The Fallacy of the Three Streams


Dictionary result for ‘fallacy’

  1. a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments.
    “the notion that the camera never lies is a fallacy”
    synonyms: misconception, mistaken belief, misbelief, delusion, false notion, mistaken impression, misapprehension, misjudgment, miscalculation, misinterpretation, misconstruction, error, mistake, untruth, inconsistency, illusion, myth, fantasy, deceit, deception, sophism; More

I have never been shy about expressing my enthusiasm for what God is doing with Anglican Christians in North America. I used to joke that the former Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States, Katharine Jefferts Schori was the most successful church planter in American history and that thanks to her skill-set we now have the Anglican Church in North America.

There is much to love about ACNA, their enthusiasm for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, their passion to see new Anglican churches planted across the United States, and more importantly to see North Americans introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is brilliant that many Evangelical Christians are discovering the Book of Common Prayer, Scripture soaked liturgy and are moving away from the shallow theo-tainment that has become rather prevalent in North America. It seems that liturgy is cool again.

I love the optimism of the American Anglican Christians, their ‘can do’ attitude, their entrepreneurial mentality. There is clergy within ACNA who even take time out of their busy schedules to email me, write to me, talk to me via FB video and to pray for me. I have been blessed by even practical gifts (such as books on pastoral ministry) from fellow Anglican clergy in the USA.

But there is an aspect of the ACNA that I find puzzling at best, concerning at worst. I touched on it very briefly in a previous post entitled Fudging Anglican Unity. What I am talking about is what is known in ACNA circles as the three streams or perhaps I should refer to it as Three Stream Anglicanism or TSA.

So what is Three Stream Anglicanism?

TSA is an attempted fusion of evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal theologies under the auspices of Anglican Christianity. Those proponents of TSA claim that this is not only possible but desirable and is authentically Anglican. For example in his paper, The Anglican Tradition – Three Streams, One RiverThe Rev. Dr. Les Fairfield (who) taught Church History for thirty years at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. states:

Cranmer was a competent thinker and a composer of exquisite prose—see his magnificent Prayer Book—but he was not a Luther. This fact meant that over the next five hundred years, Anglicanism was free to extrapolate in three directions from the basic Biblical Christianity that Cranmer had affirmed.

Bishop Eric Vawter Menees who is currently serving as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin in his piece entitled Why I am an Anglican- we are a three streams churchwrites why he is an Anglican and gives nine reasons:

1) Biblical, 2) Liturgical, 3) Sacramental, 4) Evangelical, 5) Rational, 6) Episcopal, 7) Ecumenical, 8) International, and 9) We Are A Three Streams Church!

He also devotes three small paragraphs elucidating the characteristics of Anglo-catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic “Anglicans”. His treatment of each, theologically, historically and liturgically is scant but his big idea is clear – one can be theologically Evangelical, or theologically Anglo-Catholic or theologically Charismatic and all three can claim to be authentically Anglican because they are Anglican.

Fairfield, in his piece, claims that:

All three strands are grounded in the Gospel. Each one extrapolates the Gospel in a specific direction.

But are they grounded in the Gospel? Even a cursory glance at Anglican theology, liturgy, and history shows that this is wishful thinking at best and to hold to TSA I cannot see how one can get over the theological differences between Evangelical Christianity, Anglo-catholicism and Charismatic doctrine, what I call the triple-bar hurdle.

The Triple Bar Hurdle

Proponents of TSA face what I call the Triple Jump Hurdle in order to hold to their position. The hurdle is made up of three bars: theological, liturgical and historical.

Yet the only way one can jump this triple bar hurdle is to attempt to go around as the theology of each “tradition” is not only vastly different from each other, only one is evident in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and in the 39 Articles.

Regarding Charismatic theology no-where in the Anglican Formularies do we see:

  1. The Exegesis of experience over and above Holy Scripture
  2. The doctrine of subsequence – a two-tiered approach to conversion, where you have non-Christians, and amongst the Christians you have two types, those who are not spirit filled, and those who are spirit filled.
  3. The over-realised eschatology of the charismatic movement, (i.e. heaven now)
  4. The emphasis of the gifts of the charismata (i.e. tongues, healings, words of knowledge, prophecy)
  5. The overemphasis of the Holy Spirit at the expense of the Lord Jesus

Regarding Anglo-catholic theology, no-where in the Anglican Formularies do we see:

  1. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration
  2. The doctrine of trans-substantiation or anything close to it
  3. The doctrine or practice of a sacerdotal priesthood
  4. The doctrine of clergy being ontologically changed due to their ordination (i.e have the power “to ABC”; absolve, bless, consecrate).
  5. Apostolic succession
  6. The Calling of the Lord’s table an altar (this change was deliberate on Cranmer’s part)
  7. An affirmation of any Roman Catholic doctrine
  8. Semi-pelagian theology.
  9. A three-legged stool relationship between reason, tradition, and Scripture.

The Anglo-Catholic movement was an attempt by a small group of clergy within the Church of England to move the C of E back to Rome. One of its leading proponents was the Anglican Priest John Henry Newman, who became a Roman Catholic Cardinal, but before doing so worked very hard to try and re-interpret the Anglican Church formularies, the BCP and the 39 Articles in line with the doctrines of the RCC. His infamous Tract 90, published in 1841, encouraged Anglicans to read the Thirty-nine Articles as a Catholic document.

When we do read the Anglican Formularies what we do see is that:

  1. The Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is protestant and reformed. By reformed I mean that it expresses a theology and other doctrines of grace rediscovered in the Reformation of the 16th century.
  2. The theology is the middle way between Luther and Calvin. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts.
  3. The supreme authority is Scripture. Article VI, “Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation,” puts it this way: Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
  4.  Scripture alone is supreme as the saving Word of God. Reason, tradition (and experience) play an auxiliary role, unlike Anglo-catholicism and the Charismatic movement).
  5. The role of clergy is functional not ontological. (See post Ordination)

This is not meant to be a big post, but it seems that three streams Anglicanism is a modern-day 21t century invention. Just as the Oxford Movement try to reinterpret the 39 Articles in order to reimagine and reinvent the Anglican Church to be something that it is not (Roman Catholic), TSA seems to be reinvention of the Anglican church, not via attempting to reinterpret the 39 Articles, but attempting to bypass them in order to re-imagine the Anglican Church to be something that it is not.

Why do some within the ACNA support and endorse TSA?

There is one commonality that Anglo-Catholics, Charismatics, and Evangelicals within ACNA share and that is their opposition and abhorrence of revisionist theology – the cancer that has eroded and is continuing to erode TEC. Perhaps this is what feeds and drives TSA. There is a brilliant quote: “The enemy of the enemy is my friend”. (though not sure if this quote originated with a middle eastern prince), and perhaps this quote encapsulates the mentality of proponents of TSA within ACNA. However I believe that this will not do, as it ignores the theology, liturgy, and history of the very church it seeks to identify with and protect, and in reality, is the exchanging of one error for another that will only lead to a watering down of the very thing that Anglican Christians with the ACNA want to see recovered – Confessional classical Cranmerian Anglicanism.

Anglican Christianity is protestant and Reformed.  The theology, the liturgy and the history back this up. It is the hurdle that proponents of TSA should not go around, nor attempt to jump over. If one is an Anglican, why would one want to even try to?


  1. Why don’t you see apostolic succession in the Anglo-Catholic tradition? I’ve been an Anglo-Catholic for some time now and apostolic succession is very important to us, probably one of the fundamental aspects of Anglicanism that sets us apart from other more protestant and more reformed sects.


    1. I do not believe that Apostolic Succession conveys the authority that Jesus invested in his original Apostles. I believe in the faithful succession of apostolic teaching which means that clergy who preach and teach Scripture faithfully stands as a successor to apostolic doctrine and practice. Allow me to quote from a fellow Anglican priest, Rev Matt Kennedy below:

      ” I think the “Office of Apostle’ (Eph 4:11-13) as it was held by the 12 and by Paul and others in the first century ended when the last first century Apostle died. The two New Testament criteria for apostleship: 1. to be called as an apostle by Christ directly or through the Holy Spirit and 2. to have been a living witness to ministry, death and bodily resurrection (or, as in Paul’s case, at the very least a witness of the risen and ascended Lord) can no longer be fulfilled.

      For this reason, while bishops have been given leadership and authority in the church by virtue of their conscration, I do not think bishops in succession are “apostles” in the New Testament sense of that word nor do I believe that they have the authority, when meeting in council or on their own, to teach or speak infallibly”.

      Article 19 of the 39 Articles articulates this also by defining the visible church not by the presence or absence of bishops in succession but by the presence of faithful preaching and the celebration of the sacraments in keeping with Christ’s institution (the invisible Church, by contrast, is the body of all who believe in Christ which stretches from heaven to earth, across denominations and throughout time).


  2. In the 42 Articles on which the 39 Articles are based Cranmer does use language from the Augsburg Confession but it must be remembered that Lutheran and early Reformed theology held a number of doctrines in common. There were a number of earlier Reformed theologians before John Calvin and much of Calvin ‘s theology is based on their work, particularly Heinrich Bullinger. The 39 Articles is much more representative of the theology of these earlier Reformed theologians than Calvin. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion would influence the Elizabethan Church as would his Genevan Catechism. But it is this earlier Reformed theology that is the primary influence in the 39 Articles, not Calvin.


    1. Hi Robin,

      Thank you for taking the time to visit my very average blog.

      My take on Anglican Reformed theology is that it is midly Calvinist.


      1. It can be interpreted as “mildly Calvinist”because early Reformed theology and what is described as “Calvinism” have so much in common. Where there was a differrence of views was on predestination and election. Where Calvin and Bullinger differed was on double (Calvin) and Bullinger (single) predestination Calvin and Bullinger had extensive correspondence on the subject. The 39 articles appears to take Bullinger’position. God elects and predestines some to life and overlooks the rest. It does not take a position on election and predestination to damnation. Some Calvinists would argue that the latter is a logical corollary to election and predestination to life and consequently the Articles do not need to state a position on the matter. However, one of the purposes of the Articles is to state the position of the reformed Church of England on a number of key issues. In any event the Articles are a Reformed confession of faith. There is no arguing with that albeit the Arminians tried it in the late 17th century and the Anglo-Catholics in the 19th century. Why am I drawing this to your attention? Actually it is not for your edification but for the edification of your readers. I am posting links to your articles from my blog. My readership is largely in the United States and some readers need reminding that the Anglican Church’s confession if faith is Protestant and Reformed. I blog at


  3. Hi Robin, I have seen your blog. You are very kind to link my articles to your blog, considering that my blog is very average, though the highest readership comes from the USA.


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