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The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 7) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 04 May 2007 05:16
Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.

Just a reminder for my readers:

NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!


Power Orientation

The Wagner Leadership Institute’s offerings begin to make sense when you realize that the heart of church government and ecclesiology for the New Apostolic Reformation/Independent movement is restoration of what is called the “Five-fold Ministry” (based on Ephesians 4:11). The five ministries are: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

By now I’m sure it’s obvious that, within the New Apostolic Reformation, the word “apostle” does not refer to apostolic succession in the sense that Catholics understand it. For Independents, “apostle” refers to both a charism (spiritual gift) and an office bestowed directly by God on an individual as an “anointing” or spiritual empowerment. This anointing or spiritual authority is understood to operate within a specific sphere. So “ecclesiastical apostles” exercise authority over a number of churches, presumably in an apostolic network headed up by the apostle, while “ambassadorial apostles” have itinerant, frequently international, ministries of catalyzing and nurturing apostolic movements. There are numerous other recognized apostolic “specializations”. Some women as well as men are recognized as apostles.

In their understanding, when the office of apostle has been bestowed, it is usually revealed by God directly to the recipient and then confirmed in his or her life through supra-local spiritual authority, signs and wonders, and remarkable evangelistic effectiveness. As Matthew Green, editor of Understanding the Fivefold Ministry puts it, each apostle

. . . demonstrates humility and servanthood, intent not on building a personal empire, but on equipping and releasing others for effective ministry. Each received a dramatic call and possesses unique gifts as a pioneer in his or her area of ministry. Each has experienced signs and wonders in the wake of his or her ministry. Each is passionately committed to sound theology, both in its practical and doctrinal expressions. (p. 3)

Naomi Dowdy would be a good example of a recognized “apostle”. When Tennessee-native Dowdy founded Trinity Christian Centre in Singapore 30 years ago, her colleagues in the Assemblies of God regarded her as a missionary. But today this successful pastor and church-growth consultant is usually referred to as “Apostle Naomi.”

“Apostolic networks” are voluntary gatherings of individual congregations and pastors under the personal spiritual “covering” of an individual apostle. Dowdy seems to lead several networks. Her Global Leadership Network is described as “a network of networks committed to fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation.” One member of the GLN is David Mohan, pastor of the largest congregation in India, New life Assembly of God in Chennai. David writes, “After we embraced the GLN Cell Church model, the new converts were nurtured and were transformed in their character and lifestyle. Now we have grown from 2,500 to 30,000 in 15 years”).

Dowdy “provides apostolic covering, mentoring, and impartation for strategic leaders in key ministry positions globally” via her Global Covenant Network . Leaders ordained through Dowdy’s network are required to have the following qualifications:

  • Five years in one of the ascension gifts [five-fold ministry]
  • Strong integrity and Christian character
  • Recommended by members of GCN
  • Two years as a Licensed Credential holder (conditional)
Dowdy is currently working hard to raise up other women apostles. “‘Women must arise and take their place beside the men,’ Dowdy told delegates last week at the Apostolic Women Arising conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hundreds of Christians from seven nations—including Bahrain and Vietnam—received three and a half days of training at the event.” (Fire In My Bones: A New Assignment for Women - Apostolic Conquest by J. Lee Grady, Charisma online, October 11, 2005 - select from drop-down list of archived columns). The Apostolic Women Arising conference, featuring several well known women apostles, will be held in Jakarta and in Atlanta in July 0f 2007.

Typically, an apostolic network includes 50 – 150 local congregations that may be spread around the world. (Sherry’s note: remember that David Barrett estimated in 2000 that there were about 22,000 such networks or para-denominations in existence involving 1.7 million congregations.) In 1968 Terry Virgo started a small community of Christians on the south coast of England. His goal was to build a radical church life founded on the principles that he saw in the New Testament. Other English churches asked for Terry’s help and by 1980, he was working with 20 different congregations. 25 years later, New Frontiers has become “a worldwide family of churches together on a mission to establish the Kingdom of God” (http://www.newfrontiers.xtn.org/). That family includes congregations in Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe. Some apostles such as Bill Harmon of Christian International Ministries, use the title “Bishop”. Here is a map of Harmon's global apostolic network which includes about 80 congregations and 54 ministers at large in 20 countries.

By this point some of you are asking, “Haven’t these people ever heard of Montanism?” Yes, gentle reader, a number of Independent leaders have graduate degrees and know about Montanism and its condemnation by the Church in the late second century. But suspicion of Catholics is part of their Reformation DNA; they don’t trust the Church’s judgment on that score. Vinson Synon, a Pentecostal elder statesman, calls Montanism “Charismatic” and is carefully agnostic as to its validity: “In the end, rightly or wrongly, the church rejected Montanism” (Understanding the Fivefold Ministry, p 50). Unlike Catholics, most Independent leaders do not feel bound by the practice or decisions of earlier generations.

Continued in part 8....


 

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