Drawing popular scrutiny during the 2012 presidential election, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) embraces the largest non-Catholic segment of world Christianity. It is also the fastest growing segment, the only segment of Christianity currently growing faster than the world population and faster than Islam. “The NAR represents the most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. This is not a doctrinal change. We adhere to the major tenets of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers. But the quality of church life, the governance of the church, the worship, the theology of prayer, the missional goals, the optimistic vision for the future, and other features, constitute quite a change from traditional Protestantism.” The NAR is remarkably noteworthy, globally influential, and should be understood in context.
The modern continuationist movement emerged in three distinct waves. The first wave arrived in the form of Pentecostalism in the early 1900’s with the teaching of Charles Parham and William Seymour’s Asuza Street Revival (1906–1915). The Charismatic movement of the 1960’s constituted the second wave, during which word of faith and prosperity theology found their way into churches previously untouched by Pentecostalism. In the early 1980’s, the third wave added an emphasis on signs and wonders resulting from the work of the Holy Spirit, along with renewed prophetic and apostolic ministry in the church. Especially influential were John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement and C. Peter Wagner and his teachings and writings. The third wave evolved, especially through C. Peter Wagner, into a movement some have considered a fourth wave, identified by Wagner as the New Apostolic Reformation.
Rather than a denomination or membership group, the NAR is a movement with distinctive theological beliefs and practical applications, alleging a second apostolic age. C. Peter Wagner acknowledged that he “might be seen as an “intellectual godfather”…might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as [He] saw them.” In a watershed 2011 article Wagner explains how in 1994 he arrived at the term: “Reformation” because the movement matched the Protestant Reformation in world impact; “Apostolic” because of all the changes the most radical one was apostolic governance…and “New” because several churches and denominations already carried the name “apostolic,” but they did not fit the NAR pattern.” Wagner envisioned the NAR as a world-changing movement with staying power: “The New Apostolic Reformation is an extraordinary work of God that began at the close of the twentieth century and continues on. It is, to a significant extent, changing the shape of the Protestant world.”
The NAR has been associated with charismatic influencers such as the Latter Rain Movement (1948), the Toronto Blessing (1994), Cesar Castellanos’ G12 Movement, Bill Johnson (Bethel Church), Brian and Bobbie Houston (Hillsong Church), Cindy Jacobs (Generals International), Mike Bickle (IHOPKC), Rick Joyner (Morningstar Ministries), Brian Simmons (Stairway Ministries), Todd Bentley (Fresh Fire), Lou Engle (formerly of The Call), and many others.
Six Theological Distinctives
While there are a number of theological nuances attributed to the NAR, according to Wagner, there are six definitive distinctives. (1) Apostolic Governance – Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today. Wagner loosely defines an apostle as a, “Christian leader who is gifted, taught, and commissioned by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the Church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” Cottle and Kelly provide a more comprehensive description and definition, of apostles as “ambassadors, generals-governors, and patriarchs.” In developing this threefold characterization, Cottle and Kelly connect the authorities exercised by those referred to in the NT as apostolos, with the authoritative ambassadorship of the OT sheliach (e.g., Gen 24:2, 15:2). It is a logical conclusion that such leaders must be imbued with the miracle-working authorities of the apostolic age. (2) The necessity of the present-day office of prophet is assumed by the definition of apostle, and thus (3) the legitimacy of extra-biblical revelation and (4) supernatural signs and wonders are necessary extrapolations for the empowering of apostles in this age.
The NAR is a theological reformation in the sense that while the Protestant Reformation emphasized sola scriptura the NAR claims a second apostolic age, returning the church to days of extra-biblical authority. The Reformers espoused a cessationist view, in part to counter Catholic claims of miracles as confirmation of unorthodox doctrines. To their credit, the Reformers, in accordance with sola scriptura, sought to ground their arguments exegetically. Luther is resolute in his cessationist stance, asserting that “Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.” Calvin’s perspective on healing is similar: “But that gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the gospel marvelous forever.”
The Reformers were convinced of cessationism, recognizing the connection between apostolic authority and signs, miracles, wonders, and new revelation. B.B. Warfield later observed an important nuance of that connection, when he noted that miracles were “The characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age…These gifts were not possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles…This does not mean, of course, that only the Apostles appear in the New Testament as working miracles, or that they alone are represented as recipients of the charismata. But it does mean that the charismata belonged, in a true sense, to the Apostles, and constituted one of the true signs of an Apostle.” NAR leaders likewise recognize the apostolic-verification aspect of the charismata, and view that present day apostles are needed, because new revelation is needed. Thus, the Scriptures are sufficient to an extent, but more is needed and provided in this NAR era. Bill Johnson expresses why the Scriptures are no longer sufficient:
All Church history is built on partial revelation. Everything that has happened in the Church over the past 1900 years has fallen short of what the early Church had and lost. Each move of God has been followed by another, just to restore what was forfeited and forgotten. And we still haven’t arrived to the standard that they attained, let alone surpassed it. Yet, not even the early Church fulfilled God’s full intention for His people. That privilege was reserved for those in the last leg of the race. It is our destiny. As wonderful as our spiritual roots are, they are insufficient. What was good for yesterday is deficient for today. To insist that we stay with what our fathers fought for is to insult our forefathers. They risked all to pursue something fresh and new in God. It’s not that everything must change for us to flow with what God is saying and doing. It’s just that we make too many assumptions about the rightness of what presently exists. Those assumptions blind us to the revelations still contained in Scripture. In reality, what we think of as the normal Christian life cannot hold the weight of what God is about to do.
To complement additional and ongoing revelation is an “expansive, fresh, fiery translation of God’s Word,” that has been endorsed by a number of leaders recognized as NAR (first and foremost of which is Bill Johnson). Brian Simmons’ The Passion Translation (TPT) asserts that “words can become poor containers for revelation,” and that “the essential meaning of the passage should take precedent over the literal form.” Consequently, the translation adds includes roughly 50% more words in certain sections than other translations. Andrew Shead wonders “Where do all these extra words come from?” Shead answers his own question: “Double translation is Simmons’s principal translation technique, but his constant addition of images and ideas into the text is not confined within his double translations. Sometimes he creatively alters the Hebrew…elsewhere he creates stand-alone additions, or attaches them by hyphen to a word in the text.” Shead notices the additions often aim at one goal: “Additions aimed at stirring up ecstasy are unsurprisingly prominent in TPT’s praise psalms.” Shead concludes that, “Simmons makes a false claim when he states that TPT will ‘re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader.’ It’s the other way round – Simmons is trying to introduce the ‘passion and fire’ beloved of his own culture into the Bible. He is trying to make the Bible value something that we value – the feeling of being overwhelmed by a strong emotion – in spite of the strong stance the Bible consistently takes against this exact thing.” Notice how statements of positional truth (translated in the NASB) are rendered as experiential in the TPT:
NASB: John 6:47 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
TPT: John 6:47 – ”I speak to you living truth: Unite your heart to me and believe—and you will experience eternal life!”
NASB: 1 Corinthians 12:7 – But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
TPT: 1 Corinthians 12:7 – Each believer is given continuous revelationby the Holy Spirit to benefit not just himself but all.
Also notice how Peter’s plain sense hermeneutic is changed to a mystical one. Also, the aorist punctiliar (was ever made) is replaced with the present tense:
NASB: 2 Peter 1:20-21 – But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
TPT: 2 Peter 1:20-21 – You must understand this at the outset: Interpretation of scriptural prophecy requires the Holy Spirit, for it does not originate from someone’s own imagination. No true prophecy comes from human initiative but is inspired by the moving of the Holy Spirit upon thosewho spoke the message that came from God.
Paul’s past tense (perfect active indicative) reference to seeing Jesus is augmented with the present tense:
NASB: 1 Corinthians 9:1a – Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
TPT: 1 Corinthians 9:1a – Am I not completely free and unrestrained? Absolutely! Am I not an apostle? Of course! Haven’t I had a personal encounter with our Jesus face-to-face—and continue to see him? Emphatically yes!
These few examples illustrate the license taken to alter the meaning of the text so that specific concepts can be introduced and highlighted. In light of this emphasis on experience, present tense, and emotion, it is fitting that leaders of Bethel, Hillsong, and Jesus Culture, endorse the translation. Simmons further reveals his own emphasis on the supernatural and experiential in his account of being translated to the library of heaven and seeing a book entitled John 22, and in his delivering of a prophetic word for healing.
(5) Postmillennial dominionism is the NAR’s distinctive eschatological perspective and helps define its culture-changing emphasis. “When Jesus came, He brought the kingdom of God and He expects His kingdom-minded people to take whatever action is needed to push back the long-standing kingdom of Satan and bring the peace and prosperity of His kingdom here on earth. This is what we mean by dominionism.” Wagner rejects the escapist eschatology of pretribulationalist premillennialism in favor of what he calls “dominionist eschatology.” He describes the present activity of the church as “aggressively retaking dominion, and the rate at which this is happening will soon become exponential. The day will come when “‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever’”
Bill Johnson, Senior Leader of Bethel, describes this dominionist premise, saying, “It was God’s intention that as [Adam and Eve] bore more children, who also lived under God’s rule, they would be extending the boundaries of his garden (His government) through the simplicity of their devotion to Him. The greater the number of people in right relationship to God, the greater the impact of their leadership. This process was to continue until the entire earth was covered with the glorious rule of God through man.” While Wagner does not advocate the advancement of the kingdom through political force, he envisions, “a country in which a critical mass of its citizens are followers of Jesus Christ and thus agents of the kingdom of God…these people using whatever influence they may have to promote kingdom blessings and kingdom values as much as possible throughout American culture.” Lance Wallnau describes this kind of cultural impact as impacting seven mountains – religion, family, education, government, media, arts, and business. The NAR is much broader and more comprehensive in its efforts than its predecessors.
Finally, (6) the NAR is a relational rather than legal structure. There are no denominational guidelines or external accountabilities. Because of this, some consider the leadership structures of some of the NAR churches to be cultic. For example, Bethel Church lists Bill and Beni Johnson as “Senior Leaders” while Eric and Candace Johnson hold the title of “Senior Pastors.” This unorthodox leadership structure doesn’t offer anything to dissuade those who might have suspicions of cult of personality. Bill Johnson further exemplifies the concern, when he suggests that signs are necessary because, “He wants to take us farther, and we can only get there by following signs. Our present understanding of Scripture can only take us so far…signs and wonders are a natural part of the Kingdom of God. They are the normal way to get us from where we are to where we need to be.” This subjectivity is emblematic of the NAR in thought and practice. There are no external rules and no objective interpreters of these signs, consequently, followers must simply trust the self-appointed apostles of the movement.
Practical and Liturgical Distinctives
Beyond the theological distinctives is a movement that has been incredible successful at influencing especially evangelical culture across the globe. This influence has not been accomplished primarily through internal church growth efforts. “Ironically, this group isn’t really focused on building up big congregations. Their ideas are spreading through other means, like high-profile conferences and the media products that they are selling…These apostles are able to access a lot more money, because they are operating with a pay-for-service model, rather than relying on people’s donations and their goodwill. Congregations bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep the butts in the seats; people don’t have to pay unless they feel like it. But this is a completely different financial model, and it tends to generate much more money.” While there are tangible theological differences from earlier movements, perhaps the biggest practical difference between earlier waves of charismatic movement and the NAR is the effectiveness of the music and multimedia packaging to extend beyond traditional sectarian boundaries. Employing powerful contemporary artistic, musical, and aesthetic tendencies to skillfully envelope the experientialist and postmillennial dominionist message, the music of churches like Hillsong and Bethel provides a most compelling vehicle.
Bethel’s diverse ministries, for instance, reflect a commitment to leading by example in fulfilling a cultural mandate, particularly through education. These ministries include Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry (BSSM), Bethel Christian School, WorshipU, Bethel Conservatory of the Arts, Bethel Leadership Program, and the Bethel School of Technology. These schools are designed to training up revivalists – change agents who will be able to impact the culture for the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth. These education programs are unapologetically continuationist, as illustrated by the curriculum objectives of BSSM: “Students will learn how to read, understand, and “do” the Bible, how to practice His presence, to witness, heal the sick, prophesy, preach, pray, cast out demons and much more.”
While the influence of these programs is increasing, the most impactful program for Bethel remains the worship program, characterized as “…passionate about God’s manifest presence,” and exists “to ignite individual hearts until Heaven meets Earth. We gather to encounter God’s presence…” That presence is manifest now, and is accessible through worship, which “creates a space for us to experience the tangible presence of our good Father.” Worship then should “lead people into a profound experience with God that transforms lives…”
Bethel’s perspective is that the worship
(in music) experience is the transformative force. This is consistent
with the experiential theology of Bethel and that of other NAR programs. “[C]reating an environment goes beyond the abilities of
playing an instrument or leading a team,”
and it is that environment that creates the space for the transformative
experience. The continuity between
Bethel’s theology, praxis, and liturgy is emblematic of the NAR’s comprehensive
program for the advancement of the Kingdom through the dominion of culture.
 For example, see Grace Wyler, “Meet the Radical Evangelical Army Behind Rick Perry” in Business Insider, 7/21/2011, viewed at https://www.businessinsider.com/rick-perry-the-evangelicals-behind-the-response-2011-7-21.
 C. Peter Wagner, “YEAR In REVIEW: The New Apostolic Reformation is not a Cult,” Charisma News, 8/24,2011, viewed at https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/31851-the-new-apostolic-reformation-is-not-a-cult.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 Christopher Cone, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts (Fort Worth, TX: Exegetica Publishing, 2018), 26.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 Ted Haggard, The Life Giving-Church (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001), 14.
 While Bickle and IHOPKC shares the continuationism of the NAR, IHOPKC’s historic premillennialism distinguishes it from the triumphalist postmillennialism of the NAR, as per “What is IHOPKC’s Stance on the New Apostolic Reformation?” viewed at https://www.ihopkc.org/press-center/faq/ihopkc-part-new-apostolic-reformation/.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 “Definition and description of an Apostle” International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders Website, viewed at https://www.icaleaders.com/about-ical/definition-of-apostle.
 Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL, 1991), 84.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1940), 4:19:18.
 B.B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York, NY: Scribner and Sons, 1918), 6 and 21.
 Johnson, 186-187.
 Head of OT and Hebrew at Moore Theological College, Sydney, and member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation.
 Andrew Shead, “Burning Scripture With Passion: A Review of the Psalms (The Passion Translation)” Themelios, Vol. 43, No. 1, April, 2018, viewed at http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/article/burning-scripture-with-passion-a-review-of-the-psalms-passion-translation.
 Brian Simmons on Sid Roth’s “It’s Supernatural” 2/1/2015, viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vMTufSKaY8.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 C. Peter Wagner, “Why You Must Take Dominion of Everything,” Charisma Magazine, 12/5/2012, viewed at https://web.archive.org/web/20171008230315/https://www.charismamag.com/spirit/prophecy/15402-the-case-for-dominionism.
 Wagner, Ibid.
 Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2005), 8.
 C. Peter Wagner, The Great Transfer of Wealth: Financial Release for Advancing God’s Kingdom, Kindle Edition (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2014), Chapter 1.
 Lance Wallnau, “Your Roadmap to Change Culture – 7 Mountains Explained” viewed at https://lancewallnau.com/your-road-map-to-change-culture-7-mountains-explained/.
 Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2005), 142.
 Interview by Bob Smietana, “The ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion” Christianity Today, August 3, 2017, viewed at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/bethel-church-international-house-prayer-prophets-apostles.html.