We began to consider this movement last month. The New Apostolic Church (NAC) operates worldwide with about 60,000 congregations and more than 9 million members. There is extensive NAC activity in the United Kingdom.
NAC work in England was launched in 1947 by two German detainees in a prisoner of war camp, at Langdon Hills, near Laindon in Essex. Their names were Duemke and Quessel. They influenced other German prisoners at this time as well as two local English families.
Similarly, some Englishmen serving in the Forces in Germany at the end of World War 2 were contacted by German NAC families. Some of these servicemen became NAC members and continued working actively for the cult on returning to England. Partly for these reasons, NAC work in the UK grew between 1947 and 1965. For example, services were held initially in Laindon, Essex, and in Camberwell Green, London, and in Great Somerford, Wiltshire; but further congregations were then established in Nottingham, Birmingham, Glasgow, Swindon, Bristol, Gloucester, Brynamman (South Wales), Ilfracombe and Tiverton.
Missions were held in many places, some producing settled congregations in places like Dublin, Welling, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Dover, High Wycombe, Leicester, Liverpool, Reading, Meadway and St Albans. The London Central property was bought in 1959 and extended in 1996.
This month I want to consider two key doctrines embraced by NAC.
First of all we consider their view of the Bible. In their Doctrine of the New Apostolic Church (p.2), the NAC makes the claim: ‘The Bible is the basis of the doctrine of the NAC’.
However, do not be fooled by this statement; it is ambiguous and misleading. Am I exaggerating? No, and here is the evidence.
Under a section entitled ‘The Bible’, the NAC makes seven statements concerning the Bible. The statement quoted above is the first of these, but the other six all qualify and contradict this first statement!
The second statement boldly announces: ‘the Bible testifies clearly that the NAC is the correct and only church of God’. No evidence is provided for this wild and extraordinary claim.
The third statement announces that ‘the apocrypha belongs to the Bible text’. This is disappointing and raises huge questions.
The term ‘apocrypha’ refers partly to thirteen books which were never included in the Hebrew Bible for good reasons. The New Testament writers never quote from any of the apocryphal books. Nor do they attach authority to them in any way.
Remember too that Christ acknowledged the same Old Testament as we have when he said to the Jews: ‘You search the Scriptures … these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). The testimony of Christ must be conclusive for us.
There were, in addition, many writings especially after the New Testament period which were ‘deliberate fabrications and never had any serious claim to canonicity’ (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.65).
Many such documents originated from heretical sects like the Gnostics. Some of these writings have been lost while most of the others survive only in fragments or, occasionally, quotations in historical texts which are extant.
One writer makes an accurate observation: ‘It is striking how few of the apocryphal books were ever officially excluded; they just never entered the race’ for inclusion in the canon of Scripture (New Concise Bible Dictionary, pp.379-380).
NAC’s fourth statement claims that trust in the Lord and his Word ‘is not sufficient’. What else is needed? ‘Without faith in the apostles of the NAC redemption is not attainable’.
This claim will be picked up later, but it is another example of how far removed from the Bible is the NAC in its teachings.
Statements 5, 6 and 7 really make the same point but in different ways. ‘The Bible is not the word of God for today’ they inform us. And — undermining the trustworthiness, authority, sufficiency and finality of the Bible — the NAC claims that only their apostles can interpret the Bible correctly and make it alive.
Sadly, they stray even further from God’s Word when they insist that NAC apostles ‘can announce new obligatory teachings or revelation’. And they have more to tell us: if the Bible disagrees with what their apostles say then it is the latter, not the Bible, that members must accept!
In other words, there must be blind, unquestioning acceptance by NAC members of all that their leaders say or do, even if it contradicts what God himself says in the Bible.
Now that was not the attitude of the Lord Jesus, for he always submitted and appealed to the authority of the Old Testament Scripture (e.g. Matthew 4:4, 6, 7; 22:29, 37-40).
And this was also the attitude of the New Testament apostles. Even when the religious leaders of their day gave them clear commands and warnings, the apostles responded: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).
NAC’s erroneous view of the Bible leads it into serious error with regard to several other major doctrines.
Take forgiveness as one example. Who can forgive our sins? The Bible answer is abundantly clear — only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7).
The NAC answer, however, is different: ‘forgiveness of sins is possible only in the NAC’ (Doctrine of the New Apostolic Church, p.1), that is, through and from its leaders. Here is a clear contradiction of Bible teaching.
But how does God forgive our sins? Once again the Bible answer is emphatic. God forgives sins only in, and through, his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘In Him [that is, Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:7).
That Bible statement takes us to the very centre of the gospel message — it tells us that the gospel is about Christ, not about NAC leaders or ‘apostles’. And the gospel is about what Christ did, especially in his death on the cross.
Complete and sufficient
In fact, each word in Ephesians 1:7 is important and pregnant with meaning. ‘Redemption’ is a key term in the Bible — it means release from slavery on payment of a price. And that costly price for Christ was ‘his blood’, that is, his life given in death as a sacrifice and atonement for our sins.
‘Forgiveness of sins’ means we are set free by Christ from the guilt, punishment and power of our sins. It is glorious news of a completed and sufficient sacrifice by Jesus Christ.
Nothing can or need be contributed by ourselves or others as a basis for our forgiveness and salvation. Salvation is all because of his ‘grace’ and totally undeserved by us.
Once again the NAC distorts this biblical gospel. ‘In the New Apostolic Church’, we are told, ‘the salvation work started by Jesus is brought to completion by the apostles whom he has sent’ (Q&A 171).
They also insist that the Lord ‘has sent … and still sends’ his living apostles ‘to teach, to forgive sins…’ (Article 4, The New Apostolic Creed).
Voyage of discovery
For these reasons, I want to appeal to NAC members who may be reading this article. My appeal is expressed in the words of a former NAC member, Stephen Langtry, who himself appealed to NAC leaders in January 1999.
Langtry ended his letter with these words: ‘In 1991, I started a personal voyage of discovery out of the New Apostolic Church … The acknowledgement that I had been wrong and had taught other people those same errors brought with it a wonderful sense of freedom.
‘The words of Jesus, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) come to mind … we owe it to ourselves and to those who look to us for guidance to be honest and to act with integrity.
‘A useful starting point for me was to read the Bible anew, to study the history of Christianity and to evaluate NAC doctrines in the light of these … if you do this sincerely it will not leave your life unchanged.’
Such a Bible voyage will lead NAC leaders and followers to see the sufficiency and finality of Christ’s sacrifice for sin on the cross. No organisation or human leader should detract from that sacrifice or add to it.
I will conclude this brief study of NAC teaching next month.