One of the most important spiritual battles of our time is being fought out in and through the ACC. This pamphlet is written in the hope of making clear what is at stake.
Most people see the Churches as religious organisations with their own special rules-this is a view held by non-believers and by many Church-members also. Different Churches have somewhat different rules. Roman Catholics and Baptists, for example, have the same general ideas about Jesus but cannot agree whether the rules allow babies to be baptised. The two Churches remain separated because they cannot agree on this and on many other rules.
It is certainly true that Churches are religious organisations with rules about what to believe and how to behave-but this is not the whole truth about the Churches. To begin with, the many Churches ought to be one Church since they have, in Jesus, one founder. There ought to be one set of rules only. Somehow, in course of time, rules have been changed and the one organisation has broken up into several separated groups.
If Churches are no more than religious organisations, there are two ways of making the many one. Either one set of rules must be imposed on everyone, or the rules have to be made so vague that no one can object to them. History has shown that neither way has been successful.
Before the one Church divided into many Churches there was one commonly agreed set of rules. While these rules were still the common heritage, held and protected by every local Christian community, unity prevailed. Once a particular community, the Church in Rome, began to claim an exclusive authority over the rules (what to believe, how to behave) and the right to impose its rules on everyone else, trouble began.
Trouble started first with the Churches of the East (the Orthodox Churches) which knew well what the genuine rules were about and could no longer remain in fellowship with the Roman Church which had falsified them. Later, rebellion against the Roman ideas flared in Western Europe-where the same accusation of falsifying the rules was made by the leaders of the Reformation.
The Protestant Reformers took the Bible as the only genuine Book of Rules but could not agree-except in the most general way-what these Bible rules were. (Did, for example, the Bible forbid or allow the baptism of babies?) By itself the Bible was not enough.
In England the ancient Catholic Church rejected the claims of the Pope, accepted much of the Reformers' teaching, but retained the 'sacramental' structure of the undivided Catholic Church. (The meaning of 'sacramental' will be explained later.) Because the English form of Christianity spread to other lands outside the authority of the English Crown, it is best to use the term 'Anglican'.
For almost three hundred years most Anglicans regarded themselves as Protestants. In the last century a strong revival of Catholic teaching began to have a disturbing influence. Should Anglicans follow Catholic or Protestant rules? A case could be made out for both views. To hold the organisation together, the rules had to be made even more vague than had been the case before. Doctrinal compromise was the solution.
One of the most difficult matters to deal with concerned some of the ancient Catholic teachings about the Virgin Mary-her perpetual virginity, her personal sinlessness from the time of her conception and throughout her entire life on earth, her bodily assumption into heaven and her continuing intercession for the faithful. These Marian beliefs are held by the whole of Catholic Christendom, Eastern and Western, as a genuine part of the Christian Faith. Protestants, however, rejected them as inventions of later times.
The Anglican solution, worked out in practice but not in official statements, has been to place all doctrines in two main categories: I. Doctrines 'necessary for salvation' which must be held by everyone. 2. Pious beliefs which are optional. The difference between the two is that the first category seems to have the clear support of the Bible which the second category lacks. (The Marian doctrines are, of course, placed in the second category.)
This is a solution which gives a Catholic veneer to Protestantism and it is dishonest. The Bible is the primary witness to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ but it is not the judge of that truth-this is the basic Protestant mistake. The judge of that truth is the Holy Spirit who dwells within the Church. The Church is always more than just an 'organisation with rules' it is the creation of the Holy Spirit.
What is at stake is a true or false understanding of the Church. Protestantism, even with a Catholic veneer, turns the Church into an organisation with rules (as does the Papalist version of Catholicism). It is this scheme which a certain group is attempting to impose upon the Anglican Catholic Church, contrary to the defined position set out in the Church's fundamental and unchangeable declarations of identity. The effect of this scheme would be to make the ACC one among many other organisations holding a version of traditional Anglicanism-and open to further doctrinal compromise and corruption.
The Anglican Catholic Church, however, is not just a religious organisation with rules. God has called the ACC to be a manifestation of the one true Church of Christ-this is where the meaning of 'sacramental' must be explained. Eternal salvation is not based on following the rules of an organisation but by sharing in the very life of Christ. This is the true meaning and identity of the Church-it is the Body of Christ-new Life through His Life. This sharing of Christ's life comes about sacramentally-certain earthly things are used to convey an added and yet greater reality-a sharing through Jesus in the life of the Holy Trinity. In the Mass, for example, we offer to God the earthly reality of bread and wine which the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, transforms into the heavenly food-the Body and Blood of Christ. Through the Mass there is a continuous renewal of that eternal Life in Christ which we first received through Baptism and Confirmation. The Church may look to outsiders like a religious organisation, in reality it is the sacramental sharing in the Life of Christ-and that is true Eternal Salvation.
So doctrines are not mere rules of belief which an organisation requires us to accept as a basis of membership. Doctrines provide a description of why and how eternal life is given to us in Christ. False ideas about doctrine point us in the wrong direction, sound doctrine points us to 'Eternal Life through faith in Jesus Christ.'
If the Life of Christ received sacramentally is a consciously accepted reality for the believer, it must begin to reproduce in him the character of Christ himself-the Fruits of the Spirit, as St. Paul calls them. In our Lady this life in Christ is seen in its fullness, its effect, and its completion-the whole package. To put it very simply-we know that, in Christ, our assured destiny is heaven because Our Lady has already arrived there. The full range of doctrines concerning Mary have never been an optional extra, they secure the whole 'feel' of the Church: 1. of what our daily Life in Christ must be like, 2. of the way that Life is a shared life because the Church is Christ's Body, already a colony of heaven upon earth. 3. Of an assured destiny, because Our Lady and the Saints have arrived at the place to which we are still travelling.
There can be no Church without Christ-no newness of life without His Life sacramentally bestowed. Without Mary, however, the Church degenerates into a mere religious organisation with rules-rules that can be, and have been changed to the destruction of the Faith itself. Within the Churches, provided they have not cast their sacramental heritage away entirely, there remains a power of restoration and future unity. After twenty years of restored existence as a fully Catholic Church, the ACC faces once again a challenge to its true identity and the purpose for which God has raised it up. It is no accident that the challenge has come in the form of a disagreement over the place and importance of the Mother of God.
It is no exaggeration, therefore, that so small a Church as the
ACC is faced with a task of supreme significance at this time.
It is not because the ACC has made a unique discovery-the truth
about the Church has always been there-but because the background
of failed Anglicanism, from which so many of our members come,
faces us with special temptations and special insights into what
is true and what is false concerning the nature of the Church.
The ACC has been called by God for a ministry to all the Churches,
we must not fail through looking back over our shoulders to an
Anglican past with no future at all.
By the time you read this the Anglican Catholic Church may be severely reduced in numbers, especially in America. Outsiders will say that the ACC has split, but this is not an accurate way of looking at things. This Tract has been written to indicate the underlying situation. There will be those who remain true to the Catholic character of the ACC, while those who have attempted to change its identity will have departed from its fellowship-whatever title they may continue to use. Such a separation is not a sign of weakness, it is a further necessary stage on the long spiritual journey undertaken by the Anglican Catholic Church.