A Hasty, but Comprehensive Response to Critics of the New FiFNA Declaration

Since the FiFNA Assembly adopted its new Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose on 18 July, a number of people have noted that it stands in tension with the historical constitution of Anglicanism represented by the 39 Articles, as well as more contemporary expressions such as the Jerusalem Declaration.  And fair enough: the new Declaration certainly does take a distinctively Anglo-Catholic theological stand, appealing to Seven Councils (rather than the usual four), and seven Sacraments (rather than two), and speaking of Christ as “substantially” present in the Eucharist – which some have equated with Transubstantiation. 

There seems to be some unnecessary anxiety, however, about what this means vis-a-vis Global Anglicanism.  Some interpret it as a complete “departure” from, or even a “rejection” of historical formularies, and (by consequence) something of an attack on the fragile consensus of Confessing Anglicanism.  But such an interpretation is entirely unwarranted as (1) failing to inquire as to the actual purpose for which the change occurred, (2) failing to appreciate the extent to which the new Declaration stands within the historical tradition of Anglicanism, and (3) failing to explore the how the FiFNA Declaration can be harmonized with the Jerusalem Declaration.

First, the new Declaration needs to be placed within the context and direction of Forward in Faith as a movement.   Regrettably, AnglicanInk did not help this by posting the new Declaration without any context or comment and ahead of any reporting on the event as a whole.  This presentation caused the Declaration to seem like a much bigger deal to FiFNA than it actually was.  Furthermore, since it appeared to come out of nowhere, it seemed to many like an action directed generally against the prevailing winds of the Anglican realignment.

Nevertheless, the organizational context for this declaration is a matter of public record, and to the extent that – by sheer oversight – it is not, details and clarification should be sought from the organization’s leadership.  Suspicion, speculation and rumor are exceedingly poor grounds for discerning the intention of such actions.

To comment briefly on the context the of the revision as one present at the Assembly (but admittedly rather new to FiFNA more generally), Forward in Faith is in the process of transitioning from a lobbying organization with a primary purpose of defending traditional orders to a teaching organization with a broader concern for articulating and promoting Catholic faith and practice within the Anglican Tradition.  Accordingly, the chief interest of the document is in defining what, precisely, that broader vision is.  It is INTERNALLY, not externally focused: seeking to clarify the standards of its own membership, rather than impose its views on any Anglican body.

The Declaration serves to delineate the common inheritance towards which the movement looks, and not rubrics of ultimate ecclesiastical authority.  As a pan-jurisdictional movement, FiFNA defers this to the ecclesial structures within which its members are embedded, but seeks to support them through its own structures if and whenever those ecclesial structures become hostile to them for their commitment to this understanding of the faith.

If it might seem somewhat combative to phrase this in a “Declaration,” this must be attributed to the history of the organization, rather than its present intention.  It so happens that FiFNA is an organization with a Declaration rather than a statement of faith, and so that is what is updated for purposes such as these, with the unfortunate side-effect that it seems much more concerned with the broader Anglican landscape than it actually is.

Second, the Declaration stands very much within the historical stream of the Anglican Tradition.  Points 2-5 essentially follow the four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, although the priority of Orders and Sacraments have been reversed (implying a subordination of Sacramentality to ecclesiality) and the point on orders has been extensively expanded in defense of the historical male Orders.

We now have a further addition to these: that seven Sacraments are upheld rather than two, and the “true, real, and substantial presence” of Christ in the Eucharist is separately affirmed.  This is not a rejection of the broader, historic Anglican position, but a particular subset of it.  Indeed, Article 25 acknowledges seven Sacraments – although it makes a strong distinction between the Dominical and common Sacraments that the FiFNA Declaration overlooks.  (This is maintained implicitly, however, insofar as it is specially noted that the Dominical Sacraments should be “ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institiution, and of the elements ordained by Him.”)

There is, further, no contradiction between Article 28 and the FiFNA affirmation, unless we define that receiving Christ in “an heavenly and spiritual manner…[by] faith” is necessarily opposed to Christ being “really, truly, and substantially present in the Body and Blood in the outward and visible sign of Bread and Wine.”  Both approaches maintain a clear distinction between the “outward and visible sign” and the “inward and spiritual grace.”  It is the breakdown of that distinction in the medieval doctrine of Transubstantiation that “overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament.”  FiFNA articulates the Sacramental realism that has become common in Anglican liturgical and spiritual practice, but it does not necessarily advocate transubstantiation or a return to the “many superstitions…repugnant to the plain words of Scripture.”

With respect to the Seven Councils, we are left with significant room to debate what exactly it means to acknowledge them as “ecumenical and catholic on the basis of the received Tradition of the ancient Undivided Church of East and West.”  The standard Anglican line (also ensconced in the Jerusalem Declaration) has been Four Councils, largely because (historically speaking) Councils 5-7 were received somewhat unevenly in the West.  Anglican conversations with Orthodoxy have generally broadened our view on this question, however, and among Anglo-Catholics, acknowledgement of Seven Councils has become normative.  Nevertheless, the hermeneutic demanded by Article 21 is not at all abrogated: Scripture remains the ultimate guide to receiving Counciliar authority.

To acknowledge Seven Councils, then, means we must at least agree with the Orthodox numbering as defining the classical period of the Undivided Church.  (So instead of Lancelot Andrewes’ “four councils, five centuries,” we’re looking more in the neighborhood of Seven Councils and ten centuries.)  At most, it means that a person has very carefully studied the decrees of the Councils, and is ready to defend all the major points on the basis of Scripture.  Most people who would affirm this probably fall somewhere in the middle: assuming the contents of the Councils to be Scriptural on the basis of their ecumenical status, but not necessarily having done all the work to connect the dots themselves.

So if significant portions of the FiFNA Declaration are rooted in historical Anglican documents, changes to those documents are identifiable with trends in the ongoing life of the Communion, and apparent discrepancies between the Declaration and the 39 Articles can be easily reconciled, in what sense is it appropriate to say that FiFNA is “rejecting historical Anglicanism?”  There are bound to be those within Anglicanism who disapprove of this direction for various reasons, but to immediately anathematize them in this way is crude sensationalism and extraordinarily uncharitable, particularly given the urgent need for cooperation.

Finally, let us consider the place of the FiFNA declaration within the context of global Confessing Anglicanism, in particular, vis-a-vis the Jerusalem Declaration.  We should note, first of all, that the starting point of the Confessing Anglican movement and the FiFNA Declaration is essentially the same: they both claim the authority of God over and against the decadence of the prevailing culture.  As phrased by the FiFNA declaration: “Our Lord Jesus Christ has given His Church an Order which claims the loyalty of faithful Christians above and beyond any deviation sanctioned by any humanly-invented institution, whether secular or ecclesiastical.”

FiFNA is a confessing movement, taking a bold, costly stand against the disintegration of faith and morals within an ecclesiastical institution too submitted to culture.  As such, it can joyfully stand and cooperate with GAFCON and FCA where they have also made bold statements for the Faith over and against the culture.  Although some of the particular concerns of the FiFNA Declaration are not upheld by the Jerusalem Declaration (most notably, its stance on Holy Orders), there are extensive places of overlap that define a common faith and common cause.  Most obviously, item 8 of the Jerusalem Declaration and item 7 of the FiFNA Declaration are in total agreement on urgent cultural matters, but this goes completely unmentioned as commentators rush to pull out differences.  Given the common history and substantial and urgent agreement that FiFNA and GAFCON share, it is thus hardly surprising that much – if not all – of FiFNA also supports GAFCON and the Jerusalem Declaration.

But while FiFNA is a confessing movement, it resists having a confession as suchFiFNA is held together by common principles, common interests, a common ethos, and a common opponent, but it is not interested in tying up all the loose ends by magisterial action.  This does bring FiFNA into conflict with that sort of Evangelical who wants to treat the Jerusalem Declaration and the 39 Articles in a more strictly confessional manner, or even put a more comprehensive confession in place.  However, to what extent is this prescribed by the Jerusalem Declaration?

Unlike the FiFNA Declaration, the Jerusalem Declaration explicitly invokes the 39 Articles, and upholds them as “containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.”  The fresh commendation of the 39 Articles is certainly meaningful, and perhaps it would be appropriate for GAFCON II to encourage FiFNA to clarify its own mode of reception of the Articles to the extent it aligns with FCA.  By the same token, however, item 12 acknowledges a “freedom in secondary matters.”  Unless there are particular issues that need to be addressed in a conciliar manner under the rubrics of the authority of the Articles, these remain secondary issues, since the mode by which the authority of the Articles is to be received and interpreted remains somewhat ambiguous.

In brief, the FiFNA Declaration implicitly includes and then exceeds the points of the Jerusalem Declaration, defining a particular subset of Confessing Anglicans whose theological position tends toward the Anglo-Catholic, rather than the Reformed-Evangelical.  It is not the intention of either party to anathematize the other, but to labor together at this moment of crisis and continue to grow together in mutual love and understanding.  To the extent that this is not manifestly the case in the specific composition of the two documents, steps should be taken to resolve this discrepancy.  While we disagree with one another on certain issues, we can still move forward in faith, working together for the glory of God.

Forward in Faith is not threatening the peace and unity of Confessing Anglicanism: what threatens the unity of Confessing Anglicanism is the kind of alarmist attitude that, in making strident judgments without carefully considering the issues at hand, undermines our mutual trust and keeps us in a combative mode, rather than inspiring us to Godly love and mutually enriching fellowship in spite of and even through our disagreements.  Combativeness is not always bad, of course: there have been essential moments in Church history where it has been absolutely necessary to take a stand — some of them in recent memory within the Episcopal Church.  But now is not the time to fight battles over Churchmanship — there are more pressing issues at hand.

Thanks be to God, this is the direction that we are pursuing in the Anglican Church in North America.  In maintaining the focus on the main work of building a united, Biblical, missionary Anglicanism that is reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ, our Bishops have avoided these kinds of divisive arguments, and called us to keep our focus on the main thing.  Let us pray that the Lord will continue to bless this work, and help us to align our hearts and minds with what he is doing among us.

The Rev. Deacon Nathaniel Kidd

Milwaukee, WI

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3 thoughts on “A Hasty, but Comprehensive Response to Critics of the New FiFNA Declaration

  1. Pingback: On Anglo-Catholic – Evangelical Conciliation | Sed Contra

  2. Pingback: A Hasty, but Comprehensive Response to Critics of the New FiFNA (Forward in Faith North America) Declaration | Fr. Orthohippo

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