Thoughts on the New Apostolic Reformation

The Wartburg Watch (TWW) recently posted the article What is the New Apostolic Reformation? (NAR) as part of a series exploring where it appears Mark Driscoll may land for “ministering” in his post-Mars Hill Church career. I contributed several comments to this thread, since I had done some in-depth studies of the NAR as part of my case studies on involvement of the NAR Council of Apostles and Prophets with Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Outpouring, and with its incubating the Strategic Level Prayer and Spiritual Warfare movements.

Note: I have done very little editing on these comments, other than adding in clarifying material, which appears in square brackets.

Sociological “Cults” Versus Theological/Religious Cults

COMMENT #1

One of the quotes in this article has C. Peter Wagner stating: “The NAR is definitely not a cult. Those who affiliate with it believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine.”

This illustrates one of the problems with the term cult. While the core doctrine appears to be perfectly orthodox, in their practices, the whole thing has the distinct look of Persian dualism, with agents of good on one side, agents of evil on the other, and people starting out in the neutral center but being in a tug-of-war that pulls them either one way or the other by whichever forces. So that is not exactly Christian orthodoxy nor orthopraxy — despite holding to the Apostles’ Creed.

Second problem is that there is such a thing as a sociological cult, namely, a group, organization, or society with an authoritarian rulership. For instance, “the cult of Mao” in Communist China. This kind of societal cult can be secular or religious in overall philosophy, while still implementing tactics that maintain a “psychology of totalism” in controlling every aspect of life among its citizens or adherents.

From the examples readers have shared in the TWW posts on ARC and the NAR, it seems apparent that the spiritual warfare doctrines and authoritarian leadership of the NAR keep people locked into very specific patterns that control their lives. This post adds to that the “prophetic words” of apostles and prophets that are taken as authoritative as God-breathed Scripture – often (perhaps always?) with warnings about curses or blessings that go with disobedience or obedience to these extra-biblical “words.”

So, I’d suggest that the New Apostolic Reformation has elements of both and is in fact both a Christian and sociological cult.

The classic criteria for a sociological cult were developed by Robert Jay Lifton from research interviews he did in the middle- to late-1950s with released political prisoners of the cultural Revolution in China. If interested in details, I’ve introduced them in this post on The Hunger Games Part 5a, and detailed them in the two posts that follow that: Part 5b and Part 5c.

Cultish Concepts of “Alignment with Authorities”

COMMENT #2

That whole concept of “alignment” [to authority to guarantee blessings from submission to God] is really insidious. To me, it comes across as similar to the “umbrellas of protection” from Bill Gothard, yet another hierarchical means of control. It may *sound* like a “decentralized network” with no stair-step hierarchy to it, but that is not the net effect in practice. This leadership group forms a layer between disciples and God. They mediate the Spirit’s message, because individual Christians cannot “see” it or get it on their own. (This seems all too similar to Mark Driscoll’s approach at Mars Hill, basically providing an authoritative interpretation that was “all about Jesus” while instilling submission to an authoritarian regime. So, if he ends up associated with ARC, which seems highly connected with the NAR, it all comes full circle and makes a lot of sense.)

These Councils of Apostles and Prophets are all voluntarily aligned, but they endorse people whose ministries or activities they approve, they commend each other’s “words” of direct revelation supposedly from the Holy Spirit.

However, we witnessed a striking example in 2008 of how this “alignment” went wonky: the Lakeland (Florida) Outpouring. There the NAR high echelon leadership group gave their endorsement of Todd Bentley in a huge show of solidarity and confirmation of one another’s prophetic predictions about what God was doing, the giftings and calling of Todd Bentley, etc etc etc. And something like six weeks later, it came to light that Mr. Bentley had been in an inappropriate relationship with a woman on the worship/ministry team, and in the fiasco that followed, he eventually was divorced from his wife, married the other woman, and took up active public ministry again.

It was particular weird to watch the scrambling of these NAR leaders, most of whom threw their hands up in a don’t-pin-this-on-me gesture when weeks earlier they’d authoritatively laid hands on Mr. Bentley to acknowledge their approval of him, his ministry, and what God was doing.

How is it that so very many “aligned” co-leaders of a non-hierarchical network of voluntary connections could ALL get this so very very wrong?

The first major case study I wrote after I started research work on spiritual abuse and toxic systems was on “Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland.” It looks at what happened, and especially how the leaders failed to take responsibility after publicly and elaborately endorsing Todd Bentley. If interested, here is the link to the first article in the Lakeland series. A timeline and cast of NAR characters is in Part 2, and analysis and suggestions for moving from intervention to prevention of such abusive practices is in Part 3.

Spiritual (and Cultural/Political) Control Through Dominionism

COMMENT #3

Several comments have come up about political and cultural control, dominion theology, and the like. You don’t have to be a Rushdoony Reconstructionist with its Reformed theology in order to be out to control the world system …

And how intriguing that the New Apostolic Reformation seems to be a hothouse for promoting the “Seven Mountains of Culture” form of social control. So, perhaps dominionism is a key overlap area where Mark Driscoll can find that happy “medium” where his form of New Calvinism fits with NAR Pentecostalism.

Anyway, FWIW, dominionism is big stuff on my not-so-big blog. In January 2009, I posted an article on dominionism called Examining “The Seven Mountains Movement, and it’s turned out to consistently have THE most searches and hits of any post I’ve done — 11,500 hits out of the total 113,144 hits in that blog’s entire lifetime. I’m certainly not any sort of major blog at all, but when 10% of people who come to your blog are linking to that article, seems to me that the topic itself must be something of major concern.

Even a couple of secular sources have linked to it periodically, one of which labeled me as a “theological moderate” in my critique. When they’ve done that, the hit count has jumped up to something like 300 hits on this post in just one week.

Failure to Take Responsibility

COMMENT #4

BeenThereDoneThat wrote: In my experience, the failure to take responsibility could be the defacto battle cry of leaders in this theological system. It happens regarding sexual, spiritual, or financial abuse.

Numo is right. They will simply lie to cover it up.

To quote that well-known philosopher … okay, so it was Stan Lee via *Spider-Man*, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Almost all of these men and women of the NAR Councils of Apostles and Prophets held huge authority, but refused the attendant responsibility — at least in the Lakeland debacle. That’s a good signal of taking a bad turn.

Dominion Theory Can Attach Itself to (Almost) Any System of Theology

COMMENT #5

Corbin Martinez wrote: I’m just now discovering this [i.e., that you don’t have to be a Rushdoony Reconstructionist with its Reformed theology in order to be out to control the world system]. For some reason I assumed Pentecostal theology and dominionism wouldn’t work together. Then again, my only knowledge of dominionism is of the Quiverfull/homeschool/reformed type.

A couple things occurred to me on my walk over to the local grocery store. (I’m in a snackful mood … helps concentration for writing!) (So I hear.) Anyway:

  • Primarily Pentecostal/Charismatic. Here you have the New Apostolic Reformation, a lot of YWAM authors and teachers, and the strategic level prayer and spiritual warfare networks. And there is the Seven Mountains teaching/movement, founded by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade and Loren Cunningham of Youth With A Mission.
  • Primarily Reformed. There are some really specific Reformed theologies on concepts about Christians’ relationship with society. At one end of their activist spectrum is cultural involvement from a stance of biblical morals and ethics — even in politics. As best I understand it, this would include the approach of Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and more contemporary versions that use worldview analysis for apologetics, evangelism, and cultural contextualization. Such worldview topics started having a lot of books published about them starting in the 1970s, basically on any academic discipline and social or political issue.

At the other end of the spectrum is cultural dominion and imposing biblical law in politics and society. The most notable example here is probably Reconstructionism from Rousas J. Rushdoony and The Chalcedon Foundation. However, people might not be so aware that South African apartheid has deep roots in a Dutch Reformed theology. The Dutch immigrant of centuries past trekked across the land of South Africa in search of places to settle. They saw themselves as a parallel to the children of Israel exiting Egypt and entering into the promised land.

And that may help understand what seem to be some common-ground indicators for a dominion-type theology:

  1. They do not distinguish between a theocratic kingdom state of Israel (with authoritarian rulers) versus the Church (with under-shepherds who serve — and not “overlord” — the Body of Christ under the authority of Jesus). Autocratic leadership seems to be the net effect of both Reformed doctrine that the Church = Israel, and the Pentecostal-Charismatic doctrine of non-cessation of the gifts so that Apostles and Prophets are still the primary leaders for the Church. There is a lot of reference to the Old Testament, sometimes far far more than there is to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
  2. Therefore, there is a strong sense of Christian entitlement, that we are here right now to rule and reign in this evil world as holy regents of Christ … as Israel was in its day. This is the “spirit” driving colonialism, “civil religion” of America as the savior of the world, and Moral Majority kinds of political party domination.

There may be other key indicators, but these are the two most prominent factors that come to mind at the moment. It’s important to keep these in front of us, I believe, because there are other groups and movements that may use similar concepts but mean something quite different. And here I’m thinking primarily of the “missional ministry” movement, of which I have long been a part.

  • NOT the Missional Movement. The missional movement talks a lot about culture, and even focuses on the five-fold leadership giftings under the acronym APEST — Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. However, the entire framework is almost totally the opposite of dominionism and theocracy.

Missional Christians seek to live like Kingdom citizens, but we are not forcing the Kingdom on anyone. We are guests in a host culture, not colonists taking it over.

In fact, I describe being “missional” as related to being a missionary. Only instead of the traditional idea of going somewhere else in the world, learning their language and culture, and sharing Christ cross-culturally with them, it’s the idea of sending down deep roots locally wherever the Spirit plants you, seeing yourself as a sojourner within that host culture, and learning how you can best serve to — as contemporary blogger Brother Maynard has said, “Live your faith and share your life.” (Instead of the conventional version of, “Share your faith. Live your life.”)

This may be more typical of an ANABAPTIST theology, at least in terms of the Christian’s stance toward culture. We are a witness to it, not triumphant over it. We engage with people in it, not try to separate ourselves from it physically (though we exegete culture in order to connect where we can and avoid syncretizing with it where we shouldn’t).

So, hope those thoughts about theology, culture, and take-over mentalities are helpful …

Huh. Went through half a bag of Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips. Guess they do help you concentrate while writing, well, at least some of us while writing.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the New Apostolic Reformation

  1. One of the quotes in this article has C. Peter Wagner stating: “The NAR is definitely not a cult. Those who affiliate with it believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine.”

    I experienced the receiving end of this back in the Seventies, when I was mixed up in a fringe “Fellowship(TM)” which itself was heavily into End Time Prophecy and the Shepherding Movement. At the time, Christianese cult-watch groups defined “cult” in terms of Theology and Doctrine and ONLY in terms of Theology and Doctrine, completely ignoring control-freak abusive behavior towards their pew-warmers.

    This clean bill of spiritual health was then used by these not-a-cult leaders as an additional weapon to abuse their people.

    (It helped that the Cult-Sniffers had the exact same theology — Born-Again Bible-Believing Fundagelicalism — as the not-a-cults receiving their blessing. Purity of Ideology, Comrades.)

  2. At the other end of the spectrum is cultural dominion and imposing biblical law in politics and society. The most notable example here is probably Reconstructionism from Rousas J. Rushdoony and The Chalcedon Foundation.

    Whose Christian America bears a strong resemblance to Iran or ISIS/ISIL except with a Bible instead of a Koran. And when all the Infidels have been dealt with, start on the Heretics — what do predators eat after they’ve killed off all the prey?

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