The Last Reformation is a charismatic movement started by Torben Søndegaard, a Danish evangelist. Søndegaard claims God spoke to him, “You shall write a book, and I will give you one chapter each day. But on Sundays, you shall not write. You shall have time off together with your family.”
He claims a high success rate for his healing ministry and attributes failure to a person’s lack of faith. There is plenty on the Internet about him and I will share some links with you but let’s start with an over all impression.
It was reported in July 2019 that Torben Søndegaard fled Denmark, seeking asylum in the US, claiming he was being persecuted. In fact he was being investigated for some of the claims he made for his work, including ‘curing’ autism by casting demons from children.
I bought his book, The Last Reformation, which I have yet to read thoroughly, but immediately on opening it the problems jump out at me.
The endorsements at the beginning are from people who are anonymous apart from first names; Dort, Ulla, Klaus, and Eileen. The is nothing wrong with reviews from ‘the man in the street,’ but endorsements like this are meaningless because they cannot be tested.
Who are these people? Do they exist? What qualifies them to make a judgement, apart from ‘liking’ the book?
The endorsement on the back is more authoritative. It is from Charles Kridiotis, who is the co-founder of the ‘Simple Church Movement,’ and Mattias Nordenberg, who works with the Salvation Army and seems connected with the larger New Apostolic Reformation, another ‘Reformation’ movement that could do with close scrutiny.
There are a number of people endorsing ‘simple church’ as a workable model of church, not all associated, and not all would endorse the Last Reformation.
The Slow Church, or Simple Church model is not, in itself, a bad idea. The premise is that any church overburdened with programmes and organisations tends to slow in growth; I can testify to that. Simplifying church down to a few Bible-based principles encourages growth in both evangelism and discipleship. You can read some thoughts on simple church here.
I am of the view that many churches could do with some simplifying of their programmes, some back to basics teaching and activity. This is not what Torben Søndegaard has in mind, no matter it might look like it. Before we even get into the book, he writes:
‘Throughout this book, the words ‘fellowship’ and ‘church’ are used having two different meanings.
The word ‘fellowship’ is used primarily for a gathering of believers who have no formal church building or structure and are led exclusively by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
The word ‘church,’ when used of a gathering, refers to traditional ‘organized religion’ with a formal church building, assigned leadership structure, a congregation of listeners, etc.
Simply said, a ‘church’ is with a building, and a ‘fellowship’ is without a building. It does not always work out that way, but the context will make the meaning clear.
In the same way, if a reference to a church does not say ‘state church,’ it is referring primarily to evangelical, or ‘free’ churches.
References to the ‘West or ‘Western churches’ are referring to both European and American churches.’
Immediately, you can see what he is doing. Every church that doesn’t look like his church is not a true ‘fellowship.’ He dismisses buildings, organisations, leadership, indeed, dismantles the whole structure as we understand church.
In this context ‘simple’ might seem an attractive proposition, but it isn’t that simple when it comes to the Last Reformation of Torben Søndegaard. Let’s see where this leads us.
There is no Accountability, Bottom up or Top Down
On their website there is a ‘world map’ showing where people have signed up to his kick starter programme and joined his happy band. Click on a pin and see who is in that location. It’s when we click on the list of countries we begin to see an issue. At the head of the page we read:
It is important for you to understand that The Last Reformation is not an organization with centralized leadership, but a movement of people that are following Jesus. We love the fact that many people around the world start their own “The Last Reformation”-website and we try to collect them all here on TheLastReformation.com. However, Torben Søndergaard and his team are not in contact with all the different people that created these websites and we are not ‘over them’. But therefore it is also your responsibility to “test everything” (1 Tess 5:21).
When you check the legend that accompanies the map it explains that the grey markers (by far the greatest number) Represents someone that has added him or herself to the map. So what about the green markers?
‘Anyone can put him or herself on this map. As a result, there are many people on this map we do not know. Therefore we have introduced the green markers. Those people are part of our network and have been recommended by others. The grey markers are not recommended yet, their status is unknown. If possible, we recommend you to get in touch with the person behind a green marker.’
So, you are left to your own devices, Torben Søndegaard doesn’t even know who they are. Since there is no accountability, bottom up, or top down, and the latter is especially troubling, is this naivety? This ‘simple’ faith that, if we put it all in God’s hands and read our Bibles, we will all come to the right end?
I am reminded of the quote from Hodge:
“While, however, the Scriptures are from God, the understanding of them belongs to the part of men. Men must interpret to the best of their ability each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teachings upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. Every student of the Bible must do this, and all make it obvious that they do it by the terms they use in their prayers and religious discourse, whether they admit or deny the propriety of human creeds and confessions. If they refuse the assistance afforded by the statements of doctrine slowly elaborated and defined by the Church, they must make out their own creed by their own unaided wisdom. The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.”
Christians are Supposed to Live by the Whole Counsel of God From the Whole Word of God
One of the tricks this guy pulls off is separating one part of the Bible from the rest. You might have heard of Red Letter Christianity, a movement that aims to ‘live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings.’
But the whole Bible is the word of God and paying more attention to Jesus’ words given in red, essential as they are, is misleading and risks missing God’s whole counsel.
So Torben Søndegaard insists the model for church is only found in Acts. But Christians are supposed to live by the whole counsel of God from the whole Word of God. To highlight one portion of Scripture over the rest, albeit with the best of intentions, lends itself to so much mischief and abuse.
Taking the whole counsel of God we find first there is no ‘model for church’ in the New Testament. There are characteristics we should expect to find in Christian fellowships but there is no single model for governance. The most fundamental characteristics for me are, indeed, found in Acts:
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)
let’s unpack this and see what we get:
The Apostles’ Teaching
There is a great emphasis in the Last Reformation Movement on feelings and the gifts and their ‘model for church’ is confined to Acts. The early church emphasised the objective teaching of the apostles over subjective feelings, and that teaching is contained in the whole of the New Testament, including pre and post Acts. If we go to the rest of God’s Word we find the following:
‘And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’ (Ephesians 4: 11-14, ESV)
Now we have, not a structure, but a clearly identifiable body of people whose task it is to establish the foundations of the faith, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, bringing us to unity, building us up, discipled and mature…in other words a clearly identifiable leadership. Inevitably, such a leadership, it’s descendants, and such a task, needs organising.
Torben Søndergaard condemns the use of buildings, yet it is clear that the early church met regularly in the temple – ‘day by day, attending the temple together’ we read in Acts 2. We also read, ‘and breaking bread in their homes.’ This home fellowship involved a shared meal, part of which would have been the sharing of the Lord’s supper, but nothing here indicates an exclusively ‘house church’ movement. Indeed, when Christians answered the call to ‘go into all the world,’ they would often start their mission by meeting in the synagogue wherever they went.
Jesus taught in the synagogue (Luke 4:16) and – note we are going to Acts again – Paul taught in the synagogue too (Acts 17:10). Eventually, Christians were barred from those places and so met in homes, though not by any means exclusively so. Larry Hurtado is a major authority and, on his blog, he reviews a book looking at the early church, its practices and meeting places. This is very helpful and challenges the view put forward by the last Reformation movement, as well as other ‘house church’ advocates.
Torben Søndergaard seems to say that baptism is essential to salvation, followed by baptism in the Spirit, and speaking in tongues, although others have denied this.
He does emphasise these elements of Christian practice however, almost to the exclusion of everything else, even Jesus. If you listen to him it is illuminating to ask how many times does he mention the Lord.
One thing he does say is that ‘everyone’ in the New Testament church was saved, baptised, and baptised in the Spirit on the same day. This is simply not true. Again in Acts, we see Paul was baptised at least three days after his Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:8-19).
Torben Søndergaard’s emphasis on what amounts to works, ignores what we learn as essential in the apostles’ teaching. Paul writes 1 Corinthians:
‘Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…for I delivered to you as of first importance that I also received…’
What Paul is about to write, then, is the gospel, the ‘good news’ ‘in which you stand, and by which you are being saved.’ It is ‘of first importance,’ something to which we are to hold fast, and which is already established as a tradition throughout the church, ‘what I also received’:
…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that hen was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…’ (1Corinthians 15:1-5; cf Acts 17:22-32; 10:34-43)
Note everything is in accordance with the Scriptures. How do we know about this? By the apostles’ teaching, for which purpose God gave us a foundation of apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists etc. in other words a structure for teaching what is of first importance. This teaching, all of it, is also Scripture.
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
How does anyone take advantage of this great good news? Is it by baptism, ritual, baptism in the Spirit, etc? What did Jesus himself say?
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my words and believes in him who sent me has eternal life (present possession). He does not come into judgement (future assurance) but has passed from death to life (passed event)’ (John 5:24)
The common understanding in the traditional Evangelical faith is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We are saved into a new life, which involves baptism and the outpouring of the Spirit into the already new-born believer. Torben Søndergaard doesn’t appear to teach this order.
An important point to ponder on his emphasis on baptism, baptism in the Spirit, and the accompanying speaking in tongues is the question of what constitutes an authentic baptism? If all the ‘organised’ and institutionalised churches, with buildings, are wrong, is it his baptism?
Where, then, does someone need to go to gain this great gift of authentic baptism?…to Torben Søndergaard. He even re-baptises ‘in case’ there is any doubt about the authenticity of the first baptism. Listen to him explaining it here. This is what Joseph Smith claimed for his Mormon Church, sole authority, sole access to truth, he alone teaching the right message; it is so familiar to me as a former Mormon.
One of the notable aspects of this movement is the ‘evidence’ of people, having been saved, baptised, and filled with the Spirit, moving out into the streets and performing healings on complete strangers.
It is tempting to dismiss these as false reports, psychological events, etc. but the Bible makes it clear they may well be real. Jesus said in Matthew 24:
‘For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, the very elect.’ (Matthew 24;24)
‘The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)
There are forces at work in these days that seek to deceive, and what better way than to divide the Word of God against itself, to divide the church against itself, to produce signs and wonders? It is also worth remembering that healing is not, itself, a sign of saving faith, any more than ritual is.
The story of the ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel (17:12-19) tells how ten were healed but only one came to Jesus, and he was a Samaritan. Making someone well is not the same as making someone saved.
The Last Reformation?
A singular characteristic of all these claims to reformation, restoration, revival etc. is the knowing nature of those leading. He compares himself to previous reformers, such as Luther, Wesley, etc. but those men did not stand up and say ‘This is a reformation/revival!’
But these men were quite unconscious of their role in what would later develop from their works.
The great controversy between John and Charles Wesley, who were Anglican priests, was the issue of schism. Charles refused to go down that road and John travelled it only when there was no alternative.
Neither they, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Wycliffe nor any other Bible translators wrote off the church and started again in Acts. The leaders of these movements today quite self-consciously declare themselves reformers. This should not sit easy with us.
What appeals to people here is the open condemnation of the church and the claim to leave all that behind and start afresh, ‘like in the book of Acts.’ I have never met anyone who doesn’t have some criticism of the church, including me.
But ‘the problem with the church’ is always people, fallen, conflicted, broken people. If you ‘start again’ guess what? You start with people, fallen, conflicted, broken people. You will end up in about the same place too.
A church can get drawn into this movement by simply inviting someone to come and ‘talk about what God is doing.’ This is so very typical of what happens when hard-pressed leaders are looking for someone with some fizz and pop to get something happening in their church.
Someone comes along who seems to make things happen and it takes a load off the pastor. Chasing bandwagons is a long-standing Evangelical hobby but it is not a good strategy and leaders need to be very careful about who they allow in their pulpits.
Reformation/Revival doesn’t start with someone standing up and crying out ‘this is a reformation!’ Reformation is an act of God, as is Revival, and it is Reformation of the church, not away from the church. Revival begins with the church, it doesn’t step aside and bypass the church, as frustrating as church can sometimes be.
If anyone thinks it a good idea to ‘get back to the New Testament church’ I encourage them to read Paul’s letters. It isn’t an easy read, a pretty sight, looking at the church back then, when they had apostles, prophets, aplenty!
There is so much more to be said, and I am sure will be said in time. My advice is to stand on the whole counsel of God in the whole Word of God and you will be standing on solid ground.
Patheos has done an insightful write-up about this movement, asking some very pertinent questions. I also found an hour long seminar from Grace Community Church, San Antonio, Texas that was very helpful in putting these notes together. Jim Johnson has put together an excellent and thoroughly biblical examination of Torben Søndegaard’s teachings The Last Reformation and Torben Søndergaard’s False Teachings Exposed.
‘Although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude 3
At the risk of being accused of adding to Scripture, I would say if the error is in the pulpit, or in the public square, then the truth must also be contended for in those places.