The Balanced Walk: The Sacramental Life
by Natalie LaValley
In my exploration of the previous four streams of Christianity, I’ve described some of their corresponding disciplines for spiritual growth. That assumes a starting point. It may be difficult to identify an exact moment when you became interested in spiritual matters. It may have started with a tragic experience that left you grasping for more, or you might have grown up in a Christian family and experienced gradual change.
However or whenever you came to follow Christ, the Bible indicates that there is a key transition from “the dominion of darkness” to “the kingdom of the Son” (Col. 1:13). It does not necessarily mean we can point to a precise moment when we believed. But our transition from spiritual death to life occurs when we come to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection – and nothing else – pays for our sins (John 3:16-18; Rom. 10:9).
When we are “born again,” the Holy Spirit enters us. In that moment, a transformation occurs in which Christ cleanses us of sin and presents us as righteous to His Father. At the same time, however, we do not yet perfectly reflect the image of Christ. From that point on, we enter the process of spiritual growth.
The evangelical stream recognizes the staggering importance of the decision to trust in Christ alone for salvation. As a result, the evangelical disciplines focus on clearly presenting the message of the gospel to everyone. It also emphasizes having a correct understanding of the Bible.
From a spiritual discipline perspective, the Holy Spirit can use our careful and consistent reading of the Bible to develop the evangelical emphasis. We can easily fall into the habit of superficial or purely academic involvement with Scripture, and thus the writer of Hebrews points out:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
In other words, we are not commanded to simply master the topics of the Bible. We are to engage in the Word in such a way that its living truth masters our thoughts, perspectives, and actions. The disciplines of Scripture reading, meditation, reflection and memorization powerfully help us to base our lives on truth.
Jesus and the Evangelical Stream
Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the good shepherd,” and “I am the resurrection and the life.” He is God’s gift that we receive through faith, the one and only path to the Father.
Jesus is the Word of God living among us in the flesh, as John tells us in John 1. He is the good news of the Kingdom, which He not only proclaims but also demonstrates. Some people, such as Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman, received the good news for themselves and entered into the Kingdom. Others like Judas, the rich young ruler, and many of the religious rulers held back.
Jesus then commanded His followers to proclaim and demonstrate the good news. While people commonly think of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) as Jesus commanding His followers to “go” and to “make disciples,” this is a misunderstanding. The form of the verb translated as “go” is not that of a command but rather of something that has already been happening and will continue to happen. So a better understanding of it would be, “as you are going, make disciples of nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey . . . .” The command and emphasis is not to “go” but to “make disciples.” Part of making disciples includes baptizing and teaching. With Jesus as our model, the evangelical stream emphasizes how we are to also proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom as we go through our lives, whether we go overseas or not.
Example from History
During the late Middle Ages, some church leaders began to distort the Gospel message for profit, a temptation that Satan loves to use to try to disgrace many different churches even today. In the sixteenth century, biblical scholars such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, through study of the Word, proclaimed the gospel of salvation by grace and through faith alone. They helped lay people to understand that they did not need to spend their earnings on indulgences or other such things to earn eternal life.
The evangelical stream comprises three themes.
The faithful proclamation of the gospel, which is the good news of personal redemption through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus invites us all into a relationship, and when we receive it, He gives us the responsibility and honor to share the good news with others.
Scripture is a faithful container of the gospel. Scripture takes precedence over personal experience, dreams, visions, and traditions.
The New Testament, especially the epistles and later the early church councils, set forth the essential doctrine of the Christian faith.
A Word of Caution
Before we move on to the sixth stream of Christianity, a word of advice and encouragement to learn from others is important. The divergence of the six streams throughout church history has resulted not only to opposition between streams but also different “currents” within individual streams. In history, Christians have even resorted to killing other Christians for practicing a different stream. Our own hostility may not go that far, but that doesn’t mean it does not exist.
Have you ever wondered which “definition” of Christianity is correct? If you have much experience in churches, you likely picked up the idea that there is a “right” and “wrong” answer to every question, even ones about non-essential doctrine. Especially if you grew up in church, it’s easy to pick up the idea that there are many different kinds of Christians, but yours is the best, and when you all get to Heaven, everyone else will see that you were right all along. But do you actually think that when we all get together in paradise, God is going to give one group a “Defenders of Truth” trophy, while shaking His head sadly at everyone else?
What if, instead, we all practiced Christ’s virtue of humility? If we are to become like the multifaceted Christ, we need to admit that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We can endeavor to be like a tree with roots drawing water from all of these streams so we can more fully flourish.
Of course, some doctrinal issues are essential, but myriads more are non-essential and varying in importance. The evangelical theme, to clarify, is not the only stream that affirms that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus alone; rather, it is the stream that emphasizes teaching this message as part of our post-salvation spiritual walks. These six streams are not differences of essential doctrine but different ways of conforming ourselves to the image of Christ. If we focus on only a couple aspects, we miss other important ways of reflecting Him.