In Christianity, every biblical truth has a corresponding distortion. For example, the apostle Paul writes, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). He immediately went on to deny, however, that believers should “go on sinning so that grace may increase” (6:1) in light of this truth. Antinomianism, in other words, is a distortion of grace, not its logical consequence.
Sorting out distortions of doctrine from their logical consequences is a matter of vital importance for the contemporary Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Those movements teach the biblical truth that the gifts of the Holy Spirit outlined in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12–14, and Ephesians 4, among other New Testament passages, did not cease to operate in the first century but continue to operate in the lives of believers today. That truth is capable of being distorted in many ways, for example new revelations that contradict Scripture, an overemphasis on the miraculous to the exclusion of the ordinary, and a use of gifts that inflates the pride of the gifted rather than enriching the lives of those to whom the gifts should be given. Just as Paul corrected the Corinthians’ distorted practice of spiritual gifts then, so Pentecostals and charismatics need to correct distortions of biblical truth that have traction in their movements now.
In two recent books, R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec provide a balanced biblical critique of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which is influential among some Pentecostals and charismatics. God’s Super-Apostles is a “basic introduction” to and critique of NAR, while A New Apostolic Reformation? goes into “much greater depth in evaluating NAR teachings and describing the global influence of the movement.” Both books are well written, fairly argued, and amply documented. I would recommend God’s Super-Apostles to interested laypeople for private reading or use in small groups. Parishioners and pastors who want to explore the topic in greater depth should read A New Apostolic Reformation? (Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this review are from God’s Super-Apostles.)
What is the New Apostolic Reformation, then, and why should it be critiqued?
What NAR Is
Regarding the first question, Geivett and Pivec identify five doctrines common to advocates of NAR: (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) strategic-level spiritual warfare, (4) apostolic unity, and (5) ordinary Christians as a miracle-working army. Both books outline the common NAR position on these doctrines, then compare and contrast the NAR position with a biblical understanding of the same topic. (A New Apostolic Reformation covers these doctrines at greater length and in greater depth. It also has additional material on the size, influence, and mainstreaming of NAR teaching among Pentecostal, charismatic, and evangelical Christians.)
Regarding (1) and (2), NAR teaches that a biblically ordered church will be governed by apostles and prophets. “NAR apostles claim they hold a formal office in church government like the office of pastor or elder. Except the apostle’s office wields much more authority than those other offices because an apostle has jurisdiction over multiple churches, and not merely oversight of a single church. And an apostle’s authority can extend beyond churches to cities and workplaces, and among institutions that have no connection with the church.” They are like “generals” in an army. Prophets, on the other hand, are like “secret intelligence agents.” “They know God’s secret thoughts and plans and can guide churches based on their inside information.”
One way of countering NAR doctrine, on these and other points, is cessationism, which denies that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to operate today. This is the approach taken, for example, by John MacArthur in his book, Stranger Fire. This approach will not work for Pentecostals and charismatics who refuse to discard the kernel of the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit along with the chaff of NAR teaching.
Cessationism is also not the approach Geivett and Pivec take. Rather, they argue that “apostles” and “prophets” are spiritual gifts in the New Testament, not church offices such as “overseers,” “elders,” and “deacons.” They further distinguish “apostles of Christ” (e.g., the Twelve and Paul) and “apostles of the churches” (e.g., Barnabas, James, Andronicus and Junia, Jesus’ half-brothers, and Silas). While the latter are the modern-day equivalent of missionaries and church planters, the former are unique to the first century, having been commissioned personally by Jesus Christ to authoritatively proclaim and (in some cases) inscripturate the gospel. Regarding prophecy, Geivett and Pivec further argue that the authority NAR doctrine gives to prophets over the lives of individuals and churches is unbiblical and potentially dangerous.
Regarding (3): “Strategic-level spiritual warfare,” as NAR doctrine defines it, “is the act of confronting powerful evil spirits that are believed to rule specific regions of the world. These spirits are called territorial spirits because they control different territories, like cities and nations.” NAR leaders cite Daniel 10 and Ephesians 3:10, among other passages, in support of their understanding of spiritual warfare. Specific practices associated with strategic-level spiritual warfare are “spiritual mapping,” “prayerwalking,” and “the Seven Mountain Mandate,” whereby “the church must take control of the seven most influential societal institutions.”
Geivett and Pivec do not necessarily deny the existence of territorial spirits; nor do they deny the contemporary relevance of the ministry of exorcism. What they point out, however, is that Scripture nowhere teaches believers (by precedent or by commandment) to confront territorial spirits. In Daniel 10, that job is left to Michael the Archangel. Consequently, “the Bible does not support the NAR teaching that territorial spirits must be cast out of cities and nations before God’s kingdom can be advanced.”
Regarding (4), NAR teaches that “apostolic unity occurs when the Christians in a given city unite under the leadership of apostles to transform their city.” “The Call” is a popular NAR event that attempts to do precisely that. The problem here, as Geivett and Pivec point out, is that NAR teachers slight doctrinal unity in favor of personal unity, where the uniting personality is an NAR apostle, even if some of that person’s doctrines are heretical. (According to C. Peter Wagner, an NAR pioneer, some NAR leaders deny the doctrine of the Trinity). NAR’s form of unity, then, “requires allowance of teachings that are completely absent from the Bible—teachings unique to NAR. It is troubling to witness attempts at unity that minimize core Christian beliefs while demanding acceptance of doctrines with no Christian pedigree.”
Finally, regarding (5), “Many in NAR believe they will work miracles, like prophesying and healing the sick. They also believe they will be part of an army that will work greater miracles than the original apostles and prophets and even Jesus. This army is called by various names, including the Manifest Sons of God and Joel’s Army.” Again, the biblical problem with such a position is straightforward. The Bible does not teach that every Christian is given every spiritual gift. As a classical Pentecostal, I’d nitpick this a bit by noting that Acts seems to teach that tongues is the initial physical sign of Spirit baptism, but otherwise, I’d agree with Geivett and Pivec’s point based on 1 Corinthians 12:27–31.
Why NAR Should Be Critiqued
Obviously, if someone claims that the Bible teaches X, but the Bible does not, in fact, teach X, that claim should be critiqued and declared false. I think that is the case with NAR’s distinctive doctrines.
But it needs to be remembered that the vast majority of NAR leaders and followers are fellow Christians. Indeed, as Geivett and Pivec write in A New Apostolic Reformation?, “We assume that the leading NAR figures are believers and genuine disciples of Jesus, and that their intention is to do the will of God in their lives and in the world.” They believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Trinity (with a few Oneness exceptions), the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Like classical Pentecostals and charismatics, they believe that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to operate today. NAR distinctive doctrines are not traditional evangelical doctrines, let alone classical Pentecostal doctrines. It is in error, from those viewpoints, but not all errors rise to the level of heresy. So why bother critiquing them?
Geivett and Pivec answer this question by making four points:
- “[P]eople will become overly dependent on apostles and prophets who exert unhealthy and unbiblical control over their lives.”
- “[P]eople will embrace NAR teachings and practices that are not supported by Scripture. At the very least, these teachings and practices are a distraction from true biblical teachings and practices and will stunt the spiritual maturity of those who embrace them.”
- “When promises made by NAR leaders don’t pan out…many people grow disillusioned.”
- “NAR beliefs also divide, as church-goers and family members are forced to make painful choices between maintaining peace and adhering to Scripture as their solid base of common ground and authoritative source of knowledge.”
In other words, NAR doctrine should be critiqued because it breeds dependency, results in distraction and diminished spiritual growth, invites disillusionment, and fosters division.
Every biblical truth has a corresponding distortion. As a classical Pentecostal, I see brothers and sisters among leaders and followers of the New Apostolic Reformation. Chances are, you, your family, or your church has heard of NAR’s doctrines or have been influenced by them. With R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, however, I believe that NAR doctrines are not true because not biblical and unhelpful because untrue.
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.