When it Comes to Societal Dominion, the Details Matter: A Reporter’s Guide to the New Apostolic Reformation, Part II

Apostle John P. Kelly, the International Convening Apostle for the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL), presides over "the world" in Brazil.

This is the second of a three-part series. Read Part I: Christian Right Denialism is More Dangerous Than Ever: A Reporter’s Guide to the New Apostolic Reformation & Part III: Call it ‘Christian Globalism’

The apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation lead large networks of great consequence in the United States and internationally. Even though top apostolic leaders have played important roles in public life for a generation, their names are barely known outside of the occasional magazine or news story. They are, however, well-known to aspirants for public office, especially Republicans. But when these apostles and prophets, their apostolic networks, and their impacts are discussed, the relevant terms are often wrong or misunderstood. In fairness, the NAR formally organized in 1999, is still in its formative stages, and is constantly changing. But those of us who write about these things still have an obligation to do our best to get the story right.

We published our initial discussion of the challenges in writing about the NAR in the Reporter’s Guide to the New Apostolic Reformation here at RD. But there’s much more to be done. As before, our intention is not to call anyone out, but to point to constructive ways forward.

Influential apostles and prophets are sometimes described with inherently disparaging terms such as “self-proclaimed prophet,” or their church office titles are put in scare quotes, like “apostle” and “prophet.” Sometimes the legitimate term “apostolic leader” is misapplied when that leader actually holds a specific and easily identifiable church office. 

If one is uncertain about the credentials of a given prophet, rather than employ the vaguely pejorative descriptors, “self-appointed,” “self-described,” or “self-proclaimed,” one might write, “who is seen by many as a prophet and whose prophecies are taken seriously.” The same standard may be applied to an apostle whose credentials are unknown or in question. One might write something like, “who is seen (or regarded) by many as a modern apostle and part of the wider apostolic movement in the world.” 

This isn’t to say that there aren’t also grifters and opportunists—which needs to be noted if true. But if one can ascertain that someone is a recognized apostle or prophet in the NAR, there’s no reason not to use the appropriate honorifics.

That said, NAR leaders themselves don’t always make it easy to identify their offices and roles, and, as we previously reported, they sometimes don’t use them. (What’s more, the NAR is openly struggling over the appropriate role of the prophet in the Church.) To complicate matters even further, as a group, they tend to be distrustful of the media. 

Lance Wallnau, for example, a popular Texas-based NAR prophet (who made news while campaigning for 2022 Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano) has repeatedly claimed that the media is under the influence of a Leviathan demonic spirit that lies and twists the news and people’s words. Indeed, sometimes the media also give them reasons to be distrustful.

We hope that these further clarifications (and decoding of insider jargon) will help. 

What is an Apostle?

First, it’s important to underscore that the leading office of the NAR, the apostle, is not at all analogous to such common Christian church offices as bishops or deacons. NAR church offices are derived from the “five-fold ministry” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) as outlined in the New Testament’s Letter to the Ephesians (4:11-13). 

The NAR seeks to restore what they see as the First Century sense of the Church. This is, at once, a massive demolition and restoration project: meaning that the old structures, doctrines and offices of the Christian churches must be cleared away to make room for the arguably restored, true Christian church.

A leading NAR apostle, Ché Ahn, in his 2019 book Modern-Day Apostles, defines an apostle as: 

“a Christlike ambassador with extraordinary authority called and sent out by Jesus Christ with a specific assignment to align the Church to bring Heaven’s culture to earth and fulfill the mandate to disciple nations.”

Distinct from the well-defined offices of traditional denominations, everything NAR is best understood as a work in progress. Fortunately, NAR founders and current leaders have some working definitions, as they figure out how to seize the 21st Century with their vision of First Century Christianity.

Movement founder C. Peter Wagner distinguished between those who possess the gift (mentioned by God in 1 Corinthians 12) and those who hold the office of apostle. 

According to Wagner, the office of apostle is achieved through works and is conferred by fellow apostolic leaders. It is the public affirmation that someone has the God-endowed spiritual gift and is worthy of assuming apostolic authority. Some therefore have the gift but have not yet (if ever) earned the recognition of the office by fellow apostles through a public “commissioning” ceremony. 

Wagner’s definition is clear enough, though in practice it can get fuzzy. 

Inspired by Wagner, Ché Ahn explains that there are also several subcategories of apostles—or, as in other fields where there are specialists such as in medicine or law, we might say there are apostolic specialists. These specialists include nuclear church apostles, who minister in local congregations or apostolic centers; territorial apostles who are understood as having a God-given authority over geographical areas such as nations, states or cities; vertical apostles who oversee networks of churches or ministries; and horizontal apostles who connect or convene various apostles, prophets or pastors. There are even hyphenated apostles, who hold more than one office, such an apostle-prophet, apostle-evangelist or apostle-teacher. Some may also distinguish between strategic and tactical apostles. There may very well be other such specialties. 

And it can get even fuzzier. 

What NAR leaders call “workplace apostles” (sometimes called marketplace apostles), however, don’t necessarily hold the office of apostle. They can be influencers, life coaches, entrepreneurs—basically anyone working outside the church who strongly holds to an apostolic vision of advancing the Kingdom via one’s work.

For those seeking to fairly and accurately report on the NAR, in most cases an apostle meriting the honorific is someone who’s acknowledged as an apostle by others and leads an apostolic network—or is a commissioned apostle operating within such a network.

Therefore, this is how we define apostle:

An apostle is someone who, recognized by other apostles, exercises authority over individual leaders, churches, Christian organizations, or networks, and is responsible for establishing what they see as God’s governing order in designated spheres of ministry.

What are Apostolic Networks?

In his 1999 book Churchquake!, C. Peter Wagner referenced Apostle David Cannistraci’s explanation that: 

“an apostolic network can take many forms. Essentially, it is a band of autonomous churches and individual ministries that are voluntarily united in an organizational structure. This framework of human relationships is sufficient to facilitate interdependency between network members and apostolic oversight.” 

Cannistraci himself identified four key components of apostolic networks: 

    1. a recognized apostle or an apostolic team in leadership;
    2. an atmosphere of dynamic relationships;
    3. a distinct mission and purpose;
    4. a gathering of apostolic churches (or centers)

Following from these statements, this is our simplest definition of an apostolic network:

An apostolic network is a band of autonomous churches and ministries that are united in an organizational structure sufficient to facilitate interdependency between network members and apostolic oversight.  

In 2013, Wagner’s original network of apostles, now led by Convening Apostle John Kelly, changed its name from the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) to the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL). ICAL explains: 

“the function of the apostolic gift-bearing fruit is more important than the title ‘apostle’ and the majority of apostles throughout the world are called pastor, bishop, prophet, and some are called superintendents.” 

This, therefore, allows like-minded leaders to retain their existing ministerial titles, which creates opportunities for apostolic networks to embed themselves in denominational settings for long-term influence without drawing unnecessary attention.  

As a visionary and revolutionary movement, the NAR and its leaders see denominations as ossified and corrupt obstacles to the advancement of God’s Kingdom, which may be why ICAL declared that titles don’t really matter:

“[What] matters is that all members of ICAL should be apostolically advancing the Kingdom of God fulfilling the great Commission and be recognized by their peers as apostolic leaders.”

This expansively politic view of the apostolic makes it additionally challenging for reporters seeking to identify a leader’s role in the church. One therefore has to use the publicly available information about individuals and church offices with caution. For example, the offices of the members of the related National Council of the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (USCAL) listed on the ICAL website are not identified. Some are known to be apostles, while others are prophets and/or teachers.  

Creating new networks, rebranding old ones

Reporters also need to look beyond the well-established networks like ICAL and USCAL and be alert to new apostolic networks and older networks that have been rebranded. 

New networks are created in order to identify, attract and equip new generations of apostles. For example, Apostle Chuck Pierce of Texas, recently established Kingdom Harvest Alliance (KHA) which describes itself as “a new organism for alignment… a new wineskin that includes each one of us developing a harvest mentality for the sphere and calling we have. All wineskins usually have a seven year viability.” 

It’s also important for reporters to be alert to the application of the metaphor “new wineskins” to the broad mission of the movement. Leaders like Wagner envisioned undermining and replacing traditional denominations and what he called the corporate spirit of religion, which are seen as “old wineskins.”

In reporting on the NAR, one should note that networks that may appear to be new, may simply be rebranded versions of older apostolic networks. For example, in 1998, C. Peter Wagner founded the Apostolic Council for Educational Accountability. Its mission 

“…was to provide schools/training programs identified with the New Apostolic Reformation a creative alternative way to establish credibility through accountable relationships… Some (educators) represented accredited universities while others represented church-based training schools. Most agreed that seeking traditional accreditation was not in their best interest and many were looking for an alternative.” 

Today, it’s been rebranded as the Academic Council for Educational Accountability, which defines itself as “a network of Christian educators and administrators… called to influence and impact the education mountain.” (The “education mountain” refers to one of the seven mountains of dominion, discussed in Part 1 of the Reporter’s Guide.) The network dropped “apostolic” from its name, but the mission is essentially the same. 

There’s also prominent, longtime apostle, Bill Johnson’s Global Legacy out of California which describes itself as a: 

“relational network… that connects, encourages, and equips revival leaders worldwide. We expand God’s kingdom by helping to build relationships between revival leaders, ministries, and organizations around the globe, and to equip them to transform their spheres of influence.” 

Global Legacy has been rebranded as the Bethel Leaders Network

It’s clear that one who’s regarded as an apostle or belongs to an apostolic network is not necessarily always part of the most Wagnerian connected part of the NAR. The fact that the term “apostolic” is omitted from the name of a network means that reporters will have to uncover who is involved and leading the network. 

Some questions reporters might ask: Are network leaders considered to be apostles? Have they been commissioned by known NAR apostles? Are they involved with other apostolic leaders and part of other networks identifiable with the NAR? Did C. Peter Wagner play a role in the establishment of a given network or apostolic team? To answer these preliminary questions will require some basic research.. 

Commissioned apostles

Like leaders in traditional denominations, many important apostles were not among the much better known founders, and were commissioned much later. So a reporter looking at early lists of NAR apostles (which used to be openly published) may not find the newer apostles in this way, though these leaders are nevertheless shaping contemporary religion and politics. One of these, for example, is Apostle Abby Abildness of Pennsylvania who has deeply influenced, and entered into political partnerships with, Doug Mastriano. 

She was commissioned as an apostle in the Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network of  Apostle John Benefiel of Oklahoma in 2011. By 2017, ApostleProphet Cindy Jacobs, who heads Generals International out of Texas, asked Abildness to lead the new, statewide Pennsylvania Apostolic Prayer Network, a convergent effort by three networks to influence culture and politics in Pennsylvania, Generals International, Heartland, and the Congressional Prayer Caucus, (AKA the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation’s Pennsylvania Prayer Caucus Network, of which Abildness is the State Director. The latter also comprises the Pennsylvania Legislative Prayer Caucus, which advances the Dominionist legislative program formerly known as Project Blitz.) 

Abildness explains in a Facebook video how these networks seek to “bring transformation—from Pennsylvania to the nations.” She continues:

“We are what Chuck Pierce and Dutch Sheets said, ‘we’re the governmental shift state, to bring this change in our nation.’”

Another notable commissioned apostle who’s not usually identified as an apostle in news stories, is Mario Bramnick of Florida, who describes himself as “part of Apostle Guillermo Maldonado’s Supernatural Global Network.” 

Apostle Bramnick was a member of President Trump’s 2020 campaign Faith Advisory Board and is President of the Latino Coalition for Israel, which seeks to be the largest Hispanic Pro-Israel organization in America. (For his part, Apostle Maldonado hosted the launch event for Evangelicals for Trump during the 2020 presidential campaign at El Rey Jesús, a Miami megachurch from which he leads an apostolic network that he claims extends into 70 countries.

Just nutty, or nationally significant?

There are, of course, many reasons to seek to get NAR-related stories and the details right. But as writers we need to ask ourselves, how can readers be expected to understand the relative significance of a person or a movement, if the language we use to describe it sandbags all sense of seriousness and proportion? 

The NAR doesn’t merit our considered attention because some of the leaders may sound nutty to those outside the movement, but because it’s driven by theocratic notions of total societal dominion, including the end of democracy as we’ve known it; and it deserves our attention because it’s developed the political capacities to make these ambitions a lot less of a pipe dream than they seemed even five years ago. This ought to be reason enough to end the era of glib dismissal and casual reporting of one of the most significant religious and political movements of our time. 

This is the second of a three-part series. Read Part I: Christian Right Denialism is More Dangerous Than Ever: A Reporter’s Guide to the New Apostolic Reformation & Part III: Call it ‘Christian Globalism’