The New Apostolic Reformation – Introduction
During the last two decades we have all become aware of a new Christian movement, dubbed by C. Peter Wagner in 1998 as the ‘New Apostolic Reformation,’ mentioned in his book by the same name. For 30 years, he had been the most prominent and vocal exponent of the Church Growth Movement, building on the research and conclusions of his predecessor and mentor, Donald A. McGavran.
As a Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, he developed new courses on various aspects of church growth, many of which became the material of 25 or so books before 2000 and about 15 afterwards. In the last couple of decades of the 20th century he began to see new trends, new approaches and explosive growth in situations that were outside his traditional denominational and evangelical framework. The more he explored this new phenomena and its burgeoning success on the world scene, the more he was able to discover the major characteristics which God was using to extend the work of the Gospel across the globe.
What caused the exponential growth of these new churches?
Wagner enumerated the causal factors of these new movements, nine common features which revealed why these groups were so successful, concluding that these factors were authored by God to help us all reap a harvest in these last days. In an impressive array of eighteen showcase chapters he invited various leaders to testify of how these principles were adopted and applied in their personal situations. Their striking stories corroborated the fact that God was restoring new wineskins and fresh wine to reach the nations.
What struck me first was the diverse range of people in his list: John P. Kelly, John Eckhardt. Michael P. Fletcher, Bill Hybels, Wellington Boone, Larry Kreider, Roberts Liardon, Rice Brooks, Bill Hamon, Billy Joe Daugherty, Dick Iverson, Raplh Moore, David Kim, Lawrence Khong, Paul Daniel, William F, Kumuji, Eddie Villanueva and Joseph C. Wongsak.
They were from US, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa and Hawaii. At the time, they were mostly unknown to me, but the known ones were Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical, seeker-friendly, cell church, power ministries and etc. Wagner’s point was that these 18 leaders, though so different in style and culture, had discovered 9 spiritual ‘components of the new wineskins that were shaping the Church for the twenty-first century.’
True to ‘Church Growth’ tradition, Wagner presented the examples of these components as ‘divine principles’ that others could and should emulate for the cause of God’s Kingdom. And why not? They were Evangelically acceptable and Biblically undergirded as models which were being greatly blessed, with thousands of new converts and new churches across the globe.
It should be noted that there was no hint of developing a movement, enlisting members, re-organizing the world-wide church or creating a new denomination. The initial New Apostolic Reformation was built on Wagner’s observations of the individual group’s common practices, their inner workings, their modus operandi, the way each of these disparate groups governed, conducted and expanded church. These Gospel-oriented churches were highly focused and rapidly multiplying converts and congregations in numerous countries. They were not an organized movement, following a set pattern of beliefs and practices, nor were they connected to, or even aware of, the presence of similar churches or ‘streams.’ They were too busy working for the Kingdom and adhering to biblical guidelines applied with contemporary methodologies. Many had either Pentecostal, Charismatic or Evangelical backgrounds but each had their own flavour, emphases, priorities and spheres of influence. Love them or loathe them, they are still one of the fastest growing and most influential religious movements in the church today, making monumental strides, particularly in the global South. Their churches are sound, solid and strong. To pastors, they are mouth-wateringly attractive and enviable. What other Bible-based evangelicals can come even close to their impressive success.
What made NAR churches different?
Apostles and Prophets
Their new wineskins were not secret or mysterious. They believed in the restoration of apostolic and prophetic ministries, in the same way, that other many historical restorationists have pursued and prayed for a return to biblical Christianity. This restoration was sought as far back as the 1830’s through the ministry of Edward Irving in the UK. It was a prominent feature of the early Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century in US and Europe. The Latter Rain Movement of the mid-20th century furthered the expectation of the restoration of apostles and prophets, which produced the emergence of new ministries and new advances for the church. Watchman Nee, in his book, ‘The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 1’ makes a case for modern day apostles, using biblical references to support his teaching. All of these men and movements enabled the church to make quantum leaps forward – through the biblically-based, servant ministries of apostles, and for some, prophets.
Training was central in all these vibrant churches. Leaders and members alike were encouraged to find their gifts and calling from God and were trained in their respective ministries. Every-member-ministry became a normal part of church life. Being a Christian was not merely attending church every Sunday as a non-participating member. Rather, every believer was taught to play their part in the life and ministry of the church. The mandate Jesus left with the church was to go into all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples and teaching them to live obedient and godly lives. This emphasis is not a new add-on or an optional activity. It’s what real Christians do – or should do, according to the Master.
Worship has always been a product of movements of the Spirit. Consider the early Wesleyan’s employment of such powerful hymns, which are still in use today. Similarly, the Salvation Army tunes that were used devotionally as worship as well as evangelistically, as the gospel was proclaimed in song. The Welsh Revival was buoyed up by the waves of inspiring melodies and lyrics. Since the mid-20th century, a contemporary form of worship has spread across evangelical and charismatic churches, attracting and appealing to believers and non-church people alike.
This subject is very comprehensive, including personal prayer, corporate prayer, prayer for healing and deliverance, prayer for the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, prayer for pushing back the powers of darkness and etc. These aspects of prayer require further explanation and elucidation, but churches that are described as New Apostolic Reformation churches are heavily dependent on ‘all kinds of prayer’ (Ephesians 6:18)
There are more distinctives which are well described in Wagner’s article which you can find in the list of links on this page.
Fast forward 25 years
Today the Christian world is littered with articles, videos and books which range from delight to distain, predominantly the latter. Some individuals or groups seem dedicated to exposing this ‘fraudulent, theologically corrupt, mistakenly-intentioned and spiritually-deceptive’ blemish on the spiritual landscape of God’s pure church. These detractors of NAR have all kinds of criticisms and accusations which are aimed at a large variety of authentic and successful ministers of the Gospel across the world. It is no surprise to say that most of these detractors are not just concerned about the, but are also very vocal with their objections to anything other than traditional evangelicalism – that includes Pentecostals, charismatics, third-wavers, spiritual gifts and revivalists.
What are the concerns?
There are a number of issues in the NAR that have caused disquiet among the evangelical community.
- Church government.
The movement’s name makes it clear that the restored ministries of apostle’s and prophets, are central to the movement’s identity. This doesn’t sit well with some because ‘self-appointed apostleship’ smacks of pride and superiority. In reality, most of those working in an apostolic ministry are not self-appointed, but rather others have recognised their gift and ministry and they have been appointed by others who oversee their ministry and their personal lives.
It is not merely the restoration of apostles and prophets that NAR acknowledge, but all the ‘five-fold ministries’ enumerated in Ephesians 4:11-12. This include evangelists, pastors and teachers. They see these ministries as biblically correct and endorsed, as well as essential in the church today. They recognise that church leadership and government should be biblically defined rather than traditionally imposed.
There are many articles on the internet that state that the NAR is propagating Dominionism. This is a Christian political ideology that seeks to create nations that are governed by Christians and based on their understandings of biblical law. Of course, there are some extremists who are trying to weave their Christian candidates into office. Unfortunately, some of these are associated with modern apostolic leaders or churches and have been assigned to the NAR by their adversaries. Nevertheless, most leaders and members of these new churches haven’t got any idea of what Dominianism is.
It is true that leaders in NAR long to see more Christian influence in the culture, including politics, education, the media and family life. These are all common to all Christians, whatever flag they fly.
- The Revival of Supernaturalism
Another major issue for the protagonists is the practice of spiritual gifts. Most supposed NAR churches may be described as part of the Third Wave. Wagner describes the Third Wave thus: “The desire of those in the third wave is to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in healing the sick, casting out demons, receiving prophecies, and participating in other charismatic-type manifestations without disturbing the current philosophy of ministry governing these congregations.” (C. Peter Wagner, (2002) ‘The Third Wave’) Third Wavers generally accept the ministry of the Holy Spirit but also adhere to Evangelical theology.
- The Prosperity Gospel
The issue of the ‘Health and Wealth Movement,’ otherwise known as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, in more recent years has been associated with the New Apostolic Reformation. Even Wikipaedia list’s Prosperity Gospel preachers in its list of NAR ‘members.’ Far from espousing and expounding the Prosperity Gospel, most Apostolic Networks are actively involved in feeding the poor, providing medication, building schools and other philanthropic enterprises – all as a witness to the goodness of God and the power of the Gospel. They would see the goal of ‘me first’ as the very opposite of the biblical emphases of giving, serving, dying to self, being dead to the world, living lives of simplicity, and so on. They would consider it a vast misunderstanding if anyone viewed them as part of this movement.
- New Age Practices
Finally, there’s the issue of New Age practices. Critics have found one particular network of churches, where some leaders have opened themselves to what appear to be practices found in the New Age Movement. Evangelical critics are absolutely correct to question this and to seek verification of the accusations.
But these potentially dangerous errors are not characteristic of everyone in the NAR camp. On the contrary, this writer has only every heard of one sub-section of NAR-related churches, out of hundreds of others, who have been publicly criticized for courting New Age activities. By far the overwhelming majority of NAR-related churches are insistent on following the authority of Scripture for all their beliefs and practices.
The mistakes of the protagonists
As the war against NAR continues, readers need to be aware of two observations which are abundantly clear.
Firstly, the prosecutors seem to have issues with anyone who declares allegiance or sympathy with charismatics, Pentecostals, apostles, prophets, spiritual warfare practitioners, spiritual gifts exponents, or those who pray for the sick and etc. These are assumed to be part of the New Apostolic Reformation, which is simply not true. There are so many ‘streams’ or ‘networks’ that have no connection or involvement with the NAR group, nor do they have any connection with those that are ‘in the dock’ regarding their beliefs and practices. They may have similarities with some aspects of the alleged ‘heretics’, but, on the whole, they are genuine evangelicals, committed to the Word of God and to the proclamation of the Gospel. It is a travesty to align such vibrant, sincere, biblically-centred and effective Christians with the small group of so-called extremists that have achieved such widespread notoriety – and the consequent visibility and scrutiny they are subject to.
Secondly, it is insinuated that NAR is an organized movement, with either a clandestine intention to subvert the Christian church or has dangerous potential to destabilize and damage God’s church worldwide.
It has to be underscored that NAR is NOT and organized movement. It does NOT have a membership, or governing body. It does NOT have an agenda outside the Bible’s remit to preach the Gospel and follow Biblical directives regarding the church’s governance, function and expansion.
It could correctly be described as a ‘restorationist movement,’ encompassing a wide variety of churches, ‘networks,’ ‘streams,’ or groups of churches, that are not following a central agenda, but are pursuing a vision given by God to bring their church back to the pattern revealed in the New Testament.
What’s the point?
There are many other issues that have been completely misconstrued by the opponents of NAR. The Christian public should be careful not to take their cue from its critics. They are often woefully ill-informed or repeating the mis-information of a few people who believe they are the final arbiters of Biblical truth and practice. They have repeatedly banged their drums against Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wave Christians, Arminians and anyone else who doesn’t fit into their theological or ecclesiastical framework.
Look at the fruit.
Matthew 5:17-20 (Jesus said) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Those who are pursuing or embracing the characteristics the New Apostolic Reformation have seen tens of thousand of new converts, discipled them into formidable, believing activists for the gospel, trained leaders, promoted a holy lifestyle, planted hundreds of churches in many nations, even amongst unreached people groups, fed the poor, empowered the disadvantaged and supported the persecuted – all this and more! They do not announce their virtues, sing their own praises, nor blow their trumpets on social media. They are simply getting on with the job that Jesus commissioned us to fulfill: Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
No one is saying ‘I’m a member of NAR.’ Rather, they are faithfully obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ, employing the gifts and tools the Holy Spirit has given and obediently following God’s instruction book. Yes, there are geographical and theologically-determined groups that meet in various international, national or local area coalitions. Yes, there are those who have shared the platforms of other supposed NAR ministries. Yes, there is wide agreement in what are believed to be God-given principles of church-planting, church government, church practices and church growth. But there are also huge differences in theology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, demonology, church government and church practice – just like any denomination or church grouping! What is a characteristic of these new churches is a deep respect for and support of other believers that are different than themselves. They know that Jesus loves his church and that our highest calling is to love and honour his bride, even if there are differences of opinion. Of course, we all have the right to differ on some issues, but we should never weaponize those differences to attack our brothers, especially in the public forum.
Let’s agree to be diligent as defenders of the faith, faithful in contending for the truths that have been handed down to us, restrained in our accusations of unverified hearsay and gracious in our public statements about others who make up the Body and Bride of Christ.