Posted for Sherry W.
See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.
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!
Traditional Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the past. New apostolic Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the future. Many traditional churches are heritage-driven . . . the founders of the movement are often thought of as standing shoulder to shoulder with the 12 apostles. On the other hand, new apostolic church leaders are vision-driven. (The New Apostolic Churches, p. 21-22). (emphasis mine)
What makes the evangelization efforts of Independents stand apart from the historic Christian practice of proclamation is the assumption that how you go about your mission changes from year to year and from situation to situation. New Apostolic Reformation leaders continually talk of “new wineskins” and “seasons”. How a particular group is to go about the Great Commission in this situation and at this time will be revealed by God directly to anointed leaders. Most frequently, receiving such revelation is the responsibility of those recognized to have the gift of apostle or prophet or both “annointings” operating together.
In October, 1999, a weary Peter Wagner returned home from a huge intercessory gathering in Turkey. He had hardly unpacked his bags when Chuck Pierce, a close collaborator, called. Pierce asked,
Peter, are you still the apostle of the global prayer movement? . . .you are the one responsible for casting the vision for all of us. If you do not seek the Lord for the next vision now, we are in danger of losing the momentum that God has given us for a whole decade.
Wagner agreed that he was responsible. He spoke to God in the shower the next morning and after breakfast “revelation began, thick and fast.” Before noon, Wagner knew that God’s next assignment for the global prayer movement was the “40/70 window” (the heartland of historic Christianity, which includes 61 countries in Europe and Asia). (The Queen’s Domain, p. 34.)
NAR leaders are not unaware of potential abuses but most are convinced that the immense good to be gained by being open to the present inspiration of the Holy Spirit given to an anointed leader outweighs the possible damage caused by “flakiness”. The assumption is that one’s close collaborators, who are spiritually mature, will “confirm” the vision if it is truly of God. Wagner writes:
So I shared these and a few other thoughts with my Global Harvest Ministries staff at lunch that same day. . .The immediate, high voltage affirmation that this was truly what the Spirit was saying to the churches was incredible....”(The Queen’s Domain, p. 35)
(Sherry’s note: Some of you began to twitch involuntarily while reading those last few paragraphs. Please remember that I am describing the beliefs of a very different kind of Christian. I am not proposing them. I will deal with some of the implications for Catholics later.)
The title of Ted Haggard’s 1995 best selling book captures the spirit of Independents perfectly: Primary Purpose: Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City. Independent churches are especially committed to helping the unchurched - whether baptized or not - become intentional disciples and to mature into apostolically-minded Christians. It is axiomatic among independents that as a congregation grows, it should “plant” new congregations because new congregations are the most effective evangelizers. Since most independents are not part of a denomination, they don’t have to ask anyone but God for permission.
The Church planting movement was given a huge global boost by the AD 2000 movement whose motto was “a church within every unreached people group and making the gospel available to every person by the year 2000”. Starting thousands of brand new small evangelizing Christian communities is known as “saturation church planting” and has become the central strategy in both evangelical and Independent missions over the past 20 years.
As the DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) movement puts it: “the whole Church of a whole nation is committed to reach the goal of seeing Christ become incarnate in every small group in every village and neighborhood and for every class, kind and condition of man. This means having at least one gathering of believers sharing Christ within easy access of every person in each country.”
DAWN’s webpage on its ministry in Latin America puts it this way: “Evangelical Christians compose 18.35% of the population. This percentage has been the result of a massive church planting effort in the last ten years. The rest of the population is primarily Catholic—characterized by the popular religiosity and nominalism found in the region... we have established a goal for the next 15 years to challenge, train, and mobilize the church and its leadership to plant 3 million NEW healthy, holistic, and harvesting churches.”
Almost all apostolic churches are heavily involved in church planting and foreign missions. They are also engaged in creative ministry to the poor.
Rolland and Heidi Baker are excellent examples of this new kind of missionary. The Bakers are a part of an apostolic network headed by Bill Johnson and headquartered in Bethel Assembly of God Church in Redding, California. The Bakers’ life direction was changed when they met Jackie Pullinger, a charismatic Anglican who has worked with the gang members and drug addicts of Hong Kong for 30 years.
In 1995, the Bakers, who both have PhD's in theology, moved to Mozambique – the poorest country on earth. They were offered a crumbling orphanage by the government but no other support. The Bakers took it and 10 years later they care for over 6,000 orphans. In their spare time, they have planted over 6,000 congregations among the poor in 10 African nations. Their work, Iris Ministries, combines an unending passion for evangelism, a constant expectation of the miraculous, and a bottomless compassion.
In the forward to their book, There is Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth, Rolland writes:
I always wanted to live and believe the Sermon on the Mount, but usually got told that it did not mean all that I thought it meant, and that I needed to be practical. I would read the Scriptures longingly, trying to imagine how wonderful it would be not to worry about anything, safe and secure in the presence of Jesus all the time. Miracles would be normal. Love would be natural. We could always give and never lose. We could be lied to, cheated and stolen from, and yet always come out ahead. We would never have to take advantage of anyone, or have any motive but to bless other people. Rather than always making contingency plans in case Jesus didn't do anything, we could count on Him continually. We, our lives, and all that we preach and provide would not be for sale, but would be given freely. . . .There would always be enough!
When I read Rolland Baker’s comments, I was struck by how some of the very best Catholics I know long for a similar unlimited confidence in God. Independent Christianity may be Catholicism’s ecclesial antitype, but a good deal of the movement is not intentionally anti-Catholic. In fact, most tend to associate anti-Catholicism with the old wineskin of denominationalism. There are often surprising parallels between Independent ideas and Catholic teaching. As far apart on the spectrum as Independents and Catholics may be, we are all seeking to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the next installment, I'll begin to look at some of the implications of this movement for different areas of Catholic life.