The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted: On not mucking about in your neighbor's garden.

The 4th section of the Lambeth Quadrilateral states that "The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples" is a core value in the ordering of the life of the church.  After all these years of poking about as to what exactly that means, we at least know this: "The churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make decisions about policy."  We have this on good authority, namely that of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, quoted by the BBC.

The bible purity crowd seems to think otherwise, but of course they can do so precisely because "the churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and free to make decisions about policy," including the decision that what they are deciding about is policy and not core doctrine. It is precisely this problem that lies at the center of the current madness in Anglican Communion life. 

"Provinces" is the name given to the "Anglican Churches" which are national or regional synods (assemblies) having a common canon law, prayer book, body of bishops and other church leaders, etc.  Calling them Provinces makes them appear to be extensions of a central ecclesastical state, in this case a world wide Anglican Church. But they are not. Calling them Provinces is a really bad idea. They are "autonomous and free" synodical bodies, united with one another by common history and extended "familial" connection. But that's it. 

Which means that unity comes not by being part of the same organization - Provinces of a larger entity - but by being part of the same hope.  If there is an Anglican Communion that lasts it is a gathering of Churches of hope - the hope that in Christ all will be well at the last. Prior to the last there will be great bouts of tribulation as this or that Church exercises the decision to make policy in carrying out the Gospel as they have received it, but in ways not agreed to by other churches

When the Church of England and the Scotish Episcopal Church determined that bishops could be ordained for work  outside their own church structures, they could exact some initial requirements about church life, but in the long run they had to let go of control. The bishops gathered in the Episcopal Church (USA), in Canada, in Scotland, and later in many new churches in many nations, all who "owed" their orders to the Church of England's synod of bishops, seldom had in their own canons any subservience to the Church of England or any other extra-synodical body. They are indeed, "autonomous and free."

So now we have some Churches that have joined together to form a more perfect union... one based on a form of biblical and historical certainty that belies the very foundation of the notion of Anglicanism, namely that polity, structure and common life are products of national or regional understandings as well as ancient professions of faith and order.  

The GAFCON crowd, churches that came together and affirmed the Jerusalem Declaration, have in recent days determined that the Church of England, as well as the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, are apostate. In the most recent letter from the GAFCON leadership they had this to say about the Church of England.

"FCA UK & Ireland, formed at our initiative, continues to welcome and provide support for faithful Anglicans in the British Isles. We are particularly concerned about the Church of England and the drift of many from the Biblical faith. We do not regard the recent use of a Church of England building for a Muslim service as a minor aberration. These actions betray the gospel and discourage Christians who live among Muslims, especially those experiencing persecution.

We support Bishop John Ellison in resisting the unjust and uncharitable charges brought against him by the Bishop of Salisbury, and in view of the Great Commission, we note the sad irony that this former missionary bishop to South America now finds it necessary to defend himself for supporting missionary activity in his own country. 

We continue to encourage and support the efforts of those working to restore the Church of England’s commitment to Biblical truth. Equally, we authenticate and support the work of those Anglicans who are boldly spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and whose circumstances require operating outside the old, institutional structures.

We remain confident in the great good of gospel ministry, and we see what happens when actions impacting the Communion are taken without the priorities of the faith once delivered.

Wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, GAFCON continues to unite faithful Anglicans under a common confession of Christ’s Lordship and a desire to make disciples."

GAFCON provides the institutional cover for congregations and parishes who are wanting to leave the Anglican church of record (The Church of England, the Episcopal Church, etc) and establish a second Anglican entity (a regional church) claiming to be "true" Anglican body. 

So the Church of England will now get to taste the bitter fruit of schism that has already occurred in the US

And in an unfolding side-bar story, the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), in the midst of following its own internal council as a synod, is considering allowing clergy to bless same sex unions.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that if they do so, they will be subject to the same sanctions that have taken place regarding inclusion of The Episcopal Church (TEC) church members in ecumenical conversations. At the same time GAFCON, seeing a new place to make incursions, all for the sake of biblical purity, is offering to take offended local parishes into their care.

The end of the matter is just this: To the extent that there are indeed canons, organizational structures, episcopal synods, and the like, they are formed and determined,by general Anglican Communion agreement, by the synodical structures of the several churches. 

That parishes and dioceses might want to re-align is a reality. They are doing it. But in doing so they are not becoming new Anglican bodies, they are forming new churches, new synods. GAFCON is not the new Anglicanism. GAFCON is constituting a new super-provisional world wide body that will not put up with this "locally adapted" business.

So be it. 

But the Church of England, and its Archbishop, are now party to the same game being played out in the US, in Canada, Scotland and other churches of the Anglican Communion. It is being taken for a ride. 

And to the extent that England has become a multinational nation, its church, still English, will have finally to deal with the reality that there is no national church in England, but rather the Church of England in a nation that includes many church communities, some of which will try to pull from the CofE such members and dioceses as it can from the CofE itself.

That is why the Archbishop of Canterbury has to make up his mind. Does the CofE condone GAFCON's "new mission" as an Anglican device, or does it say, as TEC has said, that GAFCON is using the cover of a "pure" Anglicanism for purposes of usurpation and expansion? At the core is the issue of synodical governance, on a national or regional level.

The ABC was wrong to invite the GAFCON puppet, the Anglican Church of North America, into the gathering of Primates. He was wrong to push the Primate's sanctions as a possible outcome for Scotland. He needs to put a stop to this GAFCON purity initiative in England or see his own province reduced to being just another church in England, along with whatever GAFCON will call its church in England (perhaps the Anglican Church in England.) 

The ABC cannot stop GAFCON from forming new churches in England, but he can make it clear that GAFCON's new church development is not Anglican, not the "pure and restored" Anglican community in England

When the Anglican Communion bodies did not make it clear that incursions into Churches part of the Communion by other churches in the communion would not be condoned or in any way sanctioned, they made a dreadful mistake. The notion of "the historic Episcopate locally adapted" is based on national and regional synods, and the ancient understanding is this: you don't muck about in your neighbor's garden. 

It is all coming home to roost. The mucking about is getting messier, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is not helping.



  1. Speaking of Gafcon and of Scotland, now there's this today:


  2. Father Mark, there is no Episcopal Church of Scotland (ECS). The Anglican province in Scotland is the Scotsh Episcopal Church (SEC). You might want to edit your post.

  3. Brother David...you are right. Changed. Didn't think about it until later this evening, and was on it just as I read your post. Thanks. Good eye.(Mine are fine, but the mind...ah another matter.)

  4. The Archbishopo of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has "mediated" the Anglican Communion into treacherous waters...way over his head, he best start using his head (common sense) and seek a higher moral point of view...HELP! Help! Clear-eyed, the kind that engages in the protection of LGBTI Anglicans/others including in the United Kingdom, the Global South and everywhere else DISCRIMINATION is felt...just what does it take to GET his full attention when anti-Gay +fear/hatemongers+ keep BANGING on Lambeth Palace door (and clanging in the hallways like the ghosts of Christmas past)? WAKE UP! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? LGBTI sisters and brothers are being murdered in the vertically corrupt lands of the CONFESSING ANGLICAN!


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