Extreme Charismatic Makeover

Four and a half years ago, “apostolic alignment” was the catalyst that launched my husband and me into this journey of detox and deconstruction. Had we not found ourselves looking up the wrong end of the apostolic gun, I doubt that we would have come to the realization of the error of this doctrine. I am grateful that we are no longer teachers and promoters of new apostolic reformation. There but for the grace of God… For those who are served by their participation in the authority structure, there is little reason to question its validity.

The past several years of blogging have been a process of examining my beliefs and forming more biblically informed positions about church practices and leadership issues in particular. In the midst of the emerging conversation, my discussion of these issues has taken on a more general tone. However, the events of the last several weeks have turned my attention more specifically to charismatic practices.

Due to recent events, there is a lot of introspection taking place within the charismatic church. This is a good thing. My hope is that this process of examination will go far beyond the surface issues. While talk of discernment, repentance, and humility is important, so far in the statements issued by public charismatic figures there is no questioning of the underlying systemic errors or of common charismatic practices, but instead an indication that some of the false teaching will escalate.

I am convinced of the importance of several particular beliefs concerning church life and function – the headship of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, the error of clergy/laity mentalities, giving to those in need, the incarnational reality of the local church, and the holistic nature of a Spirit-led life.

If standard operational practices are supposedly now being established within the charismatic church, then these are the issues that must be addressed. Many charismatic teachers and believers would agree with these principles, yet their methods and mentalities contradict the fundamental characteristics of church life. I would like to address how these particular beliefs commonly play out in the structure and practice of the charismatic church.

The Headship of Christ
The idea of spiritual fathers within the body usurps the headship of Christ. While the concept of eldering or overseeing is what may be intended by this language, this isn’t a true picture of eldering. Eldering and overseeing occur in mutual relationships among brothers or sisters within the context of sharing life together in a community. There are not national or global spokespersons assigned to leadership within the body of Christ.

The five-fold ministry gifts also function at the grassroots level. Even for those teachers, apostles, or prophets, who travel to equip groups in other cities, there is an element of ongoing relationship to a local community of believers that results in the growth of the church in a local area and the release and empowerment of other believers. This kind of ministry results in the expansion of the local church rather than the expansion of a man-centered ministry.

The Priesthood of All Believers
The body of believers is truly a brotherhood of peers. Without that clear understanding, concepts of leadership and the expression of gifts within the body become distorted.

The concept of hierarchy found in apostolic teaching and spiritual fathering is contrary to the nature of relationships that Jesus taught. He was clear that we were not to have relationships of ruling over one another or to elevate others into that role. I have recently shared my thoughts about apostolic hierarchy, and I have written more extensively on leadership here.

The Error of Clergy/Laity Mentalities
The mentality of The Anointed Minister reinforces the clergy/laity split. Within charismatic circles, the idea of special anointed leaders is strongly ingrained and promoted. These are God’s special people who should not be questioned or opposed. They are held up as necessary for the life of the church and the growth of the individual.

In charismatic churches, not only is there the normal passivity of being an audience, but there is a huge dependence created and promoted for special ministry. That is the reason that people so willingly flock to the latest revival mecca, convinced that they must be touched by The Anointed Minister.

While the words may be about receiving from God, the practices perpetuate the role of the special minister who is needed to impart the things of God.  There is an element of idolatry in the way that people are elevated in ministry.  The problem with so many of these fallen leaders is not that the wrong person was put on the pedestal, the problem IS the pedestal.

Giving to Those in Need
While the concepts of giving and tithing have been mishandled in general in churches everywhere, charismatic ministries have been especially guilty of wrong teaching in this area and of misappropriation of the money given to them. Charismatics take the concept of giving a step beyond tithing to “sowing seed,” truly believing that they will receive a return on the money they give.

The New Testament idea of giving to the poor and of sharing in the needs of those among us is not typically practiced. Even money that is sown to special ministers is often for the purpose of receiving something for oneself, not for the purpose of meeting the needs of others (except the ministry). The irresponsible stewardship of finances by charismatic ministries is truly disgraceful. I wish that all of God’s people were taught and encouraged to give to the poor rather than to these “special ministries.”

The Present Incarnational Reality of The Local Church
Will there be a future great end-time outpouring or revival? I don’t know. However, I believe that the focus on such events is at the expense of fully engaging in the present, incarnational reality of the local church.

Ministry that is removed from a local context is not grounded in reality. The practice of spiritual gifts was never intended to be platform ministry.  The exercise of spiritual gifts from the platform by special speakers does not allow or encourage the expression of gifts among the members of the body.

Within the local community, the gifts of the spirit function in the midst of ongoing relationships which provide a healthy accountability.  Rather than the authority of the podium, the authority of the spirit is demonstrated and can be witnessed in the character of the person and the evidence of the fruit of the spirit in their life.

Is there a place in the body for translocal ministry? Possibly, but the type of itinerant stage ministry that we have become accustomed to is not authentic body ministry.  The elevation of superstar ministers detracts from the centrality of Christ.

The Holistic Nature of a Spirit-Led Life
Where is God’s presence?  Who should pray for healing?  What is worship?  Why is there such a pursuit of special events, special places, and special ministry?

In the quest for the next great movement, outpouring, revival, or happening. an appreciation for the normal christian life is lost.  In the search for the extraordinary grows a disdain for the ordinary.  The mountaintop is not the home of the reality of the christian life lived among ordinary believers practicing one-anothering and learning to express the life of Christ in their midst as they allow the Spirit to direct them.

Perhaps the next revival will occur in the process of sharing life together, praying for one another, encouraging one another, engaging in spiritual practices together, and learning the incredibly abundant potential of the power of the holy spirit in the midst of a group of believers committed to one another and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the next revival will occur as believers grasp the missional heart of God and become an expression of His love incarnated in their local communities, sharing both their spiritual gifts and their possessions with those who don’t yet know Jesus.  Maybe it is in this context that we will experience signs, wonders, and miracles as a testimony to Christ and His work of redemption and restoration.

For those who presume to rewrite the standard practices of the charismatic church, it is time for more than just a housecleaning. There is no point in attempting to rebuild on faulty foundations. These are the foundational elements of church life for all believers. Is there any chance that those who have proclaimed themselves as leaders are willing to step off of the pedestal and use their influence for the complete restructuring of church life and dissolution of power structures in order to facilitate body life in a way that more accurately reflects the nature of church and the kingdom as Jesus intended?

25 thoughts on “Extreme Charismatic Makeover

  1. Thanks for another clear and timely post on issues that are crucial for the whole Kingdom. We all need to be aware that sincere but faulty theology INEVITABLY shows up in systems and structures that inflict damage on the hearts and lives of people. Even those of us who are not from charismatic backgrounds can find direct relevance from the issues you raise.

    I’m especially aware of the importance of your final question about leaders stepping off the pedestal and using their influence for foundational change. As a “field representative” for what has been The Ruling Category (Caucasian, Boomer, male) in so many of our contemporary churches, I find myself in gatherings where apparently little effort has been invested in ensuring diversity – even at supposedly “missional” events. Membership by birth in a place of privilege I did not seek or earn still gives me insider-status authorization to pose the provocative question of “Why are there mostly just old white guys here? How does that make this sustainable for the future of this [organization, movement, church]?”

    It’s my way of attempting to spark a reformation of consciousness and conscience for others like me who have been in charge, often on autopilot. When outsiders call for change, insiders can brush that off as power-seeking or some other excuse. But when an insider says we need to give up our privilege … well … maybe it holds more weight. Often it certainly seems more shocking!

    Hopefully, eventually, those burrs implanted into our spiritual saddles transform into intentional choices to implode the false power structures. And since these structures are diminishing the Kingdom’s reign and reach, that’s a serious thing to be responsible for! And, like it or not, The Ruling Category eventually will have to own up to it.

    Same thing goes for the charismatic systems of theology and authority that you pinpoint as needing an extreme makeover. It’s the decision of those who hold The Power whether they will continue blocking the Body from the progress God intended. If they don’t take the “implosion option” that leads to genuine reformation, they shouldn’t be surprised when those oppressed by the corrupted systems, and their advocates, remove themselves, and/or ever more publicly “call out” those in the place of privilege for an unwillingness to act in the best interests of the entire Body.

    And if there is one lesson in the aftermath of Lakeland about calling out those who hold responsibility, it’s that our words and deeds no longer can be so easily hidden or denied. The Platform and The Pedestal are now in public space where what we’re saying/doing now can be compared to then, and inconsistencies will become more self-evident. Instead, do we want the world to see that we can deconstruct our own dysfunctional systems of privilege and power?

  2. Grace (and Brad!),

    WOW! This is so very well said, timely, thoughtful and thought-provoking … I am so grateful to find myself walking near you both in our journey in The Way of Jesus.

  3. Really good post Grace, well argued.

    a good friend and I were having an interesting discussion about the whole structural deconstruction thing last night. While we both recognise that much of the way church is now is perhaps not what was originally intended, my friend especially was concerned that efforts to remove structure entirely could result in a church that will not be able to stand up to persecution (or other difficulties) in the future…

    we both wondered about the housechurch movement in China – not exactly a western church structure, and yet hierarchical, and able to withstand frequent purges to its leadership by the authorities.

    what do you see as the right level of leadership structure and interrelation between incarnationally real local churches?

  4. I came into a personal relationship with Jesus 30 years ago – right at the prime of the charismatic media movement. In my enthusiasm, I was quickly swept up into the ‘faith movement/prosperity gospel’ and was well down the path you describe here. Then, in 1986, God in His patience and wisdom provided for me to take a trip behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ where I came in intimate contact with the persecuted church. How quickly the prosperity gospel facade crumbled in the presence of a people whose faith was so deeply authentic – and costly. In the ensuing years of working and serving with the persecuted church I had the privilege of meeting some of the most prosperous people in the world – and they had very little of this worlds goods.

    As I became immersed in the work over the next ten years, I can honestly say that the Western volunteers on our projects that we had the most problems with were the Charismatics. They appeared to be sincere. They voiced a strong compassion. They were the most enthusiastic of candidates. But they were almost always ‘loose cannons’ because they lacked the mature character it took took do the ‘ordinary tasks’ required on a consistant basis in order to see the work progress. If there were not great manifestations of the Spirit happening to satisfy their expectations and belief systems, they became quickly discouraged and they either tried to push their theology upon the others so that ‘something great’ would happpen, or they would claim ‘God called them to another area of service’, leaving the project (and their commitment) and causing extra duty for those they desserted.

    I understood where they were coming from, and the source of their frustration and disappointment. “How can it be of God if there is no ‘power’ manifested?” Unfortunately, they were never fully indoctrinated into the transforming power of love (as clearly defined in 1 Cor. 13), humility, community and long suffering. They were over-indoctrinated in the transfroming power of the Spirit, Who, I guess, was sent to provide a short-cut to the goals of health and prosperity. Those who were ‘chosen’ to transfer this power became the power-brokers, the ‘Popes’ of the evangelical church.

    During that time, a wise sage told me; “Never fall for any teaching that only works for the teacher.” I still keep that nugget in my pouch.

  5. This is a fantastic post, and I value your voice on this topic. Thanks for continuing to write about your experiences and your responses.

  6. You’re right. But I don’t expect that to happen overnight. I’m not even sure if it can happen in this generation of “leadership.” There’s too much at stake for many of these guys, too much to give up.

    But, a step toward humility is still a step in the right direction (referring to Mr. Sheets). I haven’t seen anything even closely resembling humility from any others yet. Humility is a prerequisite for revelation. So for those who are willing to humbly listen to God, I have hope that the process of deconstruction will ensue. For those that already have it figured out, and benefit personally from the status quo, not so much.

  7. Give up the POWER TRIPS!!!!!! I like what Sarah says, humility is a prerequiste for revelation. These guys are just as fundamental as the fundamentals!!!!

  8. Hadadada shamlaka lahadanishiaka korie nostada mahalalala shamanana diaki.


    “Touch not thou my annointed for I have placed upon them my favor and protection. They shall carry my glory into new dominions of which you have not seen nor even imagined.”

    Are you afraid yet?

  9. Thanks Rose, Stephanie, l, and Amy!

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about all of this both here and elsewhere, such as your thoughts about fathers at BrM’s blog.

    I share your feelings about false power structures and dysfunctional systems. I suppose due to my experiences, it is an area of particular interest to me.

    Your comments here reminded me of things that I previously wrote about power, privelege, and influence. The third article in particular might be of interest to you.

    I look forward to reading more of your ideas about all of this.

    Thanks for the links Bill and Pat. It is a privilege for me to share conversation with you and Peggy and many of the other post-charismatic, missional thinkers.

    Good questions. My initial thoughts would be that structure is organizational and that leadership within a structure is organic. Meaning that groups do tend to have a degree of organization and that in itself isn’t bad or wrong. However, within that structure, spiritual leadership should be functional rather than positional, recognized according to action and service rather than office and title.

    That is a powerful testimony. I think that it would do most American christians a lot of good to submit themselves to learning from persecuted, marginalized, or underprivileged believers. I know that my own perspective is often too narrow and limited by my middle-class experience.

    sarah and mark,
    I don’t have much hope that these guys would willing step down from power. Not to mention there are probably millions of charismatics who wouldn’t want them to. However, I do have a smidgeon of hope that God is shaking the platforms and pedestals and addressing the idolatry of revival and celebrity ministers.

    Hondai, shondai, tiemy, bowtie.


    Nope, not afraid yet. ;)

  10. Thanks Sarah, blessings to you too.

    If the epistle that the “apostolic fathers” are working on is the next Didache, then I wish they would consider these foundational principles. From my experience, most people in those circles don’t listen to outside voices because of their belief that they have advanced understanding of spiritual matters.

  11. Grace,

    I don’t think that the current “apostolic fathers” would be able to write anything that wouldn’t support their deviant practices, therefore, perhaps a “post-apostolic MOTHER”, such as yourself, should do the writing. ;o)


  12. The line that the problem is the pedestal really hit home for me. Whether it’s in the church or any other institution (and having worked in government, I especially see this), the more we are captured by the concepts of power and hierarchy, the less effective we are.

  13. Thanks Tom, I’ve said my piece. ;)

    So true. And while there may be appropriate functions of power in government and institutions, the pursuit of power is unacceptable within the kingdom.

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