“Eighty and six years have I served Him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” – Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna
A friend of mine posted an article on facebook just the other day by one Robert Arakaki. Mr. Arakaki (or perhaps he holds some other title, I’m not sure) penned a piece pitting Christian Orthodoxy versus the “New Apostolic” movement: “New Apostles or Old Heresy? An Orthodox Perspective on the New Apostolic Reformation.” It is a well written article and a very good read. And while I have a number of comments to make regarding Arakaki’s defense of orthodoxy, I want to lay out at the front of this that I, a protestant/evangelical/charismatic actually agree with [most of] his arguments against the New Apostolic movement. In fact, I think I would apply his arguments even more broadly, to include some churches that are evangelical in nature, but not necessarily “New Apostolic” in their application.
Mr. Arakaki (understandably) views church history through the lens of orthodoxy, which goes something like this: Jesus established the church with an apostolic bishopric that was passed down through the generations, the Roman Catholics broke away about 1000 years later, The protestants broke from the Catholics with Luther and the reformation, and then splintered into many different groups including the Pentecostals in the early 1900s and eventually the New Apostolic Reformation some time later. (While not giving a specific time for the latter, I would say that it was probably sometime in the 40s or 50s, picking up more steam in the 80s and 90s.) Mr. Arakaki holds that all these other groups are errant and have broken from the true faith. I disagree (obviously), but this really isn’t a post about who is right or wrong (at least not to that level).
I’m not a theologian (I’m a mathematician), though I do talk theology from time to time with some of my friends. Thus, it is an odd coincidence when the gnosis heresy comes up twice in the time frame of a few weeks. But, here we are; and I was just talking about this heresy a few weeks back regarding the “Word of Faith” movement (certainly somewhat correlated with the New Apostolic movement).
The heresy deals fundamentally with a claim to “secret knowledge” … here is what Mr. Arakaki has to say:
One of the earliest heresies was the heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that physical matter was inferior to the spirit realm. They did not outright reject the church or the bishops but believed that they possessed a secret superior knowledge (gnosis). They believed that because the bishops’ teaching authority rested on the institutional authority it was inferior to theirs which was based on divine illumination by the Holy Spirit and by a secret esoteric theology.
Of course, the new words aren’t “secret knowledge” but “revelation knowledge”. This ties the idea neatly back to scripture (see Peter’s revelation regarding Christ, and the Lord’s declaration that “flesh and blood did not reveal this too you, but My Father in heaven”).
There is a reasonable question here regarding authority. As Mr. Arakaki notes, these “New” apostles essentially appear out of nowhere. They obviously don’t have any sort of physical retracement to the original apostles (as the Orthodox church will claim to have). So what is their claim to apostolic authority? They will claim it is the anointing itself, sort of a “believe me for the works sake” argument (John 14:11). But this defense can only go so far: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible” (Matt 24:24).
Now, I don’t have a problem if somebody wants to call themselves “apostle” – it really is of no great concern to me what title they use. I personally wouldn’t do it, but if you feel strongly that the Lord has laid that title on you, then fine, I won’t stand in your way. The stepping off point (for the Protestant anyway … more on that in a moment) is the Bible itself. If you are an “apostle” and preach doctrines contrary to the Bible, then I really have no time for you. If you want to claim that God has revealed new truths to you then fine, but they’d better line up with the Bible or you can’t reasonably expect us to follow you. Say what you will about the Canon, but I have a fair confidence that the Lord is able to preserve the text in a way that is nourishing to His church. And if God “reveals” a new interpretation of scripture, that bends and twists the meaning into something other than the “plain meaning” of the text, then I am reminded of II Pet 3:16 (Peter, speaking of Paul’s letters): “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Walking Through the Desert …
Mr. Arakaki goes on to consider the differences in the worship styles between charismatic churches and orthodox churches.
Many people are drawn to the New Apostolic Reformation churches because they provide powerful worship experiences. Oftentimes Pentecostals and charismatics describe worship in terms of getting high on God. But there is a danger here of becoming dependent on spiritual highs. What happens when one no longer gets a spiritual high in worship? What happens when one enters into a spiritual desert?
Here again, we agree, and I suspect Mr. Arakaki knows the answer to the questions he poses – and knows that (some) charismatics struggle with the issue. There are, in all of our lives, times of desert wandering, times of pain, times of difficulty. Springtime is preceded by winter.
It has been the case in my experience that (some) charismatics struggle with walking through those hard phases. They (we) like the fun times, we like the “spiritual high” (though, I don’t think I really use those terms) – and why not? But do we feel abandoned by God when things are less than “high”?
I don’t at all mean here that I oppose a rockin’ worship set to kick off church services. No, I rather enjoy it. But charismatics struggle, we really do, with what to do when things aren’t rockin’. We turn it into some form of spiritual warfare, some form of an “attack of the enemy” – we are all-to-often like children moping about on a rainy day, not realizing that without the rain our lives are unsustainable. The rain brings us water and food, but it means we can’t play outside today.
Not Invented Here …
The next point, and where Mr. Arakaki and I will begin to part ways just a bit, is the “not invented here” defense. By that I mean the orthodox claim of “true succession” from the apostles. The argument goes something like this: “the Orthodox church is the true church, the New Apostles don’t follow the Orthodox church, therefore they are not of the true church.” It’s a rather circular reasoning that rests on nothing more than its baseline assumptions. (Side note: being “right” is only half the battle here. While I don’t think Mr. Arakaki is right on this note, I will further say that even if he was, he’ll need a better argument than this.)
It’s interesting to me that we see from this a reversion to the “standard defense” of traditionalism. He goes to II Thess 2:15 speaking about the “holding the traditions” and then to several verses in II Tim talking about “holding fast” (1:13-14) and committing things to faithful men (2:2). I note that this is a “standard defense” because I’ve heard it in other places to defend other sects. (And, I will also note, that the New Apostles, or even just the charismatics, also have “standard defense” verses. We usually go to Heb 13:17 “obey your leaders and submit to their authority” when a parishioner is pressing hard questions about doctrines and interpretations.)
The line of reasoning leaves itself open to any number of Biblical pushbacks though. First, we must consider the man driving out demons in Luke 9:49-50
“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Got that? This guy was driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and the disciples tried to stop him because he wasn’t one of them. Now, disagreements over theology are a far cry from “trying to stop” somebody from preaching – but I think the point holds. If somebody is out there trying to work for the Lord and we feel like they are doing so errantly (perhaps even causing more harm than good) our response had better not be “you’re not one of us, so you have to stop”.
Then there is this whole question of rightful succession of authority. Jesus also deals with this issue. Consider Matt 23:1-4:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
So, here is Jesus actually acceding to the authority of the Pharisees in regards to the old covenant. The Pharisees! Was there a group He waylaid more than the Pharisees? They held the rightful succession of authority under the traditions of the old covenant and they had gone so far from God.
Now, this doesn’t mean that it is always God’s intention that succession of authority under earthly institutions breaks beyond repair. No, I suspect that He actually wanted the Pharisees to do right (if my reading of the minor prophets is in any way reliable, that is). My point here is simply that rightful succession of authority is not prima facie indicative of the Lord’s approval.
Now, about that Bible …
Mr. Arakaki also takes a swipe at protestantism as a whole with this: “Protestantism teaches that all we need for being a Christian is the Bible alone. This teaching is erroneous.” I want to be careful here not to put words into his mouth, because he actually makes a very legitimate point next by describing how many churches become chained to a talented preacher’s interpretation of the Bible (which may be wrong). But it certainly is a legitimate to say that in protestant churches (good ones anyway) there is a strong push for each person to read the scriptures, understand the scriptures, and apply the scriptures to their lives – AND that we must not merely take another man’s word for their meaning, but we must read and understand them ourselves.
I’m not exactly sure what part of that Mr. Arakaki opposes. He actually supports the notion earlier in the article with his discussion of the restoration of apostles and prophets (remember, the thrust of the article is about the New Apostolic Reformation, not protestantism in general):
The claim for the restoration of the offices of prophet and apostle is significant. The office of pastor and teacher is based upon the careful study of the Bible. There is a certain amount of equality and accountability with the Bible teacher. If one disagrees with the teacher, both sides can study together what the Bible passage says. But how does one respond to: “The Lord told me to do this” or “Thus says the Lord….”? Unless one can claim a similar direct link to the Holy Spirit, how can one challenge this? One runs the risk of defying the direct will of God or worse yet submitting to spiritual deception. The risk in the restoration of the governing ministries is that church authority affects doctrine, worship, and ultimately our relationship with God. [emphasis added]
I think this point is utterly spot-on. “If one disagrees with the teacher, both sides can study together what the Bible passage says.” That’s all we’re saying.
Though, he does go on to hit another key point about claimants to authority (remember my earlier point about “standard defenses” and the abusive use of Heb 13:17?). We have certainly seen in a number of instances preachers who say that if you go against them (based on your own reading of the scripture) then you are defying God. Run from such folks … run fast.
I’m reminded here of the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Philip goes down to the caravan, hears the eunuch reading the prophet Isaiah, and presents him with the gospel. The eunuch accepts Christ, is baptized, and as far as we know never meets another Christian again as long as he lives – even Philip disappears from his presence. OK, maybe he does meet other Christians, but the notion that he slides right into fellowship of a local assembly of the Orthodox church is silly (no, Mr. Arakaki does not make such a claim). But, we do know that he had a “Bible” such as it was in those days, and that he read it.
The Better Way …
Here we hit out on a point not expressly addressed by Mr. Arakaki, but this is my blog so I get to write what I want. How do we understand church movements and where we ought to fit in? Do we hold to traditions as a safehaven (the Orthodox defense)? Do we follow signs and wonders (the New Apostolic defense)? I would say neither. I prefer fruit.
We know the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). These should spring from your relationship with God (“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:5). And how did the Lord tell us to recognize false prophets? Also by their fruit (Matt 7:15-23).
Whatever your denomination, look for these things in your own life and in the lives of church leadership.
There is a simple difference between shepherds and wolves – their intentions regarding the sheep. Are you in a “good” church? Answer me this: does the church exist to shepherd the people or do the people exist to be consumed by the church? It can be a subtle difference, but one to watch out for nonetheless. Even the wolves themselves may not understand the difference. In the Matt 7:15-23 passage mentioned above, the false prophets were shocked to find out that the Lord had rejected them (“Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”).
Whatever your denomination, the orientation of the local assembly of believers ought to be toward building up the lives of the local assembly of believers. The rest follows from that.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
“We love because he first loved us.If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:19-21