Dr. Winfield Bevins, in his recent post at Anglican Pastor entitled, “Whatever happened to the Anglican Via Media?” issues a call for Anglicans to unite at the “center.” His thesis that the center of Anglicanism is rooted in several of her formularies, namely the Thirty-Nine Articles, the three ecumenical creeds, and adding the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is a good start. However, I would disagree with his labeling of this center as the “via media,” as that term was used by the Tractarians to argue that Anglicanism was the fork in the road between Magisterial Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, a contestable claim.
Dr. Bevins posits that this “center” can be used by North American Anglicans to avoid extremes. However, he subverts this proposed center (Anglicanism’s foundational documents) in an effort to promote a “generous orthodoxy” more akin to latitudinarianism. Civility is lacking in contemporary culture but alas so is truth. While I commend Dr. Bevins plea for civility in discussion and urging for us to speak the truth in love as St. Paul commands, I believe he functionally moves the goalposts of the Anglican center. Specifically, this is true where he cites several examples where the formularies are clear, yet argues that Anglicans should agree to disagree on these points.
Dr. Bevin first correctly notes:
Regardless of which camp you are in, Anglicans are united in the essential “catholic” doctrines of the Christian faith. Although we don’t always see alike, we can agree on the essentials of the faith and join together for the common cause of Christ. More than ever before, we need to learn to work together for the sake of the gospel and the future of Anglicanism.
Now, more than ever, we must hold to the orthodoxy of our beliefs rooted in the Scriptures, the Articles of Religion, and ancient creeds (I would also add our classic prayer book and ordinal). But Dr. Bevin moves the goalposts when he sacrifices our formularies on the altar of diversity and in the name of a tolerance that knows no boundaries:
The Catholic, Evangelical, Broad, and Charismatic divide is just the beginning of the diversity within Anglicanism. There are, of course, many other issues and ways in which the church is deeply divided. Whether it is between conservatives and liberals, over women’s ordination, human sexuality, or the meaning and nature of the sacraments, Christians can and do disagree.
One cannot maintain fellowship while disagreeing over fundamental issues that are contrary to Scripture, the formularies, and tradition. It is disingenuous to advocate Anglicans maintain the via media by holding to her formularies and then disregard them in the next sentence by claiming Christians should be able to disagree over fundamental issues as ordination and human sexuality. Orthodox Anglicans cannot agree to disagree on issues laid out in the Scriptures and our formularies. One group is within the bounds of orthodoxy and the other is outside. Such issues fundamentally impact whether the sacraments are being duly ministered by a visible church (Article XIX) and by a lawfully, called minister, as defined in Article XXIII.
While Anglicans can respectfully disagree as to the number of sacraments, we must agree on the two Gospel sacraments. See Article XXV (distinguishing baptism and Eucharist as the Gospel sacraments from five commonly-called sacraments that are of a different nature). Likewise, Anglicans can disagree as to how the sacraments reveal Christ’s presence but there can be no disagreement that the sacraments are effectual to those who believe. See Article XXV (“they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him”).
A generous orthodoxy that errs on fellowship over disagreement will find orthodox doctrine generously ignored. Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Reformed, evangelicals, and old high churchmen can live under one roof with their particular emphasis on pet doctrines insofar as they hold the line of the teachings within the Prayerbook, Articles of Religion, Ordinal, and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Catechesis as to the common center of the formularies is greatly needed so church members know what unites us as Anglicans and what separates us from false doctrine. As to teachings that go beyond the boundaries of our common center we must state in unison, thus far and no further.