New Apostolic Church (3)
by Eryl Davies
There are four questions that must be discussed in this final article on the NAC. These questions enable us to explore further the ethos and fallibility of this group.
Is the NAC cultic?
Our first question is basic: Is the NAC cultic? Consider the following evidence. We are informed that ‘Faithful members of the NAC ask for advice before making all important decisions’ (Doctrine of the New Apostolic Church, p.3). These decisions relate to such major steps as marriage, employment, house relocation and so on.
It is wise to seek advice before making major personal decisions. One suspects, however, that it is permission rather than advice that NAC leaders seek to give. This points to a rigid control of members’ lives.
Look at it from another perspective. The ‘ideal NAC member’, we are informed, ‘believes everything’ that an NAC leader says, ‘unchecked, without understanding … and without any question’.
The authority of leaders, therefore, is absolute — blind and total obedience in everything is demanded from members. ‘There should be no criticism’ of NAC doctrine, we are told, ‘either in private or at NAC meetings’ (p.4).
What if an NAC member disagrees with what is taught? The procedure is clear: ‘there is no discussion…’ (p.2). ‘All decisions’, it is stressed, are made centrally.
Add to this NAC’s claim to exclusivity — no one can know God, receive forgiveness or the Holy Spirit except through the NAC — and we have an alarming picture.
A passive, unquestioning submission to all that is taught or commanded by leaders exposes members to the dangers of mind-control, exploitation and the loss of personal freedom.
The recommendation that members should put photographs of their chief leader in their homes increases one’s conviction that NAC is cultic.
Support for Hitler?
A second question relates to NAC’s past history: Did leaders support Hitler’s regime in the 1930s-40s?
The evidence points to an affirmative answer. During the period when over six million Jews were exterminated and many confessing Christians exiled, tortured or murdered by the Nazis, the NAC was actively supporting Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist regime.
As early as 1932, the NAC Chief Apostle, Johann Bischoff, corresponded personally with Hitler. Messages of support were sent by Bischoff to Hitler, some of which claimed that Hitler was God’s specially chosen emissary.
After Hitler came to power in March 1933, Bischoff wrote to all the German congregations denouncing as ‘atrocity propaganda’ the criticisms being made of Hitler’s government.
Support for Hitler from the NAC appears to have been extensive. At least thirteen German NAC leaders were members of the Nazi Party; opponents of Hitler were excommunicated; NAC young people were encouraged to join the Nazi Party; and finance was raised for the Party.
This is shameful — but has the group learnt its lesson? One wonders. For example, in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), NAC youth were directed to give enthusiastic support to the Communist Party’s Youth Movement.
Leaders of NAC also gave public support for the Communist government there, despite their ruthless policies of oppression.
My third question: Has the NAC, contrary to Scripture, indulged in ‘date fixing’ concerning the Lord’s return?
Yes, and there is a background to NAC predictions. The forerunner of NAC is the Catholic Apostolic Church (CAC), which also gave several dates for Christ’s personal return in glory.
The dates given were 1835, 1838, 1842, 1845, 1855, 1866 and 1877. There was disappointment when each date passed without fulfilment of the prophecy.
After division within the church, two new ‘apostles’, Schwarz and Krebs, taught wrongly that the Lord would return before they themselves died. However, the most famous failed prediction was in the early 1950s.
It was on Christmas Day 1951 that Johann Bischoff, the NAC leader, predicted that Jesus would return during his lifetime.
Over three years later, in July 1954, Bischoff told his supporters at a church service: ‘The Lord has let us know that he will come during my lifetime, and thus during your lifetime too. If you cannot make yourself believe in this, if you do not make this final step, you will remain outside’.
His prediction was elevated to the status of official NAC doctrine and became a condition for membership.
Did Bischoff really believe this prediction? It appears so, for three months later on 12 September 1954 he insisted: ‘I am clearly aware that should I die — which will not be the case — then God’s work would be destroyed … Should the case really be that I go home, which it will not be, then the work of redemption would be ruined’.
Needless to say, when Bischoff died in 1960 he was exposed as a false prophet and many NAC members became disillusioned.
After all, they had sold their homes, resigned from employment, cancelled insurance/pension policies and had suffered ridicule for believing Bischoff.
Yet instead of denouncing Bischoff for his failed prediction, NAC leaders had the temerity to claim that God changed his mind!
Why did they not acknowledge that Bischoff was one of the ‘many false prophets’ whom the Lord Jesus said ‘will rise up and deceive many’ (Matthew 24:11)?
The Lord’s teaching concerning the time of his return is abundantly clear: ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only’ (Matthew 24:36).
Here is our final question: What does NAC teach about the ‘unsaved’ who have died?
Their teaching on this point is weird and unbiblical. Briefly, they insist that people can be saved after death but they must ‘still fulfil the same conditions as the living members of the NAC’ (Doctrine of the New Apostolic Church, p.4).
These conditions are: belief in NAC apostles, NAC baptism, ‘holy sealing’ and communion!
A further illustration of NAC’s departure from Bible teaching is their official statement that ‘From time to time the Chief Apostle unlocks the areas of the dead ones’ (p.4) in order to give salvation to some of them.
They are in error at many points here, including the theory that people can be saved after they die. Listen to what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says on this subject.
Death seals our destiny
He tells us in Luke 16:19-31 of two men who died. One was poor but a believer, so immediately at death he went to heaven (v. 22). His name was Lazarus and his condition in heaven was an extremely happy one.
The contrast with the other man who died is stark. He was rich and lived on earth in the lap of luxury (vv. 19, 25), but sadly he was not a believer. Our Lord may have used this rich man as a picture of religious leaders in verse 14, who are described as ‘lovers of money’ rather than lovers of God and his truth.
Death for the rich unbeliever was a tragedy. The Lord Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to what happened to him: ‘the rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades…’ (vv. 22-23). He not only lived on after death but also consciously suffered punishment there.
Nor can anyone leave hell — that is the message of verse 26. Heaven and hell are eternal states with no movement of people from one to the other. Death seals the destiny of each individual.
Contacting the dead
There are other errors in the NAC teaching about unlocking ‘the areas of the dead’. The Bible condemns all attempts to contact the dead and no human has authority over the dead or their future.
That is the prerogative of Jesus Christ alone. In Revelation 1:18, Christ is ‘the first and the last’, eternally existent and omnipotent. He is the Life and the origin of all created life (John 1:1-3). And he alone will judge the dead, both small and great (Revelation 20:11-15).
Christ ‘was dead’ — he tasted death in order to bear the punishment of our sin. Yet he adds amazingly: ‘behold, I am alive for evermore’.
Only this victorious one can claim to ‘have the keys of Death and Hades’. The ‘keys’ point to Christ’s absolute power. He it is who welcomes believers to heaven and sentences unbelievers to hell.
At his second coming, he will reunite body and soul. Then death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
Only Christ is worthy of our trust and obedience.