Everyone in Colorado Springs owes a debt of gratitude to Robert Henderson.
As the Waldo Canyon Fire swept down into the residential neighborhoods of Mountain Shadows, Henderson watched and wondered, "Is there a spiritual force driving that thing?"
He called together a number of people who, he says, have a prophetic gift. For hours, they prayed and prophesied to identify the demonic power responsible for the conditions that allowed for the fire's spread, then worked to nullify that power.
"We began to declare that the weather patterns would come into order so that the fire could be put out," he says. "And I was watching the news like everybody else, and they kept saying every day, every day they would say, 'It's going to be the same conditions — it's going to be hot, it's going to be dry, low humidity, the winds are going to blow.' And every day, every day it would be just the opposite.
"Over the next few days, it went from 5 percent contained, all the way to 75, 80, 90, finally 100 percent contained. If you'll go back and check your records, you'll find that the weather actually cooperated.
"What I felt like we were able to do, along with other people that were praying all over the world, is that we dealt with what was driving it, and then were able to put in place something that helped the firefighters and everybody put it out."
Strategic spiritual warfare, Henderson calls it, a strategy of battling demons through ritual and prayer.
"This is what Jesus did, when he stood on the bow of the boat, and said, 'Peace. Be still!' and calmed the weather," he says. "There are going to be those who mock and make fun, there's going to be those who laugh, but there's going to be others whose interest is piqued, and there will be others who say, 'Yeah, I believe that.'"
Here in his roomy office on Garden of the Gods Road, leaning back into a plush sectional, Henderson looks the part of a contemporary evangelical pastor. The 53-year-old, clean-cut Texan is dressed in an un-tucked button-down and jeans, sporting a spiked shock of silver hair, and armed with a quick, affable charm.
But Henderson is not a pastor; he's an apostle.
The New Apostolic Reformation earned attention last year when Rick Perry launched his presidential bid soon after holding a prayer meeting called The Response, an event that featured many religious leaders associated in one way or another with the apostolic movement.
Once Perry dropped out of the race, the apostolic movement stayed in the headlines when one of its leading voices, Dutch Sheets, announced his support for former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Gingrich responded by appointing Sheets to his campaign's Faith Leaders Coalition. And even before these campaigns, influential apostle Mary Glazier gained some media attention after her connection to former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's hometown church came to light.
Superficially, the political overlap makes sense; when you look at some of the beliefs held by those in the apostolic movement, you see little more than the Republican platform: They oppose gay marriage and abortion; they see "entitlements" as the ruination of the American dream, and they want Christians to re-assert their prominence in society.
But some scholars identify something more sinister in this particular offshoot of the Pentecostal Church and Charismatic Movement. One is author Rachel Tabachnick, a noted researcher of the religious right who runs narwatch.com.
"This is an extremely dualistic form of belief," she says of the New Apostolic Reformation. "The apostles claim that those opposing them are not only evil, but controlled by literal demonic beings. They teach a unique and seductive form of scapegoating, claiming that homosexuals and those of other religions are the cause of societal problems, including economic downturns and natural disasters. In this belief system, purging of demonic beings will result in supernatural societal healing, including reduction of crime and corruption, economic prosperity, healing of disease, and even healing of environmental degradation.
"The movement is leading a shift in emphasis from evangelizing by 'saving souls' to what they describe as 'taking territory.'"
Born out of time
The Apostles, of course, are best known as the 12 robe-clad founders of the Christian church. Yet "apostle" has a broader, and often unclear, definition.
For Henderson and others, a little-A apostle is simply someone who has been given one of the ministry gifts described in Ephesians 4:11: "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service ..." The mainstream Christian church has historically embraced three of these ministry gifts, but has been uncomfortable with recognizing modern apostles and prophets.
One version of America's contemporary apostolic movement began after World War II and lasted through the 1960s, says Dr. C. Peter Wagner, a longtime professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. "It was a very strong movement, but it was not sustained," he says.
In 2001, Wagner says, we saw the true beginning of the second apostolic age. He would know: Wagner, who now lives in Colorado Springs, is often considered the architect of the New Apostolic Reformation. He named the movement, and his numerous books and lectures on the apostolic age have formed much of its foundation.
Wagner was among the first local religious leaders Henderson sought out when he and his family moved here from Texas in 2007. They have forged a deep relationship; Henderson is aligned, as they say, to Wagner.
Another local leader was Sheets. He led the Freedom Church (originally Springs Harvest Fellowship) for more than a decade, and Henderson says he was functioning apostolically while he was here. In 2011, he moved to Texas by way of Alabama, as his star was rising.
On a recent Sunday, Wagner appeared at WellSprings, the apostolic center Henderson opened last year in a strip-mall storefront once occupied by New Life Church. He described to congregants the differences between the traditional church and an apostolic center. For instance, a local church is headed by a pastor; a center, by an apostle. In the local church the leadership team promotes conformity, he says, while the leadership of the center promotes creativity. The pastor is a rule-follower; the apostle, a risk-taker. A pastor is supervised by elders who have final authority; at a center, the elders support the apostle. The pastor "cares for the sheep"; the apostle "mobilizes the army." (As Wagner puts it, "You'll rarely find an apostle visiting you in the hospital when you are sick.")
As for the congregants, members of a local church generally opt to avoid the devil and his machinations; members of an apostolic center are more aggressive, and attack the devil.
Which means that the people in this room — a mostly older, ethnically diverse crowd of around 120 regulars — have a lot of work to do.
Henderson tells the Indy that there are three heavens; think of them as layers. At the top is the third heaven, the one we all aim for, filled with the angels. The lowest layer is the first heaven; this is where we live while on Earth.
Then there is the second heaven. This is where you will find the "principalities and powers," a massive army of demonic forces ruling regions across the globe.
"We feel like one of our calls is to deal with those principalities and powers that want to block the gospel from entering the earth," Henderson says. "Our perspective is that sometimes people don't believe ... because of the influence of these principalities and powers that are so controlling the culture, that our message doesn't make sense."
You cannot reason people into the kingdom, he says; you must declare spiritual warfare against the powers that control a region "so that people's minds are freed. So that when they hear the message, they can understand it and receive it."
For too long, the theory goes, the church has opted out of spiritual warfare — choosing not to polish the banisters on the Titanic, so to speak. Instead, it's basically bided its time until the Rapture. (See sidebar, p. 25.)
"The church is supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world," Henderson says. "The truth of the matter is, we haven't been very been effective in affecting our society and affecting culture."
Meanwhile, others have. For example, Henderson says, "Thirty-seven homosexuals met up in Seattle, Washington, and came up with the homosexual manifesto. And they came up with a strategy to have their lifestyle accepted in America.
"So in the last 30 years — and I love what my friend Dutch Sheets says — 'While we were waiting to go to heaven, they were discipling a nation.' Because they changed the way a nation thought. Instead of the church changing the way a nation thought, the homosexuals have changed the way a nation thought."
It is the role of the apostles to take back the mind of the nation.
Surely overtake them
Henderson's 2010 book, A Voice of Reformation, explains a theory of dominionism, and the "Seven Mountains Mandate" that guides the NAR. A theory dating back to the 1970s, it says society is made up of seven areas of influence: arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion. Apostolic adherents are directed to expand God's will in whatever area is available to them.
The mountains, Henderson writes, "are the molders of society and the influencers of culture. ... The invasion of these mountains and the altering of culture as a result is the ultimate manifestation of the kingdom of God in the earth." For too long Christians have been too preoccupied by the religion mountain, the theory goes. The idea now is to see more adherents ascend other mountains — to use their money, talents, skills and time to promote causes that will advance the "kingdom culture" there.
Wagner puts the number of NAR members in the millions. Academics say it's more like hundreds of thousands. But, notes Tabachnick, "There's no way to put a number on just how many people are in it and how many people have been taught these ideas.
"The new apostolic networks are now overarching denominations, going over the top of existing denominations, providing sort of a separate authority structure for people who are in denominations currently, such as the Assemblies of God. It's very controversial.
"You can see all of these networks all over the country now, and all over the world," she says. "And if you look at the ideology — the spiritual warfare ideology, the dominionism — you can find it in places where you don't see a direct line to Wagner and his apostles."
She says that she doesn't want to over- or underestimate them.
"They have people who are reaching the highest levels in the evangelical world," she says, noting that Heidi Baker, a member of the movement, was on the cover of Christianity Today.
There are NAR members on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, she says, and the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins regularly works with members. She even connects Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, to the movement.
Both narwatch.com and talk2action.org, a website run by journalist Bruce Wilson, include links to documents and videos detailing the beliefs fueling the movement and its activities, including Sheets' political involvement.
In one video, he asserts matter-of-factly that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, saying, "God has now turned us over to our enemies for a season."
This kind of clip fuels Tabachnick's argument that members of the apostolic reformation have very little tolerance for other religions, seeing demonic work behind the spread of false gods. She and Wilson have linked apostles to efforts supporting Uganda's anti-homosexual legislation. In Malaysia, apostolic leaders declared spiritual warfare against a Buddhist statue, praying for its destruction, Tabachnick writes, and celebrated after the statue caught fire. Apostles, she reports, have even launched spiritual warfare against Muslim mosques and Freemasonry temples in Detroit.
Henderson defends Sheets' comments as something said among friends, not intended for public consumption. He also insists that those in the apostolic movement believe deeply in religious freedom.
"We are not seeking to establish a religious state," he says. "We are not preaching religious state; we are preaching kingdom culture. ... The values, virtues, morals and ethics of the King. Who Jesus is and what we represent. That's what we would like to see a city operate under, a state operate under, a nation operate under. Not that everybody would be a Christian."
However, he adds, "We believe that Jesus is the only way to the father ... and we would definitely want to do our job in the spirit realm, so that any demonic confusion or influence that would be trying to keep people away from the awareness of who Jesus is, would be broken."
Young men see visions
Henderson first heard the ministry's call as a child. He was 13 when he preached his first sermon.
He married right after high school and made a go of it in the electrician trade. It wasn't too long, however, until he began to study for the ministry. After completing his training, he took his first pastoral position at an established church.
He stayed on for 2½ years, but was restless.
"I wanted a church that I could put my DNA in," Henderson says. "When you go in and take over an existing church, you adopt who they are and you adapt yourself to them. When you start a church, you have the opportunity to be who you are."
So in 1991, he and his wife, Mary, planted Waco Christian Fellowship, in Woodway, Texas. Under his leadership it grew until they had about 600 regular attendees on a Sunday, that city's largest charismatic congregation. They even ran a full-time Bible school, and he was on TV five days a week, he says.
He was successful and happy as a church pastor, but still felt he hadn't achieved his true calling.
One doesn't choose to become an apostle, Henderson says, just as an acorn doesn't choose to become an oak tree. As he describes it, being an apostle means embracing a ministry gift, a unique depth to a vision for the future and shape of the church.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, as well as John Calvin and Martin Luther, instrumental figures in the birth of the Protestant Reformation, he says, could all be called apostles. As could someone well-known to contemporary locals.
"I personally believe that Ted Haggard functioned as an apostle when he built up New Life Church," Henderson says. "The effect that he had on the culture is phenomenal. ... Ted built that church so strongly, apostolically, the fact that it still exists after it what it went through [with Haggard's prostitute-and-meth scandal] is a testimony to how well he built it."
In 2001, Henderson finally began to sense who he was, and what his role should be.
"I began to realize that I saw a bigger picture, as opposed to a more detailed picture that pastors tend to see in a local church," he says. "My messages started being much more about the big picture of what God what doing in the earth, what God was doing in the church as a whole."
Julie Hearn remembers the time well. She and her husband, Randy, have been with Henderson's ministry since the early days; they moved here last year to help run WellSprings.Though it's hard to describe Henderson's transformation into the role of apostle, she says, it was evident in "the depth of the revelation in teaching. He was always very powerful as a speaker, being able to articulate a message, but it just became more powerful. Also, there was a real strong period of healing ministry."
His monthly healing services were very popular, drawing people from hundreds of miles away.
"We had people coming out of wheelchairs," remembers Henderson. "We had crutches being thrown away. I remember, we had a lady with [multiple sclerosis] and she was so incapacitated, she was walking on two bronze walkers; I'll never forget those. And God just touched her, and she jerked away and she ran across the stage and to the back of the sanctuary. I mean, everybody saw it. A lot of deaf ears were opening up."
Hearn says that Henderson's ability to channel God's will is nothing short of miraculous.
"He has done healing ministry throughout the world," she says. "It seems like there is still a great healing anointment on him. When he goes into a new region, it really does seem like God works miracles, you know?"
The whole measure
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary, dismisses much of the concern about the apostolic movement's dominionist agenda. What religious organization doesn't seek influence, he asks. But he is concerned with this loose connection of apostles recognizing other apostles outside the constraints of established church entities.
Robeck points out that the idea of apostles has been around for a long time — "certainly since the New Testament," he jokes. There were apostles in the Mormon Church in the 1830s, as well as in a Pentecostal movement of the 1940s, especially within a movement known as the Latter Rain.
"My concern has always been with the modern movement, starting with the Latter Rain movement up until the modern time, where we have these so-called new apostolic groups, that it has more to do with finding a way to take authority," he says. "People who do not like people telling them what to do — on the whole, I think that it attracts that kind of person. And there are a lot of people in the U.S. right now who don't want to be accountable to anybody. Maybe they will be accountable to an apostle, but I doubt it. I imagine that they will all be trying to become apostles. ...
"My problem with claims of apostleship today is the temptation to be unilateral in one's actions. To say, 'I am the authority, and how dare you challenge my authority.'"
Robeck points out that Jim Jones, architect of the 1978 "Jonestown massacre" that saw 909 people commit suicide at his behest, had an association with the Latter Rain Movement. "He was always independent in the way he ran things," Robeck says. "And what I think he did was, he took it to its ultimate extreme."
When apprised of Robeck's concerns, Wagner first notes that they were colleagues at Fuller, then that Robeck belongs to the Assemblies of God, which "have a denominational position against modern apostles." Wagner asserts there's a very systematic process for the recognition of apostles, which is overseen by other apostles. They go through a process of commissioning, "very similar to what people do when they ordain a pastor for a church."
The idea of the "self-appointed apostle," Wagner says, "is really an insult to the true apostolic movement."
For example, Henderson is involved with a number of networks run by leading apostles, such as Wagner, Sheets and Chuck Pierce. One of these networks, International Coalition of Apostles, is made up exclusively of apostles, about 500 of whom meet yearly. Henderson travels extensively, across the nation and even worldwide: South Africa, England, Germany, Canada, speaking at conferences and seminars, and is invited to speak at local congregations.
Along with the opportunities that these connections provide, there comes accountability. A number of other apostles, including Wagner, could censure Henderson if he started "messing up." A public condemnation from the leaders of the movement would carry immense weight. And if Wagner decided that he could no longer support or endorse Henderson, he could remove Henderson from his ministry.
Meanwhile, Wagner himself has a board of directors to whom he is accountable.
"We believe everybody has to be accountable to somebody," says Henderson. He adds that otherwise, "you could become cultish, even. I don't think I'd ever do that, but the potential is there."
Kingdom of heaven at hand
Henderson is nearing the climax of his message this Saturday morning at WellSprings. Roughly 20 people have gathered for today's session in the "Reformers School of Empowerment," an ongoing training series with an eye toward changing society. The lesson this morning: "Recapturing the Heart of America."
"This is not a physical fight we're in, this is actually a spiritual one," Henderson says. "How many of you believe that?"
"Amen," they reply.
"America needs a shift in the way it thinks," he says. "I'm going to give you five shifts that need to happen."
Notebooks and pencils are readied.
No. 1: Entitlements.
"What is the most important thing in America? For it to fulfill the kingdom destiny that God ordained," he says. "The kingdom destiny of God is more important than the American Dream. ... That American Dream has somehow shifted into a sense of entitlement from a sense of responsibility."
No. 2: "Equal acceptance of Christianity."
"The spirit of Antichrist has so taken a hold of those in the places of power and influence that being a Christian now makes us an enemy. We are not saying that we want to be esteemed higher or above any other religion, because the standard of America is freedom of religion, which is right, but we don't have that today. What they do is they try to picture us as enemies, as bigots, because they are afraid of us."
No. 3: "The proper goal."
"Our goal is not to create a religious state. We are not wanting a Christian version of Islam. We want the traditional values that our nation was founded upon to be upheld."
The first applause line of the morning comes when Henderson says he'd vote for a Mormon. "I don't care who he is, if he has a kingdom value system. If he upholds traditional values and he is a constitutionalist, then I am all for him. He doesn't even have to be a believer."
No. 4: Gay marriage.
"They don't understand the slippery slope that we are put on, because it's not about an individual couple's chosen lifestyle. That's not what it's about. It's about a value system that has been created in a nation that allows, permits and condones this. ... When this door is open, the values of traditional marriage and family will be eroded."
"God loves them, I love them," he says. "That's not the issue."
No. 5: Abortion.
"The blood of these babies, 54 million, is that right?" he asks, relying on the oft-cited number of abortions performed since Roe v. Wade. "The blood of these babies keeps the demonic in power in this nation," he says. "When there is innocent blood shed, 54 million babies, a blood bank is established in the spirit realm that empowers demonic principalities in this nation. That is one of the reasons that we haven't been able to bring them down, because they are so empowered by the blood of these babies.
"Wouldn't that be great that if today, or tomorrow, there started to be a reversal of generations of disobedience that has allowed our country to come to where it is today?" he asks. "But to get there, we are going to have to deal with philosophies and attitudes, and things that have been believed that have allowed and empowered demonic entities to rule over nations.
"Go make disciples of all nations. Anything less than that is an insult to the sacrifice of Jesus. Anything less than a discipleship of nations is a mishandling and mis-stewarding of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross."