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A Christian movement characterized by multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism.
Bob Smietana interviewed authors Brad Christerson and Richard Flory wrote on the rise of “Network Christianity.” As you will see, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a term coined by the late C. Peter Wagner, has yet another name to add to the ever growing list, “INC.” According to Orrel Steincamp, “The current Latter Rain leaders have so purposefully muddied the waters that only those who are dedicated history buffs can discern the historical essentials behind the current teaching on a Second Pentecost eschatology. ACTUALLY, only insiders know the Latter Rain playbook, and they cover it up and pawn if off as a new revelation with a new name. No! the Latter Rain has been around since the early days of 20th century.” (source)
It was revealed in Smietana’s interview with Christerson and Flory that people involved in this theological cult are convinced that God is behind it all and that He’s appointing people into high level positions such as modern-day apostles and prophets–and even government cabinet members–and that these people will “know what to do when they get there.” Moreover, they’ll be listening to God (presumably His voice), and the Holy Spirit will use them to “supernaturally make America or the world into the kingdom of God.” They claim that some of these people that are in these high-level positions are part of the Trump administration. “But they are not Pentecostals, and they have nothing to do with these groups. The movement just latches on to them and claims God is using Trump to bring in the kingdom.” For more background on this dangerous cult, see our White Paper on the NAR.
So with this in mind, on to Bob Smietana’s interview:
A quiet revolution is taking place in America religion, say Brad Christerson and Richard Flory, authors of The Rise of Network Christianity: How Independent Leaders Are Changing the Religious Landscape.
Largely behind the scenes, a group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to Southern California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through signs and wonders.
Their movement, which Christerson and Flory called “Independent Network Charismatic” or “INC” Christianity, has become one of the fastest-growing faith groups in the United States. Apostles like Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Cindy Jacobs, Chuck Pierce, and Ché Ahn claim millions of followers. They’re also aided by an army of fellow ministers who fall under their “spiritual covering.”
Many of these apostles run megachurches, including Bethel Church in Redding California, HRock Church in Pasadena, and the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. But their real power lies in their innovative approach to selling faith. They’ve combined multi-level marketing, Pentecostal signs and wonders, and post-millennial optimism to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers. That allows them to reap millions in donations, conference fees, and book and DVD sales. And because these INC apostles claim to get direction straight from God, they operate with almost no oversight.
Nashville-based religion writer Bob Smietana spoke with Christerson (professor of sociology at Biola University) and Flory (senior director of research and evaluation at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California) about the appeal—and danger—of these burgeoning movements.
What’s the difference between INC Christians and the prosperity gospel movement or megachurch networks like the Association of Related Churches (ARC)?
Christerson: Probably the closest kinship would be prosperity gospel movement. But it’s a little different in that the INC movement has a network that cooperates more often. My sense of the prosperity gospel is that it consists of individual entrepreneurs, TV preachers, and megachurch leaders, but there’s not as much cooperation.
Also, the theology is different. The prosperity gospel would focus more on the individual’s health and wealth. This group is unique in that they really think God has put these apostles on earth to basically transform the world. It’s a sort of trickle-down Christianity, where these apostles are at the top of the mountain, exercising this power from the top down. That’s how the kingdom of God comes in.
Ironically, this group isn’t really focused on building up big congregations. Their ideas are spreading through other means, like high-profile conferences and the media products that they are selling.
Flory: These apostles are able to access a lot more money, because they are operating with a pay-for-service model, rather than relying on people’s donations and their goodwill. Congregations bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep the butts in the seats; people don’t have to pay unless they feel like it. But this is a completely different financial model, and it tends to generate much more money. Page 2