The Highjacking Christianity series will continue by scripturally examining the NAR movement. In my last article, I outlined the NAR’s own words concerning what an apostle is, what they do, and their authority. In this way, the NAR movement, mainly C Peter Wagner, the father of the NAR movement, can be presented by their primary sources. This article continues with that theme by examining the scriptures they use to support the positions described in the last article, along with scriptures they use to support the office of prophet.
The NAR movement cites Ephesians 4:11-14 as being the most convincing Biblical case for their view:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (ESV)
This scripture is where the NAR term ‘fivefold ministry‘ originates and is commonly referred to as ‘ascension gifts.’ They interpret these passages to mean that the office of apostle and prophet continues today. The NAR relies on the word “until” to do all the heavy lifting. “Until” allows NAR spokespersons to easily communicate that the offices of apostle and prophet are indefinite without receiving much pushback. This verse in isolation appears to support their movement. That is why many are reluctant to question the NAR’s reading of this scripture. However, there are plenty of reasons to question their reading of this passage.
The orthodox Protestant interpretation of the above verse would view the apostles and prophets as foundational and temporary while the others (evangelists, pastors, and teachers) would be ongoing in light of Epesphians 2:20, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The ESV Study Bible provides valuable insight into the most Biblically sound interpretations of this text, which do not include the NAR’s interpretation that the offices of apostles and prophets exist today as they did in the early church. The authors of The ESV Study Bible put it well when they shed insight into 2:20,
“Some think that they were “foundational” because they proclaimed the very words of God, and some of their words became the books of the NT. Since a “foundation” is laid only once (i.e. at the beginning of the church) there are no more apostles or prophets today, but their function of speaking the words of God has been replaced by the written Bible, which is the foundation today.” (page 2266)
Reading Ephesians 4:11-14 in light of Epesphians 2:20 sheds insight on whether apostles and prophets exist today. If a foundation “is laid only once,” the likelihood of Ephesians 4:11-14 prescribing the offices of apostle and prophet to the future is far-fetched. The NAR appears to be sawing off the tree limb they’re sitting on by coupling Epesphians 2:20 with Ephesians 4:11-14 because the former undercuts the latter. Their readings of these passages stray far from an orthodox interpretation into heterodoxy.
The NAR also commonly refer to 1 Corinthians 12:28 as a prooftext for their theological belief in the modern offices of apostles and prophets, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” (ESV) The ESV Study Bible comments that,
“First…second…third…then seem to be a ranking of importance or benefit to the church, with apostles being primary and then prophecy and teaching also contributing greatly to the building up of others.” (page 2210)
‘Apostle’ C Peter Wagner writes in Apostles Today (page 12),
“Protestant denominationalism over the past 500 years has been, for the most part, governed by teachers and administrators, rather than by apostles and prophets…It is fascinating that even though we had church government backward over the past two centuries according to 1 Corinthians 12:28, we have evangelized so much of the world! Think of what will happen now that church government is getting in proper order.” (emphasis mine)
The NAR’s approach to this scripture is at odds, yet again, with an orthodox reading of scripture and strays into heterodoxy. Rather than showing how this passage prescribes a model for the offices of apostle and prophet for the future church, the NAR simply assumes it and neglects the more natural reading of the text, which is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
The NAR arms itself with verses that support its movement only when read in isolation and out of context. When widening the scope of scripture, the Bible has more to say about apostles and prophets than only those three verses.
In A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement written by R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec, they write,
“The apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 suggests that he was the final apostle of his kind. With the passing of the first generation of Christians, there can be no more living eyewitnesses who could add to the Gospel records of Jesus’s life and teachings. This closes the door on any apostles, since the time of the Twelve, who could claim to share their unique contribution and office. Paul also had a unique role as the apostle to the Gentiles.” (page 77)
When looking at 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, we can see the broader context that Geivett and Pivec are speaking of,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (ESV)
The apostle Paul is describing who Jesus appeared to after His resurrection. It’s apparent that not everyone he appeared to became apostles (i.e. the five hundred brothers at one time), but it is clear that all the apostles had a personal encounter with Jesus after the resurrection. The ESV Study Bible says about 1 Corinthians 15:8, “Last of all – sandwiched between verse 7 and 9, this suggests that Paul thought there would be no more apostles chosen after him.” (page 2214). Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?” (ESV) Paul believes that “one of the qualifications for apostleship was seeing the risen Lord” (The ESV Study Bible, page 2213). As more verses are viewed in their proper context, the more unconvincing the NAR’s position on modern apostles and prophets becomes.
Are All Apostles Created Equal?
It’s important to make a theological distinction between the office of an apostle and a functional apostle. Functional apostles will continue, as stated by Paul in Ephesians 4:11. Ephesians 4:11 was mentioned earlier and it was shown that the verse wasn’t intended to prescribe the offices of apostle and prophet upon the church indefinitely. The functional role of apostle could continue, which would be properly interpreted as a church planter or missionary. For most of church history, church planters and missionaries haven’t been recognized as apostles. I believe that church planters and missionaries avoid this term out of respect and reverence for Christ’s appointed apostles and to avoid the confusion the term might cause. Theologian Wayne Grudem keenly observed, “It is noteworthy that no major leaders in the history of the church – not Athanasius or Augustine, not Luther or Calvin, not Wesley or Whitefield – has taken to himself the title of ‘apostle’ or let himself be called an apostle.” (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, page 911)
There isn’t anything Biblically controversial with the idea that there are still apostles of the church (i.e. functional apostles – church planters and missionaries.) This is a natural reading of the Biblical text when closely and carefully examined.
Even those who theologically oppose the NAR find this idea uncontroversial,
“But we agree with the position that people exist today who function as “apostles of the churches.” And we emphasize that these people have essential roles to play. This seems clear from the way they’re listed first in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. Reading these verses in the contexts of their surrounding passages shows that they refer to a temporally unrestricted group of individuals whom God has gifted to make ongoing contributions on behalf of the church. The importance of their contributions stems from what they do: they proclaim the gospel and establish new churches.” (A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement, page 79)
After examining the NAR’s primary Biblical prooftexts they use to argue for modern offices of apostles and prophets, it’s evident that these texts do not mean what they think they mean. Their prooftexts, when closely and carefully examined, fail to support their core claims about apostles and prophets being offices in the modern church. Given the lack of scriptural support for the NAR’s most basic claims, the church must be able and willing to hold their leaders accountable when they advance these teachings.
Our theology should be rooted in the Word. When the Word is perverted by theological ignorance (at best) or malfeasance (at worst), Christ-followers are obligated to highlight false teaching for the church to see. Given that false teaching isn’t a private sin against a single person, but a collective sin against the church, we don’t necessarily have to address false teachers privately. This has been demonstrated in the Bible multiple times.
In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, the apostle Paul publicly contrasts Timothy with false teachers by name,
“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” (ESV)
Not only did Paul identify the false teachers directly, but Paul went so far as to compare their false teaching to the spread of “gangrene.” Given the historical context, that term “stresses the repulsiveness of the false view as well as the danger of it spreading.” (The ESV Study Bible, page 2340)
The apostle John comments how we are to reject false teachers in 2 John 1:10-11, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (ESV) Obviously, John is not talking about being inhospitable to sinners. John is speaking in the context of not receiving anyone in your house that is a false teacher. “Such a welcome would give the appearance of endorsing the false teaching.” (The ESV Study Bible, page 2441)
Obviously, far more could be said about the disdain Jesus and the apostles had for false teaching. However, I’ve sufficiently supported the case that the NAR’s core beliefs are heterodoxical. Their most heretical belief doesn’t appear to be adopted by all NAR members, which is why I excluded it from this article. However, I will be writing about it in a future article.
In conclusion, the NAR is Biblically flawed to its core and a danger to the church. With the massive influence it has over the church, it’s vital that Christians become familiar with this issue and speak against it when they see a red flag.