Three Streams? - Printable Version

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Three Streams? - DeanZF - 09-02-2009

This is intended to be a series on the streams themselves, expanding on what has been said already, I'm sure.


We talk a lot about three streams and we have labels for them, but what are the streams about and what do those streams bring to the table?

Convergence worship incorporates three distinct flavors of Christendom under one umbrella. It brings the advantages, the concerns, and the pitfalls of all three, but it also brings the standard, scriptural benefit of a three-stranded cord—much more useful and stronger than a single or a double stranded cord could be.

Evangelical Stream

What is being “Evangelical” and how does that express itself? While the label implies an evangelistic bent, that’s not all there is. Think about all of the things that go on in an evangelical congregation. There is often a strong teaching element, usually heavily influenced by scripture and scriptural themes. The need for attention to personal responsibility in the relationship to Messiah is certainly a strength. In worship and praise, hymns have traditionally been a large part of the mix. Like any musical form, hymns can be good, great, ho-hum, or downright non-scriptural. There is a richness in Christian hymnody in areas of theology, doctrine, and even the Christian walk. Yes, there are some pretty schlocky hymns that really don’t support theology, doctrine, or anything but the feel-goods of the faith. When we all get to heaven, when the role is called up yonder, etc. By incorporating the evangelical, we bring the awareness of the need for an intentionality when it comes to salvation, teaching about what it means to be a Christian and walk the Walk, a rich tradition of the use of music for worship, praise, teaching, encouragement, and exhortation.

Charismatic Stream

What does it look like to be Charismatic? This is probably the toughest to define. It’s not enough to “know it when I see it” either. The world uses this word in a very man-centered way. That double meaning has had a lot of unintended consequences. Too many Charismatic congregations have been built by and around charismatic pastor-teachers. That’s probably not fair as there have been many other churches that were really based more on the personality of the leadership or the quality of the music services than on a pure Christian, community ethic. The root of the word in English is charism, from the Greek charis, most often translated as “grace”. The church fathers extended the word’s meaning to particular gifts of the Holy Spirit given as graces to religious communities to distinguish them from each other and from the world, and then it was taken even farther so that “a charism is a gift freely given by God to a person or community, for the good and service of others in bringing about the Kingdom of God.” (vocations.ca) When a new work emerged in the 1960s, the word was stretched again to name and define that work as the Charismatic Movement, a Pentecostal movement within the evangelical and liturgical churches. Typical services were (and are) marked by what were seen as the manifestation or works of the Holy Spirit and included the miraculous, the prophetic acts, and speaking in tongues (glossolalia). There is often a very personal aspect to the ministry in Charismatic services. The prophetic can be either for the assembly or for a single person or family. The miraculous would include many of the gifts of the Spirit outlined in I Corinthians 12.

Sacramental Stream

The third stream is the sacramental or liturgical. The major emphasis in this stream is not the actual liturgy itself, as some would suggest, but the emphasis is the very focus of the liturgy, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. Again, the liturgy is very much a teaching tool, as is hymnody in the evangelical community. Prescribed prayers are recited, portions of Scripture are read and explored. The basics of the liturgy itself are fairly constant, as are the words and actions surrounding the consecration of the elements. That constancy and repetition create a stable means of passing on the essence of the faith that is as significant as the songs sung. People hear the words and often repeat them silently or under their breath, thus participating in the actual rite, involving themselves in the most important sacrament in Christian life.

For hundreds of years, two of the streams have coexisted, sometimes at odds, sometimes with little awareness of the other. There have been hints of the Charismatic stream from the beginning of the church, but usually those hints have been isolated and often ignored. Ecstatic speech, words of wisdom and knowledge, gifts of healing, visions and prophetic utterances are sprinkled through the writings of the church fathers for those with eyes to see. When the Reformation split the church again, there were still hints that the Charismatic stream had not disappeared, but it seemed to have been pretty successfully suppressed. At the turn of the 20th century, there were eruptions of the Charismatic. The Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, CA, a similar event in Topeka, KS, others in Alabama and Florida and what became known as Pentecostalism was born and it was as though the Holy Spirit was again unleashed in the world. Pentecostalism was a pretty good partner for the evangelistic stream. It would take nearly 70 years for the liturgicals to embrace the Charismatic, but they did. Now there were two separate, two-stream expressions of Christianity and there were people (leaders and laity alike) in both streams who knew there was more, but had no idea what that could be. Slowly, Charismatic evangelicals began to crave and seek the sacramental and Charismatic liturgicals began to awaken to revere the evangelical.

For some, the culmination of these amazing things occurs when a group of believers set aside their biases and suspicions to pursue the melding of all three at the same time, as complementary forces, working toward that scriptural three-stranded cord. When a body honors the sacrament of Communion and promotes the need for a personal and integrous walk with Messiah and recognizes that God can and will work sovereignly and powerfully, they discover the strength of God’s three-stranded cord.