Apostles, Alignment, and that other “A” word (Part 5 of 5)

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Click here to read part 1: How apostolic alignment relates to accountability
Click here to read part 2: Accountability in the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL)
Click here to read part 3: The role of prophets in apostolic alignment
Click here to read part 4: Apostolic-prophetic accountability for the Lakeland alignment

Part 5: A return to New Covenant accountability

Last year, authors Brad Christerson and Richard Flory dubbed the NAR movement “Independent Network Christianity” and noted its main distinctives for Christianity Today. One that stood out was the “suspicion of any kind of accountability structures, because these limit the power of God working through individuals.

Apostles overseeing the 2008 “Lakeland alignment” and its aftermath (see Part 4) exhibited this suspicion of accountability to the wider Body. Their accountability to peers likewise disintegrated under pressure. But the NAR movement continued to grow under their leadership. From this we might conclude that God will empower rogue leaders to build His Kingdom, because their potential for good outweighs their lack of accountability.

Wrong.

Accountability runs like a lifeline through the New Covenant, ranging from leaders watching over souls (Heb. 13:17) to words spoken thoughtlessly (Matt. 12:36). Those who claim to love Yeshua are accountable to keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15, 14:21, 15:10). Even the New Jerusalem will hold people accountable for their conduct (Rev. 22:15). A system that views accountability as limiting “the power of God” is one divorced from Biblical foundations. That system will inevitably start wielding power that is not from God.

If we hope to ever see true apostolic power, we must rebuild accountability on Biblical bedrock. Here are some examples, by no means a complete list.

1. Willingness to Be Tested. “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” (Rev. 2:2)

Those who assert that true apostles exist in the Last Days cannot dismiss the possibility of pretenders. Nor can they resent someone labeling as false those who glorify the heretical William Branham.[10] Apostles who demand “personal tithes” or “member fees” in order to confirm apostolic gifts in others, are also rightly suspected as false (2 Cor. 11:7-13).

The idea that apostles should face scrutiny after declaring themselves is itself Scriptural. Paul didn’t mind the Corinthians testing him and his team, provided they used the right standard. “But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” (2 Cor. 13:6)

2. Love for the Truth. “…because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” (2 Thess. 2:10

Believers who accept every supernatural sign as God-given are not just being gullible. They are rejecting the truth from Yeshua’s mouth, that “false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead” (Matt. 24:24). The same goes for accepting every apostle with impressive accomplishments. Some are capable of “disguising themselves as apostles of Messiah” and “servants of righteousness,” when they are in fact serving Satan. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

Loving the truth is our only insurance against Satanic deception, including the ultimate pretender, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders.” (2 Thess. 2:9) To place something else higher than truth – loyalty to a leader, thirst for sensational experiences, self-advancement, or any other idol – is to invite the worst Divine judgment possible: “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” (v.11)

Interestingly, the passage that lists the five-fold ministries tells us that their purpose is to ground us in the truth: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, Messiah.” (Eph. 4:14-15)

Faithful shepherds will sacrifice every competing value to embrace the truth. And they will demand no less from everyone associated with them, especially apostles and prophets.

3. Voluntary Transparency. “For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (Jn. 3:20-21)

Transparency flows from love of the truth. It willingly shares all relevant facts, even those that place us at a disadvantage. Transparency also springs from a clear conscience, confident that our works are indeed “wrought in God.” Biblical apostolic alignment will be distinguished by its openness to inspection and its willingness to make full disclosures of flaws and corrections – not just to sympathetic peers but to all.

An alignment that hides people behind other people, vouching for one another using accountability processes that are likewise opaque, is a warning sign. The screening indicates “fear” of what “will be exposed.” Those who cannot voluntarily stand in the Light already have a problem.

Charles Spurgeon famously taught: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” To this Tennessee pastor Alan Stewart added an observation that could only come from experience: “The man who lives in the light is never hidden, and [he] makes the discovery that little is ever hidden from him.” (“Secrets of Discernment”)

In other words, a side-benefit of transparency is heightened discernment. Conversely, resisting transparency will cripple discernment. If you wonder how leading apostles could lose the ability to identify blatant heresy or detect unrepented sin, look no further.

4. Hatred for Lawlessness. “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:23)

Yeshua’s context (v.21-22) teaches us that a ministry bearing the Lord’s Name, and filled with amazing works of power, can simultaneously be trampling on God’s laws. The Last Days will find “many” believers becoming lawless (Matt. 24:12), which will cause their love for Him to “grow cold.” This makes sense when we remember how Yeshua links the two: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me.” (Jn. 14:21)

God’s Kingdom will eventually be purged of lawless people (Matt. 13:41). Meanwhile, we are to regard them as functional unbelievers, with whom we are forbidden to partner (2 Cor. 6:14). Those who claim to love God but practice certain specific sins (1 Cor. 5:11) are not even to share our meals.

For their own safety, law-abiding apostolic teams must cut ties with anyone who has suspended, rewritten or diluted Scriptural standards through “new revelation” or clever rationalization. When we lower God’s bar of accountability to accommodate lawbreaking apostles and prophets (because we feel obligated by association or friendship, or because we view God’s requirements as too harsh), we have become lawless ourselves… and hateful to Yeshua.

5. Habitual Integrity. “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matt. 5:37)

Even unbelievers who never read this verse possess the human instinct to identify integrity. Its widest definition is a state of being: solid all the way through, whole and undivided, consistently true to itself. This describes God, whose “yes” and “no” are eternally dependable.

It’s no wonder that the world despises people who proclaim God’s Name but fail to demonstrate integrity. They watch ministers changing their story to fit the audience and rightly feel insulted. They aren’t fooled by a selective admission of truth extracted under pressure, a legalistic denial through careful word choices, an evasive answer to a direct question, or a testimony riddled with contradictions. In detecting lack of integrity, unbelievers show more discernment than many saints!

Secular skepticism of a compromised ministry is not persecution for the sake of righteousness, but rather a proper rejection of false fronts in God’s household, which God Himself rejects. It’s the “judgment” that “begins with us first” (1 Pet. 4:17) before the world is to be judged.

Yet Paul wrote that such drastic discipline at God’s hands (which can include not only public disgrace, but sickness and untimely death) would not be necessary “if we judged ourselves rightly” (1 Cor. 11:31). How much better to exercise accountability among ourselves by judging lack of integrity, without waiting for negative publicity to compel us. Apostles worthy of the title will be seen leading the way.

Israeli apostle Intrater suggested an additional measure of apostolic integrity: “indigenous” credentials. He wrote that for apostles to serve Israelis with “integrity”, they must belong to Israeli and/or Jewish culture. This seems logical at first glance, but is it Scriptural to suppose that God selects apostles based on “family lineage” or “birthplace”? Paul was not “indigenous” to Corinth. And he spent three chapters (2 Cor. 10-12) debunking the recognition of apostles by self-validating earthly criteria: “You are looking at things as they are outwardly…. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” (2 Cor. 10:7-12)

6. Righteous Judgment. “Judge with righteous judgment.” (Jn. 7:24)

Our model for righteous judgment is Messiah, and He demonstrated two challenging aspects: one supernatural and one relational. Supernaturally, He looked into people and read their hidden character (Mark 10:21, Jn. 6:70). Relationally, He didn’t shield His disciples from public embarrassment when they needed correction (Mark 8:33, Luke 9:54-55).

First, the relational challenge. Judges who owe loyalty to a network cannot help but have an interest in avoiding decisions that might embarrass their colleagues. As for the accountability of one network to another, neutral affirmation is always easier than painful confrontation. If negative judgments are unavoidable, they are kept quiet to maintain (the appearance of) “unity”. But once we understand that open accountability measures produce a healthy fear of God that restrains sin (Acts 5:11, 1 Tim. 5:20), we will want to restore this element of righteous judgment.

Regarding the supernatural challenge… we as a Body are severely handicapped. We cannot see what the Holy Spirit sees in order to render judgment the way the original apostles did (Acts 5:3, 8:22-23).

Yeshua admonished the Pharisees to “not judge according to appearance” (Jn. 7:24), but like the Pharisees we know of no other way to judge someone’s spiritual state. Unable to detect heart motives behind actions, we can only evaluate outward behavior accumulated over time. (And Heaven help us if an immediate decision is needed!) Even our skill in judging who is born again, regarded by Paul as effortless thanks to the witness of the Spirit (Rom. 8:16), has become vulnerable to deception in our day.

Lacking the Spirit-derived wisdom to deal with a mixture of good and evil in a safe way, we are forced to the simplistic defense of judging it all evil, lest someone mistake the evil parts for good. Or, our hunger for spiritual reality prompts us to take the risk of pronouncing it all good, lest we miss God or “offend the Spirit” with our doubts. The apostolic debate is a prime example. The risen Yeshua praised those who discerned false apostolic claims (Rev. 2:2), but many prefer to either deny all such claims or affirm them all.

We don’t need to accept this sorry condition. The Lord’s people aren’t meant to be spiritually handicapped. “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die…. Remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.” (Rev. 3:2-3)

7.Discernment by the Spirit. “The things of the Spirit of God… are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

Apostles are appointed by the Holy Spirit; therefore, their validity is confirmed or denied by consulting with the Spirit. “Now we have received… the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:12)

The living Word (“He”, not “It”) is effective for “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Yeshua’s judgments replaced superficial human verdicts with fully nuanced Divine truth (Matt. 23:23, Luke 18:18-22, Rev. 2-3). “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him…. He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear.” (Isa. 11:2-3)

All who are in Messiah theoretically have access to this same Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17, 2 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 2:18). But for reasons beyond the scope of this article, many saints discussing this controversy cannot hear the Spirit clearly.

We can’t even hear one another. Apostle skeptics and apostle fans trade accusations, each side so intent on discrediting the opposition that they won’t acknowledge valid criticism or inconvenient Scriptures. The Body is fractured and confused, while the apostle debate – now over 20 years old! – shows no sign of closure.

Some would argue that if this is true, an imperfect apostolic authority that operates by human criteria is better than no authority at all. Others would answer that any human authority claiming to speak for God will damage the Body more than the current free-for-all. There’s a third, more hopeful option.

Having to fall back on human wisdom for lack of Spirit-driven wisdom is a shameful defeat for the “Spirit-filled” Body. But God’s grace has provided a humanly accessible route that will restore us to that higher place… if we will faithfully follow it. It was given by the Spirit for times of spiritual deafness such as ours.

“So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given.” (Luke 8:18)

8. Retraining Our Spiritual Senses. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate….” (2 Tim. 3:16)

As mentioned, the Holy Spirit in us is the ideal way to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). This verse is a command to sort out good from evil, and its context (v.19) involves the spiritual gifts and ministries at the core of this controversy.

However, every age includes saints who are “dull of hearing” because they have not invested in “practice [to] have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Heb. 5:11,14) God’s Plan B for the spiritually handicapped is to study the written record of Scripture, brimming with examples of what the Spirit looks like and sounds like… as opposed to counterfeits.

Because they are not merely helpful hints but God-breathed instructions, the Scriptures are so “profitable for training in righteousness” that those “not accustomed to the word of righteousness” can be healed of their deficiency.

9. Faithfulness to Scripture. “The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple…. The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Ps. 19:7-8)

Faithfully accepting and practicing the Biblical principles defining good and evil, true and false, spiritual and fleshly, has the effect of opening the spiritual senses. Those so trained will start seeing how these principles apply to cases not specifically mentioned in Scripture, guided by direct prompting of the Spirit within them.

Eventually they will become what the writer of Hebrews calls “mature”, able to sense good or evil directly by the Spirit before it emerges on the level that can be mentally tested. Those deeper judgments will save the Body from the deceptions that can outwit mental evaluation. Recovering this maturity will help settle the issues of apostolic authority and accountability.

On the individual level, faithfulness to the written Word is an eternal watershed decision. If we commit to walking in the Biblical instruction, we are guaranteed to acquire Spirit-filled discernment, along with God’s power and purity. If we try to ignore or rewrite the Biblical instruction, we are equally guaranteed to stifle discernment, quench the Spirit, trade the truth for a lie… and risk losing everything.

Since both reward and judgment come “to the Jew first” (Rom. 2:9-10), we of Israel can expect to feel the consequences of our choices rather quickly.

“So take care how you listen… whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:18)

NOTES:

[10] For more documentation on William Branham’s heresies, including his false messiah, see Part 4.

*****

This concludes the series. The topic is inflammatory and complex, further hindered by lack of information. Those who feel personal loyalty toward individuals mentioned here, or who esteem them as teachers, are bound to feel conflicted. My goal is not to cause division, but to encourage unity around God’s command for true accountability.

That begins with me. If anyone can identify factual inaccuracies, I will welcome documented corrections. If anyone can see a place where I’ve not spoken with love, I’m prepared to learn a better way. Contact me at: hannah[at]restorersofzion.org.