Old Apostolic Church EXPOSEDOne church that is fairly popular in South Africa is the Old Apostolic Church (OAC). My father-in-law used to belong to it and I’ve known people who are practising members. On the outside it appears Christian enough, but one should never go by the feeling in life! Once I was told by a follower: “I’m Old Apostolic, and no we are not a cult!” without my ever having mentioned the c-word. So let us look at what the church is about, and see why, in my view, they most definitely are!
First though, I will explain their origins, hierarchy and initial values. I’ll do my best to make it as simple as possible; you will see how this is a church born out of disagreement and still plagued by schisms (splits).
The OAC has its roots in the Catholic Apostolic Church (formed around 1831, but after its last “apostle” died in 1901 it went into decline) which followed the Nicene Creed of 325AD (Catholic) and, like the OAC, is not an offshoot of the Reformation (or, Protestantism) but of Irvingism.
There was such a movement too in Europe; notably Germany and The Netherlands. After 3 Catholic Apostolic “apostles” died in 1855, the apostolate declared there was no reason to call new ones. They called 2 substitutes (coadjutors) in 1860. But in 1862 another “apostle” was called in Germany by the “prophet” Heinrich Geyer. The “apostles” did not agree with this, so the largest part of the Hamburg congregation, along with their Bishop F.W. Schwartz, were excommunicated. From this came the Allgemeine Christliche Apostolische Mission (ACAM) in 1863. In The Netherlands it led to the Apostolische Zending, later called Hersteld Apostolische Zendingkerk (HAZK). This later became the New Apostolic Church.
In 1899, Carl George Klibbe came to South Africa to do mission work for the New Apostolic Church. He was ordained by “apostle” H.F. Niemeyer of Australia as an apostle. Due to the personality cult (when someone uses propaganda to elevate themselves) of “chief apostle” Hermann Niehaus, Niemeyer separated himself from the German branch and formed the Apostolic Church of Queensland. The South African branch also separated from the German branch, and henceforth became the New Apostolic Church (NAC). The reasons they did this:
1) Niehaus' ban on prophetic gifts (visions, dreams and prophecies),
2) Niehaus' refusal to appoint Prophets,
3) Niehaus' acceptance of the literal interpretation of the Bible,
4) Establishment of the office of Chief Apostle, and
5) Personality cult that formed around the Chief Apostle.
Hermann Niehaus tried to remove Carl George Klibbe and appointed Wilhelm Schlaphoff as “apostle” instead. Klibbe was excommunicated in 1913. So, for a while there were two NACs in South Africa. Eventually they came to an agreement in 1926. Carl Klibbe’s church would be called Old Apostolic Church (OAC), Schlaphoff’s would become the New Apostolic Church (NAC). Today the OAC has around 2 million followers in Africa (South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi) and 30,000 in Europe; branches are in USA, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.
The OAC’s leadership is a body called the Conference of apostles. It consists of all active and retired “apostles”, led by a chairman who is appointed for a term of two years; he may only serve two terms.
The OAC is divided into nine districts covering Southern Africa and Germany. Each district is run by the District Office, where the “apostles” work from. Each “apostle” has an Apostleship which includes a few Overseerships. Such an Overseership is led by an Overseer, Evangelist and Prophet. It is divided into many Elderships.
An Eldership will cover one or many congregations and has many Priests and Underdeacons. The Priest is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the followers, and assisted by the Underdeacon who does Bible study and testimony.
Ministers are appointed and ordained by an “apostle” by having hands laid on them. They get no theological training; but they believe that by breaking bread within the church, they will get all their doctrine and scriptures from that. While I do not believe that a church minister “needs” a theology degree, and I have known people who have a degree but still lack simple knowledge, surely a person, who is responsible for the development and growth of a congregation, should at least have some understanding? Understanding is something the Bible holds paramount! If only it were so easy to just break bread and instantly get all the knowledge you needed!
What Are Their Values?
The OAC rejects ecumenism, or the compromise of the Word of God with other churches. Now, this is a good thing – many Protestant churches are compromising the Word to appease the wicked world, or even to create unity with the Roman Catholic Church. However, the followers are taught that the OAC is the only true church – this is where it gets tricky. Officially they will say that they do not consider believers to be unsaved if they are outside of the OAC; but at the same time, “it is the only true church”, so by implication alone it does just that. Just to re-iterate who can be saved:
Romans 10:13 - For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Note how the verse says “whosoever” – an old word meaning “whoever”. Anybody who calls upon the name of Jesus shall be saved. If the OAC or any other church were the “only true church” and salvation were only within it, the Bible would say this. But it does not! Also worth noting is that clergy and followers are often hostile towards other churches and ministers. They believe that only the members of the OAC will go to heaven (Catechism Question 2 & 3).
As for politics, followers of the OAC are forbidden from partaking in politics. They are allowed to vote (because forbidding them would violate the law), but they are not allowed to join a political party or stand for election. This is similar to Jehovah’s Witness teaching. There were two further schisms (separations) in 1972 and 1968, leading to the Reformed Old Apostolic Church and Twelve Apostles Church of South Africa, simply because some people wanted to get involved in politics.
The Old Apostolic Church's view on non-participation in politics has led to two schisms. In 1972 several coloured members formed the Reformed Old Apostolic Church, and in 1968 several black members formed the Twelve Apostles Church of Africa.
Regarding Bible Versions, the OAC only uses the KJV in English (I agree with that!); or Afrikaans 1933/53, or the German 1912 version of the Luther Bible. The early OAC used the Dutch Statenbijbel until 1933, when the first Afrikaans Bible translation came out.
What Do They Believe?
Enter the cult status. The core difference between the OAC and other churches is that it reads the Bible “spiritually”, rather than literally. In other words, you as a believer cannot simply buy a Bible and start reading it. You see, every word that is written in the Bible is inspired by God, and for them this means it is deemed too holy to be read in the normal way. So whatever is written in the Bible, there has to be a hidden “spiritual” meaning for every word.
Let me give you an example of a follower’s problem that I was faced with:
Genesis 1:14-19 - And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
What you just read now is the part of Genesis 1, which describes the creation on the fourth day. If you simply read it as it is written, it is clear that on the Fourth Day, God created light; the sun and the moon.
So what did the OAC follower in question believe it said? Well, that on the Fourth Day, God created good and evil, because good is symbolised as light and evil is symbolised as darkness. Problems:
1) This assumes that what the Bible says is different from what it actually means;
2) Putting the presence of evil on the Fourth Day, when God said after the six-day creation that everything was “very good”, that would make God a liar;
3) There was no death until Adam sinned. By evil, death came into the world. So if evil is present on the Fourth Day, this will lead to death before sin (just like the Gap Theory) and this is heresy.
4) How would that follower possibly understand the creation account by looking for hidden meanings?
(This aside, I explain the issue of light on Day One and Day Four on Part Two; although reading Genesis 1 as it's written should make it obvious what the difference is between light on both days; it's a question I get a lot from OAC members writing in)
To show further how reading the Bible “spiritually” is not only wrong, but in some cases impossible, here is an exercise. Try to interpret the following verses in any way you wish, except for what is written:
Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Exodus 20:13 - Thou shalt not kill.
Exodus 20:14 - Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Exodus 20:15 - Thou shalt not steal.
John 11:35 - Jesus wept.
These are just simple verses; but how can you possibly interpret these in any other way? It is impossible. But to do so would require reading literally. Remember that the OAC and NAC split, partly because the one wanted to read the Bible literally! So, by the OAC’s own rules, if the Bible says “thou shalt not kill”, they are not allowed to understand this as “thou shalt not kill”.
Furthermore, they consider the stories in the Bible to be historical events, but have to be interpreted in the same way as the parables in the Gospels – in other words, the Bible cannot just give a factual account of something, even factual accounts are considered just to be metaphorical stories to try and make some point! If you have access to watch Youtube, you may wish to look at this video, documenting certain archaeological finds which show that stories such as the Ark, the Exodus and Sodom and Gomorrah really did happen. Also, for a great sermon on the issue of literal/figurative Bible interpretation, click here.
The OAC also does not consider the Bible to be the only source of authority, but must go hand in hand with the Holy Spirit to interpret it. The OAC also has its own Catechism. This is a definite cult alert!
This concept of “Bible plus something else” is a common trait in cults. You will see in known cults that they have a Bible, but then come out with their own literature to confess their own strange ideas, then adapt the Bible to fit the literature accordingly. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a Bible (New World Translation, edited to fit their beliefs) but they really follow the Watchtower. Catholics have a Bible (Catholic Bible, includes seven other books and some extra chapters), with some slight editing to fit their beliefs – the Catechisms, Canons, doctrines of the Vatican are what they really follow. Enter the OAC. They have the Bible – to their credit, unedited – but instead, its followers are forbidden from reading the Scriptures as they were written. The “Holy Spirit” is paramount for them, but what is their “Holy Spirit”? The spirit which allows them to magically see what the Bible “really” says. So although the Bible is their holy book, the elders’ interpretation “via the Holy spirit” supersedes it. This is begging for cult status!
But why, I hear you asking. Well put it this way. Suppose you are just a follower of the OAC. You’ll have a Bible. But you may not read it just as it’s written. If you do read it, you cannot understand “properly” what is written. In order to understand the writing “spiritually”, you must let the church elder read and interpret it for you.
This is wrong! The Bible is clear enough for even a youngster to read and understand. What the OAC is doing is akin to “guru-ism”. In other words, the Bible is too difficult for the average person to read, and you need a guru to read it for you. And you just have to trust that they’re correct. This is exactly how cults get started!
Also, the OAC has Sacraments. This is an inheritance from the Catholic Church. Actually, quite a few churches have Sacraments. But it matters not how many churches have them; this is wrong! To explain, a Sacrament is a ritual that is required for your salvation. The Bible is very clear that it is faith that saves you and nothing else! Yet, the OAC have three Sacraments; Holy Communion, Holy Baptism and Holy Sealing. The Holy Sealing is the administration of the Holy Spirit and considered to be part of your spiritual rebirth. They believe that a man becomes a Child of God this way. I am by no means against Communion or Baptism, but they are not requirements for salvation. If someone accepts Jesus Christ and then dies, they are saved – because faith alone saves you!
The OAC also believes that they can give these Sacraments to dead people! An “apostle” will give them to two substitute people (usually a Fourfold Officer and his wife). They don’t believe the dead person will be in those two people, but somehow they can accept Sacraments for dead people who, according to the Bible, are already in Heaven or Hell.
As for the “apostles”; consider the roles of an OAC “apostle” and decide if this is vaguely Biblical. The points, as well as the pieces in red, come from a source.
1) The authority of the Bible is subordinate to the authority of the Apostle. – WHAT?!
Question 37 of the catechism asks, "Can we receive salvation and everlasting life through the scriptures?" Answer: "No..." The apostles have been set "to be a light of the Gentiles, that they should be for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (Catechism Question 11b). Question 35 asks, "Who has been sent to preach the Gospel?" Answer: "The apostles, as clearly shown in 1 Thess 2:13..."
2) The apostle controls the entrance to heaven. – WHAT?!
Salvation is possible only through the apostle; for those who believe in Christ through the apostles (Catechism Question 36 & 49). To the apostles only has been given knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven (Catechism Question 5 & 50, e & f). People can only come to faith through the words spoken by an apostle: without the apostles no-one can become a believer. The church interprets Mt 10:40 to mean that no-one can see the Father or Christ if they do not accept the apostle, for, "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me." The apostles are the only people with whom God speaks directly (Catechism Question 25), who understand the Scriptures (Catechism Question 38), who know God (Catechism Question 24), who speak the wisdom of God (Catechism Question 50c), are able to forgive sins (Catechism Question 47), and who are going to judge the earth (Catechism Question 41).
3) The apostles are Christ's substitutes on earth. – WHAT?!
Yes, apparently the only begotten Son of God needs a substitute. Not only this, but “apostles” have the power to forgive sins. Does this not reek of Catholicism?
4) The apostles are the only people who may curse. – NO!!!
Fear not! They cannot curse you at all, nobody can. But apparently, many OAC members remain in the church because they fear being cursed. Undoubtedly this is why some followers have pressure to go to church at least three times a week.
(Source) (24 September 2012 - the source link is broken! However, the same info is available on PDF here)
I really recommend you visit the source, and extra sources listed at the bottom of the article, as it has more information on the OAC. As you delve into their church, it is blatant how anti-Christian it really is.
This does not come from research, but from testimonies. Early in 2012 I received a troubling message via the website from a Methodist lady; she visited the OAC once - just once - and was told upon exit that if she didn't return, she would be cursed! Now, Christians cannot be cursed, for we are protected by the blood of Jesus Christ. So why would the OAC in this case make such a threat? Well, I since have received a bit of stick for previously mentioning this on the article (I had it noted as additional feedback, in orange). And then I received a second confirmation that the OAC does indeed make these threats - see here.
Friends, the only thing which matters in life is this – do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? This is the one and only way you can get to Heaven. I've done an article to explain salvation to you, so that you may know how to get saved - it's the ultimate free gift from our Father. Know (I mean, know!) you’re a sinner and repent (feel remorse, feel the shame); know you’re deserving of Hell, know Jesus died for your sins and call on Him to save you. That’s all! Then get hold of a Bible (KJV is best for many reasons, it’s about the only thing this OAC got right! Any Bible can save you but there’s nothing better than a KJB). But not only is the Bible the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, it will also help you to know exactly when those who profess Christianity are indeed OK, or are cults and heretics. And here we have a clear-cut cult.
1 Timothy 4:1 - Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
(underlining = mine)
South Africa, we have another wolf in our midst.
Information Used (among others)
Wikipedia - I only used this for details on the foundation of the OAC. I loathe Wikipedia for its bias, and a lot of the article is clearly written by an OAC follower)
Denzel Dick's Tract - for more detailed, technical stuff.
Extra: Information was used from (initially) four witness accounts; dicussing with and questioning people I have known who are practising OAC members. If four is not enough for you, consider:
2 Corinthians 13:1 - This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
If you now think I'm the most evil thing out there, there are, at the current count, two anti-me blogs out there for you to rant and rave on. If you're wondering how a Christian can be so "hateful", click here.
Update, 3 September 2012 - A reader of this article added the following, which I have now had verified by an ex-OAC member: "Something you don't know is that the OAC believes in 7 heavens: 1) for children; 2) for brothers and sisters; 3) for the underdeacons; 4) for priests; 5) for elders; 6) fourfold officers and 7) apostles. (since 2014: this is further evidenced in "Part Three")
If you have a testimony about your experience with the Old Apostolic Church, do please share it with me and also let me know if I may use it (named or anonymous). I have already published quite a few.
Since April 2014: Please check out much more OAC info on my new Apostolics Corner. This includes links to all the OAC articles, the interview, all the testimonies, as well as a whole host of external information - and you can also download an OAC Catechism.
Additional articles on the OAC (on this site):
2012 - Old Apostolic Church Exposed, Part Two (based largely upon feedback received)
2013 - Interview With Former Old Apostolic (extremely detailed first-hand information from a former member of 40+ years; VERY revealing)
2014 - Old Apostolic Church Exposed, Part Three (15x A4 long - full of more detailed info and refuting, thanks to a fellow brother in Christ who grew up in this movement)
FREE Gospel Tract! (courtesy of All The Earth Ministries)