New Westminster, J I Packer & The Anglican Church of Canada by Andrew Goddard

New Westminster, J I Packer and The Anglican Church of Canada

by Andrew Goddard

The Diocese of New Westminster, which in many ways initiated the current crisis in the Communion by approving and then permitting the blessing of same-sex unions, is once again back in the news. This is due to its treatment of one of the great elder statesmen of Anglican evangelicalism – J.I. Packer. The bishop of the diocese, Michael Ingham, has written a letter to Professor Packer which has been widely reported online (eg here) and described as threatening to suspend him from ministry.

What has happened?

The letter follows a vote on February 13th at St John’s Shaughnessy Vancouver, the largest Anglican Church in Canada, where Packer has been an honorary assistant for over two decades. At its largest congregational meeting ever, the church voted 475-11 with 9 abstentions to accept the episcopal oversight of Bishop Donald Harvey. Packer was reportedly a strong supporter of this move. Don Harvey, retired bishop of Newfoundland and Labrador, is the Moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). A few months ago he left the Canadian church to come under the primatial authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables who heads the Province of the Southern Cone.

Bishop Ingham has now written to Dr Packer and other clergy serving a Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry. This is based, it is reported, on the fact that he has publicly renounced the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and has sought or intends to seek admission into another religious body outside the Anglican Church of Canada. He has reportedly been told that unless he disputes these facts his spiritual authority as a minister of Word and Sacraments conferred in ordination will be revoked on April 21, 2008.

How are Canadian evangelicals related to the ACC?

That St John’s and its leadership such as David Short (who spoke by satellite to NEAC in 2003 about the situation) and Dr Packer have reached the stage when, like some other parishes in other dioceses, they believe they must depart from the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) is a sign of just how serious the situation has become certainly in some dioceses of the ACC. Neither of these evangelical leaders are extremists. The fact that St John’s has stayed so long within New Westminster when other parishes left some time ago is a sign that they have not acted rashly. They have remained for six years within a diocese that has, in flagrant opposition to the wider Communion, authorised same-sex blessings, a situation much more extreme than anything in the Church of England, for example.

Their response is, however, not the only evangelical response. For some years now the Essentials movement (which Dr Packer helped found) has had two distinct groupings within it – the Federation and the Network. Many in Essentials – particularly in the Anglican Essentials Federation – believe they can with integrity stay within the ACC. The ACC still has a good number of faithful bishops committed to the teaching and discipline of the Communion. When transfers to the Southern Cone began, the Network and Federation issued statements of mutual support. These are important for understanding and reacting to the current situation and perhaps also for giving a pattern of how to respond when different paths are taken among evangelical Anglicans elsewhere faced with a similar situation:

Anglican Essentials Federation

The Anglican Essentials Federation affirms its commitment as part of Anglican Essentials Canada to serving as the theological and spiritual rallying point for historic orthodoxy within the Anglican Church of Canada. We bless our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Network in Canada whose particular situations have regretfully led them to take this difficult step. We pledge ourselves to continue in fellowship with them in the cause of the Gospel and will be strengthening our own efforts to work for unity with the worldwide Anglican Communion within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Anglican Network in Canada

The Anglican Network in Canada affirms its commitment to remain in full communion with all members of Anglican Essentials Canada (AEC), whether Essentials Network or Essentials Federation. We appreciate, support and desire to encourage all those in AEC who will continue representing the voice of biblically faithful Anglicanism within the Anglican Church of Canada. We recognize that many feel called to labour to reform the Anglican Church of Canada from within its current structures while remaining faithful within their own parishes and/or dioceses. We bless them in their ministry and pray for our continued fellowship and unity in the faith once received by the saints.

It is, therefore, important both to honour and support Dr Packer and those like him but also to recognise that there are still many other biblically faithful Anglicans who do not believe they must leave the ACC.

What has Bishop Ingham done to Dr Packer and others?

It is also important to understand the recent actions of Bishop Ingham properly. He is acting under Canon XIX of the ACC. This relates to the relinquishment or abandonment of the ministry. It states that any priest or deacon who has not relinquished the exercise of the ordained ministry (as under section 1 of the canon) but has abandoned the Anglican Church of Canada either by public renunciation of its doctrine or discipline or by formal admission into another religious body (or by other stated means) shall be presumed to have abandoned the exercise of ordained ministry. This canon is what Ingham is, as bishop, implementing. He has given Dr Packer and others the canonical 60 days to submit that this is untrue or to retract the acts and declarations which amount to renunciation or admission into another religious body. If they are judged to have abandoned the ministry in these terms then the bishop will remove their right to exercise the office (including the spiritual authority as a Minister of Word and Sacraments) conferred in ordination and declare their licence for such a ministry null and void. All metropolitans and diocesan bishops of the ACC will be informed of this fact and those deprived have a right of appeal. It is not a removal from orders – a bishop can in future reinstate under the canon – but a removal of licence to exercise the ministry within ACC to which they were ordained.

While Ingham’s actions are therefore shocking and revealing of the seriousness of the situation in his diocese, they are simply the inevitable canonical consequences within the ACC of the actions taken last month by Dr Packer, Revd Short and others. They did not relinquish their ministries under canon XIX. They did not presumably for the simple reason that they wish to continue to exercise the office and spiritual authority as ministers of Word and Sacraments conferred on them in ordination. They have, however, been admitted into another religious body than the ACC (the Province of the Southern Cone) and now exercise their ministries under licence of a bishop in that province and subject to its canons. They have taken this action because they can no longer accept the authority of their diocesan bishop because of his unbiblical teaching and conduct (and so they have in rejecting their bishop’s authority over them renounced the discipline of the ACC) and the ACC has failed to discipline the bishop for his false teaching and mis-conduct. It therefore appears that they are guilty within ACC canons though they have some time in which to challenge this presumption of abandonment. Their defence is presumably that they have acted out of a conscientious conviction that they must obey God’s Word rather than human canons. Furthermore, they no longer recognise those canons but are now under the ordered canonical rule and episcopal oversight of another Anglican province and bishop.

What is the status of Dr Packer and others and how should the Communion respond?

Dr Packer and all others served ‘presumption of abandonment’ notices are undoubtedly still in communion with the overwhelming majority of the Anglican Communion (most of whom have declared impaired or broken communion with New Westminster) including the Church of England. It it is therefore to be hoped that, whatever happens in ACC, any of them would be welcomed to minister in England.

In 2002, the Revd David Moyer was defrocked by Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania (whose trial date within TEC on charges that he concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a minor decades ago was set for 9th June on March 1st). The then Archbishop of Canterbury, while at the ACC meeting in Hong Kong, made clear that Moyer would be recognised as a priest if he relocated to England and the then Bishop of Monmouth, Rowan Williams, wrote a letter stating, “As you probably know, I have spoken with Fr. David on the phone and expressed my concern about the situation in which he has been placed. From what I know of him, I could see no objection to my granting Permission to Officiate in this diocese or considering him for a licence here if the circumstances arose. All I know of him suggests that he is not guilty of any moral or doctrinal delinquency, and is respected as a priest of disciplined life, personal spirituality and great teaching capacity”.

Those closing words – “a priest of disciplined life, personal spirituality and great teaching capacity” – apply also to Dr Packer, Revd Short and the others currently facing charges of abandonment in Canada. It would therefore be a great encouragement if leaders within the Church of England, in which Dr Packer was ordained and whose life has been nourished by his writing and ministry over many decades, could publicly support him and others like him at this time. They can and should do so even if, like many of his fellow Canadian evangelical Anglicans, they would not personally have taken the steps he has felt it necessary to take at this time to fulfil his ordination vows to “banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given”. Those BCP vows also give a proper place to church authority and order. They require priests to promise to “reverently obey your Ordinary, and other chief Ministers, unto whom is committed the charge and government over you; following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting yourselves to their godly judgments?”. The failure of the ACC and the inability of the wider Instruments to address the problems caused by Bishop Ingham (for at least the last six years and arguably longer) have resulted in a situation where Dr Packer (and many other good evangelicals and others) are no longer able to accept his jurisdiction. However, as committed Anglicans, he and they have now placed themselves under a godly ordinary and chief minister to whom they can in good conscience submit. They, their new bishop and province, the diocese of New Westminster, the ACC and the Essentials movement within it all need our prayers as they seek to obey Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 - “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” – and look forward to the day when “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”.

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