New Apostolic Reformation Faces Profound Rift Due to Trump Prophecies and ‘Spiritual Manipulation of the Prophetic Gift’

New Apostolic Reformation Faces Profound Rift Due to Trump Prophecies and ‘Spiritual Manipulation of the Prophetic Gift’

Four weeks after the January 6th insurrection, two leaders of the revivalist New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) were concerned about the future of their movement. They felt that influential apostles and prophets had gone too far in forecasting the reelection of Donald Trump; denying the reality of the loss by a man considered to be God’s anointed; speaking for God in detailing how Trump was being thwarted by demonic forces; and claiming that God will restore him, possibly by any means necessary.

The role of apostolic leaders in the high drama of events before and since the election are the kinds of excesses that the NAR was supposed to help curb in the first place. But it didn’t work. The excesses were—and are—so serious that a profound rift appears to be well under way. If the movement were a traditional denomination, we would call it a schism. And we would be speculating about the consequences for evangelical Christianity and probably the role of the Christian Right in the Republican Party more broadly. 

The NAR may not be a household name, and it may not be familiar even to some religion reporters; many on the Christian Right may not even be terribly familiar with the NAR or its teachings. But its influence is undeniable and growing. 

Briefly, the New Apostolic Reformation is a movement inspired and largely organized by the late C. Peter Wagner, a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary. The NAR falls within Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world. In the U.S. most of this growth has come at the expense of mainline Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism.

It’s a movement, not a denomination, and it defines itself in terms of “relational networks.” But it’s not without structure. In fact, the NAR aims to restore the role or office of biblical apostles in the modern-day Church, and, in so doing, it challenges and often disrupts traditional churches and denominations that generally operate under democratic systems of elected elders or deacons. 

Indeed, this has often happened. Charismatic bible-study cell groups infiltrate churches and teach a version of Christianity at odds with the unwitting host church, whose doctrines and leaders are eventually deemed out-of-synch with God and the true Church. This generally causes disaffected members to leave, or to try to take over the congregation. 

The democratic structures of the mainline and most Baptist traditions are thus undermined by authoritarian notions of apostolic authority and governance, views that are then projected onto democratic institutions of government, which are also seen as illegitimate. 

The NAR relies on its model of apostles for leading churches and “apostolic networks.” The apostles and prophets of the networks convened by Wagner are not self appointed, but are recognized by other apostolic leaders as having been called by God for leadership. The Wagnerian apostles and prophets might withdraw recognition of rogue apostolic leaders, but the non-Wagnerian networks are independent so there’s no recognition to withdraw.

These networks are the implementation of the only form of church governance deemed legitimate and embraced by the NAR, called the “five-fold ministry” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers), from the Book of Ephesians (4:11-13), which describes their role in the Church. The doctrines and denominations with which most readers will be familiar are, they believe, are under the influence of what Wagner called a “religious spirit”—sinful, arguably demonic, obstacles to advancing the Kingdom of God on earth.

In adopting the five-fold ministry, the NAR holds a continuationist view, meaning that God still calls individuals to exercise the roles of apostles and prophets in the Church today, along with all the spiritual gifts manifest during the early apostolic age, including healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues.

The proposed prophetic standards are important, in part because the core of the NAR is apostolic governance. In Apostles and Prophets, Wagner explains that God speaks to prophets but it’s ultimately apostles who judge, evaluate, strategize and execute God’s revealed word. Prophets are, therefore, expected to submit to the authority of the apostolic leaders.

The “Prophetic Standards”

In April of 2021, 92 apostolic leaders led by Apostle Joseph Mattera and Dr. Michael Brown issued a statement aimed at establishing “prophetic standards” and accountability regarding prophecy. According to a report in Charisma magazine, they were responding in particular to what they saw as the worrisome “discussion regarding the prophetic proclamations given concerning Donald Trump being reelected to a second term.” 

The statement sought to clarify the role of the prophet and of prophecy (which is also carried out by apostles) stating that prophets are “to bring correction, instruction, and directional clarity to the Body, but not independent of other leaders, and therefore different from the model of the independent Old Testament prophet.” 

In other words, they should avoid misdirecting the church with wild predictions and unfounded claims to represent God’s will in controversial matters. Prophets should therefore seek and welcome “godly evaluation” of their prophecies “by other mature leaders.” 

What’s more, “Those who refuse to have their words tested should not be given a platform.”

They somewhat wryly added,

“Those wanting to use Old Testament prophetic texts to exercise influence or authority over their followers should remember that inaccurate prophecy under that same Old Testament standard was punishable by death.”

While they may not be calling for the execution of false prophets, they certainly are drawing a line in the sand and asserting that “prophets do not serve as spiritual fortune tellers or prognosticators, nor is their role to satisfy our curiosity about the future or reveal abstract information.”

But the statement isn’t confined to concerns about false election prognostication; it obliquely refers to other matters that require accountability as well:

“We reject the spiritual manipulation of the prophetic gift for the personal benefit of the prophet or of his or her ministry, whether to garner favor, power, or financial gain… This is spiritual abuse of the worst kind and is detestable in God’s sight.”

Still, it’s unlikely that these standards will ever be enforced. In these non-denominational apostolic networks there are few agreed upon doctrines, no ostensible hierarchies, and no clear methods of accountability or enforcement. What’s more, there are many independent apostolic networks that aren’t even affiliated with the aforementioned Wagner-centric groups. All the more reason why who represents the Church, and who speaks for God, is likely to remain a concern.

Election fraud legionnaires 

Examples of leading NAR figures prophesying about election fraud are legion. In his 2020 book God’s Chaos Code, Prophet Lance Walnau writes that there could be a “Trump landslide on election day,” but that absentee ballots could turn this victory into defeat. 

The uncertainty of a dubious or contested election outcome, he believes, would lead “street units” of Antifa and Black Lives Matter to make an “open assault on America,” and he further believes that the Supreme Court might “end up appointing Trump as president during a period of unparalleled national chaos.”

In the days following the election, Apostle Paula White staged nightly “Pray for the Nation” broadcasts. White, who also served as spiritual advisor to President Trump, led imprecatory prayers against the “demonic confederacies” said to be arrayed against them, and against Trump’s reelection. White claimed that “demonic” elements are seeking to “hijack the will of God, to hijack what God has already established in the Earth.” She asked God to “take vengeance.” 

On January 5th, the day before the insurrection, Apostle Ché Ahn of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California and International Chancellor of Wagner University, an international network of apostolic training centers tasked with carrying on the vision of NAR founder C. Peter Wagner, declared at a rally that the election was “stolen” in “the most egregious fraud.” 

According to a report by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Ahn continued, “[W]e’re going to throw Jezebel out and Jehu’s gonna rise up, and we’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Veteran religion reporter Julia Duin observed that few of her colleagues covered the events of January 5th, which she saw as “the most poisonous marriage of religion and politics I’ve seen in 40-plus years on the beat.”

Charisma columnist Michael Brown felt the matter was urgent. Writing in his January 2021 column, he called on the prophets who had predicted a Trump victory or cast doubt on the election results, to stop.

“Face the facts, be accountable before God and man,” he wrote, “take the hits that will be coming and humble yourself before the Lord and His people.”  

“If you prophesied falsely,” he insisted, “you and you alone are to blame.”

Among the more well-known and vocal preachers, (beyond the aforementioned), who prophesied a Trump win were Kris Vallonton, Shawn Bolz, Kat Kerr, Pat Robertson, Robin Bullock, Hank Kunneman, Jeremiah Johnson, and R. Loren Sandford. After the election, some repented and admitted they were wrong while others claimed that they had it right all along. 

Some tried to explain what happened. Craig Keener, a professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, defended the idea that the Bible contains stories of false and true prophets, and that even true prophets sometimes deliver prophetic words which turn out to be false. Lance Wallnau (best known as a theorist of the Seven Mountains of Dominion) essentially blamed Christians for Trump’s defeat, explaining that while God had wanted a second term for Trump, it was Christians who had simply failed to back him up! 

Prophet R. Loren Sandford was among those who apologized, explaining that the reason people got it wrong had “more to do with idolatry, with putting politics and Donald Trump in an idolatrous position, the place of hope where only Jesus should have been our focus.” Others, like Jennifer LeClaire and Jeremiah Johnson, believed that God was likely calling Trump to repent and that this was the President’s own Nebuchadnezzar moment, referring to the biblical king who was made to live like an ox for seven years, before God restored him to his kingdom. 

The prophetic standards were finally issued in April, led by Joseph Mattera, the Convening Apostle of the U.S. Council of Apostolic Leaders (USCAL), which emerged from the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL), an organization prompted by Apostle John P. Kelly (on the recommendation of the late C. Peter Wagner); and the aforementioned Dr. Michael Brown, a right-wing media figure and member (at least as of 2017) of the USCAL National Council. 

Many members of the Council are signatories to the standardsbut the standards themselves live on an apparently independent website. This is significant in part because many who’ve adopted the apostolic model of church governance aren’t actually a part of the Wagner-influenced networks. The Wagnerian apostles are being diplomatic in inviting others within their association and beyond to be reasonable though they lack any enforcement mechanism. But they make their view of the gravity of the situation clear. 

Past is prologue 

Correction to prophetic abuse isn’t new. Corrections that didn’t work are also not new. A scandal in 1990 featuring the so-called Kansas City Prophets (KCP) set the stage for the current standoff. Ernie Gruen, a Charismatic pastor in Kansas City, accused Mike Bickle and the KCP of prophetic abuses in a 233-page document, targeting mainly prophets Bob Jones, Paul Cain, and John Paul Jackson. (Bickle is familiar with wrangling prophetic ethics, since he was listed as a member of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders (ACPE) in 1999, along with C. Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce and Jim Goll, to name a few.) 

Gruen accused the KCP of making such irresponsible predictions as imminent disasters; as well as providing personal, directive prophecies regarding people’s futures which never came true. KCP even went so far as to visit other churches, prophesying that they were to close their doors.

Bickle and Gruen consulted a council of 12 elders to resolve the issues, and eventually John Wimber, the late Neo-charismatic pioneer and a founding leader of the Vineyard movement, intervened. Bickle’s church, Kansas City Fellowship, subsequently became a Vineyard congregation and its prophetic ministry was placed under Wimber’s tutelage. But the relationship didn’t last. 

Following reports of unusual physical manifestationsmainly, animal noises, “holy laughter,” shaking, and being “slain in the Spirit” (essentially falling to the floor)during the “Toronto Blessing” charismatic revival in 1994, Wimber established policies regarding supernatural manifestations within Vineyard churches. People took sides: rein-in and provide guidelines for spiritual manifestations or give way to ecstatic experiences as seen in Toronto. Bickle eventually left the Vineyard in 1996. 

Now, this is where the recent failed prophecies also come into play. If things didn’t turn out as prophesied, did God really speak to and through these individuals? As was the case during the Kansas City debacle, a group of influential leaders staged an intervention and issued a declaration. 

There are no guarantees that the “prophetic standards” will stick now any more than they did in the 90s. Indeed, it should be noted that USCAL had previously issued a statement about accountability in prophecy and the roles of apostle and prophet that generated less controversy. It also didn’t work, no doubt adding to the urgency of the current imbroglio.

Signers and non-signers

It’s remarkable that even as the new statement makes broad accusations of false prophecy, it names no one. Signed by some 900 leaders at this writing, the statement includes such prominent apostles and prophets as Joseph Mattera, John P. Kelly, Steven Strang, Negiel Bigpond, Abby Abildness, R. Loren Sandford, Jeremiah Johnson, Kris Vallotton, James W. Goll (who is also part of the exclusive ACPE), and Stacey Campbell (ACPE). 

Notably, it does not include such big names as Apostles Chuck Pierce, Dutch Sheets, Cindy Jacobs (founder and leader of the ACPE), Ché Ahn and Paula White, as well as televangelist Kenneth Copeland and Prophet Lance Wallnau (who’s also a member of the National Councils of USCAL and the ACPE).

Asked about the signers and non-signers in a 2021 article on the controversy, Brown replied, “If the chief offenders have not publicly repented, why would they sign something like this?”

One prominent offender, Prophet Johnny Enlow, not only didn’t sign, he hit back on Facebook, insisting that “Heaven does not recognize” President Biden. “From heaven’s perspective,” he claimed, “there is only the legitimacy of DJT [Donald J. Trump].”  

“Those who refuse to disagree with God,” he concluded, “must now be pressured into accepting the steal, under the guise of ‘being humble enough’ to admit being wrong.” 

To this day, as RD recently reported, there are prophets claiming fresh revelations from God about the restoration of Trump to the presidency; calling for the destruction of Washington, DC and monuments deemed to not be “of God” (such as the Statue of Liberty); and even campaigning with Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate and fellow election denier Doug Mastriano.

One of the early apostle-prophets, Bill Hamon, who was close to Wagner, believed that the restoration of the biblical offices of the apostle and prophet would be a gradual process. But Hamon and everyone involved probably knew it would be a bumpy road to radically challenge the structure of established churches and change the face of Global Christianity.

In the end, the problem of renegade prophets and prophecies may be more than a bump in the road. The New Apostolic Reformation may be headed for an existential crisis as many apostles and prophets continue to defy the prophetic standards so urgently issued by their colleagues. Prophetic abuses will probably continue to track with the surge in right-wing, authoritarian movements—like campaigns to restore Donald Trump to power—and the ongoing efforts to undermine other Christian institutions as well as the institutions of democracy in the U.S. and around the world. 

The authors and signers of the prophetic standards evidently think that prophetic abuses could damage the reputation of their movement, obstruct unity, and contribute to their ultimate undoing. And they may not be wrong.


via Religion Dispatches

August 9, 2022 at 10:54PM