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The Challenge of Independent Christianity (pt3) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 02 May 2007 09:07
Posted for Sherry W:

Part I is here; part II is here.

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 and 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!

How Did We Get Here?
Independent Christianity emerged from the convergence of two major spiritual tributaries. The first is the world-wide growth of evangelical-style Christianity that David Barrett and many others have documented. The second is the global spread of Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality.

The demand in the early 70’s for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West noted by Peter Phan proved to be an important catalyst. 2500 evangelical missionaries and strategists from 150 countries met for 10 days in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 to discuss the challenges before them of maintaining two central tenets:

· the uniqueness of Christ, called into doubt by the advocacy of tolerance for other religions

· the validity of missions, challenged by the call for a moratorium on missions that was issued by some third-world church leaders.

Their conclusions, captured in the Lausanne Covenant, were to shape history:

We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. . . We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies . . . To proclaim Jesus as "the Saviour of the world" is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ...

In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. The Church is at the very centre of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. (

This gathering, commonly referred to as Lausanne I, gave birth to a fresh commitment to global evangelization and a greatly intensified level of cooperation across denominational and organizational lines.

Meanwhile, the paths of two remarkable men converged. C. Peter Wagner began as a conservative evangelical missionary to Bolivia who was extremely skeptical of Pentecostal claims. Wagner changed his mind after being healed at a prayer service in India. In 1971, Wagner became Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller School of World Missions. (Fuller seminary, located in Pasadena, California, is the largest interdenominational seminary in the world with 4,300 students from over 67 countries and over 108 denominations.) In the early 70’s, Wagner wrote his first book documenting Pentecostalism in Latin America as a rising missionary force. Shortly thereafter, he struck up a friendship with John Wimber, an evangelical Quaker pastor with a gift for evangelism, and eventually invited him to work at Fuller as a church growth consultant.

After a few years, Wimber left Fuller to begin pastoring a church of 50. This small group was the genesis of the Vineyard Association, a hugely influential family of churches that now includes 850 congregations around the world. The turning point for Wimber came in 1977 when his wife Carol was dramatically healed. Wimber's attitude regarding divine healing changed from skepticism to openness. He began asking why healing and other miracles were happening in third world countries but not in North America. He wrestled with God and prayed for the members of his congregation every Sunday for 10 months before he saw his first physical healing.

In 1982, Peter Wagner invited Wimber to teach the class, “Signs and Wonders and Church Growth,” which quickly become the most popular course at Fuller. Hundreds of missionary leaders from around the world attended during the three years that the course was offered. I took it myself. John Wimber published the book Power Evangelism in 1986, which introduced the evangelical community at large to ideas that now are considered axiomatic among most Independents, especially that effective evangelism needs to be preceded and undergirded by supernatural demonstrations of God's presence.

I attended a week long seminar taught by Wimber on healing at the Anaheim Vineyard. Although I knew nothing about his history at the time, I can see now that Wimber had come a long way. I appreciated both Wimber’s confidence in God and his freedom to say “I don’t know”. He talked openly about his friend, David Watson, a high-profile Anglican pastor in England from whom he had prayed and who had recently died of cancer. But he also spoke of witnessing the instantaneous healing of a woman who had been born blind. The highlight of the conference for me was hearing the story of a small group of ordinary participants who had spent all night praying for a young woman bound to a wheel-chair. At dawn, she rose and walked. (Sherry’s note: this wasn’t just a rumor circulating around the conference, I talked to the woman myself.)

Wimber wasn’t the only proponent of signs and wonders at Fuller in the early-mid 80’s. David Hubbard, President of the seminary from 1963 to 1993, was the son of ordained Pentecostal ministers and supportive of integrating the insights and practices of charismatics. I had a required class with Peter Wagner where we spent the first 30 minutes praying for one another’s healing. Chuck Kraft, a professor of anthropology, pointed out that our western worldview, shaped by Enlightenment rationalism, had systemically filtered out the possibility that God might act directly in miraculous ways. (Sherry’s note: I have never been part of the charismatic renewal myself so this was new to me. This was not why I choose to study there. I was preparing to be a missionary and Fuller came highly recommended. )

Since two thirds of my fellow students were mid-career missionaries or non-western pastors and leaders, we inexperienced westerners learned first hand of the great strides that evangelicalism was making in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Many of the non-western students were already “neo-charismatic” in their practices. The Fuller School of World Missions had become a global center of influence where the re-vitalized missionary movement and neo-charismatic spirituality merged. Professors like Wagner and Kraft also played major roles in the new structures for world-wide missionary cooperation like the Lausanne Committee.

Continued in Part 4, here.

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