My own life would be a lot simpler right now if I could come to a clear conclusion about Heidi Baker--either she is a Pentecostal Mother Teresa or a complete fraud. I am in a process of discernment that has me seeing a foggier picture than either of those conclusions. What I am certain of is that I see major factual errors in the Bakers' account of their ministry in relationship to the New Apostolic Reformation. In the days since my first post on Heidi Baker I have received considerable feedback from people urging me to explore a variety of different stories about the Bakers and their global ministry. Some argue that I am missing the sublime, Christian purity that they see as the core of Heidi’s life work and they urge me to embrace the whole of her ministry. Others raise urgent questions about the nature of her accounts of healing and want me to focus on what they see as abuse of dignity in her accounts of healings. What I see my task as now is to focus on the range of public evidence that I think quite clearly refutes the Bakers’ description of the meaning they attach to the miraculous ministry of which they are a part. What I want to do, in other words, is raise questions about the discernment that is to be central to classical Christian reflection on the miraculous—a discernment that is in traditional Christianity every bit as important as the questions of whether miracles are happening or not. I hope many more will join with me in this process of discernment and go much deeper into their ministry's story than just one article or blog post.
In the Christian tradition Christians are not seen as the only people for whom miracles are done or the only people who have the power to perform miracles. Whether we are talking about Jewish Scripture, Christian Scripture or Christian reflection through the centuries into the present, we see that what makes a miracle a “Christian” miracle is the meaning that it points to—a distinctly Christian meaning, a “sign” as the Gospel of John calls it. The controversy surrounding Heidi Baker and the extraordinary accounts of her ministry is at this point, for me, not one of “are they happening” but rather “what meaning is being attached to them?” What is the narrative that is attached to the apparently amazing “signs and wonders” that accompany her? A reader who only looked at Christianity Today’s articles on Baker—the lengthy piece by Tim Stafford and the shorter one by Tim Morgan—would assume that the meaning attached by the Bakers is the traditional meaning that Christians have given to “signs and wonders”—namely, as pointing to Christ and ushering in the Kingdom’s presence. But for the Bakers there is more, much more, that they claim to discern in the presence of these miracles. This broader meaning is not merely ignored by Stafford, it is by my reading of reams of public evidence actively distorted by the Bakers in the one paragraph in the article in which the decades old controversy is even mentioned. I want to look closely at this paragraph because I am well aware that the charges I am going to make are serious and speak to the Bakers’ integrity and to Tim Stafford’s reporting. Here is the account:
Though they have lost financial support due to their association with the Toronto movement, the Bakers are loyal to its leaders and attend their Catch the Fire conferences in North America every year. Several leaders involved are active in the so-called New Apostolic Reformation, a controversial charismatic movement. But the Bakers do not promote the New Apostolic Reformation or consider themselves to be modern-day apostles.
From reading this paragraph—the only paragraph that even touches on the controversy over the alternative meanings the Bakers attach to their miracles—the reader would assume that the only real controversy is that the Bakers are “loyal” to leaders of the Toronto movement, some of whom are “active in the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.” This one controversial activity of theirs is considered by Stafford to be not a problem for three reasons: 1) It is a virtuous loyalty in light of the fact that “they have lost financial support” because of it. 2) Outside of their visit to this yearly conference nothing is happening in their ministry that would make anyone think they “promote” NAR. 3) They do not “consider themselves to be modern-day apostles.”
I will start with the last reason because I have nothing to say with reference to the first reason, and lots to say with reference to the second. As I wrote in a different post, the fact that someone does or does not “consider themselves to be modern-day apostles” is not at all a factor in a person’s participation in NAR. By anybody’s definition, NAR is not a movement that is just for apostles and its main leaders are by no means just apostles. One of the things that distinguishes NAR from other movements—and this is absolutely vital to understand—is the belief that we are in a new era of Church History in which God is restoring to the Church some of the so-called “five-fold gifts” of Ephesians 4:11, namely Apostle and Prophet. Crucial to this understanding is the belief that miracles are accompanying this “restoration” of apostolic and prophetic gifts as signs of their authenticity. This is why the term that is often used as a label in place of New Apostolic Reformation is the term “apostolic and prophetic movement”. In many of the groups that participate in this movement the leadership is made up in part by Prophetic Elders that often meet with apostles in what one of the major groups calls an Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders. One need look no further than the prophetess Cindy Jacobs, a person who is virtually synonymous with NAR and C. Peter Wagner, to see that active leadership in apostolic and prophetic movements associated with NAR is in no way limited to people who “consider themselves to be modern-day apostles.”
And as should be obvious, one does not need to be either a prophet or an apostle to be active in NAR and committed to its new vision for government of the church. NAR sees itself as a place for all Christians to bring all of their gifts. So the key questions are whether or not the Bakers and their ministry are a part of prophetic and apostolic movements and whether or not they actively promote those movements. What the publicly available evidence shows overwhelmingly is that the Bakers are in these prophetic and apostolic movements, they are said to be leaders of these movements and their work to expand the impact of these movements is very much linked with the work of C. Peter Wagner. Not a few evangelicals would be troubled if they were aware of the theology and practice that this all carries with it.
The easiest place to start with the evidence is a look at the Bakers’ own ministries referred to in the CT article, Iris Ministries and Partners in Harvest. At Iris’ global base in Nashville it is quite clear that the Bakers view their ministry as part of an apostolic network. The website says, under the question “Who is your pastoral covering?”, that “As an Iris Global missions base, our direct apostolic covering are our founders, Heidi and Rolland Baker.” This is consistent with the fact that the Bakers themselves view their Partners in Harvest churches as being, as they put it, under the “Apostolic Leadership" (see page 25 of link) of John and Carol Arnott, the Founding Pastors of the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, now known as Catch the Fire. The Arnott’s are also the leaders of Spread the Fire ministries, which hosts the conferences that the Bakers attend every year. In addition to the fact that the Bakers’ hundreds of churches are under the apostolic leadership of the Arnotts and they regularly speak at major Arnott led functions, the Bakers and Arnotts are in another very significant grouping called the Revival Alliance. In the promotional material for all of these groups, reference to “signs and wonders” is constant.
At this point in the story it is commonplace for people who are devoted to the Bakers to insist on a point that they sincerely believe: The Bakers are completely separate from C. Peter Wagner. This is said in part because Wagner has become somewhat notorious in informed circles, be they religious or political. People are beginning to understand the full dimensions of his radical spirituality and revolutionary ecclesiology and this makes some people who have been in public ministry with him understandably nervous about their reputations. I do not know what the Bakers think and I do not know what the Bakers say to reporters or scholars, but I do know what the Bakers have done for years with C. Peter Wagner and with his key leaders. An examination of this record shows that the Bakers--their ministries, their alliances, their writing, their speaking---are in fact actively participating in ministry with C. Peter Wagner and his broad range of ministries. It is impossible to sustain a narrative of their life's ministry consistent with what they claim in the paragraph above. This reality makes it incumbent upon the Bakers to make dramatic changes if they really do feel about Wagner what some of their supporters seem convinced they feel. Here is the evidence I refer to.
CHE ANH, REVIVAL ALLIANCE and the WAGNER LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE
Che Anh is a long-time member of and leader in C. Peter Wagner’s groups of apostles, Global Spheres and International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Che Anh is also the International Chancellor of C. Peter Wagner’s very own Wagner Leadership Institute which has its one sentence vision statement the development of apostolic leaders in line with their understanding of the five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12. Anh and his wife are, together with the Bakers and Arnotts and three other couples, the leaders of the Revival Alliance that I referred to earlier. Randy and DeAnne Clark are one of the other couples in this Revival Alliance. Randy teaches a class at the Wagner Institute available online, with C. Peter Wagner and Che Anh, titled “Developing Structure for Apostolic Ministry” which bills itself as teaching “the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ that we see transpiring in the Body of Christ Today”. Bill and Beni Johnson are another couple in the alliance. Bill is on the faculty of the Wagner Leadership Institute where you can take his course “Walking in the Supernatural”. Che Anh is refreshingly blunt about his view of what the Church is to discern in the miracles and revivals he believes are happening through the works of so-called prophets and apostles today. He made his five-fold convictions abundantly clear in his book When Heaven Comes Down, a book with a foreword by the Bakers. Here is his explanation of current religious revivals:
As I look back through the history of revival, I see that every wave of God’s outpouring is important because, in each revival, He restores something. In fact, over the past half-century, we see that in each movement God restored an office within the five-fold ministry, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
...In the “Third Wave” of the 1980s, God brought forth prophets, as John Wimber introduced the “Kansas City prophets” Paul Cain, Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, James Goll, and Jill Austin. Other prophets emerged during that period, including my friend and covenant brother Lou Engle, my sister in the Lord Cindy Jacobs, Jane Hamon and Chuck Pierce. The 1994 revival in Toronto restored the office of the apostle with the birth of many apostolic networks, including John and Carol Arnott’s Partners in Harvest, Rick Joyner’s MorningStar, Bill Johnson’s Global Legacy, Heidi and Rolland Baker’s Iris Ministries and or church’s own Harvest International Ministry.
Now, in 2009, we see the convergence of all five of these restored offices coming together and being expressed through the Body of Christ in His followers the saints.
When you know how the Revival Alliance was formed, all of these interconnections and shared purposes between the Bakers, the Revival Alliance and Wagner’s ministries are not a surprise. Che Anh tells the story often of how Heidi Baker received a prophetic word from the prophet Bob Jones calling for an alliance of major apostolic networks. The coming together of these various networks was widely heralded in 2008 in mainstream charismatic media, one of which emphasized the global significance of the alliance under the headline “Revivalists Aim to Spark Worldwide Revival”.
TODD BENTLEY AND THE REVIVAL ALLIANCE
One of the immediate “fruits” of this worldwide revival was in Lakeland, Florida. It is here that the prophetic certainty of the Revival Alliance and its narrative of a new day for Christianity took on the appearance of profound scandal. In a speech that must be seen to be fully appreciated, Che Anh spoke in Lakeland with Todd Bentley. With great conviction the two of them explained that the prophetic word from Heidi Baker via Bob Jones was part of a tremendous, supernatural confirmation that both fulfilled the work of the Toronto Blessing and helped launch a so-called “third wave” of the Holy Spirit. The timing of this proud pronouncement could not have been any worse for Anh and the Revival Alliance. Anyone who knows what comes next can understand why the Bakers would be particularly ashamed to admit and would actively hide from their participation in apostolic ideology and practice. Under all of the “prophetic” power and “apostolic” zeal that the Revival Alliance could muster they engaged in an elaborate, “sacred” commissioning service of Todd Bentley as an apostle. In this dramatic service, prophets and apostles from around the world gathered around Todd in a sign of unity and power in this new apostolic age. C. Peter Wagner, together with other representatives of the most extreme forms of New Apostolic Reformation fervor, spoke words of prophecy and anointing over this man with the certainty that the miracles of Lakeland were part of the confirmation that Bentley was to be commissioned as an extraordinary apostle. Given the deep connection between Baker’s Revival Alliance and the Todd Bentley scandal it is not surprising that Bentley felt compelled to single out the Revival Alliance for apology when the true scope of his problems became evident. But the damage was done. The questions were being asked. The accountability was being demanded. Even within those elements of the charismatic movement that have most welcomed the notion that apostles and prophets are being restored in a direct act of God, there was pause for reflection and concern. A man whose miracles were seen as a vital part of the evidence of his anointing into this new, fast-growing reordering of the church around apostolic leadership was quickly seen as a seriously immature Christian in spite of the rush to anoint him an apostle.
C. Peter Wagner was shaken by this incident. By his own telling he had been involved in the Lakeland Outpouring, as he and others call it, from the earliest stages. It is clear from the narrative that the working relationship between Wagner’s group of apostles, at that time just the ICA, and Baker’s Revival Alliance was as strong as critics have suggested. Given Che Anh’s participation in both groups, this should not be a surprise, but it must be emphasized because some continue to hold to an illusion that an invisible wall exists between Wagner’s extremism and Baker. Wagner’s account speaks matter-of-factly of how his ICA worked with the Revival Alliance throughout the outpouring and into the immediate aftermath from Bentley’s scandal. Writing on the day that the scandal hit the news, Wagner recounted the history of the Outpouring before and in the immediate wake of Bentley’s fall.
Lakeland Outpouring I, in which Todd Bentley was the main figure, is now history. Lakeland Outpouring II, in which Stephen Strader of Ignited Church is the main figure, has begun. The Outpouring started in a local church, went to a tent, and now is back in the local church. My suggestion is that we no longer use the term “Lakeland Outpouring” but rather distinguish between Lakeland I and Lakeland II because they are very different… In the Lakeland I case, I am elated at the way things are turning out. The Revival Alliance with whom Todd was aligned on June 23 has kicked into action with a vengeance. Ché Ahn and Bill Johnson, like me, were overseas when things broke, but John Arnott stepped up to the plate and moved in apostolically. It has since become clear that Todd’s Fresh Fire Board could not have handled the situation, Stephen Strader and Ignited Church could not, nor could any of his other close friends. Only the Revival Alliance could.
Wagner’s explanation of his and the Revival Alliance’s participation in the commissioning service is equally candid and equally clear about his active role in it.
Previous to around the middle of June, my interest in Lakeland was about a 2 on a scale of 1-10. Then I got a call from Stephen Strader, the host pastor who was a member of ICA, which I lead, with a passionate appeal for apostolic intervention because chaos and confusion had begin to invade the Outpouring I. Toward the end of the hour we were talking, I received one of my infrequent direct words from God: “Alignment!” Just one word, but I knew I had a divine command and responsibility.
Once I knew that God had assigned me to initiate some sort of apostolic intervention at Stephen’s side, I began praying and consulting with close colleagues. In less than two days I discovered that Todd Bentley had no formal, established apostolic alignment. I asked God how I should proceed, especially since I had no inclination to attempt an apostle-evangelist approach and expect that Bentley would submit to or even listen to what I had to say if I made an appointment with him in Lakeland. I felt that proper apostolic protocol would be for me to deal with one or more peer-level apostles to whom Todd had aligned apostolically. Since as yet he had no such alignment, I began asking God how such an alignment might come about. He directed me to my close friend, Ché Ahn, who himself is apostolically aligned with me and who also had been close to Bentley for years. Ché agreed that the best apostolic protocol would be for Todd to align with the Revival Alliance if he were willing. Ché called him and Bentley agreed to submit publicly to the Revival Alliance.
This scandal afforded the Bakers an opportunity, a very public opportunity, to make clear whatever differences they had with C. Peter Wagner and his conception of the New Apostolic Reformation. It would have been perfectly understandable for them to have done so. But in the years since this scandal highlighted for anyone interested the connections between Wagner’s work and Baker’s, not much has changed institutionally to warrant anything like the assessment the Bakers provided Stafford. Everything I have written above about the membership of the Revival Alliance, Wagner’s ICA and the Wagner Leadership Institute is based on up to the date material. Che Anh remains a bridge figure between the two groups, the Revival Alliance remains a uniting group between the various factions and the Wagner Leadership Institute is available for those who want to be trained by figures from both groups. The Arnott’s ministry continues to advertise its television ministry with C. Peter Wagner’s picture on the web page and its conference page continues to feature Heidi Baker as an upcoming speaker. Videos of Heidi Baker advertising the next big event on the movement’s calendar are available for anyone to see. While the symbiotic relationship between these major individuals and institutions in the New Apostolic Reformation has not changed, what has changed, remarkably, is that a central figure in this movement is being lauded in a cover story in the most significant Christian magazine in America. Its sanitized history of Mama Heidi’s active participation in a movement that most would consider outside the mainstream of evangelical conviction is a sad day in the proud history of Christianity Today. That magazine has been a part of my journey for 25 years. I am proud to be published in the pages of its sister publication, Books & Culture. But I am troubled and disappointed. I understand those who call for this story to be corrected and I hope those with access to the Bakers will share my determination to set the record straight.