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, 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.
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I have followed the theology of the NAR movement but I have not really looked at how they are involved politically in things. It seems as a movement they have been stressing the five-fold ministry (really should be four-fold ministry from the Ephesians text) as well as promoting ecumenical unity, spiritual vitality, and revival within the context of the church.
Overall, my experiences with Wagner and others of this group have been positive (usually a prayer or renewal conference). The only danger I have seen from my perspective is by some who use the term ‘apostles’ or ‘prophets’ in a kind of authoritarian and controlling manner when it comes to church leadership. Church leadership is always about humility, powerlessness, surrender, and serving others and not about power and control from my perspective.
I agree with Chris that leadership is not about power. BTW, how does someone know that someone has the gift of an apostle?
The 1st website below is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Wagner, the second is the interview itself.
As always, when you address disparate groups, you are more than fair in you analysis. I am not overly familiar with the depth of the teachings of this group but have some concerns.
First, there is some strain of dominion theology present in a strong way. It is seen in NAR’s unofficial political involvement–something which more and more strikes me negatively. In this, they are espousing bringing in the kingdom in a particular way that many find unscriptural.
Next, with the five-fold (or four-fold as Chris points out) ministry there are some problems in practice. I do not look upon these items as “church offices” but that is what I currently perceive is happening in NAR. Claiming to be something does not make it so and seeing these things in an ‘official’ and authoritative manner is to mis-aim concerning the truth. Obviously, NAR is not alone in this.
There is also a certain sensationalist flavor to much of the NAR in their predictions, claims, and teachings.
This is not to say that they are not genuine brothers in Christ or a ‘cult’ to be feared as some portray them. I appreciate both Chris and your experiences with people in NAR and support what both of you have written. I hope you will write more.
This is another shorter transcript of another interview with Dr. Wagner. The second website is the actual interview with Voice of America (scroll down).
John, this is a very helpful post for me to consider and reflect on. As you say here, I am concerned about NAR, but you say some very helpful things and I will try to consider them as I write further on these issues. I think I am more troubled by the apostolic/prophetic roles, perhaps partly from my Catholic influence, but I think also by the profound challenge they present to all denominational structures as well as their potential for abuse. I agree with your concern about dominion, and I think that Wagner’s type of charismatic dominionism with its emphasis on spiritual warfare is an innovation of the older Rushdoony dominionism and carries with it considerable room for abuse. Again, thanks so much for the rich perspective you bring to this, as with so many other things. A final thought–Wagner’s explicit rejection of the 431 Ecumenical Council’s teaching on Mary as Mother of God is something I am not sure folk are aware of and should be of concern to all creedal Christians. I will be writing on this in weeks to come, but it is contained in his (troubling) pamphlet on Queen of Heaven. Blessings, John.
Have you read Wolfgang Simson’s Starfish Manifesto? He talks a lot about the problems in the modern church, and says part of the answer is restoring the roles of apostles and prophets. It’s an awfully long read but rings true for me on many points.
In an earlier version of the book, this would seem to put him in agreement with NAR folk, but the 2009 version is critical of Wagner et al for carrying Apostle around as a title. Simson says the real apostles will be servant leaders who are not interested in prominence.
He even predicts a wave of false or misguided apostles who will cause believers to be sceptical of the genuine ones.
It’s worth noting as well that movements believing in the restoration/cotinuation of apostles and prophets have existed for some time before Wagner’s book!
Some of us actually find Wagner’s analysis rather inadequate.
New Frontiers have some wisdom in this area.
“…not in my mission purpose”? You may want to rethink that, John. In my opinion it has a great deal w/ your passion for unity. My take on the things that make the Pentecostal movement unique includes their orientation to prophecy from the beginning, so this should not be viewed as anything other than a “generational” update.
The element of xtra-Biblical prophecy, which I personally tend to view as involving a wrong concept of the prophetic function present in dispensational churches, has been one of the great dividers of the Body of Christ.
Only today was I reviewing Ellen White’s, The Great Controversy (1858) which is considered by SDA as one of their cardinal doctrines. It be well if we would get to know something of the many divisions including the Mormon church which came in the 19th century from similiar interpretations which were authoritative for the various faith traditions. I have gained great help in my advocacy of Biblical unity by understanding these movements and others. It seems that they usually leads to the discovery of the “TRUTH” that the rest of the churches don’t possess which destroys the unity.
I do not agree with John MacArthur’s total critique of NAR, but I do believe that this sermon of his gets at some of the gut-level, deeply spiritual concerns that I have about thenonchalant invocation of the “Holy Spirit” by NAR follks. I would also add that the strong authority given to “apostles and prophets” by NAR, and the extraordinary extrabiliblical claims they make, distinguish them from garden-variety restorationist movements.
Here is link to MacArthur’s October 23 sermon: