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

As Clark ministered in Toronto, similar manifestations of holy laughter and being “drunk in the Spirit” occurred. Wimber initially supported this awakening, but by December 1995, the Toronto Airport church was ousted from the Vineyard Fellowship. The reason given by the Vineyard leadership was not that they did not recognize this blessing as a genuine move of God but that they realized that they themselves were not called to give further leadership to it because of differences in style. The awakening continued. Membership has skyrocketed from 350 to 4,000, and it is estimated that 2.5 million people from all over the world visited Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship between 1994 and 2000. The Toronto Blessing touched several thousand churches in England, most notably Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, in London that later launched the Alpha courses for new believers that is now used across the world.

Criticism from traditional anti-Charismatic sources as well as from Classical Pentecostals has focused on some of the more unusual phenomena that have accompanied the revival, especially uncontrollable laughter and some animal noises. (Actually animal noises such as barking are not unknown in the history of revivals. As far back as 1801 there was a practice of barking, known as “treeing the devil,” at the Cane Ridge revival in Kentucky!) According to their critics the centrality of Christ, sound preaching, and a discernment regarding miracles was judged to be somewhat lacking in the revival, but the 5,000 professions of faith and many more transformed lives have testified to the great impact of this movement. Theologian James Beverly has written about the Toronto Blessing and gives a balanced and helpful critique. Wimber was unwilling to go too far beyond the confines of North American evangelical culture, and so disassociated the Empowered Evangelical movement from the Kansas City prophetic movement and the exuberance of the Toronto blessing. The Vineyard churches are growing into an organized denomination, representing the more Reformed and evangelical sector of the Independent Charismatics. They have left behind the theology of subsequence and the requirement of tongues, but practice the full range of the charismata, acknowledging the supernatural dimension very clearly in their Power Encounters with the demonic.

Word of Faith

The fourth major grouping of the Independent Charismatic movement is known as Word of Faith or Faith Confession Churches. (This movement will be discussed again in detail in chapter 7 because of the prominent role it plays in the current situation.) It has probably been more misunderstood and maligned than any other part of the movement but surprisingly has retained its vibrancy and exhibits great potential for the future as it moves beyond some of the unfortunate excesses of the past. Other names for the movement reflect this criticism: the Health and Wealth Gospel, Prosperity Theology, Positive Confession teaching, or even the derogatory phrase “Name It and Claim It” movement. After an initial spate of knee-jerk reactions, such as critiques by Hunt and McMahon, Hank Hanegraaff and Dan McConnell, the movement itself seems to have undergone some self-correction. This current of the Third Wave has a lot of continuity with the Classical Pentecostal teachers and healing evangelists of the 1940s and 50s. What are the origins of this movement?

Although the father of the movement undoubtedly is Kenneth E. Hagin, founder of the Rhema Bible Church and Training Center in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the originator is seen as E. W. Kenyon (1867–1948). Essek William Kenyon grew up in New York State where he joined the Methodist Church. In 1892, he moved to Boston and enrolled in the Emerson School of Oratory, where he was exposed to New Thought and the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy, who also had her headquarters in Boston. Classical idealism was coming into vogue at this time, and the concepts of Plato and Ralph Waldo Emerson formed part of the curriculum. Mind was seen as superior to matter, and through mental attitudes and positive confession, circumstances could be transformed. McConnell, who evaluated the Faith movement with a degree of harshness, relates an anecdote about Ern Baxter (also a link between the Latter Rain and the Discipleship movements) once happening upon Kenyon engrossed in reading Mary Baker Eddy’s Key to the Scriptures. When Baxter commented on that, Kenyon responded that a lot of good could be gained from her perspectives.

Kenyon was ordained as a preacher in the Free Will Baptist Church and traveled extensively. He often spoke in Pentecostal churches but clearly did not consider himself Pentecostal. He had serious reservations about the gift of tongues and the importance placed upon it. He was inspired by the work of George Mueller in Britain and ran his Bethel Bible Institute on the same “living by faith” principle.

Kenyon responded sharply to the higher criticism of the Bible that was fashionable in his day by firmly rejecting the claim that Paul had exaggerated the importance and stature of Jesus, making Him into the divine Son of God. Many scholars of that day (and in later so-called Jesus Quests as well) were seeking the “historical Jesus” behind the Gospel narratives, stripped of His divinity. Reacting to this, Kenyon, in fact, believed that the epistles were superior to the Gospels and built his thinking mostly on Pauline theology.

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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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