My husband and I attended one of the foremost evangelical liberal arts colleges in the United States. While there, it was normal fare for the most celebrated names in Christendom to be scheduled to speak at our thrice weekly chapel services and special functions. Senators and authors and notable preachers ranging from John Piper to Chuck Swindoll graced the stage.
Back when I attended, my involvement in charismatic circles placed me in a pretty small minority, and singing hymns and doing the solemn evangelical sit-stand-join-us-in-the-atrium evangelical shuffle was part of my college education. To say my no-drinking, no-dancing alma mater was a conservative bunch would be understatement. Needless to say, the fortress of conservative American evangelical thought that was my college was a world apart from the woolly world of IHOP that I visited before and after.
But recently, Francis Chan bridged the gap. Last summer, I opened my alumni magazine with interest to see the well-known author of Crazy Love uncharacteristically garbed in the ceremonious robes of a commencement speaker. Around the same time, I was shocked to hear that he would be the keynote speaker at another event: International House of Prayer’s OneThing conference. A conference that draws somewhere around 30,000 young people to hear Mike Bickle’s proclamations and to experience the prophetic worship of their musicians. Matt Redman would join them as a worship leader.
I was aghast. Not at the networking and connecting and cross-pollinating that was taking place. I have seen it all in gross detail, and am well aware of the small world of big names and exchanged platforms that marks the American church and parachurch these days. No, what shocked me was the speed at which it is all taking place.
A hundred years ago, Azusa Street was such a shock that entirely new denominations formed to accommodate the “holy rollers.” Fifty years ago, the false healing revivals were at the fringe of that fringe. Even at the time of the “Toronto Blessing” twenty years ago, there was massive controversy like that which surrounded the “Kansas City Prophets” back in the 80’s. Yes, these movements were happening, they were gaining some ground, but at least they were attended by some outcry, by some unified testimony from the larger church that cried “foul.” I can tell you that as short as ten years ago, the gates were still barred pretty strongly in the evangelical church against mystical, supernatural, extra-biblical pursuits of God in a way that is already today simply not the case. What was once far out on the outer fringe of charismatic church experience is making its way into mainstream evangelicalism at the rate of wildfire.
Francis Chan and Matt Redman are household names to evangelicals, big sellers for any Christian bookstore. They are trusted names. Many parents would readily fork over a few hundred bucks to see their teenager spend New Year’s Eve in the company of these guys. They are strategic from any point of view. The news of their presence at OneThing didn’t just interest me. It was a trumpet in my ear, representing something so odious and rapid in the corruption of the American evangelical church that I can only describe it as a judgment.
I wrote in this post about the danger of being without discernment, and in this one here about the sovereign plan of God to test His people. I hate conspiracy theories and wasting time and effort on fearful predictions, but I’ll say this. IHOP, Bethel, the kooky prophetic movements…I wouldn’t spend myself writing warnings if I thought they were limited to small, fringe groups that I happened to have the misfortune to find… if they were like needles in a haystack of solid, Bible-teaching churches I could have chosen instead. But I see that is not the case. I fear that the haystack was left to dry in the sun too long, maybe even doused with some gasoline, and that the flames of heresy and apostasy are licking the edges of churches of every denomination and tradition everywhere, unbeknownst to them.
I will write more about this later, but for now I will share with you what I wrote to Mr. Chan months ago, warning him and pleading with him to do his homework and discern whether IHOP-KC was an organization he could endorse in good conscience. Apparently, he was not moved by my plea or the hundreds of others I’m guessing he received, because here’s what he had to say:
And here’s what I had to say:
Dear Mr. Chan,
When I opened the alumni magazine this month from my alma mater, _______ College, I found a picture of you speaking to the graduating class. It was the second time in a couple of weeks that I have heard your name in connection with an institution that was formative in my spiritual life, two building blocks of it, if you will.
The second is the International House of Prayer, which hosts the OneThing Conference at which you are scheduled to speak this winter. The connection to _______ interested me, but the news of your appearance at OneThing grieved me more deeply than I can express fully in a letter. I hope you will allow me to try.
When I graduated from [college] in 20–, I was deeply enamored with the teachings of Mike Bickle and the House of Prayer. I was an adherent and proponent, excited by the prospect of being chosen to be a part of the final generation to usher in the Lord’s return, the forerunners, who would restore apostolic power and miracles to the church (anyone familiar with IHOP’s teaching will recognize these phrases). I naturally shared my enthusiasm with everyone I could. Eventually my husband and I would move to Kansas City in 20–.
Time would fail me to tell of the rampant destruction and devastation that we found in the actual lives of the young people living out these new, extra-biblical doctrines and “devoted lifestyle” of the “forerunner,” “Elijah generation,” “Annas and Simeons,” “burning and shining lamps,” “Joel’s army,” etc. We arrived enthusiastic proponents, but observing the statistically untenable number of strange diseases, infant deaths and untimely adult deaths, impoverished families, acquired psychiatric and behavioral disorders, and highly spiritual young people lacking basic fruit of salvation (e.g. having dreams and visions and prophecies, but engaging without repentance in sexual sin), we could not help but search out why, in biblical terms, we were seeing in their midst the fruit of judgment rather than of salvation.
We spent four agonizing years there, seeking the Lord, searching the Scriptures, and hunting for someone in the community (we knew quite a few leaders there) who could answer our questions. Our search led us necessarily to the origins and doctrinal foundations of this organization with its nearly irresistible magnetic appeal to young people. Personally, I had never before thought to explore them to ensure that they were solid and trustworthy, as I had been so young (age 14, like many OneThing attenders) when the shepherds I trusted implicitly led me straight into these teachings and spiritual experiences. As IHOP-KC had been a fundamental building block in my spiritual formation, those four years at IHOP-KC were spent slowly breaking down that cement block with the chisel of the Word of God.
There is no way to describe the cost I paid to return to orthodoxy, to the simple power of the gospel. I beg you to hear me. It took all my courage, and was truly terrorizing, as I had been led to believe for so long that by rejecting the teaching of IHOP-KC, what I was rejecting was THE move of God on the earth, the voice of God and His true prophets, and the ultimate culmination of the hopes of Christendom. My punishment for obeying the scriptural commands to “test all things, and hold fast to that which is good…” (1 Thess. 5:21) has been that I have lost relationship almost all my family, and most of my friends, who were unwilling to examine the doctrines or practices in light of scripture, as they, in practice, take them (these prophecies) to be as sound as scripture. My husband and I left Kansas City, running from profound consternation and budding persecution, slander and distress. Not because we are notable or important, but because it finally occurred to us to question the foundations, which we found to be entirely supernatural, and then to test them. I beg you to hear me. The origins of the unique doctrines and practices of IHOP-KC are supernatural, prophetic, and confirmed by signs and wonders. It is not just bad doctrine. They are not “impressions,” ideas of men, or interpretations arising from Biblical exposition. That he believes these ideas and teachings are straight from God himself is not hidden by Mr. Bickle, but loudly proclaimed in their consistently repeated “Prophetic History.” This is the apparent net that is gathering up young people by the thousands: a move of God.
I assume you are familiar with this foundational quote of Mike Bickle’s, but I beg you to consider it afresh:
“I heard what I call the internal audible voice of the Lord…It was as clear as crystal. I heard the actual words. There was no guess-work. It was not impressions. It was the word of the Lord came to me. And the Lord said this, ‘I am going to change the understanding and expression of Christianity in the whole world in one generation.’”
The rest of their prophetic history reads similarly, only with the addition of multiple so-called “prophets of God,” who give a stream of prophetic “words” over years that laid a blueprint (one prophecy is literally called “The Blueprint Prophecy”) for the form the organization has taken. The details, such as the practice of praying interspersed with music, were received prophetically, along with the practices of consistent, extended fasting and mystical prayer. Additionally, the extra-biblical doctrines that are now being spread around the globe originated in prophecy, from the “Intimacy” message of the Bridegroom King, crazed with love for His bride (the church AND individual believers) to the extravagantly detailed eschatology that has led to horrible oppressions and losses for the families who have faithfully believed that they or their children are the final generation, and have set up their lives around the prophecies of imminent catastrophe, massive global harvest (“revival”), and a coming release of supernatural power greater than that found in the Book of Acts. Several of the “prophets,” specifically the ones who gave the most foundational and instructive prophecies, have been discredited by gross abuses and sexual sin. But IHOP stills holds their foundational prophecies to be the “Word of the Lord.”
I am not “making claims” in the paragraph above. Mike tells the stories of their supernatural origins boldly in their multi-hour “Prophetic History.” Listening to their own proclamations and the stories of the signs and wonders that accompanied their origins, one thing was absolutely clear: IHOP’s origins were spiritual, not natural. I beg of you to hear me. Put simply, the origins of this organization and their teachings are either from God or the devil. The history leaves no room for a natural or even carnal explanation, such as we might graciously accept from a brother or sister in Christ, who is in some “error.”
IHOP’s outrageous claims of the divine origin of their teachings combined with the spectacular confirming signs and wonders that accompanied their founding and the building of their core doctrines leaves no room for neutrality for any pastor or leader in the body of Christ. This movement and this organization is either the move of God or the work of the devil. With 25,000 young people arriving for an annual conference, and many of them moving to Kansas City for full-fledged indoctrination in their internships and four year university, then being sent out as intercessory missionaries to spread it as far as possible within the body of Christ (they are trained predominately for influencing believers, changing the church, and starting more mystical houses of prayer, not leading new believers to Christ), the church at large cannot be passive in responding to this movement.
I could go on, explain our process, and describe our conclusions, but that would be too lengthy. Suffice it to say, the conclusions of testing and examining were actually quite obvious and would be to anyone equipped with a basic grasp of the true gospel, the complete work of the Cross, and basic orthodox doctrine who took time to examine and test the prophecies and teachings against them, as we are commanded to do in Scripture. I can tell you confidently, after more than ten years in the movement, its adherents simply will not do so. This movement is built on presumption, the presumption of pastors and elders and speakers and sheep, that what is supernatural, what sounds “passionate” for Jesus is from God. But much more ominously, it is comprised of young, unsteady souls (2 Peter 2:14), who don’t even have that basic equipment of sound doctrine and grasp of the gospel by which to test and examine, and have been primed all their lives by culture and now by the church to embrace that which moves their senses and most excites their awakened desires.
I hope you can forgive my longwinded-ness. I am making every effort to be as brief as possible. At this point I hope I have at least made a case for research and exploration. Mr. Chan, I do not know you, and to be honest, I respectfully must admit that I do not know your teaching. I do not know if you have raised up disciples who are strong and godly, if you teach false grace or a pure gospel, if your wife is thriving and your children are righteous. I am unfamiliar with you and the fruit of your life. Forgive me, I can’t even claim familiarity with your teaching or books. With four little children and a small church of young families to disciple, my husband and I must spend almost every spare moment on the One Book that we know will not be mixed with the opinions of men, the Bible. But, despite my ignorance, I know your name. It is for this reason that I must write to you (Jude 3-4).
For better or worse, we live in an age in which the influence of a few select people, such as yourself, will far exceed their direct sphere, into the hundreds of thousands, and even millions. Why do I know your name? Why do I know that you have excited and encouraged people I love? We have never met. Such is our time, when there is no way for me to know the characters of the select men whose names are spoken thousands of time a day by God’s people. Such is your lot, to carry a heavy burden of fame. It is God’s to raise up and bring low, and for this time, He has raised you up into a spotlight in which your name carries weight and influence so much further than you could ever effectively oversee. I do not envy you the accountability you bear before the throne of God. Every public action and word of yours has become a wind that blows on thousands or millions who know you, but whom you will never know. For this reason, you have our respect, our compassion, and our prayers of support, that above all you would stand firm (Eph 6:13).
And for this reason, I must plead with you. Are you clear on the teachings and practices of this organization which will stamp your name on all its paraphernalia for many months? Can you, before God, lend the weight of your reputation and incline the multitude of believers who respect you towards its fallacies? Have you researched? Do you understand its origins? Have the weight of IHOP’s claims struck you as forcefully as they ought? Have you considered the thousands of young souls who are allured to these massive conferences, and what becomes of them after they “buy in”? Have you humbly considered how small a few hours of speaking, no matter how sound and biblical, are in contrast to the infiltration in the body of Christ of a spirit whose expressed goal is “change the understanding and expression of Christianity in one generation?” Have you considered that even if every word of yours in your allotted time is perfect and pure, tens of thousands of people like me and my friends who have heard your name but will never hear that sermon have been swayed by your public endorsement of the House of Prayer? Have you considered what it is that you are endorsing?
Have you made yourself familiar with these unique practices and doctrines of IHOP-KC?
– the bridegroom paradigm as it pertains to the individual believer and the sensual and mystical practices associated with this teaching
– the teaching on the forerunner generation, the last and greatest generation that precedes the return of Christ and that walk in apostolic power in the hundreds of thousands
– forerunner eschatology, an extreme focus on end-times
– a belief in a lifestyle of fasting, mourning, and night and day prayer in the spirit of the tabernacle of David
– a prophetic community that seeks spiritual encounters as a means of overcoming sin
– harp and bowl worshiip
– a consistent focus and belief in angelic visitations, visions, and visits to heaven that inform their personal lives and community
I had failed to warn any one of my dearest family, who are all deeply involved in this movement. Though highly educated and intelligent, I cannot bring one of them to a scriptural assessment, to even examine the doctrines or origins in a reasonable manner. Like a Mormon who has experienced the “burning in his bosom,” their experiences have hardened them to any reason or willingness to test and examine as scripture commands (1 Jn 4:1). They are laid open with implicit trust to Mike Bickle’s teaching and the deception functioning in their midst. The hardening ability of these deceptions and unauthorized spiritual experimentation with “strange fire” is such that like methamphetamine or crack cocaine, anyone who cares anything for young people, has any influence whatsoever, and has eyes to see must do everything in his or her power to vigilantly warn and protect young people from them, at any cost. That is why I am writing to you, and sending a pleading copy to other men of influence.
I am not writing as a man or a theologian, for I am neither of those things. If you hear passion or tears in my words, you hear rightly, but I cannot apologize. Please, “do not consider me drunk,” as you might suppose. Liken me to Hannah, to Deborah, to a “mother in Israel (2 Sam. 20:19),” who has no right but zeal for the church of God to plead with you thus:
– Do you truly know what it is you endorse in December of 2013?
– Have you considered the judgments of God in this choice?
– Can you defend an organization built not on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20), but pulling young people out of the local church to conform them to doctrines and practices NOT FOUND IN THE WORD OF GOD, but originating in extra-biblical revelation and prophecy, and ominously confirmed by spectacular signs and wonders?
Jesus said, “He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Mat. 16:2-4
The OneThing Conference has always been a subtle invitation to thousands of young people to depart from orthodox Christianity into a new expression in which signs, wonders, experiences, and prophecies guide believers and would-be believers with voices and encounters directly from and with the spirit realm, ushering and urging them to live “seeking a sign,” resulting in spiritually encountering counterfeit christs (Mk 13:22). At the last one I attended, the theme was ecstatic celebration and expectation at the pronouncement of an astounding prophecy given from the stage of God’s glory being released unto massive global harvest currently, as in “this is what is happening right now,” a prophecy that was even by their own standards abandoned as untrue within six months. Oppositely, the previous one had been awash with fear due to cataclysmic prophecies of the imminence of the end of the age, war on American soil, and impending catastrophe. In both cases, there was massive upheaval and oaths taken by tens of thousands of young people manipulated by prophecies that would fall to ground dead shortly thereafter, utterly untrue. Never mind that our Lord forbade swearing oaths (Mat. 5:33-37). The young people made vows to memorize the details of the book of Revelations, and start social groups dedicated to educating others on its details (interpreted of course by the prophetic insight received in IHOP-KC). The vows included fasts, and promises of purity. At another recent OneThing which I did not attend, hundreds of young people passed under a canopy, taking vows to “marry Jesus.” The true gospel is distorted and obscured in a frenzy of dramatic music, professional lighting, and spiritual experimentation and encounter, culminating in oaths and vows and consecrations never called for in the New Testament. Leading young people in encounters in the spirit realm is at the core of the mission of IHOP; even a cursory familiarity with their core teachings confirms this. As Mike said, they believe the Lord is “…going to change the understanding and expression of Christianity in one generation.” Vowing to fast for dreams and visions to elucidate the Book of Revelation, vigilantly seeking encounters in the spirit realm, and learning to meditate and declare the erotic poetry of Song of Solomon…is it difficult to evaluate what kind of change that will produce in a generation of impressionable adolescents?
Do you see the changing landscape? You will check the weather before you go outside, to ensure your comfort and safety. Do you see the brewing storm of sensual religion masked as Christianity that is catching a whole generation of young, unfounded believers in its snare, bringing utter destruction and warping the understanding of the gospel? A false gospel in which sin is merely a “struggle,” and experiencing God in the supernatural realm is the answer? An introduction to occultic activity, masquerading as the spirit-filled life? Can I testify of the devastation in my own life, the difficulty of facing my deception and repenting while holding fast to what is true? Can I further testify to how alone I am, how few come out into orthodox faith once they have gone in, how my testimony is utterly rejected by those who once respected me greatly? Would you read the email I recently read from a young IHOP mother whose husband was driven by “the voice of the Lord” to leave their family and live on a beach, waiting for a visitation of the Spirit to deliver him from lust, after which he would return as a “prophet to America”? Or the one in which she details the death of their baby in the prayer room, and the prophet who said that her baby was a grain of wheat fallen to the ground out of which revival would spring up based on a horrific perversion of Jn. 12:24? If only her psychotic story were unique! I have many more. Humbly, in the fear of God, as an unknown sister in Christ, I beg you to consider what the 25,000 young people who attend OneThing will be introduced to with your endorsement!
My husband and I were on the ground in KC, trying to preach the simple gospel of repentance from sin, faith unto salvation, and obedience to the Word of God to young people caught and taught these doctrines. We found that many were irretrievably lost, unable to hear or comprehend the simplicity and salvation of true Christianity, barring miraculous intervention. Many more were genuine believers, but unable to distinguish false from true and growing in confusion (Mat. 24:24). They are unaware of the perils awaiting their souls. Will not their shepherds see a few inches beyond what these little ones are able (Acts 20:28-31)?
Do you not see that it is happening? The spirit Mike heard speak to him was indeed prophetic, though it was not the Spirit of God. Ideas about God, a new version of Christianity, false gospels and downright occultism that were even until recent history held at the fringe edges of mainstream evangelical Christianity are being introduced and embraced in alarming numbers by the most eager and devoted of the next generation of young Christians. The understanding and expression of Christianity IS changing in this generation. In the next hundred years of church history, I predict, based on the eagerness of the youth, that this teaching of sensual, experiential spiritualism masquerading as Christianity will be one of the primary fronts in the battle for orthodox faith and the true gospel. How I groaned at the thought of the tens of thousands more whose protective doctrinal walls will be broken down because of your endorsement. I beg you to research, to see if you can stomach the founding “prophets” of IHOP and their perversion, if you can justify doctrines and practices their revelations spawned, and to reconsider placing your seal of approval on this movement by speaking at the OneThing conference.
But this is a people robbed and plundered; All of them are snared in holes, And they are hidden in prison houses; They are for prey, and no one delivers; For plunder, and no one says, “Restore!” Isaiah 42:22
God have mercy! I beg you to hear me.