The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is an extension of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). The two intend a Primates Council of self-selected Anglican Primates, not including the Archbishop of Canterbury, that authorises and legitimises provinces and structures such as the just launched Anglican Church in North America, which has no place or legitimacy among official Anglican structures. As such it is schismatic to the existing Anglican Communion, particularly as it claims to be consistent with the Anglican Communion if not necessarily through Canterbury, and it is in this light that the FCA can be seen.
The FCA in the British Isles will inevitably organise to pass opinion on bishops, dioceses and churches, and even have churches allied to its own structures that reach back to this self-selecting Primates Council. So it is more than just some sort of support group or pressure group, but has clear potential to be 'alternative' in its Anglican routes of authority. In that it intends to be international, it must be alternative in that the Church of England by law cannot accept any authority beyond these shores. Should any church, let alone deanery or diocese, ally itself with the FCA and declare itself out of sorts with its diocesan bishop or Archbishop, the result is likely to be action with not just the force of law behind it but the force of the constitution, as things stand.
It might be at least straightforward in its alternativeness if it wasn't for the rather shadowy history of GAFCON. That is to say, its founding document, the Jerusalem Declaration, was already drawn up and leaked before the conference got to see it. Behind the self-selecting Primates is a grouping of Conservative Evangelicals which with African ballast achieve influence far beyond their numbers in the West. It is why they defer to parts of the Global South; but no one is in any doubt that the creative minds have come from the Global North, where they have long ago basically lost the argument.
The strategy of GAFCON/ FCA is clear enough, though of course it is never announced like I would tell it. First of all, via the international ballast, it is to compromise the more moderate Evangelicals and weaken them. The history of Anglican Evangelicalism has been division, division since the National Evangelical Anglican Council (NEAC) decision in 1967 to be as one on the inside has rather come apart. Fulcrum is evidence of it coming apart, as it had to organise in 2002/ 2003 to insist on supporting existing Anglican structures - and has shown this vigorously in recent times (as in support for the Archbishop of Canterbury and promoting the proposed Covenant come what may). Thus division is made between Open Evangelicals and Conservative Evangelicals, different in method and different in strains in loyalty. There are the less loyal pressure groups like Reform and Anglican Mainstream for Conservative Evangelicals.
Already the FCA seems to be effective. Emails are flying around and notices posted inviting applications to join, and once again the Open Evangelicals are being strained between those more Conservative than them and those more liberal.
It is only the second part of the strategy to take on 'the liberals', those who are open and critical in method, but nevertheless almost all of whom uphold the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection. We might separate here the Keith Ward mainstream broad liberals from the Richard Holloway/ Don Cupitt liberal-postmoderns (the Conservative postmoderns, like those of John Milbank, appear to be orthodox but may be just good performers of the tradition - one wonders their fate). The second strategy is to go after the Keith Ward type liberals, who are now establishing their own legitimacy claim via Affirming Liberalism.
Interesting here is the role of divided Anglo-Catholics. The frustrated dogmatic traditionalist Anglo-Catholics are invited to tag on to FCA, as indeed they are in the new North American Church. The problem is that the FCA is obviously Protestant in foundation, a fellowship on belief-confessing principles. The Anglo-Catholics believe in what the Councils have stated as belief, and in the threefold and diocesan structures that follow on. Well, they believe in the correct threefold ministry and Church structures, whereas the FCA can bypass them. Bishops for Protestants are more like functionaries, who organise, encourage and represent groups of believers. It is a different principle. The habits and beliefs that flow from these, particularly regarding the Eucharist beliefs, differ. The question is whether an extreme view of Anglo-Catholicism that is on the point of leaving the Church of England can sit in the same bed as extreme Protestants. That they did co-exist before they did only because of a broader Church that negotiated among the more basic agreed principles, where in a three way institution a different two had the vote against a one across varying issues. That was a more stable arrangement than one plus one.
A good offer of a Roman Catholic oversight Anglican Rite Church might send a flood of these Anglo-Catholics away from FCA and indeed the C of E to such an institution. It is a matter of politics across to the C of E and internal to Rome, this offer is not made - but it might be. As such Rome now takes individuals. So the FCA can only be temporary for Anglo-Catholics, and they might split from the Anglican Church of North America over matters like women clergy.
The split with Affirming Catholics has already been made. Many outsiders regard Affirming Catholicism as made up of liberals already: they are just the liberals who bolster themselves with Catholic dress and forms. It is a misrepresentation, as some of these Affirming Catholics types really are tradition first, but see valid tradition as having to communicate outwards and be translated. I suspect some Affirming Liberals are tradition first too, but probably many just a little bit more Protestant, if again critical. The danger for Protestant Liberalism is being so close to religious humanism, with no support via ritualistic method from an eventual slide away to ordinary speech. But some manage the argument within the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection confessions.
Such is not good enough even for Open Evangelicals, who would insist on the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection, and on a stronger obedience regarding what seems obvious from the Bible (e.g. homosexuality) (see some expressions at the Fulcrum 2009 Conference, though some are Conservative). And such is their problem, because the FCA is wooing them, but under FCA leadership - what I'd call Religious Trotskyism.
Why so? Because Evangelical history is one of division, and wooing Open Evangelicals does not mean creating some organisation that could split again among Evangelicals. Wooing Open Evangelicals simply means to weaken Open Evangelicalism, as first strategy before taking on the Keith Ward type liberals and any others to the theological left.
A group called the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, which is FCA by another name (compare the document it uses, as paragraph by paragraph its Covenant reproduces parts of the Jerusalem Declaration), is organising precisely on the divisive basis regarding the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has perfectly functioning and legitimate presbyterian structures for its decisions and maintains loyalty to creeds and its documents, as does the Church of England. The FCC wants to divide and separate according to its views of legitimacy. The FCC has plenty to agree over with the FCA.
The Church of England describes itself as Catholic, Reformed (Protestant) and Liberal.
The history of the Church of England from the 18th century onwards has been enriched by the co-existence within it of three broad traditions, the Evangelical, the Catholic and the Liberal.
- The Evangelical tradition has emphasized the significance of the Protestant aspects of the Church of England’s identity, stressing the importance of the authority of Scripture, preaching, justification by faith and personal conversion.
- The Catholic tradition, strengthened and reshaped from the 1830s by the Oxford movement, has emphasized the significance of the continuity between the Church of England and the Church of the Early and Medieval periods. It has stressed the importance of the visible Church and its sacraments and the belief that the ministry of bishops, priests and deacons is a sign and instrument of the Church of England’s Catholic and apostolic identity.
- The Liberal tradition has emphasized the importance of the use of reason in theological exploration. It has stressed the need to develop Christian belief and practice in order to respond creatively to wider advances in human knowledge and understanding and the importance of social and political action in forwarding God’s kingdom.
The Church of England consists of more than what the FCA represents, even if the FCA was no more than a pressure group. The point is that the FCA is different, and the issue is whether anyone in the Church of England (or the Church in Wales or the Scottish Episcopal Church) is going to do anything about it. Strategy 1 is shortly to be under way, and some Open Evangelicals are already dancing to its tune instead of attempting to strangle it at birth.