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Downplaying the Devil in NAR

In a recent article published by the Gospel Coalition in Australia, pastor Stephen Tan, of Regeneration Church in Melbourne, shares his concerns about an upcoming conference called Awakening Australia, and especially about the teachings of the conference’s headline speaker: Bill Johnson, the leader of Bethel Church in Redding, California. I agree with several things Tan writes, and with one thing in particular. He writes: “Johnson encourages Christians to stop focusing on ‘our need to protect ourselves from deception’ and instead ‘our hunger for Him must be seen in our lustful pursuit of spiritual gifts.'”

Tan is right to draw attention to Johnson’s downplaying of discernment. But Bill Johnson isn’t the only one to do so.  The idea that Christians should stop worrying about being deceived — and enthusiastically embrace all manifestations of the miraculous — is common in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). It’s so common that NAR leaders have developed a catch phrase they often tell their followers: “You should trust God’s ability to protect you from being deceived more than you trust Satan’s ability to deceive you.”  And they sometimes tell people, if they just pray and ask God to protect them from being deceived, they don’t have to worry about Satan. They can then embrace all supernatural experiences with gusto. Here are some examples of this teaching by three influential NAR leaders.

From the “apostle” Bill Johnson: “While few would admit it, the attitude of the Church in recent days has been, ‘If I’m uncomfortable with something, it must not be from God.’ This attitude has given rise to many self-appointed watchdogs who poison the Church with their own fears. Hunger for God then gives way to fear of deception. What do I trust most, my ability to be deceived or His ability to keep me? And why do you think He gave us the Comforter? He knew His ways would make us uncomfortable first.” (When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, chapter 7)

From the “prophet” James Goll: “Entire segments of the Body of Christ live in fear of being deceived or led astray by supernatural experiences. Even though there have been excesses and abuses, we have no reason to write off these revelatory encounters. God still speaks today! He does speak to us through visions, dreams, and angelic visitations. There is no reason to fear these spiritual experiences. God is capable of protecting His people from deception and misuse.” (The Seer: The Prophetic Power of Dreams, Visions, and Open Heavens, introduction to Section Two).

From the “apostle/prophet” Bill Hamon: “If we are reluctant to practice the [miraculous] gifts ourselves because we fear that we may be drawing on satan’s [sic1] power rather than God’s, we should simply commit our ministry to God in prayer, asking His Spirit to minister through us and binding any other spirit from doing so. Then we must minister in faith that God has indeed answered our prayer…. The same is true of those who desire to be used in the prophetic ministry. If they commit their ministry each time to the Lord, asking for the Holy Spirit to speak through them and binding any other spirit from doing so, then they can rest in a confidence that God will not allow the devil to use them instead.” (Prophets and the Prophetic Movement, chapter 10)

But the idea that Christians need not worry about Satan deceiving them directly contradicts the teachings of Scripture. And the promise that their protection is guaranteed — by simply saying a prayer prior to prophesying or practicing other miraculous gifts — is very naive.

It’s true that God is much more powerful than Satan. Christ defeated Satan at the cross. Thus we, too, will have ultimate victory over him. But, at the same time, we’re presently engaged in an intense spiritual battle. Scripture gives multiple, sober warnings about the need to be on guard against Satan and his schemes. These warnings are addressed to believers — so no one is exempt from his attacks.

He’s described as an enemy and as a roaring lion, hunting for hapless victims to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He’s also crafty. He disguises himself very effectively so people actually mistake him for an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). One of the ways he deceives people is through false apostles, who pose as true apostles of Christ and bring false teachings into the church (2 Corinthians 11:1-15). Another tool of his deception is supernatural power: he empowers his ministers to perform “lying” miraculous signs and wonders that mislead others (Matthew 7:21-232 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

Given the repeated, serious warnings in Scripture, why would NAR leaders downplay the devil and dangers of being deceived by him? Such warnings should be taken especially seriously in NAR contexts where church leaders claim to be apostles and to possess extraordinary miraculous powers. So why aren’t they?

——–

Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

  1. Hamon, at the beginning of his books, notes that he intentionally does not capitalize Satan’s name in his writings so as “not to acknowledge him, even to the point of violating grammatical rules.”
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21 Responses to “Downplaying the Devil in NAR”

  1. R. R. Says:

    Thanks Holly, I’ll make sure this word gets out there About this. Thank you for your research.

  2. kadri liisa Says:

    To me it seems that in NAR worldwidely there is different understanding about devil hell spiritual warfare also . For example in Chuck Pierce church in Corinth TX there is lot talked about spiritual warfare. However in Estonia one SA NAR fellowship that promotes dr Steve Everett teachings (all is in youtube by that ministry in Tallinn) hell devil is not important topic.

  3. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    We have your book “A New Apostolic Reformation?” And I am continually encouraging people to get a hold of a copy and read it. For years we were part of fellowships which were travelling down this route but we had no Christian background at all and so we would be concerned but not know why. Ultimately God was good to us and let us attend a fellowship which was patently teaching heresy this was Scott Norvell’s Terraforming where, in his book, the few scriptures he uses to justify his premise are either twisted or taken out of context and it was this that brought us up sharp because, by now we knew enough of the Word of God to know when a scripture had been twisted or taken out of context. (This occurs where we now live which is Cyprus a small Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean off the coasts of Syria and Turkey.) God has been so good to us in that despite coming to know Him through the Charismatic Renewal He laid it on our hearts to read His Word from cover to cover regularly. And so we left the fellowship and watched with horror through mediums such as Charisma the ongoing encroachment of NAR. Then we heard about your book and in it all our concerns and unvoiced questions were answered. We were so blessed and grateful that you along with your co-writer, R. Douglas Reivett, were able to put into words that which we were ‘discerning’.
    When thinking about Bethel and all that has come out of there we are so incredibly sad and very mindful of the scripture in Galatians – “you were running the race so well what cut in on you?” I have no doubt whatsoever that when Bethel first came into the view of the general public outside Orange County that it was running so well with the Lord then along came Bill Hamon et al and it was downhill from then on. Utterly tragic not just for those who are being deceived (including some friends of ours) but the leadership themselves. People insist that Bill Johnson is one of the most humble men they have ever met – that is how deep the deception is. Again thank you for your book it has been incredibly helpful.

  4. Holly Says:

    Thanks for your encouraging words, Julia. I’m glad our book has been helpful to you.

  5. roger olson Says:

    While i agree mostly with Holly on this. I am not going to Bethel, i am not interested.
    where i must disagree though is to say that being deceived is also in the camp such as though that agree with those who in the camp of ‘cessationism”. I don,t think that is taught or seen any where in Scripture , unless those that teach this twist Scripture. Paul said in 1st Corinthians chapter 1, verse 7, that all spiritual gifts are here until he revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Even Hank Hanegraaff says that all Spiritural Gifts are for today. Again for the most part i do agree with Holly , in that we are to be on our guard against the devil. But God is so much more Greater. Stay studying Scripture and God will reveal more and more about Him. Pray and seek His Face. as Paul has said , Our God is Faithful.

  6. Reed DePace Says:

    Appreciate your efforts on the NAR.
    Find similar (to same) characteristics in key leaders of ARC churches. Wondering if

  7. Carol Berubee Says:

    Excellent, Holly. And we should add Ephesians 6 to the list of warnings about the Devil.

    Ephesians 6
    10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood [men], but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.

    Paul goes on to list the armor. There is no call for Christians to pray against Satan or to contend with him “head on;” instead, we prepare ourselves as Paul instructs.Notice that this is armor, not weaponry, per se.

    The first piece of armor is truth (v. 14) around the largest part of the body; we have to know doctrine inside and out. We stand with our loins girded with the truth of God’s Word. Second, we have the breastplate of righteousness around the heart (v. 14); this is referring to our standing in Christ, not a personal righteousness (although, the enemy will also attack us concerning personal righteousness).

    Third, we have the feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace (v. 15). This is the armor of the “boot” that will protect us as we walk through this world, but only as we have the glad willingness to preach the Gospel. Walking through this evil place without the Gospel message (the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ) indicates that we aren’t really walking in the love of God, bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

    Fourth, we have the shield of faith (v. 16). Here, we see that it is our faith, steadfast in the underlying truth, that is our defense against the enemy’s fiery darts. First, we guard our life with truth, and then we hoist the shield of faith that further protects us. Fifth, we have the helmet of salvation (v. 17); that is, the hope of salvation, our resurrection (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Romans 8:23).

    Sixth, we are to take up the sword of the Spirit (v. 17), which is the Word of God. Note that this is the only offensive piece, the only true weapon. Remember, the first piece of armor is truth used for defense; we stand with our loins girded in truth found only in the Word of God. And then we have the final piece, the sword of the Spirit, which is also the Word of God, but this is for offense. The Word of God is not only “hidden in our hearts” behind the shield of faith, it is also out front, protecting faith. Our armor and weaponry — our defense and offense — is, primarily, the Word of God, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12-13, 2 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Ephesians 4:14-15).

    Verse 18 speaks of prayer, but it is not a piece of the armor. It also doesn’t have anything to do with attacking Satan. The prayer is for all believers to be able to endure as triumphant soldiers. It would not be unusual for one soldier to help another soldier with his armor. We work together as a unit, helping each other in the battle. And when we see our fellow soldiers wandering away from the protection of the platoon, we venture out with our armor for protection so that we can find him and bring him back.

  8. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    What are ARC churches please? I am not American and live at least six thousand miles away from you guys!

  9. Reed DePace Says:

    Association of Related Churches

  10. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    Thank you Reed, it must be an American thing I have never heard of them!

  11. SeaRegion Says:

    Hey Holly,

    I have responded to two of your claims in this article on Reddit:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/Reformed/comments/9itg3u/in_defense_of_bethel_a_respond_to_the_most/

    Please let me know if I have misrepresented any of your arguments and I would be happy to make any necessary revisions.

    Thanks,

    SeaRegion

  12. Michelle Says:

    My church is an ARC church. In the past they have invited both Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton to speak. I thought they were great…at the time. Now I know a whole lot more because I have been reading my Bible. I had been reading and listening to a lot of Graham Cooke in the past, too. After reading my Bible for a while instead, when I again listened to another Cooke show, I was immediately disturbed but didn’t know why. I started looking at the historical background of his teachings and realized they were New Age, not Bible-based (but cleverly woven in). I no longer listen or read any of them! Now I only serve at my church and do not attend services. I provide Bible studies to church members on spiritual warfare. Our new pastor seems to have cut ties with Bethel and has shown concern and efforts to increase Bible teaching…however they are still an ARC church. I am praying for them. I have not felt God leading me away from serving at this time (only from attending). Recently, they invited Tyler Reagin from Catalyst and Andy Stanley’s ministry and that was also disturbing so I researched that, also. We need to be so wary now. Not less. (To replace regular Bible teaching, I use Chuck Missler’s Koinonia House training online.)

  13. Michelle Says:

    Learn more here: https://www.arcchurches.com/
    They are worldwide.

  14. Mike Deason Says:

    Julia, ARC is essentially a two-level marketing scheme for planting “life-giving” churches. Two of it’s more prominent founders are former Ted Haggard protege, Chris Hodges (Senior Pastor, Church of the Highlands), and Dino Rizzo (Associate Pastor, Church of the Highlands.)

    It basically works like this:

    The first step is what they call the “Discover” step. This is where you decide if “ARC is a good fit for you.” so, you send them $149 and they send you their “8 Church Planting Essentials” video training where you will be introduced to the ARC launch model. Then, you just complete their online application and assessment and if you meet their approval, their will usher you towards step two in the process, “Training.”

    “Training” is a 14 part online video series that also comes with a training manual and other online digital resources. It’ll only set you back $999.

    After your training phase is complete, then you’re going to need some coaching. ARC has that covered as well. According to their website, the coaching phase of their church planting model consists of, “Registration for you and your spouse to attend our 3-day Launch Intensive. The Intensive is a round table training and coaching environment. This is when you will be paired with your ARC Coach and work through your launch plan. Your coach will continue to work with you up to 6 months post launch.”

    Now this will only set you back another $1499.

    So now you’re ready, but you don’t have the funds available to lease a building, buy a high quality sound system, and a couple of HD video screens. ARC is still there to help you by assisting you with matching funding:

    “It takes resources to launch a church and ARC is here to help. We will match dollar-for-dollar the first $50,000 raised to go towards your launch. ARC is built on the generosity of many and believes in ‘paying it forward.’ The funding you receive has been given by pastors that have gone before you, and we ask that you re-invest those dollars through your missions giving so that others coming after you will have this same opportunity.”

    Part of this “missions” giving they “ask” you to reinvest is a perpetual amount which has to be paid back to ARC: 10% until you pay off their matching funds and then a perpetual 2% “re-investment” afterwards.

    (This is all easily verifiable on their website. Out of respect for the privilege of being able to post here, I won’t post the direct link but a Google search should easily get your there.)

    Unfortunately, Luke, for some reason, did not include this church growth methodology in Acts, opting instead to highlight the method which involves boldly proclaiming the Gospel in the face of persecution, appealing to God-breathed scripture, and relying on the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of man towards Christ.

    The influence of ARC is important to me because I live right in the middle of Church of the Highlands footprint and have many friends and family that have an almost cult-like attachment to COTH and “PC” (Pastor Chris.)

  15. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    To Michelle, That brought me up sharp, the mention of Graham Cooke, my husband and I used to be part of his team when he was still based in Southampton, England and still pretty hot on the Word of God whilst teaching about moving in the gift of prophecy. I am talking about 1998 until things at the church started falling apart and our son had just become a father so we moved to be closer to him which was in 2005. By this time I believe Graham already had or was moving to America. He comes from Liverpool originally and was married. I understand he has married again and this does disturb me in that he was divorced and his former wife was a disciple of Jesus and there had been no sexual sin in their marriage so I found it hard to accept their divorce. Therefore I am not at all surprised that he appears to now be walking on a, shall we say, wider path than expected. I am so very, very sad because we had some superb training from Graham. In fact I proofread his second book The Divine Confrontation – you will see my name in the acknowledgements. Oh dear those walking the narrow road seem to be becoming less and less.

  16. Kevin Says:

    Thanks, Holly. WOW! So according to Bill Johnson, the Holy Spirit comforts us when we are made uncomfortable by the weird manifestations supposedly from Him, being seen in the NAR?

    That’s right up there with Jonathan Welton claiming in a Bethel Redding book,

    “I have found throughout Scripture at least 75 examples of things that the New Age has counterfeited, such as having a spirit guide, trances, meditation, auras, power objects, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and more. These actually belong to the church, but they have been stolen and cleverly repackaged.”
    The Physics of Heaven, p. 49.

    In fact, LACK OF PEACE is a warning from God that something is wrong spiritually, in the same way that pain is a warning from our body that something is wrong physically.

  17. CEP Says:

    Thank you Heidi for this informative update on the NAR. I have given several copies of your book to others in my congregation. Unfortunately, my church will not denounce the movement but instead state what we are FOR, hoping that will be enough to infform the congregation. Not sure if I should leave. It appears we have some NAR sympathizers among the elders and staff.

  18. Julia Pomeroy Says:

    To Kevin, Thank you for being sensible enough to remind us of a basic premise which we all, from time to time, tend to forget, LACK OF PEACE usually means Holy Spirit is reduced to shouting to get your attention because “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” from the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

  19. Donna Says:

    The NAR is rife with heretics, ministers of darkness, and “apostles” and “prophets” of deceit who are masters of disguise that NO ONE should listen to a single solitary word any of these spiritual monsters have to say…they speak right out of the mouth of satan!!!

  20. VWB Says:

    “‘If I’m uncomfortable with something, it must not be from God.’”

    False framing of the argument. Johnson forgets that part two is the berean method of comparing that ‘something’ to the Word of God to see if it stands. Johnson’s statement serves to demonize Bereans and to shut off thought by followers.

  21. Delkin Says:

    You’re probably seeing a bit of a counter-reaction to the hyper-spiritual warfare of the 80s and 90s. Charismatics used to be huge on territorial spiritual warfare and whatnot but now the pendulum has swung the other way in many corners of the church.

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