A fireplace exists to hold a fire. Without fire, a fireplace merely becomes a cold ornamental shell. Likewise, fire without a fireplace, can easily become wildfire having no container.
The Anglican tradition is kind of like a fireplace that is meant to provide a structure or a foundation for a lively faith that allows us to be open to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In this article, I want to argue that Anglicanism is kind of like a fire place that needs the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The Fire of the Holy Spirit
The Spirit played an important role in the life and ministry of the early church, and one cannot possibly understand the explosive growth of the New Testament church without first understanding the important role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit plays the initiatory role in personal salvation, spiritual formation, and the general spread of the gospel. Without Him, it is impossible for individuals or the church to grow in Christ. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has a distinct contribution to make to the contemporary church.
The work of the Holy Spirit in the church is nothing new. As we scan the pages of church history, we see the Holy Spirit present and working in every era of the church. The Spirit has been in continuous operation since the time of the Old and New Testaments, which is sometimes called a “continuationist” perspective.
In contrast, some people today believe that the work of the Holy Spirit ceased with the time of the apostles, but church history seems to tell a different story.
The early church fathers such as Justin Martyr (approx. 100–165 AD), Irenaeus (approx. 120–202 AD), and Tertullian (d. 225 AD) all tell of miracles and spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit and refer to them as a regular practice in the life and ministry of the early church. Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in the eighth century, conveys a history of the Christian churches in England and records numerous accounts of miracles and healings.
The Anglican tradition helped to usher in the charismatic movement in North America and the British Isles. In 1960, Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett announced from the pulpit of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, that he had been filled with the Holy Spirit. This set off a spark that ignited the charismatic renewal in many mainline churches across North America. Around the same time, Michel Harper, a minister at All Souls-Langham Place in London, had a similar experience and became one of the primary leaders of the charismatic movement in the Church of England. The impact of these revivals, and similar ones that followed, continues today.
One of the greatest influences upon the growth of Christianity in Africa came in the form of the East African Revival. The East African Revival originated in the 1930s and influenced Christianity in East Central Africa and around the globe. This movement swept throughout the African nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Congo, and transformed the lives of millions of people with the power of the gospel and the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Today, one of the largest charismatic churches in England is Holy Trinity Brompton, located in the heart of London. Holy Trinity Brompton is best known for the Alpha Course, which has been used in dozens of countries, hundreds of denominations, and has helped introduced millions of people to Christ.
Three Streams, One River
Anglicanism is a rich tradition that provides a balanced faith that brings together the best of the Christian traditions in what is commonly called “the three streams.” Just like a diamond, the Christian life has multiple dimensions or facets. Commenting on this convergence of faith, Archbishop Foley Beach said,
“The Anglican Church is a unique mixture of the evangelical, catholic, and charismatic Christian traditions. We sometimes call these traditions the ‘three streams’ of the one Christian river.”
Today you can find the three streams alive and well across the Anglican world especially in areas where Anglicanism is growing in the Global South. The Charismatic dimension is an important stream within Anglicanism, which reminds us of the importance of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
One example of a new church that is embracing the three streams is Trinity Anglican in Atlanta, Georgia. Trinity is reaching hundreds of young adults in their twenties and thirties by engaging in ancient forms of liturgical worship and prayer. Trinity started a few years ago as a charismatic Vineyard church. Their spiritual journey eventually led them to become an Anglican church that embraces charismatic, evangelical, and sacramental dimensions of the Christian faith.
Trinity has become one of the fastest growing Anglican church in North America. They describe themselves as being “liturgical” and valuing the longevity of historic tradition, the rhythms of the church calendar, the consistency of a lectionary-based teaching plan, and having a connection to the global church. They considers itself a three-streams church. According to their website,
At Trinity, we reflect a “three streams” approach to worship. It is our conviction that this approach encourages humility, maturity, and a healthy appreciation for diversity. . . . When we say that we are “evangelical” we mean that we take seriously God’s command to speak about and live like Jesus. We preach and teach from the Bible because we believe it is the inspired word of God, and our desire is for all people to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus. . . . When we say that we are “liturgical” we mean that we value the longevity of historic tradition, the rhythms of the church calendar, the consistency of a lectionary based teaching plan, and our connection to the global church. . . . When we say that we are “charismatic” we mean that we believe God is present and active among His people. We anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church for the conviction of sin, the illumination of truth, and the restoration of all things.
The three streams are especially relevant today because the charismatic, evangelical, and sacramental dimensions of the faith belong together. Each stream is a gift to the body of Christ and belongs to all of us. In Anglicanism, one finds a place to live out these three diverse dimensions of the faith.
When the three dimensions are woven together, they offer us a balanced model for the Christian life and practice. Walking this balance isn’t always easy. In the words of former professor at Trinity School for Ministry, Rev. Dr. Les Fairfield:
Fellowship among the three historic strands of Anglicanism has often been difficult. Protestants initially abhorred the “ritualism” of the 19th century Anglo-Catholics. Both streams questioned the “enthusiasm” of the 20th century Pentecostal revival. But each stream has challenged the others in their weak points and blind spots. The Protestant movement recalled the 16th century church to the primacy of the Word—written, read, preached, inwardly digested. The 18th century Holiness movement reminded the church of God’s love for the poor. The Anglo-Catholic movement re-grounded the church in the sacramental life of worship. All three strands are grounded in the gospel. Each one extrapolates the gospel in a specific direction. No strand is dispensable. Other Christian bodies have often taken one strand to an extreme. By God’s grace, the Anglican tradition has held the streams in creative tension. This miracle of unity is a treasure worth keeping.
The three streams of Anglicanism remind us that not everyone looks, acts, or thinks alike. Anglican churches come in all shapes and sizes and are very diverse; ranging from Anglo-Catholics who are more high church, employing a more ceremonial and expanded liturgy, to Evangelical Anglicans who are typically more low church, employing fewer ceremonial practices.
Regardless of worship styles, Anglicans are united in the essential “catholic” doctrines of the Christian faith and through the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The three streams approach has much to offer the church as a pathway toward unity. It can unify Christians as the Spirit works to bring us together (Rom. 15:5–6; Eph. 4:3), and God seems to be using the three streams to bring Christians from various backgrounds and traditions together in worship and mission.
In my work for Asbury Theological Seminary, I am privileged to travel widely across the church landscape, and I have a chance to experience the Spirit’s work firsthand in different churches and denominations. The charismatic movement has been a spark bringing heat and light to the ecumenical movement, and it has helped bring unity to churches from various backgrounds, especially liturgical and non-liturgical churches.
In a thought-provoking article, theologian Dale Coulter suggests that the three streams can form a bridge into the future for the church:
The real theological question is whether the sacramental and the charismatic can come together. I think they can because they need each other, and therefore I have hope for the future of global Christianity.
I believe that they can and do in Anglicanism. Anglican Theologian J.I. Packer implores us to “practice fellowship across the traditions, for the Holy Spirit has been with all God’s people in all traditions in all centuries.” For Anglicans, uniting the charismatic with the historical is a means of uniting with other believers in a shared spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit.
As we have seen, the Spirit has been moving in the lives of individuals for centuries. Great men and women of the faith have done extraordinary things when they encounter the power of the God’s Spirit, and the richness of the three streams reminds us that we, too, can experience this spiritual renewal for ourselves and in our churches.
Is the Holy Spirit still active today? Does he still touch and transform people who diligently seek him? The witness of the three streams movement is a resounding yes!
The three streams of Anglicanism remind us that the Holy Spirit is real and wants to bring us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us live for him and to empower us to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. Jesus promises that we “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8, NKJV). But while Jesus has promised the power, we must ask for it!
Open and Discerning
There is a growing number of Anglicans who consider themselves “open but cautious” as it relates to the spiritual gifts. Personally, I consider myself “Charismatic with a seatbelt.”
Are we open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our life or our church? We need to be both open and discerning. Many people are either open and not discerning or discerning and not open. Perhaps the reason the Holy Spirit doesn’t do more in our churches is because we don’t expect or even want Him to.
I want to conclude this with a call for us to invite the Spirit to have His way in our lives, our homes, and our churches. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “We should always be open, in mind and in heart, to anything that the Spirit of God may choose to do in his sovereignty.”
Let’s not be afraid of putting the fire back in the fire place of Anglicanism.
Winfield Bevins is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary. He frequently speaks at conferences on a variety of topics and is a regular adjunct professor at several seminaries. As an author, one of his passions is to help others connect to the roots of the Christian faith for spiritual formation and mission. His latest book, Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation examines young adults who have embraced Christian liturgy and how it has impacted their lives. He and his wife Kay have three beautiful girls Elizabeth, Anna Belle, and Caroline and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky. You can find out more about him at his website, www.winfieldbevins.com.