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The "Third Wave"

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

Gary Holloway and Michael Weed in their 1995 Disciples of Christ Historical Society paper proposed two specific models to replace the biblical pattern of the New Testament church "the Willow Creek Community Church, and the contemporary Pentecostal "Third Wave" paradigms. The linkages of the "Willows" and the "Vineyards" with Churches of Christ are theological, unbiblical, and utilitarian. The professed interest is church growth.

Gary Holloway (newly appointed DLU Director of Graduate Bible) was, and Michael Weed now is senior faculty in the Institute of Christian Studies, a previous University of Texas Bible Chair, and now a ACU satellite. Paying for one day of ICS instructions is $200. A dollar for ICS is a vote for postmodern theology. The next preacher in your pulpit could be a ICS graduate and a "Third Waver."

It is expected to see such yoke­fellows together on the same platform as Bill Hybels and Max Lucado. But the strangest alliance of this postmodern consortium is the yoking of Rubel Shelly and Mike Bickle (Kansas City Prophets) who joined hands in April 1996 in Florence, Ala., for the Conference on Spiritual Renewal.

Understanding the Third Wave

To obtain an understanding of the "Third Wave" movement, the brain child of C. Peter Wagner, it is imperative to go back one hundred years in American church history. Wagner alleges there have been three unique descents of the Holy Spirit in this century which be designates as the "three waves."

He has in mind three major Pentecostal/charismatic movements in the past ninety years: the Azusa Street revival (1906) in San Francisco; the charismatic craze of the 1960s which brings to mind Pat Boone and the "Flower Children;" and the "Third Wave" movement identified with the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

The answer to this provides the key to understand the postmodern theology of our liberal brethren. The body of the "Third Wave" phenomena is the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and its soul is the "Wonders and Signs" scheme devised by John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner.

The theology of the "Third Wave" is the brain child of C. Peter Wagner, a Fuller Theological Seminary professor in Pasadena, Calif. Wagner is a reputed expert in the theories of church growth. Herein lies the primary interest of the liberals among us. Peter Wagner wrote the book, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit which has become the primer for the "Third Wave" Pentecostal movement since the 1980s. The thesis of the book runs on a double track. It is both apocalyptic (revelation), and eschatological (doctrine of last things). The "Third Wavers" say that we are living in the last days, and the Second Coming is imminent in this present generation.

While the beginning of the Vineyard church goes back to 1978, the form and substance of the "Third Wave" movement came into prominence in 1983 in a class taught by John Wimber with the assistance of Wagner. The course was numbered MC510 and titled "Signs and Wonders." It was the most popular course ever taught at Fuller. A total of 2800 had enrolled before the course was canceled because of its focus.

It was over this four year period that Wimber articulated and fine tuned his "Signs and Wonders" theology. Wimber's bold claim is that the miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed can be and must be performed today. This is what Wimber calls "power evangelism." This form of superstition holds that the age of miracles has never ceased.

It was not until after Wimber left his Fuller Theological Seminary post and moved his Vineyard Fellowship to Anaheim that his church "took off," growing to a membership of 5000. A typical Wimber service is lifted straight out of the Pentecostal primer of "how to do church."

The first thirty minutes are given to nonstop singing accompanied by a high powered rock band. Wimber knows show biz. He was a professional jazz and rock­and­roll musician before his conversion. He plays the key board and writes many of the praise songs.

Then the audience is fired up with a typical high energy Pentecostal sermon. The audience by then is spellbound and fully charged for the "Signs and Wonders" session. They have come to behold the supernatural at work-where the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, demons exorcised, and the dead raised

Wimber's Vineyard church has now grown to include more than 600 churches world wide who hold membership in the Association of the Vineyard Churches which was formed in 1986. The name Vineyard is now trademarked to identify the network of Vineyard churches.

Problems in the Vineyards

Two festering problems are now tormenting John Wimber and his Vineyard churches. He does not seem able to solve them. The first problem is connected with the Kansas City Prophets who joined in 1991 the network of the Association of Vineyard Churches by invitation of John Wimber. The complexities of this story is such that it will be related in another place within its own framework of references.

The "Toronto Blessing" is still another story of major portentous significance which threatens the very existence of the Vineyard churches, and which compromises Wimber's emphases on the "Signs and Wonders" movement. There has been nothing like it since the Pentecostal revival on Azusa Street in 1906.

The "Toronto Blessing" had its beginning on a cold night January 6, 1994. A small insignificant Vineyard church with 120 present met in a four­day revival to hear a guest speaker, Randy Clark, a Saint Louis Vineyard preacher. He had been recently anointed by South African Rodney Howard­Brown, one of two sources for the "Toronto Blessing" laugh­ins.

Then it happened! The "Toronto Blessing" suddenly descended upon the gathering. Then the laughing began which has since spread around the world nonstop. Many swooned falling to the floor. This was the actual beginning of the "Toronto Blessing." The meetings continued nightly.

The word got around and the people started coming. More than a million people since that night have come to Toronto from around the world in hope of being touched by the Holy Spirit. Whatever John Wimber had in mind about the "Signs and Wonders" of the third advent of the Holy Spirit in this century, he was not thinking about what started in Toronto.

The behavior of the participants has evolved and expanded. The unexpected is expected. It is a sight to see. The vast carpeted floor of the Toronto Vineyard church is littered with bodies, laughing, swooning, staggering, trilling, and whooping.

Some no doubt come for the excitement, or to put on a show of their own. A lion's sound rolls through the assembly hall, punctuated by the barking as of a dog. Here are ministers wailing like a bunch of cats. A man is wearing a T­shirt with the logo- "A jerk for Jesus." A woman down front whips her hair into a frenzy before falling to the floor.

Jim Beverley, professor of theology and ethics in an Ontario seminary said God would never choose to have us bray like a love­sick donkey. The Toronto Blessing is being scourged by Christian critics who see in it spiritual hocus­pocus at best, and devil­inspired at the worst.

Wimber is greatly alarmed that his Anaheim Vineyard church is being upstaged by John Arnott's Toronto Vineyard church. An exciting evening session of healing people with headaches and internal cancer cannot compare with all the excitement of a "Toronto Blessing" service when every thing is rocking and rolling.

John Wimber has reacted in two ways. He sent letters to 600 Vineyard Fellowships world wide announcing that the Toronto "spirit" exercises such as lion roaring and dog barking were not acceptable. The Toronto airport church was drummed out of the Vineyard Association of Churches after John Arnott ignored what amounted to an ultimatum.

Summary Appraisal

The "Toronto Blessing" is also a story which must be told in the larger context of the Vineyard churches. The "Signs and Wonders" happenings is the center piece of the "Third Wave" Pentecostal/charismatic movement. The "Toronto Blessing" is one of three manifestations of the "Signs and Wonders" phenomena.

Center stage must also be shared with the Kansas City Prophets who claim to foretell future events. The KCP say we are living in the "last days" and that the second coming of Christ will be in this generation.

The only reason why the "Third Wave" movement is of interest to the churches of Christ lies solely in the fact that Gary Holloway and Michael Weed have proposed it as a replacement model for the apostolic church. Randy Harris has commended the charismatic element of the "Third Wave," and especially Jack Deere in his article in a recent issue of Wineskins magazine which now has all the symptoms of a failed venture.

My role in setting forth the above information is strictly reportorial. We are confident that the "change agents" and their liberal agendas cannot stand the full scrutiny of documented facts. Their "houses of cards" are already crumbling.

My personal experience has been that liberal brethren are full of sweetness and light until challenged, then Katie bar the door!

(Editor's comment: We cannot resist pointing out once again that the counterfeit signs of false prophets and charlatans do not compare with the miracles of the first century. To stake that claim is to downgrade the bona fide signs of the first century and does the cause of Christ a disservice. Where in all of the Bible did God send the Holy Spirit to make people roar like a lion, bark like a dog, fall down in a swoon, and wallow on the floor? "Will they not say that you are mad?" It is incredible that some of our brothers - Weed, Harris, and Holloway are promoting these things, and the schools with which they identify are not guiltless - H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)

Published March 1997