The American Anglican Council recently released an episode of our Anglican Perspective Podcast on the history of the Anglican Church in North America. It is part of a larger project to record for posterity, the people, events, and values that helped lead and shape our Anglican Province.
The episode focuses on the years 2004-2009 when the Common Cause Partnership, moderated by Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan, produced a remarkable statement of biblical and theological essentials to ultimately unite Anglicans across many historical divides. This statement was the precursor to the “seven essentials of the Anglican way” now found in “The Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church in North America” (Article I of the ACNA Constitution) which are essential for membership in the ACNA. Not surprisingly, this statement of the Common Cause Partnership also contributed to the development of the great GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration (2008): a conviction that being a follower of Jesus Christ in the Anglican way is based upon a shared confession of faith in Him including the biblical and theological essentials we find in both the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
I had the honor of interviewing some of these great leaders of our movement in North America: Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan, Bishop Ray Sutton (Presiding Bishop, REC), Bishop David Anderson (AAC and CANA), Bishop Martyn Minns (CANA), and Bishop John Guernsey (Uganda and ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic). All of them were present and active in the events leading up to and including the formation of the Common Cause Partnership, the Anglican Communion Network, GAFCON, and the Anglican Church in North America. Together, they shared how the ACNA came into existence. Without giving away the whole podcast, here are some takeaways from that interview:
It was God himself who put the biblical and theological boundaries at the heart of Anglicanism back in place.
Time and again, these great leaders marveled at the theological consensus that emerged among a variety of Anglicans who had been divided for the last 100 years over issues of worship style, the nature of ordained ministry, mission, and more. One bishop noted how an Anglo-Catholic bishop argued in favor of the 39 Articles while an evangelical Anglican bishop argued in favor of the Seven Ecumenical Councils during their deliberations! Both perspectives were warmly embraced as being at the heart of Anglicanism. Another described how at every conciliar meeting until the Common Cause statement was adopted, there was some issue that threatened the survival of the realignment. “There’s no way we should have survived,” he said, “but we did because of the prayers of so many intercessors” and the supernatural intervention of God.
Everybody wanted to make it work.
The bishops all agreed that the Holy Spirit was present in giving them a desire for one, united, biblical, and missional Anglican Church. They likened the quality and determination of their will to that of a husband and wife in a lifelong marriage. “So long as that will remains, the Province will continue to succeed and be blessed,” said one bishop, “but it has to be a will the Holy Spirit creates.”
They refused to replace unity around biblical and theological essentials with any other focus.
Our founding leaders are students of history. They noted how western Christianity in the last half of the 20th century was characterized by socio-political convictions overtaking biblical and theological convictions in every denomination. They shared in detail how they observed and responded to this “take-over” in The Episcopal Church USA. By contrast, the Bible and reformational Anglican theology “took-over” socio-political issues in the formation of the Anglican Church in North America, and these biblical and theological convictions are the basis of our Fundamental Declarations.
Out of these shared biblical, apostolic, and reformational Anglican essentials at the heart of the ACNA flows a commitment to biblical justice and works of mercy. Not surprisingly, the recovery of biblical and theological essentials and the clarity of such boundaries within Anglicanism also led to the formation of biblically shaped justice ministries within the ACNA such as care for the poor, the Anglican Relief and Development Fund, and other partnerships with brother and sister Anglicans in the Global South. The bishops agreed that this recovery has implications for us today in North America where non-biblical worldviews threaten to overtake and reinterpret biblical truths just as they did in the Episcopal Church USA. As one observed, “If you abandon the theological essentials [of Anglicanism] to do stuff together, you always end up in a ditch.”
Unity around Anglican essentials is also at the heart of the Global Anglican realignment.
In addition, Anglican leaders in the Global South reached the same conclusion we did. They were convicted that our faith must be built around theological unity rather than geography, or historic bonds of affection and connection with Canterbury. As a result, confessing Anglicans in North America found our counterparts across the Global South—and they were to us as “good shepherds”—finding and caring for us who would otherwise have been lost sheep as the mother Church of England turned away from theological unity to a false unity based on other values.
Finally, these leaders shared much more detail, so I hope you will subscribe to our Anglican Perspective Podcast, if you haven’t already, to understand this crucial period in our realignment and formation as one, united, biblical, and missional Anglican church for North America. You can also tune in below, not only to this latest episode but to past episodes as well!