The Third Wave Movement is a Pentecostal or Charismatic movement that began in the 1980s. It is sometimes called the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit” or the “Signs and Wonders Movement.” The name “Third Wave” was coined by C. Peter Wagner, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. He referred to the movement as the “Third Wave” because this was the third of three distinct Pentecostal/Charismatic movements in modern Christianity. The first wave was the original Pentecostal Movement that began in the early 1900s with the teachings of Charles Parham followed by the Azusa Street Revival. The second wave then came in the 1960s with the Charismatic movement. In the Charismatic movement, Pentecostal doctrines, teachings, and practices began to spread to non-Pentecostal churches and denominations. This wave brought increased popularity to the “Word of Faith” or “Name It and Claim It” false teachings that are still popular today.
Then, in the 1980s, another “movement of the Holy Spirit,” supposedly characterized by “signs and wonders,” began in the Vineyard Church with the teachings of John Wimber, Mike Bickle, C. Peter Wagner, Jack Deere, and others. Professor Wagner characterized this Third Wave as being “a new moving of the Holy Spirit among evangelicals who, for one reason or another, have chosen not to identify with either the Pentecostals or Charismatics.” Also known as the Neo-Charismatic Movement, this Third Wave of Pentecostal doctrine and excess became very popular and led to many aberrant teachings such as the Toronto Blessing and laughing in the Spirit.
In addition to highlighting some of the melodramatic practices of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, the Third Wave goes even further with its emphasis on the sensational, including claims of signs and wonders performed by “modern-day apostles and prophets.”
Key teachings of the Third Wave Movement include what is known as “power evangelism.” The basic premise of power evangelism is that the preaching of the gospel must be accompanied with signs and wonders in order for people to respond in faith. Proponents of this view have an unbalanced focus on miracles, speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy. They miss the fact that it is the gospel message itself that is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1). Third Wave proponents essentially deny the sufficiency of Scripture and believe that God is communicating directly through modern-day prophets and apostles. Therefore, they believe that God is giving new revelation today that undermines the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The words of these “new apostles and prophets” become more important than the clear teaching of Scripture. As with all Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, personal experience plays a greater role for determining “truth” than does sound doctrine.
The Third Wave is yet another movement that is based on people’s experience rather than on sound doctrine. Proponents of the Third Wave Movement believed that it would bring forth end-time apostles and prophets to do greater miracles than were performed by Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles. These “new apostles and prophets” were said to be greater than any prophet or apostle that had preceded them. This teaching has resulted in many false prophets coming out of Third Wave churches.
Since its beginning in the 1980s, the Third Wave Movement has sparked a large number of counterfeit revivals. As the movement evolved, unbiblical practices such as “laughing in the spirit” continued to get more and more bizarre. In recent years some Third Wave leaders and churches have begun to separate themselves from some of the more aberrant practices and are trying to move back to more traditional Charismatic practices. This Third Wave of Pentecostalism has left in its wake a history of false teachings and destructive practices. Many have been led astray.