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By Chuck Collins
September 29, 2021

THREE STREAMS is a recent and dangerous idea in Anglicanism. How can something that was first proposed in 1954 (by Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God) be descriptive of what Anglicans believe? The idea that equal respect be given to catholic, evangelical and Pentecostal streams is not even hinted at in the historic Anglican formularies, the Book of Common Prayer, or by Anglican divines?

Such a notion does violence to the founding (sola Scriptura) conviction that Holy Scripture is the primary authority of Church of England theology and practice. I even wonder if the three-streams-creep into popularity and the modern-day church, into our seminaries and uncritical collective thinking, is the primary cause for the sad divisions in worldwide Anglicanism today.

William J. Seymore arrived in Los Angeles in 1906 to found what would be called modern-day Pentecostalism. To be sure, there were other "Pentecostal" outbreaks prior to Seymore, but they would never be normative in the life of the church as three-streams suggests. Pastor William first taught in his living room and them in a rented hall on Azusa Street that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a necessary post-conversion experience that is evidenced by speaking in tongues and prophesy. The Azusa Street Mission was a three-year-long revival that focused on publicly confessing of sins, performing signs and wonders, and especially the practice of speaking in tongues and prophesy.

Christianity that depends on the subjective "experiencing God," and less on Holy Scripture, always devolves into a cult. Eventually Seymour taught that he would never die (he died September 28, 1922) and his congregation dwindled when they fell into anti-Trinitarian heresy. Pentecostalism as a separate stream in the Episcopal Church traces back to this early 20th century revival with threads running into our own day. Such Anglican leaders as Michael Harper, David Watson, Dennis Bennett, Terry Fullam (a friend), and David and Mary Pytches are linked to the Charismatic renewal in Anglican and Episcopal churches.

This has me wondering: what would happen in the Anglican Church here and around the world if we were to rediscover and reinvest in the creedal and confessional convictions that historically have defined our faith: the historic formularies of Reformation Anglicanism that recognize the primary authority of Holy Scripture and common consensual Christianity (catholic Christianity) that was so important to the English reformers?

Certainly, there will be room for transformative experiences with the Holy Spirit, not as a separate "stream," but because the Bible teaches such a vital relationship with the third Person of the Holy Trinity. And, certainly, there will be room in Anglicanism for some Catholic practices and traditions that do not conflict with the Bible, not as a separate and equal stream, but because the Bible teaches and encourages worship in the "beauty of holiness" and church order.

It must be true that the church that stands for nothing will fall for anything. Historic Anglicanism began long before 1954 and 1906, long before the 16th century Reformation, all the way back to the apostles. We affirm every Sunday that "We believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," not a new three-streams invention that only serves to muddy the waters of our Anglican heritage.

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