Whenever a new pejorative term or description emerges in Christianity, it is useful to examine exactly what the accusation really means.
The term “New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR) has been used to target Pentecostals but, for this writer, the term has always seemed rather vague. Costi Hinn – who rather famously rejects the prosperity teaching of his televangelist uncle Benny Hinn – has provided a handy five point summary of the NAR. Hinn’s summary makes for a good measuring stick.
The NAR is based upon the work of a Fuller Seminary lecturer, the late Peter C. Wagner, who started as a respected researcher into church growth and later fostered the NAR movement.
It features a series of connected doctrinal positions:
- That the offices of Apostle and Prophet should be in today’s church. This invests church leaders with great power.
- Dominionism: Christians should aim to establish God’s kingdom on earth by gaining state authority.
- Theocracy: A desire to promote kingdom-minded people into key areas of society.
Some of these ideas, in a mild form, are common – especially in some charismatic or Pentecostal churches. Some are not new: for example, the idea of re-establishing the office of Apostle was part of the Irvingite Church of the 1820s – a kind of pre-Azusa Street Pentecostalism. Two small denominations – ACTS Global churches and the New Apostolic Church – carry on the movement with some 100 local churches.
The milder forms of other NAR ideas, such as “dominionism” (which leads some Christians toward extreme political positions of advocating for a theocracy, a nation governed by Christians) simply seek Christians to exert appropriate “influence” in society. Praying for Christian influencers in “spheres” of society such as media, family and education, a relatively common activity in prayer groups, is a long way from full blown “dominionism”. Extreme dominionism believes that Christians can establish the (literal) kingdom 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. His points are expressed as truths that the NAR rejects so, to keep it simple, we have turned them around.
1. Earthly healing is guaranteed in the atonement.
According to Hinn, the NAR view is that “Jesus paid for your sin and your sickness. He was wounded for your transgressions, and by His stripes you are healed! Isaiah 53:5 says so! Why are you holding on to that sickness if He already paid for your healing? Let go of that cancer. Release infirmity. Receive your healing by faith.”
Hillsong people regularly pray for healing but believe God is sovereign, and recognise that not everyone will get healed. Sometimes a much-prayed-for person will die. When this happens, it is not regarded as directly related to a lack of faith. Sometimes prayer is seen to be answered through the work of doctors, sometimes supernaturally, sometimes both.
A Hillsong view expressed to Eternity is that in Christ all are healed, but for some that will be in Heaven.
2. All can heal and prophesy.
“Many ‘schools of signs and wonders’ are charging people tuition under the illusion that they can learn to heal and prophecy,” says Hinn. The “word of faith” idea is a “name it and claim it and it is guaranteed” view of healing.
Hillsong, along with the vast majority of Australian Pentecostals, encourages every Christian to pray for the sick that they might be healed, in obedience to what the Bible says. (For example James 5:14–16) But it does not always happen, and we may not know why.
3. There are Apostles today.
Hinn has a nuanced position. “In a sense, there is such a thing as being apóstolos (ἀπόστολος) today. This Greek word means ‘a delegate’ and is synonymous with those who are commissioned to pioneer new gospel-work through planting, missionary work, or other frontier-like ministries. This is being a gospel-ambassador!”
“Second, there is no such thing as being an apostle in the sense of the New Testament office.” Hinn points out that the biblical apostles were commissioned personally by Christ, performed undeniable signs and wonders, and had a special role in setting up the church.
Eternity has not been able to find any record of Hillsong founder Brian Houston calling himself an apostle or encouraging anyone to call him one.
4. Jesus did his miracles as a man in right relationship with God, and not as God.
The NAR position rejects the orthodox position that Jesus was truly God and truly man all at once.
The Australian Christian Church’s and Hillsong’s statements of faith both state “we believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.”
5. People are taught never to question their anointed leader.
An easy answer is that Australians are not very good at following a leader blindly. Rather as Eternity wrote some years ago, Hillsong has developed systems to ensure their lyrics conform to their doctrines, and to the Bible.
Readers will not all agree with Hillsong’s openly-expressed Pentecostal beliefs, but the church sets out a case for scriptural warrant for them. This is reflected in the style of preaching, which though not expositional, constantly cites scripture. Their leadership do not claim to have a special insight into Scripture that is not available to somebody using the normal tools of study. They don’t rely on special translations of the Bible to establish doctrine. This means that people can read the Bible for themselves – and are exhorted to – and that is the very best way to question leaders in any church.