely global north and secularizing west, the “common good” has been defined apart from the undivided mind of Christ (Phil 2:5-11) in terms of political correctness, justice, and inclusion. Within the current North American culture driven by the autonomous self without any moral anchors, it is virtually impossible to reach any consensus on a “common good.”
But the Anglican Church in North America is exceptionally clear about what constitutes “the common good” for the Church. The preamble to the ACNA Constitution declares:
“We are grieved by the current state of brokenness with the Anglican Communion prompted by those who have embraced erroneous teaching and who have rejected a repeated call to repentance. We repent ourselves of things done and left undone that have contributed to or tolerated the rise of false teaching. And we believe that this Constitution is faithful to that call to repentance and consistent with the historic faith and order of the church.”
In other words, we identify the common good as repentance from things done and left undone that have contributed to or tolerated the rise of false teaching. Article I of our Fundamental Declarations of the Province states unequivocally that, “We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testament to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.” We further identify our common good as being under the authority of God’s word first rather than the culture.
Article I goes on to declare the common good to which we aspire as a Church:
“In all these things, the ACNA is determined by the help of God to hold and maintain as the Anglican way has received them, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity.”
What’s our common good? Passing on the faith once delivered to our children and their children and their children “unimpaired” by every wind of cultural innovation and teaching that has no grounding in the Scriptures.
And we go on to give a global picture of what this common good looks like: “We seek to be and remain in full communion with all Anglican churches, dioceses, and provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Our common good lies in making decisions together that promote and maintain communion with other biblically faithful Anglicans.
Our common good, therefore, requires a commitment to mission: “To extend the kingdom of God by so presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that people will come to put their trust in God through Him, know Him as Savior, and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of the church” (Article III, The Mission of the Province). Mission. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Making disciples of Jesus Christ of ALL nations and all peoples within our midst. Our commitment to biblical truth first leads to biblical mission. That’s where our common good lies.
So, may I invite you to pray in light of these facts:
- Pray that Provincial Council 2021 will be representative of the whole Church and more especially of the undivided mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11) and his will for the ACNA;
- Pray that all delegates to Provincial Council 2021 will come in the spirit of Jesus Christ, whose spirit of “not grasping” but of “emptying himself” for the greater good of God’s salvation plan is a gracious correction to any party spirit or division;
- Pray that whatever decisions we make on canonical amendments, budget, program, and mission will reflect our commitment as Anglicans to the “common good” which is so exceptionally spelled out in our Constitution.
Almighty and everlasting God, by your Holy Spirit you presided in the council of the blessed Apostles, and you promised, through your Son Jesus Christ, to be with your Church to the end of the world: Be with the Provincial Council 2021 of the Anglican Church in North America assembled in your name and presence. Save us from all error, ignorance, prejudice and pride; and of your great mercy direct, sanctify, and govern us in our work, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit; that the order and discipline of your Church may be maintained, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be truly preached, truly received and truly followed in all places, breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan and death; till all your scattered sheep, being gathered into one fold, become partakers of everlasting life; through the merits and death of Jesus Christ our Savior. AMEN. (Adapted from BCP 2019, Prayer 7 at 648)