Shepherding/Discipleship Movement Survivor's Blog

The present-day impact of the Shepherding/Discipleship movement from the perspective of a former member of Morning Star International (now Every Nation Churches and Ministries).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Changing Church & the "Religious Spirit"

It was a banner day at the post office yesterday... received a couple of new books I've been eagerly waiting for, both by C. Peter Wagner.

I was going to write a full-on review, but this one on Changing Church (2005) is pretty decent and is probably a lot better than I'd be able to do myself. Much of what is in Changing Church can be found in Wagner's other books, including Churchquake! (2001) and Spheres of Authority (2002). However, compared to these earlier books, Changing Church further marginalizes anyone who disagrees with his position that apostles have been rightfully restored to the government of the global church as having a "religious spirit" keeping them from accepting anything other than the status quo. That's where his other recent book, Freedom from the Religious Spirit (2005) comes in. It's a primer on how to identify and cast out this religious spirit, which instead sounds an awful lot to me like just plain (and warranted!) resistance to takeover by the New Apostolic Reformation.

I was personally identified at one point as as having this "religious spirit," for daring to stand up for Christian essentials like the Trinity and the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ. I can't speak for others, but in my case I am 100% sure that it was the HOLY SPIRIT convicting me of the truth in Christ, not a "religious spirit" keeping me from accepting a new teaching as was implied.

So this is why this quote from Joseph L. Castleberry's Changing Church review really jumped out at me (emphasis mine)...

Wagner’s argument improves to some degree as he discusses a trend “from heavy doctrinal load to a lighter doctrinal load.” It is true that such a trend is evident in the church, and though his embrace of Open Theology and his suggestion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an essential Christian belief will dismay some readers, Wagner makes an effective case for greater tolerance of ambiguity in terms of doctrine.

Wagner's hypothesis is that New Apostolic Reformation churches are less exclusive doctrinally than traditional denominations. I actually don't have a huge problem with this in theory AS LONG AS HISTORIC CHRISTIAN ESSENTIALS ARE ADHERED TO. However, Wagner has apparently determined that Open Theism - the belief that God is changeable and is not omniscient or omnipresent, but allows mankind to determine history - as well as modalism, are quite ok to include as acceptable Christian beliefs. First, he states that he agrees with prominent Open Theism apologist Greg Boyd that "God does change His mind" and then states that "most intercessors and prophets assume open theology" (Changing Church 154-55). Next, he argues that adhering to the doctrine of the Trinity as set forth by the 325 AD Nicene Council is too exclusive in that it bars Oneness believers from Christian inclusion, and that the Trinity instead "might not be regarded as an absolute on which we would gauge our ability to support each other and work together in advancing God's kingdom" (159).

What next? Fellowship with Mormonism? Jehovah's Witnesses? I mean, they say they're Christians, right? However, consider what John, a true and foundational Biblical apostle, had to say regarding perservering in the teaching of Christ:

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (2 John 1:9-11; NIV)

Wagner additionally posits that present-day apostles "have little or no desire to traverse many of the traditional pathways laid down by professional academic theologians. [. . .] I have never offered a course in systematic theology [in Wagner Leadership Institute] simply because there would be virtually no demand for it among our in-service, apostolically oriented student body" (145).

Quotes like these should be enough to put the book down and go home. Even though Wagner continues to insist that the New Apostolic Reformation entails a change in how we "do" church without affecting doctrine (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary), it is apparent that this so-called new apostolic government isn't really as concerned with upholding sound doctrine as was the apostle Paul, another true and foundational Biblical apostle, and certainly isn't being equipped by Wagner and Co. to not only hold to Christian essentials themselves, but to additionally bring the Body of Christ into the maturity of the faith. This makes me recall a related quote by a not so little known author Wagner mentored at Fuller, Rick Warren... "the last thing many believers need is to go to another Bible study." So, no Bible, misidentifying the Holy Spirit as a "religious spirit," deconstructing Christian essentials, it doesn't really matter as long as we're in unity to fulfill the Apostolic Mandate (deconstruct-ese for the Great Commission), right? While I'm not advocating that everyone be a professional theologian, basic knowledge of Christian beliefs and WHY they are Christian beliefs is essential, especially of someone claiming to be an "apostle," since one of the main roles, responsibilities and qualifications of a church leader is not just holding to any old doctrine, but holding fast to SOUND DOCTRINE:

Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:8-9; NIV)

If the New Apostolic Reformation follows the direction of its leader as put forth in Changing Church, it instead risks fulfilling Paul's words to Timothy:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4; NIV)

Wagner tells how he almost flunked his Fuller Theological Seminary tenure examination due to beliefs like these - in the second go-around, he didn't mention the Trinity, and passed (159-60). Someone into Open Theism could certainly argue that Fuller theologians changed history by letting him slide.


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