By Robin G. Jordan
Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit and from their study of God’s Word the sixteenth century English Reformers discerned that the once pristine stream of the primitive and apostolic Christian faith had in fifteen centuries become polluted. They sought to remove the causes of the pollution so that the stream might flow clear again. They established a set of standards to ensure that the stream was kept unpolluted for future generations. They were not able to remove one major cause of pollution—human nature’s inclination toward evil. Consequently that clear flowing stream has once more become polluted again. The set of standards they left to posterity have been ignored or misinterpreted. They have not been enforced. All kinds of pollutants have been allowed to befoul the stream and in some cases have been deliberately introduced.
The condition of the stream in some places is as bad as it was before the English Reformation. In other places it is even worse. A babble of voices is heard claiming that there is nothing wrong with the water in their part of the stream. The quality of the water in their part of the stream is the way the quality of the water in the entire stream should be. Yet when the quality of the water in their part of the stream is tested against the standards of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies, its befouled state does not justify their claim.
A number of these voices attack the standards that the English Reformers left us. “They are outdated,” they maintain. “What they believed is impure water is not.” They further argue that the water in their part of the stream is safe to drink and even has health-giving properties. Yet when we examine their claims closely, it becomes quickly evident that they are made to justify certain beliefs and practices that they favor. These beliefs and practices the English Reformers had identified as pollutants and causes of pollution in the stream and had removed them for that reason.
One concept that have been used to justify the befouling of the stream is the theory of the Anglican Church as a via media, or middle path. Tractarian, later Roman Catholic John Henry Newman first proposed this theory in the nineteenth century. Tractarian Edward Bouvrie Pusey would modify it and former Unitarian and one-time Tractarian Frederick Maurice would popularize it. In his theory Newman postulated that the Anglican Church was a middle path between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. In Newman’s theory the path was actually dead center between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism but veered toward Roman Catholicism. Later Newman would reject the concept of the Anglican Church as via media as untenable, and would convert to Roman Catholicism. The Our Lady of Walsingham Personal Ordinariate in England and Wales has adopted Newman as its patron saint. In Pusey’s modification of Newman’s theory the Anglican Church was a separate branch of Catholic Christianity alongside of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Maurice’s concept of the Anglican Church as a via media was more dynamic and future-oriented than Newman’s and Pusey’s. Maurice saw the Anglican Church as changing and evolving, moving progressively toward being a Church that would incorporate the best elements of the different traditions in Christianity. The Anglican Church would be the church of the future. Of the three theories, Maurice’s would grab the popular imagination.
The twentieth century would see two further developments in the via media theory. The first was the notion that was that the Anglican via media is the path of moderation between extremes. The second is the Anglican via media is open to a broad latitude of disparate opinions on all matters, primary as well as secondary and tertiary. The Anglican Church has room for all viewpoints under its very large umbrella. Liberals in the Anglican Church have promoted this concept of the Anglican via media. It might be described as the “big top” via media theory.
In its treatment of the via media theory the literature often fails to recognize the concept for what it is—a theory. Indeed the literature is apt to treat it as an accepted fact. While the concept has been repeatedly aired in sermons, lectures, books, and articles to the point that many Anglicans accept it, the via media theory is a fiction, that is, a conventionally accepted falsehood. It is the Anglican Church’s “big lie.” In Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler who is recognized for his expertise as a propagandist propounds the principle of the “big lie.” If a lie is big enough and is repeated often enough, the people will accept it as the truth, including those telling the lie.
The via media theory of the Anglican Church as a middle path of some kind has no merit. The closest thing that historic Anglicanism has ever come to being a middle path was between Geneva and Zurich. It embraced what may be described as a moderately Reformed theology.
Another concept that has been used to justify the re-pollution of the stream is what has been described as the “three streams, one river” ideology and is not peculiar to the Anglican Church. It has its adherents outside of the Anglican Church as well inside of the Church. This ideology is associated with the Ancient-Future, Convergence, or Worship Renewal movement. In its Anglican variant three traditions, “three streams,” are postulated to be converging together into one tradition, “one river,” in the Anglican Church. This convergence of traditions is seen as the next phase in a Mauricean evolution of the Anglican Church. The three converging traditions are evangelicalism, Catholicism and Neo-Pentecostalism. This description of “three streams, one river” ideology from the Anglican Mission in the Americas’ Heart of North America Regional web site is typical of those found on the websites of a number of Anglican Church in North America and AMiA churches that have embraced this ideology:
Three Streams: The Scripture… the Sacred … the SpiritOn some web sites “Sacramental” is substituted for the “Sacred;” and the third tradition converging with evangelicalism and Catholicism is identified as Eastern Orthodoxy due to its emphasis on the Holy Spirit in its liturgy. The analogy of three streams flowing into one river or flowing together as one river is used in place of three streams flowing out of one river.
In the course of Church history, three major branches have developed which incorporate a particular emphasis of belief, teaching and worship. The Anglican Mission believes that each of these traditions represents an essential element of Christian faith, worship, life and ministry. We refer to these elements using a descriptive short-hand: the Scripture, the Sacred and the Spirit, envisioning them as three streams flowing from one river – Jesus Christ and His Gospel imperatives. We believe the three streams together provide a balanced blend of the Christian faith as taught in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. The Scripture, the Sacred and the Spirit are exemplified in our discipleship, worship, congregational life and outreach.
“Three streams, one river” ideology glozes over the serious theological differences between the three traditions that are purportedly converging together in the Anglican Church. These traditions do more than “incorporate a particular emphasis of belief, teaching and worship.” They take contradictory and conflicting positions on primary matters as well as secondary and tertiary ones. Churches that adopt this ideology are apt to espouse doctrines and practices that English Reformers rejected on solid biblical grounds. Rather than “a balanced blend of the Christian faith as taught in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church” one or two of the three traditions is likely to predominate. In some churches the dominant tradition is unreformed Catholicism.
Underlying “three streams, one river” ideology is a distorted view of Protestantism. Due to the influence of the Anglo-Catholic movement many North American Anglicans and Episcopalians have such a view of Protestantism. “Three streams, one river” ideology perpetuates this distorted view. Charles H. H. Wright and Charles Neil, the editors of A Protestant Dictionary, provide this useful explanation of Protestantism in the preface of their work:
"Protestant" and "Catholic" are terms which, when rightly understood, are not conflicting. True Protestantism holds firmly to the truths set forth in the Creeds of the Apostolic Church, and protests only against unscriptural additions made to the Primitive Faith. Protestantism is the re-affirmation of that Faith combined with a distinct protest against those errors of doctrine, ritual, and practice which were brought, as St. Peter says, " privily " into the Church of Christ (2 Pet. ii. 2), but which were accepted as " Church teaching " in mediaeval times, and are still too prevalent. The word Protestantism stands for the return to Primitive and Apostolic Christianity. It is the reassertion of " the faith once for all delivered unto the saints " (Jude 3). When Protestantism is negative in its declarations, it is only to preserve and accentuate some truth which is being perverted. Like the great " Ten Words," as the Jews were wont to term "the Ten Commandments," truths sometimes appear to be simply negations, when in reality they are very far from having that character, as our Lord s summary of that Law (Matt xxii. 36-40) abundantly proves.The Church of England did not, at the Reformation, abandon the primitive and apostolic Christian faith as her Roman Catholic detractors claimed. The English Reformers found a polluted stream and did their best to remove the pollutants and their causes. The Church of England did not break with the pre-1549 English Church except where that Church had departed from the primitive and apostolic Christian faith. They used the Bible and to a lesser degree the writings of the early Church Fathers as guides in determining the pristine state of that faith and sought to restore it to that state.
Protestantism is like a coin. Its flip side is reformed Catholicism. The coin may have different images of each side but the coin is still one coin. In The Church of England: What It Is, and What It Stands For Roger T. Beckwith briefly restates a number of neglected and forgotten truths.
What the Church of England stands for can be clearly discerned in its historic constitution. It is based upon eight principles. These are not party points, though different parties have emphasised one or another of them. They follow directly from the history and ecclesiastical law of the Church of England. Moderate members of all parties have in the past acknowledged them, and in the present confusions of the Church of England could do much to help by acknowledging them again, in a more united, emphatic and balanced way.
Beckwith goes on to elucidate:
These eight principles are partly principles of belief and partly principles of practice. On these principles the Church of England was originally founded, or re-founded at the Reformation, and it is these which chiefly link it with, or distinguish it from, other Christian churches. On the most important of the eight principles, the central place that it gives to the Bible, the Church of England is at one with the reformed churches of mainland Europe and the Free Churches of England, when they are true to themselves (and when it too is true to itself!). In its more traditional features, it is again largely at one with the reformed churches on the continent of Europe (though less so with the English Free Churches), and also, this time, it is largely at one with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Under the authority of Scripture, these traditional features were in the sixteenth century reformed but retained, so that the Church of England maintained a recognisable continuity with the ancient national church of the land, though reformed by Scripture. In this way it kept the allegiance of the main body of the people of the realm, though teaching them better ways where tradition had become corrupted.The last of the eight principles that Beckwith identifies is that the Church of English is a reformed Catholic Church.
2.8 A Reformed Catholic ChurchHistoric Anglicanism is Protestant and Catholic. It is also Reformed. Robert Johnson, former director for the Institute for Reformed Theology, offers this definition of the term “Reformed” in his article, “What Is Reformed Theology.”
What gives consistency to the other seven principles, and sums them up, is the fact that the Church of England is a reformed catholic church. The Church of England is reformed in its emphasis on the Bible, in its 39 Articles, in its vernacular worship, and in its recognition of the royal supremacy in its government. But it is also catholic, in that it retains the ancient common heritage of Christendom, in a biblical form. The Church of England acknowledges the role of the church in interpreting the Bible correctly (Article 20), and uses the ancient catholic creeds as examples of such true interpretation. It maintains, as its practice, liturgical worship, infant baptism, episcopal ministry, parochial organization and national establishment, all handed down from antiquity. The Anglican Reformers valued this edifying heritage, well tested over the centuries, and rejected the idea of starting everything afresh, with the unnecessary controversy and practical mistakes which such a course would inevitably lead to. Instead they simply used the standard of Scripture, applied by reason, to correct whatever needed correcting in the church’s inherited forms.
… the term "Reformed" specifically designates that branch of the Reformation of the western church originally characterized by a distinctively non-Lutheran, Augustinian sacramental theology with a high ecclesiology but little regard for ecclesiatical tradition that is not traceable to the Scriptures or the earliest church.The Thirty-Nine Articles, the two Books of Homilies, and Alexander Nowell’s A Catechism are Reformed in their theology. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is essentially the Reformed Prayer Book of 1552 and the 1661 Ordinal the Reformed Ordinal of the same year. Reformed theologians Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Virmigli taught in the English universities. Virmigli would influence John Jewel and other exiles that fled to the Continent during the Marian persecutions. Heinrich Bullinger, who replaced Ulrich Zwingli as the lead pastor of Reform in Zurich was enormously influential in the Church of England. But it would be erroneous to conclude that the Reformed theology of historic Anglicanism was the result of foreign influence upon the sixteenth century English Church. Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker, and other benchmark Anglican divines were Reformed theologians in their own right, drawing similar conclusions from their study of the Bible as did the Continental Reformed theologians. Reformed theology would not disappear from the Church of England after the Restoration but continued to flourish.
As well as being Protestant, Catholic, and Reformed, historic Anglicanism is evangelical. It maintains salvation by grace only by faith only in Jesus Christ only (as opposed to good works and sacraments) as the essence of Gospel teaching. As well as exhibiting a proclivity for unreformed Catholic doctrine and practice, “three streams, one river” ideology is apt to take a reductionist view of evangelicalism that emphasizes Scripture and evangelism to the neglect of this centerpiece of evangelicalism.
A peculiarity of “three streams, one river” ideology is its identification of Neo-Pentecostalism as the third tradition converging in the Anglican Church. This is not particularly surprising because “three streams, one river” ideology is an outgrowth of the charismatic movement. Consequently it promotes a number of Neo-Pentecostal ideas and suffers from a number of Neo-Pentecostalism’s weaknesses including its tendency to accept some highly questionable interpretations of Scripture. Neo-Pentecostalism, like the old Pentecostalism, affirms Spirit baptism as a distinct post-conversion experience, universally needed and universally available to those who seek it.” Speaking in tongues Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism, claim is the usual accompaniment and sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism are twentieth-century developments.
In 1984, in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, J. I. Packer wrote, “Charismatic folk everywhere stand on tiptoe, as it were, in excited expectation of great things in store for the church as the movement increasingly takes hold.” As early as 1971 Michael Harper was claiming major ecumenical significance for the charismatic movement. “This movement is the most unifying in Christendom today,” he wrote. “Only in this movement are all streams uniting and all ministries being accepted and practiced.” What is sometimes called the Convergence movement grew out of this expectation and with it emerged “three streams, one river” ideology. The unity that the charismatic movement seemed to promise did not materialize. Indeed the charismatic movement itself became a cause of division. The Convergence movement would fragment.
The Pentecostal and the Neo-Pentecostal claim of the need for a “second blessing” is not from the perspective of historic Anglicanism consonant with the teaching of the New Testament. Historic Anglicanism recognizes that the principal work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian is regeneration, illumination, sanctification, and empowerment for the work of ministry. Historic Anglicanism finds no evidence in the Scriptures for “the idea that all receiving and using spiritual gifts depend on first undergoing Spirit baptism as a second work of grace or that in the experience of Spirit baptism the Spirit himself is actually received either for the first time or in fuller measure and greater strength than was the case before.” From the perspective of historic Anglicanism charismatic experience is only theologizable, if at all, as the realization of the power of the Spirit who already indwells.
Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism also run counter to historic Anglicanism in that they are generically Arminian in their presuppositions. Pentecostalism and Neo-Pentecostalism displays a tendency “to read all details of the New Testament charismatic experience as paradigms and, in effect promises of what God will do for all who ask,” while historic Anglicanism reads them as being demonstrative of “what God can do as spiritual need requires.”
Alexander Nowell’sA Catechism was compiled by Nowell at the request of Convocation in 1563 and was sanctioned for use in English grammar schools and universities by Convocation in 1571. It is numbered among the subsidiary historic Anglican formularies, which include the two Books of Homilies, the Proposed Canons of 1571, and the Canons of 1604. In the Second Part, of the Gospel and Faith, Nowell puts these words in the mouth of the scholar:
Moreover, as he promised, (John 14:16, 26 & 16:7, 13; Rom. 5:5 & 8:9, 16; 1 Cor. 12:4 &c; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:17) he sendeth down his holy Spirit from heaven into our hearts, as a most sure pledge of his good will, by which Spirit he bringeth us out of darkness and mist into open light; he giveth sight to the blindness of our minds; he chaseth sorrow out of our hearts, and healeth the wounds thereof; and with the (Rom. 8:4 &c.; Col. 3:1-2; Eph. 4:22, 30) divine motion of his Spirit he causeth, that, looking up to heaven, we raise up our minds and hearts from the ground, from corrupt affections and from earthly things, upward to the place where Christ is at the right hand of his Father; that we, thinking upon and beholding things above and heavenly, and so raised up and of upright mind, we condemn these our base things, life, death, riches, poverty: and with lofty and high courage despise all worldly things.Further on the scholar says, “… Christ our Lord never ceaseth to do us good, continually to intreat for and to crave his Father’s mercy for us, to give us his holy Spirit, and wonderfully and continually to garnish his church with most liberal gifts….”
After questioning the scholar in regards to his beliefs about the Father and the Son, the master questions him in regards to what he believes about the Holy Spirit:
M. Since then thou hast now spoken of God the Father, the Creator, and of his Son Jesus Christ, the Saviour, and so hast ended two parts of the Christian confession, now I would hear thee speak of the third part, what thou believest of the Holy Ghost?In the Fourth Part, Of Sacraments, Nowell articulates historic Anglicanism’s understanding of confirmation through the words of the scholar:
S. I confess that he is the (Matt. 28:19; John 14:26 & 15:26 & 16:7 & 20:22; Acts 5:3-4) third Person of the most Holy Trinity, proceeding from the Father and the Son before all beginning, equal with them both, and of the very same substance, and together with them both to be honoured and called upon.
M. Why is he called holy?
S. Not only for his own holiness, which yet is the highest holiness, but also for that by him the elect of God and (Rom. 1:4 & 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:2) the members of Christ are made holy. For which cause the holy scriptures have called him “the Spirit of sanctification.”
M. In what things dost thou think that this sanctification consisteth?
S. First, we are by his instinct and breathing (John 3:5; Tit. 3:5) newly begotten, and therefore Christ said that we must be born again of water and of the Spirit. Also by his heavenly breathing on us, God the Father doth (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5-6) adopt us his children, and therefore he is worthily called the Spirit of Adoption. By his expounding, the (John 14:17, 26 & 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10-11, 13; Eph. 1:17) divine mysteries are opened unto us: by his light, the eyes of our souls are made clear to understand them; by his judgment, sins (John 20:22) are either pardoned or reserved; by his strength, (Rom. 8:4-5 &c., 8:14 &c., 26) sinful flesh is subdued and tamed, and corrupt desires are bridled and restrained. At his will (Acts 2:4. 1 Cor. 12:4, 7 &c.) manifold gifts are distributed among the godly.
In the manifold and divers discommodities, molestations, and miseries of this life, the Holy Ghost with his secret consolation, and with good hope, doth assuage, ease, and comfort the griefs and mourning of the godly, which commonly are in this world most afflicted, and whose sorrows do pass all human consolation: whereof he hath the true and proper name of (John 14:16, 26 & 15:26, 16:7) Paraclete, or the Comforter. Finally, by his power our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11) shall rise alive again. Briefly, whatsoever benefits are given us in Christ, all these (1 Cor. 12:4, 7 &c.) we understand, feel, and receive by the work of the Holy Ghost. Not unworthily, therefore we put confidence and trust in the Author of so great gifts, and do worship and call upon him.
M. It is so. But whereas thou didst say before, that children, after they were grown more in years, ought to acknowledge the truth of their baptism, I would thou shouldest now speak somewhat more plainly thereof.Readers who wish to become better acquainted with historic Anglicanism’s teaching on the Holy Spirit and the sacraments should also read the Homily concerning the coming down of the Holy Ghost for Whitsunday and the Homily of Common Prayer and Sacraments in the Common Tongue.
S. Parents and schoolmasters did in old time diligently instruct their children, as soon as by age they were able to perceive and understand, in the first principles of Christian religion, that they might suck in godliness almost together with the nurse’s milk, and straightways after their cradle might be nourished with the tender food of virtue towards that blessed life. For the which purpose also little short books, which we name Catechisms, were written, wherein the same, or very like matters as we now are in hand with, were entreated upon. And after that the children seemed to be sufficiently trained in the principles of our religion, they brought and offered them unto the bishop.
M. For what purpose did they so?
S. That children might after baptism do the same which such as were older, who were also called catechumeni, that is, scholars of religion, did in old time before, or rather, at baptism itself. For the bishop did require and the children did render reason and account of their religion and faith: and such children as the bishop judged to have sufficiently profited in the understanding of religion he allowed, and laying his hands upon them, and blessing them, let them depart. This allowance and blessing of the bishop our men do call Confirmation.
M. But there was another confirmation used of late?
S. Instead of this most profitable and ancient confirmation, they conveyed a device of their own, that is, that the bishop should not examine children, whether they were skilled in the precepts of religion or no, but that they should anoint young infants unable yet to speak, much less to give any account of their faith; adjoining also other ceremonies unknown unto the Holy Scripture and the primitive church. This invention of theirs they would needs have to be a sacrament, and accounted it in manner equal in dignity with baptism; yea, some of them preferred it also before baptism. By all means they would that this their confirmation should be taken for a certain supplying of baptism, that it should thereby be finished and brought to perfection, as though baptism else were unperfect, and as though children who in baptism had put upon them Christ with his benefits, without their confirmation were but half Christians; than which injury no greater could be done against the divine sacrament, and against God himself, and Christ our Saviour, the author and founder of the holy sacrament of baptism.
M. It were to be wished therefore that the ancient manner and usage of examining children were restored again?
S. Very much to be wished, surely. For so should parents be brought to the satisfying of their duty in the godly bringing up of their children, which they now for the most part do leave undone, and quite reject from them; which part of their duty if parents or schoolmasters would at this time take in hand, do, and thoroughly perform, there would be a marvelous consent and agreement in religion and faith, which is now in miserable sort torn asunder; surely all should not either lie so shadowed and overwhelmed with the darkness of ignorance, or with dissensions of divers and contrary opinions be so disturbed, dissolved and dissipated, as it is at this day: the more pity it is, and most to be sorrowed of all good men for so miserable a case.
In the 1662 Confirmation Service the bishop prays that God will “strengthen” the confirmands with the Holy Spirit and “daily increase in them “ his “manifold gifts of grace.” When the bishop lays hands on the individual confirmand, he asks God to “defend” the confirmand with his heavenly grace that he may continue God’s forever and “increase” in God’s Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to God’s everlasting kingdom. Both prayers charitably presume that the confirmand has received the Holy Spirit at baptism (or at least at some point before or after baptism). It is the prompting of the Holy Spirit that has lead the confirmand to make a public profession of his repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ and to seek the prayer of the church. In the 1662 Confirmation Service the bishop lays hands on the confirmands “to certify” them, by the sign of imposition of hands, of God’s favor and gracious goodness toward them. The imposition of hands is a gesture of blessing and goodwill. Neither the Holy Spirit nor the gifts of the Holy Spirit are conferred with this gesture.
Whatever Jeremy Taylor may have taught in the seventeenth century, the Anglo-Catholics in the nineteenth and twentieth century, and charismatics in the 1970s and 1980s, it is not historic Anglicanism’s understanding of confirmation. Historic Anglicanism does not dismiss the fresh experiences of God that some Christians report but it does not attribute them to a “second blessing,” conferred at confirmation or outside of confirmation. To historic Anglicanism the gift of the Holy Spirit is a one-time occurrence.
As for evidence that a Christian has received the Holy Spirit, historic Anglicanism gives more weight to repentance, faith, a changed life, and an increasing abundance of the fruit of the Spirit than it does the “sign-gifts,” as they are sometimes called. These manifestations of the Holy Spirit can be counterfeited by the devil and sinful human nature. True godliness and holiness are indubitably the work of the Holy Spirit.
In regard to the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, historic Anglicanism echoes the apostle Paul:
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Corinthians 14:6-12)Anglicans in and outside of North America should view the polluted state of the stream in the Anglican Church in Canada and the United States with alarm. Churches in the Anglican Church in North America and in the Anglican Mission in the Americas far from working to remove the pollutants and their causes are adding to the pollution. In future articles I will consider what they might do to clean up the stream and restore it once more to a pristine condition. I will examine how that clear flowing stream might look in the twenty-first century.