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?