The Blight of Apostolic Networks

peter_wagner_new_apostolic_reformationPeter Wagner from Fuller Theological Seminary is credited with popularising the dangerous and overblown notion of post-denominationalism. Wagner has, for many years now, seen a ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ dawning. Though this ideal has indeed gained momentum and spawned relational networks presided over by ‘apostolic’ father-figures, the idea was rightly opposed at the time by a leading authority, Vinson Synan. Synan, ironically a friend of Wagner’s, is widely respected by world Pentecostal leaders and was both influential in mobilising the 1977 Kansas City conference (which drew tens of thousands of Pentecostals and Charismatics) and in formulating the first networks of Pentecostal scholars which have since grown significantly.

The problem is that the ‘apostles’ of which Wagner has approved are usually either self-proclaimed or they trade on relational connections to provide primary influence over smaller churches and their leaders. In other words, they become king-of-the-heap and properly accountable to no-one. Although this can sometimes work well (usually when it works well!), it more often than not severs healthy denominational accountabilities which are spurned by people preferring organic and system-free church.  This is without realising what they are rejecting and without realising that they often end up recreating what they have retreated from. Rather than being post-denominational, the church catholic has become somewhat rebellious.  It rejects the checks and balances of denominations to its peril.

Synan, in his book An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit, observes that church history has many examples of ‘new’ apostolic relationships which have led to heresy and pain.  This is said to be because true apostles are defined biblically as missionary and church planting leaders, whereas the sort Wagner advocates often pursue their own agenda and draw existing church people to themselves. Many of these are also self-appointed and, importantly, are not accredited or ordained with any true accountability for the people they lead.  A deeper problem is that there is regularly a lack of submission to others in such arrangements (and often a dishonouring of the very leadership that has developed the people in question).

Only when the self-effacing humility exemplified by Christ is then role-modelled to others by those who serve Him will we see the unity between churches that will impact communities.  To respect process and authorised leadership is to accumulate the sort of integrity and credit that safeguards church people with accumulated wisdom.  Dying to self, it seems, has become a lost commodity in a dog-eat-dog world which surely has no place in Christ’s church. Maybe that’s why there are so many Christian denominations after all!

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