Canterbury: Necessary or Not?

There was a time, not too many months ago, when the realignment crowd would pull out the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church(TEC) and gleefully inform anyone who would listen that if The Episcopal Church were not in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) it would cease to be Anglican. This was often a prelude to a larger argument that somehow not being in communion with Canterbury would mean that (i) TEC would lose its franchise as the US member of the Anglican Communion, and (ii) TEC's leadership would be in violation of its own Constitution and therefore not TEC at all.

But times change. The realignment community is regrouping. It appears that the ABC is not particularly interested in breaking communion with TEC; It is increasingly clear that the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC is not an item of the Constitution that is proscriptive, but rather descriptive; and, most importantly, there is a growing sense by the realignment crowd that being Anglican and being part of the Anglican Communion are different sorts of things.

So we have the following tasty tidbits of new found truths coming from various sectors of the realignment world:

The first is this, posted on the Global South webpages:

"Letter in the Church of England Newspaper July 26 2007

Dear Sir

Some recent statements have raised the question of what defines being an Anglican church. It is worth remembering that a number of Anglican churches have already pointed out that Anglican churches have from their beginnings seen themselves as part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. That is much more than a matter of formal conformity with a particular see or institution, or attendance at a specific gathering within the Communion, no matter how venerable. It is, rather, founded on a commitment to faithfulness to the scriptures as the supreme authority in matters of faith and conduct and the catholic creeds. That commitment requires agreement in faith, holiness of life, and biblically faithful teaching. Only thus can the leaders of our churches enable the Communion to remain part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, positioned for global mission.

Yours sincerely,

The Most Rev Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney
The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and President of the Church of England Evangelical Council
The Rt Rev Colin Bazley, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Chester and former Primate of the Southern Cone
Canon Ben Enwuchola, Chaplain to the Nigerian Community in Britain."

Then there is this, from Matt Kennedy, no shirker in the battles for the hearts and minds etc in a short article of his titled, A Hard Truth.

"And the most profound question is this: Is Canterbury essential to Anglicanism?

My own answer, as you might have guessed, is "no". What is yours?

The way various parties, far more powerful and influential, answer that fundamental question will determine the ultimate shape of the Communion."

Such worthies as the Archbishop of York and Dr. Ephraim Radner raise cautionary flags about separating ecclesiology from Gospel, but the work is already afoot for some of the more strident of the realignment community to suggest that realignment might also mean distancing from Canterbury.

This of course is all pretty much the view of the Global South Steering Committee (GSSC)– which is now, more or less, the core of the group of Primates committed to an Anglicanism purified of Western heresy. The GSSC has adopted "The Road to Lambeth" as their text of the day. It says in part,

"The current situation is a twofold crisis for the Anglican Communion: a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the "Instruments" of the Communion to exercise discipline has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels, the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality."

The GSSC has openly declared its lack of confidence in the "Instruments of Communion," including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Deep in "The Road to Lambeth" there is this important statement:

"We believe that the initiative for the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant should rest with the Global South churches. We do not have confidence that a Covenant produced by those churches that have caused or condoned the theological crisis will reflect the strong biblical and theological core that a reformed Communion needs. In particular, we call on our African churches to lead in sponsoring a Covenant Assembly for the Global South leaders where we may gather and seek God's guidance for the future of the Communion."

The GSSC is gearing up for a some rapid fire actions: (i) an alternative to the process for developing a Covenant based on (ii) a gathering of the Global South so-called "orthodox" Provinces in a "Covenant Assembly" distinct from and perhaps replacing participation in The Lambeth Conference, (iii) the overt call for a "reformed Communion" and (iv) a declaration that being Anglican and being in communion with the now more or less decadent Church of England are not at all related.

So long as the arguments were about whether or not TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada were to be part of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted, communion with Canterbury was seen as essential to being part of the Anglican Communion and being truly Anglican. Now that the arguments are about a reformed Communion (realignment writ large) all bets are off. Canterbury is a growing burden for this second sort of realignment.

Stephen Noll's recently released letter to Network Bishops and Dioceses gives an important glimpse into how the Network and Common Cause Partners play into this "reformed Communion" scheme. Near the end of his message he says the following:

"Finally, a word from the Global South. Bishops of the Global South have stood firm against the heresy of TEC for a decade now. Lambeth 1.10 would not have happened but for their insistence, nor the recent Primates' Communiqué. They have harbored many refugees from our shores and refused money dangled before them by 815 & Co. They expect and deserve your strong and united response."

Dr. Noll may be entirely wrongheaded (and I think he is) but he is no fool. When he says, "a word from the Global South" he is carrying a message for others – the GSSC leadership in particular. The signal that "they expect and deserve your strong and united response" is a reminder of the promises gotten from those who met with the GSSC group last November – promises to act with a united and strong voice, with Bishop Duncan as the lead voice, and to act in concert with the directions provided by the GSSC itself.

So at the moment the question as to whether being in communion with the see of Canterbury is or is not somehow essential to Anglicanism or to a "reformed Anglican Communion" stands. It is increasingly clear that the GSSC and fellow travelers are going to say "no."

If this happens there will be at least two different sorts of worldwide Anglican entities, more if you count some of the currently international but not-in-communion bodies. There will at least be the Anglican Communion as now constituted, but smaller, and a Reformed Anglican Communion (also known as the New Improved Anglican Communion or Revised Standard Anglican Communion or whatever). It will be a hard day for all of us, but then we can get on with the Gospel, working with one another as need and concerns permit, finding in each other the deep reservoirs of prayer and thanksgiving that have always been there, exchanging with mutual regard such elements of missionary energy as seem fruitful, and so on. All our ecumenical skills will be tested, just as they are now in a wide variety of contexts. It will be a new day, but perhaps a recognizable one, a day as always in which the ecumenical pull of the Gospel will work its will.


  1. Has the mind of the realignment community changed? The answer, at least in part, is that as a body of people it has more than one mind.
    (Just as you, Mark are not always in lockstep with your progressive fellows.)
    One signatory to the letter you cite, Peter Jensen has like his predessors in Sydney had warm fellowship with the Church of England in South Africa, which is not recognised by Canterbury. The diocese of sydney has provided two Bishops to CESA, and at least one consecration of a bishop of CESA was held in St Andrews cathdral here in Sydney.
    So this part of the realignment community has NOT changed its mind about whether formal recognition by Canterbury is required.
    For protestants and evangelicals the mechanism of apostolic sucession has always been less important than it has been for those of a more Catholic persuasion. We have been living with part of those we fellowship with inside and part outside the Anglican communion for quite some time.
    I used to think CESA was an anomaly. But it might become a model for the future.

  2. How the mighty have fallen!

    It seems like only yesterday that Duncan was boldly predicting that the other 95% of the church would be cast out and he and his disciples would grab all the loot. ("Take the franchise," in the charming phrasing of Can(n)on Anderson.)

    Now they are about to become yet another splinter among the hundreds in the so-called "Continuing Anglican" movement.

    What a difference a couple of years can make.

  3. One is moved to wonder - If the Bishop of Lewes decides he is no longer in Communion with Canterbury, will the Church of England simply let him take all the diocesan property with him?

  4. Personally, I find this from the Vocal South most fascinating.

    "It is, rather, founded on a commitment to .. the scriptures as the supreme authority in matters of faith and conduct..."

    Not Dr Hooker:

    "What Scripture doth plainly deliver [to the Lay], to that first place both of credit and obedience is due;
    the next whereunto is whatsoever any man [the Learned] can necessarily conclude by force of Reason;
    after these the Voice of the Church [in Counsel] succeedeth."

    "That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority [GC] shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of Reason over-rule all other inferior judgments [please fill in...] whatsoever.

    Dr Hooker: Of the Laws of the Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 8:2; Folger Edition 2:39, 8-14

    It is not even Anglican, not Church but Sect. The Inerrantism of innumerable 20th century American sects.

    Un-known to us in Europe, to be sure. Most wouldn't recognize it, or know it by name...

  5. So what Dr Hooker really said was not "Scripture, Tradition and Reason" as claimed today, but Scripture read with un-lettered Reason, Scripture read with lettered Reason, and Scripture read and determined over by the Church in her Councils (Lambeth does not constitute a such).

    The first for what is there for all to see with their own eyes (this requires a faithful, non dogmatically distorted translation – but since the 12th century Scholastic changes to the Old Latin there is none), what is there to be interpreted by the best minds (involves our choices as to how and what we think is important and what is secondary or tertiary), and what is to be decided over by the Church herself (in all the cases where Scripture is silent - cars, aeroplanes, fridges &c - or of several minds).

  6. Once you allow yourself to think the unthinkable is not only possible, but good, all restraint is lost. The GS has given itself permission to think of communion without the ABC, and has sensed unrestrained power. They will not turn back. They intend to dominate and dictate - in the name of the Lord, of course.

  7. So here is the what-god-would-think-if-he-were-as-informed-as-we crowd is facing. They can leave, they have to set the keys on the table. They will be another splinter, like the continuim which is nearly out of business.

    Inclusivness will be hard without them. We shall have to go out and recruit intellectually honest conservatives. Fortunately, they are out there.


  8. Malcolm+,
    The Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, is a suffragan bishop in the diocese of Chichester.

  9. Mark,
    The roots of this go further back, at least as far back as the Church of Nigeria amending its constitution to delete reference to Canterbury, and Peter Akinola's repeated statements that the road to salvation need not go through Canterbury.

    The Americans and Canadians, however, have premised their whole strategy on communion with Canterbury as the ultimate touchstone. Here in Canada, the Essentials crowd has been very narrowly focused on the Solemn Declaration. By harping on the connection to Canterbury, they claim to be the "true" TEC or ACCan, and then can claim all the silver and real estate.

    All this needed a top down decision, by the Primates or by Cantuar himself, that the liberal majority of TEC and the ACCan are no longer in communion with Canterbury -- hence the focus on the Lambeth resolutions and the Primates' Meeting, and the patience to see them through.

    But if they thought Akinola and the other GS Primates would be their lackeys, they were dead wrong (perhaps still in a colonialist mindset?). The GS don't have the patience for this to drag on and on, nor do they see any value in continuing as a part, even the dominant part, of what is at its root a colonialist structure. They see the cultural and gospel imperative as demanding that they go their own way, sooner rather than later.

    The split is at this point unavoidable, the only question is how many leave for the new entity. While it is painful to part from brothers and sisters and friends, I wish them godspeed in their new communion.

  10. You wrote, "It is increasingly clear that the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC is not an item of the Constitution that is proscriptive, but rather descriptive..."

    I am pretty sure that you mean "prescriptive" instead of "proscriptive".

  11. Thank you Obadiah.

    That said, my point really had little to do with the person of My Lord of Lewes, but rather with the strange goings on related to lawsuits and to the claim that people who leave should get to take the property with them.

    Several English folk have commented on assorted blogs, claiming that the Episcopal Church is mean, nasty, viscious and wicked because you won't let the decampers take the property.

    Curiously, when asked how it would pan out if a part of CofE chose to decamp to the Church of Nigeria or whatever, they simply pretend that there is no possible connection. Witness Madam Gledhill's blog where some chap named Marsh won't even admit that the CofE isn't about to allow assorted clergy and PCCs to alienate the property of the established church.

  12. Canon Harris, This is wonderful. Not only is your "suggestion" hopeful but, I think, spiritually healthy, right and just (and a ton less morally suffocating/paralizing than spending the last years of my lifetime dealing with the Akinola-Orombi "excluding" gang at The Body of Christ):

    "...but then we can get on with the Gospel, working with one another as need and concerns permit, finding in each other the deep reservoirs of prayer and thanksgiving that have always been there, exchanging with mutual regard such elements of missionary energy as seem fruitful, and so on."


    Leonardo Ricardo

  13. I spent a bit of time yesterday reading on-line materials posted by various "continuing Anglican" bodies in the U.S., churches that I've been tempted in the past to describe as "continuing-not-to-be-Anglican." It appears that the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in America and the United Episcopal Church have signed a concordat of intercommunion with one another. Meantime, the United Episcopal Church has terminated its concordat and intercommunion with the Anglican Province of America, blaming the break on the APA's signing a concordat with the Reformed Episcopal Church and joining the Federation of Anglican Churches. FACA counts among its members the Anglican Mission in America, the outfit spawned by folks associated with Trinity School for Ministry and now guided at least in part by the Most Reverend Gregory Venables, he of the minute though authentically Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

    It may be that the UEC-APA marriage failed because the APA got to messing with bodies in communion (sort of) with the "Canterbury communion" (the ACC's term). That, I learned, is a no-no to Anglican Catholics.

    My, my, it's hard to keep track of them all, beyond noticing the bevy of purple shirts and the multiplicity of Most Reverends. Judging from what he had to say yesterday, it would appear Robert Duncan and others may shortly be setting up shop amongst those purple shirts and there'll soon be more Most Reverends.

    Alas for them, history suggests that the schismatics, ever seeking a purer purity, soon fall to quarreling with one another. Where there was one churchlet, by and by there are three or more.

    Where my surfing led me is to a deepened conviction that the effort to subvert the Episcopal Church is primarily a home-grown, first world product. Surely the principal author of the most recent, unsigned statement from the "Global South" is Martyn Minns. After all he's head of the Global South Steering Committee Secretariat, and that's what secretariats do--draft things.

    In Mark's comments above we heard from a voice of the Global South based in Mukono, Uganda. Who? Why none other than Dr. Stephen Noll, lately of Ambridge, Pa. And in yesterday's surfing I learned that Chris Sugden, a hard-right English evangelical, toils as a canon of St. Luke's Cathedral in Jos, Nigeria.

    With ambassadors from the developed world like those two, it's hardly surprising that some Africans regard the Episcopal Church and the Church of England as hopelessly corrupt.

    Frankly, I don't know how the Netword crowd can believe themselves when they roar that the Episcopal Church has chosen to walk apart. It's perfectly obvious who's choosing to walk apart. Not this pilgrim and not the great majority who have found God and healing in the Episcopal Church.

  14. trueanglican,

    It is really simple. If you disagree with the bullies, you are choosing to walk apart.


  15. Trueanglican, I love your "churchlet" neologism.

    Once the dust settles, if it ever does, the Episcopal Church will surely be smaller, but that does not particularly worry me.

    Jesus never promised us that the numbers of his followers would be great, only that he would always be with us.

    The purists who search for absolute purity, surely search in vain and will, in turn, become more and more exclusive, most certainly not following the model of Jesus in the Gospels.

  16. When I attended the University of Regina, we had a plethora of Communist Parties.

    First, there was the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) - the Moscow aligned party which belonged to the COMINTERN. Not much presence on campus, but it was the institutional CP.

    Then there was the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), who later were compelled to become the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada by order of the Chief Electoral Officer, This group had split with the CPC when Russia split with China. They were initially "toadies" of Beijing, but when Mao split with Hoxha of Albania, they became "toadies" of Tirana.

    Next we had the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist), who the Chief Electoral Officer had restyled as the Worker's Communist Party. These were splitters from the CPC(ML) who preferred Beijing to Tirana.

    And finally, we had the Revolutionary Group In Struggle! (Note, the exclamation point was actually part of the official name.) They were toadies of no one in particular, and were looked down upon by all the others.

    I was the only non-Communist on campus who could keep them straight.

    Then I saw Monty Python's Life of Brian, with the Judean People's Front, the People's Front of Judea, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Galilee &c.

    And now we have the Alphabet Soup of Continuing (and maybe still officially in some cases) Anglicans.

    I do note that the smaller the Continuing Anglican Body the more likely they are to have a plethora of Archbishops.

  17. Ephraim Radner has now resigned from the Anglican Communion Network. His "Brief Statement of Resignation" appears at:

  18. On a positive note, a formal Anglican schism - God forbid, of course - would not necessarily call into question anyone's "continuing" orders. This is in keeping with the ecclesiology articulated in the Anglican Communion's Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (assuming everyone still conforms to those core principles in future).

    In other words, even a formal schism could possibly be undone someday, or, at least, continuing churches born of the Anglican Communion could be partners in ecumenical dialogue at some later, more peaceful time.

  19. It looks like Duncan has decided he doesn't need Canterbury after all, and Radner can't go that far.

    We are living in interesting times.

  20. Am I the only one who is amused to hear that 'reception' is now OK for women, but even though it is part of Windsor, it is conspicuously not mentioned by the Network.


  21. Too, such discussions about what it means to be Anglican - or who is really Anglican - are somehow reminiscent of the question of what it means to be "Christian," or "Catholic" or "Orthodox." Is there really any one answer?

    Ultimately, "who is and who isn't" viewpoints seem to depend entirely on the ecclesiology of particular communities laying claim to names such as these, and ecclesiologies do differ in the rather wide realm of Christianity.

    So is communion with Canterbury - with the Church of England, Ecclesia Anglicana herself - necessary for being (or at least self-identifying as) Anglican? If being catholic or orthodox does not - for many - necessarily mean being in communion with Rome or "Constantinople," it is hard to see why it would be necessary to be in communion with Canterbury or the Church of England in order to consider oneself Anglican.

    In fact, the only way to counteract that would be to issue some sort of centralized decree on who is really Anglican, that is, who is in, and who is out and why - as Rome has done - which hardly seems desirable if we truly adhere to the ecumenical spirit of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

  22. Again with the irony, C.B.: “Once you allow yourself to think the unthinkable is not only possible, but good, all restraint is lost. … They will not turn back. They intend to dominate and dictate - in the name of the Lord, of course.”

    A good description of ECUSA itself, that.

  23. Fr. Mark,

    You wrote:
    There will at least be the Anglican Communion as now constituted, but smaller, and a Reformed Anglican Communion (also known as the New Improved Anglican Communion or Revised Standard Anglican Communion or whatever).

    I guess you missed the memo. That is the HTGAC, the Holier Than God Anglican Church they are starting. One wonders if St. Peter will qualify for membership with that whole 'inclusive vision' of his.


  24. All those years ago when a Hudson Valley Parish "departed" the Diocese of NY for the "Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)," I noted that they were just one vowel away from being a pimple on the ecclesiastical backside. I see no reason to change that assesment.

    Has anyone tracked the funding of the various American "pimples?" Is it true that +duncan of Pittsburgh is a wholly owned subsidiary of Richard Mellon Scaife?

  25. "They intend to dominate and dictate - in the name of the Lord, of course.”

    Phil responded: "A good description of ECUSA itself, that."

    I have difficulty believing that you really believe that, Phil (and as I've said to you before an "I know you are, but what am I?" fly-by is just *beneath* you)

  26. It's fair to say that while our new would-be masters from the Global South and Canterbury began by trying to re-invent the Wheel, they have ended by re-inventing the Buggywhip.

    Previous Lambeth Councils have never seen the need to impose a doctrinal or administrative control mechanism on churches in the Anglican Communion. Our member churches have gotten along so far without having to impose disciplinary sanctions on each other.

    A faith community in which over a century of prayerful consensus and cooperation are replaced by power games and coercion can no longer really be described as a "communion."

    The Anglican communion has up to this point been distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church mainly by the collegial relationship between its member churches. If we need a Pope, I'd personally prefer Joseph Ratzinger to Rowan Williams or Peter Akinola; Ratzinger, at least, has not yet advocated state persecution of minorities as Akinola has, nor has he shown Williams' pusillanimous attitude toward Sharia law.

    But rather than choose a foreign master at all, I think that ECUSA would do very well with our present method of church governance. If the worst thing the Anglican Communion can do to us is withhold a hegemony from us which it currently does not exercise, then let them feel free to withhold this new meaning of "communion" from us. There's no pressing reason for us to run to the arms of an overseas tyranny.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.