See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10.
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!
Evangelization and Formation of the Laity
In a previous life, I traveled across the country teaching gifts discernment and lay formation workshops with a brilliant and witty Dominican who enjoyed a little friendly “Protty-bashing”. (Sherry’s note: Have I mentioned that all Dominicans are - by definition - brilliant and witty?)
When we would zip by some six-flags-over-Jesus megachurch on our way to the next parish, he would ask me about their history and beliefs. Want to know the beliefs of Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists? No worries! I had it all squirreled away in a mental drawer labeled “truth is stranger than fiction”.
When I was done, Fr. Michael would brood for a moment upon the inexplicable ways of Providence and then utter this heartfelt prayer: “Thank God, Dad was born Catholic!”
Some of you may be feeling the same way about now. I remember early on having a conversation with Fr Michael Sweeney about the millions of Catholics who had left the Church and were to be found everywhere in non-denominational mega-churches. His response was immediate and vehement: “Just tell them to stop it!”
If only I could. I know that it is utterly, utterly mystifying to many Catholics. The idea that anyone would voluntarily leave the Catholic Church to join a congregation led by someone who has the chutzpah to announce that they’ve been personally anointed as an apostle by the Holy Spirit is too absurd – too appalling - for words.
But I know many Independents personally – some are family members and close friends– and I know that they are often impressive, intelligent people of great faith who are asking very specific, practical, existential questions. They want to experience God now – in their own lives and in the lives of others. They want to believe that God still moves today as he did in the first century. They are like my brother, rejoicing in the healing of a frail women’s arm. They are like Rolland and Heidi Baker, taking the kind of risks for others that are only possible if you don’t have to protect yourself, if you know that God will provide and there will always be enough.
We can’t simply dismiss these people, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For one thing, the United States is the Western epicenter of Independent Christianity. There are some 80 million Independent Christians in this country. They are, by far, the largest bloc (as opposed to denomination) of Christians.
And the Independent churches that dot our landscape are full of baptized Catholics. For instance, Ted Haggard believed that 1/3 of the 14,000 locals who regularly attend New Life Church in Colorado Springs would consider themselves Catholic. It has been estimated that 30% of today’s American evangelicals are first or second generation former Catholics (The Catholic Church at the End of an Age, Ralph Martin, p. 38). Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but
I know that whenever I re-enter the evangelical world, I run into large numbers of Catholics. Some still attend Mass, others do not.
There has been much discussion of the fact that the generation of practicing Catholics just now coming into their own – the “JP II generation” – is much more traditionally minded than their Boomer parents were. There certainly is a JP II group of young adult Catholics. I have met a large number as I travel.
But we must remember that these “New Faithful” are estimated to make up only 20% of their peer group. "... a sizable number of young adults -- we estimate about 20 percent -- attend Mass and go to Communion regularly, go to confession occasionally, think of themselves as 'orthodox' Christians and read the Scriptures whenever they can. They see themselves as the future of the church and are quite naturally offended when others describe young adults as the
problem." From "American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church," reviewed in Catholic News Service, April 5, 2007.
The same study notes that, all together, only one-fourth of Catholic young adults go to Mass on a weekly basis. So it would seem that four fifths of the young adults we see at Mass every Sunday are of the “New Faithful” mindset. But 75% of baptized young adults are not at Mass. Where are they? There are other, parallel movements of Catholic young adults that are hidden from us because they are not among us anymore. As St.Dominic was fond of saying, “What about the others?”
Independent congregations are filled with young adults. The front of New Life Church is like a mosh pit during services. A couple of hundred teen-agers and young adults freely dance and sing and prostrate themselves in spontaneous worship. They believe that real worship is highly personal and spontaneous. Many of them were raised Catholic. If they are inwardly longing for the solemnity of the Latin Mass, they are certainly looking for it in all the wrong places.
Millions of Catholics of all ages – often the most spiritually hungry - are having their hearts, minds, and imaginations formed in a non-Catholic worldview. More American adults use Christian media than attend church in a given month. 78% of all churched adults in the US supplement what they receive on Sunday with Christian media. 93% of the most committed Christians – those who go to church, read the Bible and pray in a given week - use Christian media during a given month. Notice that the use of Christian media grows as the intensity of one’s Christian commitment grows. I don’t have to tell my readers that the Christian media in the US is overwhelmingly non-Catholic. (Christian Mass Media Reach More Adults With the Christian Message Than Do Churches, July 2, 2002, Barna Research.)
The temptation is to shout “Just stop it!” But simply forbidding Catholics to look outside the Church for spiritual sustenance is futile. Few adults wrestling with burning personal issues are going to accept “no” as an answer. If they believe that they are not finding what they and their families need in the Catholic church, they will vote with their feet. In the United States, all they have to do is talk to their friends or fire up their laptops or turn on their TVs or run down to the local Christian bookstore or post-modern cell church. If we do not evangelize our own, someone else - it may well be an Independent - will do it for us. If we do not form our own, someone else will. In fact, someone else is doing so at this very minute!
Nor are we free to do as the early Reformers did and shield ourselves from the New Apostolic influence by sternly jettisoning anything that smacks of the charismatic. That is not thinking or teaching with the Church.
Everyone should painstakingly ready himself personally for the apostolate, especially as an adult. For the advance of age brings with it better self-knowledge, thus enabling each person to evaluate more accurately the talents with which God has enriched his soul and to exercise more effectively those charismatic gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on him for the good of his brothers.
The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) 30.
Independent Christians can only envision a world in which the institutional and the charismatic are opposed to one another. In this, as in so many other areas, magisterial teaching demands that Catholics teach, live, and model a more sophisticated balance. As the Holy Father proclaimed at the Pentecost 1998 gathering of the new lay movements, “The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's people.” (emphasis mine)
You want miracles? Ever heard of Padre Pio? Visions? Let me introduce you to Catherine of Siena. Raising the dead? Old news. John Wimber had nothing on Dominic Guzman, that cutting edge 13th century evangelist who regularly saw signs and wonders accompany his ministry.
It’s a false reading of history to believe that it is “either-or”. As Pope John Paul II put it, “True charisms cannot but aim at the encounter with Christ in the sacraments.”
The supernatural is still happening in the lives of ordinary men and women today. I know. To date, the Catherine of Siena Institute has helped over 25,000 Catholics around the world discern the charisms which the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them in Baptism and Confirmation. As my many lay and priestly collaborators can tell you, what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the lives of ordinary Catholics – most of whom have never been part of the charismatic renewal – is both amazing and immensely encouraging.
As John Paul II observed, “Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished.”
(Sherry's note: If you would like to become part of the solution, consider attending the Catherine of Siena Institute's Making Disciples in Colorado Springs this summer or West Virginia this November.)
To learn more about topics raised by this article, check out:
The World Christian database at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Based upon the World Christian Encyclopedia, this online searchable colossus is regularly updated. Data on 9,000 Christian denominations, 13,000 ethnolinguistic peoples, 5,000 cities, 238 countries and all major world religions.
Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization website
AD 2000 and Beyond Movement The office is closed, but the website remains and has lots of information.
Global Harvest Ministries, Peter Wagner’s organization in Colorado Springs. To get a flavor, read the Global links and Global prayer newsletter. Has links to Wagner Leadership Institute.
Ministries Today Magazine, Pentecostal/charismatic/Apostolic. Did a series of issues on the five-fold ministries.
DAWN Friday Fax, global mission and evangelization news from an independent perspective
Iris Ministries, website of Heidi and Rolland Baker. Read their blog and newsletter for a taste of the best of apostolic Christianity. Read this article about their ministry. Be prepared to be blown away.
The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?, Sherry Weddell & Michael Sweeney, OP. Catholic perspective on the role of the ordained and the parish in formation of the laity; the significance of charisms in formation. Originally presented at the North American College and the Angelicum in Rome.