This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Some Further Reflections - From The Other Side

As I dealt with some theological issues in the last article, I wanted to also devote some time to addressing some concerns raised by my fellow traditionalists regarding some of these issues.   When reading these, I find much I agree with, but also find that many of these writers misunderstand some aspects of the Evangelical/Pentecostal traditions and tend to write them all off as "invalid' without knowing the real story behind them.  The other aspect of my own calling in addressing these matters is to show my fellow traditionalists that Pentecostals, charismatics, and Evangelicals themselves are a lot more diverse than many contemporary Evangelical Protestant authorities wish to acknowledge, and not all Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals support much of what has gone on in the past 20 years or so.   In other words, not everything associated with those traditions is bad.  And, coming from that background myself, I have seen the better side of the Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions, and in reality they have much to offer us as sacramental Catholic Christians.  It is this today I wish to address to my fellow traditionalists, based on two articles I have recently read in The Anglican Way, a magazine that is published by the Prayer Book Society.

The first of these articles was authored by Dr. Gillis Harp, and was published in the recent edition of The Anglican Way under the title "Revisiting the Three Streams."   Harp primarily deals with the content of Dr. Robert Webber's 1985 book, Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail, and the second article I will be responding to in the same magazine is a review of Webber's book by Dr. Charles Flinn.  Webber, who was one of the architects of the Convergence Movement that came into being in the early 1980's, was a former Fundamentalist Baptist who later converted to the Episcopal Church based on his readings of the Church Fathers and other writings that led him to conclude (rightly) that the original New Testament Church was liturgical and sacramental.   The term "Three Streams" first off must be defined, as it is a term that is distinctly a part of Convergence vocabulary.  Essentially, the "Three Streams" represent three aspects of Christian experience: Evangelical, Sacramental/Liturgical, and Charismatic.   What the Convergence Movement and its proponents wanted to do was to blend those "Three Streams" together as it would create a fuller picture of what the New Testament Church was meant to be.   The impetus for this movement came in 1977, when a document by several leaders in what would become the Convergence Movement drafted a document called "The Chicago Call" (see my earlier "Highways and Hedges" article from a couple of months ago for more about that, including the full text of the document itself) which called the Church back to its New Testament roots.   Before I address Harp and Flinn's articles, I want to briefly give my own evaluation on this movement, as I was both a participant in it for a brief time and it will also lay some groundwork for Harp and Flinn.

I am a former Pentecostal (I was a lay Foursquare minister for many years) who was born again in a Southern Baptist church back in 1986.   I grew up in a rather conservative Pentecostal/Holiness tradition myself (although my mother, who had become inactive in her own Christianity, was only part of this nominally later)and understand better the Pentecostal and Evangelical mindset than the writers of the magazine articles I will be discussing shortly do - both of them were cradle Anglicans, and neither really understands what a true Pentecostal is (granted, they have little to go by too in this day and age unfortunately!).   I was also attracted to sacramental/liturgical worship from an early age, and embraced it fully later on when I was received as a Maronite-rite Catholic on Easter 2000.   Prior to my entering the Church though, I was involved with the Convergence movement from at least 1994, and saw it as a move of God.   As I grew in my own faith though, I began to notice a couple of things.  First off, I believe the proponents of the Convergence movement were genuine, sincere Christians, and that they perceived a legitimate call to this.   Second, I also feel like Convergence was a stepping-stone, a transitional step, for them to be integrated into the Church in full.  Third, although I see the logic of the "Three Streams" and even attest to some validity regarding it, I regretfully must say that it also fell short because oftentimes some Convergence leaders integrated the wrong aspects of each "stream" and thus caused a problem.   Thus, we have the concern raised by traditionalist Anglicans like Harp and Flinn (among others) and this concern is definitely valid.  Convergence was never supposed to be about integrating rock bands into Masses, or esoteric terminology into Bible studies (from the latter came a more bizarre and dangerous movement, the Emerging Church), but rather about incorporating the best aspects of each "stream" into a model that was fully compatible and concordant with the Church Catholic.  Many Convergence ministries fell short of that unfortunately, thus creating more issues than they were resolving.  That is why I eventually moved away from the Convergence Movement and my participation in it, and later embraced the historic Church in its fulness while still being fully charismatic in my spirituality and evangelical (in the Barthian, rather than the American ecclesiastical sense) in my message.  Thus, now enter Harp's and Flinn's two articles.

Harp, in his article, notes that four issues are raised by what he calls the "popular conceptualization" of the "Three Streams" idea, and they are as follows:

1.  On occasion, the "Three Streams" hermeneutic can treat current theological muddles as virtues rather than incoherent issues.
2.  Some "Three Streams" interpretations tend to focus more on individual personal narratives as normative standards.
3.  Some "Three Streams" proponents subscribe to attitudes about truth that resemble postmodernism, including incompatible views.
4.  The "Three Streams" approach tends to denigrate or ignore the Anglican Reformers and Anglican Formularies. 

What Harp raises as concerns have validity, and indeed, I have seen these risks as well.  But, the danger Harp poses is that all proponents or former proponents fall into these issues universally, and that is not quite accurate.   Taking the first, "theological muddles" as virtues, let me say this.  I was relieved to read Harp saying later in the article that "Perhaps not all of the diversity celebrated by Three Streams champions should be prized," (Gillis Harp, "Revisiting The Three Streams," in The Anglican Way, Vol 35, Number 2, Summer 2012.  p. 13) and indeed that is true.   There is unfortunately a very fine line between Convergence and the Emerging Church (which is apostate) and some have crossed that.  But, it doesn't detract from the fact that some of the diversity, as long as it is compatible with Church teaching, is actually a good thing.   For instance, charismatic manifestations and people with Pentecostal-like giftings are found throughout the annals of the Holy Tradition of the Church, and those experiences are valid.  However, they are also subject to the Church's discernment, which is itself a spiritual gift.   That is why, however, I recommend that people who want to explore the validity of the charismatic experience should do so from the writings of the Church Fathers and the lives of the Saints rather than with contemporary Pentecostal literature, and I would suggest as well that the Catholic Apostolic movement of the 1830's is a more compatible model for that than the Azuza Street experience of 1906 would be.   Also, I might add - and Harp brings this up too - that Scriptural authority must always be affirmed as well.  His contention with some Convergence people (such as Webber) are that they got a lot of their influence from liberal bishops and seminary professors rather than doctrinally-sound authorities who could have been of more service.   Again, this is a very valid concern, and Harp did well in addressing it.

As to the second, regarding "individual personal narratives," it must be noted that faith is indeed a personal commitment, and we who are Christians all have a testimony.  The testimony is, in Ephesians 6 imagery, our "sword," and it is by that testimony we overcome the enemy of our souls.   However, also as Harp correctly pointed out, the testimony is held accountable to the truth of the Logos (written Word of God) and as I Thessalonians 5:21 admonishes, it needs to be tested by such.  The rhema word of our testimony should always rest on the concordant authority of the truth of God's Holy Word and the Holy Tradition of the Church.   If it does not, then heresies and non-Biblical doctrines will find a fertile ground to flourish.   I believe that Harp is more or less specifically addressing the narratives of Convergence church stories, about how they "made the incompatible compatible," and thus the risk for philosophical pragmatism.   However, the testimony of an individual congregation or ministry is held to that same accountability, so again Harp raises a legitimate point. 

The third concern, postmodernist influence, is one I wish to spend a little more detail on, as it is a major concern today.   Reading my last article, you will see that postmodernism - its newest incarnation is called "The Emerging Church," and some of its proponents include such people as Erwin McManus, Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren, Leonard Sweet, and a multiplicity of others -  has spread in much of American Christianity like a cancer, and unfortunately it does have similar roots to the "Three Streams," and some would argue they overlap a lot.   Harp didn't address the Emerging Church movement, as it has little relevance for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, but he didn't have to - the Emerging Church is a bi-product of postmodernism, and as such its influence is pervasive.  There are, unfortunately, many Convergence proponents involved in the Emerging Church movement as well, which in itself discredits its witness to tranditionalist Anglo-Catholics and others, and here is why.  Postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement that is part of it want to deconstruct and redefine the Church in such a way as it integrates into modern cultural trends, but this in itself is not Biblical - the Church is called to transform the lives of individuals who come to Christ, not conform to modern trends and changes just to make itself look "relevant."  Therefore, traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have every right to be concerned about these postmodernist "rationalistic" schools of thought because they denigrate theology, as Harp correctly and astutely points out, to mere pop-psychology and "feelings-based" spirituality that has little to do with Biblical and Catholic doctrine.   But again, caution needs to be exercised on the Anglo-Catholic side of the issue too, so as not to accidentally throw out the proverbial baby with the dirty bathwater.   Change is inevitable, argues the postmodernist, and we need to adapt to it.  To a degree this is true, but it also must be remembered that not all change is good and thus we need to be careful.  Are there some things Anglo-Catholics should change?  Absolutely - the very survival of churches such as the Anglican Catholic Church, of which I am a part, depend on it honestly.   For instance, I think an openness to charismatic spirituality would benefit the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and I also do strongly believe some of our liturgical music should be re-examined (some Anglo-Catholic liturgical music, such as the Gloria, could really use some work, quite honestly), as well as allowing a greater diversity of historic Church rites (I believe the ACC and other Anglican communions could benefit by implementing provisions for using the Eastern rites in some parishes, for one thing!) and investing more time in catechesis and spiritual formation (many traditionalist parishes, being small, only meet for Mass once a week and that is it - we need more, seriously!).   These changes are worth discussion because the average age right now of an Anglican Catholic or APA parish member is 65, and most parishes are under 15 in membership yet over 70 in median age of parishioners - that is not a good recipe for survival.   We need younger people in our parishes, and in order to get them, we need to provide some adjustments to how we "do church."  However, this in no way implies a change in doctrine or tradition - rather, it is an enhancement that is needed for community survival.   I will be eventually devoting another article to that whole subject too.

The fourth concern is also a valid one - if one is truly Anglo-Catholic, they need to acknowledge those who shaped the heritage, and thus a better understanding of the Anglican Reformers and Formularies is vital.  I would hasten to include in that, however, some emphasis on John Wesley, especially in lieu of younger converts to the Anglo-Catholic faith from Evangelical and Pentecostal backgrounds.   These people need to understand that Wesley himself was never a Methodist or Holiness/Pentecostal, although both traditions claim him as one of their own - he was very much an Anglo-Catholic, and I believe Wesley is the bridge to help former Evangelicals and Pentecostals transition more readily to Anglo-Catholic theology and spirituality.   Harp didn't address that specifically, but I feel my mention of this is an addendum to his point.  

Next is Flinn's review of Webber's book, which necessarily follows Harp's article on pages 15 through 17 of the same issue of The Anglican Way.   Flinn himself is not an Anglo-Catholic, but is rather an evangelical Anglican with more of a Reformed emphasis, yet he still upholds traditional Anglican practice, which is commendable.   He notes that many Evangelical Protestants who embrace Anglo-Catholic and other ancient Church liturgical traditions is due to a failure to find in the typical Evangelical or Pentecostal church an objective basis for an individual Christian's reconciliation with God - in other words, radical individualism, which is a hallmark of Pentecostal and Evangelical faith, has little basis in Scripture.  Can faith be personal?  Of course it can, and indeed, it is a personal decision to follow Christ that places us on the pilgrim's path to salvation in Christ in the first place.   But, it is when the individual experience - as I am reading Flinn's position - becomes superior to the witness of the Church as a whole that a problem is caused.  Flinn, in typical Reformed fashion, also says that emotionalism and a "new revivalism," and it is here I see an issue with Flinn's position.  Christianity is not an abstraction, and the Church has never taught it as such - we are emotional beings, not Star Trek Vulcan stoics, because God created us with emotions.   The historic Church has never denied that either - consider the Christian East, for instance, where St. Symeon the New Theologian and others taught about the infilling of the Holy Spirit having as an evidence the "gift of tears," and the related Russian concept of umilenie.   Unfortunately, many Western Christians fail to see the emotional element in our faith, which even the Scriptures affirm, and instead a sort of detached, abstract rationalism exists that makes faith more of an intellectual exercise than the holistic gift that God intended it to be.  Reformed-minded theologians are particularly prone to that stoic, abstract concept, and Flinn unfortunately mirrors some of that in his writing.   Jesus did, after all, do a great thing for us - He died on the Cross to redeem us, reconcile us to the Father, and give us eternal life!  It is a wonderful gift, and it is to be treasured and received with joy!  If Flinn thinks this is too "emotional and subjective," then I would challenge him to maybe read some of the Church Fathers and see it for himself then.  And, I would argue that Reformed thinking is probably more incompatible with the Catholic faith than charismatic spirituality is, due to the ecclesiastical stoicism of many Reformed theologians.  Even the Anglican Mass tells us that we must be "heartily sorry" (meaning a heart-felt repentance, and that does involve emotion!) for our sins as we confess every Sunday in the General Confession found in the Book of Common Prayer, which reads thus:

"Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed against Thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.  We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden is intolerable.  Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy Name.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."
(The Book of Common Prayer {Glendale, CO:  Lancelot Andrewes Press, 2009} p. 494-495)

There are six emotional references alone just in the General Confession, not to mention those found throughout the rest of the Anglican Mass as well as in other historic liturgies, both East and West.   To divorce emotion from faith is unfathomable, and I have always marveled at how some Reformed-minded people do that.  I can understand though that maybe emotionalism could foster subjectivity, and indeed I have seen that in my Pentecostal days, so that is maybe a legitimate concern.  However, again, we must be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater then.   And, hopefully Flinn doesn't do that either.  God himself has emotion too after all - he is a real being and not a mere abstraction, and we would do well not to reduce our sovereign God to mere abstractions either. 

Any rate, this should hopefully address adequately the articles I have discussed and read, and although probably much more could be said, we won't go there for the time being as time and space don't permit me to do so.  However, in the future there will surely be more to discuss on these issues, and we will do so as the occasion arises.  God bless and have a good week.