What is the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit?
I read a blog post recently that took its comments from the Apologetics Index. The article was designed to identity the distinctive theological beliefs of what is known as The Third Wave.
If you aren’t familiar with that terminology, it was originally coined by C. Peter Wagner. The First Wave of the Holy Spirit was the revival that occurred at Azusa Street in 1906, followed by the formation of several distinctive denominations that are typically referred to as Classical Pentecostalism, chief among which is the Assemblies of God (1914).
The Second Wave of the Holy Spirit refers to the expansion of charismatic belief and experience into mainline denominations. The date for this is somewhat arbitrarily identified as April 3, 1960. It was on that Sunday when Dennis Bennett (1917-1991), rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, announced to his church that he had spoken in tongues.
The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit is largely connected to the emergence of charismatic beliefs and practices among Bible-believing evangelicals. Many point to the Calvary Church movement, led by Chuck Smith until his recent death, and John Wimber and the Association of Vineyard Churches.
So, what differentiates the Third Wave from traditional classical Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians? Here is how it is explained by the Apologetics Index, some of which needs clarification and correction.
[D]istinctives of the Third Wave movement include – but are not limited to – the following:
• The baptism with the Holy Spirit is identified with conversion. This is unlike other Pentecostal movements, in which the baptism with the Spirit is either a separate and/or a recurring experience.
• the belief that the spiritual gifts are valid for today; that Christians can ask for, receive and learn how to use these spiritual gifts (and become better at using them with practice.
• the belief that the primary use of the spiritual gifts is for ministry in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit – both to bless and heal those inside the church and to minister to those outside the church (“Power Evangelism.”). This ministry includes healing the sick, casting out demons, prophesying, etc.
• active promotion of unity – sometimes at any cost (e.g. the Toronto Blessing Movement’s acceptance of certain Word-Faith teachers. “Unity over doctrine“)
• the belief that people, Christians included, can be possessed (or ‘demonized’ – or ‘oppressed,’ something seen as a lesser form of possession) by evil spirits with or without their consent
• the belief that objects or places can project evil influence and act as conduits for demonic oppression
• the belief that traumatic events, either in our lives or in our ancestral past, can make us particularly vulnerable to demonic influence, possession or oppression
• the belief that some Christians – using appropriate spiritual gifts – can identify and cast out demonic spirits
• a general acceptance of Kingdom Now theology, which has led to the practice of so-called ‘Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare’ or SLSW – an unbiblical concept in which Christians identify (through ‘spiritual mapping’) and then target (with SLSW) ‘Territorial Spirits.’
The article in which this listing is found then draws this ridiculous conclusion:
“None of what was just described is even remotely biblical. Even though Third Wave teaching is undiluted heresy its influence has become widespread in the visible Church. Sadly, Shepherds have bought into it hook line and sinker and are teaching it as truth to gullible sheep.”
None of it is biblical? Really? Undiluted heresy? Really?
I guess, then, that I’m an undiluted heretic! I am in complete agreement with most of the distinctives listed above, but not all. Here is where I would take issue with these items.
First, they say that the Third Wave is characterized by “active promotion of unity – sometimes at any cost (e.g. the Toronto Blessing Movement’s acceptance of certain Word-Faith teachers. “Unity over doctrine“).” I hope all Christians would actively promote unity! But not at any cost. I’m not aware of any principal leaders in the Third Wave who would sacrifice essential truths of the faith at the altar of unity. Perhaps my memory betrays me, but I’m not aware of those involved in the Toronto Blessing accepting or promoting Word-Faith teachers. John and Carol Arnott, under whose leadership the Blessing occurred, certainly never endorsed anything remotely approaching the Word-Faith system of belief.
Second, they say that the Third Wave endorses “the belief that traumatic events, either in our lives or in our ancestral past, can make us particularly vulnerable to demonic influence, possession or oppression.” This is such a broad and ill-defined statement, lacking biblical nuance, that it is hard to know how to respond to it. I do believe that certain traumatic events in our lives, if not dealt with properly, can lead us into bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, fear, shame, etc., all of which have the potential to open a door to demonic influence.
To what extent events “in our ancestral past” can do this is difficult to discern. The cases in Mark 7 and Mark 9 of young children who were demonized forces us to ask: “What could they have possibly done to warrant being demonized?” Is it not likely that something in the beliefs or behavior of their parents, grandparents, or beyond, among certain of their ancestors, accounts for this tragic scenario? If not, how would you explain their predicament?
Third, and finally, they refer to “a general acceptance of Kingdom Now theology, which has led to the practice of so-called ‘Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare’ or SLSW – an unbiblical concept in which Christians identify (through ‘spiritual mapping’) and then target (with SLSW) ‘Territorial Spirits.’” There may be some in the Third Wave who embrace a form of “Kingdom Now” theology. Perhaps some have embraced a postmillennial eschatology. But in the absence of a clear definition of what is meant by “Kingdom Now” (there are undoubtedly multiple differing expressions of it) this strikes me as a baseless charge.
As for territorial spirits, I can make a strong biblical case for their existence. But for now, let it be said that many (most?) of the primary leaders in the Third Wave openly repudiate Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare and Spiritual Mapping. No one was more influential in the expansion of the Third Wave than John Wimber, and he vigorously opposed SLSW and even prohibited advocates of this practice from speaking in or ministering to churches affiliated with the Vineyard.
Although C. Peter Wagner coined the terminology of the Third Wave, he was hardly representative of its primary theological beliefs. Wagner veered off more in the direction of the New Apostolic Reformation, a perspective that has largely been repudiated by most Third Wave leaders and theologians (myself included).