To close this series on the “three streams, one river” concept, I would like to explore more closely what the three streams actually look like when fully combined into one river. This work already began when I was examining how they interact with one another in the area of biblical interpretation, in addition to how some of the streams interact with one another in other ways, so I would now like to turn back to the characteristics I explored earlier this week, namely, the one-word banner, the source of authority, the hero image of Jesus, the favorite holiday, the buzzword, and the risk.
The one-word banners I identified for the evangelical, charismatic, and catholic streams are Bible, Spirit, and Truth, respectively. This is perhaps the one most easy to reconcile, because each group is trying to describe the same thing using their respective languages. The Bible is truth. Truth is found in scripture. The Holy Spirit confirms the words of the Bible, never revising them. There may well be multiple ways to combine and unite these three approaches, but I would suggest something like this: “a Spirit-filled tradition that is faithful to the Bible.” The essentials of all three are there.
The source of authority, confessional, unction of the Spirit, and apostolic succession, are also fairly easy to combine. All you need are “apostolic overseers (bishops) anointed by the Holy Spirit who agree in godly teachings.” The challenge lies in the fact that many Catholic churches insist that all their bishops are anointed by the Holy Spirit by virtue of the sacrament of ordination, and are in agreement with sound doctrine by virtue of their education. Yet we know that bad bishops exist, so clearly one or both of the other two requirements went wrong. Another issue here is that this synthesis makes it sound like a complete concession to the catholic stream. Well, yes, there is, but we’ve got to remember that the idea is to unite the three streams, not trim them down and only stick some of the pieces together. Rather, what we need to focus on is the three-fold focus of authority: conformity to sound doctrine from the evangelical stream, real calling and empowerment from the Holy Spirit, and recognition from the continuous historic episcopate.
Thirdly, there is the question of how a unified three-streams-one-river church would look to the ministry of Jesus. To put it simply, rather than looking at mainly just his teaching and preaching, or his prophesying and healing, or his priest ministry, we should look at the combination of all three. This means that when we identify “heroes” in the Church, or look up to others as good examples, we should keep in mind that the various functions are merely functions of a greater whole. A good verse along these lines is from John 14, when Jesus tells his disciples that they’ll do “even greater works than these.” Rather than seeing ourselves as imitating Christ in some particular way, we should see the Church’s ministry as an extension and continuation and enlargement of what Jesus began!
What about the Church’s favorite holiday? Could it be the evangelical stream’s Triduum, because the death & resurrection of Jesus makes all this possible? Could it be Pentecost, because that’s the Church’s birthday? Could it be Christmas because the incarnation is how we continue Christ’s ministry in this age? One answer might be to say “the whole calendar!” But it’s impossible to get excited about everything all at once; there’s too much to focus on; God is too big; the Church is too big; the Bible is too big. Another easy answer might be “forget the calendar!” But that’s more in the spirit of trimming down than building together. I’d argue that the holiday we could best unite around is The Day of the Lord, otherwise known as Judgment Day, when Christ returns. That is, after all, what we’re all working toward. Even that’s kind of a cop-out because there is no actual “Second Coming Day” in the calendar. Christ the King Sunday, right before Advent, though, is an excellent candidate for the job.
What about a buzzword? Well, there already is a buzz-verse for Church unity (ecumenical) movements, taken from Ephesians 4. “There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” We all believe this already, we all try to realize it in our local churches, and many Christians are already trying to make it happen on a larger scale. There are other passages in the Bible that speak powerfully to the subject of Church unity, such as the entire 17th chapter of the gospel of John, but I think this bit from Ephesians 4 is the most catchy popular one already.
Lastly, when looking at the characteristics of each stream, I addressed the biggest risk each stream faced whenever it was isolated. But the whole point of the three streams one river concept is that the Church will be whole and healthy again, and there are no risks inherent in health itself. Sure, there’s the fact that the Church is full of people who sin, but that’s a fault in the membership, not the system itself. Admittedly, a perfectly balanced and reunited three-streams-one-river church isn’t likely to be realized before Jesus returns, but nevertheless there is a powerful statement by Jesus (in Matthew 16:18) about the Church in its ideal state: “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” What a promise!