Website: Critical Issues Commentary
You can find the other portions of this program, Led by The Spirit, here: Below is Part 2c
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19, 20).
This article explores the idea of apostles in the church throughout church history. In it I will show that the restoration/Latter Rain idea that fuels the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is unbiblical and dangerous to the well-being of Christians who become part of it.
First we will review how the early church understood apostles in church history. Then we will examine the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching about apostolic authority. From there we will examine the ideas of a 17th-century mystic given new life in the Latter Rain movement, and now the NAR.
At a 1996 Fuller Seminary conference hosted by C. Peter Wagner, a movement that Wagner previously labeled “post-denominational” became the New Apostolic Reformation.1 Besides Wagner himself is another person prominent in the movement—Bill Hamon—who is strongly endorsed by Wagner. Hamon is important, as we will see, because his ministry goes all the way back to the early 1950’s and began on the heels of the Latter Rain Movement.
How the Early Church Understood Apostles
In 97 AD, Clement of Rome wrote an epistle to the church at Corinth. The epistle provides solid evidence that the early church did not believe that the apostles had successors or that new apostles were needed in order to provide direction to the church. At issue was the fact that certain individuals in Corinth challenged the duly constituted elders’ authority; Clement wrote to correct them. Clement’s testimony is remarkable because he likely was the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3, whom Paul called a “fellow worker.” Clement mentions the apostles in this passage:
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.2
Although the Roman Catholic Church claims that Clement himself was an apostle of Christ in succession from Peter, Clement claimed no such title and neither did he acknowledge any apostles but the true apostles—the ones Christ appointed personally. What we will see from Clement is that the apostles appointed overseers and elders (the same group), and these were the authorities in the local church. The apostle Paul had given instructions on the qualifications and roles of elders (Acts 20:28 – 31; Titus 1:5-9; 1Timothy 3:1 – 7) and provided for their continuation (2Timothy 2:2). Clement goes on to discuss this:
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them.3
Clement did not claim the apostolic authority to intervene, but rather pointed to elders who were appointed according to the standards of the Biblical apostles. It is noteworthy that he used the terms “episcopate” and “presbyters” interchangeably for the same people. Soon the church would develop “bishops” over cities (the “monepiscopate” or single bishop over a city), which was an innovation not endorsed by the Biblical apostles. However, Clement, who had been an associate of Paul, used episkopos (overseers or bishops – KJV) and presbuteros (elders) to describe the same group of people. This is precisely what Paul did in Acts 20:17, 28 when he called the elders together and described them as “overseers.”
By 97 AD, the authorities in the church were not apostles and prophets, but elders who had been appointed according to the standards lain down by the apostles. Those who claim that God always intended there to be authoritative apostles in the church who give binding revelation ignore the fact that the apostles themselves never anticipated that they would have successors and gave no instructions for the qualifications of any such successors…
The Roman Catholic Church’s Apostles
As church history progressed, the understanding of church authority as seen in the days of Clement of Rome disappeared very quickly in favor of the monepiscopate and progressed from that unbiblical innovation to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This idea eventually led to the Papacy. Later in church history, and in amazing irony, the Roman Catholic Church claimed that Clement was a successor of Peter and had apostolic status. This travesty dishonors the very teachings of Clement himself who taught no such thing….
17th Century Mystic Jane Leade Prophesies of a Coming Elite Church
One of the problems that attended the Reformation was the presence of “enthusiasts” who claimed direct revelation from God. The Reformers universally condemned such persons and movements, but that did not deter them from gaining followers. One who arose a century after the Reformation and who continues to have followers was an English mystic named Jane Leade. Her writings are posted on the Internet by persons who have affiliations with latter day apostles and prophets. She held to a theory of church history that claimed that the seven churches in Revelation stood for seven successive stages of church history. There are some today who still teach this theory. The problem with it is that there is nothing in Revelation itself that indicates John expected his readers to understand it that way. This is a classic case of the reader determining the meaning of the Bible rather than the Spirit-inspired author.
Leade was particularly interested in the church at Philadelphia because Christ found no fault in it. She was involved in a movement called “The Philadelphian Society,” named after that church. In 1679, the Philadelphian Society and the Theosophists published a document containing a 60-point prophecy by Jane Leade (the document has her name as Lead).8 The document proposes ideas that resurfaced in 1948 in the Latter Rain movement, and, as we shall see, are still being promoted by a key Apostle-prophet of the New Apostolic Reformation.
The first several points of the prophecy are about sealed mysteries that would be revealed only to “worthy searchers.” She claimed that there was an Ark of the Testimony in heaven containing new revelations to be opened during the church age. She wrote under point 8, “The presence of this divine ark, will constitute the Philadelphian Church, and wherever that is, there must the ark of necessity be.” Thus the group was called the “Philadelphian Society” which published “Theosophical Transactions.”9 She goes on to prophesy of an elite church that would be beyond anything previously known. In fact this church would be a “virgin” that would give birth to the “son” mentioned in Revelation 12:5:
14. Of the stem of DAVID, a virgin church, which hath known nothing of man or of human constitution, is yet to be born. 15. And if it be yet to be born, then it will require some considerable time before it gets out of its minority, and arrives to the full and mature age. 16. The birth of this virgin church was visionally typified to St. JOHN by the great wonder in Heaven bringing forth her first born, that was caught up to the throne of GOD 17. FOR — As a virgin woman brought forth CHRIST after the flesh, so likewise a virgin woman is designed by God, to bring forth the FIRST BORN after the Spirit, who shall be filled with the Holy Ghost and with power. 18. The VIRGIN that is hereto designed, must be as of a pure spirit, so also of a CLARIFIED body, and all over impregnated with the Holy Ghost. 19. This church so brought forth and signed with the mark of the divine name, shall be adorned with MIRACULOUS GIFTS AND POWERS beyond whatever yet hath been. . . . 23. This Catholic and anointed church must be perfectly holy, as CHRIST himself is holy; so that it may worthily bear the name of the Lord our Holiness, and the Lord our Righteousness. 24. Until there be such a church made ready upon the earth, so holy, so catholic, and so anointed, that is without all spot or wrinkle, and that is adorned as a bride to meet her bridegroom, CHRIST will not personally descend to solemnize this marriage, and present the same to his Father.
This prophecy of a perfected church (later called the “many-membered man-child”10 ) that will be the incarnation of Christ on the earth while Christ remains in heaven sets the stage for the Latter Rain movement in the 20th Century that would make the same claims. Whether that movement got its ideas from Leade or came up with the same heresy independently I cannot say at this time. But the ideas are identical. The church must be perfected on earth before Christ can return, and this shall be accompanied with miracles and power greater that at any time in church history—including Pentecost.
The Latter Rain Movement: Five Fold Ministry Elitism
In the 1930s, a man by the name of William Branham began to preach and exhibit supernatural manifestations. George Hawtin and P. G. Hunt heard Branham speak in Vancouver and brought his ideas to North Battleford, Saskatchewan where the “Latter Rain” revival that became the New Order of the Later Rain (NOLR) actually began. A key book that was circulated at that time was Atomic Power with God Through Prayer and Fasting by Franklin Hall. A key idea that still persists is that God is continually desiring to do great and powerful miracles through the church but is unable to do so because the church has not become holy enough, desired it badly enough, has failed in numerous other ways, or lacks the faith that is necessary to precipitate these miracles. The Latter Rain has always been predicated on elitist ideas such as those of Jane Leade previously cited. They consider ordinary churches to be miserable failures that God cannot use.
In 1951, George Warnock wrote a book that became one of the most important statements of the ideas of the NOLR, The Feast of Tabernacles. The book is based on an allegorical interpretation of the feasts of Israel that has the Feast of Tabernacles standing for a glorious end-times church that would arise before Christ can return. The entire book can be read online, as it is posted by current advocates of Latter Rain theology.
Warnock, like Myland, allegorized the rains in Israel to make them create a scheme of church history:
Joel’s prophecy, therefore, speaks of Pentecost–but it goes on to embrace the fullness of Pentecost, even the Feast of Tabernacles. God did give the former rain moderately–in the Pentecostal Age extending from the early Church until now. But here is something very unusual. Right here in the “first month” of the Agricultural Year . . . God has promised to do something most unusual; for He would give, not only the former rain which belongs to that month, but He would give the former rain and the latter rain combined!”11
This he interpreted to mean that the Latter Rain would be characterized by far greater power and glory than what was seen in the Book of Acts. Warnock thereby set the stage for the grandiose claims that are made by the apostles and prophets of our day. It is not inaccurate to say that there is no claim so grandiose that the latter day apostles will not make it. We shall demonstrate that when we examine the writings of one of their top leaders.
Warnock also claimed, like Jane Leade, that Jesus would remain in heaven until after the church achieved elite status never before seen in church history, including that of the Biblical days:
O the immensity of these words! And what is more, Christ is going to remain right where He is at God’s right hand until there shall arise a group of overcomers who shall conquer over all God’s enemies. . . . And yet the majority of Christians are looking for a rapture any moment, when Christ is supposed to catch away a miserable, defeated, disease-ridden Church.
Notice that ordinary Christians, in this elitist thinking, are “miserable, defeated, and disease ridden.”
One of the most heretical teachings associated with the NOLR was called “the manifested sons of God” that claimed that certain elite Christians would obtain the promise of immortality (as promised in Romans 8:19) now rather than at the parousia. Warnock taught that all enemies, in which he included death, the “last enemy,” had to be conquered by the church before Christ could return: “God says Christ is going to stay right where He is until all His enemies are under His feet. And His enemies include the “last enemy,” which is Death. There must arise a group of overcomers who shall conquer and become absolutely victorious over all the opposing forces of the world, the flesh, and the Devil–before this dispensation draws to a close.” 12 The “overcomers” is another term used by the Latter Rain to describe elitist Christians who are to be distinguished from the rest of us. This is in spite of the fact that the following verse applies to all Christians: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith” (1John 5:4).
One of the ironies of the Latter Rain and New Apostolic Reformation movements (the latter is merely the current version of the former as I will demonstrate) is that they hold to a “restoration” scenario in which God is supposedly progressively restoring truths lost during church history and now are being restored starting with the Reformation..
But ironically, NOLR and NAR teachers constantly contradict and reject important Reformation doctrines. They want to claim the Reformation as theirs and reject it at the same time.
Hamon became involved with C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation at its very inception:
The National Symposium on the Post-Denominational Church convened by Dr. C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Seminary, May 21-23, 1996, was a historical occasion in God’s annals of Church history. It was prophetically orchestrated by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s progressive purpose of bringing His Church to its ultimate destiny. . . . The consensus of the panelists was that there are still apostles and prophets in the Church, and that there is an emerging Apostolic Movement that will revolutionize the 21st-century Church. The last-generation Church will have an Apostolic Reformation that will be as great as the first-generation Apostolic Movement.16
With Wagner’s endorsement, Hamon brought the teachings of the Latter Rain movement into the NAR.
Latter Rain Heresy is Renamed and Reintroduced
The differences between the Latter Rain Movement and the New Apostolic Reformation mostly have to do with terminology, not doctrine. In the 1980s, a teaching circulated amongst those who attend conferences put on by those in the prophetic movement called “a new breed of man.” The basic idea is that ordinary Christians throughout church history had been colossal failures and that God was going to fall upon certain persons by His Holy Spirit and “impregnate” them so that they could “give birth” to something entirely new. The “new breed of man” would be exalted saints with holiness and power never known before. I remember debating people at the time who were following this teaching.
Bill Hamon includes the “new breed” idea in his teachings:
“The new breed of Joshua Generation apostles will move in the miraculous and definitely manifest the signs of the apostle.”23
The “Joshua Generation” is another allegory popular in this movement. The crossing of the Jordan into the promised land by Israel is allegorized to mean the triumph of the church over all enemies so as to take the land, “every place your sole treads” they claim. The “new breed” means that they are not of the same order of humans as other Christians who have ever existed.
Hamon further states: “Let it suffice to say here that the new breed of apostles will be motivated by the Spirit of Wisdom.”24
The NAR claims that Christ is coming IN the church not FOR the church. Hamon claims that he himself is one of God’s “new breed” of last-days apostles.25
The Joel’s Army Heresy Reintroduced
One of the discredited teachings of the NOLR was called “Joel’s Army.” The claim was that Joel 2:1-11 predicts that the end time church will be “Joel’s Army” that will execute God’s judgments on the earth. This is another false Latter Rain teaching that Bill Hamon still propagates. Here is his claim:
The saints are being trained now in the military bases of international training centers and their local church armories. The goal is to have them taught, equipped and field trained to be the officers that lead God’s army of prophetic evangelist saints during the coming Saints Movement. They will minister under the covering and leadership of fivefold apostolic and prophetic generals who trained them. These saints will function like God’s army prophetically described by Prophet Joel (Joel 2:1-11).29
The “Kingdom Now” Heresy Reintroduced
Another “movement” that Hamon predicts he calls “The Kingdom Establishing Movement.”31 Here he makes even more grandiose claims:
The movement will not cease until all knees bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus is the true Lord God over all the earth. That does not imply that everyone who makes that confession or acknowledgement is saved. However, there will be such worldwide demonstration of God’s power over the elements, people raised from the dead, miraculous control of natural catastrophes, miraculous prophetic words and endless supernatural manifestations, signs and wonders, until everyone will have to acknowledge that there is no god like Jesus Christ, the God of gods and Lord of lords.32
The Bible Prophesies End Times Delusion
Having seen the consistent claims spanning several centuries right up to the present that elite Christians shall arise and overcome death before the rapture, do greater miracles than those of the Biblical accounts, defeat all of God’s enemies while Christ remains “held in the heavens,” and become the virgin born, new breed of man, manifested sons, the very incarnation of God on earth, etc., let us consider what the Bible predicts about the end time. The Bible teaches none of these heretical doctrines uniformly based on allegorized Scripture, but rather teaches that massive deception through false signs and wonders would characterize the end of the age.
Jesus said: “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. . . . For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:11, 24). He did not tell us to look for a “new breed” of “anointed ones” (christs) but warned us to avoid their deceptions.
Paul predicted perilous times of sin and evil at the end of the age where men will oppose the truth by doing false signs and wonders like Pharaoh’s magicians opposed Moses (2Timothy 3:1-8). Peter predicted that false teachers would arise and seek to seduce the church by exploiting us with “false words” (2Peter 2:1-3). John warned us that in the last hour there are false “anointed ones” (antichrists). Paul tells us where this is all headed: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,” (2Thessalonians 2:3).
Furthermore, the passages in Revelation that the elitist, NAR and NOLR apostles appropriate for themselves, do not teach the church triumphs over the world through her own efforts while Jesus is “held in the heavens.” Their interpretations are fanciful and not based on any sound hermeneutic. They allegorize the Bible because there is no way to find their ideas in the Bible if taken literally. We need to decide whether to believe what Jesus, Paul, John and Peter said in the inerrant Scripture or the prophecies of people who claim to be new apostles and prophets while simultaneously contradicting the teachings of the true apostles and prophets.
Church history has shown that whenever new claimants to the office of apostle have arisen, so have false teachings. The teachings of many such persons today, as we have seen, are shocking in the extremity of their error. Yet C. Peter Wagner claims that churches that he terms “apostolic” in this new sense are part of the fastest growing segment of the church in the world today.34 Perhaps he is right; but if he is, this is proof of massive end time apostasy and not the revival he claims it to be.
The only binding authority in the church is that of Scripture. God does not bind us to mixture, error, or the musings of men. The false apostles and prophets of the NOLR and NAR have no power over the true, blood-bought church of God.
Prophets that are less than inerrant have nothing to sell but fear: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
The grandiose claims that span from Leade, to Warnock, to Branham, to Paulk, and to Hamon have never come to pass, and they never will. There will be no virgin born, many-membered man-child, Elijah company, new breed of man, new incarnation of the Christ on earth or any other such blasphemy.
*Some portions were omitted because of length, but you can read it all HERE.