B. Knowles, History of the New Life Churches in New Zealand, Otago PhD.
Chapter 10: Conclusion. © 2003 - Brett Knowles,
An e-theses.webjournals.org article.
There are particular pitfalls in applying the normal conventions of critical historical discourse to a counter-cultural phenomenon such as Pentecostalism. These pitfalls are accentuated when the author himself has been involved in the movement which is being analysed. This thesis, however, has sought to describe, with as much detachment as possible, the subtle and not so subtle shifts in the relationship between the New Life Churches and the wider New Zealand society, as both these churches and the wider society have undergone radical change. The interaction between the "river" of the movement and its surrounding social landscape has certainly been a dialectical one.
What social forces shaped the New Life Churches? Perhaps the best-known of the sociological theories advanced to explain the rise and growth of Pentecostal movements is the "disinheritance hypothesis." Robert Mapes Anderson, the major proponent of this hypothesis, argues that Pentecostalism represents a "vision of the disinherited," a religious compensation for socio-economic or "status" deprivation. However, his hypothesis fails to explain why the Pentecostal movement in New Zealand should have begun its major expansion during an economic "boom" in the 1960s and within a largely egalitarian social context. Such socio-economic analyses as are available demonstrate that not all adherents of New Zealand Pentecostalism come from the ranks of the disadvantaged nor do they appear to be the victims of a perceived relative deprivation. The changing character of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s has further demonstrated the inadequacy of the "disinheritance hypothesis."
Three inter-related factors appear to have stimulated the growth of New Zealand Pentecostalism. The first of these was the widespread, but not always overt, interest in divine healing. This interest had some of the characteristics of a "folk-religion" and was rekindled occasionally by specific events such as the healing campaigns of A.H. Dallimore from 1927 onwards. The campaigns of Rob Wheeler and other "Full Gospel" evangelists in the late 1950s and early 1960s tapped into this generalised interest in healing and created a core constituency for the New Life Churches.
A second factor was the American-style Evangelicalism resulting from the 1959 Billy Graham Crusades. The emphasis on "the Bible says" provided a potent source of authority and hence of reassurance, particularly during the tense early years of the 1960s. Moreover, the emphasis on the need for personal conversion fitted well with the individualistic ethos of
the era. The strengthening of an informal Evangelical identity which transcended denominational boundaries did much to extend the Pentecostal constituency created by the healing movement. The forerunners of the New Life Churches thus benefitted from the effects of the Billy Graham Crusades. Their "non-denominational" evangelistic message and their emphasis on "the Bible says" had an appeal for those who had been influenced by the Crusades but who were dissatisfied with the ensuing pastoral care they had received. The growth of the early movement was therefore due to its Evangelicalism, rather than to its Pentecostalism.
A third factor complemented the role of Evangelicalism in the growth of the New Life Churches and other Pentecostal groups in the late 1960s. This was the emergence of a youthful counter-culture, which articulated a disenchantment with materialism and an emphasis on "values" and things of the "spirit." A corollary of this emphasis was a rejection of traditional "institutional" standards of conduct and an individualisation and internalisation of authority, based upon one's own personal experience. The tendency of the Pentecostal movement to internalise the fundamentalistic authority of "the Bible says" and to stress the primacy of personal experience therefore aligned it with the mood of the era and helped to reinforce its appeal. The New Life Churches, as part of this movement, benefitted from this relocation of authority.
What characterised the early New Life Churches? What formed the boundaries of the movement? In their early stages, these churches were a broadly-defined group of independent Pentecostal assemblies, and their "non-denominationalism" attracted those seeking a less institutional form of Christianity. This indeterminate polity also had some disadvantages. The lack of corporate identity tended to be reflected in a lack of institutional allegiance, with the first loyalty of the adherents of the movement being to Christ and the niceties of church membership being less important. Consequently, the boundaries of the movement were fluid and were not defined by "belonging" or by adherence.
Nevertheless, there were some characteristics which served to identify the early New Life Churches. The first of these was a distinctive mode of scriptural interpretation, inherited from their "Bethel Temple" antecedents, which gave full rein to the imaginative use of allegory and typology. This hermeneutical method was often misunderstood by those outside the movement. Thus the emphasis on baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,
rather than in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was interpreted by the opponents of the New Life Churches as evidence of Pentecostal unitarianism (i.e. "Jesus Only") and the strongly trinitarian theology of the movement was overlooked. This led to opposition from other Pentecostal churches, which helped to define the boundaries of the movement. A more positive legacy from its "Bethel Temple" pioneers was that the New Life Churches were, from their earliest beginnings, a teaching movement. This led to the formation of a number of Bible Schools and enabled them to make a significant contribution to the Charismatic Movement in the late 1960s.
A second characteristic was the movement's distinctive worship style, inherited from the Latter Rain movement. Features such as "singing in the Spirit" and the laying on of hands represented a renewal of practices which had fallen into desuetude in other Pentecostal churches. The Latter Rain movement also contributed to the New Life Churches' "non-denominational" emphasis on the autonomy and independence of the local church. This "autonomy principle" forms the core of the New Life Churches' collective polity, although it has become somewhat dysfunctional as the movement has grown. The struggles of the New Life Churches to come to terms with this increasing dysfunctionality, which may reflect the sociological categories postulated by Max Weber, form one of the major themes of this thesis. The movement continues to hold the "autonomy principle" in uneasy tension with the more centralised organisational structure which began to develop in the late 1970s and which was officially adopted at the 1987 Pastors' Conference at Waikanae.
A third characteristic of the early movement was its "sectarianism." This was manifest both in a rejection of societal values such as secular or humanist education and in a strong antipathy towards other churches. The opposition that the movement faced produced a sense of "`us' versus `them'" and helped to generate a nascent corporate identity. This was reinforced in the mid-1960s by "Operation Gideon" and by a change in emphasis from evangelistic campaigns to church-planting. By the end of the decade, the movement was beginning to evolve into an association of churches under the title of the "Indigenous Churches of New Zealand." This collective title, although not universally popular, remained in force until 1988, when it was changed to "New Life Churches of New Zealand."
The "sectarianism" of the New Life Churches was modified to some extent by the emergence of the Charismatic Movement in the mid-1960s. Although this was a complex
movement with no single source, initially there was some dependence upon its Pentecostal counterpart. Contacts were usually individual rather than organisational, and Pentecostal leaders such as Frank Houston and Trevor Chandler of the Assemblies of God, Peter Morrow of the New Life Churches and the White brothers of the Apostolic Church had influence on the early Charismatic Movement. The evangelistic campaigns of Rob Wheeler and Ron Coady were significant factors, as was the involvement of Apostolic Church pastors in local ministers' fraternals.
The New Life Churches both affected and were affected by the Charismatic Movement. This interaction can be exemplified by two churches, the Christchurch New Life Centre and the Palmerston North Christian Centre. The Christchurch New Life Centre had considerable influence on the development of the Charismatic Movement in Christchurch, both through the personal influence of its pastors Peter Morrow and Rasik Ranchord and also by means of Bible teaching meetings in neutral venues such as "Adullam's Cave." The teaching emphasis of the New Life Churches proved attractive to charismatic Christians hungry for instruction in "the things of the Spirit." Conversely, the Palmerston North Christian Centre demonstrates the way in which the Charismatic Movement influenced the New Life Churches. This church, formerly the Awapuni Baptist Church, had seceded from the Baptist Union in 1965 as a result of its involvement with the Charismatic Movement and eventually affiliated with the New Life Churches. The transfer of churches such as these did much to broaden the outlook of the New Life Churches, as also did an influx of charismatic Christians in the early 1970s. This helped to moderate the movement's rather sectarian suspicion of other churches and to erode its isolationist ethos.
The social changes of the "swinging sixties" led to a reaction in the 1970s. Although the relocation of authority which had characterised the era had a positive effect on the expansion of the Pentecostal movement, it also reflected a major shift in standards of moral conduct in the wider society. This changing morality was exemplified by the "sexual revolution" and was perceived by conservative Christians as a catastrophic moral decline. This perception is substantiated by the ten-fold increase in submissions to the Indecent Publications Tribunal between 1967 and 1972. The formation in 1970 of several specific issue groups, such as the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child and the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, represented a conservative reaction and laid the
foundation for what became a moralist movement in the mid-1980s. The 1972 Jesus Marches, protesting against the perceived immorality of society and proclaiming that "righteousness exalts a nation," articulated a more generalised reaction of conservative Christians.
The pattern for the New Zealand Jesus Marches followed that of the 1971 Festival of Light in Great Britain. Both events combined the elements of evangelical witness to Jesus with moralist protest against the mores of society. The lowering of moral standards was seen as the result of a deliberate campaign of corruption legitimated by the new "secular humanism" and spear-headed by a determined minority. The protesters therefore claimed to speak for the majority of society and to uphold traditional Judaeo-Christian standards of morality. Although little direct impact appears to have been made on the morality of the nation, these claims laid the foundation for later conservative Christian activism on after the "Moral Majority" in the United States and which, in the case of New Zealand, culminated with the Coalition of Concerned Citizens in 1985.
The new conservative Christian activism exemplified several important, but largely unconscious, changes of focus. The first of these was an eschatological one. Evangelical participants in the moralist movement do not appear to have been aware that their activism (which carried with it the assumption that it was possible to halt the process of moral decay in society) was in fact at variance with their pre-millennial theology which held that the world order was doomed to become progressively degenerate until the Second Coming of Christ. Secondly, the moralist movement represented a reaction against the devaluation of religious authority implicit in the process of secularisation. It insisted that society return to "Christian principles" and to traditional standards of morality. Since this necessarily implied a return to traditional Christian belief, the movement therefore opposed secularisation and "secular humanism," which was seen as the enemy par excellence. Although there were continuities with the past, this new activism represented a different mode of Evangelicalism in which the emphasis was on the collective social order rather than on an individualistic personal faith.
A number of "Jesus Festivals" were held throughout the 1970s in order to continue the momentum generated by the Jesus Marches and to capitalise on the informal ecumenism which had resulted. This consolidation of conservative Christian identity reflected a new
awareness of the power of collective action and was reinforced by the formation of groups such as Christian Advance Ministries in 1973 and the Associated Pentecostal Churches of New Zealand in 1975. Members of Pentecostal churches were heavily involved in the new activism, and the Pentecostal movement's growing sense of power was paralleled by an increasing "respectability" and by a perception of the need to influence society towards Biblical standards of righteousness. Its apprehension about the changes in public morality, together with a growing pressure towards organizational consolidation, form the twin themes of its development in the 1970s. Changes in the New Life Churches strongly reflect this double motif.
Two issues, in particular, were seen as a threat to the family and to the Christian world-view. The first of these, sex education in schools, became an issue in 1973 with the publication of the Ross Report. Although this Report was intended to provide a basis for public discussion of human development courses in schools, it was claimed that its proposals failed to deal with the moral dimensions of sex education. This stirred conservatives to action and led to the formation of the Concerned Parents' Association, which became a vigorous lobbying group on this and other issues throughout the 1970s. While the New Life Churches supported the CPA, the movement also initiated its own specific response to sex education in schools. This was Accelerated Christian Education, a private school system introduced to New Zealand by Rob Wheeler. The ACE system reflected an isolationist philosophy of education and was the product of a dualistic sectarian world-view. Because the world was seen as encroaching upon the Christian family in the form of the permissive society and especially by means of sex education in schools, it was necessary to protect Christian children by withdrawing them into a controlled Christian environment. While not all New Life Churches were in favour of this narrowly-focused fundamentalist education system, it did reflect something of the movement's defensive sectarian attitude to the world.
The second issue which threatened the conservative Christian world-view of the New Life Churches was the rise of the feminist movement. This perceived threat was partly the result of the link between feminism and abortion. A more important factor was the stridency of the radical wing of the feminist movement, which was emphasised by the media, thus reinforcing public perceptions of feminism as "radical." The "Save Our Homes" Campaign
was a specific response to these perceptions and was launched in 1977 with the two-fold purpose of mounting a response to destructive radical feminism and of preserving the nuclear family. Although its format was similar to that of the United Women's Conventions, the tenor of the Campaign was socially and politically conservative; public figures such as MP's, mayors and senior Police officers addressed its meetings.
The "Save Our Homes" Campaign sought to affirm the self-worth and ability of women, especially as wives and mothers. However, a tension is evident in the Campaign keynote addresses between this positive affirmation and an emphasis on the submission of the Christian wife. This tension reflected the ambivalence of Pentecostal attitudes to the role of women. While, on the one hand, the movement has always been strongly patriarchal and has stressed the subordination of women, it has also recognised that the charismatic authority of the Spirit sometimes transcended limitations of gender. Nevertheless, the "Save Our Homes" Campaign was successful in gaining public attention. Its success reflected the growth of the New Life Churches and of other Pentecostal groups in the "boom" years of the 1970s and the sense of self-identity and political "clout" which resulted from this.
The Pentecostal movement's expansion was paralleled by shifts in its alliances. The formation of Christian Advance Ministries in 1973 marked a distancing of the Charismatic Movement from its Pentecostal counterpart. Similarly, links between the New Life Churches and their Bethel Temple brethren in Australia became more tenuous as a result of the abortive "South Pacific Ministers' Conference" in Melbourne that year. Nevertheless, an incipient Pentecostal rapprochement was under way, stimulated by the ministry of Ern Baxter and other visitors to New Zealand from 1973 on. The creation of the Associated Pentecostal Churches of New Zealand in 1975 represented a consolidation of Pentecostal identity and was linked with the beginnings of the movement's political activism on moralist issues. Pentecostal influence was growing and the National Party was quick to solicit support from these churches in the 1975 General Election.
These changes in the New Zealand Pentecostal movement were matched by a world-wide concern for greater spiritual accountability, especially among independent Pentecostal groups and in the Charismatic Movement. This concern led to the emergence in the United States of the "shepherding movement," which advocated a network of "sheep-shepherd" discipleship relationships in order to deal with what Bob Mumford, one of its leaders, called
"the problem of doing your own thing." However, while the lack of spiritual accountability was universally admitted, this method of dealing with it was not. The discipleship movement therefore led to much controversy and schism, although little of this occurred in New Zealand. In the case of the New Life Churches, the "covering teaching" of Pastor David Ellis blunted the impact of the shepherding movement. Ellis's concepts represented an attempt to address this perceived lack of accountability and laid the doctrinal foundations for the evolving "structure" of the New Life Churches in the 1980s.
Although Ellis's "covering teaching" found general acceptance among the New Life Churches, it conflicted with the movement's cardinal principle of the autonomy of the local church. As a result, there was some diversity of opinion as to how far accountability should be implemented. This was reflected in the varied responses to the proposal of Assemblies of God pastor Ian Clark in 1979 that all Pentecostal groups in New Zealand should amalgamate into a single church. While Rob Wheeler favoured Clark's proposal, other New Life pastors opposed this amalgamation, fearing that the freedom of the local assemblies would be lost. However, the "autonomy principle" became increasingly dysfunctional as the movement expanded and diversified. Consequently, many of the younger New Life pastors, particularly in the Auckland region, advocated some form of "structural" corporate relationship. The tension between the traditional independence of the New Life Churches and their need for some mode of organizational polity forms one of the major themes of this thesis and underlies many of the developments in the movement during the 1980s.
This tension also owed something to sociological factors. The movement in the 1970s and 1980s was different from its counterpart in the early 1960s. The multiplication of churches had produced an anonymity in which personal links of fellowship became more difficult to sustain. It was also more diverse, since these churches were now experiencing "second-generation" transfer growth as charismatic Christians came into the movement. The varied origins of its pastors and congregations were reflected in diversity of opinion, particularly as regards the necessity for "structure." Perceptions of pastoral ministry were also changing and an upward social mobility was evident, as well as a trend towards increasing professionalism, a greater stress on educational "qualifications" and an enhancement of the role of the pastor as the "authority figure" in the movement. These changes reflected a shift from a "charismatic" to an "institutional" style of authority and led
to an increasing sense of "status" in the movement and the beginnings of an hierarchical structure of leadership.
These changes may also be interpreted in terms of the transition from sect to church (and, ultimately to denomination) postulated by H. Richard Niebuhr. However, given the "anti-denominational" ethos of the early movement, enshrined in the "autonomy principle," this transition was not a painless one. Indeed, there was considerable suspicion of any moves towards centralization, since these were seen as the first steps on the way to becoming a "denomination." Even the setting up in the mid-1970s of a "missions committee" with the limited task of facilitating transmission of funds to missionaries supported by individual churches in the movement came in for criticism on the grounds that it compromised the sovereignty of these churches.
Much debate took place among the pastors of the New Life Churches throughout the 1980s as to the form that the movement's polity should take. There appeared to be five main perspectives on the issue, ranging from Rob Wheeler's call for an official "national eldership" on the one hand, to Ross Davies's "relationship rather than legislation" views at the opposite end of the spectrum. Peter Morrow's anti-institutional emphasis on "unity in the Spirit" rather than organisational unity represented the classic Bethel Temple/Latter Rain model of inter-church relationships. However, younger pastors in the movement took a more pragmatic approach to the issue, as did those pastors who had come into the New Life Churches from the Charismatic Movement. The origins and personalities of the various proponents was an important factor in the outcome of the debate.
A network of regional gatherings of pastors had been set up by the early 1980s. Although these gatherings were originally simply a means of facilitating pastoral fellowship, they soon became "official" forums where the business of the movement was conducted. The role of the elected regional representative was later elevated to that of regional leader and an incipient hierarchy began to develop. Pressure to upgrade the role of the regional representative was strongest in Auckland, while pastors in other regions, particularly Taranaki and the Central North Island, were vigorously opposed to these developments.
The process of organizational consolidation was accelerated by a traumatic period from 1982 to 1986 when the movement had to discipline several pastors for moral improprieties. These episodes were profoundly discouraging for the movement and highlighted the
deficiencies of its polity. The absence of a consistent structure for corporate discipline meant that there was no consensus on who should discipline the offending pastor, or indeed, on what form of discipline should be imposed. Consequently, the movement took an ad hoc approach to the problem, with each episode being dealt with by the pastors of the local region, together with senior leaders such as Rob Wheeler and Peter Morrow. These disciplinary factors forced the New Life Churches to consider the adoption of an organizational structure and this reinforced and accelerated the process of change in the movement.
The second major theme of this thesis is the way in which the development of the movement was linked with an involvement in moral and political activism and specifically with the rise of the conservative Christian "Moral Right." Changes in the New Life Churches and other Pentecostal groups were paralleled by changes in society. Their new activism reflected the polarization of opinion which characterised the Muldoon era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Public controversy focused on intimate issues of personal morality and gender, and the vehemence with which the liberalization of these issues was opposed came to a climax with the campaign against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985.
The link between institutional changes in the Pentecostal movement and its new political activism can be most clearly seen in the formation of the Associated Pentecostal Churches of New Zealand in 1975.
The first act of the new association was to send delegations to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the Opposition, protesting at the moral decay of society. The New Life Churches were heavily involved in this new Pentecostal activism, although their choice of issues was somewhat selective. No reference to the rugby tour of South Africa can be found in the documents of the movement and only passing attention appears to have been given to the issue of bi-culturalism. Rather, the concerns of the movement were directed towards the preservation of the nuclear family and of traditional standards of personal morality. Moreover, their activism was seldom pro-active, and usually was limited to supporting the initiatives of other conservative moralist groups. Only two specific moralist responses can be attributed to the direct agency of the New Life Churches, namely, the introduction of Accelerated Christian Education to New Zealand in 1976 and the launching of the "Save Our Homes" Campaign in 1977. Nevertheless, their involvement appears to have been quite strong in Christchurch and Auckland, and several New Life pastors were identified as "moral activists" in Fran Pardon's article on Auckland's "moral minority" [sic].
The programme of rapid social change introduced by the new Labour Government in 1984 quickened the pace of conservative moralist protest. The first example of this was the reaction to the Women's Forums held around the country in late 1984 under the auspices of the new Ministry of Women's Affairs. The pre-determined nature of these Forums angered conservative women, who felt that their views were being ignored as the Labour Government implemented its agenda for social change. This perception was also a factor in the opposition to the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985 and was reinforced by the Government's rejection of a massive petition against the Bill. The dismissal of the petition represented a defeat of major proportions for the moralist movement and led directly to the candidacy of Rob Wheeler and other conservative Christians in the 1987 General Election and to the formation of the Christian Heritage Party in 1989.
The involvement of the New Life Churches in the political arena had mixed results. Although Rob Wheeler received extensive media coverage prior to the election, the swing against the Labour Government in the Mount Albert electorate was less than that for the nation as a whole. His candidacy was also somewhat counter-productive for the New Life Churches, since his views, that Christians should be involved in politics in order to combat the satanic invasion of secular humanism which had eroded the Christian standards of New Zealand society, were not shared by all pastors in the movement, nor by other Pentecostal groups. Ross Davies and David Shearer were the most vigorous opponents of political involvement, and this was a factor in their resignation from the movement.
The process of organizational change in the New Life Churches came to a head at the 1987 Annual Pastors' Conference at Waikanae. Debate over the issue of the movement's corporate structure had narrowed to three main schools of thought in the weeks leading up to the Conference. A conservative group, comprising pastors from the Central North Island, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Northland regions, emphasised "relationship" and "fellowship" as cohesive factors in the movement. Their views reflected those of Ross Davies, who had resigned from the New Life Churches the previous year in protest at their increasing institutionalization and political involvement. A second point of view, promoted by John
Walton and espoused by many of the movement's senior pastors, advocated an organizational structure, calling for the establishment of an "official" leadership format. This became the favoured option as the Conference approached. A third school of thought emerged from the "School of the Prophets" Conference in July 1987, which was attended by many of the Auckland New Life pastors. This option emphasised the role of apostles in the leadership of the church, and was attractive in that it offered a biblical, charismatic mode of leadership. As such, it provided the legitimation for the model of leadership eventually presented to the pastors at the Conference for ratification.
Although voting on the issue was decisive, with three quarters of the pastors at the Conference voting for "apostolic leadership," this new structure proved to be short-lived. The appointment of Rob Wheeler and Peter Morrow as "apostles" was effectively invalidated by Wheeler's resignation due to ill-health in 1989 and by Morrow's frequent absences on overseas speaking engagements. While the movement retains a centralized mode of leadership, this is no longer "apostolic" and John Walton, who replaced Rob Wheeler in 1989, did so as a "leader" rather than as an "apostle." The biblical and charismatic legitimation of the role has therefore been lost.
Reaction to the new leadership structure was immediate. Within three months of the Conference, twenty-four pastors had resigned from the movement and had formed a new association of churches, the South Pacific Fellowship. These pastors were essentially disciples of Ross Davies and endorsed his views that fellowship and relationship, rather than legislation, were the keys to maintaining corporate identity and unity. In effect, they looked back to the halcyon days of the 1960s, and sought to reinstate the informal pastoral fellowship which had characterized that era. In so doing, they failed to recognize that the times were different; that the New Life Churches had changed; and that a new corporate polity was necessary for the efficient adminstration of the movement.
This thesis began by likening the New Life Churches to a "river." What course has this "river" taken? How has it changed the religious landscape of New Zealand, and how has the movement itself been changed and channelled by that landscape? It is evident that the growth of the movement reflects Niebuhr's sect-church-denomination continuum, and that its leadership style is changing from a charismatic to a more institutional mode.
Although these changes were not universally accepted, the secession of the South Pacific churches has removed many of their most vigorous opponents.
The impact of the New Life Churches has primarily been a religious one, as is exemplified by their influence on the emergent Charismatic Movement in the 1960s. However, as they grew and moved towards social and political power in the 1970s, their character has changed. The movement has become more structured and more centralized, and its increasing political involvement reflects a new sense of status and influence within the wider community. The movement has indeed sought to change society, but has itself been changed. The leadership format adopted at the 1987 Pastors' Conference simply puts into institutional form the changes that were already taking place in the movement. The "river" has now become tamed and channelled, and although the New Life Churches still retain their charismatic emphasis, they have now become a very different kind of movement from what they were in the 1960s and 1970s.