In our last two posts we have looked at some personal experiences regarding IHOP. In this installment, we will look at the foundations of IHOP and where that has led to today.
Scott Pursley is the Senior Pastor at Lamb of God Fellowship in Livingston, NJ. He is a teacher who is well grounded in the Word. This article was originally presented in sermon form (mp3) last September. I'd like to thank Pastor Scott for reformatting his notes for publication at BeyondGrace.
The International House of Prayer, located in Kansas City Missouri is principally the vision of one man, its founder and chief doctrinal spokesman, Mike Bickle. Therefore a critique of IHOP is in the final analysis a critique of Mike Bickle’s teaching ministry. However, because of the unusual beginnings of Mr. Bickle’s ministry and rise to national prominence it is also necessary to focus on the teaching/preaching ministries of two alleged prophets, Paul Cain and Bob Jones. Their ministries are parallel developments and significantly influence and shape Mr. Bickle’s perception of IHOP’s divinely authorized origins.
The multi-million dollar ministry that is IHOP has it roots in the modest beginnings of the Kansas City Fellowship of the early 1980’s. According to Mr. Bickle, IHOP is a direct fulfillment of prophecies delivered to him by Bob Jones and Paul Cain. Repeatedly Mr. Bickle has declared that no one has been more integral to establishing the prophetic in his ministry than Bob Jones. Part of the mythology of Mr. Jones legendary status as a prophet are numerous false prophecies, now largely forgotten. These include claims of California being destroyed, nuclear weapons being detonated on the East and West Coast, and an oft repeated story of a drought confirming special ‘divine’ authorization on Mr. Bickle’s ministry.
From the very early days of Mr. Bickle’s ministry he adapted his own version of the so called ‘Latter Rain’ teaching of the late 1940’s made popular principally through the writing of George Warnock’s ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ (As well as a hand full of other, now obscure Pentecostal heretics). This parallel has been pointed out to Mr. Bickle on numerous occasions necessitating a public denial of IHOP’s dependance on Latter Rain teaching. However, no actual substantive explanation has ensued from Mr. Bickle regarding this allegation. The false teacher and Latter Rain proponent William Branham was very influential in the theological formation of the disgraced prophet Paul Cain. Paul Cain in turn influenced greatly both Bob Jones (who frequently referred to Mr. Cain as the greatest prophet of God on the earth) and Mike Bickle who often appeared with Mr. Cain in large venues around the U.S.
The late 1980’s saw the public challenge of Mr. Bickle’s ministry by another local Kansas City pastor Ernie Gruen. Rev. Gruen produced a lengthy document attempting to document the numerous outrageous claims, false prophecies and false teachings made by Mr. Bickle, Mr. Cain and Mr. Jones. This document remains unchallenged, and Rev. Gruen stood by its truthfulness without wavering until his death several years ago. In the years after this public challenge Mr. Jones would be exposed as a sexual deviate engaged in horrendous manipulation of female congregants and Mr. Cain as a profligate homosexual and alcoholic. In spite of these very public scandals, Mr. Bickle’s current ministry appears undaunted and unaffected by the well established facts of the above history.
What are the specific errors of IHOP?
IHOP continues to draw a great deal of its sense of special calling and destiny from the alleged prophets Bob Jones and Paul Cain. This in spite of the well known track record of both men. Every matriculating ‘One Thing’ intern is required to listen to a lengthy prophetic history of IHOP/KCF as part of their training while resident at the IHOP program. At no point is their any mention of the numerous false prophecies or profound moral failures of these men. In 2009 Mr. Bickle refreshed IHOP’s teaching on its alleged prophetic history in an 8 part series detailing the role of prophecy in establishing IHOP’s divine origins. But what false teachings emerge from the prophetic hoopla?
- That prior to the return of Jesus, and as a necessary condition of Christ’s return - apostles and prophets of unparalleled spiritual power, and prophetic accuracy will arise to guide the church into its final days.
- To anyone who knows anything about the so-called ‘Latter Rain Movement’ of the late 40’s this teaching will sound quite reminiscent of that movements emphasis on unprecedented latter day prophets and apostles.
- This idea cannot be sustained by an appeal to the plain teaching of the N.T. Nowhere do we read of a single promise of some future ‘super’ class of latter day prophets and apostles. I challenge any teacher to make the case for the clear teaching of this idea anywhere in the N.T. It cannot be the case that something as consequential to the entire church would have no plain biblical foundation, but only appeals to present ‘prophetic’ spokesmen and allegorical applications of scripture.
- That a ‘perfected church’ walking in unparalleled supernatural power (raising the dead will become ordinary, and no illness will be able to stand before this perfected church), will arise as a pre-condition of Christ’s return.
- These claims have been repeatedly made for the past 60 years by Latter Rain influenced teachers as well as the disgraced prophet Paul Cain (in his famous ‘stadium visions’) as well as Bob Jones.
- Once again, like the claim of super prophets and apostles, the claim of a ‘perfected church’ cannot be sustained by an appeal to the clear teaching of the N.T. The notion that verses which speak of the church growing up to maturity, or unity being used to substantiate claims of a coming super church are dubious at best.
- Mr. Bickle teaches that prior to the return of Christ, a special class of Christians called ‘forerunners’ will be raised up to prepare the church for the return of Christ.
- IHOP’s defines ‘forerunner’ in the following way: Forerunners are messengers who proclaim “now” what the Holy Spirit is “soon” to emphasize in a universal way across the nations. They are “one short step” ahead of what the Holy Spirit is about to openly release, so they can prepare the people to respond rightly to Jesus by making known God’s plans so the people can make sense of what will happen before it actually happens.
- IHOP has developed so many specialized ‘terms’ that it became necessary to write and post a glossary on their web site. Dr. Andrew Jackson writing of this phenomena states: A cautionary red light should go on whenever we discover any church or Christian movement creating, and extensively using, their own exclusive language. The habitual use of insider language by a Christian movement can develop a “we-are-different culture” within the greater church. Soon a person’s use of prescribed terms and phrases is the way to determine whether they are true “insiders.” It can also easily create a “us” and “them” attitude within the Body of Christ. Many Christians living within such a cloistered culture can often find it difficult to leave or relate with other Christians, who do not speak “their language,” and who are frequently seen as spiritually luke-warm or compromising.
- This teaching of a special class was not the first time Mr. Bickle and his associated ministry had set forth this kind of teaching. In the mid 80’s and into the 90’s the term favored by Mr. Bickle and his resident prophets Bob Jones and Paul Cain was the ‘New Breed’. Some 50 years before a small but influential group called the Latter Rain taught the same ideas under the name the ‘overcomers’ – George Warnock wrote in 1951 - Christ is going to remain right where He is at God’s right hand until there shall arise a group of overcomers who shall conquer over all God’s enemies. This is really no different than Bickle’s words - "He is not coming any day. He is not coming until the people of God globally are crying out in intercession with a bridal identity under the anointing of the Spirit. Right now the prayer movement is growing fast….really fast! But when I say it's growing fast instead of one percent of the Body of Christ taking hold of it, maybe 10 percent. It's….you know it's like 10 times bigger than it was a generation ago, but beloved as fast as the prayer movement is growing, where people are getting hold of it, still for 90 percent of the Body of Christ it's not even on their mind. Jesus is not coming until the Body of Christ globally is crying out "Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus" and they don't just say "come and forgive me" they are crying out in the understanding of who they are as the one that is cherished by Jesus in the bridal identity.”
- IHOP teaches as a pre-condition of the return of Christ, the church must be crying out 24/7 ‘Come, Lord, Jesus Come with a full understanding of the so-called ‘ bridal identity’.
- IHOP's own self-understanding is that it has been given the task and calling of informing the entire church globally of this necessity. This task will be fulfilled by establishing Houses of Prayer all around the world and engaging in 24/7 prayer. (Just as an aside this requires 84 2-hour slots of worship/prayer per week and incredibly expensive undertaking.)
- The concept of the bridal paradigm is at the core of IHOP’s reason for existence. The bridal paradigm or identity is an understanding of the relationship between the individual Christian and Christ that is analogous to the romantic/emotional/sensual relationship a husband has with his wife. This is a biblically unsustainable construct, whose theological foundations rest on a hyper allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon.
- IHOP sets forth the personal devotional expectation that the ‘last days’ necessary spiritual identity of bridal mysticism is a pre-condition to Christ returning to the earth. This understanding of Christian devotional spirituality owes more to the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and the Bridal mysticism of the Medieval female monastics than to the teaching of the N.T. According to Leon Podles excellent study of the feminization of Christianity entitled “The Church Impotent” ‘After about 1300 in Germany it was chiefly among women that the ‘Brautmystic’ i.e. the love affair between Christ and the soul, leading to espousal and marriage was to be found.’ Later male writers were required to go through all sorts of convolutions to adapt this kind of language to their spiritual situation.
- The Bible does teach that the church is the bride of Christ, but its primary emphasis in both the occasions that this figure occurs in the O.T. as well as the half dozen or so times it occurs in the N.T. is not on emotional/spiritual intimacy but on the covenantal faithfulness of God to his people. Marriage is used as a picture of covenant commitment, not as a pattern for individual Christian devotion.
- But with the Bridal mysticism of IHOP also comes a host of other ‘anointings’ allegedly to be sought after by the most hungry and sincere Christians among us – the so-called ‘ wilderness lifestyle of John the Baptist (a lifestyle by the way the bible tells us absolutely nothing about); Anna anointing. Referring to Anna who "did not depart from the temple… In application, this refers to the grace to spend long hours in prayer with fasting and to sustain it for many years; Daniel anointing. A special grace to enter into extended periods of fasting and prayer, specifically seeking revelation as to the meaning and implications of dreams, visions, or other divine communications regarding the end times…Joseph anointing. Referring to those called to prosper in the marketplace so that they might make provision to "preserve life" in the time when God releases His end-time judgments on the earth.
Conclusions: I believe that IHOP is promoting a version of Christianity that is rooted in false prophecies and false prophets. There is a clear link between the IHOP of 2010 and the claims of divine authorization from the early 1980’s and Kansas City Fellowship. A great deal of the intensity and bold assertions to do what they do come directly from the false prophets Bob Jones and Paul Cain. Second, there are troubling examples of Mike Bickle knowingly continuing claims that have been shown to be false. Stories that allegedly authenticate the divine origins of Paul Cain and Bob Jones have been proven false, but are still circulated by the ministry. There has been no serious effort by IHOP to disassociate itself with the words of men who so thoroughly qualify as false prophets. The central claims made by IHOP regarding its legitimacy – The rise of new apostles and prophets (as sources of authority); the end times revival of unprecedented signs and wonders; the necessity of the church embracing the bridal paradigm; the emergence of a special class called the ‘forerunners’ are not taught by the Scriptures. These ideas own more to the independent Pentecostal movement of the mid 1940’s called the Latter Rain (a connection IHOP is well aware that others have made, and their response is to simply deny it) than to the plain teaching of the Word of God.
IHOP in its previous incarnation as the Kansas City Fellowship has a track record of stirring up division with promises of ‘amazing power and greatly expanded ministry. Leaders were told that they would be speaking to multitudes, seeing miracles, witnessing to kings and presidents and enjoying tremendous blessings… None of these things came to pass. Nearly 20 years ago Mike Bickle acknowledged a spirit of elitism had characterized the KCF. But the same teachings that produced it were replicated again in the ministry of IHOP and its so-called ‘Forerunner’ calling. Tom Stipe remarked in his testimony published as the forward to Hank Hanegraaff’s book called Counterfeit Revival: “Not long after ‘prophecy du jour’ became the primary source of direction, a trail of devastated believers began to line up outside our pastoral counseling offices. Young people promised teen success and stardom through prophecy were left picking up the pieces of their shattered hopes because God had apparently gone back on his promises…” One of the things Tom Stipe stated in his testimony – “We listened intently to the flattery of our new friends, the prophets. Our skepticism barely peaked above the surface.” This is precisely what scriptures warns about concerning false prophets and false teachers: ‘by smooth talk and flattery the deceive the hearts of the naïve.’ (Romans 16:18b)
Consistently the false prophets of the KCF/IHOP circle prophesied ‘visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord’ (either because what they prophesied did not come to pass or what it taught was not biblical). Consistently they spoke of angels, and going on in detail about visions (warned against in Col. 2:18) Consistently they spoke of frequent angel visitations, trips to heaven almost at will, bizarre teachings about ‘bloodlines’, conversations with dead saints, face to face meetings with Jesus etc. In precisely the very way that scripture warned about false prophets confirming one another’s words – the false prophets of KCF/IHOP confirmed one another with flattery upon flattery. Yet 2 Peter 2 warns of those false prophets like Bob Jones and Paul Cain who follow their sensuality and who ‘because of their conduct bring disgrace on the way of truth.’ Peter even warns that they have ‘eyes full of adultery and are insatiable for sin’, the very character of the man who Mike Bickle and others called the ‘greatest prophet on the earth’ – Paul Cain. It is precisely this kind of hypocrisy that Jesus and the apostles warned about and against.
It is because of these things that we must warn against involvement with IHOP. Its foundation built upon the words of false prophets, its core teaching’s insistence on a hyped-up mixture of elitism, reliance on subjectivity and mysticism, and teaching which cannot be sustained by the plain reading of the scriptures compel us to warn. Consider the words of a former intern from the One Thing Internship:
This is a very close paraphrase of what I’ve heard many, many times at One Thing, IHOP conferences and in teachings by leaders: “YOU are called to be on the cutting edge. Come here and join a community of other people who are like you, called to what you’re called to. We understand you. You’ve been mis-understood in the church. You’ve had your wings clipped, your gifts misunderstood. Here you can fulfill your forerunner calling that your family just hasn’t understood about you. You might feel like you don’t fit back home, you’re on the outside, no one understands the fire in you. Well we get it. You are the leaders that G-d is raising up in these end times and you will be kings and queens on the earth—reigning with Him. You were made for this place. IHOP is an incubator for people like you.”Narcissistic speeches like this instill a sense of pride, arrogance and elitism in the hearts of youth who hear it and it feeds their need for validation and identity. They run to IHOP, leave their families, join internships…hoping that what they’ve heard is true. They go to IHOP looking for identity…instead of finding it in Jesus. Once outside of the IHOP environment, they are terrified and overwhelmed by the “real” world and don’t know how to function in it when they’ve been in an intensive internship environment. There is a degree of re-acclimating to normal life that feels like an IHOP detox afterward. It’s a severe emotional drop because the hyped up services and conferences that were your manna are now gone and when there is no prayer room, your life in God feels empty and lifeless. Many simply don’t know how to engage with God in a real day-to-day basis once they’ve left. I experienced this and heard the exact same thing from a handful of my friends after they left IHOP and the internship. At that point when disillusionment sets in, I know many interns that walked away from God completely upon leaving the internship and went back into lifestyles worse than the ones they left when they came to IHOP originally.” May God have mercy on those who teach these pernicious lies and bring them to a place of humble repentance and renunciation of what cannot succeed and will only in the long run bring disillusionment, and profound discouragement to the thousands of young people who are held in its destructive grasp.
See also: Red Flags over IHOP - Devotion or Deception? The Mother of all IHOP Caualties Revisionism and The Blueprint Prophecy Tags: Glory, Grace Covenant Church Harrisonburg, gcch.org,JMU-HOP, jmuhop, theprayerfurnace, Fredericksburg Prayer Furnace, 24-7 Virginia, Chi Alpha, IHOP, David Bradshaw, Randy Martinez, Solemn Assembly, Prayer Room, Campus Strike Force