The Third Wave movement refers to a branch of Pentecostalism that emerged in the 1980s emphasizing signs, wonders, and supernatural experiences. It gets its name from the idea that it represented a “third wave” of the Holy Spirit’s movement in modern times, following the Pentecostal movement beginning in the early 1900s and the Charismatic movement in the 1960s.
The origins of the Third Wave movement are often traced to controversial pastor John Wimber and the Vineyard Christian Fellowship he founded in 1977. Wimber placed emphasis on spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and faith healing. He taught that all believers should expect to experience miracles as a normal part of the Christian life. The Third Wave perspective stood in contrast to mainstream Evangelicalism at the time by promoting a more supernatural worldview.
Some of the key beliefs in Third Wave theology include:
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit is available to all believers subsequent to conversion, providing empowerment for ministry.
- All the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament are valid for today if they are exercised decently and in order.
- The gift of tongues is valuable both as a private prayer language and when interpreted as prophecy to edify the church.
- Healing and demonic deliverance ministries should be incorporated into the church.
- Unity is found by connecting with the person of Jesus Christ rather than doctrinal systems.
- There needs to be a restoration of Apostolic ministry in the church.
In addition to Wimber’s Vineyard churches, other major proponents of Third Wave ideas include C. Peter Wagner, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner, Mike Bickle, Cindy Jacobs, and Lou Engle. The movement influenced many nondenominational and charismatic churches and organizations during the 1980s and 1990s.
Critics have expressed concern that Third Wave theology diminishes the authority of Scripture by overemphasizing ecstatic experiences and signs and wonders. Some also charge the movement with downplaying Christ’s finished work on the cross and suggesting believers must experience a secondary work of the Spirit. Supporters argue the movement has helped restore vital biblical truths regarding the Spirit’s work and remains faithful to the foundations of Pentecostalism.
While usage of the term “Third Wave” has declined over the years, the teachings of this movement have had lasting influence. Its worship styles and expressions of charismata continue shaping global Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Though some of its teachings proved controversial, the Third Wave unleashed a hunger for God’s supernatural power that transformed spiritual landscapes.
There are a few key Bible passages relevant to understanding the Third Wave movement:
Acts 2:1-21 – This describes the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension. Third Wavers see their movement as continuing the Spirit-empowered ministry begun here.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 – Paul lists supernatural giftings of the Holy Spirit like prophecy, healing, and tongues. Third Wave theology asserts that these gifts should be actively pursued and nurtured.
1 Corinthians 14:1 – Paul encourages believers to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.” The Third Wave teaches all believers have access to spiritual gifts.
Mark 16:17-18 – Jesus describes miraculous signs that will accompany believers, such as healing, speaking in tongues, and protection from snakes and poison. These verses inspire Third Wave faith for the supernatural.
Romans 12:6 – Paul urges believers to use their distinct spiritual gifts. Third Wave equips people to walk in giftings like prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leading, and mercy.
John 14:12 – Jesus declares that believers will do miraculous works like He did and even greater works. This inspires Third Wavers to walk in miraculous power.
Joel 2:28-29 – Joel prophesies God pouring out His Spirit with supernatural dreams, visions, and prophecies. This passage envisions the Spirit-empowered church Third Wave advocates.
Galatians 3:5 – Paul reminds the Galatians that God works miracles among them by the Holy Spirit. Third Wave theology expects miraculous works by the Spirit’s power.
While open to some excesses, the Third Wave movement has helped promote renewal in the global church through emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence. At its best, it calls believers to pursue passion for Jesus above all else, walk in kingdom power, and see God’s miraculous activity. The Third Wave reminds us that rational faith alone cannot satisfy our deepest spiritual longings.
The Third Wave has also impacted global missions. Indigenous churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have embraced Third Wave ideas and practices, leading to revival. The emphasis on miraculous gifts has been helpful in these contexts where folk religion is entrenched. God has used Third Wave concepts to demonstrate his power in societies skeptical of Western rationalistic Christianity.
Of course, further reformation and theological maturity is needed. As with any renewal, loving biblical correction and discernment is vital. Evaluation through the lens of Scripture allows testing, refinement, and rooting out of carnality and exaggerations.
Above all, the Third Wave is a provocative call to experience intimacy with Jesus daily through the Spirit’s empowering presence. It reminds believers in historically cessationist streams the miraculous gifts have ongoing relevance for advancing God’s kingdom. The Third Wave provokes hunger for deeper relationship with the Spirit of truth who glorifies Jesus.
The Third Wave arose from discontent with powerless, routine religion empty of God’s manifest presence. In a dry spiritual climate, Wimber and other pioneers yearned for deeper relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s dynamic inner work and miraculous expression. Their passion reminds us Jesus wants intimate friendship with every believer through the Spirit.
This movement provokes important questions for the global church today. Have we become complacent with form without power? Are we satisfied with doctrinal accuracy but spiritual deadness? Does our faith put God in a box, limiting what He can do? The Third Wave’s excesses and shortcomings should not obscure its urgent challenge to apathetic Christianity.
Of course, we must ensure biblical fidelity and proper order in Spirit-empowered ministry. But may the church continue progressing toward maturity in understanding the Spirit’s gifts which Jesus lavishes on His beloved friends. Let us embrace Jesus’ invitation into greater intimacy through yielding to His Spirit without smothering genuine moves of God.
As church history attests, no revival stands still but requires ongoing reformation. May the Third Wave spur hunger for Jesus expressed in Spirit-anointed ministry that exalts Him. Let this provocative movement instill passion for intimacy with the Triune God who makes His home in every believer. And may the church test all things by Scripture, embracing what is true while discarding what proves false or excessive.
The Third Wave has deeply impacted global Christianity over the past four decades. But its full impact remains unfolding. May this movement stir up fresh passion for Jesus, enliven worship in Spirit and truth, spur hunger for Scripture, and revive Spirit-empowered ministry. And may God’s people respond with maturity, discernment, and humility while avoiding pride, division, and rejection of our great heritage.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Spirit who empowered the apostles and early church still desires to inhabit His people fully today. May we embrace Him through continually yielding our lives while evaluating every spiritual experience by the light of Scripture. Let us pursue intimate friendship with the Triune God who gave His all for us. By walking in this love and power the church advances toward maturity as Christ’s bride.