INTERVIEW – John Lanferman on Reformed Charismatic Churches in the USA

As we drew to the close of the first segment of my interview with John Lanferman yesterday we began to speak about reformed charismatic churches. Today I begin by asking him if he believes there is a hunger for such churches in the USA. You can also download the audio of this interview.

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Adrian
Yeah, that’s so important, isn’t it? So as you look out over the nation, do you feel that there is a hunger in the US for these kind of churches, a desire to see them?

John
Absolutely. I think especially an emerging generation, the 20’s and 30’s generation, pretty much in the US left the church. But we’re seeing a lot of these people coming back into the church.John Lanferman In our own church, that would be the largest demographic. And these are young people who really have a value of the foundations of the past, historical Christian faith would be important to them, but also a mixture of what the culture has created—a desire to experience something in the Spirit. They’re not afraid of that. So you have this desire to be rooted in something that’s stable—historical Christian faith—but at the same time, wanting to experience something of God in the Spirit. And are not afraid of spiritual manifestations; in fact, they’re hungry for that. Hungry to experience the very real presence of God for themselves in a very tangible way.

Adrian
Yeah. It’s interesting because a lot of people are talking about that kind of resurgence of reformed faith in the US in the 20’s and 30’s [age group]. It’s interesting to hear you saying that a lot of those guys are also looking for something quite experiential.

John
Absolutely.

Adrian
I guess people like John Piper are probably a major part of that, aren’t they? Because the way he preaches—it’s all about knowing God, and [having] a kind of relationship with God, and valuing God, rather than just purely as an intellectual thing.

John
Yes, and he’s taken some fairly strong stands. He actually is not a cessationist. He actually does believe . . .

Adrian
Most people are really surprised when they hear that. What? John Piper is not a cessationist? You’re kidding!

John
That’s true. And he has huge influence in our nation among the evangelical community. I think his welcoming in of people like C. J. Mahaney, and even embracing guys like Mark Driscoll . . .

Adrian
Yes!

John
. . . and just to see what’s happening there encourages me quite a great deal.

One of the negative things that’s happening in the US as well—you have the emerging church. On one end of it you have a very orthodox guy like Mark Driscoll, and a bit colorful as well. (Adrian laughing) While on the other end you have people who have a greater degree of relevancy, so doctrine and theology is kind of fluid, and they want to adapt that to culture, and so that leads to heresy. And that’s a frightening thing. But there’s a wing of that emerging church that is very much moving in that direction as well, as you probably well know. That’s a frightening thing in the US because there’s quite a large following of that group as well.

Adrian
That’s right. And I think some of those historic doctrines are being questioned . . .

John
They are!

Adrian
. . . in a way that you’d be surprised at. But that’s not unique to the US either. As you know, we’ve had some issues over here with that, particularly with regard to the atonement and things like that. I mean, is the atonement such a big issue in the US as it is over here in the UK, would you say?

John
It’s not with mainline evangelical groups, but I think with the emerging church, the people who are on one side of that very much—that’s one of the questions. And even the desire to be culturally relevant and accepting of alternative life styles has led people to make an adjustment as to how they approach that. And they won’t make categorical statements any more. So they’re standing on sand rather than the solid rock of the Book. So I think that’s a concern as well. These guys are fairly media savvy, and it’s a subtle thing . . . to find a way into churches.

Adrian
I think that’ right. With the advent of the media and the Internet, well, I know this only two well. It’s possible for people to hit above their weight. I mean, Here am I — just some guy in a church in London whose blog is read all around the world. And I think that happening with a lot of people, and you can have influence, either for good or not good, far above, actually, what you are accomplishing on the ground in that sense. Or over what you feel you should have influence.

John
Yes, absolutely, that’s true.

Adrian
I think it is a bit concerning, isn’t it? How some people are causing us to drift away from truth.

John
The thing that’s concerning about it is that—not [only] are they gifted and charismatic, but in actuality, there’s the element of Christianity about them. So you’re dealing with something different than people who are totally secular. So it’s a subtle thing. A lot of people are not very scripturally astute. It’s easy to be pulled along in that train.

Adrian
Don’t you think that it’s quite interesting when you look [at it] historically? A lot of these ideas have been tried before, haven’t they?

John
Yes, they have. And the thing is, they always end up on a dead-end street. They don’t have a long cycle. They come around, but ultimately God is very protective of his Church. He is very zealous for it. And the church that’s rooted in biblical value and persuasion continues on. I’m very encouraged in America about the uptick in church planting. I don’t know if you want to talk about that or not . . .

Adrian
Yeah, church planting is great, yeah.

John
In the US, over the last two decades, there has been a deterioration in people who are committed to regular church attendance. It’s averaged a 10 per cent decline in
each of the last ten years—so 20 per cent less are now involved in church activities, or even actually community activities, than before. But now, groups like Acts 29, and on a much, much smaller scale, but I like to say, Sovereign Grace, and Newfrontiers, and various other church planting movements, Global Net—these groups that are coming to the forefront planting churches, training people, are based on orthodox Christian faith with a real sense of mission. So missional churches are emerging among us, and many of them are growing, seeing lots of people saved. So I actually—while we have these rather alarming trends, I see much to be very excited about in the US.

Adrian
Yes, oh yes. Just for the sake of those out there—I know some people sitting out there are thinking, “What exactly is a missional church, John?” How would you define that?

John
A church that understands that it exists for the express purpose of carrying the gospel to the next door neighbor, to the person in the next block, to the person in the next city, state, and nation, and they exist for the purpose of being carriers of the gospel. So they are involved, not only in proclamation, but they are involved in changing the whole culture of a community. They would be people who would be involved in cross-cultural evangelism. They would be people who would be involved in changing the social justice—be involved in that ministry to the poor—so they have a desire to see the whole community that they are involved with, the towns they are involved with, changed and made into a kingdom community. It’s people who understand, “We do not exist for ourselves, but we exist for them.” So the way we spend our money. the way we staff our churches, the way our churches feel, the way they operate, have that outward appeal. And it’s a God-centered approach to humanity rather than an inward, “What about me and my needs?” It’s a man-centered approach.

Adrian
That’s very good. So that’s really very much what’s on your heart as you go across the nation, isn’t it? I guess that’s what you’re saying—to see those kinds of churches multiplied.

John
Absolutely—if we can get outstanding churches in each of these 100 large cities, and out from that, begin to reproduce ourselves. Because I’m fanatical on reproducing churches. We must not just plant churches, but we [want to] see churches that view themselves as reproducing churches, multiply themselves, raise up leaders, give themselves away, spread out in the communities and the nations beyond.

Adrian
It’s just so exciting to see what God is doing in a nation, but also what he’s doing around the world, and to be able to link up with that. I guess we’re back to the conference in a way. Because that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Together on a Mission.

John
Yes, it is. And I think what’s interesting is how we help each other. The different nations, different men, bring different things into the pool. I’m receiving from others. I’m receiving from my friends in Africa, or my friends in India, and so it’s even the in-between times when we’re kind of sharing ideas back and forth and getting on board how we can assist one another. Because it’s just not about our own little patch. It’s us owning the world together. It’s us saying, “We want to see the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ grow and expand to all the nations of the world. So, I have just as much a vital interest in what’s happening in Africa, or what’s happening in Europe, as I would even in our own place. Because we have to own the whole vision of God. I do know that I have a particular responsibility for a sphere.

Adrian
Yeah.

John
But God has called us to work together. I think that’s the joy of what’s happening here in this conference, and who we are in Newfrontiers as well.

Adrian
Yeah. And I guess when we gather together like this, significant words can come as well, that shape us really.

John
It’s true. I think it’s in the worship that God is speaking to us. It’s in the preaching as well. But also in prophetic words that come to us. And you can just see the impact that’s happening across the room . . .

Adrian
Yes!

John
. . . guys coming together and buzzing about this, and what God is saying. So it’s quite helpful actually.

Adrian
If my readers are sitting there in America somewhere thinking, “You know what?” This all sounds great. I’d love to be in a church like that.” How would they find out more?

John
Well, they can come to our website, of course. Just type into the search engine Newfrontiers USA, and there, of course, they can find us, and where our churches are located. Of course, I would welcome any contact there in St. Louis where we are based.

Adrian
Excellent. Do you run any conferences, or anything like that, there in the USA?

John
Yes, we do. We have an annual Leadership Conference that’s hosted by us there in St. Louis. But we have also moved out regionally. Originally we were just a small cluster of churches in Missouri, but now we have established cluster churches in New England, and we’ve moved into the Pacific Northwest, and now we’ve moved into the Southeast as well. So we’ve established regional events because we are a family of churches, just not a fraternity of leaders. So churches come together there for envisioning, and leadership events happen, as well as 20’s conferences, and events for teenagers. Just this next week, we’re gathering several hundred teenagers, not just to go to a camp and somehow be refreshed and go back all enthusiastic for a couple of weeks, but actually to be involved in a mission and social action. We’re going to go out into the streets. We’re going to get with children in the neighborhoods. We’re going to begin to work into that community. So we have lots of events by which we’re bringing people together. There’s something that can happen when a group of churches come together that simply cannot happen with a church on its own. And there is just a combined strength of coming together around the singleness of vision and purpose that not only helps with what we do together, but actually helps when people go back to their own churches. They’ve caught something, see? And they take it back with them. So we have several events like that. And men’s conferences and ladies conferences that are happening throughout the nation. So immediately when I go back, we will have a One Blaze event, which is the teen event, in St. Louis. And from there, I’ll leave the next week and go up to New England, and we’ll have a big family camp out there where we gather the churches. We bring in international speakers, as well as myself, and we’re envisioned.

Adrian
Great. Sounds great. It’s just so exciting to hear about what God’s
doing over there in the States. Thank you so much for joining us, John. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with my readers before we close?

John
I’m very much enthused about what God is going to be doing in the US, and what he is doing now. I’m thrilled when I see the moving of his Spirit in more prononced ways, as well as the value of the Word. I’m particularly encouraged about missional churches that are sprining up all across our nation. So, I wouldn’t want to end here just with some of the other things we’ve talked about—alarming trends, etc. I’d like to says that I’m actually more encouraged today than I’ve ever been in my life in regard to what God’s doing in raising up his Church in the US.

Adrian
Excellent! Praise God for that. We wish you all the success in the future, John, and I look forward to hearing more about what goes on in the years to come when you’ve reached those 100 cities.

John
Yes, thank you, Adrian.

Adrian

Praise God. Thank you.

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, a writer, and a member of Jubilee Church, London since 1995, where he serves as part of the leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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