On 20 January, 1994, a group of 120 churchgoers at Toronto Airport Vineyard Church fell to the floor in hysterical laughter, some of them barking like dogs and roaring like lions.
Randy Clark, the visiting preacher from St. Louis who sparked the outburst, proudly described them as “drunk” on the Holy Spirit. But that raucous week sparked what’s come to be known as the Toronto Blessing, a twelve-and-a-half-year revival that attracted visitors from scores of countries to a crusade that, 30 years later, has transformed into what might be the most influential force in Christianity today: the New Apostolic Reformation. And they have one clear goal in mind—ruling over the United States and, eventually, the world.
In order to understand the movement trying to take over the U.S. today, we need to go back to 1947, when a small movement known as the New Order of the Latter Rain began praying and fasting in Saskatchewan, Canada, which took on the established Pentecostal authority, not even 50 years old. Latter Rain leaders wanted to practice the powers gifted by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’s disciples—such as casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead—and critically, they wanted to do it on demand, rather than waiting for these gifts to be bestowed upon them.
It’s little wonder that ideas of instant religious gratification and rejection of central authority appealed to what’s known as the second wave of the Holy Spirit, led by disaffected New Agers in 1960s California. An influential figure in the movement (and incidentally, a founding member of the Righteous Brothers), John Wimber, who went on to lead the Vineyard movement of which the Toronto church was a part, advocated for “power evangelism”—that is, practicing the miracles of the Holy Spirit or, as he preferred to call it, “doin’ the stuff.”
Though Wimber eventually tried to tame the lion roarers and carpet rollers of Toronto, his key disciple, C. Peter Wagner, saw an opportunity in 1996 to reestablish some of the ideas put forward by the Latter Rain movement, with a few more of his own, including breaking away from existing structures and establishing a new denomination, practicing demonology, and embracing the transnational and commercial focus of the Neocharismatic movement, or third wave of the Holy Spirit.
After falling out with Wimber, Gagné says that Wagner “took a turn which embraced more of what had emerged from the Toronto Blessing and subsequent revivals.” Wagner, who coined the term New Apostolic Reformation, was intent on pushing boundaries, proclaiming that “we are currently witnessing the most radical change in the way of ‘doing church’ since the Protestant Reformation.” So while authority and structure is critical to Wagner and his disciples in establishing the hierarchy of the NAR, two key concepts central to the movement are where we see its leaders exert their authority.
The first is “spiritual warfare,” the emphasis on demonology over which Wimber and Wagner split, which holds that demons and evil spirits are present and intervening in our daily lives. Seemingly bizarre utterances, from Paula White Cain urging the termination of “all satanic pregnancies” and anti-vax doctor Stella Immanuel calling Covid “demon sperm,” are spiritual warfare terms, intended to highlight a spiritual conception of the world that is meaningful in global NAR circles and beyond. Here, sickness and poverty aren’t physical, they are the result of being possessed by demons.
Among adherents, there’s a real valence to this idea during bad times, but Wagner and his acolytes have added a more important “level” of spiritual warfare on top of these preexisting beliefs. They have introduced the concept of “territorial spirits,” demons who occupy places and institutions “strategically”—think abortion clinics, the LGBT community, or the Democratic Party. These malevolent forces don’t simply advocate for things that believers oppose—they are evil personified, and need to be cleansed.