Whenever a new term or derogatory description appears in Christianity, it helps to consider exactly what the accusation really means.
The term “New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR) has been used to target Pentecostals, but to this writer the term has always seemed rather vague. Costi Hinn – who notoriously rejects the prosperity teaching of his televangelist uncle Benny Hinn – provided a practical five-point summary of the NAR. Hinn’s summary makes a good measuring stick.
The NAR is based on the work of Fuller Seminary speaker, the late Peter C. Wagner, who started out as a respected scholar in the field of church growth and went on to encourage the NAR movement.
It presents a series of connected doctrinal positions:
- May the offices of apostle and prophet be in the church today. It endows the leaders of the church with great power.
- Dominionism: Christians should aim to establish the kingdom of God on earth by obtaining the authority of the state.
- Theocracy: A desire to promote kingdom-minded people in key areas of society.
Some of these ideas, in soft form, are common – especially in some charismatic or Pentecostal churches. Some are not new: for example, the idea of re-establishing the apostle was part of the Irvingite Church in the 1820s – a kind of Azusa Street Pentecostalism. Two small denominations – the ACTS Global churches and the New Apostolic Church – are continuing the movement with around 100 local churches.
The milder forms of other NAR ideas, such as “dominionism” (which leads some Christians to extreme political positions in favor of a theocracy, a nation ruled by Christians) are simply seeking Christians to exercise an appropriate “influence” in society. Praying for Christian influencers in “spheres” of society such as the media, family, and education, a relatively common activity in prayer groups, is a far cry from full “dominionism”. Extreme Dominionism believes that Christians can establish the kingdom (literally) of God on earth – and are called to do so before Christ returns. (A similar movement called “reconstructionism” advocates similar ideas in the “reformed” part of Christianity, but has largely disappeared.)
Using Costi Hinn’s five points as a measuring stick, let’s take Hillsong as a case study. Its points are expressed as truths which the NAR rejects so, to keep it simple, we have them reversed.
1. Earthly healing is guaranteed in the atonement.
According to Hinn, NAR’s point of view is that “Jesus paid for your sin and your sickness. He was wounded for your transgressions, and with his stripes you were healed! Isaiah 53: 5 says it! Why do you hold on to this sickness if He’s already paid for your healing? Let go of this cancer. Free the infirmity. Receive your healing by faith.
The people of Hillsong regularly pray for healing but believe God is sovereign and recognize that not everyone will be healed. Sometimes a person who has been prayed so much for will die. When this happens, it is not considered to be directly related to a lack of faith. Sometimes prayer is seen to be answered by the work of physicians, sometimes supernaturally, sometimes both.
A Hillsong point of view expressed at Eternity in Christ is everything are healed, but for some who will be in Heaven.
2. All can be healed and prophesy.
“Many ‘schools of signs and wonders’ charge people tuition under the delusion that they can learn to heal and prophesy,” Hinn explains. The idea of the “word of faith” is a vision of “name it and claim it and it is guaranteed” healing.
Hillsong, along with the vast majority of Australian Pentecostals, encourages every Christian to pray for the sick so that they may be healed, in obedience to what the Bible says. (Eg James 5: 14-16) But that doesn’t always happen, and we might not know why.
3. There are apostles today.
Hinn has a nuanced position. “In a sense there is such a thing today as being apostolos (ἀπόστολος). This Greek word means “a delegate” and is synonymous with those charged with initiating new evangelistic work through planting, missionary work, or other frontier-type ministries. It is to be an ambassador of gospel! “
“Second, there is no such thing as being an apostle in the sense of New Testament office.” Hinn points out that the biblical apostles were commissioned personally by Christ, performed undeniable signs and wonders, and played a special role in establishing the church.
Eternity could find no record of Hillsong founder Brian Houston calling himself an apostle or encouraging anyone to call him one.
4. Jesus performed his miracles as a man in good relationship with God, not as God.
The NAR position rejects the orthodox position that Jesus was truly God and truly human at the same time.
The Australian Christian Church and Hillsong Declarations of Faith both state that “we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as God and as man is the only one who can be reconciled to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose to prove his victory and give us power for life.
5. People are taught never to question their anointed leader.
A simple answer is that Australians are not very good at blindly following a leader. Rather like Eternity written a few years ago, Hillsong has developed systems to ensure that their words conform to their doctrines and the Bible.
Not all readers will agree with Hillsong’s openly expressed Pentecostal beliefs, but the church is presenting a case for a scriptural mandate against them. This is reflected in the style of preaching, which, although not stated, constantly quotes the scriptures. Their leaders do not claim to have a special insight into the scriptures that is not available to someone who uses normal study tools. They do not rely on special translations of the Bible to establish doctrine. This means that people can read the Bible for themselves – and are urged to – and it is the best way to question the leaders of any church.