The history of Third Stream Christian groups from Constantine to the Reformation is one that has attracted renewed interest in recent years.
There is increasing evidence that Europe during these centuries contained many such churches and that it is only the difficulty in accessing the original archive material that has contributed towards the view that there was little evangelical witness in the centuries before Luther.
The following samples give a hint of the depth of evangelical spiritual life that existed, not only among individuals but among whole congregations in the centuries traditionally known as the Dark Ages:
- In his Sermons Against Heretics, Eckbert of Schonau condemns those "weavers...who say that the true service of Christ and the true faith are to be found nowhere but in their conventicles, which they hold in cellers and weaving establishments and similar subterranean places."
- Pope Innocent III addressed a gathering of bishops in the city of Metz in 1199 when he related the following:
"Our brother the bishop of Metz tells us that in his diocese and in your city a great many lay-folk, both men and women,...have had French translations made of the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Psalms...which they read together and preach from in their clandestine conventicles....resisting to their face the priests who would instruct them, arguing that they find in their books much better instruction."
- Before and during the Reformation, the "Christian Brethren" held regular meetings to celebrate the Lord's Supper with a full meal in the weavers' guild house in Saint Gall, Switzerland.
- In Brugge, in 1349, "a sect came up called the Cross-brothers....they did not adore the holy sacrament as it was raised aloft at the mass, nor did they show reverence to the priesthood....many were in the ban of the pope because of the Cross-brothers and the Lollards, persons who had fed them or had conversed with them."
- In 1145, reports of what appears to be a fully functioning evangelical church emerge from the city of Liege:
"In this heresy...they say that in baptism sins are not remitted; they consider the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ to be foolishness; that by the imposition of the pontiff's hand nothing is conferred; that no-one receives the Holy Spirit unless good works are in evidence."
- A century before the Reformation, the Dean of Notre Dame in Arras claimed that, "one third of Christendom if not more has attended illicit Waldensian conventicles and is at heart Waldensian."
All of the above are referenced in Leornard Verduin's illuminating work, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Dissent and Nonconformity)