A WEIGH-IN OF THE NEW APOSTOLIC REFORMATION
PART 1: WHAT IS IT?
by Roelof Ham - translated by Ursula Moestapa
This article is the first of a series in three parts. In this first article I will explain what this influential movement of the New Apostolic Reformation (N.A.R.) represents and what it contains. In the two following articles, I will weigh the accents and the theological views of the N.A.R. on their sustainability and value in the light of God’s Word. First, I want to pay attention to the movement itself.
Difficult to grasp
The N.A.R. is an influential movement in the evangelical and charismatic churches of the United States of America. As is often the case with these movements, with time their views also cross the ocean into our part of the world and also influences our Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. In the Netherlands, we know the N.A.R. movement by different names, such as the New Apostolic Movement or ‘Kingdom Now’ - thinking. The difficult thing here is that the N.A.R. is not a well-defined entity. There is no church community connected to it and there are no churches that identify themselves as N.A.R. or have it written on the front of their church buildings. In that sense it is an intangible movement that has an impact onto our churches. It permeates into our congregations, but it cannot be categorized.
Nevertheless, its influence is real. The views and accents of this thinking work their way into the denomination or church, and although not in a strict way, these views are clearly recognizable. Researchers can, without a doubt, give a number of characteristics of what the believers and communities that are supporting the thoughts of the N.A.R., do share, just as a number of churches and preachers that are involved.
It all starts with the person of C. Peter Wagner (1930-2016). He was a pastor and a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in California.
In the 1970s and 1980s he started to speak about the restoration of the gift and ministry of first the prophets and later the apostles. He stated that these ministries re-entered the Church of Jesus in the way as they had also functioned in the time of the New Testament. The term that goes with this is the so-called ‘Third Wave’. Wagner believed that the First Wave was the revival in the Azusa Street in Los Angeles at the beginning of the twentieth century from where the Pentecostal Movement emerged. The Second Wave took place in the 1960s of the previous century. Wagner’s ideas are historically in this line of renewal and revival and must be seen in extension to this; the Third Wave is the continuation of God’s work that began with the First Wave. It started with the restoration of the fivefold ministry of the Biblical time. This fivefold ministry covers the five offices or assignments that we find in the New Testament and more specifically in Ephesians 4 verse 11, where it reads: ‘And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers.’ These five have returned into the Church by the power of God’s Spirit, with special emphasis on prophets and apostles. Some may ask the question whether those ministries have ever been gone? After all, we have always had teachers, shepherds and gospel preachers, just to mention some. That’s true, but what the N.A.R. specifically stands for is a restoration of this ministry with the authority of the New Testament and the power that goes with it. Let me clarify this with the gift of prophecy. In many charismatic and evangelical communities, prophecies are uttered. These prophecies, however, are always limited in scope and extent. When someone has a prophecy, it will be heard and accepted if it is reliable, but it doesn’t necessarily have authority and power as the Word of God over all churches and believers. Everyone is free to do something with it or not, both the community and the individual. Additionally, the Word of God, the Bible, is always still higher. Prophets within the N.A.R. have however, such a great authority that their word is absolute. When they speak, they utter prophecies directly from God Himself and when it comes down to it in practice, their utterances are usually regarded at the same level as or even higher than God’s words in the Bible. The same goes for the ministry of apostle.
This happens because there of the restoration of the ministries of the first apostles in the New Testament that equally had this authority. The Third Wave of the working of the Holy Spirit begins with the restoration of these ministries ánd their authority.
After C. Peter Wagner had verbalized these ideas for the first time, they started to work through and with time have gained a foothold in a few important and defining churches and speakers. As a result, this mindset spread ever further.
Key figures and churches that are distinguished by researchers in the areas of the N.A.R. are the Bethel Church in Redding California and its pastor and also apostle Bill Johnson, the already mentioned C. Peter Wagner, the IHOP (the International House of Prayer) in Kansas with its pastor and apostle Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Randy Clark, Rick Joyner and many others. Many of these people do not acknowledge themselves to belong to the N.A.R. Bill Johnson, for example, claims that he had never heard of it until 2018 when someone asked him about it (see e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3kO3jkDOVM), but whether they bear the name or not, they all support the thoughts and views of this movement. And because these churches and speakers have great influence on the evangelical and charismatic churches of the West, the thoughts of the N.A.R. spread through them.
Theological views and characteristics
Restoration of New Testamentical ministries – apostles and prophets.
One of the most important characteristics of the N.A.R. is thus the thought of the restoration of the ministry of prophets and apostles in New Testamentical sense by the Holy Spirit. The apostles and prophets have an appointment with the attached authority that is directly originated from God. They lead the churches of God and therefore receive insights in visions, dreams and words. These new revelations must be shared and accepted by believers, for what they say is literally the Word of God. If someone doesn’t accept this, then it’s a sign of unbelief and misunderstanding. Then it is the same ‘religious spirit which was at work in the Pharisees’ and in the worst case even a proof of demonic and diabolic resistance.
The second characteristic is their entirely own unique view on the last things. Their eschatology (literally ‘the doctrine of the Last Things’) is described as a Victorious Eschatology. This is contrary to the more traditional concept that is supported and believed by the majority of evangelical and charismatic Christians. This traditional view which teaches that the world will first become worse, more vicious and more evil before Christ will return: love for one another will become cold, the opposing power will reveal himself because the one who restrains will be removed and a time of great tribulation will come. This view is based on the many Bible texts that teach us this. The N.A.R., however, sees it differently. They believe that it is the assignment of the Church to let the Kingdom of God come to the world and let it conquer. Only then Christ will return. The apostles and prophets play a key role in this. With an appeal to John 14:12 where Jesus says the following, they claim: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father.’ For the supporters of the N.A.R. the emphasis in this verse lies on ‘greater works than these’. People believe that by the working of the Spirit and the ministry of the apostles and prophets, they would do greater and greater wonders and signs with the passing of time. Even greater works than those of the Lord’s so that this in the end would lead to a world that will become very impressed by the Kingdom of God’s coming and this will break through into a great revival. Then Christ will come and that will be the end.
In this context we should also mention the seven hills, mountains or realms of the cultures that are to be dominated, which is also called ‘Dominion Theology’. The idea behind this is that in the ungodly world around us there are seven territories on which the Kingdom of God must start to dominate and conquer. Which seven realms these exactly are, differs somewhat from church to church, from speaker to speaker and from supporter to supporter. The most prevalent classifications have a combination of the following: teachings, religion/spirituality, family/relationships, business/economy, governments/military, art/entertainment and media. If the Church of Jesus is strong enough and the Spirit is able to work sufficiently (with an appeal to the above-mentioned verse of John 14:12), we as believers can take over these territories and change them fundamentally. In this way we can create a Kingdom in which Christ is glorified, after which He can return.
Some supporters of N.A.R. go as far as that they believe that we can bring about the Millennial Kingdom (Post-Millennialists). Others believe that we can accomplish a great deal, but that Christ will give the final push (Pre-Millennialists). The basic principle is however the same for both. It implies: if we have won these territories and gain the victory, then the end shall come. The eschatology thus rests on a view in which we are able to make the world a better place by ourselves. In Dutch churches this new thought is traced back in the ideas of Kingdom Now. This Kingdom Now also believe in ruling over realms and in a victorious eschatology that men themselves cultivate/manipulate.
Finally, a brief remark on The Passion Bible ‘Translation’. I deliberately put ‘Translation’ between brackets, because it’s actually not a real translation.
It is more a paraphrasing or reprint, as it is also called. The Passion is the result of the efforts of one single man called Brian Simmons. That is in itself very peculiar, because most popular Bible translations (e.g. of the Dutch Bible Association) are made by whole cohorts of scholars, linguistic scholars with theologians together. In this case Brian Simmons claims he did not do everything by himself and claims to have consulted others (but does not substantiate it in anyway or form). He is also not specialized as a scientist, theologian or a linguistic scholar in Biblical languages. He relies upon divine revelation; he heard directly from Jesus that he had to do this. The Passion is written from the convictions of the N.A.R. and that can be seen in the chosen wordings. Where necessary, texts are adapted or elaborated. The Psalms for example are much longer in The Passion than in the root texts or in other translations, simply because there is literally more text added by Brian Simmons.
The Passion is popular and is used in different English Pentecostal churches and evangelical communities. On further examination, however, it appeared that The Passion cannot be counted among the reliable Bible translations. It is a subtle, but nonetheless a non-approvable distortion of the texts given to us by God in Hebrew and Greek.
In the two following articles I will weigh the above-mentioned characteristics. Then we shall see how the N.A.R. relates to the healthy and wholesome doctrine the Bible presents to us.