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

In time, problems were bound to surface. Some shepherds abused their authority and saw themselves as mediators between the “sheep” and the Lord. Some also challenged the authority of local pastors. When suggestions were made that tithes may be paid to shepherds rather than to local congregations, a showdown became inevitable. The underlying tension erupted at gatherings arranged to discuss ways to resolve the issues and maintain unity in the fledgling Charismatic movement. Most denominational Charismatics (Second Wave) as well as many Classical Pentecostals (First Wave) questioned the Fort Lauderdale teaching on submission. Independent Charismatics, with unexpected support of some Catholic Charismatics, aligned themselves on the other side. The underlying fear was that popular and widely influential leaders, such as Derek Prince and Bob Mumford, might form a new denomination and that most denominational Charismatics would then leave their churches and flock to it. The “Fort Lauderdale five” of the Christian Growth Ministries were stung by the criticism they received and were adamant about rejecting the option of a new denomination. A large number of Second Wave denominational believers did eventually leave their more traditional churches and formed new structures of an independent nature within the Third Wave.

S. David Moore’s The Shepherding Movement: Controversy and Charismatic Ecclesiology is the definitive history of the American movement. He traces its origins as a distinct stream to 1974—a few years before the public controversy—when many denominational Charismatics started leaving their traditional churches. To counter a lack of moral discipline and character among new converts, individual believers were being taught to submit to a shepherd and develop covenant relationships that could foster growth in spiritual maturity and integrity. Leaders also needed to be linked to one another for mutual accountability and “covering.”

Those remaining in the Second Wave feared a virtual take-over of the whole Renewal movement by these Independent Charismatics. David du Plessis, also known as Mr. Pentecost, who—as has been pointed out above—had been very instrumental in bringing people from a wide range of established churches into the Charismatic movement, expressed the opposition of many to this non-denominational movement. Against the idea that Christians need to submit to a shepherd, he stated publicly and in a dramatic way: The Lord is my Shepherd.

Between 1973 and 1975, three annual Shepherds’ conferences consolidated a network of churches under the leadership of the five Fort Lauderdale leaders. New Wine magazine became the most widely circulated Charismatic journal in North America. Churches that related to the Shepherding/Discipleship movement adopted new structures, often in accordance with the writings of Ortiz. Relationships were seen as crucial. When these churches became large, they often adopted the following pattern. The smallest unit was the regular weekday house church or cell group gathering in homes for Bible study, fellowship, and worship, under a local shepherd. Next came a Sunday congregational or district meeting in a hall or other facility, under a pastor. The largest meeting would be a Sunday celebration of the whole group of several thousand, perhaps bi-monthly, under the leadership of a Charismatic senior pastor who often was also an apostle with translocal authority.

Kilian McDonnell, the prominent Roman Catholic ecumenist and scholar, who has been referred to several times, gathered the documents describing the heated Discipleship controversy that developed in 1975–76 and included them in his three-volume study on the global responses to the Charismatic movement entitled Presence Power Praise. In his doctoral study, Moore describes the meeting in Minneapolis, called to bring leaders of different emphases together, as the “Shoot Out at the Curtis Hotel.” The independent, or non-denominational, movement’s teaching on submission was severely criticized, and the Shepherding leaders were shocked and hurt by the vehement attacks by their Christian brothers. The movement actually reached its peak only in 1982 with 100,000 members and 500 associated churches. However, by then their teachings had been widely discredited, and internal problems also led to the dissolution of the movement by 1986. Much later Bob Mumford publicly declared contrition and admitted that he had been wrong in some of his views. Only a small group continues under the leadership of Charles Simpson in Mobile, Alabama, now called the Covenant movement.

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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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