The highest governing body of the Christian Reformed Church on Tuesday approved a report on the "Third Wave" movement of the Holy Spirit and recommended sending it to member congregations for study.
The report asks churches to accept the different ways in which the Pentecostal-like movement manifests the work of the Spirit while cautioning members against misuses and placing too much emphasis on spiritual gifts and experiences.
Coined by C. Peter Wagner, founder of Global Harvest Ministries, the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit is similar to the Pentecostal and charismatic waves that preceded it but with important differences, the report – drawn up by a CRC study committee – states.
While the earlier movements emphasize baptism with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, the third wave focuses on multiple fillings of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion with emphasis on "the more evangelically acceptable area of spiritual gifts for ministry," such as prophecy, inner healing, powerful prayer and the reality of spiritual warfare.
Also, the CRC committee offers the third wave as a predominantly evangelical phenomenon that has not, for the most part, caused division in church communities, unlike the preceding waves.
CRC leaders first addressed the issue of Third Wave Pentecostalism in 1973. In 2004, the synod – the denomination's highest governing body – requested a new study and discussion on the movement amid growing interest.
An earlier survey found that interest and acceptance of third wave practices is widespread in Christian Reformed churches. Over 60 percent of CRC pastors said they have some familiarity with the movement and almost 40 percent of pastors said they engaged in training in areas associated with the third wave.
The third wave movement has its critics among some evangelicals who say it is unbiblical. But the CRC committee states that Christians who adopt third wave emphases "uphold their evangelical convictions, including a high view of Scripture and its authority as the Word of God for faith and life." It indicates that third wave practices are theologically compatible with Reformed Christians.
"The point is not that the third wave is entirely free from poor interpretative practices in its dealing with the Bible. It is not. The point is rather that it is not exclusively, or even predominantly, characterized by such practices."
The CRC report recognizes there are disagreements on the movement among Christians, some of whom believe the manifestations of the Holy Spirit were restricted to the apostolic age. At the same time, the report also adopts an open attitude to the reality and validity of the works of the Spirit today.
Among a list of affirmations on the movement are also a list of cautions, including "the ever-present danger to be more fascinated with the manifestations and to chase after demonstrations of God's power than to love God and others" and the importance of discerning spiritual gifts from counterfeits.
Completed in 2008, the "Third Wave" report tries to define the movement and draw scriptural, confessional and theological connections between the third wave and the CRC. It was approved by leaders of the Christian Reformed Church who have convened this week in Palos Heights, Ill., for Synod 2009.