Letter from Church Society Council to the GAFCON Primates
10 January 2010
We write regarding the “Response to offer of an Apostolic Constitution to Anglicans” issued on 10 November 2009.
We share your concern regarding the impact of theological liberalism on the Anglican Communion and the need to uphold Biblical faith and practice. We are painfully aware of brothers and sisters in Christ who have left the Church of England and the Anglican Communion because they could no longer tolerate such liberalism. However, we were deeply concerned about the opening paragraph in your letter. You state:
We believe that this offer is a gracious one and reflects the same commitment to the historic apostolic faith, moral teaching and global mission that we proclaimed in the Jerusalem Declaration on the Global Anglican Future and for this we are profoundly grateful.
The Jerusalem Declaration purports to stand for the historic faith of Anglicanism and in particular not just Scripture and the Creeds but the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as a succinct summary of Biblical teaching. We stand wholeheartedly by the Thirty-Nine Articles and Church Society has upheld their truth and integrity for the last 175 years. We cannot however see that your description of the Roman Catholic Church is compatible with the Articles.
A number of points might be made but the most obvious are as follows:
Our Articles reject the claims of universal jurisdiction made by the Papacy (Article 37). The Church of England rightly broke from Roman servitude in 1534. We do not believe that the Papacy has significantly changed its stance since and the claims of universal primacy, let alone universal jurisdiction are historically unjustifiable. The accompanying claims to the authority of the Papacy are profoundly unscriptural.
Our Articles uphold the glorious teaching of Scripture that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Article 11). We have elsewhere called attention to the failure of the Jerusalem Declaration and the Commentary on the Declaration to stand by historic Anglicanism on this point. Yet the Roman Catholic Church still rejects these truths and has never withdrawn its anathematising of those who uphold them. We have been distressed over the years, and have regularly drawn attention to the liberal led dishonesty of the ecumenical movement in misrepresenting Anglican teaching and in using ambiguous language in pursuing structural rather than confessional unity. Sadly the same thing was evident in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement and we are fearful that GAFCON is following the same course. The doctrine of justification is not a minor side issue. The churches of the Reformation, which includes the Anglican churches, have agreed with Martin Luther that it is the "article of the standing and falling of the church.".
Our Articles explicitly subject the Church to Scripture (Articles 19-21). Theological liberalism has set the authority of the Church, in the guise of Synods and human wisdom above Scripture. But our Articles state plainly that it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to Scripture and that Synods do err (Articles 19 & 20). The Roman Church by contrast claims an authority which is above Scripture. The full fruit of this error has not been seen until the last century or so in the issuing of dogmatic statements about Mary which anathematise those who do not hold them. There is no Biblical basis for this dogma and it serves in fact to lead people away from Christ.
We might go on. Our Articles specifically reject the Roman system which makes its followers beholden to the church hierarchy rather than to Christ. They reject the Roman doctrines of the sacraments, the real presence, purgatory and so on. We say again, these are not secondary issues: they concern the heart of the gospel, the means of salvation, the way to heaven. Anglicanism rejected the errors of the medieval Roman Church and sought to return to Biblical teaching, reflective of ancient practice, but always putting Scripture first.
In the light of this we believe your claim that the Pope’s offer “reflects the same commitment to the historic apostolic faith” is gravely mistaken. We plead with you to recognise that authentic, historic Anglicanism, does not agree with Roman Catholicism on fundamental truths and in particular on the nature of authority and the means of salvation.
On behalf of the Council of Church Society