Since the 1990s, the New Apostolic Church (NAC) has initiated a cautious process of change and engagement with other Christians, writes a German Protestant scholar, Andreas Fincke, in a new report in the German publication EZW-Studien (No. 193). While it has been given relatively little attention by scholars, the NAC is the third largest Christian denomination in Germany (385,000 members), after Roman Catholics and Protestants. While its stronghold long remained in German-speaking countries of Europe, the church has developed rapidly in new territories during the last decades: only 5 percent of New Apostolic Christians live in Central Europe today. Membership worldwide doubled between 1988 and 1998.
The NAC now has 11 million followers worldwide (led by 360 apostles, under a Chief Apostle), with an amazing growth in Central Africa and India. According to Fincke’s analysis, those developments have raised new questions and encouraged different approaches. Criticism from former members in Germany in the 1990s is also reported to have had an impact. Moreover, the Internet, with its new ways of communication has played a significant role in blurring the boundaries between “inside” and “outside.” In 1999, the NAC established a working group on issues of ecumenism and relations with other Christians. Some dialogues with representatives of mainline Christian denominations have taken place in Germany at a regional level.
Since 1998, the NAC has refrained from calling its Chief Apostle “the Lord’s representative on Earth”, while retaining an elevated status for that role, including the possibility of delivering new revelations. In recent NAC documents, the presence of many elements of truth in other Christian denominations is also acknowledged, and salvation for other Christians is not excluded anymore. Although conservative trends should not be overlooked (and may contribute to somewhat contradictory statements from the NAC leadership), Fincke has no doubt that the ecumenical opening of the movement will continue.–By Jean-Francois Mayer
(EZW-Studien, Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany, http://www.ezw-berlin.de)