By the Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr.
Note from the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll: On November 23, 2022, my colleague and dear friend John Rodgers died at age 92. John was a hero in the revival of Anglicanism, first in his role as Dean/President and Professor of Theology at Trinity School for Ministry, and later in his stand against the rampant revisionism in the Episcopal Church and his consecration as bishop in Singapore in 2000. John and I shared a hope that out of the turmoil of late-modern Christianity, a new and vital Anglican Communion might emerge, a hope which he expressed at the first Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem. I think Bishop John Rodgers was speaking a prophetic word that is awaiting fulfillment fifteen years later. In coming weeks, I shall attempt to take up this mantle with a series of posts titled “Toward Reviving, Reforming, and Reordering the Anglican Communion: Fourteen Theses for Glogal Anglicans.”
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)
The task assigned to me is to suggest how we as faithful Anglicans are to protect and live out in common life and mission, the precious inheritance of Apostolic Christianity which has been given and entrusted to us by God. We are to do this at a time when portions of the Anglican Communion are no longer faithful to that inheritance and when the Communion’s instruments of unity and oversight have not proven capable to protect and advance this gift and calling.
We need a brief description of what faithful Anglicanism is as the context in which to indicate what we need to do to prove faithful in our situation. Faithful Anglicanism is an expression of reformed Catholicism. The Anglican family has its roots in the Western Catholic Church. From the early days of the Church we existed prior to a relationship of obedience to the Bishop of Rome under whose oversight and care we Anglicans subsequently came. As such we are part of the Catholic Church. At the Reformation of the 16th Century, in obedience to the Apostles’ teaching, we found that we could no longer remain in submission to unreformed papal authority, doctrine and practice in a number of areas and centrally in the application of God’s grace to sinners, as the 39 Articles make clear. Thus we were reformed by the Apostolic Word.
Hence Anglicanism is reformed, apostolic Catholicism seeking in all things to be faithful to the Word of God written. As the Anglican family expanded around the Globe five abiding marks of faithful Anglicanism arose. These are:
- a common faith,
- a common celebration of the Word and the sacraments of the Gospel,
- a common ministry,
- a common mission and
- a common global family or communion.
Each of these marks has become problematic to one degree or another, resulting in a loss of unity in the Anglican Communion as a whole and in parts of the Communion resulting in internecine warfare. What we, as faithful Anglicans, need to do, can best be addressed in the context of a brief comment on each of the five marks.
II. What we need to do
- A Common Faith
Faithful Anglicanism is above all biblical. Canon A5 of the Church of England states: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.” From 1571 until the 20th Century this would be an accurate description of the official Faith of Anglicans and remains the official Faith of many of the provinces to this day, though in some of those provinces they are neglected in education and practice. In many of the Western provinces the Articles exercise no actual authority and are often contradicted by the prevailing popular theology taught in the seminaries and in the congregations. Since the Articles assert and apply the Authority of Scripture, affirm the Catholic Creeds which are scriptural, and center in the great themes of grace to sinners as found in the Apostles’ teaching (Articles 9 through 12), to neglect the Articles invites a fall from the Gospel, from Scriptural faithfulness and into biblical ignorance. Therefore the Articles need to be restored to their proper prominence in stating the Common Faith of Anglicans.
There will also need to be ways in which the Scriptures and the interpretative perspective of the Articles can be addressed to contemporary issues arising within the Communion, such as is done in the Lambeth Conference resolutions. These, along with the Articles, will need to have genuine authority in the Communion. There will also need to be a process of discipline that can address departures in doctrine and ethics from the plain teaching of the Scriptures, the Creeds the Articles and the common mind of the Church. Only by such clarity and discipline can the faithful unity and mission of the Church be maintained and furthered. We dare not be vague, for there is no unity except in Christ as He is known and confessed in accord with the Apostles teaching.
(A word concerning the meaning and authority of the Anglican Formularies – the 39 Articles taken in conjunction with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, its rubrics and the Ordinal – is in order. Some Anglicans of Evangelical and of Anglo-Catholic tendencies find that the Formularies are unduly limiting with respect to sacramental understanding and practice. Rather than causing further division or using a “Tract 90” type of hermeneutic to ease the difficulties, it would be preferable if we let the Formularies be read in their plain historical intent and meaning and give the local Bishop the authority to grant such latitude in their application in the diocese as would ease these difficulties, provided that in such permitted teaching and practice the clear teaching of the Scripture is not contradicted, nor the nature of a sacrament overthrown.)
- A Common Celebration of the Word and the Sacraments of the Gospel
From the time of Cranmer until the 20th Century, Anglicans have had a common prayer book tradition. The classic expression of this is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal. This classic prayer book tradition is grace-centered to a unique degree. Cranmer surpassed all others in placing the Gospel in the center of the worship and prayers of the people. Until fairly recently all changes from this book were relatively minor. Anglicans are, in principle, open to diversity of forms of worship “provided that the Faith be kept entire.” The books of common prayer presently used in the Anglican Communion, vary greatly. In some provinces permission is given for congregations to construct their own liturgical services, even to rewriting the creeds. These services and creeds can, and some do, embody theological content at odds with Scripture and the Anglican Faith. In many places the Faith has certainly not been “kept entire.” It is important that we declare the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal to be the official Anglican Book of Common Prayer for all Anglicans and that we require that all alternative services conform to it theologically. Faithful Anglicanism is biblical Anglicanism; therefore making certain that the liturgical services of the Church are faithful to Scripture is essential, since due to its repetition and use in the elevated context of worship, the liturgy has powerful informative power on the minds and hearts of the members of the Church.
- A Common Ministry
Anglicans have maintained fellowship with the Apostles not only by apostolic teaching but also by an ordained ministry in the three orders of Deacon, Priest or Presbyter, and Bishop. These have been, from earliest days, ordered by Bishops in the historic Episcopate. While there is no universal theology of the ordained ministry among Anglicans, there has been no change in the ordained ministry until the 20th Century, when first the Episcopal Church and then other Anglican Churches began to ordain women in all three orders. This has caused a serious disagreement over the possibility and/or biblical and traditional appropriateness of women being so ordained. A degree of impaired communion now exists within the Anglican Communion around this matter.
What must be admitted is that the issue is not settled and that we are in a period of testing or reception. During this time both positions must be respected and common, ongoing study and discussion on this matter must take place. In addition, local congregations and clergy should be permitted to align themselves with the nearest dioceses and bishops that share their convictions on this matter. It would also be appropriate that ordained men should preside at the Eucharist in gatherings of church synods and other such gatherings, for this would allow the fullest number of communicants to receive in good conscience.
It need only be mentioned that those living in a life-style contrary to biblical and ecclesiastical moral norms should not exercise the ordained ministry.
- A Common Mission
As apostolic, the Anglican Churches have received from Christ the Great Commission, thereby being sent by the Lord, as were the Apostles. While Anglicans have at different times been more or less adequate in carrying out this mission, there has never been any doubt as to our calling to be active in the Great Commission, to take the Gospel to all and to seek to draw all people to Christ. In recent days this global mission has been denied. Some have replaced “making disciples” with the millennium goals, which are at best the outflow of the Gospel and not its replacement. These and others have also held that Christ is not “the way, the truth and the life” but rather “a way, a truth and a life” thereby denouncing Mission as “putting God in a box” and as an “imperialistic imposition of our religion” on peoples who already have a religion. Against these false tendencies in our Communion we need to clearly assert that the Great Commission lies at the heart of who we are as Anglicans and to see that we give Mission high priority in our life and witness. It is too light a thing that we should be orthodox in theology and maintenance-minded in practice, as has sometimes been the case.
- A Common Global Family
Here we have our greatest challenge. Some provinces and dioceses in the Anglican Communion have departed from the plain teaching of Scriptures, (the Apostles teaching), the common Faith of the Communion and the express resolutions of Lambeth 1998. This has taken place in popular, pervasive teaching and practice and in official actions such as, in the Episcopal Church, where bishops and dioceses rejected Lambeth 2008 resolution 1:10, and the Province extended it full resources to couples living together while not being married, at the General Convention in 2003.
Therefore beginning with the consecrations in Singapore in January of 2000, we now have orthodox dioceses and many congregations seeking to leave such provinces, some having already left and come under other Primates and have been accepted as members of those “overseas” provinces. This has taken place after long and various unsuccessful attempts to work within the normal structures to call the Church back to faithful Anglicanism. Such attempts failed because the present structures of the Anglican Communion do not have sufficient authority, or are unwilling to exercise the authority they do have, to discipline the errant “autonomous provinces” or because provinces themselves have gone astray and are themselves oppressing the faithful Anglicans. This has resulted in a piecemeal realignment.
Such realignment while messy is both inevitable and justified. The theological basis for the realignment is Biblical, Patristic and Anglican; the principle is that faithfulness to the Gospel is constitutive of the visible Church (Article 19) and requires one to stand no matter the cost, including not remaining in communion with or remaining under heretical oversight, and if necessary to cross institutional lines to protect faithful believers that are being persecuted by heretical bishops and provinces. (Athanasius considered heretical bishops to have no rightful authority over congregations; Nicea referred to orthodox Bishops and dioceses with regard to respecting diocesan boundaries, not to heretical bishops; and it is Anglican because without this principle, there would be no Anglican Communion and we would all still be under the Bishop of Rome.)
The fact that this realignment has taken place within the Anglican Communion, by finding other faithful Anglican jurisdictions within the Communion to provide Episcopal oversight, makes it clear that there was no desire to depart from the Anglican Communion but rather to remain within it. In essence, these acts of realignment are a pastoral and temporary rescue operation as well as a mission outreach, intended to last in this “disorderly fashion” only until such times as they can be resolved at the highest levels of the Communion, if possible.
In addition, because the departure from faithful Anglicanism has now come to involve not only local congregations and specific dioceses but also the official redefinition of doctrine and morals on the part of entire provinces by public enactments and convention decisions, we are compelled to address the question of the unity of faithful, orthodox Anglicans in relation to the nature and unity of the Anglican Communion itself, since its present form and its instruments of unity have proven incapable of successfully addressing this terrible crisis. Some sort of reformation seems necessary. What then are we to do?
Taking the issue of the Anglican Communion first, it seems apparent that we need to change the form of the Anglican Communion and to reform it in the ways listed above in the first four marks. We need a clear statement of our core doctrine and mission, of our normative worship and of the manner of addressing the period of reception regarding women in ordained ministry. In addition we need to have a discernment procedure and a body with authority to discipline those who violate the common marks of the Covenant and, as a last resort, to dismiss them from the Communion if need be. This means, at the least, a clear Covenant detailing these things.
A number of us believe that it is time for us as Anglicans to move ahead to adopt the conciliar form of the Church for our common global family. Our present form is really more like a global family picnic than a council. The early Church from biblical times onward held councils, not picnics. While our present form has held us together when all of the first four marks above were commonly understood and affirmed, it has never been fully catholic in form and it simply doesn’t work now. In addition, with regard to ecumenical conversations, a conciliar form of Communion would enable clearer and more easily recognized conversations and cooperation.
With regard to the unity of the orthodox in North America, the various orthodox bodies have joined together in the “Common Cause Partnership.” This is a federation, under a brief statement of the common Anglican marks, that allows for some common planning and cooperation while retaining almost total autonomy for the several pastoral and mission-active member bodies. This federation needs to move as quickly as possible into the form of a province with its several dioceses and its own primate and to be recognized as such by the faithful, global Anglican family. It also needs to be certain that the values listed above in the four marks of Anglicanism are built into the structures of its common life. Special emphasis needs to be placed upon mission through church-planting and evangelism as well as the ministry of service or “diakonia.” At the same time the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada should either repent and align with the Covenant or be asked to “walk apart” from the Anglican Communion. In either case this would produce one province and end the issue of “crossing of boundaries” and the resulting new Province in the faithful common global Anglican family could operate in an orderly and mission-minded fashion
What is to be the relation of the faithful Common Global Family to the present Anglican Communion? Assuming that the present Anglican Communion is not reformed in accord with the essential marks of faithful, apostolic Anglicanism at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, there are only two possibilities: one is some form of impaired communion or the other is that of totally independent families.
Impaired communion would be one in which the faithful Anglicans, having formed themselves into a covenanted family, would sit lightly to the official structures of the present Anglican Communion and would be fully out of fellowship with those provinces that are revisionist in character. It is hard to see how this impaired communion could or should last over a long period of time, since the departure from biblical Faith in the revisionist parts of the present Anglican Communion is as radical as it is. The departure is not just a matter of human sexuality, but of biblical authority, of the uniqueness of Christ, of the depth of sin and the redemption by God’s grace, of the mission of the Church. Everything is twisted and distorted by this “fallen theology,” and the ecclesial structures are used by the unorthodox, when they achieve the majority, to oppress those who are faithful to the marks of faithful Anglicanism. In addition, this theological disease has spread to many, if not most, of the Western provinces of the Communion and those provinces influenced by the Western provinces and will surely find its way wider and wider in the present Anglican Communion in the days ahead. The intent of impaired communion would be to influence the present Anglican Communion for good.
Some are reluctant to take the more radical step of forming a new and different Anglican Communion out of communion with the present Anglican Communion. One can be sympathetic to that reluctance for it is true that the orthodox family is the bearer of historic, faithful Anglicanism and it should be the unbiblical innovators and revisionist that should repent or leave. But, alas, they have the majority of the positions of authority both in the Western Provinces of the Communion and in large measure in the structures of the Anglican Communion itself and they are of no mind to leave or relinquish their power. Since this is the case, this writer believes that should Lambeth 2008 refuse to be reformed in accord with the marks of faithful Anglicanism, a new faithful Anglican Communion should be formed as soon as possible. The alternative seems to be merely a delay and dangerous to reformed Catholic Anglicanism.
III. How might we do it
The GAFCON Contribution
We at GAFCON can and should form and recommend a Covenant, preferably in a conciliar form, that embodies the marks of faithful Anglicanism and a process of discipline, for all those that are prepared to align themselves with it. This Covenant can and should be taken to Lambeth 2008 by those of us who are attending Lambeth 2008 with a call that the Communion so reform itself. The present proposed Anglican Covenant in both its initial and second form [the Ridley Covenant] falls greatly short of embodyingthe marks of faithful Anglicanism; it does not authoritatively embody the doctrines of grace of the Reformation and thus fails in devotion to the Apostles teaching, nor does it challenge the autonomous character of the present provinces, leaving us with a toothless tiger. This is no time for half measures.
Those of us who have been invited to Lambeth but are not attending Lambeth 2008 might go to Canterbury at the same time that Lambeth 2008 is going on, in order to inform those attending of the seriousness of the issue and the necessity for reform, as opportunity allows. All at Lambeth 2008 need to know of our intention to live by such a Covenant as GAFCON has endorsed whether endorsed by Lambeth or not. We must no longer allow ourselves be hindered or distracted from carrying out the discipleship and mission to which the Great Commission calls us and for which the Holy Spirit enables us.
The Global South Contribution: the Fourth Trumpet
Should Lambeth fail to adopt the GAFCON Covenant or reform itself according to the marks of faithful Anglicanism, then the Global South, the orthodox body that has led the way all during this time of turmoil should, at its fourth meeting in January of 2009, initiate the GAFCON Covenant thereby constituting the beginning of a reformed Global Anglican Family which would involve all of those Provinces, dioceses and congregations as wished and were able to align with it and initiate such steps as to enable the reformed Anglican Family to take place.
IV. Conclusion: Moving Ahead in Unity, Global Fellowship and Mission
The days of weak response and delay are past. The issues are far too serious, too serious for the spread of the Apostolic Gospel, and too serious for the preservation and vital work of faithful Anglicanism. No matter the pain or no matter the cost, we are called by the Lord to devote ourselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers while living in vigorous apostolic mission. That is what faithful Anglicanism is at its heart.
Appendix: Reflection on Gafcon 2008
From John H. Rodgers, Jr.: Evangelical Theologian, Seminary Dean, Anglican Bishop. Zoom Memoirs with Stephen Noll (Anglican House, 2021), pages 202-204.
SN: Let’s return now to your ministry in the wider Anglican Communion after you had formally retired.
JHR: The high point of my ministry in the wider Anglican Communion after my retirement was being asked to give a talk at the first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 on “Where do we go from here?”
I began this way. We have to state who the “we” are and where the “here” is. “We” are the Anglicans who hold to classic historic Anglican doctrine and practice. We have a common faith, which is beautifully summarized in the Thirty-nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We have a common liturgy, the 1662 Prayer Book tradition, which is still dominantly used around the communion. We have a common ministry, historic Anglican orders, as part of our tradition unbroken from the early church, though women’s ordination has been something that requires further consideration. And we have a common mission, which is to go into all the world and preach the gospel and win souls for Christ and care for the needy. The “here” is this historic meeting in Jerusalem, and we are here as a unified body pursuing these great things.
So, I asked, what is the problem? Well, the problem is that heresy, false teaching, has invaded whole provinces of the Anglican Communion and even has corrupted the so-called “Instruments of Unity” of the Communion. On top of that, the Communion’s very structure, with its doctrine of dispersed authority, cannot discipline a province. We can bark, we can beg, we can complain; but there is no instrument of accountability beyond that.
So where do we go from here? I said that “we” at GAFCON need to affirm the commonalities that we have as classic historic Anglicans. We represented probably eighty percent of the actual Anglicans that go to church on Sunday world-wide. We were not the minority, we were the overwhelming majority of Anglicans. Hence, we need to deal with the issue of authority, but that cannot, in my opinion, be exercised within the present Anglican Communion as it is constituted. So, I concluded that we needed to form a new Anglican Communion.
Well, when I got to that last point, you would have thought that suddenly I had lost my mind, because that was a bridge too far for most of the people in that room. They were cheering up to that point, but when I suggested a new communion, breaking with or reconstituting the present Anglican Communion, that was not a place where most of them wanted to go. “Don’t print that, don’t put that in writing,” some said. It was obvious that the historical “bonds of affection” were still powerful in the hearts and minds of many. The Assembly resolved that issue by saying that “we are the Anglican Communion. Let these theological and ethical innovators with their strange theology leave. Who do they really represent? They are small in numbers and their convictions are contrary to classic Anglicanism. Let them go.”
SN: John, I have recovered a copy of your talk from my files. Here is the way you conclude:
The days of half measures and delay are passed. The issues are far too serious, too serious for the spread of the Apostolic gospel, and for faithful Anglicanism. No matter the pain or cost, we are called by the Lord to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers while living in vigorous opposition to some. That is what faithful Anglicanism is at heart.
JHR: That sounds like a rousing conclusion. And I was, you know, passionate about all this. In my opinion, the final result of GAFCON is found in the Jerusalem Declaration, which is the finest bit of theological and confessional work done by Anglicans since the Reformation and the Thirty-nine Articles. Not surprisingly, wherever I could, I urged the affirmation of the Articles as the doctrinal standard of present-day Anglicanism, and let it be clearly stated that it is normative and can be used as a disciplinary norm if need be. I was thrilled to see this so strongly affirmed by the Jerusalem Declaration.
SN: I agree. That is the argument of my exposition of the Jerusalem Declaration in my book The Gospel of God and the Church of God, for which you generously wrote the Introduction.
JHR: I did indeed, gladly.
Preface by the Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr.
Stephen Noll, The Gospel of God and the Church of God: Global Anglican Essays (Anglican House, 2020), ix-x1.
God is at work in the Anglican Communion. He is conforming the Communion by and to His holy Word. A chief instrument of His renewing work is GAFCON. But much of what God has done and is doing through GAFCON is unknown to many Anglicans. There is no one better positioned to interpret what God has done and is doing than Professor Stephen Noll, who was a front-seat participant in the events and documents upon which he comments. He writes with unusual profundity, conciseness and clarity.
This collection of essays interprets the significance of three key documents. First, Professor Noll expounds the Jerusalem Declaration of the first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 and spells out its significance for affirming the churchly character of the GAFCON movement. GAFCON is more than a group of like-minded Anglican believers; it is the Anglican Communion itself being reformed by God. It is clear that this must be a divine work of judgment and restoration since the usual instruments of unity and truth in the Anglican Communion have shown that they are incapable of either remaining faithful to historic biblical, Anglican teaching or of preserving the unity of the Anglican Communion in the apostolic, Anglican faith and practice. It is important that Anglicans everywhere be aware of this and support GAFCON by prayer, conversation and finance in this work of truth, unity and mission.
Next, Professor Noll comments on the “Letter to the Churches” which is the statement sent to all the Communion from the third Global Anglican Future Conference in 2018. Here the emphasis is upon the global mission of the Church to bring the Gospel to every land and nation. This “Letter” makes clear that the Gospel of God and the mission of the Church are intimately connected. Part of that mission involves the necessity of ecclesiastical discipline. We have seen that apart from the ability to discipline those who pervert the Gospel the best theological statements are of no avail. We all know about “the weeds and tares” that begin to choke our witness and destroy our unity in Christ when there is no discipline. It is high time that we embrace proper Communion-wide discipline. The why and how of this is set before us in this document and in Professor Noll’s thoughtful elucidations. We do not need another “toothless tiger” like the one we have suffered these past years.
Lastly, Professor Noll addresses the issue of women ordained or consecrated in the historic Episcopate in GAFCON. On the counsel of its “Task Force on Women in the Episcopate,” of which Professor Noll is Convener, the GAFCON leadership has agreed that no province or diocese in its fellowship would consecrate a woman as a Bishop until or unless fuller consensus is reached. It is a credit to GAFCON that it has taken this divisive issue head on.
Why is this a significant issue? First, it is important because it raises the question of whether women bishops can be reconciled with biblical teaching and historic tradition. Second, it asks how the Church comes to one mind in Christ, how it “receives” changes in doctrine and practice. Changes in over two thousand years of practice need be altered only in the most careful manner. The experience of “open reception” of women’s ordination over the past fifty years in the Anglican Communion has shown how stepping outside the Church’s tradition without consensus has resulted in a minority view on women’s ordination becoming dominant and mandatory in Western churches. And now this same flawed process is being replicated with the ordination and marriage of persons in same-sex relationships.
This book is important and calls for our consideration and for our action. Every Anglican should have clear and firm informed convictions on these matters as we move ahead. To neglect these issues is to court disaster.
Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr. Th.D.
Sometime Dean and President of Trinity School for Ministry”