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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Answering questions about Baker, Stafford and NAR

My writing on Tim Stafford’s story on Heidi Baker for Christianity Today has continued to receive comment both in private correspondence and at my blog and the CT comment page for the article. In light of this feedback I feel compelled to address a few important issues and to reemphasize a few others.

1)   I am hardly alone in viewing the New Apostolic Reformation, as envisaged by C. Peter Wagner, as a significant movement and a troubling one. I would point readers to none other than Vinson Synan, the noted Pentecostal leader and highly regarded scholar of Pentecostalism. In 2010 Synan wrote a fascinating memoir entitled An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit. The 12 chapter, 206 page book includes three chapters that touch directly on Wagner’s life work. The most important of these chapters is called “The New Apostolic Reformation” and it is dominated by Synan’s reflections on Wagner. I would encourage anyone who has questions about this movement’s importance and potential danger to the Pentecostal movement to read that chapter and reflect in particular on these words from Synan:
From the outset, I was concerned about any movement that claims to restore apostolic offices that exercise ultimate and unchecked authority in churches. The potential for abuse is enormous. Throughout church history, attempts to restore apostles as an office in the church have often ended up in heresy or caused incredible pain. These attempts seemed similar to the Discipleship/Shepherding movement that had done so much damage to the charismatic movement….In 2005, in the General Conference of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, I warned the bishop and delegates about adopting apostolic language in the manual of the denomination. I predicted that we might see “short-term growth, but long-term confusion.” (183-184)

It is precisely in this spirit of concern and historical perspective that I raise questions about the Bakers’ public record of promoting and participating in the New Apostolic Reformation. To do so is neither anti-Pentecostal or overly critical as I see it.

2)   Rachel Tabachnick’s commentary on Heidi Baker is well worth reading but as she would be the first to admit, she does not speak for me and I do not speak for her. We come at many questions similarly and I am indebted to the extraordinary amount of time and research she has put into questions about the global impact of C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation. Having challenged her pointedly in the past and been proven wrong, I am not in the habit of questioning her conclusions or her data; having said that, she and I write from different perspectives and for different purposes. If you have a question or concern about her writing, please comment at her posts because she is excellent at responding to questions and welcomes your feedback.

3)   I recognize the great potential harm to my soul that can arrive from being overly critical or judgmental of others. I appreciate the reminders I have received about that danger and I try to guard my soul from what the gospels call “the yeast of the Pharisees”. I would simply say that I try to write carefully and circumspectly about the motivations and actions of others. As I look at what I have written about Heidi Baker, I do not see myself questioning her love for the poor or the sincerity of her prayers to God for healing of others. What I have done is address my concerns to the way in which her decades long ministry has been a part of the highly controversial New Apostolic Reformation movement. It seems entirely possible to do this without showing spite for her charity and doubt for her sincerity in working with the poor. It also seems quite relevant to examine her broader ministry given the fact that she does, by her own account, spend 1/3 of every year away from Mozambique speaking and because she and her husband are highly visible leaders in John Arnott’s ministries and in the Revivial Alliance.

4)   I freely admit that my history is shaping my reactions to the Baker story and their claims about their involvement in promoting NAR. I do bring to the story a suspicion rooted in the fact that I have seen numerous figures in NAR similarly deny their involvement when the heat was put on them. It is a disturbing pattern and one that leaves me perhaps more aggressive in seeking the truth whenever I hear someone make that claim. As it stands now, I see the Bakers continuing this pattern of actively promoting NAR to certain audiences and then attempting to sanitize that history of promotion when asked about it by reporters and columnists. It is in the vocation of a researcher to react as strenuously to lies and distortions as to stories of miracles and healings and I carry no shame in living out that vocation. I will try to do my writing carefully and with awareness of the impact of my words, but I will not shy away from a story because of the potential for controversy or a misunderstanding of my motivations.

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