It was another request for help, received almost a year ago from a missionary in Africa. I have been reminded of it at regular intervals. The request? Did I know anything about the teachings of the New Apostolic Church (NAC)?
His reason for seeking help was one of concern. Many churches in his part of Africa are being strongly influenced — and confused — by NAC claims and teaching.
It is not surprising that people in Africa, Europe and elsewhere are confused when they come across NAC teaching. A major reason for the confusion is the claim that ‘NAC is the only congregation which leads to God’.1
Their claim to exclusivity is emphasised in their writings. The claim is a foolish one. What is more, it is not open to question on the part of NAC members or adherents.
Consider, for example, the absurdity of their teaching that forgiveness of sins is possible only in the NAC (I will deal with this in detail next month).
There are other related claims, such as: ‘NAC is the only church in which the genuine doctrine of Jesus and the Apostles is proclaimed.
‘The NAC is the real continuation of the church created by Jesus.
‘All other communities only speak of God, however the NAC speaks God’. They insist that in all other churches, including Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, there is such ‘a limited knowledge of God available [that] it is not enough to be saved’.
These claims are completely unjustified. Consider the idea, for instance, that the NAC is a ‘direct continuation’ of the early New Testament church. This in turn raises many questions, including that of the apostolicity of the church.
Biblically, we must insist that apostolic succession does not consist in the continuing office of apostle, or some imaginary, unbroken line of descent and blessing from the Apostle Peter via bishops and popes. Not at all.
We are ‘apostolic’ — as churches and believers — only if we embrace and teach the apostles’ doctrine, which is recorded reliably in the New Testament. That, and that alone, determines whether we are apostolic.
In other words, it is a biblical and doctrinal criterion, not an ecclesiastical or historical one. By this criterion, as we will see, NAC is itself condemned.
Without any biblical justification, NAC also claims that the Christian church died with the death of the last New Testament apostle. This means, according to the NAC, that no one could enter heaven from the end of the first century A.D. until 1830, when their own ‘apostle’ Johannes appeared!
And that is not all. One of their so-called ‘special doctrines’ teaches that ‘humans who did not live at a time of living apostles, did not come into heaven’.
2 Astonishingly, they say this is true of people like Abraham and David — in fact, of all who lived before the birth of Jesus.
Again, the Bible contradicts this false teaching. Enoch, the Bible tells us, ‘did not see death … because God translated him’ (Hebrews 11:5). The only possible conclusion is that Enoch was taken to heaven.
Romans 4:3-8 also establishes that Old Testament believers, including Abraham and David, were justified by grace through faith, like ourselves.
The NAC teaches that men of God like Luther, Calvin, Owen and Edwards did not go to heaven when they died! Despite being outstanding students and teachers of the Bible — who themselves trusted and obeyed the Lord — the NAC foolishly claims they were disadvantaged.
But why? Because they lacked a ‘living apostle’ on earth during their life span. Once again, of course, they have no biblical support for this irresponsible teaching.
This raises the issue of apostles. Their position in the New Testament church was unique. Ephesians 2:20 states that the Christian church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’.
That word ‘foundation’ in the statement is crucial. A foundation is only laid once. Afterwards, the rest of the building is erected. Similarly, the role of the apostles was a foundational one, never to be repeated.
Their privilege, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, was to teach and preach the gospel of Christ (Ephesians 3:4-5). By doing so they also established churches and instructed Christians before (and during) the time the Gospels and Epistles were written.
Once the New Testament was complete, their foundational work was ended and apostles would never be needed again in the church.
This fact is confirmed in Hebrews 2:3-4, where readers are warned not to neglect God’s revelation in Christ. They are given reasons, too, why they should not neglect ‘so great a salvation’.
A major reason is that this gospel ‘at the first began to be spoken by the Lord’ in his public ministry. Another reason is that the gospel of salvation ‘was confirmed to us by those who heard him’, that is, the apostles.
Related to that is the further fact that God was also ‘bearing witness’ — authenticating the authority of these apostles — ‘with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit’.
Now that their unique apostolic ministry is complete, the church no longer needs apostles or the revelatory or miraculous gifts they exercised. The NAC emphasis on ‘living apostles’ must be rejected.
I need to pause and tell you more about this cult in terms of its background, size and influence.
The NAC started in Germany as far back as 1836. Interestingly, its roots go back further to Edward Irving who encouraged the expression of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) and apostolic church government.
Forced to leave his London church, he established a new church in 1832, which then became a popular centre for advocating his ideas.
Following Irving’s death in 1834, twelve men were appointed ‘apostles’ thus completing the ‘apostolic college’. This centre was then organised as the ‘Catholic Apostolic Church’ (CAC).
Their plans were ambitious and international — new churches were established in many countries, largely through the work of these twelve men. Germany was one of the countries where CAC work prospered.
During the period 1860-1862, disagreements arose between the English ‘apostles’ and the German group over the number of ‘apostles’ to be appointed — CAC leaders in Germany wanting an unlimited number. Thus 1863 saw the emergence of a German breakaway group, the NAC.3
Today NAC has about 60,000 congregations worldwide with nearly 300 ‘apostles’. NAC membership is over 9 million. Zurich in Switzerland has been the NAC international headquarters since 1980.
There is one thing we must recognise, namely, that the influence of NAC is considerable and worldwide. The cult has been particularly successful in Africa.
Next month we will examine other NAC teachings. You may be wondering, however, what this cult says about the gospel and how we can be saved.
Apart from emphasising that salvation is only found in the NAC and through its leaders, the cult has very little to say about the Lord Jesus Christ and his unique death for sinners.
Yes, NAC does refer to Christ. In fact, Article 2 of their New Apostolic Creed describes the Lord Jesus as ‘the only begotten Son of God … conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered … crucified, dead and buried … rose again … ascended…’
That sounds good, but Christ always recedes into the background in their writings — in favour of NAC leaders and their own essential mediatorial role. Sadly, nothing is said in the 10 Articles of their Creed about the nature and purpose of the Lord’s death on the cross.
By contrast, their emphasis is on water baptism being ‘part of the rebirth’, and on Holy Communion which ‘establishes our fellowship with Jesus Christ…’ Salvation is mediated only through their apostles and the sacraments — which they alone can administer.
Peter’s apostolic message in Acts 4:12 is relevant here and needs to be thundered out to all: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’.
This salvation, purchased by Christ, is appropriated only by personal faith in him, and stands apart from any human mediator or sacrament.
1. Doctrine of the New Apostolic Church, (NAC website)
3. See New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Revised edition, 2002