by C. Peter Wagner
When Herbert Kane’s The Christian World Mission: Today and Tomorrow appeared a few years ago, I was understandably provoked.
When Herbert Kane’s The Christian World Mission: Today and Tomorrow appeared a few years ago, I was understandably provoked. Kane has some very nice things to say about the church growth movement, hut he ends his chapter by stating that "the proponents of church growth, with few exceptions, have emphasized the human factors and all but overlooked the divine factor." The divine factor, he goes on to say, is the Spirit of God.
Yes, I was provoked, but in the positive sense of the word, I was provoked to righteousness. Whereas we had always made an attempt to include the divine factor, somehow or other our efforts had been obviously inadequate. It was about that time that I felt God calling me to dedicate a significant portion of my research energies in ’80s toward correcting this imbalance. I became intensely interested in how the ministry of the Holy Spirit has been and is influencing the worldwide spread of the gospel.
A second strong influence on my thinking came through an article by Paul Hiebert in the January, 1982, Missiology entitled, "The Flaw of the Excluded Middle." In it Hiebert made the astounding observation that, because they have not adequately come to terms with the supernatural and how it influences everyday life. Western missions have been, and, if they don’t change, will continue to be "one of the greatest secularizing forces in history." This is shocking because it is exactly the opposite effect we always thought we were having.
The third, and decisive, influence came through my good friend and colleague John Wimber, now pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in nearby Anaheim. Wimber has been assisting me as an adjunct professor in church growth since 1975. At the beginning of the decade, he began, not theorizing, but experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in his ministry. In six or seven years the church he founded has grown from a home Bible study of 17 to well over 5,000 active participants. Our missions faculty invited him to teach a course dealing with the relationship of supernatural signs and wonders to church growth in the winter of 1982. The course, called "The Miraculous and Church Growth," has now been taught four times to overflowing classrooms. I assist him in the course, and have been deeply affected by it.
In preparation for this brief article, I studied the doctrinal statements of 17 of our evangelical (IFMA/EFMA) mission agencies. I purposely excluded Pentecostal or charismatic agencies. The ones I studied mentioned the Holy Spirit’s power for regeneration and living a godly life, but not one mentioned the Spirit’s power for healing the sick or casting out demons. This was not surprising because it was the philosophy of the mission that I was under during my 16 years in Bolivia.
I sense that a change is coming. We are, I believe, in. the beginning of a third wave of the power of the Holy Spirit in the twentieth century. The first was the Pentecostal movement at the turn of the century. The second was the charismatic movement around the middle of the century. The third wave is an equally strong manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit among us who are neither Pentecostals nor charismatics, but mainline evangelicals. It is the same Spirit with the same power, but with a slightly-different flavor. Sick are being healed and evil spirits being cast out as they were in New Testament times, I am seeing it in my seminary classes, my church, my Sunday school class, and my own family. I am getting reports of similar phenomena from evangelicals in many different parts of the country and the world.
My suggestion is that evangelical professors of mission put this item on their priority list for research and teaching. We need to know much more about how miracles and wonders are signs of the kingdom of God. We need to know what the Bible teaches about the relative significance of a ministry of politics (social transformation) as over against power. We need to understand the dynamics of the power encounter. We need to investigate the awesome reality of territorial hierarchical power, in which certain ranking demons have been assigned geographical jurisdiction by the god of this age. And we need to know how to break this power so the gospel can freely flow into human hearts. We need to discover the dynamics through which the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have grown, mostly since 1950, to an astounding 120 million persons worldwide.
All this will not be easy for many evangelical professors who have very traditionally-minded administrators and trustees looking over their shoulders, concerned with "what the constituency will say." For them, the change will come slowly. For others there is freedom to move into this realm of the Spirit’s ministry more rapidly. But for all it is an issue that cannot long be left off our missiological agendas, if we intend to stay in touch with what God is doing in our world today.
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