One of the things that has always fascinated me about Anglicanism in the USA is the way in which folks always seem to want to draw the boundaries tighter in the hope that they will eventually have an unambiguous, error-free Church. Chances are that you will also have a dead orthodoxy, but that does not seem to bother that particular school of thought. On the other hand, there are those that believe that success for the church lies in making one more concession to zeitgeist, and after that the people will come flooding back. Both approaches are inherently wrong because they fail to understand that Anglicanism has an integrity, and, moreover, an integrity which is not altogether its own.
Now why do I make that strange claim. Well, if you take a look at the documents that came out of the English Reformation, one can only reach one conclusion. That the Church of England avoided the Confessionalism of the Continental Reformed Churches, whilst reaching the same broad conclusions about the nature of the Ancient Faith. I have been known to quip that the 39 Articles are 'broadly Reformed; but narrowly Augustinian' which is intended to draw attention to the fact that whilst the XXXIX are broadly in line with the moderate Reformed theology, the actual reference is back to St Augustine of Hippo. It is also interesting to note that one of the few non-Biblical references or allusions in the XXXIX is to St Jerome. A casual look through the two books of Homilies will reveal an alarming tendancy to quote not the magisterial Reformers, but rather the Early Fathers. Jewel and Hooker, and also their less contempories like Whitgift, quote extensively from the Early Fathers - especially the four Latin Doctors, all of which should give you a clue about the general orientation of English Reformed theology, which was away from the mediaeval Church and towards the Early Fathers.
Now I am often accused of being insufficiently deferential towards the Affirmation of St Louis, but that may not be unrelated to the fact that I seem to have run into more than my fair share of Bishops and Priests who used it as a billy-club for battering those who disagree with them and for transforming Anglicanism into something that it never was. Anglicanism was never intended to be a "Western Orthodoxy" or a "Non-Papal Catholicism" constructed out of the fancies of Twentieth Century clergymen, but the old Ecclesia Anglicana cleansed of the abuses that had arisen during the Middle Ages continuing in the theological tradition set by the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church. There is both continuity and change in the reformation settlement. The XXXIX Articles and the Book of Common Prayer were intended as a blunt instruments to strip away the abuses of the Papal Church, but in no way were they intended to contradict or undermine the basic Catholicity of the English Church which lay in its acceptence of the Scriptures, Creeds, and Early Councils of the Church. Indeed, this was the whole justification behing the Reformation - let's ditch the Papal Church, which is corrupt - and get back to the Apostles' fellowship and teaching as relaid to us by the Early Fathers and Councils. As a result, Anglican theology, both Evangelical and High Church developed along Patristic, Creedal lines, not along narrowly Confessional lines. In many ways, the XXXIX Articles became a nail on which Anglican theologicans hung what they had learnt from the Fathers.
The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is what happened between 1820 and 1970, which is basically the development of first Liberalism, and then modern Relativism both of which have, in theological circles, been very corrosive to the authority of Scripture, the Creeds, and the Fathers and Councils of the Church. This process has culminated in the bleat of liberal theologians today who preach the Gosppel of Inclusion, not the Gospel of Christ, and who claim that as the Church wrote the Bible (in a sense true, but...;) it can re-write (not true, because Scripture is inspired by God.) Needless to say, the 1970s version of this attitude of mind was the backdrop to the Episcopal Church's great act of forgetting and the creation of the new Episcopal Religion over the 35 years following 1967. So when the mainstream of the Continuum (in terms of numbers) came to organize in 1977 it was natural that they should produce a document that presented the answer of the orthodox that had recently left ECUSA to the modernism that had driven them out. The 'big surprise' is that, apart from a few clauses intended to prevent Anglo-Catholics becoming the whipping boys of the new Church as they had been (in their own opinion) in the old, the solution to the problem of "Modernism" was exactly the same one as was presented by in the 16th century to solve the problem of "Papism." In short, when you wish to understand the doctrine of the Church as expressed in the BCP and the Articles, go to the Bible, the Creeds, the Fathers, and the Councils; don't make it up as you go along.
What bugs me about the Affirmation is not what it says, but the way in which some folks have used it to stage a supposedly catholic counter-revolution against the Old Anglicanism, and the way in which in their eyes it has become the only formulary of modern orthodox Anglicanism. The stated purpose of the Affirmation, and in my view its only legitimate purpose, was to maintain, preserve and continue the catholicity of the Old Anglicanism, and address the abuses ushered in by 1960s and 70s liberalism. In other words, it was written to keep things tidy by exclusing the neology of the 1970s from the new jurisdiction. Unfortunately, things did not quite work out that way as politics took over and the Movement become divide. However, that does not diminish the usefulness of the Affirmation of St Louis in excluding revisionist interpretations of the Bible, Creeds, BCP, Articles, etc., from the Continuing Churches. Doubtless I shall again be accused of inconsistency, but if you care to read more than two articles in this blog, you will actually find that I am fairly consistent - at least as consistent as most other folks - in my theological position. I admit I was a little sloppy in my last post, but anyone reasonably familiar with my scribbling would doubt that my basic position is that in order to maintain an orthodox Anglicanism one has to reference the formularies of the Church against the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and base the teaching of the Church upon what the ancient Fathers and Councils taught as they explained the Scriptures and the Creeds back in the great age of Orthodoxy. What I am very resistent to is changing the worship of the Church, or totally trashing what happened under Elizabeth I, because the enduring Refromation in England, and the one that created the conditions for Anglicanism to mature theologically was not Henry's or Edward's - both of which lasted slightly longer than the proverbial wine gum - but Elizabeth's. Never forget, it was Matthew Parker, the Reformer, who told us to interpret that Articles and Homilies in 'the most Catholic sense.