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TOON: Anglican Covenant (Proposed) and The Anglican Formularies

Anglican Covenant (Proposed) and The Anglican Formularies

An expression of gratitude and also concern from Dr Peter Toon

From the Covenant Design Group, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, we now have a proposed Anglican Covenant, which has been sent to the 38 member churches of the Communion for reflection and will be discussed and probably finalized at The Lambeth Conference 2008—after which, if approved, it will go through the most difficult route of  38 separate Synods, a daunting task indeed and here it may stall for years. 

A concern of The Prayer Book Society of the USA (as also of sister societies in other countries) has been that the proposed Covenant recognize the strategic place of the classic Formularies –BCP, Ordinal and 39 Articles – in The Anglican Way both yesterday and today. Bearing this in mind, I did write a booklet of 64 pages which presents an argument for the continuing place of the Formularies in the Anglican Way and in any future Covenant. I sent a copy of this booklet, The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, to Archbishop Gomez (whom I know personally and have been his house guest) and other members of the Design Group which produced the draft Covenant.

In general, I have to say that the draft Covenant published today, February 19, 2007, is as good as we could reasonably expect it to be, bearing in mind the power of the liberal mindset and political power within the administration of the Anglican Communion.  Below is one section where the Formularies are mentioned in the context of the content of  The Lambeth Quadrilateral approved by the Lambeth Conference in 1888:


2   The Life We Share:  Common Catholicity, Apostolicity and Confession of Faith

(Deuteronomy 6.4-7, Leviticus 19.9-10, Amos 5.14-15, 24; Matthew 25, 28.16-20, 1 Corinthians 15.3-11, Philippians 2.1-11, 1 Timothy 3:15-16, Hebrews 13.1-17)

Each member Church, and the Communion as a whole, affirms:

1.       that it is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

2.       that it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;

3.       that it holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;

4.       that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God;

5.       that, led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons [1];

6.       our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to our societies and nations.

[1] This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorized throughout the Anglican Communion but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion



I wish to make three preliminary comments. 

First of all, traditional Anglican Christians are glad and relieved that there is a clear reference in the Covenant to the classic Formularies in their most important edition, that of 1662 (from which 150 or so translations have been made and of which many are in weekly use today). 

In the second place, there is some concern about the tense of the verb, “has borne witness,” for this may suggest that the authority and guidance of the Formularies has been only in the past and does not belong to the present, 2007, and the future. We hope that it means “has borne and continues to bear witness;” but in that Archbishop Gomez himself—in imitation of The Episcopal Church USA—actually led the West Indies to reject the authority of the BCP & Formularies of 1662 and replace them in the 1990s with a new “Book of Common Prayer,” like the American “Book of Varied Services” of 1979, as primary Formulary, then we have perhaps cause for concern.  The Church of England Canon A5 uses different language for the Formularies and states that the doctrine of the C of E today is grounded in the Formularies. Let us hope that this is what the Covenant means and it will be edited to say so. 

In the third place, there is further concern about the meaning of the footnote [1]. If what is meant are other editions of the One Book of Common Prayer –e.g. Canada 1962 & USA 1928—then all is fine and we are on sold ground; but, if it is a way of opening the door to the new type of so-called “Books of Common Prayer” led by the American 1979 and continued by similar books in other places like the West Indies,  Wales and Ireland, then this is a cause for great worry. Nowhere in the Covenant is there a distinction made between (a) the classic Book of Common Prayer in its various editions and a variety of translations (as, for example, used in Africa daily) and (b) the massive variety of books of varied services called by various names including regrettably as in the West Indies, as already noted, The BCP. 

I hope that the African Provinces which use the BCP 1662 in English or in local languages Sunday by Sunday will take up this cause and ensure that the place of the Formularies is presented as authoritative for today as well as being all-important in the Anglican tradition.

[For my booklet go to  or call 1-800-727-1928]        February 19 2007



The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon  MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA  1-800-PBS-1928


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