In our last three posts on the different parts of Anglicanism, we’ve looked first at Anglo-Catholicism, then Evangelicalism, and after that the Charismatic renewal. Now we turn our attention to a group of people who seem to have influence well out of proportion to their numbers, or for that matter to the substance of their message. We’re talking about Affirming Catholics.
And the last point is the tricky part: it’s hard to figure out just what their message is, other than a) we need "unity" and b) we need to do so in a liturgically beautiful manner. On the Affirming Catholics’ UK site, the "what we think" page is still "in the future," making one wonder about the thinking that’s supposed to be there. Perhaps it’s like my Muscovite friend said about the Russians: act first, think later. So we’re left to our own devices to sort this out.
As with any form of liberalism, an individual or group that attempts to affirm everything affirms nothing. However, there may be a little method to their madness. One thing that we’ve come to understand in the three studies that we’ve done on various components of Anglicanism is that many of these are the result of ideas being carried to their logical conclusion. The Reformation is a classic example; it is Augustianian theology, which had loomed large for more than a millennium before Luther, taken to its logical conclusion. The same can be said with Wesley and sanctification. Is some of this going on with Affirming Catholicism?
We said that Roman Catholicism’s greatest mistake was to set the Roman Catholic Church up as a formal mediator between man and God. That means that the church is free to define (or redefine) the terms and conditions of our relationship with God, both for this life and the life to come. Roman Catholicism has a strong enough continuity to avoid some of the worst abuses of this, but not all of them. And, if that continuity is broken, all bets are off, as is the case with groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Since liberals are the breakers of continuity par excellence, with an idea like Affirming Catholicism they can proceed to redefine just about everything. One only needs to look at the TEC since the 1960’s to see what this means. It does explain one important shift in the rhetoric. Back in the 1960’s liberals in the church tended to speak in strongly secuarlistic terms, such as the wholesale denial of basic Christian doctrine. Today they talk in religious ones, even appropriating terminology and phrases from groups diametrically opposed to their idea. The worst example of this are the endless claims that the move towards pansexuality are led by the Holy Spirit. They swiped the idea that anything could be led by the Holy Spirit from the Pentecostal/Charismatic world. No self-respecting Pentecostal, for example, would make statements such as this that are contrary to Scripture, even as he or she believes that the Holy Spirit still speaks today. But, if you can redefine the religion, you can redefine God, or at least think you can. As the Moody Blues used to say in Days of Future Passed, "But we decide which is right/And which is an illusion?"
Beyond that, a central hallmark of Roman Catholicism is that the church dispenses the grace entrusted to it through the sacraments. The most prominent expression of that concept is eucharistic theology, where the transubstantiated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are considered by some to virtually send people to eternal life by themselves. But the Catholic church can read the New Testament, and knows that those who receive this heavenly food unworthily (for them by not receiving absolution through the sacrament of penance) will achieve an entirely different result from those who take the proper preliminary steps.
But Affirming Catholicism is about getting rid of restrictions such as this. No where is this more obivious than their idea about baptism. Their idea about baptism is simple: if it’s done, you’re in. You have a "place at the table" and are eligible for anything from communion to ordination, irrespective of anything else you do or say. The only thing you really have to do is to live up to the last clause in the Baptismal Covenant (that "contract on the Episcopalians") to spead peace and justice, and this is most easily done by getting the government to do the work for you through political action.
The only minor detail that Affirming Catholics forget is, once anything goes, a church is completely dispensible. All that’s left to do is party, and since this was posted on Mardi Gras, that’s probably the most substantive result of Affirming Catholicism.