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Anglican Communion Network proposes using Thirty-Nine Articles 'as correctives to doctrinal abuses'
Theological Statement and Mission Covenant on annual meeting agenda

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

ENS Photo by Matthew Davies
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Anglican Communion Network.   (ENS Photo by Matthew Davies)

[Episcopal News Service]  Members of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) will be asked to consider the tenets of a "Theological Statement" and a "Mission Covenant Declaration" during the group's annual council, meeting July 31 - August 2 in Pittsburgh.

Formed in 2004, the Network is a group of diocesan leaders and congregations that have aligned in opposition to recent decisions made by the Episcopal Church, including the 2003 election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The ACN's website says that 10 of the Episcopal Church's 111 dioceses (Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, South Carolina and Springfield) have "ratified their affiliation" with the Network.

The theological statement is a seven-item list of "affirmations and commentary" that its introduction says signers will agree "contain the chief elements of Anglican Reformed Catholicism, and to be essential for membership."

The Episcopal Church as a whole has never had a confessional statement.

Resolution 11 from the second Lambeth Conference in 1888, passed during a time when many Christian denominations were striving to find ways to reunify, stated that the basis for such reunion needed to be adherence to the belief that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation and is "the rule and ultimate standard of faith," and agreement that the Apostles Creed is the "Baptismal Symbol" and the Nicene Creed is "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith."

The Network's theology statement and the mission covenant declaration are being proposed by the Common Cause Roundtable. The roundtable was called together by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh in his role as moderator of the ACN, and composed of two leaders from each of eight groups affiliated with the network. It has proposed the documents for adoption by each of the partner bodies.

The eight include the ACN itself as well as the American Anglican Council (AAC), Anglican Essentials Canada (AEC), Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), Anglican Network in Canada (ANC), Anglican Province of America (APA), Forward in Faith North America (FiF/NA) and the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), according to the network's website.

"If accepted, these documents formalize a foundation for our shared faith and ministry as orthodox Anglicans in North America," Duncan said of the theological statement and mission covenant in a story on the network's website. "They represent one more step toward a 'biblical, missionary and uniting' Anglicanism that is the Network's defining vision."

The Network's website says that the Common Cause group will meet August 16-18 in Pittsburgh.

Among other things, the theological statement commits those who sign it to "the 1549 through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its ordinal as the foundation for Anglican worship," to "affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as foundational for authentic Anglican belief and practice and as correctives to doctrinal abuses," and to "believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times."

There were five versions of the Book of Common Prayer between 1549 and 1662, including the 1552, 1559 and 1604 versions. Those versions vary greatly between Roman Catholic and Protestant leanings in their theology, reflecting the upheaval of the English Reformation and then-current tensions between conservatives and reformers.

For instance, the 1552 version eliminated overly elaborate altars and vestments for priests, in contrast to the original 1549 version, and added -- over much objection -- the so-called Black Rubric, which made clear that kneeling during Communion did not imply adoration of the Host. The 1559 Book was a conservative revision of the 1552 edition, making it somewhat less "Protestant." The 1604 version grew out of an attempt to satisfy Puritan calls for reform.

The 1662 version is still the only version of the Book of Common Prayer authorized by Parliament for use in the Church of England. "Common Worship," a collection of liturgies and prayers meant to supplement the 1662 book, was issued in 2000. Queen Elizabeth is prayed for in many of the services in the current version of the 1662 book, and its catechism states that one's duty to one's neighbor includes the duty "to honour and obey the Queen, and all that are put in authority under her."

"These five books represent incredible pendulum swings," said the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, liturgy professor at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in Berkley, California.

The movement of the development of the Book of Common Prayer was a movement toward defining Anglican identity. Weil said the succeeding versions aim more towards the "intention of taking a broad, centrist, common ground rather than going to the extremes of a narrowing party such as the Puritans."

The Articles of Religion, also known as the Thirty-Nine Articles because of their number, were first developed in 1563 from an earlier list known as the Forty-Two Articles, written in 1553. They have been revised over the years, and the version included in the Historical Documents section of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (page 867) was last changed by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1801, after years of debate.

The network's website announcement says that the Theological Statement "affirms basic Christian and Anglican beliefs not as historical documents, but as living truth."

Among the topics covered by the articles are "the justification of man," "Predestination and Election," "Sin after Baptism," "Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper," and "Of Christian Men's Goods, which are not common." Article 35 is a list of homilies that "doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times," adding that they should be read in church by ministers.

The late liturgical scholar Massey Shepherd once wrote that the Articles are "Protestant to the extent that they do not claim any doctrines as necessary to salvation" except those found in Scripture and Catholic "in the sense that they do not reject the traditions of the undivided Church of the early centuries."

Weil said the Episcopal Church has never treated the Thirty-Nine articles with the same authority they had in England. "They're not a bad document if you put them in their historical context," he said. "In the context of the time, they are trying to cut a path between the polarizations that were rending Christianity all across Europe."

However, Weil cautioned against "reading history backward" which can abstract a document from its historical context.

"It's the absence of what I would think of as an historical consciousness" that recognizes that doctrine is always a product of the context in which it was developed, especially in terms of the language it uses to express concepts. "To be faithful to that orthodoxy, often we need a new vocabulary because the words have changed," Weil said. "Words don't mean what they meant in their original context."

The full text of the Thirty-Nine Articles is available at

The Seven Ecumenical Councils are those that took place before the split between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic expressions of Christianity that culminated in the Great Schism of 1054. The seven councils were Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787).

The full text of the proposed documents follows are available at: