Reflections

 WHAT MAKES THE

 TRADITIONAL ANGLICAN CHURCH OF BRITAIN

TRADITIONAL ?

The first General Assembly of the Traditional  Anglican Church (TTAC), which was to become the Traditional Anglican Church of Britain (TACB), was held in Bristol on Saturday, the 4th of May, 1996. The Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, Archbishop Falk, and  another TAC bishop, the Rt. Revd W. R. Hudson were present.

On accepting that its fundamental principles and Canons were in line with, and subject to, the documents known as the ‘Affirmation of St Louis’ and the TAC ‘Concordat’, the Archbishop admitted the TTAC as a member Church of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of traditional Anglicans now to be found in Australia, Canada, Central America and Mexico, India, Japan, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Southern Africa, the Torres Strait Islands, the USA and Zambia.

With the exception of the Anglican Church of India, (legitimate successor to the  Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, and thus having roots in the missionary activities of English chaplains on merchant and naval vessels from Elizabethan times), the constituent Churches of the TAC were formed relatively recently by refugees from those Churches of the Anglican (Canterbury) Communion which had begun to embrace the spirit of the Age and to abandon apostolic Order, biblical teaching and morality, along with their historic liturgies.

Those who could not accept these radical changes as authentic developments within Anglican tradition had few choices. They could remain where they were, and watch orthodoxy whittled away by the assembly and synod votes of a triumphant liberal ascendancy, while  being obliged to live with increasing doubt about the validity of sacramental provision. They could depart forever from the familiar  traditions of their ecclesial upbringing, and accept the status of sojourners in the jurisdictions of Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Or they could give up on the idea of church-going altogether, and try to live private lives based on every Christian principle except the one they knew was essential; the necessity of staying grafted onto the one, true Vine.

But there were some who were determined not to do any of these things. Instead, they looked back more than fifteen hundred years to a time when the Church was facing a similar threat from false teachers gaining power and influence within. And they found the remedy for their predicament in the 3rd Canon of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus held in the year 431 AD.

With the justification afforded by this Canon to flee from the jurisdiction of heterodox bishops and to place themselves in the charge of bishops determined to maintain orthodoxy, around 2000 clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Anglican Church of Canada, (Churches which were straying furthest from the ‘Via Media’), met at the Congress of St Louis in 1977 and on the basis of a document affirming their continued adherence to the true Anglican way, went on to found the Anglican Church of North America. Care was taken to maintain the apostolic succession as new bishops were consecrated to serve this Continuing Anglican Church and there was great rejoicing at the survival of that authentic Anglicanism summarised by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, as possessing ‘no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own.‘ but ‘only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.

The ‘Continuers’ gladly affirmed their loyalty to the See of Canterbury, and their solidarity with all other Anglicans still deemed to be orthodox in belief and practice, scarcely forseeing how quickly the situation would deteriorate in other Churches of the Communion, and even in the Mother Church in England. Their attachment to holy Tradition was expressed in the ‘Affirmation of St Louis’ thus;

‘We cannot decide what is truth, but rather (in obedience) ought to receive, accept, cherish, defend and teach what God has given us.’ including ‘ The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by ”the ancient catholic bishops and doctors” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.’

Attachment to Tradition was to remain characteristic of all those continuing Anglican Churches into which the Anglican Church of North America, (subsequently renamed the ‘Anglican Catholic Church’), so rapidly and sadly divided.

The reasons for these divisions were many and complex, and in some cases still disputed. Suffice it to say that the formal establishment of the Traditional Anglican Communion itself, which took place at Victoria in British Columbia on the 29th September, 1990, was a genuine attempt to reconcile and re-unite traditional Anglicans around the globe, and was blessed with a considerable measure of success. Determined efforts are now being made by the leading Continuing Anglican Churches, particularly in the USA, to address the chronic problem of disunity, and real progress towards a united witness is being achieved.

The TAC founding document, the ‘Concordat’ makes the following further reference to the nature of holy Tradition in the life of the Church; it is ‘ that living witness of the Spirit within the Church by which her continuity is assured from age to age. It is described in a letter of 1718 from the Eastern Patriarchs to the English Non-Jurors;

We preserve the Doctrine of the Lord uncorrupted, and firmly adhere to the Faith He delivered us, and keep it free from blemish and diminution, as a Royal Treasure, and a monument of great price, neither adding any thing, nor taking any thing from it.’

This devotion to a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ is the reason why members of the Traditional Anglican Church of Britain see themselves as none other than adherents of that catholic Faith which originally created, and was then propagated by the old Church of England.  When they consider events in the lengthy history of the local Church in the British Isles: the martyrdom of St Alban; the summoning of British bishops by the Emperor Constantine to the Council of Arles in 314 AD; the unique organisation and extensive missionary activity of the Celtic Church; the papal mission to Kent in 597 AD headed by St Augustine; the Synod of Whitby of 664 AD, at which  heirs of two different traditions  agreed to combine, and freely opted for the customs of the Roman Church; the imposition of papal jurisdiction after the Norman conquest in 1066; the ‘weeding of the garden’ (in Archbishop Bramhall’s phrase), and the re-assertion of local autonomy which took place under Henry VIII and Edward VI, (though not without the grievous loss of much that was good); the wonderful blessing  of vernacular devotional resources provided at the hands of, among others, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, Archbishop Cranmer, and the translators and compilers of King James’s 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible; the teaching of the Caroline divines, and the making of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; the 18th and 19th century revivals, evangelical and catholic, and the rapid spread of Anglicanism around the world as a beautiful, distinctive and truly sanctifying way of living in the Church of God; on looking back at these events, at the places where they occurred, at the buildings in which they were acted out, at the people who were involved in them, members of the TACB have no difficulty in recognising their own ancestry and do not hesitate to claim ‘This is our history. These are our people. This is our Church, and the Church we will continue to serve after we have done our own ‘weeding’ of those errors which have lately crept in.’

In recent years, rather than concentrating on promoting the Anglican Way and repairing the breaches among the ‘Continuers’, the Traditional Anglican Church in Britain, and the TAC as a whole have been  heavily preoccupied with attempts to achieve a spectacular goal; the healing of the rift with the Church of Rome with its more than one billion members. The TAC was led to believe that this might take the form of a coming together of what Pope Paul VI once described as ‘sister Churches’ in mutual reconciliation.

At the height of their hopes, in 2007, the then members of the College of Bishops and Vicars General, meeting at St Agatha’s, Portsmouth, solemnly signed a copy of the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ which had been placed upon the altar, as an expression of their desire for such an outcome, and petitioned Rome for a response. After a wait of two years, however, it was made clear that although Rome was willing to provide special jurisdictions for former Anglicans in newly-devised ‘Ordinariates’, in which various aspects of Anglican culture would be preserved for the enrichment of the whole Roman Catholic Church, this could only be by means of individual conversion and implicit, if tacit, rejection of much of former Anglican sacramental ministry, whether exercised or received. And at the end of the process, the TAC would cease to exist.

While some found this acceptable, many more did not, and although happy to wish  ‘Godspeed’ to those who had left or were still intending to leave, and to express gratitude to the Roman Catholic Church and especially to  Pope Benedict XVI for offering what had been proposed, the Traditional Anglican Communion, and the TACB as a member Church, signified their intention to look towards an independent future pursuing their calling as continuing, classical Anglicans.

After so many years of stagnation there was much housekeeping to be done. The conference of the College of Bishops at Johannesburg in February and March, 2012, took steps to begin the recovery of a sense of identity and mission, and the Diocesan Assembly of the TACB at Lincoln in October did the same. From Lincoln, the Vicar General was able to announce that clergy numbers were increasing, that new Church officers had been appointed, that a new diocesan Journal had been launched and the Church website reconstructed. St Katherine’s, after its £2.3 million restoration was to become the TACB Cathedral Church, and with the united assent of the Assembly delegates, the College of Bishops would be requested to agree to the Assembly’s unanimous choice of bishop. For the first time since talks with Rome began, the TACB was confident that it had a future to plan for.

Meanwhile, as the TACB was preparing to move forward, the General Synod of the Church of England held its November session in Westminster. A Measure to consecrate women as bishops was defeated because proponents did not achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in the House of Laity. The other two Houses voted in favour. The bishops of the Church of England, with very few exceptions, determined that the matter would be re-addressed in short order.

One prelate, expressing his disappointment at the result, remarked that it could not possibly be accepted because ‘in Christ there is no male or female’, a reductionist version of St Paul’s words in Galatians, chapter 3 verses 27 to 29:

‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’

Interestingly, in St Paul’s own later condensed version to be found in Romans 10 verses 12 and 13 the Apostle singles out not male and female, but Jew and Greek:

For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.

For whosover shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

And so it is to the verses from Galatians that those who preach the ordination of women are driven, to find both a slogan and the main theological justification for their position, a justification all the more palatable because it can be attributed to an Apostle whom they caricature as misogynistic. Other things which he has written about women; about their dress, demeanor, and functions in the Christian assembly, are to be rejected because they contradict their key interpretation of Galatians 3 which insists that baptism abolishes ethnicity, status and gender and all other category differences.

But for two millennia the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, has had no problem in harmonising all of St Paul’s teaching, and has been obliged to reject none of it on the grounds that one part clearly undermines others. By construing his words correctly, to mean that anyone at all who by faith calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus, has access to baptism, and that the Baptized, through grace, and not by continued conformity to the Law, are equally saved, the Tradition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church preserves the whole of St Paul’s teaching intact. And by doing so it inescapably confirms, consonant with the Lord’s own example in the choice of His Apostles, the obligation to  ordain only males as bishops, priests and deacons.

The Traditional Anglican Church of Britain and its sister Churches in the Traditional Anglican Communion accept this teaching, and have the double endorsement of the Churches of the Roman and Orthodox Communions. And because the TACB is sworn to uphold Holy Tradition by its very foundational documents, that position cannot be abandoned.

JKH 1st January, 2013

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