Open Letter to C Peter Wagner of NAR
Prof. Johan Malan
Mossel Bay, South Africa
(The original version of this article may be read on Sandy Simpson’s website: www.deceptioninthechurch/page2.html)
I address this Open Letter to you in response to your article, The New Apostolic Reformation: an Update (Aug. 19, 2011).
Evangelical Christians everywhere, but particularly also here in South Africa, have to take issue with you for deceptively presenting the NAR as a movement which subscribes to “all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine”, for creating false expectations of introducing God’s kingdom on earth by, among others, using an unbiblical form of strategic spiritual warfare, for completely negating biblical prophecies on the end-time, and also for associating a Christian reformation with the African Independent Church Movement.
I will briefly substantiate these four objections:
No true Christian orthodoxy
You make your claim of Christian orthodoxy by way of the following statement: “We adhere to the major tenets of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers.” If this was truly the case, you would not have relied so heavily on new revelations by so-called “apostles”. In the Wikipedia article, Five Solas, the authority of Scripture is defined follows: “Sola Scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all ““ that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting.”
But, much like the pope in the RCC, you hold that apostles may add to the Bible. You say, “[God] also reveals new things to prophets”, and that these new revelations “add to the Bible”. How can you possibly brush aside the last and very serious warning in the Bible to those who disregard the rule of Sola Scriptura? “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18; cf. Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).
Apart from the questionable new revelations to so-called apostles, the very office of apostles and prophets in the period after full revelation of God to humanity through His Word is also in question. You cite Ephesians 4:11-12 as justification for these offices, but that only applies to the early church when the Lord did not yet speak to them through the full written Word. You may do well to read the comments of Harold W. Hoehner on this scripture in Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, (eds. John Walvoord & Roy Zuck; p. 634-635). He says, among others:
“The apostles include the Twelve, who had the office of apostleship by virtue of being with Christ ‚ (Acts 1:21-22) and having been appointed by Him (which would also include Paul; 1 ‚ Cor. 15:8-9; Gal. 1:1; 2:6-9). But “˜apostles’ also included others who were recognised as apostles, such as James (1 ‚ Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; 1 ‚ Cor. 9:6), Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7), possibly Silas and Timothy (1 ‚ Thess. 1:1; 2:7), and Apollos (1 ‚ Cor. 4:6, 9). This latter group had the gift of apostleship but not the apostolic “˜office’ as did the Twelve and Paul. … They … revealed God’s will to the church when the biblical canon was incomplete. Since the apostles and prophets were foundational, they did not exist after the first generation of believers.”
To institute such offices now only leads to false, extra-biblical revelations, and such revelations obvious raise false hopes on the physical revelation of a Christian kingdom on earth during the present dispensation.
False expectations on a kingdom
The NAR produces very clear evidence of deviating from the biblical scenario for Christian life, which is to shine as lights in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating world. Being hated and persecuted by the world is not the experience of powerless Christians, who are without a kingdom vision, but rather the experience of dedicated Christians who live in the power of the Holy Spirit and do not hesitate to expose the evils of a depraved world and a deceived church. Those who expect a situation of heaven on earth, as you clearly state in your article, are completely at variance with the biblical account of the hostile world in which the church is to fulfil its calling right down to the end.
To what avail is it to stir up wild expectations that Satan’s strongholds can be pulled down by applying certain methods of spiritual warfare, thereby liberating entire cities, countries, and eventually the whole world, from evil influences? What happened subsequent to all the misleading campaigns to conduct such operations? What about your own tour to Turkey many years ago, to pull down the stronghold of a false religion, and then declaring that country as a liberated base from where vast regions of Asia would soon be evangelised?
Many such efforts were also made in South Africa, but nothing has changed. There is indeed no alternative to the hard work by pastors, missionaries, as well as ordinary Christians, to proclaim the gospel of salvation to a lost world. We should always have faith to expect results, while also being mindful of the fact that the narrow way will remain narrow and that most people will continue along the broad way because they love darkness more than the light.
The negating of biblical prophecies
Another important point of criticism against the NAR is that biblical prophecies, particularly those on the end-time, are completely disregarded, while effectively trying to prove them wrong. Why doesn’t the NAR clearly face issues such as the increase in apostasy, including spiritual apostasy which is driven by false prophets who do great signs and wonders to deceive even the elect? The obvious reason for this neglect is that the NAR embraces the signs and wonders of these false prophets.
Many other themes in biblical prophecy are ignored ““ among them, the emerging antichristian world order which will culminate in a fully-fledged kingdom of Satan on earth before the second coming of Christ. This kingdom will be ruled by the Antichrist and the false prophet, and no form of spiritual warfare can prevent their revelation. The only way to escape their reign of terror is to prepare to be spiritually worthy to escape the tribulation period by way of the rapture (Luke 21:36).
Do you hold out to believers the promise of the rapture? I doubt, because you unambiguously state that you do not entertain a negative future scenario which will end up in the great tribulation. If you do not squarely recognise the fact of an apostatising world, you are not only out of touch with the Bible, but actually endeavouring to rewrite it by way of misleading extra-biblical revelations.
For your own sake, and also for the sake of those who follow you, please reconsider your position, return to the Bible and honour the rule if Sola Scriptura. The kingdom reforms which you have in mind, are only promised for the coming dispensation of Christ’s millennial reign on earth ““ not for the church dispensation.
Christ is the only one who can destroy the Antichrist and false prophets, and also order the binding of Satan so that he can no longer deceive the nations. But that will only happen in the day of the Lord, which is the time appointed for divine judgements. Right now, we are still in the time of grace, when the vile will become viler, but the holy are called upon to become holier (Rev. 22:11).
Your association with independent African churches
I was greatly surprised to read your statement that, among others, “the roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900…” How can you possibly claim to be biblical in doctrine and practice if your roots go back to a movement which very clearly compromises with aspects of pagan African culture? One only need to Google the name of this movement to gain access to a wealth of information. In its article African Initiated Church, Wikipedia says the following on this movement:
“An African Initiated Church is any of a number of Christian churches independently started in Africa by Africans and not by missionaries from another continent, in which they sometimes hold to one or more African tribal belief systems syncretised with Christianity.
“Some scholars argue that independent churches or religious movements demonstrate syncretism or partial integration between aspects of Christian belief and African traditional religion, but the degree to which this happens varies… Often these churches have resulted from a process of acculturation between traditional African beliefs and Protestant Christianity…
“The charge of syncretism suggests an “˜impure’ and superficial form of Christianity used to maintain older cultural practices and beliefs…
“During the colonial period, many black converts to Christianity were unable fully to reconcile their beliefs with the teachings of their church leaders, and split from their parent churches. The reasons for these splits were usually either: political ““ an effort to escape white control… or cultural ““ the result of trying to accommodate Christian belief within an African world view.
“Some AICs with strong leadership have been described by some researchers as Messianic… The churches that have been called Messianic focus on the power and sanctity of their leaders; often the leaders are thought by their followers to possess Christ-like characteristics. Denominations described as Messianic include… the Zion Christian Church with headquarters in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.” (End of excerpt).
From firsthand experience I can endorse these findings. If any rapidly growing church movement is accepted by the NAR in its bid to represent, change, and ultimately rule the entire world, the door is widely opened to doctrinal compromise and false prophets of all sorts, who also use various sources of revelation, including “˜spiritual wisdom’ which is not Christian at all.
Hopefully, there are still many evangelical Christians out there who will not jump on the bandwagon of the NAR. This wagon is heading in the wrong direction and does not offer a safe ride to anybody.
Peter, the years are catching up with both of us. Perhaps sooner than later, we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give account of our lives. We will be judged in terms of God’s Word as revealed to His prophets, of which there was no one after John, when he had the vision of end-time events on the barren isle of Patmos. Although biblical revelations ended in the year 95 AD, they are still as relevant as ever.
Standing of the Rock
Prof. Johan Malan
The following is an excerpt from the article by Peter Wagner, which gave rise to the Open Letter above. From this article it is evident that the NAR promotes kingdom theology (dominionism), aimed at physically revealing God’s kingdom on earth before the second coming of Christ. They are also strongly supportive of the ecumenical movement, which explains their earlier name as the “Postdenominational Reformation”. They are in favour of interdenominational mass meetings, particularly the Transformations Movement:
The New Apostolic Reformation: an Update
By C. Peter Wagner, Ph.D. (August 19, 2011)
The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is definitely not a cult. Those who affiliate with it believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine. It will surprise some to know that the NAR embraces the largest non-Catholic segment of world Christianity. It is also the fastest growing segment, the only segment of Christianity currently growing faster than the world population and faster than Islam. Christianity is booming now in the Global South which includes sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and large parts of Asia. Most of the new churches in the Global South, even including many which belong to denominations, would comfortably fit the NAR template.
The NAR represents the most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. This is not a doctrinal change. We adhere to the major tenets of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers. But the quality of church life, the governance of the church, the worship, the theology of prayer, the missional goals, the optimistic vision for the future, and other features, constitute quite a change from traditional Protestantism.
The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years. ‚ The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements, I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.
If I was going to write about this phenomenal move of the Holy Spirit, I knew I had to give it a name. I tried “Postdenominational” but soon dropped it because of the objections of many of my friends who were denominational executives. Then, in 1994, I tested “New Apostolic Reformation.” “Reformation” because the movement matched the Protestant Reformation in world impact; “Apostolic” because of all the changes the most radical one was apostolic governance, which I’ll explain in due time; and “New” because several churches and denominations already carried the name “apostolic,” but they did not fit the NAR pattern. Other names of this movement which are more or less synonymous with NAR have been “Neopentecostal,” “Neocharismatic,” “Independent,” or “Nondenominational.”
I am rather fascinated at the lists of individuals whom the media glibly connects with the NAR. I’m sure that some of them wouldn’t even recognize the term. In many cases, however, they would fit the NAR template, but since the NAR has no membership list they themselves would need to say whether they consider themselves affiliated or not.
For those who might be interested in such things, the books I have written related to NAR include The New Apostolic Churches (1998); Churchquake! (1999); Apostles and Prophets (2000), Changing Church (2004); and Apostles Today (2006). These are all available on amazon.com.
Characteristics of NAR
Apostolic governance. As I mentioned before, this is probably the most radical change. I take literally St. Paul’s words that Jesus, at His ascension into heaven, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Corinthians 12:28). This does not describe a hierarchy, but a divine order. Apostles are first in that order.
I strongly object to journalists using the adjective “self-appointed” or “self-declared” when referring to apostles. No true apostle is self-appointed. First of all, they are gifted by God for that ministry. Secondly, the gift and its fruit are recognized by peers and the apostle is “set in” or “commissioned” to the office of apostle by other respected and qualified leaders.
The office of prophet. Prophets are prominent in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. As we just saw above, apostles are first and prophets are second. Every apostle needs alignment with prophets and every prophet needs apostolic alignment. One of the reasons why both should be active in our churches today is that the Bible says, “Surely God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). And also: “Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established; believe His prophets and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20). I want to prosper and I want you to prosper.
Dominionism. ‚ ‚ This refers to the desire that some of my friends and I have to follow Jesus and do what He wants. One of the things He does want He taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This means that we do our best to see that what we know is characteristic of heaven work its way into the warp and woof of our society here on earth. Think of heaven: no injustice, no poverty, righteousness, peace, prosperity, no disease, love, no corruption, no crime, no misery, no racism, and I could go on. Wouldn’t you like your city to display those characteristics?
But where does dominion come in? On the first page of the Bible, God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, etc.” (Genesis 1:28). Adam, Eve, and the whole human race were to take dominion over the rest of creation, but Satan entered the picture, succeeded in usurping Adam’s dominion for himself and became what Jesus calls “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30). When Jesus came, he brought the kingdom of God and He expects His kingdom-minded people to take whatever action is needed to push back the long-standing kingdom of Satan and bring the peace and prosperity of His kingdom here on earth. This is what we mean by dominionism.
A theocracy. The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its functional religious equivalent. Everyone I know in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back to Constantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.
Extra-biblical revelation. Some object to the notion that God communicates directly with us, supposing that everything that God wanted to reveal He revealed in the Bible. This cannot be true, however, because there is nothing in the Bible that says it has 66 books. It actually took God a couple of hundred years to reveal to the church which writings should be included in the Bible and which should not. That is extra-biblical revelation. Even so, Catholics and Protestants still disagree on the number. Beyond that, I believe that prayer is two way, we speak to God and expect Him to speak with us. We can hear God’s voice. He also reveals new things to prophets as we have seen. The one major rule governing any new revelation from God is that it cannot contradict what has already been written in the Bible. It may supplement it, however.
Supernatural signs and wonders. I have a hard time understanding why some include this in their list of “heresies.” Whenever Jesus sent out His disciples he told them to heal the sick and cast out demons. Why we should expect that He has anything else in mind for us today is puzzling. True, this still pulls some traditionalists out of their comfort zones, but that just goes with the territory. One critic claimed that the NAR has excessive fixation on Satan and demonic spirits. This is purely a judgment call, and it may only mean that we cast out more demons than they do. So what?
Some of the authors I read expressed certain frustrations because they found it difficult to get their arms around the NAR. They couldn’t find a top leader or even a leadership team. There was no newsletter. The NAR didn’t have an annual meeting. There was no printed doctrinal statement or code of ethics. This was very different from dealing with traditional denominations. The reason behind this is that, whereas denominations are legal structures, the NAR is a relational structure. Everyone is related to, or aligned, with an apostle or apostles. This alignment is voluntary. There is no legal tie that binds it. In fact, some have dual alignment or multiple alignment. Apostles are not in competition with each other, they are in cahoots. They do not seek the best for themselves, but for those who choose to align with them. If the spotlight comes on them, they will accept it, but they do not seek it.
The key to this? The mutual and overriding desire that “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”