In my original article about the the three streams, Fr. Jürgen argued that almost every local church is primarily in one stream, and occasionally you’ll find one representing two streams, but I’d argue that there’s a bit more intermixing than that. Much of this stems from my earlier reflections about how it can be misleading to associate these three streams too closely with modern American Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and Roman Catholicism, respectively. The three streams are named after them, but only in very general terms. All told, I’ve got seven clarifications that I’d like to expound.
The evangelical stream’s commitment to scripture
is shared by all denominations.
Of course, this may be a point of argument. Different groups of Christians define the authority of the Bible in different ways. Evangelicalism today has extensive definitions of biblical inerrancy that may seem overly elaborate to the Roman Catholic Church, for example. But at the end of the day, all authentic Christians uphold the Bible as the primary source for their faith, regardless of their interpretive methods.
The evangelical stream’s focus on preaching the gospel
is picked up in most charismatic churches.
The Pentecostal movement starting in the early 20th century wasn’t just an inward-focused revolution of Christians seeking new levels of holiness (although that was part of the movement’s agenda). It was also highly evangelistic, as evidenced by the fact that there are hundreds of millions of charismatic Christians across the globe barely 100 years later. Clearly they inherited the evangelical stream’s priority for sharing the gospel. In this particular sense, it’s fair to classify Pentecostalism as a form of Protestantism even though it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to classify them separately.
Charismatic stream’s contributions of individual spiritual gifts
and equality has vastly intermixed with evangelicalism.
Complementing the previous point, the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century has also had two or three waves which swept back into the classic Protestant denominations, carrying with it a sharper focus on the power and meaning of the individual Christian within the Church. This has been aided with Western individualist culture, arguably to an extreme, but the charismatic stream’s contribution of realizing the value of individual spiritual gifts has definitely made a comeback in most Evangelical churches by now. And besides, the evangelical stream’s focus on the need for personal repentance and commitment to Christ made it pretty compatible with this aspect of the charismatic stream, anyway.
The charismatic renewal has brought a new-found appreciation
for the miraculous in evangelical & catholic churches alike.
On a similar note to the previous point, the charismatic stream’s immersion in the supernatural has also left its mark in current Evangelicalism and Catholicism. To be fair, I say this only in terms of recent history, for Protestant and Catholic theology alike had been plagued by ‘modernist theology’ for a couple centuries, creating increased doubt in the supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit in the present age. But earlier in history, the Protestant and (especially) Catholic churches were very much aware of the supernatural power of the Spirit, through the sacraments as well as through other miracles from time to time.
Evangelical & charismatic streams have developed their own traditions.
The catholic stream’s contribution of providing a tradition in which to receive and interpret the biblical faith has been copied by Protestants and Pentecostals alike. In general, they’ve looked primarily at the history of their own denominations or movements, and received their doctrines accordingly. Although this can make for authentic living traditions just like the catholic stream offers, it is not on the same historic scale as the catholic stream’s tradition. But the fact that the other streams naturally develop their own traditions is a sign, I think, of the necessity to embrace tradition on purpose rather than by implication, because we ought to face up to the foundations of how we interpret the Bible, and who does and does not inform us in that process.
The catholic stream’s emphasis on the creeds
as the center of a “right interpretation of scripture”
is largely intact in the evangelical and charismatic streams.
This statement also may start a lot of arguments. There are lots of denominations and church groups (among some Protestants and especially non-denominational churches) who claim “no creed but the Bible.” They can repeat that until they’re blue in the face, but when it comes down to it, “no creed but the Bible” is itself a creed. And, if they were to be honest, they pretty much affirm everything in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed anyway. It may not be “official” for them, but unofficially, it’s still affirmed. Granted, there are many theological questions not touched by those creeds, but the unity preserved in what they do say is profound. In that light, it’s my opinion that those who claim “no creed but the Bible” but still believe what the creeds say should just admit it and explicitly teach from them, because of their powerful unifying roles.
Anglicanism has held the catholic and evangelical streams in tension since the Reformation, and is recapturing the charismatic in varying degrees.
The degree to which “catholic” tradition is upheld in Anglicanism varies to a wide degree, but the bare bones of the catholic stream remain: celebration of the Eucharist, central role of the Creeds, and apostolic succession. At the same time, the evangelical stream has been enforced by the content of the Prayerbook (particularly in its emphasis upon the gospel by shoving aside some of the more potentially ‘distracting’ traditions) and the 39 Articles (by clearly stating that the Bible contains “all things necessary for salvation”). And, as already pointed out, the charismatic stream has made its mark in Anglicanism along with the Catholic and Protestant groups. This is not to say that all Anglican churches are balanced three-stream churches, but within Anglicanism as a whole, all three can be found somewhere.
In light of these seven clarifications, I think it’s safe to say that every Christian church is a three-streams church in some sense – there are at least trickles of each stream. Authentic Catholicism and Evangelicalism are reliant upon the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Catholicism and Pentecostalism are founded on the biblical gospel, just as Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism affirm the same basic credal doctrines as the Catholic churches. Certainly, most individual churches have their one or two favorites, but these three streams are not the sole property of the denominational groups they’re named after!