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Henry I. Lederle: The Third Wave: New Independent Charismatic Churches, Part 2

Empowered Evangelicals

The third major group of the Independent Charismatic movement is quite different. It is closely connected to the ministry of John Wimber and the Association of Vineyard Churches and is said to consist of about 1,000 churches world-wide. It is sometimes called the Power Encounter movement or the Signs and Wonders movement. The term “power encounter” comes originally from use in missiology and refers to the force of the supernatural in spreading the gospel; often the references are to victory over demonic spiritual forces. “Signs and Wonders” highlights the role of the miraculous and the fact that churches seem to grow rapidly, especially in the Majority World, based on testimonies of dramatic healings and powerful signs. This is sometimes called Power Evangelism. More recently, some have preferred to use the designation “Empowered Evangelicals.” It is this category that C. Peter Wagner identified with the term Third Wave. (In this book, Third Wave is used to designate the whole Independent Charismatic movement.) The term Empowered Evangelicals captures the essence of this current well. This group is self-consciously not Pentecostal or Charismatic. It represents those evangelicals who have become open to the present-day occurrence of the full range of the charisms of the Spirit. (An important book by several scholars that is a kind of progress report showing Empowered Evangelicals grappling with the ideas discussed in this section is The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? A Biblical Look at How to Bring the Gospel to the World with Power, edited by Gary Greig, J.I. Packer, and Kevin N. Springer, with a foreword by C. Peter Wagner, published in 1993. Editor’s Note: Most of the chapters and appendices from The Kingdom and the Power have been reprinted serially in The Pneuma Review.)

Worldview

The distinctive core of this second grouping of Independent Charismatics is made up of three interrelated concepts. First is the awareness of the importance of worldviewand philosophical presuppositions. The Empowered Evangelical movement has become profoundly aware of the role of naturalism, materialism, and rationalism in the heritage of the Western Enlightenment. This insight has its origins in academic circles and missiologists such as Paul Hiebert and Charles Kraft, who have published along these lines and have strongly influenced the leadership of the Vineyard movement. Nevertheless, the concept of worldviews and their impact on how we perceive reality is profoundly practical. It is through a rejection of rationalist modernity that the dimension of the miraculous is often discovered and reclaimed. More so than any other group, the Power Encounter movement has opened our eyes to the role played by these pervasive frameworks or mindsets in church as well as in culture.

Every-member Ministry

Second, the Vineyard Bible Churches have a unique focus on an every member ministry. This is a form of democratization. The usual way of referring to it is “equipping the saints.” Although the principle of what Martin Luther called “the priesthood of all believers” dates back to the sixteenth century, most churches still maintain a rigid demarcation between clergy and laity, and they concentrate most of the “ministry” in the hands of ordained leadership. The Empowered Evangelical movement objects to this. For example rather than create “healing lines” in which one gifted individual would pray for all the sick, Wimber encouraged the whole body of believers to become involved in healing prayer. The practice of healing lines actually originated with the controversial healing evangelist William Branham. In concrete terms, the Vineyard approach was quite different. It usually started by asking people requiring prayer to stand up in a meeting, with those who happen to be sitting around them then simply laying hands on them, uniting in prayer for healing. The presumption is that God would grant gifts of healing across the congregation as needed. The Empowered Evangelicals emphasize the healing ministry.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Spring 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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