I started writing this kick arse piece on the intersection of Christianity and paganism in modern Christian practices around spiritual warfare (yeah – what a topic, right?), then I realised something: ya’ll really need to know what the NAR is. So here’s a crash course in an unbranded movement that seems to have taken off in many Evangelical churches/networks across the world. While there is some good stuff nestled in there I’m sure, there are also some very real red flags that should have us all a little bit woke.
If you followed my series on Dominionism (first article linked here – follow it through if you haven’t already!), then the term NAR might be a little familiar to you. It stands for “New Apostolic Reformation” and it refers to a movement in Christendom which believes that God is restoring the so-called “lost offices” of apostle and prophet.
Now that in itself is of no real concern to me. Depending on where you stand theologically, you might not believe that apostles and prophets ever really disappeared. The idea of them coming back and completing the five fold ministry referenced in Ephesians 4:11-16 is no biggie.
But the NAR has some interesting theology that runs alongside that belief. Only one of them is Dominionism, although it can be argued that it is one of the distinguishing characteristics . Berean Research stated that ” Leading figures in this seemingly loosely organized movement claim that these prophets and apostles alone have the power and authority to execute God’s plans and purposes on earth. They believe they are laying the foundation for a global church, governed by them. They place a greater emphasis on dreams, visions and extra-biblical revelation than they do on the Bible, claiming that their revealed teachings and reported experiences (e.g. trips to heaven, face-to-face conversations with Jesus, visits by angels) can not be proven by the ‘old’ Scripture .”
That quote has been lifted from the interwebs because I really couldn’t phrase it better if I tried. The thing is, the scripture repeatedly cautions us against adding to the word of God or taking away from it (Deut 4:2, Deut 12:32, Rev 22:18), understanding it poorly (Matt 22:29), or twisting it/getting too creative with it (Matt 24:24, Genesis 3;1-4 and Mark 7:13). We are also encouraged to be “sober and watchful” in 1 Peter 4:7. Yet these movements that major on untested, extra-Biblical “revelatory” teachings leave us wide open for a pseudo-Biblical con job if we aren’t watchful and doctrinally grounded.
But hey – the mood sweeps you along, right? And it feels good, right? So that has to be right, right?
If only there was a sarcasm sign in the English keyboard. Look, I’m not saying that it is always skewiff, as good people with hearts for God are swept up in this movement and God can bring good things out of literally anything I’m sure! All I’m saying is we need to approach things with caution and that involves knowing the finer points of what this movement stands for, as it may not be obvious that a church or network is in fact NAR.
In 2011, NAR big-wig C. Peter Wagner wrote a piece for Charisma Magazine. In it, he made the assertion that the NAR was not a cult . As I’ve remarked before, you can ask anyone who’s in a cult “are you in a cult?” and the answer will be no. Thus I don’t believe we can put much stock in his rebuttal. What we can judge this movement by its theological markers. Wagner listed the key values of the movement, which by his own admission has no membership list or structure. Here are the big points (which can vary from church to church). The NAR beliefs include:
- Apostolic governance
- The office of the prophet
- Extra-biblical revelation
- Supernatural signs and wonders
- Relational structures
Wagner “wrote that most of the churches in this movement have active ministries of spiritual warfare. As an example of this warfare he claimed that God acted through him to end mad-cow disease in Germany. In an article responding to criticism of the NAR, Wagner noted that those who affiliate themselves with the movement believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the orthodoxy of Christian doctrine, so that the movement is therefore not heretical .” I’ll be jumping into a discussion on spiritual warfare next week but for now…at least you know how mad cow disease was cured. *Shrugs*
I’m happy to know that the Apostles Creed isn’t contradicted in NAR churches, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for heresy. Frankly, the Bible is a large and complex book that contains a lot more doctrinal points than those covered off in the Apostles Creed.
Alright friend! Lets break these bad boys down.
Apostolic governance: Okay, so this is basically the idea that there is a “divine order” rather than a hierarchy, and at the top of that divine order is the apostle who answers to God alone . This sorta kinda comes from Ephesians 4:11 which lists apostles first in the list of ministries. However, it can be problematic as the nature of an apostles appointment to that “office” is somewhat of a grey area.
In my observation, many apostles are self-appointed or appointed by peers. Thus, there’s really not anything to stop a convincingly charismatic person from ascending to that role regardless of their qualifications or doctrinal strength. This, in fact, is a common criticism. Wagner argues strongly against it, saying that they need to be called to the position and appointed by qualified and respected leaders. But any time I have heard someone called an Apostle, there has been no trace of who anointed them as such. It’s called a ‘recognizable grace on their life’ or some such thing. Apparently God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. I’ve got no issues with this either, but if an ‘apostle’ is self-appointed or dubiously appointed and answered to no one but God alone, then this leaves a gaping hole in protections against heresy, bad doctrine or a questionable ability to “hear God” accurately. It leaves it wide open for a human with charisma to ascend to power and wield it badly over the lives of their sheep.
The scripture also says that all authority is appointed by God. Thus, the apostle shouldn’t be greater than the pastor, teacher, evangelist or prophet. Yet when they occupy such revered territory in their movements, an almost mystical idealising in the minds of their followers, they may claim to hear directly from God (i.e. Extra biblical revelation) and have no one to keep them accountable (i.e. Relational structure). The flow on effects in the lives of followers can be massive.
How do you tell when an apostle has fallen for the age old pitfall of pride, or let their doctrine come from the depths of their own human, flawed, souls and not from God? Who’s to know?
I do believe that there is an apostle in my life at present. However, he would be blissfully unaware of the fact that anyone thinks that. He doesn’t even like being called “pastor.” There is no grandstanding. There is no title-attainment or bowing and scraping. Just humility, a deep respect for his service and teachings among his network and a strength in theology and equipping of the saints that I haven’t seen equalled yet.
The office of the prophet. Okay. I have no big issue with the office of the prophet. I have an issue with an over-emphasis on the role of the prophetic. To me, Ephesians 4 is a picture of a balanced five fold ministry that exists to ensure the needs of Christians are well met. Too much emphasis on prophecy with not enough emphasis on teaching or love has a potential juggernaut of side effects.
I grew up inside a prophetic movement. While I do believe that in my lifetime I have met two (perhaps more) legitimate prophets, I believe I have met a good many people who treat prophecy like a plaything, or worse, like a type of divination. For example, prophesying a music ministry over the kid playing keyboard isn’t prophecy. It’s an educated guess. Prophesying an administrative role over someone when there is an administrative lack in the church isn’t prophecy. Its manipulation, manipulation that can enslave that person to a fabricated call God never assigned them purely because they are obedient and devout. Of course, prophecy can be accurate and legitimate. But frankly, we can test that. We test it by checking it against the word of God, by whether it rang a bell with the recipient or by whether it came true. Sadly, a lot of prophecy goes unchecked and is blindly followed.
Theocracy. Theocracy, according to Wagner isn’t necessarily an entirely Christian run state per se , but rather an endpoint of dominionism with Christians occupying positions of dominion in the so-called “seven domains of society.” But…I’ve spoken about my concerns on that before.
Extra-biblical revelation. In the beginning of this piece, I listed a bunch of scriptures that caution against it. But if you’ll allow me to expand on my concerns, in a system where followers are taught to accept (with little or no question) the revelation of an ‘apostle or prophet’ who has a special communication line to God, there is a huge risk for undue and unhelpful influence. Power has the capacity to corrupt. Good intentions can become tainted with self-interest, and where there are no accountability structures or theological qualifications, this can be dangerous. Imagine someone using the pulpit and speaking from a place of “divine authority,” but being seduced by their own ideas and representing them as Gods own. Wow, wow, the damage this can do.
Supernatural signs and wonders. This is an interesting one. Many people believe that signs and wonders have ceased. Others believe they are still alive and well in third world countries but are not the realm of developed nations. There are major movements (especially one major movement with influence across the world that shall remain nameless lol), that encourages its believers to live a supernatural lifestyle, expect signs wonders and miracles, and alleges that full and complete healing is guaranteed with salvation. Let’s think about that: if you get saved at a crusade but your arm is still as broken at the end of the night as it was at the beginning. Well you mustn’t be saved, huh? What if you have been believing God for healing for a long time, or even waiting on God to provide healing without consulting the medical professionals available to you. This is a dangerous doctrine – both spiritually and potentially physically. The fact is God can do what He likes. But if He doesn’t do what we like, He is still God. Full and complete healing, or the ability to perform miracles is neither a litmus test for genuine salvation nor a legitimate call to ministry. In fact, I’ve watched an atheist performer do a pretty good job of healing the sick, too .
Thats not to say I don’t believe in miracles. I somewhat sheepishly admit my own disbelief in miracles was interrupted by a spontaneous remission that happened in a church hall (when I had a foul attitude and was determined not to be healed. So there’s that). So I believe they happen. I just also happen to believe that in a lot of cases, its hype, fluff and bubble that allows us to tell ourselves a different story. And in my life as a neuroscience blogger, I have read a lot research that shows just how powerful the mind is.
As a Christian, I believe God is powerful too. But if you don’t experience full and complete healing, or if you lay hands on the sick and they don’t recover, you haven’t failed.
Relational structures. I’m the first to admit that organised religion has a load of issues with it. From dogma, to structures covering up abuse, there are faults. But my belief is that independent churches represent a greater risk. There is safety in accountability. When we remove that, when we allow people to pick and choose their apostles and appoint themselves as leaders who wield great influence over impressionable and often vulnerable people, then this is a recipe for danger. Organised religion has a long way to go before it is the organisation that I believe God ordained to represent Him on earth. But there are some good things about it: a grievance structure, and a clear path forward for qualification and ordination to ministry are just some.
The other thing about relational structures is that it can make it very difficult to resolve an issue or to disclose abuse and have it dealt with. If a relational structure means “we are banding together to accomplish a mission” and someone makes a disclosure of abuse or mistreatment, then the temptation to cover it up and protect the relational structure can be immensely tempting. I’m not the only one who has seen this play out in their own lives, but I’m telling you from my experience alone.
So there you go. Thats the crash course in the NAR movement sweeping the world.
It is my belief that a person is free to believe what they want to believe, and live out their faith the way they want to. But the way to a well-rounded faith is to know what you believe and know what you are involved in. If you scrutinise the different areas of your faith and don’t like how some of them play out, then denial isn’t the answer to that problem.
But then again I’m a geek who loves getting into the nitty gritty of church, Christianity and the word of God.
Until next week,
- Berean Research. https://bereanresearch.org/dominionism-nar/
- Charisma Magazine https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/31851
- Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Apostolic_Reformation#cite_note-:0-1