How do we identify the Church?
Eventually this page will have an
essay on the ecclessiological position of the ACC. For now, here are links to a
pamphlet, an article on the main ACC site dealing with where we stand in the
"big picture" and a doctrinal affirmation. A brief explanatory note,
designed for Christians who already have some background understanding, follows
Anglican Catholic Church brochure
Where do we stand in relation to others?
What do we believe, including about the Church?
The "short version" is this: like the Eastern Orthodox, we recognise the Church as a sacred mystery; the Body of Christ and living Temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:19-21, 5:32), vanguard of the Kingdom of God. Jesus promised "the gates of hell", that is, the powers of evil and deceit, would not be able to "prevail against" it (Matthew 16:18). Jesus also promised the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth (John 16:13). St Paul calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the truth" and also says it is built upon these Apostles. Therefore, the Church as a whole has been promised preservation in spiritual Truth and Life, though particular churches and individual Christians may (and do) err.
So, how do we identify the Church?All jurisdictions and particular churches that maintain genuine continuity with the Apostles in their faith and practice truly manifest the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This requires acceptance of the universally received authoritative teachings, especially as defined in the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided ancient Church.
Because the Church is the extension of God's Incarnation (i.e., the body of Christ, who is the Word made flesh) and the Sacrament containing all sacraments, this continuinity and connection to the Apostles' authority is expressed not only in doctrines or the books of the New Testament, but in living, breathing, human form. This means there continue to be men who carry out the ministry of the Apostles until the Church's job is fully completed, as predicted in Ephesians 4:11-13. The term bishop (episcopos in the original Greek) has been reserved to these chief leaders of the Church since the 2nd century A.D.; the Apostolic ministry could before that be called episcopal (Acts 1:20b in the Greek) or that of an elder (1 Peter 5:1) in New Testament times. Priests, who could also be called bishops or presbyters (elders) in the first century, and deacons assist them as they did in the beginning (Acts 6:2-6, 15:6, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5).
Our unity with Jesus and his Apostles/Bishops is also preserved in the essential act of Christian worship carried out within their fellowship (Acts 2:42), the Eucharist (i.e., Thanksgiving), also called "the breaking of bread", "the Communion", "the Lord's Supper" or the Mass. It is here we come into the presence of God to offer our prayers through, and feast upon, the Sacrifice of Christ, who is made present in the bread and wine that have been blessed in the giving of thanks (1 Corinthians 10:16-21, 11:26, Hebrews 10:19-22,25, 13:10,15).
The Church is not something Christians create or recreate or "correct" in each generation. On the contrary, it is the Church that calls people to itself to be in union with Christ and be enlightened by the Holy Tradition it safely keeps and passes on (Ephesians 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 1 Timothy 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:2).
The ACC stands joyfully within this roughly 2000 year old Tradition of faith and worship with the Eastern Orthodox, which is why we see our most fundamental ecumenical task as full and visible communion with them. (There have only been occasional instances of intercommunion in the past at varying degrees of official approval, though many official recognitions of the Apostolic nature of the Anglican Ministry.) However, this task demands patience, due partly to earlier betrayals of the Orthodox by many Anglican Churches who have abandoned previous agreements and affirmations of Apostolic Tradition by their words and deeds. In addition, the ACC is a very small "faithful remnant", and so not a high priority for larger Churches. Indeed, the Orthodox are quite busy at present at the moment attempting to re-establish visible communion with the Oriental Churches, such as the Coptic Church, and this is their ecumenical priority. This is a division the Orthodox believe has probably been unnecessary for a long time, with verbal differences hiding a common faith and membership in the Catholic Church. So, as Anglican Catholics we wait and we pray for our turn!
Our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church is more ambiguous for two main reasons. Firstly, we share with our Orthodox brethren doubts about how well present conceptions and practices in the Church of Rome match up with Holy Tradition in some areas. These areas include the Papacy and overdogmatism, for example. Secondly, while we recognise the Roman Catholic Church as a sister Church, the recognition is not yet reciprocal. However, statements and actions by the Popes and their Church in the last fifty years give us hope that the doubts and mutual misunderstandings may be laid to rest one day. The late John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint ("That they may be one") could be a very important step in that direction. May God grant us all unity in truth.