Is an individual believer the bride of Christ? Emphatically, No.
There is much confusion in the Bride, uh, the Body of Christ, concerning this issue. A significant "stream" of the Charismatic church has adopted a system of beliefs (doctrine) that suggests that we, individually as well as corporately, are the Bride of Christ, and in fact that we can or are somehow, symbolically, be married to Christ. This teaching is generally referred to as the "Bridal Paradigm," and as the title suggests, everything is seen through the lens of this belief.
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines Bride as a "woman new married" but notes that the "name is applied to a woman at the marriage festival, before she is married, as well as after the ceremony." The secondary definition tells us that a bride is "a woman espoused, or contracted to be married." This is plainly the sense in which the Holy Scriptures uses the word Bride when referring to the Church (or Israel).
In the Book of the Revelation, Chapter 19 and Verse 7 we read "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready." Regardless of your eschatological leanings, no reasonable person would suggest that this has already taken place. More precisely, the Church is the bride, betrothed to Jesus.
"The story has a happy ending! The Bridegroom and the Bride are married and live happily in a beautiful city forever." Introduction to the Book of the Revelation in The Visualized Bible.
The concept of being married, symbolically or figuratively, to Christ predates the heterodox Bridal Paradigm viewpoint. The concept of a "mystical marriage" was promoted by Roman Catholic Teresa of Avila who through this experienced "spiritual ecstasy" which was defined as "divine intimacy." Not coincidently, many elements of Catholic Mysticism have been incorporated into the beliefs of those espousing the Bridal Paradigm today(1). The rejection of these aberrant Roman Catholic beliefs has been, until today, one of the distinctives of Protestantism.
Pope John Paul II, in an "Apostolic Letter" (Vita Consecrate no. 34)(2) noted that some aspects of this thought is "taking root or reemerging in the Churches and Ecclesial Communities which originated in the Reformation and is the sign of a grace shared by all of Christ's disciples. This fact is an incentive to ecumenism, which fosters the desire for an ever fuller communion between Christians 'that the world may believe'." John Paul goes on to say "In the consecrated life particular importance attaches to the spousal meaning, which recalls the Church's duty to be completely and exclusively devoted to her Spouse, from whom she receives every good thing. This spousal dimension, which is part of all consecrated life, has a particular meaning for women, who find therein their feminine identity and as it were discover the special genius of their relationship with the Lord."
I mention this to illustrate the point that the Roman Catholic viewpoint is that BOTH the corporate Church and the individual believer are the Bride of Christ. To their credit, the Roman belief outlined in John Paul's letter, suggests that they do adopt the understanding of Webster's second definition, which is that the Bride is betrothed, not married to Christ.
The Current Emphasis
In 2007, an acquaintance of mine, Rev. Keith Gibson, of the Apologetics Resource Center, wrote an excellent article on the Bridal Paradigm as it is emerging in the Charismatic church today (3). His thesis is that "Truth, taken to an extreme, becomes heresy." I'm going to quote his article in depth, because I really can't improve on it.
The bridal paradigm is a teaching that the image of the Bride is the primary identity for the church, especially the church of this unique end-time generation. This teaching has strong dominion theology undertones as there is a strong emphasis on the Bride co-reigning with Christ. Esther is seen as a type of the end-time Church. The bridal paradigm becomes the grid through which all Scripture is interpreted and through which all spiritual activity is engaged. Thus we have teachings like Bridal intercession, the Global Bridegroom fast, the cross in the bridal paradigm etc. All of the scripture is seen as the relentless pursuit of the heavenly lovesick groom for the bride of His hearts desire. This message truly stands the gospel on its ear. No longer is the emphasis on a God who is working for His own glory and displaying His majesty in redeeming a lost and unworthy humanity. Now the story of redemption is on God seeking a suitable mate for His Son with the cross being the dowry.
God is described as ”in-love”, lovesick, the passionate Bridegroom, or having a ravished heart. He is the Lover with fire in His eyes for His bride. The church is to respond in similar manner as we pray for our love to be awakened, to be ravished by the love of the Bridegroom etc. etc. Images and language from Song of Solomon abound.
This teaching, while drawing upon a legitimate metaphor and the language of Scripture, pushes the metaphor beyond the boundaries of its proper understanding leading to an improper and unbiblical picture of God and His relationship to the Church.
The first problem is the emphasis on the metaphor of the Bride to the exclusion of all other images used to describe the Church. Yes, the church is the Bride of Christ, but that is not all that is said of the Church. The Church is also called the Body (1 Cor. 12), the children of God (Eph 3:14, 1 Jn 3 and others), an olive tree (Rom. 11), a field (1 Cor. 3:6-9), a temple (1 Pet. 2:5), a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9), a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9), God’s house (Heb. 3:6), the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2), and an inheritance (Eph. 1:18). And this is just for starters!! Consulting any good systematic theology book will yield a veritable host of metaphors, titles and images of the church. Therefore right from the beginning we should understand that any teaching that focuses almost exclusively upon one metaphor is necessarily out of balance. Each of these titles is meant to teach us some important truth concerning the people of God. We simply do not have the right to fixate upon one to the neglect of the others. We do not have the right to elevate one to the place of primary position and evaluate all of Scripture through this lense. In like manner, Jesus is the Bridegroom but that is not all that is said about Jesus. This teaching is out of balance.
The second issue is that, while it is true that the metaphor of the Bride is used for the church as a whole, this same metaphor is never used for the individual believer. This may seem minor at first but it is actually very significant. It is the entire church that is the Bride of Christ. Each believer is a part but is not the Bride. It would appear that many of the prophetic teachers either misunderstand this or choose to ignore it. Due to this confusion, many of the statements of the prophetic teachers cause Jesus to sound like our personal boyfriend instead of our Lord. I have shared before of the man who claimed that he held Jesus for the first 30 minutes of his quiet time and then had Jesus hold him for the last 30 minutes. Jesus is not your boyfriend or lover. It is inappropriate to consider Him in this way.
A third issue is that the statement is a metaphor. It is not a literal statement. The metaphor is meant to teach us the truth about God’s love and commitment to us and our need for holiness and submission and yes, love for Him and a number of other things. But it is not meant to be literalized and physicalized (If that’s not a word, it should be.) This third issue brings a host of problems into play. It should be noted that, as with teachings on Contemplative Prayer, the source of much of this teaching is Roman Catholic mysticism. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and Madam Guyon, along with many others, have provided the foundation for this thought. This, in and of itself, should be a problem. Why would we go to those whose overall understanding of God is so poor expecting to find truth? Why would we draw from the polluted well of Roman Catholic mysticism hoping to find pure water? I have been told that it is because of their passion and certainly these authors can write passionately about God, but they can and did write just as passionately about the virgin Mary! This indicates to me, that the emphasis of the leaders of this movement is not at all grounded in a desire for truth but merely a desire to feel. And many of the “passionate” statements written by these mystics are squarely unbiblical. Consider the words of Catherine of Sienna who used to pray:
”O divine madman, you are crazed with love and drunk with love for me.”
Surely a less Biblical picture of God could not be painted than that of a crazed madman drunk with love.
This literalizing of the metaphor can be seen in the abundance of overly romantic phrases used to describe God’s love for us and ours for God. We read that God is “lovesick” or ravished for us. These phrases portray a God who simply cannot find true joy apart from us, who will never be satisfied without us. These statements are more appropriate for an adolescent than Almighty God. These phrases portray God looking longingly at the individual Christian and saying, “You…..complete me.” Jesus is finally sent to earth “When He couldn’t take it any longer.” This is a far cry from the God of the Bible who is completely sufficient within Himself and needs nothing. (Ps. 50, Isa 40) The triune God is complete within Himself, lacking nothing including relationship.
Certainly Christ does love us. He loves us with a love that is beyond comprehension in its height, depth, width and breadth (Eph 3:18-19). But He is not romantic about us. He is not attracted to us. He does not get sweaty palms, or stomach flutters. He is not “in-love” with us as we commonly mean that term today. There is a difference. (end extended quote)
Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church. The Bridal Paradigm turns the biblical view on its head. The Bridal Paradigm teaches that we look at marriage to get a view of what Christ’s relationship to the church is. The biblical view is that we look at Christ’s relationship to the church and let that color our marriages with God-honoring truth. -Drew Blom (4)
In 2002 CBN news reported "Some 20,000 mostly young people packed the Kansas City Convention Center on New Year's Eve for a wedding ceremony unlike any other... as each person who came embarked on a marriage covenant with the Bridegroom of Heaven... From noon until midnight they danced and sang, fasted and prayed, and got ready to get married to Jesus. One by one, thousands of men and women, young and old, made their vows and walked under the prayer shawl symbolizing their commitment to Jesus." (5)
Walking under a marriage canopy, known in Hebrew as a huppah, is part of the covenantal Jewish wedding ceremony. (6)
This ceremony took place at a meeting known as "The Call" which has strong ties to Lou Engle and the International House of Prayer (IHOP). The CBN report goes on a quote Steward Greaves (who is currently a lead teacher at IHOP) who said "I really feel like the Lord is calling young people to fall madly in love with Him. I've always felt that the difference between religion and relationship is intimacy with Jesus". (7)
While no one would argue against (righteous) intimacy with Christ, I can't help but contrast that statement with one made by evangelist Steve Hill which illustrates true intimacy.
Religion is hanging around the cross, Christianity is hanging on the cross.
CBN went on to note that at IHOP "there has already been a tremendous focus on the bridal love of Jesus... where for three and a half years, a team of prophetic singers, intercessors and others have held 24-hour-a-day praise and worship focusing on Jesus as the bridegroom." This practice has continued on to this day.
Mike Bickle, the leader of IHOP, is well known for his over-allegorization of the Song of Songs, by applying it literally to the individual believer and Jesus. While few would be willing to criticize anyone with a passion for prayer, the words of Gibson resound loudly: "Truth, taken to an extreme, becomes heresy."
Here is an illustration of the teaching coming out of IHOP. "He [God] has given Himself to both the exhilarations and the woundings of a lovesick heart. When He gazes upon me, He sees through the eyes of love and desire. He comes before me and says, 'I am a Man in love. I am a God that burns with desire, and I have set My affections on you. I am an all-consuming fire of love, and you are the inheritance that My Father has promised me. Will you receive My love?'" (8)
Passion in the Arts
Although it would be nice, no one expects musicians in the church to be theologians. So on one hand, I am hesitant to criticize the musicians in the church who are simply reflecting what they are hearing from the pulpit. However, we are aware that music has a very strong influence on people and much theology is gained through music.
John Mark Mcmillan, who has been featured at "The Call" meetings, wrote a song "How He Loves" which had gained some popularity. He writes:
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And the heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain this regrets,
When I think about, the way He loves us,
Oh how He loves us... (9)
Or consider some verse from Kansas City:
"O Gaze Eternal,
How penetrating are Your Fires
Rushing through my darkest places
With the burning streams of Desire
Leaving me naked, purged and bare
... Yet embraced...
You take hold of my weakest places
And kiss them with Your mercy
Lifting up my low grounds
With your mighty love so holy..." (10)
And this is a Misty Edwards favorite, the worship leader at IHOP-KC
I am lovesick, for my Beloved
My Beloved and my Friend
Only YOU can satisfy
Try as I may to chase another Lover,
I find there is, there is no other
For only YOU can satisfy (11)
Let me emphasize again that "Truth, taken to an extreme, becomes heresy."
It is not uncommon for those at IHOP to speak of being ravished by Jesus. This goes on much further than what could be deemed appropriate. Here's another quote from some required reading for students at IHOP: "She lifted her arms wide to the Lord and said with all of her strength and her love, 'Enjoy me. Right here, right now, in my absolute weakness, enjoy me.'" (12)
Sensuality, common in society, has indeed invaded the church. As noted previously, Teresa of Avila experienced "spiritual ecstasy" which was defined as "divine intimacy." Many in the charismatic church, in a practice known as "soaking prayer" where one is directed to empty ones mind completely and trance-like states are not uncommon, have reported such experiences. According to Paul Gowdy, Carol Arnott, a leader at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, reports that "she had her bride experience where she was taken into the very presence of Jesus and said that the love that she experienced was even better than sex" (13). Gowdy, an acquaintance of mine, was formerly pastor of a Vineyard church in Toronto which was a sister church to TACF, then known as the Toronto Vineyard.
Others involved in this practice have equated the experience to orgasm. My wife has heard women in mainstream Charismatic churches talk about these experiences in these terms. An anecdotal story, posted in response to the aforementioned CBN report, states : "A woman whom I see to be very Spirit filled, was talking to us at the dinner table about being taken into the "upper chambers" where Jesus laid her down on a bed of roses (because He is the Rose of Sharon He can do that, she said), and that He made love to her. She described to me this whole scene as if it were out of a romance novel. The thought of Jesus actually making love to me made me sick... I was actually disheartened, grieved and shocked that she was talking about this. What gets me is that her friends who were with her all agreed as if this was sound biblical doctrine."
I've heard reports from Kansas City of men being speaking of being "ravished in their hinder parts" by Jesus. While this may not be the viewpoint of leadership there, it reflects the sordid depravity behind the doctrine, and the logical end of such thinking.
Lee Grady, in a recent Charisma Magazine article, writes of the charismatic craze of Spiritual Ecstasy (14) which often involves drug imagery such as "tokin' the Holy Ghost" (15). He states "it won't be long before we see some Christians having sexual experiences at the altar. "It's already happening," my friend said. He described a recent "worship concert" in which one of the musicians simulated sex while stroking a microphone and whispering sensual phrases to Jesus. What is next-orgasmic worship? God help us." (16)
Years ago I constructed a teaching on profanity. Many people are under the mistaken idea that profanity has to do with cuss words. A biblical definition of "profane" would be to make ordinary that which God has called Holy. Esau, by virtue of selling his birthright, was deemed profane (Hebrews 12:16). Psalm 89:39 speaks of one who has "profaned his crown by casting it to the ground." The leaven of the Bridal Paradigm, which starts with the innocuous premise that we, individually, are the bride of Christ, has blossomed into full blown profanity. Their over-allergorized Song of Songs even warn us of the little foxes that spoil the vines.
We are admonished by the Lord to touch no unclean thing. The Lord says "Therefore come out from them and be separate" (2 Cor 6:17). The call to walk in holiness and to not deviate from the counsel of the scriptures has never been easy. It is perhaps harder but even more important in these last days when the time has come that people will "not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
“Lord I ask that you would create in us a pure heart and renew a right spirit in us and in the church.”
(15) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGfjcER2WyA see also
http://video.aol.com/video-detail/the-new-mystics-drunken-glory-tours/1670643694 Note Jim Goll “toking the ghost” at 04:03 time stamp.