The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 6) Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 03 May 2007 13:10
Posting for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

Just a reminder for my readers:

NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try to help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

The Dummies Guide to the Independent Christianity

What does David Barrett mean when he says that this emerging group is “post-denominationalist”? The vast majority of “independent” Christians have “replaced historic denominationalism by non-centralized lifestyle and church order” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 29).

A common theme among Independent Christianity writers is rejoicing at having escaped 1700 years of “Constantinian spectator Christianity” that began when Christianity moved from being “a dynamic, revolutionary, social and spiritual movement to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood and sacraments.” (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church, Michael Frost &, Allen Hirsch)

This movement is often described as the most radical change in the Church since the Protestant Reformation. Many prominent leaders regard even the structures of 20th century evangelicalism as “old wineskins” that can and should be sloughed off in order to open the door to the new things that God is doing today. Novel approaches for classic Protestant ways of doing church is what really sets apart the New Apostolic Reformation. Peter Wagner lists a number of “new wineskins”, including new authoritative structure, new leadership training, new ministry focus, new outreach, and new “power orientation”. (The New Apostolic Churches, C. Peter Wagner, editor, p. 19-25.)


In denominational Protestantism, the pastor has historically been regarded as the employee of the congregation. As Wagner dramatically puts it,

In my judgment, the view of leadership and leadership authority constitute the most radical of the nine changes from traditional Christianity. Here is the main difference: The amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals.... We are seeing a transition from bureaucratic authority to personal authority, from legal structures to relational structure, from control to coordination and from rational leadership to charismatic leadership.

The New Apostolic Churches, p. 19-20.

The distinction between clergy and laity, as understood within both Catholicism and Protestantism, is actively repudiated by Independents. Seminary and ordination by a denomination are no longer considered essential pre-requisites for pastoral ministry. Leadership is charismatic. Men and women are “ordained” by their local pastor in recognition of their personal faith and God-given “anointing”. What matters are an individual’s personal faith and holiness, and their demonstrated leadership in evangelism, church-planting, and vision-casting.

Leadership Training

Because seminary is optional, many staff of new apostolic churches are “homegrown” and alternate forms of leadership formation are emerging. The Wagner Leadership Institute is one model of the new style of pastoral formation. Catholic seminarians would not recognize the short courses offered this past November at the Wagner Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs: Prophetic Evangelism, Releasing Your Anointing, and Moving in the Apostolic.

(Sherry’s note: My comments about Ted Haggard were written 11 months before his widely publicized “fall” in November of 2006. Although he is no longer in leadership, the dynamics that he represented are still very much at work and so I chose to retain my paragraphs about him.)

Pastors and leaders do not need to be a part of this new movement in order to be heavily influenced by it. The stature of Ted Haggard, the current President of the National Association of Evangelicals, shows us how the influence of Independent leaders and ideas has moved far beyond the Independent Christianity movement. Haggard’s dazzling smile was featured on the November 4, 2005 cover of Christianity Today, the premier magazine of evangelicalism. He manages to be both an icon of the Independent movement and a top leader among more traditional denominationalist evangelicals—an excellent example of how porous is the boundary between the two. The influence of New Apostolic ideas and practices upon “denominationalists” is facilitated by their common Reformation heritage and, most importantly, a common commitment to evangelism and world mission.

More on ministry focus and outreach in my next post.