Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Danger from the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) aka the Signs and Wonders Movement

In the process of moving to Ecuador from the United States, we've gone through many adjustments and changes.  One that we never would have thought of has to do with what local congregation we associate with in the worship of God.  Surely there's a church in our new country and city that does the things we know are worthwhile and appropriate in terms of worship, small groups, and outreach. . . right?  Well, yes - but we have since learned one needs to look deeper and with more diligence than we've done in the past.  Let me explain.

Appearances can be deceiving.  Consider this: when one comes to a new country, with a different language and culture, a person is more apt than not to not understand what a particular group is all about.  You have the disadvantage of not being completely fluent in the new language, as well as not being used to how things get done within this new congregation.  You're new here, after all.  It takes time getting used to new people, new ways of doing things you once took for granted, and to reasonably assimilate in a new environment.  Add to that one's own history on how their previous church did things and operated, and from that prism of personal experience a person can be fooled into buying into the new church's belief system and ways of operating.  It looks good on the surface, so it must be valid and good, right?  Wrong.  

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  (1 John 4:1, ESV)

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  (Matthew 7:15, ESV)

And Jesus answered them,“See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:4-14, ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  (1 Peter 2:1)
 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[d] which he obtained with his own blood.[e] 29 know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.  (Acts 20:28-31, ESV)

Be alert, counseled the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:31.  Over a period of months, my wife and I were exposed to a Signs and Wonders/New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) environment that we now realize is theologically a cult in its beliefs and practice.  What were (are) the clues to its presence?  

Not surprisingly, the differences were small and seemingly insignificant.  Only when one looks at the totality of the whole picture of the "church" can one start to understand the significant differences between a heterodox NAR type "church" versus a truly Biblically centered orthodox church. 

Here's one: the music was reliably uptempo, loud in sound level, and overly repetitious in repeating lyrics.  The unstated goal, I have since learned, is to get you to memorize the words, and thus the "church's" aberrant theology.  One song was sung for over 11 minutes, in fact!  Talk about repetition!  The second to last song generally gets softer and provides for a "nice landing" in terms of emotional feel to the words and music.  Then, after a leader's prayer, a previous louder style song is repeated by the worship team and congregation.  There's no connection between the lyrics of the songs and the messages taught in terms of content.  

This has been a newer development in the life of the congregation we were a part of, but bears mentioning: the last few weeks of our attendance, one older woman reliably came up to the front of the platform and was given a microphone to read a Bible passage stressing prophecy.  In the end of our time there, this was every Sunday.  Again, the passage had no direct connection to the worship music or the teacher's message.  Looked good, felt good, but the emphasis on feelings and the overemphasis of the "church's" aberrant teachings to the exclusion of the rest of the whole counsel of God was evident to this observer.

Teaching from the platform by the leaders left much to be desired.  Topical, rather than verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book of the Bible.  Bible passages were displayed on the front two screens, like what you would find in an orthodox Bible believing church, but in truth they were cover for what the pastor or leader wanted to say anyway.  So one could read the words of Scripture in the teaching time, but not have those same words exposited in a correct manner befitting a proper exegesis.  This sadly led to what might best be called "spiritual malnutrition". . . looking at the "steak" - the meat of the Word of God, but given the "sizzle" or sauce only.  Hard to grow spiritually in the manner God intends and says from His Word when this kind of malpractice occurs.

The topical teaching ran in what we learned were predictable themes.  Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit was one, and parenting and raising children in the home was another.  Relationships one to another - humanly speaking - was one more that was common in our time there.  Advent at Christmastime of course.  Lenten topical messages during that time of the year, too.  These themes or "series" of messages would last for several consecutive weeks.  Teaching on parts of the Bible that are more difficult to grasp, regarded as controversial or are more likely to be avoided were. . . avoided.  

The pastors and leaders were always working to get the congregation to respond by coming up front for prayer and healing.  Sometimes receiving Jesus as Savior was mentioned, but not often.  We saw, especially in our first few months of attendance, some attendees falling down on the carpet up front by the platform as they were being prayed for and having hands laid on them.  These people and instances were the distinct minority of cases.  The net result desired by the "church" leadership was to have things end in an upbeat fashion, where people would feel good.  That seemed to be true from what we could observe, as far as we knew from our linguistic handicap of not being fully fluent in Spanish and not knowing the particular culture of the "church" or the congregation.      

Once the leaders finally set up a regular date and time for native English speakers to meet in a small group setting at the "church" cafeteria, being able to more closely evaluate the "church's" aberrant doctrine became easier.  The meetings were used to hear attendee's testimonies. . . not a bad thing at all, but virtually the entire meeting was used for that purpose week after week, month after month.  Not anything like we'd ever encountered before at a foundationally solid Bible believing church in the United States.  We heard from the pastor leading the small group that after the testimonies were given, we would study a paperback book on whatever topic was desired.  Not a verse by verse chapter by chapter Bible study like what we knew was good and appropriate.  This was a big Red Flag to us.  

There were other nagging things, too.  Commanding the Holy Spirit to do this or that.  "Speaking" against this spirit or that spirit.  I knew this was from aberrant Word of Faith theology I had encountered in an open air "church" hosted by a mainline congregation in Southern California.  The pastor's wife started to say each week in the small group "does anyone have a prophetic word that they are feeling right now?"  I knew what she meant by "prophetic word" was far different from what I knew the term meant in an orthodox understanding of those words.  I began to reflect and dig up more.

I had an encounter regarding another false teacher with one of the English speaking expats that later attended the English speaking small group the "church" had finally started.  We had an exchange of words, emailing of information and Internet site pages, and after all that, I determined that I was best to "answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." 

But I did have the temerity - and evidently, looking back, the chutzpah - to ask the son of one of the founding pastors about this encounter with this expat.  As it turned out, he was fresh from attending, with his new wife, the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California.  More on that in a bit.  He wouldn't reprove this obviously false teacher my expat acquaintance so adored, and when it came right down to it, he equivocated on if he would or could do that with any such teacher that one regarded as suspect regarding the faith.  

At that particular time in my knowing this young "church" leader, he was more open in opening up himself to my wife and I.  He let on that he had doubts about this Bill Johnson guy who was the leader at Bethel in Redding.  He and Bill Johnson sat down for a time of getting together and working things out, and according to this young leader, he came away convinced that Bill Johnson was as ordinary as anybody else, and a regular guy who could be trusted.  I wasn't there, of course to see and hear what that conversation was all about, and took his statement at face value at the time.  

Looking back after a few more months, I could put the pieces of the theological puzzle together.  The source of the strange and unnerving practices, beliefs and theology underlying all that we were encountering was the people who were espousing and promoting this stuff - Bethel Church in Redding.  Time for an Internet surfing session.  

Whoa! (to ironically use a well worn phrase by these people)  I had hit paydirt!  What Bill Johnson and Bethel stood for was well documented by those within the true Body of Christ with the spiritual gift of discernment.  And the "church" we were attending at the time and their international association of "churches" was tightly bound up into Bethel and what it teaches.  

Here's a link from Apologetics Index on Bill Johnson:  

Here's a link from Apologetics Index on New Apostolic Reformation:Influence and Teachings, which is very complete without being overly detailed in the many tentacles this aberrant movement reaches into:  If you only click on one of these links, click on this one.

Here's a short YouTube video on Bill Johnson in a Q and A session, where he equivocates and makes up answers off the cuff, which is then contrasted with what the Scripture says:

Are you easy prey for False Prophets?  Here's a checklist to help:

Going along with the previous item, here's a great writeup showing how one may become easily deceived by extra fantastical stories. . . made up on the spur of the moment.  Read it and weep:

How pastors can help their congregations from being ensnared in false teaching from the false teachers:

A missionary in Ecuador who was previously part of the Signs and Wonders Movement discusses the dangers it brings - two parts.

You'll notice the citations above come from a variety of sources, not just one.  

I asked one of the founding pastors of the "church" we had attended about the healings he would mention from time to time.  Had he ever taken the time to document them?  "We've had so many, I haven't had the time to write them down," he replied.  Again. . . sounds plausible and believable, but in the end, without the proof documented for the congregation - and the outside world - to see, just a bunch of words without substantiation.

You would think that in the case of genuine healings, the world would be coming to the church and knocking down the walls for them to be healed.  People would realize what was going on, get their loved ones and friends out of the hospitals, and get them to the church so they didn't have to suffer any longer, right?  Think about it.  It doesn't happen because these stories are fake and bogus. . . plain and simple.  

Words without substance.  Actions without true power.  Power. . . now, there's a word we've heard at the alleged "church" over and over.  People claiming to have power to (fill in the blank).  Again, no proof that the power really came from the one true God.  

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  --Jesus in Matthew 24:24-25

We thank God we were ultimately not led astray.  I post this as an object lesson to our friends and the public at large.  Perhaps you may learn from our experience and wisely discern biblical truth from the error of man.  That is my humble prayer to all who read this.