Following Christianity Today’s recent cover story on Bethel Church in Redding, California, I’ve been contacted by people wondering about Bill Johnson’s statements made in that article distancing himself from the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The two specific statements he made are that his church does not have any official ties to the NAR and that he’s “not completely clear on what it is.”
Despite Johnson’s distancing himself from the NAR, he very clearly is part of it. Let’s look at his two claims.
What makes the NAR the NAR?
One of Johnson’s claims is that he’s not completely clear on what the NAR is. Interestingly, the author of the Christianity Today article said he laughed with disbelief. I. too, find Johnson’s claim hard to believe because the NAR is all about apostles–and Johnson clearly sees himself as one.
What makes the NAR the NAR? While there are a number of associated teachings, the core NAR teaching is that present-day apostles and prophets must govern the church. By govern, I mean they claim to hold formal offices in church government–like pastors or elders. Except NAR apostles and prophets wield much more authority than pastors and elders because they get direct revelation from God. Pastors and elders are supposed to submit to apostles and prophets, receive their new revelation, and implement the revelation in their churches. Also, unlike pastors or elders, many apostles and prophets have jurisdiction over multiple churches, and not mere oversight of a single church. And the authority of NAR apostles and prophets can extend beyond churches–to workplaces, cities and nations–among institutions that have no connection to the church. Only when churches embrace a government led by apostles and prophets will they be able to transform culture.
So, does Johnson believe that apostles and prophets must govern the church? You bet. Take a look at the Bethel Redding website. Under the tabs “About” and “Our Mission,” you will find these words: “We embrace the biblical government of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” Here’s a screen capture from the current site.
Later in the interview, Johnson said, in his view, the NAR is merely about a desire to see the culture change. He told the reporter: “I’ve seen my name on the list, but if it’s what I think it is, all we’re saying is, we want the culture around us to change.” This is misdirection. Many Christians desire to see the culture change. But Johnson forgot to mention a crucial difference in the view held by him and other NAR leaders: to see the culture change you need apostles.
“No official ties”
The second thing Johnson claimed is that Bethel Church doesn’t have any official ties to the NAR. But Johnson didn’t tell the whole story. What he didn’t mention is that it’s impossible for any church to have official ties to the NAR because the NAR isn’t an organization or a denomination. So there’s no official listing of NAR churches. It’s a large movement in which participants are unified by a shared set of beliefs (beliefs in present-day apostles and prophets who govern the church). And you can’t have official, organizational ties to a set of beliefs. However, many of those in the NAR, including Johnson, have developed intentional networks with one another.
Johnson is unquestionably, if not officially, tied to the NAR. One incident in this regard is very telling. In 2008, Johnson was heralded on international television via GOD TV–along with two other prominent NAR apostles, Che Ahn and John Arnott–as “apostolic pillars of today’s church.” This description of Johnson, Ahn, and Arnott was given by NAR apostle C. Peter Wagner, who also likened them to three of Christ’s twelve apostles–Peter, James, and John. This all took place during a commissioning ceremony for NAR evangelist Todd Bentley, during the Lakeland Revival in Florida.
The purpose of the ceremony was to celebrate the formal “apostolic alignment” of Bentley with these three apostles, who represent an apostolic network called Revival Alliance. By becoming apostolically aligned with these three apostles Bentley was agreeing to come under their authority. This is in line with the NAR teaching that all offices of the church, including the office of evangelist, must submit to apostles.
If that commissioning ceremony doesn’t tie Johnson to the NAR, then what possibly could? Watch the ceremony here.
For a more detailed explanation of NAR teachings, including documentation on how Bethel Church and Johnson promote these teachings, see my co-authored books, A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement (an in-depth examination of the NAR) and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement (a beginner’s introduction to the movement containing practical advice for those who have loved ones in the NAR).