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

The Independent Charismatic movement is a global phenomenon. Firmly established in the United States and Canada, it has spread internationally, with significant concentrations in England, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, Nigeria, China, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, and India.

Four Third Wave Currents

We move now to a description of the doctrinal distinctives of the four main currents of the Third Wave, seen as the Independent Charismatic churches, or networks of churches. As pointed out above, in contrast to the previous two chapters, this chapter will be based largely on my own research.

The first two groups are both kingdom-focused, but will be dealt with separately, since the first has a premillennial approach and the second a postmillennial one.

Restorationist (Premillennial)

The first Independent Charismatic group to be dealt with may be designated as the Restoration movement. In many ways, the Restorationist current of the Independent Charismatic movement is merely the latest expression of a perennial trend that can be observed in church history. The early church, as described in the book of Acts, has been viewed as the ideal model throughout the centuries. The vibrancy of Christianity under persecution in the first three centuries has also been somewhat romanticized. The dream is to build a New Testament church—one that is truly apostolic in the sense of being like that of the first apostles. Most major renewal movements in church history have expressed something of this passion to restore the Church to the way things were, but inevitably become the victim of the same tendencies against which they were protesting. A striking example in North America was the movement led by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell in the nineteenth century. They were against any form of denominationalism, wanting merely to be known as Christians, disciples, or churches of Christ. Nevertheless, in time they took on structural form, got organized, experienced internal dissension and have now added another three denominations to the American landscape of churches.

Within the whole Independent Charismatic movement, this Restorationist vision plays a significant role. It goes hand in hand with an insistence that “denominations” are not in the plan of God. Like the Irvingites, the Brethren, and the Disciples of Christ, they are striving to restore the New Testament pattern of early Christianity. A special characteristic of this ideal among Independent Charismatics is the restoration of the fivefold (or fourfold) ministry of Ephesians 4:11–12. The charismatic offices of apostle and prophet need to be restored to the church, in addition to the more common offices of evangelists, pastors, and teachers. (According to many exegetes, the office of pastor and teacher actually forms one office. This is why views vary as to whether there are four or five primary offices in the Church.)

The Restorationist wing of the Independent Charismatic movement significantly influenced England, where it was originally called the British “House Church” Movement—a name that did not apply long, since the increase in numbers soon moved the gatherings out of private homes. The underlying conviction was that the Church should invest in relationships rather than in buildings.

Authoritarian Undercurrent

There is a strong authoritarian undercurrent in this movement, coupled with some influence from the Exclusive Brethren Church. Leadership is placed in the hands of apostolic teams which have oversight and supervision over regional geographical areas (like bishops). This oversight, however, is not considered formal or hierarchical but rather relational in nature. Authority is upheld through relationships nurtured with local pastors by the traveling apostolic teams. The emphasis is not on formalized structures, as may be found in an Episcopal polity or church government in the hands of bishops. Restorationism has generally seen itself as radical and engaged in preparing the bride of Christ as a church “without spot or wrinkle.” The history of Christianity is viewed very negatively. Historic, established churches are part of the apostasy of denominationalism and staid tradition. This view was advocated by William Branham in the Latter Rain movement as well. In parts of the restoration movement, freedom and openness have been marred by authoritarian leadership. Although rejecting the hierarchy of bishops, some leaders assumed authority that may, in practice, be greater than any Episcopal authority found, for example, in the Church of England, which has developed over the centuries a system of checks and balances for the exercise of power. Restorationist groups in the Independent Charismatic movement have sometimes fostered intentional communities and covenantal extended households. This practice became a worldwide phenomenon in the 1970s, but it has not stood the test of time. Many large communities experienced problems with authoritarian styles of leadership (usually all male), leading them to fragment and eventually disband.

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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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