What are the beliefs or focuses of a Convergent Church?
Those who are being drawn by the Lord into this convergence of streams are characterized by several common elements. While these are not exhaustive or in any order of importance, they seem to form the basis for the focus and direction of the Convergence Movement.
1. A restored commitment to the sacraments, especially The Lord’s Table.
Those from the Evangelical and Charismatic streams of the church have not really emphasized the sacramental dimension of the church. In fact, for some churches, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion have been seen more as ordinances than sacraments – commands by the Lord that must be undertaken by the church, but for no other purpose than that of obedience.
From a more sacramental view, these two expressions of church life are seen as holy and sacred unto the Lord, a symbol with true spiritual meaning used as a point of contact between man and God. The Lord’s presence and power is released in these acts as the worshiper encounters Him through the elements.
2. An increased appetite to know more about the early church.
For many Christians, a vacuum has existed between the pages of the New Testament and the contemporary church. This has left a disconnected Body with no historic heritage. Like a boat adrift, the church can no longer explain who she is, where she came from, or why she exists. A recent shift in perspective has sent her searching for her roots, in order to find a common connection to the greater whole in God’s Kingdom. Studying the early church has given many an opportunity to see New Testament church principles being applied by those who were discipled by the Twelve, and their subsequent followers. These writings provide a window into an earlier time, explaining how the early church approached faith and practice, how they worshipped, and how they gave leadership to a growing movement. The bloodline of the Body of Christ can be traced through succeeding generations – seeing both the successes and failure in faith.
3. A love and embrace for the whole church, and a desire to see the church as one.The various expressions of Christianity have remained very distinct for many years through sectarianism and denominational separatism.
Convergence churches are looking beyond these artificial barriers to encourage, appreciate, and learn more about the uniquenesses found in the various bodies of faith. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was for the church to become one… one as the Body of Christ, not through compromise of doctrine and dogma, but unity under the person of Jesus Christ – unity among our diversity. This sense of oneness does not require any church to dismiss their unique expression as Christ’s Body, but calls them to appreciate and embrace the variety and beauty of the church worldwide and throughout history.
Convergence churches seem to appreciate the investment that the various streams of the Church provide. The call of CM churches is “be one,” move together in portraying a people united under Christ to reach a hurting world.
4. The blending in the practices of all three streams is evident, yet each church approaches convergence from different bases of emphasis.
A church does not necessarily have to change its identity when it becomes a part of a convergence movement. Most convergence churches have a dominant base — one particular expression of’ the church that regulates the others. They can still look very Episcopal an, Orthodox, Baptist, Nazarene, independent Charismatic, etc. while expressing additional elements of worship and ministry from other streams.
With each church having a primary base, three different types of convergence churches seem to be most common today: blended churches, inclusion churches, and network churches. Blended churches have maintained their original identity, denominational connection and distinctive theologically. From this base they then are adding elements from the other two streams in their worship and ministry practices. While most common among Liturgical/Sacramental churches, blended churches are found in Evangelical and Charismatic streams as well.
Inclusion churches are those that have gone through a metamorphosis in becoming involved in the convergence. Primarily from Charismatic or Evangelical backgrounds, these churches have found themselves so closely identifying with another stream of the Church that they have re-aligned themselves and many have even become a part of Liturgical/Sacramental denominations. Networked churches are independent churches who have become a part of the CM and have left their former associations but have chosen to remain independent. Their connections are based on strong relationships with other like-minded churches. Most of those who are networked churches have come out of the Charismatic stream.
5. An interest in integrating more structure with spontaneity in worship.
As God’s Spirit continues to move powerfully in the world, new wineskins (or structure) are required to contain the power and potential of His new wine. While most Christian futurists expected these new wineskins to be composed of more open and spontaneous churches with a de-emphasized structure, the spirit of independence present, especially in North American Christians, underlines the impression that this would be like pouring wine into a fish net.
God’s holy fire is now being kindled in furnaces of faith where structures such as liturgical forms are allowing power to be imparted in churches without the fear of moving into error. Liturgies are being reintroduced into the church in order to bring a balance in worship among all the elements Scripture reveals as necessary for worshipping God in spirit and truth. The word “liturgy” literally means the “work of the people.” Through the implementation of liturgical elements, worship becomes the work of the body in praise, repentance, the hearing of the Word, and the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. Within these forms room can always be found for spontaneous moves of the Spirit. The historic creeds of the church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed – are once again giving the Body of Christ the foundational roots of orthodoxy. The Book of Common Prayer and other liturgical resources are also being blended with spontaneous praise and worship in convergence churches. The Lord’s table is being celebrated with a greater understanding of the sacredness of the event, and churches are following the Christian year and church calendar more consistently as a means of taking their people on an annual journey of faith. All of these expressions give local fellowships a greater sense of connection with the church worldwide and the church through history.
6. A greater involvement of sign and symbol in worship through banners, crosses, Christian art and clerical vestments.
The contemporary church has begun to reclaim the arts for Christ. In this move, the use of sign and symbol serves as a representative of a greater truth. While banners and pageantry have found a new place in the church, other symbols are showing up as well, as contact points for bringing together two realities: the outward sign or symbol and the inward or spiritual reality. Crosses and candles now adorn processionals in some churches that for years had felt pageantry would be a signature of the death of vital faith.
Some pastors are now wearing clerical collars and vestments in various services, worship settings and celebrations of the church. The collar serves as a sign of spiritual reality in being yoked with Christ, identifying with and speaking to the church as a whole, prophetically saying, “Be one!”
7. A continuing commitment to personal salvation, Biblical teaching, and to the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Some who watch this “new direction” from the Evangelical or Charismatic sidelines are still skeptical. They are concerned that convergence churches are abandoning their heritage, and that the value of Biblical infallibility and personal conversion will be lost or compromised in the pursuit of the liturgical/sacramental side of the church. Often, this concern arises out of negative prior personal experiences with certain expressions of the church or an inaccurate. Those watching from the liturgical / sacramental side are usually as concerned about their churches embracing more conservative or fundamental expressions of faith and practice.
This movement is definitely not the abandonment of a stream but a convergence. The work of God is inclusive not exclusive, bringing forth from each tributary those things which He has authenticated. Such issues as evangelism, missions, and the work of ministry by the power of the Spirit remain intact in this journey. His power continues to be released in marvelous ways in people’s lives, bringing about conversion, healing, release from bondages, and life change.
The Church’s rich and vital Biblical heritage in the power and primacy of the Word has been more completely undergirded as churches give more time in worship to the corporate reading of the Bible. This fulfills Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and teaching.” Ironically, on Sunday mornings more Scripture is usually read in a traditional liturgical service than most Evangelical or Charismatic gatherings.