Church History

The Fallacy of the Three Streams

fallacy

Dictionary result for ‘fallacy’

/ˈfaləsi/
noun
  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?

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Why We Don’t Pray For The Dead

Recently I came across an article written on Anglican Pastor by a fellow Anglican Priest entitled Why We Pray for the Dead.

What surprised me was not only his endorsement of the practice, but the implication behind the title that it is normal Anglican practice to do pray either for the dead or to the dead. Also there is no evidence that it was practiced by the early church, not until the middle of the second century.

Here are 10 reasons why we are not to pray for the dead:

1. There is no Scriptural support for praying to anyone other than God. None.
2.There is no Scripture support when it comes to praying to Christians who have died. None!
3. To pray to dead Christians, (asking them to intercede for us) is to give them attributes that only God has. (If every Christian prayed to dead Saints, then those dead saints must have the ability to hear all the prayers of Christians at once – this is a quality only our Triune God has).
4. Praying to dead Christians may be an ancient practice, but this does not authenticate the practice. An old error whilst old, is still an error.
5. The practice is inconsistent with the Anglican formularies.The practice was bound up with particular medieval Catholic doctrines and practices which the Reformers strongly rejected and Cranmer, having kept such prayers in the 1549 Prayer Book, removed them totally from the 1552 revision.The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is, of course, largely the text of 1552, but in one definite difference is in this prayer. Thus today, unlike in 1552, we pray:

“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of they heavenly kingdom”.

The phrase ‘that with them’ is seized upon and taken by some to mean that we are praying for both us and the ‘departed’. But this is to distort the plain meaning of the English language and the prayer.
6. Whilst I agree that those who have died in Christ are not in Heaven,(Heaven being the place where soul and body is reunited again) but are in Hades (the place of interval), there is no need to pray for them.Those who are in paradise are walking with the King – enjoying the Lord Jesus, in his paradise with the wonderful joyous indescribable expectation of at a future point in time (when the Lord Jesus returns) of being inside the Father’s house, the place that has been reserved and prepared for them personally by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who have died outside of Christ will be in the King’s prison segregated and separated from the Lord Jesus Christ and from his people and will suffer remorse and regret of knowing that the life that had on earth is over, and that there is no altering of their choice in life to reject the Lord Jesus Christ, and with that the horrifying, agonisingly indescribable expectation of a future point in time (when the Lord Jesus returns ) of being cast into the Father’s garbage tip, the place that has been reserved and prepared for the Devil and his angels.
Thus praying for those whom have died does nothing to alter their destination. It is fixed at death. This is why Scripture is clear that we are to pray to God for the living.
7. Whilst all Anglicans state their belief in the Communion of Saints, what we are saying is that we believe that the catholic (World-wide, universal) church is made up of a spiritual communion or fellowship of Christians, including those who are alive (sometimes referred to as “the church militant,” cf. 1 Cor. 12:1ff) and those who have died (sometimes referred to as “the church triumphant,” cf. Heb. 12:1).
Those who have died in Christ are now with Christ ,whereas those who are alive in Christ on earth worship Christ by faith. What unites us is that both are in Christ and are part of His Church. This does not give us warrant to pray for them.
8. How can such prayers be faithful to justification by grace through faith in Christ alone and the reality that “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9.27-28)?
9. The practice of praying to the dead and/or for the dead is inconsistent with not only the Scriptures, the BCP but also with the 39 Articles. (see Article XXII)

Article XXII
Of Purgatory
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

10. The Homily on Prayer also roundly condemns the practice of prayer for the dead

So in essence, praying to the dead and/or for the dead, may be an ancient practice, but it has no Scriptural support, it is inconsistent with the Scriptures, the theology of the BCP, and the 39 Articles. In fact Scripture, the theology of the BCP and the 39 Articles make it abundantly clear that we are to not pray for the dead.

Luther – The Centrality of Grace

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Whilst there are many truths revealed in scripture, there are two of particular note. The first is that God is righteous, holy, and just. The second is that we are not, we are sinners.

The Bible tells us that all mankind falls short of the glory of God and have transgressed God’s laws. This is because we are sinful, and as it is is part of our ‘nature’, we by consequence, become objects of God’s divine wrath.

This leads, I think, to one of the most important questions there is for humanity:

 HOW CAN SINNERS BE RECONCILED TO A HOLY, RIGHTEOUS, AND JUST GOD?

Now, there are at least two errors one can make in trying to answer this question:

  • Firstly, one can deny the reality and gravity of sin; Either by denying sin altogether or reducing its importance.
  • Or secondly, one can acknowledge that they are sinful, but then attempt to remove the sin themselves.

Today is the 31st of October. It is known as Halloween and All Saints Day, but it is also known as Reformation Day.

It is on this day that we remember Martin Luther, the man who is, armed with his hammer and 95 theses, most known for triggering the Reformation.

Born in 1483 in Germany, Luther’s life was radically changed when, at the age of twenty-one, he was nearly struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm. Taking it as a sign from God, and fearful of the storm, he cried out, “I will become a monk.”

Yet, even as a Catholic monk, Luther lived in terror of the wrath of God and sought every available means to make himself righteous in God’s sight. This included a life of prayer, severe fasting[1], sleepless nights, freezing cold, and even the beating of his own body to the point of considerable pain.

All of these were done in an effort to pay God back for his sin. However, they were all a result of poor teaching. You see, Luther had been told that the world was filled with good people and bad people, and that God lovingly saved those who were good, and damned those who were bad. Therefore, the only hope a person had was to save themselves by doing righteous things in order to make themselves holy.

Luther later recounted:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously… I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law…without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel…threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.[2]

Luther had no trouble at all acknowledging his sinfulness, it was an inescapable reality. He was troubled, however, with working out how to remove it. For him the means was not faith, not through trusting, but through trying.  Luther sincerely struggled with the question How is a sinner justified before a holy, righteous, and just God? 

But by God’s grace through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, Luther rightly came to see that a sinner was not declared righteous before a Holy God due to their own merits, but rather, that righteousness itself was a gift that God gave to those who simply trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. In other words, Luther rediscovered the great Biblical truth that the church had unfortunately lost – that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, and by grace alone!

God in his mercy and grace, enabled Martin Luther to see the reality of the gospel – that because of Jesus’, sin-paying, death on the cross, a sinner is reconciled to God through faith alone. Here is how Luther put it:

 At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night… I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel… Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.[3]

Luther was liberated from the idea of meriting salvation, and this ‘radical’ idea — the heart of the Gospel — was unleashed to reform the church and it did. This message that we are justified by faith alone had wide-ranging impact, and is something that still has wonderful implications today! After all, this scriptural truth proves to us that it is not by our works nor by our merit that God accepts us. Rather, it is by the completed work of Christ on the cross.

Yet, despite this great truth being rediscovered, we see that mankind is still beholden to the idea that salvation depends on us. It is part of our own, foolish, nature to think that we need to bring something to God in order to be acceptable, or even the prospect that we canbring something to God in order to make us acceptable.

Entertaining such a belief lead to these type of thoughts:

  • God will accept me if I am good;
  • God will accept me if I go to church;
  • God will accept me if I take Holy Communion every week;
  • God will accept me if I put money on plate;
  • God will accept me if I have been baptised;
  • God will accept me if I have been confirmed;
  • God will accept me if…

Living such a way is torturous, because there is no assurance whatsoever. One can only hope to be saved and hope that their virtues outweigh their sins — and in the end, it is for naught. Luther rediscovered that we have nothing that God needs, that we can bring nothing to the table, and that there is nothing we can do for God to accept us.

Instead, rather than coming through trying, salvation comes through trusting.

You see, whilst there was nothing we could do to bring salvation, there was one who could and did. That was Jesus. He took our punishment upon the cross, and as such any — any — who trust in Christ are recipients of his substitutionary atonement. When we believe in the Jesus, when we trust in him as Lord and Saviour, when we respond to the person of Jesus with faith and repentance, we are forgiven. We are forgiven not because of anything we do, but because of what Christ has done

That is the gospel.

Luther encountered the grace of God in Christ and his whole life was transformed by it! Luther came to know that he was justified by faith alone in Christ alone and not through works — and as such, he became free from the tyranny of fear and doubt, and he was able to live life the way God intended. His whole life became an expression of his salvation. Luther enjoyed his wife, his kids, his food, the birds in his garden, and the dog that begged for scraps under the family table.

Luther was free, from slavery to sin, free knowing that his sin was forgiven, and therefore he was free to take hold of the truth of Scripture which says that all of life is to be lived as worship of God.

This is the freedom that comes to those who understand the the centrality of grace, which lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

There is a song by Slim Dusty and it goes like this:

I love to have a beer with Duncan

 I love to have a beer with Dunc.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We drink at the Town and Country

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Duncan

 ‘Cause Duncan’s me mate, yeah

 

Luther was God’s instrument to Reform the church, to restore what had been lost, that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone. Luther loved beer, and although I don’t drink beer, I would love to have a beer with Martin, and my song would say this:

I love to have a beer with Martin

 I love to have a beer with Mart.

 We drink in moderation

 And we never ever ever get rollin’ drunk

 We’ll drink at the Lord’s own table

 Where the atmosphere is great

 I love to have a beer with Martin

 ‘Cause Martin’s me mate, yeah

 

References

1. Luther’s fasting during this time was to caused him intestinal problems later in life.
2. Preface to Martin Luther’s the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings, Vol. 34, ed. by Lweis W. Spitz (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960), p. 336-337.
3. Ibid.