IRD Exclusive: Bishop Sutton on the ACNA and Lutheranism

on July 9, 2013
Bishop Sutton (right) at the IRD office during the 2013 March for Life, alongside Archbishop Robert Duncan (left) and IRD Presiden Mark Tooley (center).
Bishop Sutton (right) at the IRD office during the 2013 March for Life, alongside Archbishop Robert Duncan (left) and IRD President Mark Tooley (center).

by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)

During the Anglican Way Institute, IRD’s Barton Gingerich had the opportunity to sit down with the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton, bishop coadjutor in the Diocese in Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) and Ecumenical Officer for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). This is Part 2 of a four part series. Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here.

Bart Gingerich: Let’s talk about the ACNA, because you’re not only the bishop coadjutor for the diocese but you’re also the ecumenical officer for the ACNA. How’s the communion going? Some are worried about the disagreements over women’s ordination and the shape of the prayerbook. What have you seen and hope to see in the coming months and years?

Bishop Ray Sutton: The Anglican Church in North America was of course totally unexpected. No one foresaw that there would even be this possibility. The Reformed Episcopal Church realistically had no way to even begin to approach the Anglican Communion prior to ACNA. We were always told that it was through the Episcopal Church, as the way back to Canterbury. But as the Episcopal Church became more and more apostate through the late 20th century we realized that we simply couldn’t go that route. No doubt the Episcopal Church wanted us to. In an extraordinary turn of events, our conservative commitments would have made them look better to the larger Anglican world at a time when their true, revisionist colors were being exposed. So the way back to the larger Anglican family was closed until the Anglican Church in North America began to bring together pieces of Anglicanism, pieces strewn along the last 140 years. By the way, it’s been a big challenge to bring these pieces together.

I do think that there is an important difference in what’s happening in North America at this moment in Anglican history. The North American Anglican Christians coming together are truly Biblically committed Anglicans. This has been born out time and again, but especially recently in a willingness to begin a Biblical and theological study on women’s ordination. Episcopalians in the 1970s never conducted a proper study. For that matter, the initial reasons were social and political. To the credit of all in ACNA we recognize we have to come together and ask what do the scriptures say about how the text is to be handled, the doctrine of the Church, the question of Holy Orders itself – what do other Christians in Christendom have to say to us about this? I think with this willingness to search the Scriptures, the future, although challenging, looks good for ACNA. But we’re at the very beginning, and it’s like bringing back together a bunch of lost family members and saying we’ve got to function as a family again; this is not easy. But as I say there is a will to do this. Most of all we recognize it’s God’s will to come together. The Jesus prayer in John 17 compels us. And since He commands and prays for this unity, we believe He’ll give us the grace to do it.

BG: Well, you’ve certainly seen some success in robust ecumenical dialogue. For example, the ACNA just signed on to a joint statement with American and Canadian Lutheran leaders regarding marriage. You all also gathered in a joint evening prayer. Speaking from my own experience at least, that cooperation and co-belligerence can be a bit of a rarity among orthodox Lutherans in the North American continent. What are your reflections on this recent development, and do you have any hopes or expectations for where this might all lead?

BRS: I am very encouraged by our Lutheran brothers and sisters in two different jurisdictions who’ve become very, very strong Christian friends with the Anglican Church in North America and the Reformed Episcopal Church. We have experienced nothing but true Christian charity and real cooperation around the essentials of the faith. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has been so kind. I’ve been time and again moved by how they have been willing to talk with Biblical Anglicans. They’ve not been known in the past for a lot of ecumenical activity, and mainly worked within some fairly narrow constraints of Lutheranism, but we have seen proper Biblical breadth in their dealings with us. They, along with all of us, recognize that at this point in history, the Christians that believe in the Bible and the historic catholic creeds, and in their case are coheirs of the Reformation, need to stand together as much as we can.

I guess I would say that the ecumenism going on among conservatives is not the same as what happened among the liberals throughout the 1900s. The ecumenism of liberalism became what I call the quest to create a kind of Huxley-ian, “Brave New Church,” a one-world liberal church supporting some kind of one-world geo-political ideology. And for that reason a lot of conservatives have been reluctant to talk about ecumenical efforts. I understand this. But it’s a new day for ecumenism among conservatives.  We’ve seen conservative breakaway groups among Lutherans, Presbyterians, and now Anglicans. Similar though not as developed efforts have even occurred among the Baptists, and the Methodists. Now all of these restored Biblical and conservative Christians in various branches of the Lord’s Church are starting to talk to each other. Their desire is not geo-political but Gospel. In this they seek to have the greatest expression of unity possible, in Christ, based on God’s Word. Yes, we have differences about polity and certain aspects of the faith, but there’s no question that we agree on the Gospel and the Catholic creeds. Importantly, I think what’s developing is a confessional movement. And when I say confession, it’s a movement based in the ancient creeds of the faith. In these commitments, Christians can come together for the spread of the Gospel.

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