Chief Apostle Johann Bischoff's prediction that Jesus would return in his lifetime

The authority and position of the Apostles in the New Apostolic Church

The lack of theological and pastoral training for ministers

Chief Apostle Johann Bischoff's prediction that Jesus would return in his lifetime

Background to the prophecy

On Christmas Day 1951, Johann Bischoff predicted that Jesus would return in his lifetime. In a church service in Stuttgart on 12 September 1954, Bischoff went as far as to say, "I am clearly aware that should I die -- which will not be the case -- then God’s work would be destroyed … Should the case really be that I go home, which it will not be, then the work of redemption would be ruined."

Bischoff's message contradicted his own earlier statement of 1 May 1932 in "Waechterstimme": 

"We do not want to make the same mistake of many other Christian teachers in becoming preoccupied with when the Lord Jesus is going to return."

Despite this Bischoff and his supporters elevated his message to the status of doctrine and believing in it became a condition for membership of the New Apostolic Church and holding a position of authority in it. In a church  service on 11 July 1954, Bischoff said,

"The Lord has let us know that He will come during my lifetime, and thus during your lifetime too. If you cannot make yourself believe in this, if you do not make this final step, you will remain outside."

Bischoff never said how God revealed this particular insight to him. However as early as September 1949 then Apostle Walter Schmidt (later Chief Apostle) suggested that Bischoff would be the last Chief Apostle.

The aftermath

When Bischoff died in 1960, it was said that God changed His mind. (And despite his claims that he would be the last Chief Apostle, the New Apostolic Church has had four Chief Apostles since!) To this day this is the view propagated by the leadership of the New Apostolic Church. Bischoff was one of many people who over time made false predictions concerning the Second Coming.

Bischoff's false prediction caused hurt to many faithful members of the New Apostolic Church who not only expected the return of Jesus in his lifetime but who also sold their properties, cancelled insurance policies and who were mocked for believing the prophecy of a deluded man.

Those Apostles who refused to spread Bischoff's message and who proposed that it be left to the individual to decide whether to believe the message or not were excommunicated and slandered. Many of them were supported by thousands of members and founded new denominations such as those organised in the United Apostolic Church. Examples are:

As early as June 1980, the Apostles of the United Apostolic Church generously offered hands of friendship to Chief Apostle Urwyler. He rejected their offer. Chief Apostle Fehr has now finally responded by hosting a number of these Apostles at a meeting.

It is time that the New Apostolic Church stops trying to defend the reputation of Bischoff. He was wrong. The New Apostolic Church should renounce his failed prediction. It was the invention of his senile mind and not a revelation from God. The Chief Apostle should apologise for the hurt caused by Bischoff. He should also apologise for the continuing slander campaign against those New Apostolic Church Apostles and members who correctly did not believe Bischoff.

The authority and position of the Apostles in the New Apostolic Church

The constitution of the New Apostolic Church was until recently a secret document seen by only a few men. From what we know the Chief Apostle is the president of the legal organisation. He represents it in court and holds the sole lawful commercial signature.

Only the Chief Apostle, District Apostles and Apostles are members of the organisation that constitutes the New Apostolic Church International. No new Apostle (and thus member) can be appointed without the approval of the Chief Apostle.  Requirements for the ordination as Apostle are the swearing of an oath before the Chief Apostle or his representative and the signature under the by-laws of the organisation. Even after their terms of office the Apostles are bound by the pledge of secrecy.

nacfehr.gif (15929 bytes)The Apostles wield unchecked power in the New Apostolic Church and members are encouraged to venerate them. This is not consistent with the position held by the apostles of the New Testament. District Apostle Helper Leonard Kolb said in a service on 17 January 1999, "When I was a little boy, and sat in church with my mother, she would say to me: 'Here comes Jesus' when the Apostle strode to the altar." 

Let us compare the Apostles of the New Apostolic Church to those appointed by Jesus:

Appointed by Jesus Appointed by Chief Apostle Luke 6: 13
Were eyewitnesses of the work of Jesus Have not seen Jesus Acts 1: 21 - 22;  Galatians 1: 1, 15 - 16
Performed physical miracles (visually and audibly attestable) Have performed no physical miracles to date Acts 5: 16; 9: 34
Lived modest lifestyles Live extravagant lifestyles Matthew 19: 27
Preached Jesus and His Gospel Preach themselves and faith in the Chief Apostle 2 Corinthians 4: 5
Lived and served among the congregations and did not have more authority than them Rule over congregations as if they are kings Acts 6: 2, 3; 15: 6
Refused to accept praise and adoration of followers Actively seek to be venerated Acts 10: 25, 26
Were not prominent in the administration of sacraments or essential to the ordination of ministers Believe that they are essential for the administration of sacraments and ordinations 1 Corinthians 1: 14; Titus 1: 5

The Chief Apostle holds absolute authority and is accountable only to himself. With the visit of the Chief Apostle to Cape Town in December 1999 to January 2000 no-one below a Bishop was allowed near him.  Even at a function for District Leaders in Paarl the guests were instructed not to greet him.

The New Apostolic Church should become more transparent and ordinary members should play a role in deciding church policy and in the running of the church.

The lack of theological and pastoral training for ministers

Many members and former members of the New Apostolic Church will know that what is preached from the New Apostolic Church pulpits seldom amount to more than platitudes, witticisms and regurgitation of what has been read in one or other publication. Impressive as some of these displays of extemporaneous speeches may be they lack substance.

In addition, few ministers in the church have any systematic knowledge of the Bible. The ignorance of some ministers is also evident in the unnecessary hurt caused to ordinary members through thoughtless words and oversights. Ministers in the New Apostolic Church should receive appropriate training at accredited institutions before being ordained. They should be compensated for their work.

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