This is the final installment in this series considering the NAR – new apostolic reformation. I want to emphasize again that most of those involved in this movement are godly, sincere, passionate believers. You would want these men and women as neighbors. Let”s face it.. 30% of what you and I believe today is in error.. but which 30% is it? It’s a difficult task to even become aware of the lenses through which we view the world.
We have many warnings in the NT regarding the false teaching that will be common in the last days. And we are in the last days. The last days began with Jesus ascension, and they will continue until His return. Until that parousia, we live in transitional times: when the Kingdom of God is present, but not fully upon us.
One of the warnings in the NT is that there will be false teachers, who will say to us, “Look, here it is!” and “there it is!” Some of these will be pointing to new messiahs, but others to new revelation of the kingdom, prophetic “keys” without which Jesus return isn’t possible. Jesus answer to these teachers? “Don”t believe them, for I have come.” It isn’t possible to locate a single fulcrum for the kingdom that is not already clearly revealed in Scripture..
This verse is interesting. The prophets say, “Lo, there it is!” Jesus response is “Don’t believe them, for I have come.” I think the error Jesus points to is the identification of the kingdom and the church. When our theology merges ekklesia and basiliea, the church and the kingdom, we inevitably fall into millenarian errors. The church and the kingdom are not the same. The church is a sign and foretaste of the kingdom. When they are too closely identified, we end with black and white thinking, where we believe we can build a perfect church. Only God’s kingdom is perfect, and we don’t build it. The NT verbs are clear: we can only receive His kingdom as a gift. (For more on this see George Hunsberger “Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God” in Missional Church or view my paper Six Theological Issues for the Canadian Church”.
My focus in this series has been on apostolic leaders. It is teachers, Paul reminds us, who will incur the greater judgment. Teachers bear the greater responsibility for error.
The Character of Apostolic Service
The heart of apostolic service is a willingness to embrace the cross. This means a deep requirement for moral courage. Any leader who cannot take an unpopular stand is going to be like a flag waving in the ever changing wind. But it isn’t only leaders who take unpopular stands; parents too must do this. Every father has gone through a stripping process in fathering where he has learned to give himself for his children, often at personal cost. Every mother who has endured birthing and then wakes up twice during the night to nurse her baby pays the cost of parenting in her body. Any time one must stand against the cultural tide with a teenage daughter or son, one discovers that parenting isn’t always glorious.
Paul characterizes apostolic ministry as parenting. “For if you have many tutors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul not only considers himself a father in Christ, but continually demonstrates this characteristic in his appeals. He will “most gladly spend and be expended for [their] souls,” (2 Cor. 12:15) and he is “exhorting and imploring and encouraging each one of you, as a father would his children” (1 Thess. 2:11).
In “Houses that Change the World,” Wolfgang Simson contrasts “exploiting” leadership with “empowering” leadership (page 208.)
Family Systems and Church Systems
When I was training as a family counselor we talked about the dynamics of family systems. We learned that some families are centripetal.. they tend to continually pull their members back toward a center. Other families are centrifugal.. they tend to continually push their members away from the center. (David Olson”s circumplex model offers a similar taxonomy). Healthy families tend to hold these dynamics in tension. When the pull toward the center is too strong, then when children grow in independence they are accused of disloyalty. It becomes very hard to mature and to leave home. (There is a great volume on church as family systems titled How Your Church Family Works).
Centripetal families see the world in black and white terms. We are good. The world is bad. This makes it easier to keep kids close to home (or to retain adherents), because we are where the truth is.. we are the only really safe place around. Especially in apocalyptic times, the stakes are high. God is doing a wonderful new thing.. and you have to stay with us to be part of it. (And by the way this makes it much easier for us to pay our staff and our mortgage and promote the new building.)
Any movement which sees all the danger outside itself partakes of the unhealthy dynamics of scapegoating. So long as we focus on the problems outside our own group, we can gloss over our own problems. This distorted lens makes it possible to generate exceptional loyalty. It is no different than the prejudice that says “all Muslims are violent” or “all Christians want to rape and destroy creation.” The world simply does not exist in such black and white terms.
Worse, when our gaze is focused outward we stop doing the internal work necessary for our own growth. A certain amount of navel gazing is healthy for a system. Over the years I have learned that the most trustworthy people are the ones who are always questioning their own motives.
Diversity and disagreement are not valued in centripetal systems. In order to leave home in a centripetal family it requires an explosion. Unhealthy families are always having explosions; it”s the only way they can separate, or individuate and grow.
Churches are a type of family system. When they view the world in black and white terms, inevitably the world is bad and the church is good. Therefore if you don”t see the issue exactly as we see it, since we are good.. you must be bad. Often this comes with a “Gnosticism light,” where nature is fallen but the inner world of spirit is perfect.
It’s tough to value diversity in a dualistic system. This means that people are run through a mold where they are squeezed to fit a certain shape. And inevitably, when people are tired of running the race, always buying the party line, and they want to leave, they are seen as disloyal. Unhealthy churches have cycles of huge conflict, with huge cycles in membership numbers from boom to bust.
The restorationist movement represents prophetic error. In some ways, this is not a big deal. We all live with a certain amount of error. The new apostolic reformation, however, worries me a bit more. Any move to centralize authority and anchor in certain individuals, a global episcopate if you will, is fraught with hazards.
But who knows — perhaps something else is happening here. Are Mega-Churches Birthing the House Church Movement?
I don’t really have an answer to these questions, but I do know that the Lord is speaking to many about getting face to face, and getting outside the walls. Whether or not you remain connected to a large and organized church, find ways to build deep relationships with your friends and neighbors. If you happen to be serving in a church that is connected to the NAR movement or is otherwise restorationist, don’t assume you must leave it. Ask the Lord what you need to do. Consult with trusted friends both within and outside your community.
If you have personally been wounded by a church or religious group, click here: recovering from religious abuse
Fresno Dave responded to this series with his own series, The Reduction of Seduction