“I had been largely sheltered from false teachings for most of my life. That all changed in 2011 when I met a guy who told me about this great church he was attending, and invited me to go with him.”
What started out as a kind invitation ended up as a full-blown nightmare for this woman, who witness the worst of the demonic realm that is the NAR. Aimee has allowed me to include her story in this series about a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR for short. In this series, I want to take readers beyond the textbook What is the New Apostolic Reformation Movement explanation, into the personal experiences from those who have been there, and what happened when God opened their eyes to the truth.
Here is Aimee’s story in her own words:
Firstly I want to say thank you for Berean Research, and for your series on leaving the NAR church. When I had my own experience in one of these churches, it was reading the stories of others that contributed to my eyes being opened and making the decision to leave. That is why I think it is so important to share these stories, and I also wanted to share mine with you, and give permission to include it in your series if you want.
I am from the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. I had no idea what the NAR movement was or how rampant it actually is in my city and country before a few years ago, when I became involved with a church that is hugely influenced by it. Growing up in a Reformed church, with loving God-fearing parents, I had been largely sheltered from false teachings for most of my life. That all changed in 2011 when I met a guy who told me about this great church he was attending, and invited me to go with him.
At first sight, it did look like an amazing church to attend. The people were extremely friendly, welcoming, energetic, and gave the impression that they were “on fire for Jesus,” which made it very hard to resist being drawn into this atmosphere of passion and excitement. It was a mostly younger and student crowd and the worship music was exclusively contemporary, which at the time all greatly appealed to me. So I decided to stay.
As I became more involved, I joined a community group (shortened to “Comm”), which were like cell groups. I soon realised this was an (unofficial) requirement for membership, because before I settled on and joined one of these groups, I was constantly being asked if I had done so yet. I now believe that the overly strong emphasis that is placed on NAR church small groups is the way that they gain control over members. It is at these mid-week meetings where you are most likely to form close relationships/friendships, get taken under someone’s wing, and really get “disciple” in the mindset and teachings of the NAR.
As I continued to attend church and Comm, I struggled to make sense of many things. A lot more emphasis was placed on what the Holy Spirit was doing in the church, rather than on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts was singled out as the most important book in the Bible as the example of the type of Christians we should strive to be, and the experiences we should seek after.
Prophetic words and healings were a regular part of every service. It seemed that somebody always got healed of something at every single service or meeting, although it was mostly just headaches. This always resulted in a testimony at the next meeting, along with things like God having opened up a parking space for someone at a mall.
Back then I thought that these people were just living a life of immense thankfulness for all these little “miracles,” and it made me feel like I was really awful for not having this same mentality. Now I clearly see all the deception behind it and I’ve also learned that this actually just echoes of things that they are hearing from Hillsong and Bethel.
People speaking in tongues was a Common occurrence, but just unintelligible repetitive phrases. According to them it was “heavenly languages.” There were also people who claimed to have seen angels. Much of what was being preached made absolutely no sense to me, and some words or phrases that people cried out during worship/prayer also seemed quite strange.
As a person who had attended church all my life, I’d never had a big problem understanding what was going on before, and this felt odd and quite alarming. Some examples would be talk of “raising up armies,” or, “impacting the Kingdom” (which I now know is related to Kingdom now/dominionism), and repeatedly crying out “yes Lord,” or “more Lord more!” I even heard the term “little gods” mentioned in a sermon once, and many more things that I now recognize as classic NAR and Word of Faith talk.
Soon all these things started to mess with my head.
I remember when I introduced myself to new people and told them the Reformed church I’d come from, there would be an all-around murmur of disapproval. One lady even told me that she had come from the same denomination and that they did not have the Holy Spirit there. It was taught that the “infilling of the Holy Spirit” is something you should constantly be seeking after, and that this “encounter” or “experience” will manifest, either by speaking in tongues, or any number of other involuntary actions like falling over, laughing, or crying. They said that if this does not happen to you, then you are probably not open to the Spirit.
After a while I actually started to believe these lies, although I could not shake the feeling that something was not right. But rather than question what I was being told, I started to believe that it was because there was something wrong with me, and I even started doubting if I really was saved. It was a horrible, dark and confusing place to be in.
There is a lot I can say about this time, but I will just highlight some of the most significant experiences I can recall that made me feel uncomfortable with what was going on, and ultimately led to my eyes being opened and leaving this church:
- I often felt that a lot more emphasis was being placed on the work of Satan, rather than on the sovereignty of God. I once opened up to someone about having suffered from depression when I was younger. Their response was to tell me that they “firmly believe depression comes from the devil.” There was also always a lot of talk about spiritual attacks, warfare, and “binding.”
- A lady once very enthusiastically told me some people had seen “gold dust” on their hands during a meeting. Looking back I think this was the first time the alarm bells really started going off for me, because I was fairly certain that nothing like that was recorded in the Bible. I later asked one of my Comm leaders about this. They said some people believe that it is the presence of God. I now know this is just another direct “signs and wonders” influence from Bethel.
- There was actually an entire series of sermons dedicated to preaching on finances and tithing. I clearly remember one time when one of the elders, a business man in the church, gave the sermon. He said that there are no poor Jews, and that the reason is because they are so diligent in their tithing. By which he was trying to make his case that if you give to the church, God will reward you with material wealth.
- At the time, this church was having their meetings in a school hall, but they were desperate to get their own building. A lot of time was spent talking about it. I remember one day arriving at church only to find that there was not going to be a sermon that morning. Instead the entire meeting was dedicated to talking about a building fund that had been opened, and some possible locations they were looking at. Quite a bit of time was also spent recalling all the various “prophesies” that visiting pastors had made over the years with regards to finding a suitable building. At the end of the meeting, cards were quickly handed out to everyone. It had a place to write down the amount of money that I felt led to commit to giving towards the building fund each month. (Everyone got a card, so everyone had to give something - it was not a choice.) I remember the whole thing making me feel really uncomfortable, so I turned to my Comm leader sitting next to me and asked if I could think and pray about it first and then bring the card back. I was told that I had to make the decision right then and there, and was handed the pen. I never felt that I made that decision with joy and generosity, but that I was coerced into it.
- When a friend in my Comm decided to get baptised, it also brought up the issue with regards to me. I had been baptised as a baby, but they did not recognize infant baptism as being scriptural, which is fine as many churches do not, but from that point on they started placing extreme pressure on me to also do it. I felt that I first had to find the conviction for myself that it would be the right thing to do, since by that time I was already such a mess and so confused by all their strange teachings. What I witnessed at my friend’s baptism certainly did not help, as she burst out in “holy laughter” right after coming up out of the water. The more reluctant I became, the more pressure they put on, eventually telling me that it is not something I should think about but just do because that would be “obedient” (a word that was often thrown around, along with “submitting to authority”), and that it was necessary for “receiving the spirit.” I came close to saying yes, but eventually could not go through with it.
- Sometime during 2012, Jesus Culture came to my city. They were having a “revival” event at a large Word of Faith centre, and I went with a friend. Many people from the church went and it was a big deal because everyone loved their music and pretty much idolised Bethel church. At the time I did not really know who they were. I just knew we sung some of their songs in worship. I was expecting it to be a mainly musical concert type of event, but what I experienced there was just total NAR excess and Charismania. There was a guy talking for what felt like hours, just telling the most bizarre stories. Like about a group of schoolgirls being “slain in the spirit” for days on end in the bathroom at their school, and how people had to come in to feed them and clean up after them, but then those people would also be overcome by this spirit in the bathroom, and how they would have to send in more and more people. To be honest, I don’t remember much else of what was said because I did not understand any of it. I just remember thinking that this does not sound like the God of the Bible that I had been taught about my entire life. When the music finally started, the wailing, laughing, shaking ‘manifestations’ started along with it. When my friend asked if I wanted to leave, I felt extremely relieved. Walking out from that, I could not help but think that it felt like walking out of the depths of Hell. But of course I hated myself for feeling that way, because I had already been conditioned to think that I was not allowed to question any of it because it was the “spirit of God” that was moving.
- At some point the church started a “campus congregation” at the University. My Comm leaders (a married couple), decided they wanted to get involved with that and one time urged me to also go. That day we again did not have a sermon, but watched the “Father of Lights” movie (third in the Finger of God trilogy). I remember sitting there with the biggest skepticism, while everyone else seemed to be in awe. After the movie, we started singing some worship music, but it soon turned into hysteria. There were people wailing and falling. My friend (a student living on campus), was on one side of me and she started shaking and uttering what was something between a laugh and a cry. On the other side my Comm leaders were just staring blankly in front of them, waiting, praying, and hoping to also be filled with the spirit. And in front of me another good friend was also shaking and eventually fell to the floor and lay there convulsing like she was having an epileptic fit. She almost hit her head on the chair while going down, and her shoes went flying off her feet. I just stood there in complete confusion, for what felt like hours, and eventually just sat down and waited, hoping it would all just end soon. When it became clear to me that no end was in sight because “the spirit was moving” and could not be interrupted, I just got up and walked out.
That was kind of the last straw. After this I started seriously questioning what was going on here, and for the first time thought to do a bit of research. Back then I did not know the term “New Apostolic Reformation,” but I remembered a lady once telling me it was a Charismatic church, so I looked it up online. One article led to another and as I read more about the history of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, it all started to make so much more sense. There were serious warnings about these movements and also the testimonies of people who had left it.
I read about things like the Toronto blessing and all the horrors that came from that. My eyes were slowly being opened. A lot of what I read also pointed to Bible verses about false teachers and warnings of all the deception in the last days. I remember one night sitting on my bed with the Bible, surrounded by articles I had printed out, and one of them pointed to 2 Timothy. Reading this piece of scripture, especially chapter 3:10-17, was like a little breakthrough. I truly felt the assurance of the love of God in that moment, and that it would be okay to leave this church.
I wrote an email to my Comm leaders, telling them I did not agree with things going on in the church and think it would be best for me to leave. They said I should share my concerns, so I wrote it down in an email. They then wanted to meet to discuss it. They brought in an elder and overseer of our Comm to lead this meeting, at which they actually denied that most of these things were happening in their church, and justified others with their own interpretations of Scripture.
The elder told me that I should not question their interpretations because it was “treading dangerous ground.” He also continually asked me if I was questioning things because I had been hurt by someone in the church. (He said he could sense that something had happened.) When I admitted to an incident where my feelings had been hurt (point No. 1 above), they immediately latched onto that, and told me they were not able to answer any more of my questions before this issue had been dealt with and that they wanted to “walk that road with me” first. By this stage I just got really angry and frustrated by their inability to properly deal with my concerns, and finally called it quits.
I had been part of this church for about a year and a half, and the decision to leave was painful. Some of the people I made friends with were the sweetest, friendliest, most caring people I had ever met, and I did not want to lose them. But I am convinced that if I had stayed, I would have eventually lost my sanity and quite possibly sold my soul.
I am now back in a very small congregation of the Reformed denomination I grew up in, where I am hearing the Word of God preached correctly, and I am so thankful to the Lord for leading me here. I know how rare it is to find a good, solid church these days, because now, knowing what to look out for, I see the NAR influences creeping into denominational and non-denominational churches across the board. (As I am writing this, there is actually a team from Bethel here, right now, in my city this week, going around and spreading their lies and heresies into many churches.) I truly believe this is part of the great falling away that the Bible talks about, and I still hope and pray for my friends eyes to be opened to this deception.
Thank you for reading my story. By sharing, I hope it can help to open the eyes of people still caught up in this, and create awareness of these things going on right under our noses, that many are not even aware of.