For the past week or so, evangelical sites have been critiquing John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, which condemns “the Charismatic Movement” as a tradition that performs false worship practices. Featuring, in addition to himself, messages by Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul, along with a number of lesser known associates of MacArthur, this conference anticipates the November 12 release of a book by the same title (pre-order the hardback here). One of MacArthur’s stated purposes was to “start a conversation” about the errors, extremes and dangers of the movement as a whole; judging from the reaction, I’d say he started something more akin to a cyber-riot.
But MacArthur probably isn’t surprised. He’s been the provocateur of tremendous controversy before, over the relationship between the Lordship of Christ and the freeness of God’s grace in salvation, back in the 1980’s, centering around his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In both cases, I think it is fair to say that the intensity of the reaction is partly due to ways in which MacArthur’s message misses the mark, and opens himself up, as one Cessationist reviewer put it, to easy refutation due to his failure to draw careful distinctions between the various movements–in this case, within the Pentecostal tradition and the Charismatic Renewal, Word of Faith Movement, the Brownsville Revival, New Apostolic Reformation, and any number of other varieties which feature distinctive forms of the so-called “charismata,” or purportedly supernatural manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to his denial of the legitimacy of the focus on the miraculous in this multi-faceted tradition, the Strange Fire Conference also intends to focus on ways in which the movement in general promotes false forms of worship, as the conference name implies, being an allusion to the account of the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10:1-3 upon their offering of “unauthorized” (ESV), or “strange” (KJV), fire in their censers, in direct violation of God’s explicit and detailed prescription for Israelite worship.
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.
Fair or not, MacArthur and his fellow conference speakers would all advocate worship derived solely from the clear teaching of Scripture, a distinctive of Reformed theology known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. Undoubtedly, MacArthur, et al desire to see them come into closer conformity to Scriptural modes of worship, in essence calling the movement as a whole to Reformation as the Calvinistic Reformed tradition understands it.
Now it is possible for us not only to read, watch and hear what critics of the Strange Fire Conference have to say, we can all, friend or foe, see for ourselves how the messages of the conference were presented. Audio files of the have now been released, and are available for free download, with video and transcripts of each session forth-coming. Judge for yourself whether MacArthur’s charges against so-called Continuationism (the view that New Testament sign gifts are ongoing today) and his distinctive case for Cessationism (the view that these came to an end with the close of both the Apostolic era and the canon of Scripture–with which I agree) are legitimate, and where he misses the mark.
Visit Grace To You’s blog post, “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” to watch a short introductory video and to download the audio files for each session of the conference which has set the evangelical blogosphere ablaze, in my view, both rightly and wrongly.
I’ve been aware of Vision Forum (VF) ever since I began searching the internet for Reformed websites back in the late 1990’s into the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century. What I saw in Vision Forum was a site promoting traditional, conservative Americana of all kinds. Cool reprints of things like Of Plymouth Plantation and the writings of John Quincy Adams, the sixth American President who dabbled with Calvinism in his early adulthood, but would ironically return to the Unitarianism of his father and the intellectual elite of his day. Fun stuff, if you are into strident third party ultra-conservatism (for the record, VF founder Doug Phillips is son of Nixon-era figure and third party founder, Howard Phillips, whom I was providentially prevented from voting for in the 1992 election, but that’s another post!).
But then I found Phil Johnson’s Hall of Church History and any fledgling interest in Vision Forum fell by the wayside. My initial introduction to Vision Forum and its association with homeschooling and conservative politics raised no red flags. To me, it was what it was.
It was not until more recent years that I grew in my familiarity with the details of Vision Forum’s vision for families by their promotion of concepts like patriarchalism among others like the so-called family-integrated church (FIC), quiverfull and multi-generational faithfulness movements. Classified under these headings we find the dark side of the homeschooling movement. At the time of this writing, I have nothing against homeschooling, per se, but these movements which find their origin within the homeschool movement leave much to be desired, in my humble opinion. For more information on the latter movements, see here, here, and here.
Please recall that in the last post, I summarized my understanding of egalitarianism as practiced among “mainline” liberal Protestant denominations and an increasing number of Evangelical denominations and movements, and noted that there have been two major responses to this movement: namely, patriarchalism and complementarianism. The former is an extreme response, the latter is more moderate, unless you’re an egalitarian.
Complementarianism agrees with patriarchalism that:
(1) Eve was created to serve as “an help meet”(KJV) for Adam, or a “helper suitable” (NASB) for him, and that this is a creation ordinance binding on all human marital relationships; that a relationship of loving leadership by example and sacrificial protection on the part of the husband, and of respectful and voluntary submission on the part of the wife typifies the relationship between Christ and the church for which he died (Ephesians 5:22-33),
(2) and that consistent with this state of affairs, the New Testament explicitly limits offices of ordained church leadership to men (1 Timothy 3:1-7, notice candidates for church office are assumed to be male, and evidence to the contrary is lacking elsewhere in the New Testament).
Nevertheless, complementarianism disagrees with patriarchalism that wives, or women in general, should therefore necessarily refrain from seeking work or leadership roles in civic or commercial society outside the home. In short, complementarianism respects a greater degree of liberty for women than does its more extremist counterpart, patriarchalism.
In what ways does patriarchalism restrict the Christian liberty of women in the name of following the teaching of Scripture? To answer this question, let us consult a Vision Forum Ministries-published semi-creedal statement, “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” drafted by Phil Lancaster, in consultation with Doug Phillips and R.C. Sproul, Jr. This statement lists 26 points under the following headings:
(1) God as Masculine (point 1)
(2) The Image of God and Gender Roles (points 2-4)
(3) The Authority of Fathers (points 5-7)
(4) Family, Church and State (points 8-11)
(5) Men & Women: Spheres of Dominion (points 12-14)
(6) Procreation (point 15)
(7) Education and Training of Children (points 16-21)
(8) A Father and His Older Children (points 22, 23)
(9) The Sufficiency and Application of Scripture (points 24-26)
Let’s look at point 11, under the heading of “Family, Church and State”:
11. Male leadership in the home carries over into the church: only men are permitted to hold the ruling office in the church. A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church.(1 Tim. 3:5) (emphasis mine)
By this statement, patriarchalists cannot state that the Bible teaches that women shouldn’t work outside the home (among other things, like vote, for instance!), but appeals to the biblical mandates of male leadership in the home and the church and asserts that a society can only honor God if it “prefers” male leadership in societal spheres. By implication, this means that a society actively dishonors God if it allows women to vote, work outside the home and lead in other societal venues. They do allow for exceptions in the case of single women—“unmarried women may have more flexibility” (point 14), but I submit that in patriarchal circles, this exceptional circumstance will likely be discouraged, if not frowned upon. They only concede the possibility that single women may have more flexibility, which means, when in doubt, see point 11.
While we’re on this point, let us consider the Tenets’ reference to “a God-honoring society.” Did I mention that Vision Forum is postmillennial (not necessarily a problem) and theonomist (a big problem!)? Political liberals commonly refer to theonomy as “Dominionism,” which is a movement among interdenominational charismatic churches. The fact is, dominionism is based on theonomy, aka Christian Reconstructionism. Vision Forum’s vision for patriarchalism is a means to the end of taking dominion over the nations of the world and subjecting them all to the Law of God, and it is in this way that they believe Christ’s Millennial Kingdom will be established in the earth. These facts are implicit in their notion of a “God-honoring society.” In the radical patriarchalist’s perfect world, therefore, all women will be restricted to the domestic vocation of housewife, barring the undesirable exception of singleness. But in a future glorious Kingdom of Christ, would not He be willing to provide a husband to provide for and protect every woman? In the meantime we have to make due with conceding the possibility that single women may have the flexibility to work outside the home, and perhaps even vote.
Then there is the matter of “A Father and His Older Children,” points 22 and 23. Notice the extra restriction on adult daughters as compared to adult sons.
22. Both sons and daughters are under the command of their fathers as long as they are under his roof or otherwise the recipients of his provision and protection. Fathers release sons from their jurisdiction to undertake a vocation, prepare a home, and take a wife. Until she is given in marriage, a daughter continues under her father’s authority and protection. Even after leaving their father’s house, children should honor their parents by seeking their counsel and blessing throughout their lives. (Gen. 28:1-2; Num. 30:3ff.; Deut. 22:21; Gal. 4:1,2; Eph. 6:2-3) (emphasis mine)
23. Fathers should oversee the process of a son or daughter seeking a spouse. While a father may find a wife for his son, sons are free to take initiative to seek and “take a wife.” A wise son will desire his parents’ involvement, counsel, and blessing in that process. Since daughters are “given in marriage” by their fathers, an obedient daughter will desire her father to guide the process of finding a husband, although the final approval of a husband belongs to her. Upon a Marriage taking place, a new household with new jurisdiction is established, separate from that of the father. (Gen. 24:1ff.; 25:20; 28:2; Ex. 2:21; Josh. 15:17; Jdg. 12:9; 1 Sam. 18:27; Jer. 29:6; 1 Cor. 7:38; Gen. 24:58)
The implication is that an adult daughter of a Christian patriarch ought not move out of her father’s home until she has been “given” by him in marriage. There is a dangerous wooden-literalism in patriarchalist biblical hermeneutics which leads to imposing this aspect of Ancient Near Eastern culture on twenty-first century Christians. Here is one of the other problems with patriarchalism as a response to egalitarianism: it looks back fondly on the way things were done in the past and makes some of the customs of that era moral absolutes for the present.
Another era which patriarchalists mine for unbiblical moral absolutes is the ante-bellum American South. This era is considered by Phillips, and other patriarchalist leaders as the greatest form of Christian culture ever experienced on earth, and patterns much of its ideals accordingly. Arch patriarchalist Doug Phillips is a huge fan of southern Presbyterian theologian R.L. Dabney, who was in many ways a fine Reformed theologian, with the exception that he was a bitter opponent of emancipation for slaves, and is a poster-child for the use of the Bible in support of the institution of chattel slavery. You can read more about the inherent racism and sexism of patriarchalism in a blog post entitled “Patriarchy, Christian Reconstruction and White Supremacy” at the blog Diary of an Autodidact. The fact that Southern idealism is a strong influence on this movement is further evidence of the extra- and unbiblical nature of the patriarchalist movement as directed and informed by Vision Forum.
For these and other reasons, it would be unwise for an Evangelical Christian to resist the cultural pressures of liberal egalitarianism by subjecting one’s self and one’s family to the so-called “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.” In the gracious providence of God, complementarianism is the name of the more biblical approach to the roles of husbands and wives in the family, the church and society. Keeping in mind what we’ve discussed about it above in contrast with patriarchalism, we’ll look at complementarianism in more detail in the next post.
On this week’s episode of the Christ the Center podcast (#263, “Insider Movements“), Dr. David Garner is interviewed about his recent article in Themelios, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” analyzing the hermeneutics underlying the Insider Movement, a sociological and anthropological approach to contextualizing evangelism without calling on people whose identities are tied to other world religions like Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to disassociate themselves from those religious, cultural and family ties, but to work inside them and transform their approach to those religions in light of the teachings of Jesus. While it is noble to attempt to find a way to minimize the risk of loss or danger a Jew, Muslim or Hindu (for example) may face upon becoming a Christian, it is unfaithful to the Jesus they claim to follow if they would settle for living to distort their new-found faith with the teachings and practices of the religion with which they have previously been associated. Living to syncretize Christianity with non-Christian world religions is not a faith worth living for or dying for.
This movement is clearly in contradiction with the teachings of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus carried his cross and died on it for those who believe, and he calls on believers to take up their cross, follow him, and be willing to live publicly for him and, if need be, accept rejection by leaders of other religions, communities and families, even if such rejection includes dying for him.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).
I know it’s easy for me to say, and to criticize those who would find a way around it, but I too have a cross of self-denial to carry if I am to follow Jesus. I must kill my own sin (a struggle which involves suffering and risk of social rejection on my part), and publicly acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and associate myself formally with his people, the Church (Hebrews 10:25), serving him with my time, talent and treasure–loving, forgiving and giving to my brothers until it hurts. Should the time come that the culture or community in which I live demands that I deny my Lord Jesus Christ, I am called upon to defy such a demand and willingly suffer the consequences in reliance upon the grace and goodness of God, knowing that if such is happening to me, it is no more than what he sacrificed for me.
One of the interesting things about this movement which Dr. Garner points out in the article and the interview is that the intellectual source of such innovation in world missions comes from the same root as the church growth movement–Donald McGavran (d. 1990) and his School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (formerly the famous School of World Mission).
Donald Anderson McGavran (December 15, 1897–1990) was a missiologist who was the founding Dean (1965) and Professor of Mission, Church Growth, and South Asian Studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India and later amissionary himself (1923–1961), McGavran spent most of his life trying to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism or Christian conversion.
McGavran identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement. McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. [HT: Wikipedia]
While McGavran’s efforts in his time were more theologically conservative and a reaction against liberal missionary trends, a student of his named C. Peter Wagner built on McGavran’s principles and create the church growth movement which has brought us such phenomena as seeker-sensitive worship and the modern megachurch. Incidentally, he is also the one who coined the phrase New Apostolic Reformation for the worldwide sweep of Charismatic and Word of Faith theology with a special emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic office, which movement in America has recently frightened the political Left because so many who would fall under this umbrella have modified the theonomist views of R. J. Rushdoony (for more on that, see this) and declared that they would “take dominion” over every sphere of influence in America.
Syncretism in the name of saving one’s life is no way to spread Christianity. A new generation around the world must hear the age-old truism: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” [paraphrasing Tertullian, Apology chapter 50].
Ever watched Adult Swim’s Moral Orel? It’s like a spoof of Davey and Goliath, and serves as a platform for heavy-handed satire of the moralistic idiosyncrasies of some Christians. Most Christians would find it distasteful to watch, although it probably reflects more truth than our kind are willing to admit—when it isn’t’ caricaturing moralistic Christianity.
Upon watching a few clips of this show and seeing just how much they make it look like an edgy version of Davey and Goliath, I was reminded that this show isn’t only a satire of politically Right-wing Christians, but can step on the toes of liberal Christians as well. The fact is that Davey and Goliath was a production of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a theologically liberal denomination of Lutherans despite the presence of the word “Evangelical” in their name. But it is also true that a generation or more of conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals were raised loving Davey and Goliath and being conditioned to liberal forms of moralism. This must be a small reason why moral and social do-good-ism is an example of common ground shared by today’s conservative culture warriors and liberal progressives. The development of the contemporary political spectrum among Western Christians has a long and storied past, involving the influence of eschatology, pietism and revivalism among other things. These influences raise a question, the answer to which we may find instructive.
“On which is it better for the Christian church to focus her efforts:
civic moral activism, or her own doctrine and practice?”
I submit the following:
- Organized religious efforts toward civic moral activism are derived from a fundamentally utopian vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize doctrine and practice.
- Organized religious efforts to maintain the purity of each denomination’s own doctrine and practice are drawn from a fundamentally realistic vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize organized religious civic moral activism.
What’s eschatology got to do with it?
- An Augustinian interpretation of the millennium shared in its broadly among Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christendom
- The Roman Catholic version promoted medieval Constantinianism (church over state).
- Lutheran and Reformed reformed amillennialism, tended to focus on doctrine and practice (confessionalism), but had little opportunity to engage in organized religious civic moral activism as we know it today.
- Post-Reformation Protestant Europe replaced Constantinism with ecclesiastical establishmentarianism (state over church); Confessional Protestants complied, affirmed the state’s role in defending the church from heresy, and theoretically denied the state’s right to affect church’s doctrine.
- Twentieth/Twenty-first century Reformed Amillennialism of three varieties (at least): Kuyperian, Two-Kingdom and Theonomic (aka, “Dominionist”)
- An “over-realized” (or utopian) form of amillennial eschatology
- Tended to engage in organized religious civic moral activism
- Held by theologically liberal progressives as well as fundamentalists in the early 20th century.
- Twentieth/twenty-first century Reformed Postmillenialists of two varieties (at least): Kuyperian and Theonomic.
- Anabaptist eschatology (Anabaptism a non-Roman Catholic version of medieval monastic mysticism)
- Tended to retreat from society and thus avoided both organized religious and individual civic moral activism.
- Adopted by fundamentalist Protestants during the bulk of the 20th century in reaction against theologically liberal Postmillennialists.
Two religious trends add complexity to the preceding eschatological and social tendencies: Pietism and Revivalism:
- Lutheran deviation
- Focused on personal piety, neglected doctrine and practice
- An essentially Wesleyan trend adapted by Calvinists (Reformed); partly inspired by Pietism.
- Focused on individual conversion and piety and promoted organized religious civic moral activism.
- It is better for the church to focus on maintaining the purity of her own doctrine, piety and practice, and to leave civic activism (moral or otherwise) to the individual.
- Thus, I find that an Amillennial, Confessional Protestantism that is relatively uninfluenced by pietism and revivalism is the ideal approach for the Christian church.
The preceeding is my attempt to organize the many things I’ve been learning over the years regarding the development of modern American Protestant confessionalism, liberalism, fundamentalism and evangelicalism. This being merely a blog post, and not an academic essay, those of you who are more informed on these issues are invited to critique my bullet points for the sake of accuracy. Those readers for whom the above raises questions or critical comments, these are especially welcome. You sharpen my iron, I’ll sharpen yours!
Despite the last few posts on the New Apostolic Reformation, I generally reserve my political views for my Facebook page, but the intersection of this current political issue with theological issues commends its appearing on my blog to some extent. You may have heard that the next weekly Republican debate will feature questions submitted by the general population via YouTube. I simply could not resist taking this opportunity to question the logic of this association of Rick Perry with the so-called Dominionists of the New Apostolic Reformation. I’m neither endorsing Rick Perry nor Dominionism, just attempting to point out how the political Left are demagoguing on this issue (at which they are masters, if you ask me), at least in the blogosphere. A prime source of Left-wing blogging on the topic of the New Apostolic Reformation is called NAR Watch. Much of the information is interesting and useful, but I still contend that they engage in too much assumption as it relates to just what members of this movement wants out of any presidential candidates they may endorse.
The following video is my question submitted for consideration to be used on the night of the debate. I’m not holding my breath that it’ll actually be aired, but I’d like to share it with you. Most of you could probably take it or leave it, but if you either enjoyed it very much, or seriously take issue with it, please take the opportunity to go to the FoxNews Channel’s YouTube page, browse through the hundreds of videos which are apparently organized in no particular order, and click on either the thumbs up or thumbs down icon so others can see whether my question warrants attention.
No jokes about my booming announcer voice 😉
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)
To fully understand this passage, one must read the entirety of chapter one. The literary structure can be summarized simply using our key term “dominion.” God created kingdoms: outer space, the sky, the sea, and the land; then God created three kings to exercise “dominion” in each “kingdom”: celestial bodies, birds, sea life of every kind, and the race of Man. There is a progressive significance in this creation week, with the creation of Man as the climax.
With God’s creation of Man, he gives him a vocation: fill the earth, subdue it, and take dominion over the lesser forms of life. Man lives on the earth as a kind of vice-regent of God.
This passage is applied in many ways by many people, but it can be reduced to something more or less like this. God created Man, then he gave him something to do. How this idea has been applied varies according to the theological tradition to which the believer subscribes.
Throughout the middle ages, Roman Catholic traditions drove a wedge between the sacred and the secular in such a way that those who were inclined to a vocation of church ministry were seen as inherently superior to everyone else in the ordinary, profane occupations that seemed anything but spiritual. There were priests who worked for God (good), everyone else worked for the world (not so good).
In the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformers recovered the biblical truth which they called “the priesthood of the believer.” This doctrine emphasized the fact that Christ was the High Priest who mediates between God and Man, and all believers, ordained minister or not, are priests who may now approach God and offer spiritual sacrifices on the basis of Christ’s mediation and intercession. But the Reformers didn’t leave this truth at this point. Application of the priesthood of the believer was made to every aspect of his life. In short, what are his responsibilities? That is his ministry. This idea brought a renewed dignity to labor and developed what is known as the Protestant work ethic. This work ethic taught each believer-priest to work for the glory of God and the good of his neighbor in whatever way his interests, skills and opportunities allow. Much of the productive, technological and industrial development in the modern world finds part of its roots in this Protestant work ethic, which influenced Western culture for the better.
As the centuries wore on, this truth became less and less clear, and Christians became less aware of the spiritual significance of their secular vocations, and the work ethic largely fell by the way side. While historic orthodox Protestants retained this doctrine at least in their theological volumes, if not always preached and lived in their lives, but others kept it in mind, working for the glory of God in their own personal way as the Reformation doctrine of vocation went largely neglected.
In the great cultural shift that took place in the 1960’s, some Protestant ministers, notable among them, Francis Schaeffer, sought ways to recover this truth by encouraging Christians to “engage the culture,” in order to be used by God to once again be the “Light of the World” and “The Salt of the Earth,” in other words, Christians whom God may use to bring glory to God by enlightening their neighbors to the Light of the truth which is in Christ, as well as by being a benefit to their neighbors in their work and their service.
In the decade of the seventies, a few ministers in the charismatic movement had a similar desire to encourage their congregants and the church at large to live more consistently and more visibly as Christians in a sinful world. They, too, had a sense that evangelical Christians had largely ceased being influential members of society, and wanted to do something about it in their way, according to the understanding of their theological tradition. To put it inelegantly, I consider these efforts by Schaeffer and these charismatics, among others as blind squirrels who found a nut, as the old saying goes. The “nut” being some concept of the historic doctrine of vocation.
Fast forward to 2011. This desire to glorify God and serve and evangelize their neighbors becomes misinterpreted by the Left Wing of the American political system as efforts to “take dominion” over the federal government of the United States and establish a theocratic form of government. Looked at in this light, now, doesn’t it sound silly?
Now let’s engage in a comparative study. First read Lutheran journalist and blogger, Edward Gene Veith’s blog post “Vocation as the Christian Life,” and learn more about Luther’s doctrine of vocation and how it ought to be applied in this generation. Then watch the following video posted at www.the7mountains.com and see if you can detect similar motives. Then stop listening to reactionary political Leftists who think those crazy extremist Right Wing Christians are out to overthrow the government and start stoning adulterers and burning witches.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to attempt to interact with Dr. C. Peter Wagner’s defense of what he has called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The statement is simply titled, “The New Apostolic Reformation: An Update by C. Peter Wagner, Ph. D.” Wagner taught Church Growth for thirty years at Fuller Theological Seminary (which is no bastion of theological orthodoxy). According to his statement, NAR is simply a label given to trends in rapidly growing sectors of global Christianity. Wagner writes:
The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years. The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements. I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.
The distinctives to which Wagner refers are listed in his statement as “Apostolic Governance,” “The Office of Prophet,” “Dominionism,” “Extra-biblical revelation,” and “Supernatural Signs and Wonders.” These are the elements which are most commonly criticized by theological critics such as myself. The political activism of the movement in America is what is being focused on in media reports, and political water-cooler discussions.
The political Left in the United States is expressing tremendous alarm about the fact that some who have associations with this movement of radical charismatic churches are lending political support to leading conservative Republican candidates. In 2008, they criticized the fact that Sarah Palin had been formally “prayed over” by such figures. When Wisconsin Congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, began running for the Republican Presidential nomination this year, political opponents began connecting dots between her and the NAR, but it was not until Texas Governor, Rick Perry, entered the same contest that the media hype about certain NAR-aligned figures who joined Perry in organizing a non-denominational, and arguably non-political, prayer rally days prior reached a fever pitch.
In light of this fact, Dr. Wagner stated a position on the concept of theocracy, as it relates to the political activity of NAR personalities:
The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its foundational religious equivalent. Everyone I known in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back toConstantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.
I agree at least to this extent with Wagner. The broad coalition of politically active American evangelicals known popularly as the Religious Right, far from setting their sights on theocracy, grant to the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as they stand written today, for better or worse, a kind of inspiration that arguably rivals that of the Holy Scriptures themselves. In light of the imminently important Establishment and Free Expression Clauses of the First Amendment, it is grossly inaccurate to accuse even NAR figures as theocrats, much less Governor Perry.
One of the concerns of NAR’s political critics is that should America collapse, the danger is that radical fringe elements could take over the Federal Government. In my view, it is more likely that radical Muslim groups would try that to a greater extent than any radical elements associated with Christianity.
John Hendryx at Monergism.com has addressed the issues of theocracy and the proper goals of Christian influence on the government in an article entitled, “Do Christians Want a Theocratic or Secularist State? Or Neither?” This is a well-written article which emphasizes Christians’ recognition of the need for checks and balances and the separation of powers.
Too much power in the hands of anyone, including certain denominations of Christians, is dangerous because man is corruptible. That is why limited government and a balance of power is a reasonable idea, because it understands the sinful limitations of human beings, whether they be secularist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.
Even though Christians know the only truth, they also know themselves too well as sinners to be without the restraint of law or a balance of power.
Finally, Hendryx included a note on the issue of theocracy which he points out highlights the importance and impact of biblical eschatology. For it is specifically the Postmillennial factions on both sides of the political aisle (Liberation theology on the Left, Theonomy on the Right) which would promote something that would more accurately be characterized as theocracy. To the extent that NAR draws from the wells of R. J. Rushdoony’s theonomy, criticism is fair. But as Wagner notes, “NAR has no official statements of theology or ecclesiology.” This means not all Christian political activists aligned with the New Apostolic Reformation necessarily have the same eschatological view.
In support of Hendryx’s claim about the “theocratic” Postmillenial views of Liberation theology, consider the controversy in the last presidential election cycle during which then candidate Barack Obama was criticized for his twenty-year membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, pastored by Black Liberation Theologian, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. According to Stanley Kurtz, writing in Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (© 2010, Threshold Editions):
Wright openly denies the distinction between religion and politics, disdaining preachers who refuse to connect Jesus to liberationist militancy. Obama has indeed taken political instruction from Wright, and Wright’s history strongly suggests that this was a common occurrence. Obama’s greatest hope, in fact, was to build a political movement around Wright and preachers like him (p. 327).
I don’t personally believe that the New Apostolic Reformation will be nearly as successful at influencing (read: “taking dominion over”) the so-called “SevenMountains” for Christ as they would desire, nor as much as the political Left fears. I predict they will simply counteract the Light provided by the more traditional, and less cultic, strains of orthodox Christianity before the watching world.