What to make of the booming legacy of Peter Wagner
It is very troubling that many of the attacks on the New Apostolic Reformation are false, irrational and hateful.
Think about the church you call home, either your local fellowship or the larger Christian grouping you relate to. Who are the apostles and prophets in your group? This is not a trick question, and naming a prophet or apostle from Bible times is not what I had in mind.
Since Ephesians 4:11 says Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers "to equip his people for works of service," isn’t it a bit strange that most Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not have contemporary apostles and prophets?
Leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation celebrate the question and point to their movement as a place where God’s people are "apostolically led and prophetically influenced."
This movement has become one of the fastest growing in Christianity in the last quarter century. Rooted in Pentecostal and charismatic theology, it has a worldwide reach and massive following. Its origin owes most to the vision of C. Peter Wagner (1930-2016), the famous and controversial Christian statesman known for his mission work with wife Doris in Bolivia (1956-1971), teaching at Fuller Seminary (1971-2001), leadership in the Church Growth movement, later embrace of the Vineyard and the Toronto Blessing, and founding of the New Apostolic Reformation. It is the latter reality that has brought Wagner the most heat.
If you do an Internet search on Wagner and other New Apostolic Reformation leaders (Cindy Jacobs, Che Ahn and Chuck Pierce, for example) you will find glowing endorsements and the nastiest warnings. One website calls Wagner "Christianity’s most dangerous and influential heretic" and "a blasphemer who thought he was going to heaven." Several books label their teachers as promoters of "a Luciferian gospel."
Contrast these negatives with claims by New Apostolic Reformation leaders that it represents a worldwide shift in Christianity as important and great as Martin Luther’s Reformation.
Studying the movement is complicated since it is not structured like a denomination but is more diverse and fluid, and since not all churches and leaders that align with the movement welcome the label. Of most significance here is Bill Johnson and his famous Bethel Church in Redding, California. Similarly, there’s the wildly influential Hillsong Church from Australia (led by Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie).
The most important organization that does link much of the movement is the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, based in Fort Worth, Texas, and led by John P. Kelly, successor to Wagner. Its Canadian branch is in Calgary and led by Phil Nordin. Other significant bodies are Global Spheres and Glory of Zion led by Chuck Pierce, The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders led by Joseph Mattura, and Christian International Ministries founded and led by Bill Hamon (b. 1935).
I’ve studied charismatic and Pentecostal movements over decades, directly interacting with major leaders as well as relevant scholars such as J. Gordon Melton. I’ve also learned from the work of Doug Geivett, John Weaver and Holly Pivac.
In my view all Christians should recognize leaders, followers and churches in this movement as fellow believers in Jesus and His gospel. The statements of faith in New Apostolic Reformation churches align with the Apostles’ Creed and the essentials of biblical faith. On the basics, the New Apostolic Reformation is not New Age, pagan or satanic.
This affirmation comes with two balancing concerns. First, it is very troubling that many of the attacks on the New Apostolic Reformation are false, irrational and hateful. No, Hillsong is not fascist. No, Bill Johnson is not from his father, the devil. Second, as with every branch of the Church, the New Apostolic Reformation does have some serious weaknesses, in particular the amount of staggering false prophecies and reckless speculation. For example, check out the predictions that Trump would win the 2020 election or that Covid-19 would not amount to much. Further, as the new kid on the block, this movement has an element of elitism in its claims and spirit. Thankfully, Joseph Mattera, an Apostolic figure, has warned of this, and his fellow leaders should continue to learn from him.
On the bottom line, Christians should thank God for the great elements in this movement and pray for improvements in all parts of the Church that will help increase its mission effectiveness.
James A. Beverley is a research professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. Read more of his columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch.