This is a summary of Fr. Jürgen’s last three sermons as Rector at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church. Recordings of these sermons can be be found at CtR’s website in three parts: first, second, and third.
Early on in his ministry as an Episcopal Priest, Fr. Jürgen caught the vision from others of a “three streams church.” That is, one that is fully catholic, fully charismatic, and fully evangelical. Many churches, on the local and denomination levels, tend to fit into just one or sometimes two of these streams, but what would it look like if all three really came together ecumenically? On a basic level, the evangelical stream emphasizes the commitment to the biblical Gospel, the charismatic stream emphasizes the commitment to the experience of the Holy Spirit, and the catholic stream emphasizes the commitment to the historical faith of the Church, but before we begin to piece these together, each stream needs to be explored more carefully on its own first.
The Evangelical Stream
Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15
The underlying focus of the evangelical stream is the proclamation of the gospel – Christianity is good news! Out of this come three major contributions to authentic Christianity: an emphasis on decision, a serious approach to the Great Commission, and the primacy of Scripture.
In focusing on the proclamation of the gospel, as the above-quoted verses from Mark state, repentance is a key event in the life of every Christian. Jürgen refers to this as a “religion of decision.” Oftentimes, when churches grow cold to the faith, it’s because the realization of this individual call to commitment to follow Christ has waned. Evangelicalism keeps the importance of this reality alive in the hearts and minds of the Christian.
Alongside this call to repentance and decision to follow Christ is also the “evangelistic mandate” or “great commission.” Not only do Christians need to remember their commitments to Christ, but non-Christians need to hear the good news and repent too! At its best, evangelicalism informs the world that Christianity is good news – forgiveness, freedom, hope, love – and not just another religion of rules and restrictions. The Church was meant to grow, and evangelicalism takes that call very seriously.
Finally, the evangelical stream also emphasizes the importance of the Bible in the life and authority of the Church. Its very name – evangelical – derives from the proclamation of the gospel, which is the overarching message of the Bible. More directly than the other two streams, evangelicalism clings to the truths that the Bible is the word of God, and contains all things necessary to salvation.
The Charismatic Stream
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
The charismatic stream feels historically newer to many people, because of the nature of the modern movement that started around the events at Azusa Street in the early 1900’s. To get a better sense of the historic movement of the charismatic stream, consider this quote from Leslie Newbigin:
Catholicism & Protestantism, however deeply they have differed from one another have been… laying a big stress on that in the Christian religion which is given and upholden. Catholicism has laid its primary stress on the given structure; Protestantism on the given message. It is necessary, however, to recognize there is a third stream… its central element is the conviction that the Christian life is a matter of the experience and power and presence of the Holy Spirit…
Jumping off from the “great commission” element in the evangelical stream, the charismatic stream’s primary focus is the empowerment to carry out Christ’s mission (see also the above verse from Acts 1). This empowerment brings forth three important elements of Christianity: immersion into supernatural reality, realizing the ministry of every member of the Body of Christ, and bringing together the Church in greater unity.
One of the trends of Western thought ever since the Enlightenment is this process of demythologization. In other words, everything historically accounted as supernatural is either written off as mere fantasy, or re-explained in scientific terms. There is no room for miracles in the modern worldview. The charismatic stream of Christianity, however, most vividly keeps alive this belief in the supernatural. Be it through special charismatic spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues or healing, or other signs and wonders, charismatic Christianity keeps us very much in touch with God’s power beyond the physical world. Furthermore, this realization is also a vital ingredient in keeping the Church herself alive. As an East Orthodox priest, Ignatius of Laodicea, once put it:
Without the Holy Spirit, God is distant, Christ is merely an historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organisation, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labour. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the labour of Christians is divinised.
Secondly, the focus on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit puts all Christians on the same level of potential. Spiritual gifts are not dependent upon our competence or skill or rank or even our maturity, as is evident from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. From this stream, then, we see a great equalizing force that allows every Christian to participate in the mission of the Church in some way, countering the damaging effects that clericalism sometimes has.
This equalizing force also contributes to the unity of the Church in a special way. The unction of the Holy Spirit is poured out on people without regard for gender, social status, class, or ethnicity. In this instance, “there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” Even on the larger scale, when the Charismatic Renewal swept the world, it was not limited to a particular set of Pentecostal denominations, but it touched every denomination – Protestant & Catholic alike! And although practical reunion of estranged denominations has not taken place, charismatic ministries and gatherings have been a common ground where different denominations have been able to come together.
The Catholic Stream
“Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” – I Corinthians 9:16
The catholic stream of Christianity focuses on the essential deposit of faith. The word “catholic” itself comes from Greek, κατα ολος, and means “according to the whole.” Its earliest use in Christian literature was to distinguish the worldwide Church from the local church, and over time it also came to be used to distinguish orthodox Christianity from the many heresies that arose in the days of the Early Church. As the above quote from Paul suggests, the catholic stream is concerned about preserving what has been believed by all Christians at all times in all places, and keeping out that which is inconsistent with the timeless truth of the gospel. It is in that sense that word “tradition” comes into play. For although Jesus himself did condemn bad traditions, Paul also took great care to make sure good tradition was preserved. In 2 Thess. 2:15, Paul wrote to “hold firm to the traditions taught by us.” In I Cor. 11:23 Paul wrote “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…” There, “delivered” is really the verb form of the word that means “tradition.” Tradition, literally, is something that is “handed down.” G. K. Chesterton provides an excellent explanation of this concept:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all our classes – our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around today. We will have the dead at our councils.
In particular, Fr. Jürgen named three major traditions that the catholic stream especially contributes to the Christian faith. The first of these is the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is the central act of Christian worship, the realization of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection for us, and has been the heart of Christian religious life since the beginning, such that even in the scriptures there is a great deal of Eucharistic language and teaching. Although virtually every denomination practices the Lord’s Supper, most of them divest it of most of its layers of meaning, and don’t acknowledge its power and role as a Sacrament. The catholic stream, particularly the East Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran groups, represent the historic faith and teaching on this Sacrament.
A second major tradition identified is that of the creeds (namely the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed). Again, many denominations acknowledge the usefulness of these creeds and some even use them in worship settings. But what the catholic stream upholds is the tradition of using the creeds as the right interpretation of Scripture. While the primacy of Scripture is important, the Bible can be reinterpreted in a seemingly endless number of ways, and so the creeds provide a necessary baseline for a right interpretation of Scripture.
The third tradition that Fr. Jürgen named is that of Holy Orders. Jesus gave authority to his twelve (well, eleven surviving) disciples, and they took care replace Judas after his betrayal and death. And as much of the New Testament follows Paul’s missionary work, we can see him raising up leaders, passing on authority, and setting out some basic requirements for choosing good and worthy bishops in the Church. These holy orders provide for Christianity precisely what they say: holy order. Without recognized leadership there is disorder and chaos – everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The opposite of anarchy, then, is hierarchy.
“And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes… And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” – Ezekiel 47:9, 12
After looking at these three streams separately, Fr. Jürgen pointed out that they were not meant to be separate streams, but one river. Each stream by itself can be quite dangerous! Evangelicalism on its own teeters on the edge of dead biblical literalism, dry and empty teaching, faith without works, and a myriad of individual interpretations of the Bible. Charismatic Christianity on its own runs into problems with emotionalism (equating spiritual health with how excited we are in the moment) and subjectivism (staking our faith in the shifting sands of personal experience rather than the solid rock of truth). Catholic Christianity on its own runs the risk of dead & empty tradition. As Yaroslav Pelikan put it,
Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
But together, these streams inform and enliven one another. Fr. Jürgen reported that a fisherman once told him that where streams join together into one, that’s where the most fish can be found! Just as there’s a refreshment when different streams come together, or an increase of potential when two people work together, so too is the Church greatly deepened when her three streams are brought back together as one. Evangelicalism is empowered by the charismatic stream and kept from running amuk by the catholic. The charismatic stream is given a sure grounding in the evangelical tradition and guide from the catholic. The catholic stream is kept accountable to the Bible by the evangelical stream and accountable to the people by the charismatic stream.
This unity of the three streams is not just important for the life of the Church within herself, but also for the function of the Church in the world around her. Towards the end of Ezekiel’s visions is a vision of the heavenly Temple with a river of life pouring out, symbolizing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these last days. Quite literally this depicts the role of the Church as the Spirit’s instrument for bringing life to the dead parts of the world and for nourishing that which will provide life and healing for eternity. When our three streams of Christianity – evangelical, charismatic, and catholic – flow together as one, the life-giving power of the Church is undeniable. It has been Fr. Jürgen’s mission for nearly 40 years to build up his local churches according to this vision of unity. If this is truly God’s desire for His Bride, let us all pursue this conjoining of streams with equal vigor and dedication.