The 4th Stream of Anglicanism

4 Streams

It is commonly held that Anglicanism has three Streams that make up one River. They are catholic, evangelical and charismatic. While this view is not without it’s criticisms, I would argue against it from the point of view that there is a perceptible 4th Stream which I will call non-denominational Anglicanism. While that sounds like a contradiction in terms it is nevertheless a reality in our day. First I will give examples of it, second I will ask what we can learn from it and third I will offer some suggestions for moving forward.

The 4th Stream Defined

Non-denominational Anglicanism is made up of those who are new to the Anglican way or who were not properly trained. As a result they have created a hybrid that is neither true to their previous traditions nor true to traditional Anglicanism. Hence the term non-denominational Anglicans. The following are only a few examples I have witnessed or been informed from first hand witnesses.

  • A worship booklet containing over a page of the priest’s “corrections” to the Book of Common Prayer to make worship “more in line with Scripture.” Evidently no on told him that a priest does not have the authority to change the worship of the Church. Priests are officiants, not editors.
  • Practical rejection of the doctrine of Real Presence by removing the tabernacle, refusing to pray the epiclesis (calling on the Holy Spirit to consecrate the Bread and Wine) and even offering life savors to children at Communion. That priest declared, “After all the real presence of Christ is with the congregation.” It is a different tradition entirely that teaches that Christ is only subjectively present in the Sacrament.
  • Exchanging the great hymns of the Church for mind numbingly repetitious and theologically vacuous songs. Adding insult to injury many of those songs are written as solos that makes congregational singing more difficult even if the song is familiar. Music is not chosen to manipulate the emotions of the worshipers; it is chosen to offer high and holy praise to a High and Holy God. Secondarily our hymnody teaches and supports our theology.
  • Replacing choirs with praise bands and turning the sanctuary into a stage. As one young couple so perfectly put it to me, “We live in Nashville. We are in the entertainment business. So we don’t want to be entertained at Church.” Also calling the lead musician a “worship leader” or “worship pastor” is a misnomer. In Anglicanism it is the priest who leads worship supported by other ministers, choirmasters, choirs and musicians.
  • Rejection of or improper use of vestments. Clergy do not vest or refuse to vest in order to express their individualism. They vest to veil the man. They vest to represent the Church to Christ and Christ to the Church. They vest in the order of their office. Clergy should not be interested in dressing to gain street cred but rather in upholding the dignity of their calling and recognizing Who it is that they serve.
  • Pretending that there is no true distinction between clergy and laity. This results in what one past bishop used to call “the creeping gangrene of participatory democracy.” I attended a meeting where a 4th Stream bishop attempted to make this argument by demeaning clergy and flattering laity. I realized later that in the end that is only real way to make such an argument. When you are wrong you go ad hominem.
  • Rejecting the Sacraments of the Church. While there is a major difference between the 2 Dominical Sacraments (those ordained by Christ) and the 5 Sacraments of the Church, the later 5 are still Sacraments. The former are necessary for spiritual life while the later are for the up building of the Church. They too have an outward and visible sign that signifies an inward and spiritual grace. Hands laid upon the head of the repentant sinner signifies Christ’s absolution. Hands laid upon the head of a confirmand with anointing with oil, signifies the reception of the Holy Spirit. Hands laid upon a couple imparts to their marriage the blessing of Christ and His Church. Hands laid upon a candidate sets him apart for holy orders. Hands laid upon the sick with the anointing of oil, represents the presence of the Holy Spirit to make them whole. In short, these are not empty symbols rather they are conveyers of grace.
  • Creative ceremonial and ignoring rubrics. This list could go on for pages and pages. While it could sound petty to argue for learning proper ceremonial and following the rubrics of the Prayer Book, it is not. It is through ceremony and symbol that we retell the story. When we change or ignore the ceremony and symbol we are in danger of telling the wrong story. For example we use one cup and one paten for the consecration because it is a sign that we are one Body in Christ. What we may not do is fill the altar with chalices nor consecrate tiny individual cups for distribution. The latter would be particularly egregious since the symbol would shift from “one cup, one Body” to “it’s just me and Jesus.” Is that the story the Church wants to tell? Just as priests are not editors, neither are they choreographers. They must learn to dance the dance properly and then teach it to others.

Learning from the 4th Stream

4th Stream Anglicans are looking at Anglicanism through fresh eyes and that can be very helpful. There is a vast difference between keeping tradition and doing things simply because we have always done it that way. The questions that come from the 4th Stream force us to look again at why we are doing what we are doing and perhaps trim the fat. The danger of tradition is that it can create such a protective shell that it does not allow room for life and growth. There was a song we used to sing at my High School in Scotland. “O McTavish is dead and his brother don’t know it, his brother is dead and McTavish don’t know it, and both of them dead, and in the same bed, and neither knows that the other is dead.” I have witnessed more than once when tradition and a parish have become the McTavish brothers.

How do we move forward?

First we need to return to humility. I heard a 4th Stream bishop say, “I’m going to give the Prayer Book 5 years and then I am going to start changing things.” I thought to myself, “We have given it 500 years in its various forms and we like it just fine like it is.” There is a mentality afoot that this is THE enlightened generation and so we do not need to learn from our past. As Job said sarcastically to his critics, “Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!” 4th Streamers need to ask their questions but they need to do so with a teachable spirit. And they certainly should not come to an historic faith with the goal of changing it. If in the end they find themselves incompatible with our beliefs and traditions then there is no shame in moving on to seek another tradition.

Those of the other 3 Streams also need to exercise humility. Each of us are doing the best that we know to do, otherwise we would be doing things differently. But there is a difference between doing things at my very best and saying that my way is the very best. The genius of Anglicanism is its breadth and so while one approach may not be your cup of tea, it does not necessarily make it wrong. It may just be that it is different. We need to frequently remind ourselves of Jesus words’ about the beam in our own eyes before we worry about the speck in our brother’s.

Second we should pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Surely it is His will that we all grow into a greater unity. We have seen concrete examples of this in our lifetime. The REC has had its own version of an Oxford Movement and as a consequence has moved from being self described “Presbyterians with the Prayer Book” to being Broad Church Anglicans. I have participated in Benediction in a REC Cathedral and I have attended an REC ordination that was cope and mitre, smells and bells. These were reflective of their evolution to a more Anglican view of the Church as a divine institution.

Third, listen to each other’s stories. Those of us who served in The Episcopal Church learned some valuable lessons, much of which is what NOT to do. There is absolutely no need to repeat the mistakes of the past, particularly the mistakes that destroyed a once great Church. We are fools if we think that it can never happen to us. Additionally the 4th Streamers have important stories to tell and others would be wise to learn what put them on this journey. Often they have very creative ways of engaging their communities and we insular and introverted Anglicans have much to learn from them.

It is my sincere hope that one day the 4th Stream would find a home in one of the other 3 Streams and move from being non-denominational Anglican to simply being Anglican. Learning our rites and ceremonies, following the rubrics of the Prayer Book and embracing our theology will not destroy their healthy uniqueness. Rather their presence within the 3 Streams will serve to enrich the whole Church.

Abundant Life?

Stoning of Stephen

I created this meme not to be clever or funny. I have simply put together two of our lessons today in one picture to highlight a serious conundrum for us as Christians. In the first lesson from Acts we read about the stoning of Stephen. Then in the Gospel we hear Jesus say that He came to give us abundant life. What? How do we reconcile those two thoughts? How do we reconcile believing in an all good and all powerful God and yet see bad things happen to good people. How do we look to Jesus as our Shepherd to protects us and make sense of a Muslim terrorist walking into a Christian Church in Egypt on Palm Sunday and blowing it up?

First a disclaimer. This problem of reconciling a good God with the reality of evil is called theodicy. It has been the subject of countless volumes of theology and countless Phd dissertations. So I am not going to settle it in a Sunday sermon. In fact I watched a lecture of Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias on this topic. He spoke for nearly two hours and still did not give a satisfactory response, at least not for me.

So I want to address this conundrum as a priest rather than as a theologian and try to help us understand Peter’s pastoral response to the persecuted Church of his day. If you are in the midst of pain I hope that you find this helpful. If you are not then this may even be more helpful because the best time to embrace a theology of suffering is before you are in it. It’s hard to think clearly when the townspeople show up with torches and pitchforks.

Peter gives us the key in his letter. He says, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” So the Cross becomes the lens through which we look at and interpret life, especially when life becomes painful and unjust. What does the Cross tell us about life and about suffering?

First the Cross tells us that sin and evil are real. Sin is so real that God became flesh to break its power and evil is so real that it killed Him. Evil is not just the absence of good, nor an imbalance of power, nor the opposite of an abstract set of moral absolutes. Sin and evil are real. The Scripture says that Satan entered Judas’ heart and that is why he betrayed his Lord. There are dark forces that drive this world and enslave the souls and minds of men. How else would the most educated nation at the time, follow a madman into World War II, that would cost millions of lives? So if you are being persecuted for your faith or if you feel like your life is under attack then the Cross reminds you that it is not in your head. It is real. Peter’s caveat here is to be sure if you are suffering that it is for righteous reasons and not because you are being a knucklehead.

Second the Cross tells us that good triumphs over evil. The forces of darkness played its best game that week. They moved folks around like pieces on a chessboard working towards checkmate. They moved the crowds from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him” in just a few days. They got one of His own to betray him. They used the courts to falsely accuse and condemn Him. They worked through cowardly Pilate to look the other way and wash his hands of the matter. They used the Roman soldiers to drive the spikes through His hands and feet believing, that they were only doing their job and following orders.

But when Jesus came busting out of the tomb on the third day the forces of darkness had to have known that they had overplayed their hand. The very evil that they intended had been turned around by an all good and all powerful God to be the very redemption of the world. The Cross tells us that whatever we are going through or whatever we may go through, God will work to our good and ultimately good will triumph over evil.

Let me give you an example of how I have seen this work. A few years ago I met with a young woman of our parish as she was looking at colleges. She wanted to use me as a reference. She is incredibly bright and it looked like the sky was the limit. She was accepted at Sewanee and loved it there. She made friends quickly and was thriving. At one point she made an error on a term paper, forgetting to give the source in her bibliography of a footnote in her manuscript. Before she knew it this error was blown entirely out of proportion, she was charged with plagiarism, academically put on trial and kicked out of school. Over one stupid error, her life blew up and she could not see a future.

She tried another school but it did not work out and things got bleak. She moved back home and started work at Publix. This was not the future that she had dreamed.

During this time I tried to encourage her that while it seemed that her life was falling apart, God was still on the throne and He would work it all to the good. I encouraged her to trust His promise. To her credit she didn’t call me a name or slap me but I’m sure that she wanted to because it did seem like such a trite thing to say in the midst of her pain. But it was true and it was my job as her priest to remind her of what she already knew!

Some time later a young handsome Anglican moved from California to Tennessee to open a factory for his family business. We met his mother and his mother gave Beth the job of being his Tennessee mom and finding him a wife. Beth got on her J.O.B., a light bulb came on, and she introduced him the young woman. Their wedding is next week. It is interesting to think that if she had not been kicked out of school and returned home they may have never met or developed a relationship.

This leads me to a third thing that we learn from the Cross. God has a plan. In point of fact God had a plan before the foundation of the world of how He would go about redeeming us and renewing creation.

Ravi Zacharias told of a British atheist philosopher who claims that there is no design, nor purpose in life. He says that there is only DNA. He does not believe in moral absolutes. He says that DNA is neither good nor evil it just is and we all dance to its music.

At an international cricket match in England, the man at bat was clearly out and everyone saw that fact but the umpire. But because the umpire did not call him out, he remained at bat. He was able to score some more runs and as a result England won the match. The atheist philosopher was outraged. He tweeted that he was ashamed to be an Englishman after this batter won the game under such false pretenses. The philosopher was not prepared for the responses. He received a deluge of tweets that the batter was simply dancing to his DNA. They mocked him for having moral outrage while denying moral absolutes.

Of course there are moral absolutes. There are divine laws because there is a Divine Lawgiver and that Divine Lawgiver has a plan. Evil can play into His plan, evil can work against His plan but evil can never defeat it. After the Muslim terrorist blew up the Church in Egypt the Pope of the Coptic Church prayed in public, thanking God that the Lord found those victims worthy to receive the martyrs’ crown. Isis meant to punish them, but according to the Pope, Isis gave them a promotion. God has a plan that cannot be stopped.

The fourth thing that we learn from the Cross is that it is a mystery, not a problem. A mystery is a truth that is too great for our minds to understand. A problem is something, that given enough time and effort, can be solved.

If God had a plan for our redemption, even before the foundations of the world, then why did He allow sin in the first place that would lead to our need for redemption? That idea, like the question of why bad things happen to good people, has been plaguing man since the beginning. Let me save you some time and some brain cells. It cannot be answered. It is not a problem that we can solve. It is a mystery to be embraced. That is the point of the Book of Job. At the end of the book God confronts Job with His greatness and Job realizes that He would not understand the answer even if God were to give it to him. So Job repents in ashes. Job embraces the mystery and worships.

Is there a way to reconcile God being all good and all powerful with the reality of evil? Yes. God knows but He is not telling. We would not understand it if He did and sophomoric answers like the need for freewill or the order decrees in the mind of God only present more questions. We instead are called to humble ourselves and embrace the mystery. What is the alternative? The only real alternative is to either deny that God is all good and all powerful or to deny that evil is real. Give that a try for a while and tell me how that works out for you. Actually DON’T! Just live with the mystery. Is that too much to ask?

If you have been a parent and taken your young child in for a shot or a medical procedure, then you have been on the other side of this mystery. As the doctor is hurting them they look up into your eyes wondering why you are not stopping their pain. Their eyes ask, “Do you not love me? Do you mean to do me harm?” But because they would not understand the need for the shot or the medical procedure, all you can do it hurt along with them and hope that they know how much you love them and want what is best for them. A young child can’t wrap their mind around what you are doing but they can trust you and believe in your love. That is what the Father asks of us.

This takes me to my last point about the Cross. The example that Jesus taught us through the Cross is to trust our Father no matter what. As you know He wrestled with God in the garden Maundy Thursday night. He asked if there was any other way. But in the end He put His full trust in God and said, “Nevertheless not My will but Thine be done.” Then on the Cross He cried out in ultimate trust, “Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

So we are to follow Jesus’ example of complete trust. I encourage you to picture trust as a room and then enter it and lock the door behind you. Make it a conviction.

But how does this understanding of suffering fit with Jesus’ statement about giving us an abundant life? Several points here.

First it tells us that what Jesus meant by the abundant life is not what Joel Osteen means by the abundant life. To Joel the abundant life is a $12 million dollar mansion and a private jet. And yet Jesus had no place to lay His head and He had to borrow a donkey to make his triumphal entry. Still Jesus’ life was abundant because of His relationship with His Father. He and the Father were one. Jesus was secure in His Father’s love. He understood His purpose in life. He knew that as a result of His obedience glorified for all eternity.

Jesus offers us that abundant life by inviting us to join Him in His relationship with His Father. He invites us to share in their unity, their love. He invites us to share in His riches and to be glorified with Him.

Second, when understood properly, suffering has a place in the abundant life that Jesus promises because God works all things to our good. The stoning of Stephen gave him the martyr’s crown and the following persecution resulted in the Church scattering to the nations and as a result the gospel was spread abroad. Also don’t forget that the Saul who was present at the stoning became St. Paul. No doubt that experience was one of the seeds that God planted in his heart that led to his conversion. And who but God could calculate the good that has come from Paul’s conversion?

Third there is a great Southern expression,“It’s gonna feel so good when it stops hurting.” When we understand that God uses suffering not to punish but to refine then while it is not pleasant at the time we can kiss the scars. Many of you have been through things that you would not wish on your worst enemy but because God brought you through it you are better for it today.

In the end therefore I would argue that this meme that I have made is not contradictory. It speaks the truth that even in the midst of suffering Jesus offers us an abundant life. And when we remember that this abundant life that He offers will go throughout eternity it becomes, in the immortal words of the Godfather, an offer we cannot refuse. Amen.


Word AND Sacrament


So I have this new app on my Iphone that fills me in on the news that the major news outlets have totally ignored. It’s like getting let in on a secret. I will give you two examples. Last November a New York billionaire, who has never been in politics, was elected the President of a major western power…………. What? You already knew that? Well how about this one. This insane leader in North Korea, with his very bad haircut, is threatening to blow up the world with nuclear bombs.…………so you’ve heard about that one too? Of course you have. Unless you had to be living under a rock you could not have missed these two events.

I studied Hebrew so I am pretty sure that doubt that they did not have the expression “living under a rock” in Jesus’ day. But if they did, the two companions on the road to Emmaus would have asked Jesus that very question. They were amazed that He seemingly had not heard the news. Cleopas asked Jesus, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there these days.” Actually it would have been perfect if they did ask Jesus if He had been living under a rock because Jesus could have replied, “Just for three days.”

On the surface it looks like Jesus is toying with them, but I don’t think that is what is going on here. Rather I suggest that Jesus is using what Beth calls good interviewing techniques. A good interviewer gets the person to open up about themselves and disclose information that they might not have intended to offer. In responding to Jesus’ question the men show their true feelings, their disappointment and their confusion. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…………..Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” Evidently they had lost hope, felt defeated and were simply going back home.

Jesus rebukes them and calls them foolish men who are slow of heart to believe the prophets. But at the same time He does not want to leave them foolish and slow of heart to believe, so beginning with Genesis He shows them all through the Old Testament concerning Himself. What kind of things did He show them?

Perhaps He spoke of the serpent on the staff that was lifted up in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed. This was a foreshadowing of Jesus being lifted on the cross to bring salvation to all who would look to Him.

Perhaps He spoke about that fourth man in the burning furnace with Shadrack, Meshack and Abednago that saved them from the flames who looked like the Son of God. Or maybe He spoke of the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream, connecting heaven and earth, a symbol of Jesus connecting God and man.

Maybe he spoke of the king and priest to whom Abraham tithed. This King of Salem, which means peace, is another foreshadow of Jesus who is our King and High Priest. There is no telling how many hours Jesus spoke with them but they said later that their hearts burned within them as He opened the Scriptures to them.

But notice that even though He opened the Scriptures to them they still did not see who He was. When was it that their eyes were opened and they realized that it was Jesus? It was at the breaking of the bread. That is why we as Anglicans emphasize both Word and Sacrament. But I need to warn you. Once you see that connection it will ruin you for anything else. At least it does for me.

Several years ago, while on vacation, Beth and I attended a Presbyterian church with a friend of ours. The people were friendly and the sermon was right on the money but since there was no Eucharist, to be honest, I didn’t feel that I had been to Church. It was more like attending a lecture.

Jesus is revealed to us in Word AND Sacrament and it is artificial to think that the two can be separated from one another. So even when I take the sacrament to someone who is sick or a shut in, I always include words from Holy Scripture because it should be both and, not either or. That is why it has been our tradition that you are not supposed to receive Communion if you show up after the Gospel has been read. To put it in historical perspective, it was not until the 16th century that Word and Sacrament were separated from one another and to this day they never have been in the Roman and Orthodox Communions.

Of course this is hardly a new idea with Anglicanism. We read in the Book of Acts the pattern of worship in the early Church. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” All four of these components are necessary for the health and growth of the Church and it is through all four that our eyes are opened and Jesus is revealed to us in a more intimate way. If we drop off or conflate these components then we are no longer following the biblical pattern. I will give you a couple examples of problems that follow.

When we first moved here and were gathering folks to plant a church, we did not have a Sunday Mass so we attended other churches around the diocese. In one particular church the priest would give chatty and informal announcements right after the peace, like it was a 7th inning stretch, and then he would always say, “Well let’s shift gears now and go into Communion…”

This made an artificial break between Word and Sacrament and implied that everything done up to that point didn’t really matter because now we were getting to “the real stuff.” It was so jarring to my worship to have Word and Sacrament broken from one another that we went there only a couple of times.

Another example. When I was in seminary I invited a friend, who had never been to an Anglican service before, to go to church with me. No sooner had we taken our places in the pew when two young women behind us started chatting and they chatted through the first half of the service, only to stop for the prayers, confession and absolution. Then came the peace and after granting one another the peace, they started chatting again. At that point my friend turned around and said, “The peace that you just gave me is being taken away because of your incessant talking.” Do you see what they were doing? They were melding fellowship with worship and consequently not only were they not truly worshipping but they were ruining worship for others around them.

So when is the right place for fellowship? How about when the offering is being taken up and there is a lull in the service, is that a time for fellowship? No. We should still be in prayer. And like with those girls I just mentioned, talking will disrupt someone else’s prayer. How about when the playing of a prelude or an offertory, is that a time for fellowship? No. These are not played to entertain us. These are musical offering to the Lord and so they too are a form of prayer that should not be interrupted by fellowship.

None of this is to say that fellowship is unimportant. In fact, just the opposite is true. It is the glue of the Church.

One day I read on Facebook that one of our members was leaving the church so I drove over to his home to find out what was going on. He told me that he was not getting anything out of our service and didn’t feel connected so he was going on to greener pastures.

The whole idea of coming to Church “to get something out of it” rather then coming as a royal priesthood to minister to God, is a whole other story that I chose not to address at the time. But what I did point out to him was that his pattern was to come to Mass and then hit the door. He had neglected fellowship. He didn’t participate in Sunday School or Bible Study or Men’s Group. He didn’t attend parish gatherings nor seek out opportunities to serve, so it only made sense that he did not feel connected and wasn’t getting anything out of it.

Clergy often call coffee hour the 8th sacrament of the Church and they are not far off. There is a vast difference between dining at a restaurant where everyone around you is a stranger and sitting at a Thanksgiving table with family and friends. Fellowship makes Holy Communion become the latter.

I don’t want to make more out of this than I should but I have played in my mind with the idea of what would have happened to those companions if they had not begged Jesus to stay with them. The text says, “So they drew near to the village to which they were going, He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him saying, ‘Stay with us for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” It was because He remained with them that they had supper together and it was at supper that He broke the bread and their eyes were opened. But this would not have happened if they had not done their part and invited Him.

This part of the story reminds me of so many other gospel stories where a miracle involved, if not required, the participation of the recipients of that miracle. Think of the boy who brought Jesus his few loaves and fishes which Jesus used to feed the multitude. Or the friends of the paralyzed man who lowered him down through the roof so that Jesus could heal him. Or the Syrophenician woman who pleaded on behalf of her daughter or the Centurion who sought healing for his servant.

Martin Luther said we are not to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” and then expect God to fly a chicken into our mouths. Just as artificial as it is to separate Word and Sacrament, so it is artificial to separate faith and good works. I think that is what St. James is arguing in his epistle when he says that faith without works is dead.

The act of kindness from these men, inviting a stranger to stay with them because evening was at hand, resulted in them seeing the risen Lord. It makes me wonder how many times have we missed seeing Jesus because we have rested on the laurels of our faith and not been diligent in good works? Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

There is a story of a monk who while on a journey happened upon a very valuable piece of jewelry. When he did he simply put it in his bag and continued his journey. Later he came across a fellow traveler who was hungry and as the monk opened the bag to give him some food, the traveler saw the piece of jewelry and asked the monk to give it to him. Without hesitation the monk did so and the poor man went off celebrating that once he sold the piece of jewelry that he would be set for life. A little later the man returned to the monk with the piece of jewelry in hand to return it. He said, “I want you to give me something even more valuable than this piece of jewelry. I want you to give me the ability to share with others as freely as you have shared.”

I believe that the ability to be able to freely share with others increases the more we understand the free gift of salvation given to us in Christ Jesus. I further believe the understanding of this incomparable gift is best increased as we become united with Christ in both Word and Sacrament.