‘Joel’s Army’ Is Already Here: The Obscure 20th Century Religious Movement That Profoundly Influences The Right’s Cosmic Battle

Image: Amanjeev/Flickr

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the rhetoric of the religious and political Right has heard it: the sound of a critical moment in a bad horror movie. It’s the moment when we learn that the demons are us—which is to say everyone who hasn’t been vetted as the right kind of Christian. On further study, we learn that we will be subject to God’s wrath by an army of believers in these, the End Times. The wrath will be delivered by those who’ve been endowed with superpowers designed to extinguish the demons. We’ve been hearing about such things from leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation and their political allies for years. Even rightwing political operative Roger Stone has adopted this view, claiming he’s seen a “demonic portal” over Joe Biden’s White House. 

But Stone is not the odd exception. California State Sen. Brian Dahle, the 2022 Republican candidate for governor, and prominent apostles Chuck Pierce of Texas and Dutch Sheets of South Carolina for example, have referred to government officials as “the enemy.” By this, they mean Satan and his demonic minions. While Apostle Abby Abildness works with righteous state legislators, she worries that “the enemy of our souls is conspiring to take over Pennsylvania leadership.” 

We think that knowing is better than not knowing why so many prominent religious and political leaders view the rest of us not merely as fellow citizens with whom they may disagree, but as the enemy in a great eschatological showdown. That’s why we want to take a little deeper dive into the The Latter Rain movement, which may be one of the most significant movements you’ve never heard of. It had a bright (if largely obscure) moment in the sun before it receded in the mid-20th century. But, as we demonstrated in Part 1, it continues to be profoundly influential. 

The salience, resilience, and adaptability of the ideas of this movement are part of what makes the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) the leading edge of revolutionary theonomic Christianity in our time. It’s also a movement on the move, meaning that it’s in an ongoing, dynamic process of becoming what it seeks to be—a powerful entity rising to defeat what it believes are the forces of Satan.

Before we get more deeply into this, a word about terms. 

In recent years we’ve seen both NAR denialism and some remarkable hairsplitting about what to call this dynamic and ever-changing movement. C. Peter Wagner, the movement’s “intellectual godfather” (and the man who actually named it), was more concerned with what it was becoming than what to call it. 

Wagner wrote in the foreword to Apostle Bill Hamon’s 1997 book Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God, “[I]t has become obvious to me that the fastest growing cutting edge of worldwide Christianity in our times is what I like to call the New Apostolic Reformation.” He emphasized that affiliated churches might previously have been called “independent,” “non-denominational,” “post-denominational,” “grassroots,” “or other kinds of names,” but insisted that it’s not the terms that are important: 

“Whatever the name, the fact of the matter is that we are seeing, before our very eyes, the most radical change in the way of doing Christianity since the Protestant Reformation.” 

Wagner doesn’t provide a concise definition of NAR himself. It’s more of a story about how he floated and then withdrew terms like “nondenominational” and settled on NAR because, as he explained in his 2010 memoir, “For some 500 years, Christian churches have largely functioned within traditional denominational structures of one kind or another.” 

What’s “new,” he said, is that, while many traditional denominations had incorporated “apostolic” into their official names, the name alone didn’t nearly convey the powerful changes afoot. It’s “apostolic” because of its focus on outreach and its “affirmation of the contemporary gift and office of apostle.” This, he said, “constitutes the most radical of all the changes.” And it’s a “reformation” because the changes he was seeing in global Christianity were “at least as radical a change as those of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago”: 

“Particularly beginning in the 1990s, but having roots going back for more than a century, new forms and operational procedures have been emerging in areas such as local church government, interchurch relationships, financing, evangelism, missions, prayer, worship, leadership selection and training, the role of supernatural power, prophecy and other important aspects of church life. Some of these changes are being seen within denominations themselves, but for the most part, they are taking the form of loosely structured apostolic networks.”

While we believe Wagner’s term remains serviceable, we also think that there’s no one term or phrase that adequately describes every aspect of NAR—or any religious or scholarly perspective one might hold—and that a wider palette is needed to paint the requisite pictures.

A movement on the move

Eighty-nine-year-old Apostle Bill Hamon, an early Latter Rain proponent and part of the original NAR leadership group established by C. Peter Wagner, personifies the continuity, evolution, and institutionalization of the movement’s ideas. In his 2012 book, The Day of the Saints, he writes that he “became a participant of the Latter Rain Movement in 1951 when the movement was just four years old.” Founder of the Florida-headquartered Christian International Ministries, Hamon is one of the best known and most influential contemporary apostolic leaders. 

Hamon, like other NAR leaders, says he believes that the Kingdom of God is multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multinational. He has also led the way in declaring that women may be leaders, which he acted on in 2021, commissioning Michele Jackson as an Apostle and Senior Pastor of the multi-racial Hope Christian Church in Maryland. Hamon will, however, hold direct “apostolic oversight” of the church once led by Jackson’s late father, prominent African American Christian Right figure, Apostle and Bishop Harry Jackson. An influential opponent of marriage equality, Jackson was a frequent speaker at Christian Right political conferences who campaigned for the reelection of Donald Trump in 2020. 

Hamon maintains that, since his early days with Latter Rain, the world has entered into what he calls the Third Reformation (the Birth of the Church and the Protestant Reformation being the first two). This period features the restoration, in his view, of the first century church offices of apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher and evangelist—what’s known as the “fivefold ministry.” God’s purpose, he says, is “…to restore all things that have been prophesied by the prophets (Acts 3:21).” Until then, he wrote in 2021, the fivefold ministers will nurture the “overcomer saints,” an elite group who will “rule and reign with Christ on earth” after they reach “Christ’s maturity and ministry.”

Although many contemporary writers turn a blind eye to this taproot of NAR eschatology, it’s been well chronicled. Scholar John Weaver traced this throughline in his 2016 book, writing that “the fivefold ministry… became linked in Latter Rain theology with the ‘latter rain’ prophesied in Joel 2:28.” He also explained that:

“[When this is] coupled with the concept of an elite, end time band of missionaries, elite Christians, and/or an army of God, [it] would lead to the most extreme forms of apocalypticism in the history of the Charismatic movement, particularly the ‘Joel’s Army’ teaching of the 80s and 90s that was promoted by the Kansas City Fellowship [later known as the Kansas City Prophets, the forerunner of today’s International House of Prayer.] and even for a time, the Vineyard movement.”

Hamon and other Latter Rain-influenced apostles and prophets believe that the time is nigh for this “extreme form of apocalypticism”—what used to be called the emergence of the Manifest Sons of God. 

Hamon carried the idea of Joel’s Army through the founding of NAR, declaring in his 1997 book, Apostles, Prophets, and the Coming Moves of God: God’s End-Time Plans for His Church and Planet Earth, that: 

“God is preparing His Church to become an invincible, unstoppable, unconquerable, overcoming Army of the Lord that subdues everything under Christ’s feet.”

Hamon’s eschatology suggests dynamic tensions as the movement evolved from the generally apolitical views of Pentecostalism to the ecstatic hybrids like Hamon’s that call for more direct engagement with the culture, accelerated conflict, and elimination of demonic and otherwise ungodly elements. This view is consistent with the views of some of the best known and most politically active apostolic leaders including Lou Engle who has organized mass prayer rallies under the rubric of The Call in major cities including Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Nashville; and for the “Kill the Gays” legislation in Uganda.  

What justice is demanding

Indeed, when Hamon and others use the language of military combat and preparations, readers may wonder whether he’s referring to spiritual warfare, some sort of physical confrontation, or both. Hamon writes, for example:

“The goal is to have them taught, equipped and field trained to be the officers that lead God’s army of prophetic evangelist saints… [who] will function like God’s army prophetically described by Prophet Joel. (Joel 2:1-11)

He suggests that Christ will engage in a war on earth through his church against the devil and, among whoever remains, against those infested with demons. He says that a “great war” will be fought by “the divinely possessed,” with Jesus as “the Commander in Chief.” The war against the demon-infested human race “will be fought on earth” and not somewhere in “the mystical realm.” 

The confrontation, it appears, is expected to be both spiritual and physical.

Later, Hamon writes that “the ministry of the prophet and apostle is destined to take the church through this 30-40 year transitional period we are in now… .” He says that the goal is to restore and establish the “dominion” of Christ and his church “over all the earth.” (Rev. 5:10)

It’s been 26 years since he wrote those words and 36 years since Hamon, Wagner and others first identified this as a period of profound transformation. And this period has indeed been marked by the gradual increase in the acceptance and practice of the fivefold ministry.

In his introduction to Hamon’s book Wagner writes, 

“Just as the 1980s was a decade initiating the renewal of the Biblical gift and the office of prophet, the 1990s is shaping up to be the decade in which God is renewing the gift and office of apostle.” 

Hamon had previously identified the 1950s as the decade of the evangelist; the 1960s as the decade of pastors; and the 1970s as the decade of teachers. Following this gradual introduction, the church’s capacity for the fivefold ministry was arguably complete. 

Wagner recognized that the emerging role of the apostles was “so new to many of us, including myself, an urgent need of our times is wise and recognized leadership.” This led to the formation of the International Coalition of Apostles a few years later. Whether all of the first recognized apostolic leaders turned out to be wise, is a question at the center of recent rifts in the NAR over failed prophecies regarding the election of Donald Trump, and the violence encouraged by “recognized” apostolic leaders on January 6th.

Unsurprisingly, many NAR leaders and those influenced by them have been saying that today’s Christians should emulate the warriors of Israel from the Hebrew Bible. Doug Mastriano, the unsuccessful 2022 GOP candidate for governor of Pennsylvania (and a retired U.S. Army Colonel), has said for example that, “God can intervene in history,” but that such interventions are actually carried out by “a man or a woman,” such as the biblical Queen Esther (who got authorization from the King of Persia for the Jews to kill their enemies); and Gideon (the leader and prophet who led 300 soldiers against a far greater force). NAR figures also frequently lift up other such biblical warriors as David, Joshua, and Rahab as role models for today’s Christians. 

Prophet Kris Vallotton of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California, for example, preached to children about, “Your Identity as Sons of God.” He got them to repeat after him in call and response style: 

“I am amazing. I am God’s greatest creation… I was born to do greater works than Jesus… and I have the mind of Christ. Therefore I think like God… Creation knows me. And the Devil knows who I am. God knows who I am. The angels, they know who I am. And today, I know who I am.”

Children raised in this way may someday find compatible higher education at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, long a hub of both charismatic and Christian Reconstructionist Dominionist thought. In fact, the school, which boasts 10,000-plus students, has an extensive library collection of books by early Latter Rain figures, including George H. Warnock, George R. Hawtin and Bill Hamon. The library also has extensive collections of Christian Reconstructionist works, notably by R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North; as well as a large holding of books by NAR leaders, including C. Peter Wagner, Bill Johnson, Dutch Sheets, Rick Joyner, and Jim Garlow, to name a few.

Apostle Brian Simmons, who received his doctorate from C. Peter Wagner’s eponymous Wagner University now teaches its students the NAR approach to Christianity. Its website states that students will “be equipped to bring the kingdom of God into the 7 Mountains of culture… [and that they will] develop a network of relationships with like-minded leaders around the globe.”

Simmons, whose translation of the Christian Bible, called The Passion Translation, has been endorsed by such top apostles as Chuck Pierce of Texas, Bill Johnson of California, and Patricia King of Arizona, teaches college-age kids, as he once preached, that “We are the Word made flesh again. We are the Reincarnation of Jesus Christ… Christ is no longer a man, he is a people.”

He goes on to explain, 

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan, under your feet. There will be a feet company [sic], a Satan-crushing company, that will devour… every work of the enemy… it will be as though the Second Coming had come.” 

We can also see this continuity in the Promise Keepers (the charismatic-led men’s movement that peaked in the 1990s). Rev. James Ryle, the personal pastor of Bill McCartney, founder of the Promise Keepers, was also a PK board member. Ryle said that he believed that Promise Keepers might be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel’s Army, because, “Never have 300,000 men come together through human history, except for the purpose of war.” 

The ideas of the Latter Rain, as we’ve seen, animate the NAR which in turn has come to play a central role in electoral politics at all levels. GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a member of an NAR church and mentored by a prominent apostle, Mary Glazier.  Rick Perry’s bid for the GOP presidential nomintion was backed by NAR leaders, who organized a prayer rally of some 30,000 people to launch his campaign. Donald Trump has enjoyed the backing of prominent apostles since his first run for president. The notion of the Seven Mountain Mandate, the goal of which is, as C. Peter Wagner explained, to take “Dominion!” The 7M strategy is visible not just nationally but in very local elections such as school boards. That not everyone in the NAR orbit participates in or necessarily agrees with this, doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening and will undoubtedly continue to happen. 

In another example, Apostle Paula White, longtime spiritual advisor to the defeated former president Donald Trump, held a series of televised post-election “Pray for the Nation” events in which a vision of Manifest Sons/Joel’s Army was on vivid display. At one of these, she told viewers, God speaks and acts through his Church. “A praying person,” she says, “has power”: 

“You have to execute the will of God on earth—because God legally gave man dominion. When he said ‘let man have dominion’—he transferred it over.”

“We are not peripheral to the world,” she said. “The world is peripheral to us—the Church! The Church!” She insisted that God “did not give the world authority, he gave all authority in heaven and on Earth to his Church.”

A different kind of example comes from Earl Hixon, a leader in the small Pennsylvania-based Global Community Network. Hixon has established what he calls a “Strategic War Room in London, England for the end time army, according to Joel 2.” 

Hixon is perhaps best-known for his leadership of The Shofar Army, which performed at events featuring unsuccessful Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in 2022. Hixon called Mastriano, “our new general” and compared him to the Biblical Joshua, who led the Israelites in fighting the Canaanites enroute to the Promised Land. Joshua’s army marched around the city of Jericho, blowing shofars, which led God to blow down the walls of the city preceding the genocide of the Canaanites. 

Target identification 

The Latter Rain strain of Dominionism expressed by the NAR is as vivid, energetic, and arguably as politically powerful, as has existed in the history of Christianity. 

It’s not hard to see how serious consequences may very well follow from the political animation of this volatile movement. But there’s a further and underappreciated inherent danger when people begin to think of themselves as gods. Chip Berlet in a 2014 article, warned us about the history of social movements and individuals who demonize scapegoats for their and society’s problems. They not only identify the target, but conveniently cast themselves—the demonizers—as the Good Guys—the ones who know what must be done. 

For decades, many Pentecostal and charismatic Christians have distorted, adapted, and amplified aspects of Latter Rain theology, and, like other predominantly conservative Christian cultures, have been engaged in the demonization of targets. Readers may recognize some or all of these targets from recent news stories: Democrats, feminists, biblically-incorrect Christians, LGBTQ people, those associated with the COVID vaccine, books and libraries, secular government, and democracy itself. The army of the Good Guys is gathering, waiting to be called to war. Some, like distinguished journalist and author Jeff Sharlet, believe that the war is already underway.  

Some may not see the war as underway, but are preparing for it. Journalist Stephanie McCrummen reported in The Atlantic on a Pennsylvania woman who has purchased a mountain. She and her husband envision building a “Seven Mountains training center” which includes “plans for an outdoor pistol range, an indoor pistol range, a tactical pistol range, and a rifle range, along with a paintball course.” 

These things can seem strange, unknowable, and hard to define and describe even though they’re now deeply embedded in contemporary Christian culture in all parts of the country and all over the world. It can be tempting to ignore it. Indeed, while there’s comfort to be found in the safe harbor of conventional and measurable concerns—the consequences of choosing not to see and not to know, can be immeasurable.