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Henry I. Lederle: The Third Wave: New Independent Charismatic Churches, Part 1

A significant aspect among the evangelical Charismatics, which Wagner was accentuating, is a fresh openness and acceptance of all the charisms of the Spirit without requiring any initiatory crisis experience. In these circles, the major hurdle to clear was the theory of cessationism, which still held sway in many conservative Protestant groups. Cessationism teaches that at some point in early church history all miracles ceased. In this study, Wagner’s third wave is discussed loosely under the third subsection of the Third Wave (Empowered Evangelicals). The term Third Wave is here more broadly understood as the whole Independent Charismatic movement.

To my mind, the primary objection against designating this group of more conservative denominational Charismatics as a separate Third Wave is the limited size of this movement. Whenever illustrations of this approach are given, the examples seem to come from the Vineyard movement associated with the ministry of John Wimber. The Vineyard movement, however, is not structurally parallel to the renewal movement within conservative Protestant Churches, such as Southern Baptists or conservative Congregationalists, because it is clearly a new denominational grouping. It took the major ecclesiological step of forming a separate structure. The renewal among conservative Protestants has been an arduous journey. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, has a long history of disfellowshiping local congregations that become overtly charismatic, and it objects to glossolalia being practiced among its missionaries—even as a private prayer language.

As a result, this researcher chose to use the term “Third Wave” for a much more prominent and sizeable movement that has taken place in the last two decades of the twentieth century. I am referring to the Independent Charismatic churches that grew to become a global phenomenon in the eighties and nineties. They are structurally distinct from the renewal movement within established churches and have become known for specific doctrinal emphases. There is, nevertheless, a very broad spectrum of theological views represented in this group.

For this chapter, no thorough written history of the development of this movement is available, as was the case with the First and Second Waves of the Spirit. The tentative analysis of the major groupings presented here is the result of my own taxonomy that was published in 1990. Due to the paucity of sources, some attention will be given to the development of the movement itself. The Third Wave—used in this particular way to designate all Independent Charismatic churches—has at least four subsections or currents (to maintain the analogy of waves). These currents range from the faith emphasis found in the Rhema Bible Church to the more “laid back” West Coast style of the Vineyard movement. Some of these Independent Charismatic churches or ministries are rooted in Classical Pentecostalism or, more especially, in the Latter Rain movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Others more clearly have a post-denominational renewal stamp to them, being born of the dissatisfaction that arose when traditionalists in many churches resisted Charismatic emphases and the renewal movement was stifled or sidetracked by denominational leadership.

The Third Wave has produced a large number of strong and dynamic leaders. While many Independent Charismatic groups over time felt the need to form loose networks and some even opted for clearly defined Episcopal structures (such as the International Communion of Charismatic Churches), others formed local congregations with no formal links to any other believers at all. Churches of this latter category are usually generically named according to locality, e.g., Middleton Family Church, Laketown Fellowship of Believers, and Westville Worship Center. The term “non-denominational” has sometimes been used to describe the whole Independent Charismatic movement, but “non-denominational” applies only to the unconnected type of churches referred to in the previous sentence. Most Independent Charismatic groups have tended to seek some form of mutual accountability, association, and networking with those of similar ministerial focus and teaching. The trend toward forming links has been made more urgent by the unfortunate circumstances of several prominent Charismatic leaders going astray morally when too much influence and control were concentrated in the hands of an individual. “Non-denominational” or unconnected churches may initially still have a strong sense of theological heritage, communality and connectedness to Christian tradition, simply through the heritage and training of the current leadership.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: Henry I. Lederle, D.Th. (University of South Africa) and M.A. (University of Orange Free State), is Professor of Theology and Ministry at Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas. He is the author of Treasures Old and New: Interpretations of Spirit-Baptism in the Charismatic Renewal Movement (Hendrickson, 1988), Theology with Spirit: The Future of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements in the 21st Century (Word & Spirit Press, 2010), and several collections of essays, articles and reviews.

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