Over the next several weeks, I’m going to attempt to interact with Dr. C. Peter Wagner’s defense of what he has called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The statement is simply titled, “The New Apostolic Reformation: An Update by C. Peter Wagner, Ph. D.” Wagner taught Church Growth for thirty years at Fuller Theological Seminary (which is no bastion of theological orthodoxy). According to his statement, NAR is simply a label given to trends in rapidly growing sectors of global Christianity. Wagner writes:
The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years. The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements. I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.
The distinctives to which Wagner refers are listed in his statement as “Apostolic Governance,” “The Office of Prophet,” “Dominionism,” “Extra-biblical revelation,” and “Supernatural Signs and Wonders.” These are the elements which are most commonly criticized by theological critics such as myself. The political activism of the movement in America is what is being focused on in media reports, and political water-cooler discussions.
The political Left in the United States is expressing tremendous alarm about the fact that some who have associations with this movement of radical charismatic churches are lending political support to leading conservative Republican candidates. In 2008, they criticized the fact that Sarah Palin had been formally “prayed over” by such figures. When Wisconsin Congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, began running for the Republican Presidential nomination this year, political opponents began connecting dots between her and the NAR, but it was not until Texas Governor, Rick Perry, entered the same contest that the media hype about certain NAR-aligned figures who joined Perry in organizing a non-denominational, and arguably non-political, prayer rally days prior reached a fever pitch.
In light of this fact, Dr. Wagner stated a position on the concept of theocracy, as it relates to the political activity of NAR personalities:
The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its foundational religious equivalent. Everyone I known in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back toConstantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.
I agree at least to this extent with Wagner. The broad coalition of politically active American evangelicals known popularly as the Religious Right, far from setting their sights on theocracy, grant to the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as they stand written today, for better or worse, a kind of inspiration that arguably rivals that of the Holy Scriptures themselves. In light of the imminently important Establishment and Free Expression Clauses of the First Amendment, it is grossly inaccurate to accuse even NAR figures as theocrats, much less Governor Perry.
One of the concerns of NAR’s political critics is that should America collapse, the danger is that radical fringe elements could take over the Federal Government. In my view, it is more likely that radical Muslim groups would try that to a greater extent than any radical elements associated with Christianity.
John Hendryx at Monergism.com has addressed the issues of theocracy and the proper goals of Christian influence on the government in an article entitled, “Do Christians Want a Theocratic or Secularist State? Or Neither?” This is a well-written article which emphasizes Christians’ recognition of the need for checks and balances and the separation of powers.
Too much power in the hands of anyone, including certain denominations of Christians, is dangerous because man is corruptible. That is why limited government and a balance of power is a reasonable idea, because it understands the sinful limitations of human beings, whether they be secularist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.
Even though Christians know the only truth, they also know themselves too well as sinners to be without the restraint of law or a balance of power.
Finally, Hendryx included a note on the issue of theocracy which he points out highlights the importance and impact of biblical eschatology. For it is specifically the Postmillennial factions on both sides of the political aisle (Liberation theology on the Left, Theonomy on the Right) which would promote something that would more accurately be characterized as theocracy. To the extent that NAR draws from the wells of R. J. Rushdoony’s theonomy, criticism is fair. But as Wagner notes, “NAR has no official statements of theology or ecclesiology.” This means not all Christian political activists aligned with the New Apostolic Reformation necessarily have the same eschatological view.
In support of Hendryx’s claim about the “theocratic” Postmillenial views of Liberation theology, consider the controversy in the last presidential election cycle during which then candidate Barack Obama was criticized for his twenty-year membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, pastored by Black Liberation Theologian, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. According to Stanley Kurtz, writing in Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (© 2010, Threshold Editions):
Wright openly denies the distinction between religion and politics, disdaining preachers who refuse to connect Jesus to liberationist militancy. Obama has indeed taken political instruction from Wright, and Wright’s history strongly suggests that this was a common occurrence. Obama’s greatest hope, in fact, was to build a political movement around Wright and preachers like him (p. 327).
I don’t personally believe that the New Apostolic Reformation will be nearly as successful at influencing (read: “taking dominion over”) the so-called “SevenMountains” for Christ as they would desire, nor as much as the political Left fears. I predict they will simply counteract the Light provided by the more traditional, and less cultic, strains of orthodox Christianity before the watching world.