Semel Traditae Sanctis Fidei
By Robin G. Jordan
Over the weekend a friend sent me the link to the new web site of the Society of St. Athanasius, an Anglo-Catholic organization in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The Society of St. Athanasius gives the appearance of having been organized to promote Anglo-Catholicism in CANA, the ACNA, and the larger Anglican community.
I was not impressed with the web site. There was no way to skip the Introduction, which was slow to open, initially colorless—monochrome, various shades of gray, and not particularly eye-catching. The site itself was difficult to negotiate. Like the Introduction, the pages were also slow to open. Rather than offering its content in an easily accessible form, the “About Us” page require the visitor to repeatedly press a “down” icon. After a delay two or three more lines of information would appear. The website clearly needs some work.
I persisted. I eventually was able to read the entire page. The page contained this description of members of CANA.
CANA’s members…embody a healthy balance of the Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic streams of orthodox Anglican Christianity. In CANA, we do not artificially separate the 'three streams' of orthodox Anglicanism into divergent channels or currents, rather we firmly believe in the New Testament principle of synthesis and mutual support within the Body of Christ. A cord woven of intertwined strengths cannot unravel or be broken.
This description of CANA members shows the influence of “three streams” theology. “Three streams” theology holds that in the twentieth century and now the twenty-first century the Holy Spirit is bringing together three theological streams - Catholicism, Pentecostalism, and evangelicalism - and causing a new synthesis of these three disparate theologies. This convergence is taking place in what Archbishop Robert Duncan describes as “American Anglicanism,” in the Anglican Church in North America and its ministry partners.
“Three streams” theology emphasizes Catholic, Pentecostal (or Charismatic) and evangelical piety and practice and does not press doctrine. Like popular North American evangelicalism its theology tends to be shallow and like the Emergent Church movement it is inclined to espouse a "generous orthodoxy" that attempts to combine in a single theology often conflicting Catholic, Pentecostal, and evangelical beliefs.
A leading “three streams” theologian was the late Robert Webber. He wrote a number of books that shaped its thinking.
Other influences include the Third Wave movement in popular evangelicalism and the Emergent Church movement. Those who subscribe to “three streams” theology tend to be very naive in their view of pre-Reformation Christianity and overlook, downplay, and even reject the Protestant Reformation and its English counterpart, the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement.
“Three streams” theology is a form of revisionism. It represents as much a threat to authentic historic Anglicanism as Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism.
The divisions that separate genuine Anglican evangelicalism from Wesleyan Pentecostalism and unreformed Catholicism are not artificial. The supposedly New Testament principle of synthesis to which this description of CANA members refers comes from Hegelian philosophy, not the Bible.
The willingness of an Anglo-Catholic organization to endorse “three-streams” theology is not surprising since those who subscribe to this theology are tolerant and even accepting of unreformed Catholic beliefs and practices. “Three-streams” theology has a tendency to serve as a doorway for Anglo-Catholic doctrines and usages.
The page goes on to claim:
For anyone seeking the 'Faith once delivered to the Saints' (Jude 3) once they come through the door of a CANA community of Christians – whether it is in an historic church building in New England or Virginia or a school building in a growing suburb in the Midwest or South, they are truly ‘home.’
The phrase ‘Faith once delivered to the Saints’ meant on thing to the reformed Church of England and another to the unreformed Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. It means different things to different people to this day. In Anglo-Catholic circles it has become a buzz phrase for Anglo-Catholic beliefs and practices.
The page characterizes Anglo-Catholicism as a “gift.”
The Society of St. Athanasius is the association of CANA parishes, clergy and laity that share the gift of the Catholic Tradition within Anglicanism with our fellow CANA-ites and those interested in our Tradition.
This is an obvious attempt to portray in a positive light what has been since the nineteenth century a concerted effort to undermine the Protestant, Reformed, and evangelical character of the Anglican Church. What is presented as the “Catholic Tradition within Anglicanism” is actually the corrupt unreformed Catholicism of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Church and innovations in doctrine and worship of the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church. Anglicanism is a reform movement with its roots in the Protestant Reformation. Anglicanism is catholic in the sense that it “retains the ancient common heritage of Christendom, in a biblical form.” The English Reformers, while valuing this heritage, “used the standard of Scripture, applied by reason, to correct what needed correcting in the church’s inherited forms.” The Anglo-Catholic movement is an offshoot of the nineteenth century Tractarian and Ritualist movements that sought to undo the reforms of the English Reformation, to restore the corrupt unreformed Catholicism of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Church, and to introduce the innovations in doctrine and worship of the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church. Rather being a tradition in Anglicanism it is a movement in the Anglican Church opposed to just about everything that authentic historic Anglicanism stands for.
Restoring the corrupt unreformed Catholicism of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Church and introducing the doctrinal and worship innovations of the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church is not reform. It is returning to past errors and ushering in new ones. It is an example of a fool repeating his folly (Proverbs 26:11), and of a washed sow returning to wallow in the mire (2 Peter 2:22).
The "About Us" page next describes the mission of CANA.
The Mission of CANA is to provide orthodox clergy and congregations in North America with (a) an episcopate based in North America that has an authentic connection to the Anglican Communion, and (b) an ecclesiastical structure with representative leadership by member clergy and congregations.
Historically orthodoxy in Anglicanism has been defined in terms of adherence to doctrine of the historic Anglican formularies interpreted in accordance with the received opinions of the reformed Church of England. It is evident from the web site’s description of CANA members that some may be orthodox in this sense while others are not. Its description lumps together those who adhere to the doctrine of the formularies with those who do not or who reinterpret their doctrine in the direction of Rome. It affirms theological pluralism.
The page concludes with a description of CANA’s vision.
The Vision of CANA is to be a building block and an incubator that works to build up biblical, orthodox Anglicanism in North America within the next several years.
It is difficult to see how CANA can actually achieve this vision when what it is really promoting is theological pluralism.
The existence of the Society of Athanasius and other organizations like it prompts me to ask: What group is working to advance the cause of authentic historic Anglicanism in North America? Who is championing the historic Anglican formularies? Who is continuing the work of reform that the English Reformers began? Who is seeking to ensure that the church having been reformed stays reformed?