By Robin G. Jordan
Special to Virtue Online
What are the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness is an issue that has sharply divided Anglicans and Episcopalians since the 1830s and even earlier. Successive generations of Anglicans and Episcopalians have sought to redefine the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness to bring their particular beliefs and practice within those limits. One group after another has argued for even wider latitude in belief and practice. Anglican comprehensiveness, the latest argument goes, is a huge tent like the 2008 Lambeth big top under the spacious canopy of which is plenty of room for every shade of opinion.
As the new province moves closer to reality, confessional Anglicans like myself are troubled by the token place that the Common Cause Theological Statement gives to the Thirty-Nine Articles. The Common Cause Theological Statement is to be the foundation upon which the new province will be erected. We are even more disturbed by the argument that, since the Articles were given little regard in the Episcopal Church, they should be given no regard in the new Anglican Church of North America.
The Thirty-Nine Articles were intended mark or lay out the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness. The Articles affirm the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Christ's descent into hell, his resurrection, the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation, original sin, Justification by faith, the sinlessness of Christ, predestination to life and election in Christ, salvation only by the name of Christ, and the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for the sins of the world. With these great doctrines of the Bible, they also affirm the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Apostles' Creed. The Articles define the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament, the nature of freewill, the place of good works, the nature of works before justification, the nature of works of supererogation, and the effect of sin after baptism.
The Thirty-Nine Articles condemn a number of doctrines and practices that spring from a different gospel-universal salvation, purgatory, indulgences, the worshiping and adoring of images and relics, invocation of the saints, and the sacrifice of the Mass. The Articles define the nature of the church, the limits of the authority of the church, and the limits of the authority of general councils. They acknowledge the fallibility of the church and of general councils.
The Thirty-Nine Articles recognize only two true sacraments-Baptism and the Lord's Supper. They define the nature of sacraments, the effect of an unworthy minister upon the sacraments, and the effect of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper upon "the wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith." They condemn the doctrine of Transubstantiation-the conversion of the substance of the eucharistic elements into the substance of Christ's body and blood-and the practice of denying "the Cup of the Lord" to the laity.
The Thirty-Nine Articles address a number of specific issues-the necessity of being lawfully called and sent to execute the office of public preaching and ministering of the sacraments, the use of the vernacular in public prayer in the church and ministering of the sacraments, the marriage of priests, the treatment of excommunicated persons, the traditions of the church, the relationship of church and state in the realm of England and jurisdiction of the pope, the death penalty, the bearing of arms, the ownership of possessions, and the swearing of oaths.
The Thirty-Nine Articles commend the first and second Book of Homilies for their "godly and wholesome doctrine" and enjoin their reading in churches by ministers, "diligently and distinctly," so the people may understand them. The Articles recognize the Ordinal of 1550 as containing all things necessary to the ordination of deacons and priests and the consecration of bishops and having nothing in it that "of itself is superstitious or ungodly. They recognize as valid the ordination or consecration of anyone who has been or will be ordained or consecrated according to the rites of the 1550 Ordinal.
Despite their brevity the Thirty-Nine Articles are a confession of faith. As I noted in my previous article, "The Thirty-Nine Articles and the New Settlement," one of the functions of the Articles is to safeguard the truth of the gospel. The Articles seek to protect the truth of the gospel by stating what should be believed as a part of an evangelical faith, that is to say, a faith that is according to gospel teaching. They were intended to make certain that all Anglican clergy preached and taught this faith whatever opinions they held on other matters.
The comprehensiveness intended by the Articles is a gospel comprehensiveness. It is a comprehensiveness that "results from keeping doctrinal requirements down to a minimum and allowing the maximum of flexibility and variety on secondary matters."  At the same time it is a comprehensiveness intended to preserve and propagate the New Testament gospel. Anything that takes away from the New Testament gospel, adds to that gospel, or alters it, and anything that springs from a different gospel does not have a place within this comprehensiveness.
For example, at the center of the gospel is Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross for our redemption. As Article XXXI affirms, "the Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propriation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone." The 1662 Book of Common Prayer makes the same affirmation: "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world...".
The Articles specifically condemn the Medieval Catholic doctrine of "the sacrifices of the Masses." But the Articles indirectly rule out any other doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice that teaches that we repeat Christ's sacrifice or add to it, that we do more than commemorate it but we participate in it.  They further rule out any doctrine that denies the place of the cross in our redemption.
The comprehensiveness intended by the Articles is not the kind of comprehensiveness that can be seen in the Episcopal Church. The latter is a comprehensiveness that was fostered by the nineteenth century Tractarian and Broad Church movements and was radicalized by the twentieth century liberal movement. It is a comprehensiveness that has shouldered the gospel out of the way and taken its place. It is a comprehensiveness that allows heretical beliefs to jostle with biblical ones and even to shove them aside. It is an elastic comprehensiveness that decries limits and is quick to incorporate the doctrines and practices of the newest groups to emerge in the Episcopal Church. It is a comprehensiveness that encourages Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and charismatics to tolerate and to accept beliefs and practices that are inconsistent with the Bible and the Anglican formularies. It is a comprehensiveness that has so desensitized or numbed these groups to such beliefs and practices that they are undermining the gospel instead of defending it.
The Common Cause Partnership has announced that at their meeting the first week in December they will be unveiling the proposed constitution and canons of the new Anglican Church in North America. Confessional Anglicans like myself are asking who has been representing the cause of genuine Anglicanism in the bodies that have been preparing the proposed constitution and canons of the new province? Who has been standing up for the Anglican formularies-for the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1660 Ordinal? Who has been speaking out for the evangelical comprehensiveness intended by the Articles and for the truth of the gospel the Articles were meant to protect?
A representative of the Common Cause Partnership has informed me that North American Anglicans would have a year during which they may suggest additions and alterations to the proposed constitution. At the completion of this year the final draft of the constitution and canons will be submitted to the constituent bodies for ratification. According to another source, as soon as the Common Cause Partnership adopts the proposed constitution, it will be a done deal-no additions and no alterations. The constituent bodies will have a choice of ratifying it or not participating in the new province.
It is not too late, however, for confessional Anglicans to join together to advocate for genuine Anglicanism, the Anglican formularies, a gospel comprehensiveness, and the truth of the gospel. A new organization, the Heritage Anglican Network, is being formed for just that purpose.
The Heritage Anglican Network is a fellowship of confessional Anglicans who hold to the Anglican beliefs of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1661 Ordinal. The Heritage Anglican Network is committed to encouraging and supporting confessional Anglicans wherever God has placed them and in whatever ministry or form of service to which God has called them; to promoting the continued acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1661 Ordinal as the Anglican standard of doctrine and worship; to fostering the ongoing use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer wherever and whenever its use is practicable; to encouraging the development of alternative services in modern English and other languages for use together with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which conform to the doctrine of the Prayer Book and show due regard to the continued use of the Prayer Book and its place as the standard of the Anglican tradition of worship; and to advancing the cause of the gospel, genuine Anglicanism, and evangelical Christianity in the Americas and the Caribbean and throughout the world. To this end The Heritage Anglican Network has established a virtual meeting place for confessional Anglicans on the Internet at: http://heritageanglicannetwork.wordpress.com/
Confessional Anglicans in North American face an unknown future. The Episcopal Church has not shown itself to be friendly to genuine Anglicanism. The new province that is launched may not be any better. Some confessional Anglicans are waiting to see what happens; others are more pessimistic. There are indications that this unfriendliness to Anglican beliefs of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1661 Ordinal will be carried over to the new Anglican Church in North America. One even hears the proposal that the new province should be launched without giving even a token place to the Anglican formularies. Should the new Anglican Church in North America dispense with the Articles, the new province would be dispensing with the truth of the gospel the Anglican confession of faith is intended to safeguard. This is why it is imperative that confessional Anglicans organize. Anglo-Catholics in North America have Forward in Faith to represent them and Anglo-Catholicism. Confessional Anglicans in North America have no equivalent organization to represent them and genuine Anglicanism.
From what I understand, the new province will be organized upon the basis of the four breakaway Episcopal dioceses and the existing judicatories that form the Common Cause Partnership. The proposed constitution of the new Anglican Church of North America guarantees that each of these dioceses and judicatories will be able to retain its present structure, identity, and priorities. But what I do not know is what provision the proposed constitution makes for latecomers to the table. Will they be expected to join one of these diocese or judicatories and whose continued existence the proposed constitution guarantees or will be they be able to join the new province as a judicatory in their own right, with their own structure, identity, and priorities, and be entitled to the same guarantee? Will they be forced to amalgamate or merge with a judicatory with which they may have no real affinity? If so, if a church or network of churches discovers that it has no affinity with the diocese or judicatory that it joined will it be able to transfer its membership to another diocese or judicatory. These are important questions for confessional Anglicans.
In the absence of a strong commitment to the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1661 Ordinal as the Anglican standard of doctrine and worship in the new province and the dioceses and other judicatories that initially will comprise the new province, a reasonable alternative would be the inclusion of generous provisions in the new province's constitution for the formation of confessional Anglican judicatories within the province, the admission of confessional Anglican judicatories from outside the province, and for the unrestricted voluntary transfer of confessional Anglican clergy and congregations from the other constituent bodies of the province to these judicatories.
By "generous" I mean that confessional Anglican judicatories formed within the province and those formed outside of the province and seeking admission would not be penalized because they formed after the initial ratification of the constitution. Their structure, identity, priorities, and participation in intra-provincial structures would be guaranteed in the same manner as those of the original constituent bodies of the province. They would not be required to amalgamate or merge with one of these bodies with which they have no real affinity.
They would be at liberty to establish and maintain the Anglican formularies as their doctrinal and worship standard. They would be free to use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and to develop and adopt modern English services adhering to the doctrine of the 1662 Prayer Book and respecting its liturgical usages to use along with the 1662 Prayer Book. They would not be confined to any particular geographic region of the province but would be able to plant churches and to establish networks of churches throughout the entire geographic territory of the province. Clergy transferring to confessional Anglican judicatories in the province would suffer no loss of their pension contributions and congregations transferring to these judicatories would suffer no loss of property.
Confessional Anglicans can work through the Diocese of Pittsburgh or whatever Common Cause Partner to which they belong to make certain such provisions are incorporated into the constitution of the new province. They can also work through the Heritage Anglican Network and other confessional Anglican groups and organizations. As the spiritual heirs of the English Reformation and of the reformed Church of England, they have as much a right as any other theological stream to be fully represented in the new Anglican Church in North America. They have suffered as much as anyone else. They also have been slaves in Egypt. They too have wandered in the wilderness. They are just as deserving of an inheritance in the new province.
 J. I. Packer and R. T. Beckwith, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today (London: Latimer Trust, 2006), 69.
 The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Church of England, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1662), 707.  Ibid., 313.
 Packer and Beckwith, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, 81-85.
---Robin G. Jordan is a life-long Anglican who lives and writes in western Kentucky. He is a founding member of the Heritage Anglican Network, and serves as the administrator of its blog