In September 2022, the New Apostolic Church announced its intention to ordain women to all church offices as of 2023. In some countries on the African continent, the decision has led to controversial reactions. Particularly in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some open protests against the ordination of women are coming to light. In addition, the relevant Facebook groups related to the New Apostolic Church have not stood still since September 21. The pictures and comments there are impressive in the literal sense and illustrate the effects of commercial social media. A full classification and contextualization would require the work of qualified journalists. Nevertheless, some basic narratives can be extracted.
First, there are the videos that go viral. One is of a protest in front of the church administration of the NAC Congo West, in which apparently tires and other material are burned in front of the gate of the administration. Another video shows protesters preventing District Apostle Michael Deppner there from leaving a church, and a third has the picture of Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider going up in flames. But even beyond that, Facebook seems to play a central role in the dissemination of news, comments and official statements by church leaders.
The vast majority of critical comments seems to see the decision to ordain women in contradiction to scripture. According to them, the statements of the New Testament epistles, which take a negative view of women’s participation in liturgical ministry, must not be ignored. However, theological reflection seems to play less of a role here; on the contrary, theology is seen in a large number of contributions as bending divine truth. The decision of the church leadership is therefore to be interpreted as an increasing influence of the devil on the church and not as knowledge from the Holy Spirit. The assumption that the ordination of homosexual ministers and same-sex marriage would be introduced with the ordination of women also plays an important role. Based on this, further assumptions for the supposedly increasing satanic influence on the NAC have since emerged. Some of them even take on the character of conspiracy theories. The following story hereby probably marks the culmination of “conspirational creativity”: By introducing women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, the Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider, who was born a Catholic and seduced by the devil, is concerned with nothing more than the incorporation of the NAC into the Roman Catholic Church.
Local church leaders are reacting to the current situation in different ways. Already on Sept. 21, NAC Zambia counters accusations from social media in a press release that NAC is proactively advocating for LGBTQ rights (homosexuality is considered illegal in Zambia). On Oct. 16, District Apostle Soko and the apostles and bishops of NAC Zambia announce in a resolution that the local church will refrain from women’s ordination in their area until further notice. They justify this by stating that the ordination of women is currently not culturally accepted in their area.
The New Apostolic Church of Congo Southeast publishes a letter from District Apostle Tshisekedi on October 28. In this letter he explains that the church leadership there has undergone further training on the subject of women’s ordination and will continue to be available to answer pastoral questions in this regard. At the same time, it is emphasized that no one can be forced to accept the new doctrine, but that one is cordially invited to do so. In this context, there is a clear rejection of violence as a suitable means of persuasion and a call to love one’s neighbor. Since then, letters from the individual apostles have appeared on the Facebook profile of the NAC DRC Southeast, inviting people to follow and accept the doctrine.
In the New Apostolic Church Democratic Republic of Congo West, the first one to make a statement is Apostle Christophe Kabongo Kantu, Apostle for the area of Kinshasa-North. He was ordained as an apostle by Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber in Kinshasa on August 1, 2010 (No. 775 in the APWiki list of apostles). His work area includes 15 districts with 75 congregations. The APWiki also notes:
In 1996, a district evangelist Kabongo in D.R. Congo with 25 congregations left the New Apostolic Church. A family connection with Apostle Kabongo is not known.APWiki, https://www.apostolische-geschichte.de/wiki/index.php?title=Kantu_Ch._Kabongo
In a press address on October 26, he “disaffiliates” himself from the Chief Apostle and the New Apostolic Church International on account of the “unbiblical doctrine” they proclaim. The corresponding video in French is still online at Youtube.
Shortly thereafter, a poster for the first divine service of the “Eglise Neo-Apostolique Authentique” (roughly “Authentic New Apostolic Church”) with the Apostle on October 30 is published. According to the community, 8900 believers participate in this divine service on site and another 3100 via transmission.
District Apostle Deppner (NAC DRC West) notifies the believers in his working area by circular letter on 28 October of Kabongo’s removal from office and his expulsion from the New Apostolic Church by the Chief Apostle. At the same time, he condemns violent protest and the disruption of divine services as unchristian. In a further letter dated 01.11. he also opposes voices that place the ordination of women in a context with homosexuality issues.
Meanwhile, the “ENA/A International” continues to constitutionalize itself. Believers are called upon to identify suitable meeting places and notify the church leadership. On 04.11. the community presents its official emblem. Curiously, it is the old NAC emblem, flanked by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. On 06.11. Apostle Kabongo conducts his own Departed Service. In terms of content, it remains to be seen where the new fellowship will develop and whether a rejection of women’s ordination will suffice in the long term as a unique selling point to exist parallel to the NAC.
Article from the member magazine “Rundbrief” of the Netzwerk Apostolische Geschichte e.V., taken and edited with kind permission. Whoever would like to receive the magazine is cordially invited to join the network as a supporting member.