In the early 1830’s something unusual began to occur among a group of Presbyterians in London, England. The pastor of Caledonian Chapel, Edward Irving, had long been interested in the charismatic gifts of the New Testament. After studying and praying about these matters for a number of years, Irving began to see these very gifts manifest themselves among the members of his congregation. Eventually this proto-Pentecostal movement would organize as the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832, with John Bate Cardale chosen as First Apostle. Along with the charismatic gifts, the Catholic Apostolic Church stressed the necessity for New Testament government in the church, including apostles and prophets. While Irving and his followers remained mostly orthodox in doctrine, the Catholic Apostolic Church itself was eventually responsible for spawning several cults—including the Liberal Catholic Church, associated with the Theosophical Society. Another such group is the New Apostolic Church (NAC).
The members of the Catholic Apostolic Church were fervent in spreading their message of a restored apostolic church. They took they message to several other countries, including Germany. In the early 1860’s there arose a controversy over the calling of new apostles within the church. This resulted in a division in the German church in 1863 (called the Hamburg Schism). The new group in Germany wrestled with the concept of apostleship and how it would function in the church. Finally in 1897 Frederich Krebs was designated as “Chief Apostle” and the New Apostolic Church began to function as it does currently.
At first glance this church seems somewhat orthodox. They believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His dual nature, the Bible, and salvation through the work of Christ. However, this apparent orthodoxy fades when we examine their beliefs about the apostleship, the sacraments and the nature of salvation.
As their name implies, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the idea that through the NAC the office of New Testament apostolic authority has been restored. Their Chief Apostle functions as the literal successor to the Apostle Peter. Such allegiance, indeed reverence, is given to him that they actually sing hymns in his honor. The NAC teaches that the apostles and their ministry are necessary for the church to function effectively. Indeed salvation comes to believers based on the work of the apostles.
The authority of the apostles is seen in the NAC’s doctrine of forgiveness. At first glance, it appears that the New Apostolic Church believes that Christ’s atoning work accomplished forgiveness for us. However, a closer examination of their doctrine reveals that they believe that Christ’s work only provided a “foundation for the forgiveness of sins.” Based on this foundation, a person must repent and acknowledge sin and then receive absolution from duly authorized ministers. Without the proclamation of absolution, using done corporately in a church service, there is no forgiveness. With this teaching, the full efficacy of Christ’s redemptive work is diminished and presented as insufficient.
For a person to be saved, they go through a process that requires becoming a “child of God.” The “childhood of God” is an important concept for the NAC. The first step in this process is to be baptized in water. Of course, true baptism can only occur under genuine apostolic authority. After the sacrament of baptism a person is required to receive the sacrament of Holy Sealing. In this sacrament, again under apostolic authority, a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, causing them to become a “child of God.” A person is only truly “born of water and the spirit” after Holy Sealing. There is a third sacrament, that of Communion. Through Holy Communion the follower receives the life of Christ, and is assured of remaining in the faith. In Communion, all sins committed after water baptism are forgiven. All three sacraments are necessary for salvation, and all three require the authority of the living apostles, especially the Chief Apostle.
In a distinctive and interesting take on the significance of these sacraments, the NAC teaches that the three sacraments are important not only for the living but also for the dead. The New Apostolic Church teaches that part of the authority of the church’s apostolate is to offer salvation to the dead, as well as the living. So a living member of the NAC can be baptized, take Communion, or be sealed by proxy for a dead person. Three times a year (the first Sundays in March, July and November) special times of ministry for the dead are offered—called the “Service for Departed Souls.” When a member of the church acts as proxy for a dead person, the sacraments are as effective as they are for a living person.
A central tenet of the Church is the Second Coming of Christ. The Church is premillennial, and believes in the rapture of the bride of Christ. All of the efforts to become a child of God are directed to being ready to be part of the “bridal congregation” and the “communion of saints.” This is the group of faithful followers who will be united with Christ when He returns. According to the NAC, Christians prepare themselves for Christ’s coming by being baptized, receiving Holy Sealing, and taking Communion. Then they must live lives wholly dedicated to the Lord. At Christ’s coming, those who are worthy will be raptured. These are the ones who make up the bride of Christ, the “bridal congregation.” They are resurrected (or glorified if still alive) and given glorious bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. They will join the Lord in the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. These people will become “firstlings,” those who are part of the first resurrection. They have now achieved complete salvation.
From its origins in England and Germany, the New Apostolic Church has spread to become a global organization—found on all seven continents. There are about 10 million adherents worldwide. The church’s official logo, a cross surmounting waves with rays of light rising up, is a common site in many European communities. The International headquarters of the church is in Zurich, Switzerland, and It has churches in dozens of countries. However, about 80% of its membership is now in Africa, and about half of all apostles live in Africa.
Summary of Beliefs
God: A biblical, Trinitarian view of God
Jesus: In some ways they are orthodox as regards His person. However, there is a demeaning of His work. For example, Christ died to make salvation “possible,” not to effect it.
Salvation: Based on faith, living a good life, and receiving the sacraments. The active ministry of apostles is required for salvation. Thus, salvation is actually based on works and human agency.
Human nature: They believe in original sin and the necessity of salvation.
Sin: Original sin is washed away through water baptism. Sins are forgiven through the proclamation of absolution rendered by authorized ministers.
Afterlife: They do believe in the immortality of the soul, and in a future bodily resurrection. Prayers are offered for the dead; people may be baptized for the dead.
Scripture: The Bible is authoritative; this includes the Apocrypha.
Truth: Based on the Bible, and the teachings of the Chief Apostle.
- At first glance this church appears to be very orthodox. However, it’s teachings on salvation and the work of Christ reveal it to be a heretical cult. Be aware of the veneer of truth here.
- The NAC’s teachings on ministry to the dead have resulted in come church members claiming to have visions or other contact with dead spirits. Be on guard against demonic activity which may be present.
- There is much focus on the authority and importance of the Chief Apostle. Indeed, their hymnal contains hundreds of hymns about him. He is considered the earthly representative of God and Christ. Every Sunday all local ministers preach the same sermon, written by the Chief Apostle.