The charismatic/Pentecostal community is facing a challenge--and it's not about theology, worship styles or spiritual gifts. It all comes down to the (until recently) dry topic of church government. As our movement enters the 21st century, the winds of change are blowing, and there is no shortage of "weather forecasters" with predictions of either gloom or glory.
Leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) suggest that traditional denominations be jettisoned in favor of a more biblically based ecclesiastical structure governed by modern-day apostles and prophets.
Denominational leaders, on the other hand, argue that God is continuing to work through their organizations--and that they provide more effective means of accountability, education and support to those who choose to seek ministerial covering through them.
Most on both sides of the issue agree that 20th-century charismatic/Pentecostal wineskins must be adapted to hold 21st-century wine. I believe that apostolic and denominational leaders together hold the keys to adapting leadership structures so that the church can transform culture and advance the kingdom of God for generations to come.
As a denominational leader from a historic Pentecostal denomination, and whose heart responds to the freshness and vitality of much in the current Apostolic Reformation movement, I find myself working through these kinds of questions (and many more) with pastors and other church leaders across the Pentecostal/charismatic community.
The last 50 years have been characterized by engagement--sometimes couched in strong disagreement--between Pentecostal denominations and these "independent charismatic segments," especially the current expression through the NAR, which is the focus of this article.
In 1998 and 1999 C. Peter Wagner wrote two books recognizing an emerging church government and leadership paradigm among certain growing congregations and church movements: The New Apostolic Churches and ChurchQuake!
He continued to study these movements and became a catalytic leader among them, and his present views of this movement are found in the newly released Changing Church. In this book he identifies 2001 as the beginning of a "Second Apostolic Age," which he believes has the same flow of the Spirit as the first- and second-century church. Some key elements of this "age" are described below with observations related to denominations:
1. Apostolic government. Denominational governments are usually rooted in democracy. Authority is vested in groups, and individual authority is curtailed. Constitutions, bylaws and conventions provide denominational government frameworks.
In denominational models, pastors are often "employees" of the congregation. Their mission is to implement the local-church mission. Local-church authority resides with boards and committees. Denominational leaders usually function as administrators over programs, policies and regions.
Apostolic leaders, on the other hand, believe that apostles and prophets are the foundational government structure of the church. Called by Christ, these leaders have great individual authority over their spheres of influence. Apostolic pastors cast the vision of the church and are its primary leaders. In many cases these pastors have planted the local congregations and have received a divine call to spend their lives there.
Many of Wagner's critiques of the denominational model are on-target. But the apostolic model also leaves questions:
First, Wagner implies that the only relationships which engender accountability are those which are personal as opposed to institutional. I would contend that authentic relationships are not exclusively to be found in apostolic networks, and may thrive even in the context of denominational structures.
Second, in spite of some advances, the issue of accountability is still not settled among apostolic networks. Their loose structure may provide a fallow breeding ground for nepotism and/or authoritarianism.
Third, by definition, apostolic networks are smaller groups and are less likely to accomplish what denominations can often accomplish through combined resources that involve ownership, mutuality and accountability.
The challenge to denominations is to find ways to discover and release the principles of apostolic, transforming relationships within their structure.
2. Kingdom vision. A denominational mind-set tends to have the following characteristics: clergy and laity distinctions; church is thought of as a "building" in a particular location; traditional church ministers are more spiritual than Christian business people; the role of Christians working in the marketplace is to support those "in the ministry."
A kingdom mind-set envisions the church operating in the everyday lives of people through "workplace apostles" that influence their environment with kingdom principles rooted in Scripture.
For example, Proverbs 13:22 promises that "the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous" (NKJV). A kingdom mind-set takes this seriously and believes this will occur through the "gate[s] of social transformation and transference of wealth," as Wagner explains in Changing Church. This mind-set is not about personal aggrandizement but the mutuality of wealth transfer and social transformation.
Although Wagner's view of "workplace apostles" remains controversial among some denominational leaders, it is nonetheless a mind-set change that I believe is necessary for denominations to be more effective and biblical.
3. Territorial vision. From fear, competition, or rejection, churches under the spirit of denominationalism usually exclude cooperation with other members of the body of Christ.
In contrast, leaders with a kingdom mind-set seek opportunities with others to accomplish God's purposes in a given territory. This is why many apostolic leaders and churches see themselves on divine assignment regarding their cities, counties, regions and country.
There is no inherent reason why denominational churches and leaders cannot have the same apostolic call regarding their territories and still be in relationship with their larger denominational constituency. When the spirit of denominationalism is broken, freedom to accomplish the mission with all Jesus' tribes emerges.
4. Spiritual invasion. For many years the guru of the church-growth movement, Wagner now sees that church growth is not about the size of a local congregation but rather developing and releasing people who impact and transform society by kingdom principles.
In this sense he aligns with dominion (or Kingdom Now) theology, envisioning the church bringing social transformation by invading the realm of the demonic in all levels of society. Wagner openly acknowledges that the eschatological implications will leave questions for many denominational leaders.
While this point will remain a point of disagreement, if not controversy, I believe Pentecostal denominations need to assess the impact of our eschatology in regard to the transforming power of the gospel in society. The seriousness of this discussion will depend on whether the apostolic reformation is able to produce the social transformation Wagner envisions.
5. Equipping paradigms. Most seminaries were founded on the European, academy model: knowledge information, criticism and preparation to serve current systems are the priority. The NAR rejects this paradigm by shifting to its version of Ephesians 4:12, "equipping ... the saints for the work of ministry."
As part of this shift, several issues emerge for Pentecostal denominations: Will accredited seminaries be shaped by the same forces that shaped Protestant seminaries? What are the implications for ordination and accountability? Can theological education make the leap from transferring information to transformational impartation?
In terms of theological doctrines, apostolic leaders and churches are less interested in the nuances that define and distance us. Notably, in recent years, traditional Pentecostal denominations have also begun to embrace a more open stance toward theological differences with their evangelical cousins. Through involvement in various evangelical gatherings, many Pentecostals have become more adept at separating doctrinal essentials and nonessentials.
While I appreciate the practical aspect of Wagner's model, I see two weaknesses. First, it may intentionally reinforce Pentecostalism's anti-intellectual stereotype. Second, he contends that many in the NAR have little or no interest in systematic theology.
While appreciating that systematic theology is often not the liveliest of courses, I'm more concerned that not understanding the basics of historical and systematic theology leaves us vulnerable to repeating past theological errors.
Current leaders may understand the nuances and significance of issues facing the church. But I am concerned that this model will not adequately prepare future leaders to carefully discern and communicate the historic Christian faith "once delivered to the saints" (see Jude 3).
6. Wesleyan holiness. The final chapter may be the most surprising of all. Wagner addresses the accountability issue not by adopting legal systems but by focusing on Wesleyan holiness. He believes Wesleyan holiness provides the biblical framework for an "apostolic lifestyle" rooted in the fear of the Lord and humility.
Being from a Wesleyan heritage Pentecostal denomination, I agree with Wagner's analysis. His call to renewed personal and corporate holiness, avoiding legalism and a prideful "sinless perfectionism," is exactly what is needed in all branches of Pentecostalism.
Beyond these distinctions between apostolic networks and denominational structures, the following are several observations that I believe need to be considered as Pentecostal denominations seek to learn from apostolic networks--and not repeat their mistakes:
Nonetheless, denominations need to find ways to identify, encourage and recognize the "apostolic" leaders in their midst--even if we remain uncomfortable with calling someone an "apostle." This is very different from being a "denominational man." This is openness to a dynamic of the Spirit that will often rock the boat but will point the boat in the direction God has for it.
What does the future hold for apostolic networks and Pentecostal denominations? This will depend on the willingness of both to keep in step with the Spirit's direction while engaging the changing needs of culture. The challenges of the future will require increasingly creative leaders who refuse to make structures sacred and exhibit the flexibility to pour the wine of ministry into the new wineskins God is making available to His servants.
Doug Beacham, D.Min., is the executive director of church education ministries for the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
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