Encouragement

Aberrant Anglicanism & the Death of Doubt

 


I have always held (and still hold) to the view that doubting is something that is a common experience for Christians.  Over the past 30 years, like all other Christians) I have had doubts, what I call the ‘What ifs’

  • What if… the Bible is not true?
  • What if… there is no God?
  • What if… Jesus did not rise from the dead?
  • What if…

I am pleased to say that I am that point in my walk with the Lord Jesus that these doubts are more what I call residual doubts that belong to my Christian life from long ago. However, during my first curacy, I experience a doubt of which I was not prepared for, nor the insidious way it crept up on me.  Let me explain.

My curacy was spent in a diocese and a parish that was/is predominantly like the majority of Anglican dioceses around the world, a diocese that is liberal catholic. Liberal Catholic Anglicanism is an unusual beast in that it has the outward forms of Catholicism with liberal theology. Now in spite of this, there were positive things about my curacy.

It was during my curacy that my quiet times were transformed by being introduced to the Daily Offices. I had not even heard of this practice and at first, I found it to be very dull, repetitive and pedestrian. But after doing it every morning and every evening with my supervising Rector, I realised that my prayer life and Bible reading was changing. No longer was my quiet time dependent on how I felt on any given day when it came to prayer and Bible reading. Time was no longer an issue as it was a scheduled non-negotiable part of my day. When my supervising Rector retired, my new supervisor introduced me to doing Morning and Evening Prayer using the BCP. The theology of the BCP so encapsulated the theology of the Reformation that I was hooked. So now it is my norm to do the daily office using the BCP. I believe the Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful blessing to the English speaking world and that more Anglican Christians will be blessed by using it.

It was during my curacy that I experienced the blessing of taking the Lord’s Supper weekly. Before this, I was more interested in the sermon than the sacrament. I took the Lord’s Supper for granted and deemed it of minor importance. I was encouraged to ask and answer the question, “Have I been shaped more than I know by a superficial and reactionary church culture that says there is wisdom in not making too much of the Lord’s Supper and not taking it too often?”

However, as I reflect on my curacy and in spite of the wonderful highlights I experienced; a doubt crept in.  A doubt that I was totally unprepared for. It was like someone was whispering into my soul, so ever softly, almost imperceptible at first… What if…my sin has not been forgiven?

It was a whisper that slowly over time became a voice. And the doubt led to fear and it became very spiritually immobilising.  At first, I did not know what fed this doubt. But eventually, I put it down to three things: three things that all Anglican clergy face in dioceses where forms and theology exist that are not consistent with Anglicanism as established by the BCP, 39 Articles, and the Ordinal and the Anglican formularies. In other words – Aberrant Anglicanism.

  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is either denied, minimised or avoided.
  2. Semi-Pelagian theology is practiced
  3. Being in the theological minority

Penal Substitutionary Atonement was either denied, minimised or avoided – The great truth of the gospel is that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. Although I aimed to preach this great truth, I was constantly exposed to a context and culture where penal substitutionary atonement was either denied, minimised or avoided. A result of denying this truth leads to sin also being denied minimised, which abrogates the necessity of assurance for those who did not believe in sin, or that they are sinners. Thus the assurance of sin was declared, but not the basis of it. However, for a newly ordained clergyman who sinned daily and was very aware of their own sin, this lack of assurance over a period of time only fed the doubt.

Semi-Pelagian theology – One of the crown Jewels and strengths of Anglicanism is our liturgy. The prayer book I think is gold. However, there is a practice that is very common amongst liberal Catholic Anglican parishes.  In the parishes I served (before and during my curacy) we had Holy Communion every week (brilliant). However, within Holy Communion was semi-pelagian theology. This was evident by a prayer that was sung entitled the  Agnus Dei.  The Agnus Dei is not in the BCP, it is a prayer where the Priest and congregation pray together. It is said just before the bread is broken and it goes like this:

Priest: Jesus Lamb of God:

All: Have Mercy on Us

Priest: Jesus Bearer of our Sins:

All: Have Mercy on Us.

Priest: Jesus Redeemer of the World

All: Grant us your peace.

I suppose one could pray this prayer during confession of sin, though the Biblical norm is to pray to God the Father. However, this prayer abrogates the true meaning of the sacrament. Instead of the Lord’s supper being a sacrament/sign where we go to the table as Forgiven sinners, who have been redeemed by the once and for all sacrifice of Christ at the cross in our place; we go to the ‘Altar’, praying that the Lord Jesus will have mercy on, bear our sins and grant us his peace when we eat ‘the body of Christ the bread of heaven’ and drink ‘the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.’ So in practice, one gets the sense that by taking the Eucharist we are contributing to our salvation.

It is no wonder that for many laypeople in liberal/catholic Anglican parishes, the Eucharist is the high point of the service and is what they value most about church. What do I have to do to contribute to my salvation? What if I have not done enough? Or my question of doubt:

What if…my sin has not been forgiven?

Answer: Take the Eucharist. For taking the Eucharist solves this…hopefully.  I asked two Priests, one of whom was liberal catholic, the other is less liberal and more catholic, how Christ is present in the Eucharist if not physically, and they both said, “it is a mystery.”  The sad thing is that I suspect that many laypeople, when asked if they are going to heaven when they die, will respond the same way, saying “It’s a mystery”.

This is tragic because the heart of the gospel is not a mystery, in the gospel the mystery has been revealed (i.e Eph. 3:1-6). Furthermore, The Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles make it abundantly clear that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice, that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

Being in the Theological Minority – Reformed-Evangelical Ministers face in liberal catholic diocese/parishes face many difficulties. From my limited experience, each minister had their own way of dealing with them. One of those difficulties was not being in touch with like-minded clergy. It only fed isolation and doubt. Don’t get me wrong, the clergy who I served alongside with were easy to get along with, and were some of the warmest people I had met within the church. But be that is it may be, there were certain subjects that one simply could not bring up. If I had, I would have been simply told most likely that I was wrong, that what I believed to be the gospel was at best a theory of the atonement, or at worst, wrong.  Being one of a small minority who believed in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, who believed that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone; who believe sin is rebellion against God rather than “not living our lives the way in which God would want us to live – “transforming unjust social structures”; there was simply not the voices of encouragement to assuage my fear and the secondary doubt that came from being in the theological minority,  “What if they are right about me being wrong?”

The Death of Doubt

So what did I do? I did what every Christian does when they should fear and doubt. I put on the armour of God. I delved deeply in the reservoir of God’s quenching Word; devoted myself to prayer; spoke with like-minded Christians in other places, whether it be by phone, email or SKYPE. When it came to Holy Communion I reminded myself (and was reminded by like-minded clergy in other dioceses) of the two-fold action of the Lord Supper: firstly, our action – deliberate remembering, calling him to mind, joyfully contemplating him, praising him, praying to him; secondly, God’s action – renewing our gratitude for grace, our confidence in forgiveness by grace, our hope for glory, and our strength for service, all by the Holy Spirit. I was encouraged to think of the bread and wine as coming to us by the hand of Christ himself and His guarantee to us in love, and that He will nourish us spiritually forever.

I kept on preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to myself and  I kept on preaching God’s Word and God’s gospel to others. Remembering verses such as John 3:16; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 2:1-10 1 John3:16; Titus 3:5-6 and many others. I actively listened to the right voices – most importantly God’s voice, which is heard when one submits to the Word of God; and secondly, the voices of those who aimed to preach God’s Word and His gospel faithfully.

Thankfully God, through His Word and His people reminded me afresh of the truth and beauty of the Gospel, and the wonderful assurance that goes with it. The doubt died and thus when faced with the liberal and or catholic/semi-pelagian aberrations I could ignore them. It meant when it came to authentic Anglican liturgies, I could embrace them.

Aberrant Anglicanism is spiritually dangerous, and in this piece, I hope to have highlighted one of the more insidious dangers that come with exposure; of how it can lead to erosion of assurance, erosion of confidence in the Scriptures, erosion of confidence in the gospel. It can happen slowly over time, just like erosion. I now serve in a diocese, in a context where our Bishop and every Anglican clergyman believes God’s Word and believes His Gospel wholeheartedly, yet I never ever want to forget what it was like during that first curacy. So how important is it that those of who are in senior leadership do all we can to encourage curates who are serving in hard places.

Which is why movements such as GAFCON are so important.

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Evangelism in an Emocratic World

The late Margaret Thatcher who was the Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 – 1990 was attributed with saying the following:

“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”

Recently I was watching an interview where former Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speaks with academic and author Niall Ferguson and Ferguson quotes his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom in a speech said:

“We no longer live in a democracy but an emocracy, where emotions trump facts”. 

Ferguson cited his wife in the context of speaking about how the ‘old’ rules of engaging in discourse and debate no longer apply. An argument had to be supported by facts, but in today’s culture this no longer applies;

“What you try to do [when arguing/debating in our western culture] is to try to destroy the reputation of the person on the other side. You simply attack their good faith and it does not matter what facts they may bring to the table”.

He wrote an article about Emocracy which you can read on his website.

So given the cultural penchant for aggrandising emotions and feelings at the expense of facts, how is the Christian to  evangelise in such a culture? Actually, another question that I think is germane in this piece is:

How are Christians to contextualise the gospel in such an emocratic culture?

The example of the Apostle Paul is very helpful in this regard. Acts 17 is very worth looking at for in this chapter we see two different principles that the Apostle incorporates into his evangelism.

By the way, when it comes to the book of Acts it is very important to remember what sort of book Acts is. It is primarily a descriptive, not prescriptive, it is primarily not a ‘how to do book’, because Luke is chronicling a very unique time, the birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowering the church and the Apostles. But having said that, there is still much here that we can apply to our lives.

Firstly in  Acts 17, we see that  Paul reasoned with Jews from the Scriptures. His starting point was what they knew, he started where they were at. Yet in Paul went to Athens,  he does not use the Scriptures at all as his starting point but quotes Greek poets whom they knew.

Paul is a wonderful model for us to emulate because it is evident from his practice that he can proclaim the gospel to a variety of people from different grounds, in ways that are culturally appropriate.  He can proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to Jews who would have known the OT really well; to God Fearing Greeks, so who probably knew some of the Bible, but would have come from pagan backgrounds. And the people in the market-place would have believed in all sort of things, there would have been rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, tourists, students, tradies, people who worked in the stalls. Paul was very good at adapting the content of the gospel to the different contexts in which he proclaimed it. In other words, he was mindful of his audience. It is a good thing to adopt Paul’s practice or be willing to learn it so that we can adapt the gospel to those whom we are sharing it with (not the content, but the presentation).

So again, back to the question (slightly rephrased):

How are we to adapt the  gospel to a culture that appears to becoming more emocratic?

Are we to make our churches, pulpits/lecterns places where safe spaces exist to protect unbelievers feelings? Are preachers to provide trigger warnings before every sermon to ensure that unbelievers are not #Iamsooffendedrightnow?

I don’t think so.

But it is a tough question. Something I am wrestling with.

My initial thoughts are:

  • Emotions are not always reliable indicators. For example, someone hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response seems to be positive and yet they don’t come to faith. Yet someone else hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response is hostile, they are offended and they repent and believe.
  • God’s people are to discern their culture through the lens of Scripture and not the other way around. Thus there are some aspects of culture that the Christian has the liberty to accommodate and even embrace, and there are other aspects of culture that the Christian must reject, and sometimes there are aspects that appear to be not so black and white require God’s wisdom. So as far as our emocracy is concerned, I don’t think it is wise for Christians to acquiesce and be hijacked by the subjective whims of emocracy which seem to change constantly.

I know that I am missing something, and that others have said more on this and said it better.

 

 

 

So over to you dear reader. How would you answer this question, (whilst being cognisant of the following)?

  1. Remember the Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)- the Gospel is God’s power to save. Thus the Gospel does not need dressing up or garnished with a pitch to emotions. The Apostle Paul contextualised the Gospel and he proclaimed the Gospel, unapologetically.
  2. Remember the Primacy of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Apostle Paul did not speak about himself, but about the Lord Jesus. Evangelism is not easy, and it is important to build bridges, starting where people are at, but we have to get to Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. We have to cross the bridge as Paul did.
  3. Remember the battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-12) – in observing our culture, and the “culture wars” that exist in the West, it is easy to be bogged down in cultural analysis and forget that the core battle we are facing in regards to evangelism and unbelief is spiritual, even though it is often played out in flesh and blood.
  4.  Remember the importance of truth (2 Corinthians 4:1-2) We are to preach the truth, even if our culture tries to deny it with emotions. When the Apostles preached, there was often emotional responses. But it did not stop them from proclaiming the truth.
  5. Remember some will be offended  (2 Corinthians 2:16) No matter how clear we are, how well we build bridges, how well we contextualise the gospel, someone will be offended. But something that our culture seems to have forgotten, nothing bad ever happens to someone because they are offended. It is not as if someone hears you tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, why they need to believe in Him, and they get offended; the next morning they wake up and discover to their horror that they have leprosy.
  6. Remember Paul was offended (Acts 8:1-3) and look how he turned out!
  7. Remember the true human condition (Ephesians 2:1) – the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The heart problem is that all humans are spiritually dead in sin, not almost dead, not spiritually sick, or spiritually drowsy, but stone cold dead! The problem is their sin, not their feelings, nor their emotions.

When I look at our culture,  it does seem that Western culture has the emotional resilience of a snowflake. We are #offended by everything and anything, including the truth but emotions change all the time. They are subject to the whims of fads, foods and flavours, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not, for the Gospel is God’s Gospel and the Gospel never changes.

So don’t be ashamed of it, it is God’s power to save, point people to Christ and not yourself, praying always remembering that the battle is spiritual.  Remember that the Gospel will offend, so let it be only the Gospel that offends and not you.

 

 

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?