Doug Geivett is professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He's recently published two books that focus on the New Apostolic Reformation. One is a shorter book titled God's Super-Apostles, and a longer one called A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement. Both can be purchased directly from the publisher or at amazon.com. Today's interview explores the nature and influence of this movement.
Doug, how did you get interested in the New Apostolic Reformation? Why have you written about it?
My co-author is Holly Pivec. Holly was managing editor of the Biola Magazine from 1999 to 2008. She first learned of the movement from a reader of the magazine. Holly did a little poking around and discovered that the New Apostolic Reformation is a surprisingly large movement within the church. What she discovered began to worry her. She got busy doing research and compiling it into a manuscript. Sometime later she asked for my assistance and urged me to co-author a book. At first I was reluctant. But when I examined her research and did a little poking around of my own, I became concerned. Why had I never heard of this movement? And why hadn't someone published a full-scale expose of the movement? I began to feel a sense of urgency about it, and Holly persuaded me to sign on.
So what is the "New Apostolic Reformation"?
The New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR (pronounced NAHR), is a new religious movement led by men and women who claim to be prophets and apostles. They claim they have authority and functions akin to those of the Old Testament prophets and Christ's apostles. All Christians are expected to submit to their leadership and receive their new revelations. In this way they plan to form the church into a miracle-working army. This army will transform society and prepare the way for God's kingdom to be established on earth.
They really expect all Christians to join forces with them?
NAR leaders claim that Christians who refuse to submit to them will miss out on God's end-time plans. They will miss the blessing that God intends for them.
I guess that includes you.
Yes. And those who speak critically about NAR apostles and prophets are seen by some to be under the influence of a powerful demon, known as the "spirit of religion."
Why do you call this a "movement"?
NAR isn't a single organizational entity. We stress that many people who are part of the New Apostolic Reformation don't know it by its actual name, or that they are part of a movement at all. That's the thing about a movement. You can be a part without joining an organization or knowing that you're involved. And you can be affected by a movement without being a part of the movement. NAR apostles and prophets work in networks through their individual ministries and churches. They share a set of extremist teachings that sound reasonable to unsuspecting Christians who attend their churches and follow their ministries. We wrote our books to foster greater awareness of this rapidly growing movement. They're written for people inside and outside the movement. Just about everybody is touched, whether directly or indirectly, by the new apostles and prophets.
So how widespread is this movement?
Some 3 million people in the U.S. are affiliated with NAR. But the movement is global. NAR activity has exploded in the Global South--Africa, Asia, and South America. Some NAR groups in the U.S. vigorously promote their theology and practices in other countries. Since the publication of our book, we've had inquiries from Christians in faraway places, like France, India, Australia, and Norway. Some concerned Christians have urged us to have our books published in Spanish, French, Russian, and Portuguese.
Three million. That's a lot of people.
Approximately 3 million in this country attend NAR churches. These are churches that have formally submitted to the governing authority of NAR apostles. So we're talking about a pretty strong affiliation. To put this number in perspective, you have to realize that NAR focuses its efforts on influencing evangelical churches, including the main conservative denominations, independent churches, Pentecostals, and charismatics. The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals estimates that there may be as many as 90-100 million evangelicals in the nation. So at least 3% of the generally evangelical church population has a direct tie to NAR, whether in leadership or in church attendance. It would be impossible to estimate the number who are influenced beyond this. In the speaking I've done, I've discovered that people who know little about the movement soon learn that they've had a closer encounter with it than they realized.
So NAR apostles and prophets have their own churches.
Yes, and you can't always tell right away that this or that church is governed by NAR leadership. You have to be discerning and know what to listen for. In addition to these NAR churches, NAR teachings have made extensive inroads into Pentecostal and charismatic churches. And this has some Pentecostals and charismatics worried. All told, there are several million people with significant exposure to NAR teachings. And that's just in the United States.
How many prophets and apostles are there?
Well, there isn't a national or international registry that includes all apostles and prophets, so it's impossible to say. Thousands of men and women claim to be apostles and/or prophets worldwide. NAR is not even a single network. Each apostle leads his or her own network of churches and ministries, often working in tandem with one or more prophets. Some of these networks are comparatively small, consisting of perhaps only a dozen churches. But some networks are quite large. Harvest International Ministry, based in Pasadena, California, and led by U.S. apostle Ché Ahn, claims to encompass more than 20,000 churches in 50 nations. So you can imagine the tremendous influence exerted by some NAR leaders.
How do Pentecostals and charismatics differ from NAR leaders?
Many classical Pentecostals and charismatics affirm the continuation of miraculous gifts. For them, prophecy is a gift to be exercised for the edification of the church. An apostle is a gifted missionary or church planter. But NAR leaders assert something quite different. Present-day apostles and prophets hold formal offices of governance within the church. They're saying that men and women today are apostles and prophets with the extraordinary authority characteristic of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, figures like Moses, Elijah, and Paul. Our book has received endorsements from charismatics and Pentecostals, including leaders in the Assemblies of God church, who share our concern about this extremist position.
You say that NAR apostles and prophets are meant to "govern" the church. What does that mean, exactly?
They're saying they must hold a formal position in church government, directing the church in an authoritative way, somewhat like a pastor or elder. But a NAR apostle or prophet has much greater authority than a pastor or an elder. For one thing, the pastors and elders of a church must submit to the apostles and prophets. Also, apostles and prophets typically govern multiple churches--all the churches in their network--and not just a single congregation.
What does this governing function of an apostle or prophet look like in practice?
Major functions include receiving new revelation for the church, casting a vision for the church based on revelation they've received, leading the church in spiritual warfare, imparting miraculous spiritual gifts, settling disputes in the church, imposing church discipline, revealing a change of direction or personnel changes in church leadership, revealing when demons have been sent to thwart the work of a church, and confirming that a pastor is God's choice for a church. Also, apostles are commissioned by other apostles.
Who are some key leaders in this movement?
This is an important question. I mentioned that many have never heard of a "New Apostolic Reformation." But there's a good chance you'll recognize names of prominent NAR leaders and organizations. Here are a few of the most prominent figures you need to know about: Bill Johnson at Bethel Church in Redding, California; Mike Bickle, with the International House of Prayer, also known as "IHOP"; Randy Clark, from Global Awakening, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Rick Joyner, with Morningstar Ministries; Cindy Jacobs with Generals International, in Texas; author Dutch Sheets; and, of course, C. Peter Wagner. The list of prominent figures includes Bill Hamon, from Christian International Ministries, and Lou Engle, with The Call. Through his ministry, Engle organizes stadium-sized prayer and fasting rallies. Recently he's been making the rounds to Christian university campuses, often to a warm welcome by students already alert to NAR teaching and practice. Engle was at Biola a few days ago.
You mentioned a NAR emphasis on miracles. What kinds of miracles are we talking about?
They claim they're presently working miracles of all kinds--prophesying world events with accuracy; healing people of every type of illness, defect and disease; and, raising people from the dead.
These are miracles of biblical proportions.
That's putting it mildly. They believe their miracle-working power will increase so that NAR apostles and prophets will work greater miracles than even Jesus did. This claim is based on a NAR interpretation of John 14:12. Rick Joyner is a leading prophet in the movement. He says, "Parting the Red Sea will hardly be remembered as a significant miracle after the things that will be done by those who serve the Lord at the end of this age." Twice Jesus multiplied fish and bread, but the NAR apostles will multiply food and other resources as a matter of routine. Jesus unquestionably healed various individuals. But today's apostles will heal all the patients in a hospital simply by laying their hands on the building. They possess authority over all natural laws, including gravity and time. They'll divert raging floods with a single word. They'll be able quite literally to command mountains to be cast into the sea, and the mountains will obey. They will reveal simple, natural cures for fatal diseases. They will prophesy with complete knowledge of everything that is to happen before it occurs, so that nothing takes them by surprise.
Is there anything they can't do?
Did I mention that in the last days, they will exercise miraculous power and authority to loose judgment on the world?
What's their basis for making these claims?
This kind of teaching has been disseminated by Mike Bickle, of the International House of Prayer, in Kansas City. Much of it is based on his interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Can you give some examples of revelations by NAR prophets? Do any of them come true?
Some NAR revelations are prophetic words given to individuals to guide them in making major life decisions, such as whom to marry, where to live and work, how to raise their children, and how to manage their finances. Some predict natural disasters and the outcomes of national elections. Others reveal new truths, teachings and practices with application to the universal church. God reveals to them his desire for them to implement a new practice within the church worldwide. This may be a specific type of spiritual warfare that includes prayerwalking. It may be special occasions of fasting, such as the Global Bridegroom Fast promoted by the International House of Prayer. And so on.
Do their revelations about the future come to pass?
Some high-profile predictions of the past clearly have not. This has been a source of some embarrassment for the movement. So prophecies of that sort now tend to be infrequent. Most of their prophecies, as you might expect, are unverifiable. They're worded so vaguely that you simply don't know what to make of them, and you can't know whether they've been fulfilled. For example, they may prophesy that dreams and visions will increase, or that many people "will receive new joy and hope in this coming season." Since we're talking about NAR revelation, I should also mention the NAR translation of the Bible produced by Brian Simmons.
The NAR has its own translation of the Bible?
Brian Simmons is an apostle with Stairway Ministries. He's been producing his own translation of the Bible and releasing it in installments. It's called the Passion Translation. Simmons claims the Lord visited him and commissioned him to produce this new Bible. That's just what we need, isn't it? Another English translation of the Bible. The Simmons Bible has been endorsed by Bill Johnson and Ché Ahn. These are well-known NAR leaders. The book is wildly popular. One might wonder, why another translation? I think the answer is simple. There's a limit to the hermeneutical gyrations you can get away with when supporting your claims from Scripture. When you're looking for biblical support for a suspicious doctrine, you're better off with a new translation. We've seen this before, with other new religious movements seeking legitimacy from a "higher authority." Simmons works as a lone translator and he's acknowledged that he's not a scholar in the original languages of the Bible. So what he has to offer cannot be considered a reliable translation of the Bible.
What suggestions do you have for people who want to respond effectively to their encounters with NAR?
We offer suggestions to our readers. Circumstances vary. Relationships differ.
The first priority should be to test the leadership and the fellowship of your church group. Some think God must be at work in a church where there's a high level of drama, with apparent miracles and dramatic answers to prayer. For these reasons they may tolerate a measure of false doctrine or excessive claims to authority. This is a mistake. It's true that some churches exhibit a kind of cold orthodoxy, where doctrine is all that matters, like the church at Ephesus addressed in Revelation chapter 2. But there also are Christians who exhibit a zeal or passion without knowledge.
Second, our passion, our zeal, should be grounded in a rich knowledge of scripture and a desire to know and obey fully what it teaches. We may crave further revelation, or detailed guidance about how to live our lives, assemble as a church, or conquer the world for the kingdom of God. But we already have "a more sure word" inspired by the Holy Spirit. This word has been used by the Spirit of Truth to grow God's church worldwide. His methods haven't changed.
Third, you can be alert to the way NAR leaders use familiar Christian talk. They talk about prayer and miracles, about the kingdom of God, and about overcoming evil spirits. But what do they mean when they use this language? Peter Wagner says that "intercessory prayer" prepares God's prophets to be more receptive to God's new revelation. They think "prayerwalking" is needed in order to deliver cities from the oppression of territorial spirits. They believe that prayer "activates" the power for individuals to perform miracles. Is that what you believe? You have to ask two questions. Is this what the church has taught about these things from the first century to the present time? And if this represents a shift in meaning and teaching, on what basis are we to accept it?
I have no quibble with anyone who can substantiate their doctrines and normative practices from scripture. NAR groups, I believe, have adopted a theology of prayer based on what they want to be true and what they think they have experienced.
Fourth, God doesn't promise us intimacy on our terms. True fellowship with God starts with obedience to his revealed truths. Contemporary apostles and prophets seem to have an understanding of this. They expect agreement with their doctrines, with what has been revealed to them, with their prophecies, and with their guidance. But I maintain that God will not withhold his blessing from anyone who is devoted to a right handling of the Word of God, and who seeks boldly and faithfully to obey what is revealed in the Word of God. If you're cautious or suspicious about new apostolic and prophetic claims today, God will nevertheless reward your knowledge of and obedience to his Word. You simply can't go wrong with what you know already to be God's authoritative Word.
Finally, divine blessing is not measurable in terms of large numbers of groups gathering or in terms of spectacular events taking place. It is measured in terms of personal spiritual maturity and growth in the fruit of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5.
Why have you and Holly written two books about NAR?
God's Super-Apostles is a beginner's introduction to NAR. We include stories of personal experience by people who have been touched by the movement. We test NAR teachings against the Scriptures. This shorter book also has an appendix with advice to parents of children involved in this movement, and to pastors who can use their platform to warn their people and teach discernment. Our second book is called A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement. In this book we go more deeply into NAR teachings. We examine their claims with detailed exposition of Scripture and careful reasoning. It's more heavily documented and is intended for readers who wish to track down the details of NAR teaching in their own writings.
What can you tell us about the response you've received to your books?
We knew people would recognize the need for more and better information about this movement. Still, we've been surprised by the level of interest we've seen. The shorter book, God's Super-Apostles, has garnered about 20 reviews, most of them favorable. Occasionally, we'll see its Amazon ranking hovering around 5,000. That ranking can be pretty erratic, so I don't know what to make of it. Often the book appears in the top 50 books in the "Pentecostal and Charismatic" category and it does well in the "Worship and Devotion" category. We think this is good news. Our publisher recently ran an Amazon Giveaway contest that was meant to last a week. All book awards were gone within a few hours. Of course, who doesn't love a free book?
Holly and I have done several radio interviews that have reflected significant interest. So the book seems to be meeting a need here in the U.S. We know of one organization working in Africa that is purchasing 1,000 copies of the longer book for distribution to church leaders in that part of the world. Last weekend I was speaking at a conference in Bellevue, WA, where 200 of the books were sold. We're hearing from pastors and other Christian leaders who want to organize workshops on the topic.
But book sales aren't the real measure of the response we pray for. The most meaningful response comes in the form of letters and e-mails expressing appreciation for the work we've done. People are sharing testimonies of ways they or someone they know have been delivered from painful experiences with NAR. We're very encouraged that word is getting out and that people are reporting ways they've been helped.
Note: Doug's co-author, Holly Pivec, maintains a website that reports new research about NAR and answers readers' questions.