What Should We Make of the New Apostolic Reformation?

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Politics, The Church

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a movement within Protestant Christianity that is largely associated with the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. I only paid scant attention to it until recently even though I knew something about it a decade or so before. Like all such renewal movements the NAR has a lot in it that many mainstream Christians would agree with. But there are elements within the NAR that are more controversial and these have increasingly caught my attention.

The basic thesis of the NAR is that God is restoring the lost offices of church governance, namely the offices of prophet and apostle. Even this restoration of the two named offices is not entirely controversial, though various versions of this teaching have floated around in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches for generations. So what got my attention about NAR, especially since I am committed to promoting unity and not calling out various versions of Christian expression, over the past few weeks?

The NAR traces its historical roots to end of the twentieth-century when the name/moniker was first used by my former professor of missions, peter_wagner_new_apostolic_reformation (1) Dr. C. Peter Wagner. His use of the name, joined with his clear prominence in this movement, has prompted some journalists to perceive him as the de facto founder and leader of NAR. Wagner says, “The second apostolic age began in the year 2001,” when, according to him, the lost offices of "prophet" and "apostle" were restored. Again, this is not my belief but it is not so terribly odd as to be worthy of serious attention given the history of charismatic movements in the United States and beyond. I love Peter Wagner. I found him to be an outstanding teacher who profoundly encouraged me in church planting and missions. I owe him something as a brother and remain thankful for his teaching ministry to me. I also believe he is, like me, a committed Christian brother. But there is a much deeper problem here in terms of the NAR movement.

Whatever we call it there clearly is an emerging Christian movement that aims to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and the return of Jesus. And this movement is becoming more of a presence in conservative American politics. These leaders are considered apostles and prophets, gifted by God for this very role. They include a growing network that extends far beyond Wagner’s original NAR movement. If you wish to know more about what I speak about you can listen to an important interview about NAR done in late August here. After this interview appeared Peter Wagner defended the movement in an important article that friends and foes should both read very carefully.  Wagner had earlier defended and explained the movement here. You can read more about NAR by using your computer search engines where you find a whole host of articles, both pro and con. The con articles are, so far as I can tell, generally from the same kind of sources that attack all charismatic movements broadly. This makes them less than genuinely helpful, at least in my view. But more liberal groups have also mercilessly attacked NAR, often revealing their clear bias against all Christian involvement in public life. Another frequent source of attacks on the Christian Right appeared in an August 14 post by Michelle Goldberg. Goldberg, who should be taken seriously as an astute reporter on far-right movements, clearly misses some of the nuance. She also lacks some of the insiders understanding of these decidedly radical initiatives from evangelicals. (Goldberg, whose book on the Christian Right I read carefully, would be much more helpful to all sides if she applied similar logic and passion to the liberal fringe!)

My good friend Greg Metzger, a Catholic observer of all things distinctly Christian (both cultural and missional) has engaged with this movement as intelligently as anyone I personally know. A recent blog of Greg’s provides a rich treasure house of resources and further reflections. I encourage you to read his posts if you want to know about NAR.

I have several good friends who minister within NAR-type contexts. I know them to be excellent brothers. They love Jesus, long for real revival, pursue unity in the church personally and promote real repentance. To say the least, I have no quarrel with any of this. What I am concerned about is that the evangelical mainstream in particular, and the broader Christian media in general, effectively understands the teachings and practices of NAR in coming months. I think it is safe to say that some of this prophetic practice is a bit bizarre and the influence of this on politics is significant enough to warrant our attention. Greg told me last week that he feels we are about to hear a lot more about NAR in the days and weeks to come. He notes that people inside the NAR tend to see all of this as an attack by “the secular paranoid media” on the work of the Holy Spirit. This response only makes things murkier for me. In some instances people involved in NAR act as if Peter Wagner has no right to claim any significance thus his role is unimportant or marginal at best. By distancing themselves from Wagner they seek to protect what they believe makes their claims and ministry unique. Greg believes that the time to engage and refute these teachings is now. I do not have the time to do extensive research on NAR. Perhaps some of you do. Further, I simply do not have a deep interest in this subject since it is not in my mission purpose. But I do sincerely believe we should be aware of the dangerous minefields that this movement has laid down for the current political season.

Caveat emptor!