The Church of God "Prophetic Conference" Of 2002: Making Room For Trouble
By Rev. Rafael D. Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries
You see the turn but not the road ahead. Jaime Escalante, Stand And Deliver
Ever since the inception of the Pentecostal dynamic of Christian faith within the Church of God as it came into existence among our spiritual forefathers in the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina, there has been an openness to the manifestation of God's Spirit through His spiritual giftings pouring out from the humble earthen vessels of godly and earnest people. Our movement, from the start, has always been open to the enthusiastic, the zealous and the ardent, sincere professions and exercises of Christian faith. This legacy is woven into the very spiritual fabric of what makes us Pentecostal, and one of the wonderful outlets to a vibrant, communal and yet outwardly reaching church that I believe is a work of divine genius that transcends all cultural differences. Pentecostals - and Charismatics - enjoy a tradition of personal, interactive and practical spirituality that is Biblically rooted in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost as described in Acts 2. I have long felt honored to have been a part of what God has been doing in the last days, namely this precious thing called Pentecost.
But there's another legacy, a far more darker one, that also has dogged our movement which we would rather forget and pretend never existed. There is a tradition among us that has always threatened to turn this glorious gifting of the Spirit's outpouring among us into a carnal chaos of elitist religiosity and fanaticism that serves purely human ends characterized as God's "move of the Spirit." No thinking Pentecostal among us will deny this, but too many instead downplay or ignore this black history that - like it or not - also has been alive and well among our fellowships. It arises out of our human capacity to take the giftings of the Spirit and imitate them, harness them, and mimick them through the most fantastic and frightening of spiritual excess that stems from heretical and dangerously imbalanced teaching. What is most sobering concerning these developments is that these excesses do their worst damage when the spiritually mature among us fail to discern the trouble ahead. Our movement was almost destroyed by this after the celebrated Schearer schoolhouse revival of 1896 from which our Pentecostal heritage first began - during the years after the first outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon our movement, and when persecution and threatenings could not destroy the unity of our infant movement, it was, as the "Book of Minutes" put it, "in the absence of government and authority (that) false teachers crept in and led many humble, sincere, unwary souls into error. Factions began to show themselves, and fanaticism took possession of some who were more easily duped by Satan than others" (1).
Dr. Charles W. Conn's history of our movement remarked that some of these false teachings asserted that "there were many other 'baptisms of fire' awaiting those who had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost .. another teaching was "a peculiar brand of Pentecostal 'preservation of the saints' or 'eternal security' .. those who had received the (baptism of the Spirit) were incapable of sinning and irresistibly preserved in grace" (2). A footnote on this page makes reference to other Pentecostal errors that were rampant at the time: "that an open public confession of all grades of sin was necessary to evidence genuine repentance .. that those who were filled with the Spirit needed no one to instruct them .." Additionally, Dr. Conn reported that "small groups of people declared for themselves fasts of almost interminable lengths. They secluded themselves in their homes with others of like mind and fasted, waiting for a sign from the Lord .. these excessive, anchoritic fasts were begun and continued in an effort to excel in spiritual gifts and expediency. Thus self-abasement became smudged with pride." (p. 42). Only the great efforts of men such as W.F. Bryant and R.G. Spurling kept our movement from dissolving into factional confusion. It apparently was so severe that in May, 1902, the church had to reorganize and rename itself, seeking to return to its revival-borne roots of outreach, and finding serious impediment to growth due to the impact of the false teaching.
You never hear about this much in the Evangel, in the Profiles, or in faith-building preaching and teaching in our movement. In my experience, as having been in the Church of God for over 24 years, and a minister within it for the past 14, I can testify that I have not heard a single contemporary church leader or read a single contemporary article that made mention of that painful, ugly truth. But it is an established fact, a cautionary tale in our movement's history that I believe is largely overlooked, ignored, and perhaps denied for all practical purposes by our contemporary church membership. The history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, for all of the truly God-sent advances and glorious achievements He has wrought through them, is rift with the smoke and mirrors of countless fanaticisms, false teachings, cultic elitisms and factional divisiveness instigated by doctrines of demons and carnal and/or ignorant church leaders adrift from the foundation of the Word.
Evidence today in the past 24 years I have been involved with this movement, after coming to the Lord out of a pagan and nominally Roman Catholic lifestyle, only proves this again and again .. and again. And still, we never learn. It seems that instead of ensuring that our movement defend and protect itself from repeating the mistakes and horrors of past history, we keep enthusiastically rushing to repeat it over and over. Many of you reading this will amen this and quite a few of you who will give it lip service and rush right out to live as if this has no relevance to your life at all. Many of you may find yourselves running to the next revival, sign or omen, and are likely among the company that keeps that calamitous circle unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by .. a cycle of false teaching and excess we have no excuse to be repeating.
This is the context behind my comments I wish to make about the "Making Room For The Prophetic" Conference, held from November 6-8th, 2002 here in Cleveland at the Westmore Church of God. For all that I contend that was good, godly, educational and encouraging that did go on there, there were both eye-opening and, oddly, not terribly surprising developments there which should be examined by the leadership of our movement with a very serious eye upon the enormous implications this conference's body of teaching will bring to us. Should they fail this (and I don't even want to "go there" on that one) it should be noised abroad about the absolutely CRITICAL need for all discerning pastors, teachers, apostles, evangelists and prophets who do minister among us to be aware of what I feel are dangerous trends being mapped out by those who insist that our movement must embrace a "new" openness to the variety of "prophetic" (and by default, "apostolic") ministry.
There were very definite claims and teachings presented to those gathered there as guidance for our movement in "restoring" this "layer of revelation" as one speaker put it. In short, the underlying principles of much of this was good teaching, but what was not good was very bad indeed, both unbiblical and extreme. It is so significantly unbiblical to the extent that - in my opinion - if we were to all enthusiastically embrace it as part of the general "restoration" we believe last days Pentecost to be, it will shake our movement apart into a dozen factions. It will make the 1896 - 1902 fanaticisms I rehearsed look like the proverbial Sunday School picnic, and will smother us in religious excess too frightening to imagine. And what is most disturbing of all is that our leadership seems totally clueless to what this conference was about, what it taught, and what it is seeking to do. I will demonstrate this in this article.
In saying what I am about to say, I want it to go on the record that I am not attempting to label, attack or denigrate my brothers Dr. Robert Fisher, Rickie Moore, Mark Swank and all of those involved within the Church of God at apparently very high levels who promoted this in our movement. In fact, I viewed every single person at that conference, from Floyd McClung and Michael Sullivant (the keynote speakers) on down, as precious fellow believers who have a love and passion for God that is wonderful, contagious and worthy of imitation. I would embrace all of them as family in the Lord, even if I have serious disagreements with them. I do NOT - repeat - DO NOT want anyone reading this to believe I am calling down fire from heaven in some witch hunting manner to quench God's Spirit among them. I also believe God is indeed God and can work way outside the way I or anyone else believe He can. He ultimately is the Judge of all things, and His Word ultimately is the Standard by which all may be "righteously judged" as Jesus said in John 7:24.
No one reading this - be they the humblest mother in Israel or an inhabitant of the loftiest heights at Keith and 25th is above this standard of godly, patient, yet unequivocal discernment and testing the Lord Jesus Christ himself established - especially me. For I am aware that for "every idle word" and "every thought" will be laid bare and judged in that dreadful Day of Days when we all stand at His Bema Seat to give an account for what we say. There's a holy fear and awe at that moment that has always gripped me. Always. And whether you believe it or not, that moment is EVER in mind when I speak and think, and I am full aware that for everything I write here, I too shall give account to my Master for what I have said.
I am an evangelical Pentecostal Christian who just over 24 years ago left Roman Catholicism and a life of living on the streets of Chicago to turn to God at the Pacific Garden Mission, and who affiliated with the Church of God (Cleveland) not long afterwards. As I have matured and grown, God called to the ministry in 1983 and I have become since then a Pentecostal minister with our movement, and until January of 2002, was, in fact, an active, ministering member of the Westmore church. I like to think I was also respected and loved as a fellow member who sought to serve our Lord in any way possible. I was a Pastor's Prayer Partner (one of the charter members of that ministry there), a kindergarten teacher for several years, a member of the altar worker and intercessory prayer ministries there, and for 9 years, directed an outreach to cult members at Westmore with my wife Joy that still continues. In fact, from start to finish, I worked as a prayer counselor/altar worker at the great revival the Westmore church had with evangelist Troy Ogle a few years ago when Dr. David Bishop was still pastor there that went for several weeks. We are now members of the South Cleveland Church of God here. No one can say, therefore, that I am a Spirit-quenching Pharisee who does not believe in the freedom of the Spirit of God to manifest Himself and His spiritual giftings to minister to the needs of others. All who do are completely out of touch with reality and are those who the actual ones who yield to judgementalism, and not I.
I am saying this to establish one thing: I BELIEVE IN GOD'S SPIRIT doing GOD'S WORK through GOD'S PEOPLE in harmony with GOD'S WORD. I believe in letting God do what he will, and no one here will tell me otherwise. I won't listen to that kind of juvenile ranting one hears from some saint wringing their hands about the "slander" I will likely be viewed as issuing as I share my concerns. I was not raised with the legalism and factionalism too many Church of God folks sadly have imbibed, so you can't hang that charge on me to paint me as a wet blanket seeking to put the hose on our "revival fires." I am simply a Christian minister profoundly troubled and horrified at the course being set in our movement, wondering just who is steering the Church of God ship, and wondering if this ship, as battered and sea-worn as it is, will withstand the riptides of this religiosity now being pushed on us as "the next move of God". As a concerned member and minister within our movement, I am writing from that perspective.
The Promotion Of "The Prophetic"
Let us begin by reviewing how this conference was promoted in our movement. The October 2002 Evangel and the monthly minister's newsletter, the Profiles, as well as a website (www.Prophetic-Ministries.com, now inactive) carried these portions of a larger article entitled "Making Room For The Prophet" written by Moore and Fisher: these compelling admonitions, I am certain, spoke volumes to a lot of people ..
What is the place of prophets in the church today? On November 6-8 a conference addressing this question is scheduled to convene at the Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. Master's Commission and the Center for Spiritual Renewal, directed by Dr. Robert E. Fisher, are joining Westmore in conducting and sponsoring this event. Featured speakers will be Floyd McClung, Jr., pioneer leader in Youth With a Mission and current senior pastor of Metro Christian Fellowship in Kansas City, Missouri, and his senior associate pastor, Michael Sullivant, who is a seasoned leader in the area of prophetic ministry and author of several widely read publications on the topic, including Prophetic Etiquette (Creation House, 2000).
The conference will focus in a practical way on the place of prophetic ministries in the local church. Through a variety of workshops and general sessions, the meeting will address such topics as: nurturing sons and daughters ministry in the church; defining the prophetic calling; dimensions of a prophetic church; accountability and guidelines for personal and corporate prophecy; dangers and warnings concerning prophetic ministry; prophetic music and worship; and prophetic ministry and spiritual renewal in the nation and around the world.
Why have such a conference at this time? Perhaps some insight for responding to this question can be found in a prophetic story from Scripture--the story of the woman of Shunem who joined with her husband in making a room for the prophet Elisha (2 Kgs 4). As this couple made physical space for the prophet; they were also making room for the prophet in an even more significant way-they were giving place to God's desire and decision that there be a prophet in Israel. Their step of openness led to a surprising prophetic promise that came to the house of this old man and his barren wife--the birth of a son. Making room for the prophet had opened up a prospect this woman was hardly prepared to host-the prospect of making room for a child.
In our contemporary church world, "making room for the prophet" could have several implications. It could mean simply recognizing the legitimacy of such an office in the church today. Do we accept the scriptural order of ministry that includes the office of prophet (Eph. 4:11-13)? Is there room in our church for our own sons and daughters to prophesy in accordance with Pentecost's promise (Act 2:17; Joel 2:28)? In a personal sense, are we open to receive a word from the Lord through the mouth of a present-day prophet? Furthermore, are we willing on our part to be used in a prophetic ministry should God so ordain? Are we, as the church of God today, as willing as the woman of ancient Shunem to make room for the prophet? Also, making room for the prophet could mean a willingness on our part to be used in a prophetic ministry should God so ordain. Are we, as the Church of God today, as willing as the woman of ancient Shunem to make room for the prophet? (3)
Now this was a really arresting bit of writing. Both brothers Fisher and Moore surely captured a lot of attention for this new direction they cite a dire need for our movement to follow. This article's articulate, yet emotionally loaded, argumentation is aiming at several targets within our movement's collective conscience - the ever un-addressed question of just who and what prophets are in Pentecost, relating it to an ongoing "spiritual renewal" in our world, figuring out how it relates to young people, certain unspecified perils implicit in the process, a perceived need to bring consensus and structure to the ongoing undercurrents of discussion among us in the Church of God concerning them, and several specific forms of the "prophetic" now currently being embraced by many outside our movement who would characterize themselves as engaged in the "prophetic".
It would seem that Fisher and Moore are suggesting here that there's much going on outside the Church of God that will help us put this all in the right context, and that the necessity to bring those "seasoned" ministers - "experienced" in the "prophetic" - should logically be the ones appointed to tell us what that right context should be. This is writing composed to engage us in serious thought and consideration and strategically placed to fan our curiosity, imagination and spiritual hunger at many levels, too many to comment upon at any great length at all.
But there's an incredible and fundamental contradiction visible here already from the start concerning the goals as presented - if discussion and dialogue on these issues to help our movement arrive at our own faith community's consensus on "the prophetic" is needed (a concern I certainly do share), then why are there already spelled out certain structures, patterns, and yes (the P word) paradigms that solidify a pre-decided form for them? This is a task of definition someone quite obviously has already set out to do for our movement that is not only presumptuous, but biased and exclusive of any dialogue with the Church at large.
We are said we should "make room" for these pre-defined and approved forms of prophetic activity, encouraged to consider what it might mean, and to attend workshops already given over to define just what they are should be. We are informed of workshops for "prophetic music", "prophetic worship", and the notion of "prophetic churches" -- all prepackaged and ready for consumption. Where was the "discussion" aspect of it all?
I would like to know why this was already defined for the Church of God and just precisely by who. And even in knowing this, a more troubling question comes to mind: I thought this movement was supposed to be one based upon dialogue, upon the corporate searching of Scripture by all involved, done so that the Church could collectively consider a question. I somehow remember reading that somewhere in the Book of Minutes. What happened to this time honored principle of a "general gathering together of members from all the churches to consider questions of importance and to search the Bible for additional light and knowledge"? (4) This participatory aspect of Pentecostal faith once again has been short circuited and essentially brushed aside for something we are told is "seasoned" - and once again, the members of our movement (as in all too many other conferences like this) are expected to follow the party line and just swallow whatever is dished out to us.
Gestation Or Intimidation?
The website and Profiles mailout contained the forementioned text, but only the Evangel carried this sterner, forboding warning ..
Are we willing to do so, even it would mean making room for a holy pregnancy as stunning, as risky, and as inconceivable as that which came to the Shunammite woman? Or have we become so "prominent" that we are now content just to keep repeating statements such as the one this woman used to gloss over her barrenness? "We're doing just fine; we really like the people here; no complaints to speak of, things are going just fine." More is at stake here than we perhaps realize, for, once again, making room for the prophet might just hold the key to whether or not room will be made for our own sons and daughters (5) .
Again, we are admonished in no uncertain terms by Fisher and Moore, only this time, the stakes are suggested as being far more higher than we might dare to admit. They are high indeed: the state of our true Christian spirituality, the future of our children and an implication that we may actually have some kind of spiritual pride if we don't embrace this "making of room" for a "holy pregnancy." It would appear that the appropriate attitude to display here would be the admission on our part of a great need for these "prophetic" moves so as to truly bring forth new spiritual life. Considered squarely for what they appear to be, these emotional warnings are simply an outpouring of rhetorical heat into the thinking of the Church of God, but provide only the vaguest glimmers of dull light into the subject.
I would also strongly reject the implicit claim that if we don't jump on this bandwagon, we will miss God, imperil our children and display a Laodicean pride in our accomplishments. Such language is unworthy of the discussion at hand, and is a manipulative vocabulary that stifles critical thought and encourages a purely reflexive attitude toward mindlessly accepting that claim. I am sorely and sorrowfully disappointed that such fine and dear men as these actually could pen such a thing. How does this support and encourage real dialogue when you are made to feel that you might actually be displaying an appalling bit of carnality in just disagreeing or questioning the notion we are presented?
And it was only the Profiles that carried Chris Thomas's article "Prophets And Prophecy - The New Testament Evidence", which was a review of New Testament Scriptural references that fulfilled his goal to "contribute to the church's understanding of this phenomenon by offering a survey of the place of prophets and prophecy within the New Testament." Thomas' article is an outstanding one, but it has one glaring omission that I will discuss later that I believe would provide even greater illumination to the subject, one that I believe has staggering implications for how we should consider this.
But for now, I wish to note that Thomas' article was carried in the same Profiles that promoted the conference, and that the cover of the Profiles, bearing the title of our presiding bishop Lamar Vest's article for that month, fairly shouted "A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS." All of this in ONE Church of God publication sent out to our ministers, all with clear overtones one with another. While brother Vest's article doesn't appear to have been written with the concept of prophets in mind, it uncannily reinforces the central theme of Fisher and Moore's entreaties - that the "making of room" for a new child is vital to sustaining new life, new growth, new ministry. And it would appear that the shape of this child is the form of the "prophetic" which we must embrace and cherish as surely as if it were our own child. That is the irresistible conclusion of these articles, taken altogether, and coming from the highly respected and authoritative leaders within our movement, it is one with little room to argue with. In the post-"river" revivalist environment that currently hangs over the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, with hosts of experientially-oriented believers wondering what the "next big move of God" is going to be since the revival fires now seem to burn so low, this kind of conference promotion is undoubtedly an attempt to capitalize on the popular longing for a new series of spiritual experiences by Christ
It's Beginning To Rain Again: The "Prophetic Ministry Conference" - Why Be Concerned?
I am a busy Christian minister, involved in the work of the Lord helping people sorely traumatized, ripped off and abused by spiritually abusive groups. I do my best to sharing the Gospel with them, weeping with those broken by them, and confronting cultists who seek to deceive others. My wife and I have engaged in this for 12 years now, and believe me, this could easily be 24/7 work that I could do the rest of my life. To survive during this time, I've worked a brutal, exhausting factory job at the local Maytag plants to earn a living (actually, I look at it as Mr. Maytag supporting my ministry), a physical pounding now alleviated considerably by my acceptance of a customer service job with Mr. Maytag's call center also located here in Cleveland. The time crunches Joy and I endure in seeking to make time to counsel, to disciple, to care for the people in the outer darknesses of the Cultworld whom God puts in touch with are always at hand, and our time is always, always at such a premium due to our bivocational status and Joy's fulltime status as a student at Lee University. Taking time to address this subject was something that, for me, until these articles came to my attention, simply wasn't a priority for me.
But when this conference promotion came to mind, and I recalled the historic excesses not only within but without our movement, I went cold all over, realizing just how a worthy area of study (how the prophetic should relate to our movement) has been infused with an apparently personal agenda on this in clear violation of what we are supposed to be doing when concerning such matters. This agenda about what was said to be "prophetic" sounded suspiciously familiar. I have heard these concepts floating around in Charismatic circles for almost all the 24 years I have been a believer, and they are hardly "cutting edge." This alone raises within me significant amounts of concern, since the "prophetic" of today is so rife with extremism, yet simultaneously I recognize as a Pentecostal the very real and legitimate role that the Biblically-founded prophetic dimension of Christian faith must play in our lives. What even more concerned me was that the inherent problems in the approaches suggested by these articles isn't new either, nor are the casualties they've incurred in many a church throughout the world. While I admire the wisdom brother Fisher and Moore have displayed in frankly admitting to "dangers and warnings", it also starkly highlights a plain fact: the area of the "prophetic" is one area that is probably the most prone to abuse and twisting, and probably has the most potential to damage and misguide Christians than almost any place else in the Church. One does not have to look far to behold a proverbial horror story of the self-proclaimed prophet who stood and made havoc when room was made for them. That these dangers are admitted and targeted for consideration was encouraging - but that the structures by which the damage can come from these said prophets already seem to be in place truly troubled me.
I really hoped that what I was suspecting was to have no factual basis in the conference reality. I prayed and hoped and truly wished I would be found wrong when I decided to finally go to the conference, for one day or so (paying $40 to get supposedly sound teaching just isn't right, as far as I am concerned, but I could afford the $25 one day pass). Really. Truly. I hoped that it was all in my fevered, balding head and that it was just my own jittery spirit man who had the problem. I really did hope that after all was said and done, I could bend my knees in humbled repentance at my judgmental, critical spirit and for being too suspicious.
Unfortunately, I must say with the heaviest of hearts that nothing like this happened.
After arriving for preregistration and being dazzled by the remodeled sanctuary of Westmore I had not seen since leaving the church in January of 2002, I approached the registration counter and several friendly young people. After registering, I was handed a conference handbook that contained ruled paper outlines for note taking, a schedule, and learned some conference information you could only get there. In casually glancing at the registration list that the conference workers had there, it would seem that anywhere from 100 to 150 people had registered. According to the schedules, Michael Sullivant and Floyd McClung would speak in the general sessions and a variety of speakers would conduct workshops. Worship services were to have room made for the issuance of "corporate prophecy" that was to have been first submitted in writing to the "ministry elders team," all members of Westmore, as well as ministry for special needs.
There was apparently going to be a late night 10-midnight special session each night, one for pastoral leaders, another for women alone, and the last for youth (called "worship and warfare"). And a stack of small forms that should be used by anyone wanting to submit questions to a "spiritual leadership team" for answering during the general sessions each morning (a total of TWO times a day) was there for anyone to use. And all of the text I've cited in the Church of God publications that was authored by Fisher and Moore were in the book. Sessions would be recorded not on tape but on CD's (I was thoroughly impressed that every workshop room was equipped with a laptop and a microphone running into it and that every session was digitally recorded directly to the laptop harddrives). That, however, made the cost of workshop recordings quite pricey - to purchase ONE workshop (on ONE CD), it would cost you $8 apiece - with a set of the whole conference being $85. Just to walk in for the conference's entire three days was $40 itself. Since I couldn't afford the $40 nor be there all three days (I had to work Thursday and my work days at the plant then started precisely at 5:55 a.m. every morning, Monday through Thursday for 10 punishing hours), I decided to limit myself to Wednesday night and all day Friday for a bargain .. $25 (paying to hear Christians teach about Christian life is something I have rather strong feelings about, but I won't go there .. yet). As badly as I wanted to, I could not stay for any of the "midnight sessions".
That night, my former pastor, Kelvin Page, sat with me during the service and our presiding Bishop Lamar Vest accompanied by his wife sat behind me. Dr. Vest's closing thoughts as he greeted the conference were singularly thought provoking, yet at the same time, perplexingly vague:
" If anybody comes to you in the name of God and points his finger or her finger to say 'look at me, I'm the greatest,' run away from them as quickly as you can. But pay special attention to those who say 'Hear the word of the Lord.'" (6)
While affirming the need for careful observation of the professing prophet among us and the rejection of those who exalt themselves carnally, Dr. Vest then encourages special attentions to those who say they speak the word of the Lord. While this bit of discernment is good advice, it is sadly incomplete and one-dimensional. It could be understood in more than one sense. Did he still mean to exhort all there to continue a vigilant discernment of those saying "thus saith the Lord?" Or did he go on to suggest that those who are true, godly prophets always cry out "heat the word of the Lord"? The confusion arises over the plain fact that those who seek to exploit the prophetic to their own controlling ends will always cite their authoritative oracles as pronouncements of the "word of the Lord," and who also appear so humble, so Spirit-led and so "anointed" that they would easily pass as authentic.
Yet Jesus Christ our Lord spoke of those who would prophesy, cast out devils and even work miracles in his Name and yet find themselves outside His saving grace in Matthew 7:22-23, a sobering warning that seems to imply He may well have had the "prophetic" in mind when speaking of the vast end time falling away in Matthew 24 (a point often lost on us Full gospel folk). The point is that false prophets can be so deceptive they can even deceive themselves, let alone all around them. Few of the false are so blatant as to exalt themselves so baldly. But most will seem so Christian, so Christ-like, so godly that they would seemingly make Paul the apostle blush. That is why deception is what it is, and Dr. Vest's admonition, as well intended as it was, didn't explore this vastly ignored dimension of the problem. The congregation applauded and amened him, but I got even more uneasy .. and troubled.
And after hearing three general sessions and attending three different workshops, after mingling a bit among conference attendees and just keeping my ears open, I think I can fairly say I got a first-hand feel of just where this conference's perspective was coming from. And what I have heard there is what, to be frank, scares the purgatory out of me: the conference, touted as "making room for the prophetic" also made room for some other things as well ..
1. Despite all that was said about it at the conference, I saw nor heard any substantial treatment by the keynote speakers McClung and Sullivant of what seemed to be the most neglected subject of all there - a comprehensive discussion of how all "five-fold" ministries should be functioning together to fulfill the endlessly reiterated goal of "perfecting the saints" that is supposed to be the supreme goal of the Ephesians 4:11 mandate for them (Church of God pastor Jim Bolin's workshop on the five fold ministry may have been the closest thing to it, but I didn't go to it, and I know for certain all did NOT either). Unless there were no questions submitted to the leadership teams on Thursday, I heard no questions answered Friday morning. There was no room made for question and answer any other time I knew of, unless you could collar a speaker after they were done speaking. The only place you could hope to do so, at least from the two workshops I went to, was to purposely interject comments and questions into them, which didn't appear to be the place for them since each speaker came ready to make his presentation, complete with handouts and slides.
The conference was to focus attention on the prophetic, of course, but the actual flow of teaching on the "prophetic" actually immediately became discussion and teaching on the "apostolic" as well, bringing even more tangential treatment to the subject as we shall see in a moment. The emphasis in Ephesians 4:11 is that all of the so-called "five fold offices" of pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet and apostle (no matter how you may define them) are to be working harmoniously as one, and what seems to have been lost in translation at this conference is that you cannot speak of one without giving appropriate definition and description to the other four. Yet as far as I saw, there was no such discussion on this whatsoever. The discourse in the Assembly of God's excellent position paper on them will help explain that at more length than I can here. You can access this document online by clicking here. In short, acceptance of such "offices" isn't what is being questioned. Openness to the apostolic and the prophetic isn't the problem: it is the unbiblical assumptions and notions offered in the conference that were subtly or explicitly used to define them that were deeply troubling.
2. Instead, the insights that were offered were based upon an acceptance as objective spiritual truth of the unbiblical proposition that apostles and prophets are to be treated as having an actual pre-eminence over pastors, evangelists and teachers. This is an increasingly dominant theme that resounds throughout the circles of many a Pentecostal or Charismatic church that is actively pursuing the development of a "five-fold ministry" structure. I have heard and seen this for many years and in the 1990's, this belief has gotten a major amount of recirculation that is virtually unquestioned. There was much engaging talk at the conference about the need to consign all of the "visionary" and "foundational" direction of the Christian Church in the last days over to those "apostles" and "prophets" among us who will then take the lead over pastors, evangelists and teachers to lead the church "as the Spirit blows." Floyd McClung took an enormous amount of time in the sessions I heard him presenting the mutually reinforcing callings of prophets and apostles and the necessity to set them up as the supreme authority over the other 3 "offices", and yet there was little said about how they were to work together. This has equally enormous implications for ministerial integrity and accountability that seemed lost to the speakers.
For example, in his Wednesday night session, McClung cites Ephesians 2:19-20 as a verse with historic and foundational significance, holding that in this verse, the Old Testament's prophetic authority is "merged" with the New Testament's apostolic authority that is what the Church is to be built upon. Yet this is an argument from silence since the text doesn't establish what he believes it does. Taken in the context of a study of what the early Church viewed as inspired Scripture, this verse actually suggests that this "foundation" for the household of God is that of the Word of God, the written oracles of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and the Gospel accounts of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He goes on to point out how enormous in significance this position is for true Christian leadership, but the imbalance alone coming out of the logical conclusions of this angle is quite chilling: we are to "make room" for building the Body of Christ not upon Himself as the chief cornerstone or His Word as the foundation, but upon the leadership of men we are to submit to without question since it is they who both hear from and speak most perfectly and directly from God.
3. There was a rather bizarre endorsement of extrabiblical spiritual direction by listening for God's voice in popular movies: as demonstration of the belief that one can hear the Spirit of God in pop culture, we were shown portions of clips from the 1999 film "Instinct," with Cuba Gooding and Anthony Hopkins, in which they, as the two central characters, physically wrestled with one another as they argued over some philosophical observations about loss of personal freedom. This, we were seriously informed, was used to visually represent the "violence" of encounter with the Spirit of God. Screened on Friday night, to underscore how important an understanding of this was to Floyd McClung and an apparent desire to impress this upon his impressionable audience, more of it was shown to the "young lions" during their midnight "youth warfare" session.
This is in keeping with the inexplicable obsession many mystical Charismatics and Pentecostals of all stripes have to discern spiritual principles for practical Christian spirituality out of the products of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The Good Shepherd's voice and the Mind of Christ, therefore, aren't enough to provide the "more sure word of prophesy." This dumbing down of Pentecost is a subject for an article all in itself, but now is not that time.
(NOTE: FYI, a couple of movie critics had something a bit more down to earth to say about the film: "In ' Instinct', the back-to-nature business takes on a misanthropic tone and a nasty malignancy .. A lot of naysayers dubbed it 'One Flew Over the Silence of the Gorillas in the Mist'. And, well, they were right .. Most of the drama here is in terribly poor taste, with grown men smashing their heads against walls and wetting themselves").
4. There was no recognition, and certainly, no admission of the parallels between the "new wineskins" being advanced by this conference and a far more primal spiritual forebear - that of the heretical and divisive Latter Rain movement that split churches and divided Christians with a vengeance in the late 1940's. Despite a tacit recognition of "dangers, fallacies and myths" among the "prophetic" of today, and a need to properly discern them by local church leadership, it was disheartening, yet not totally unexpected to find that none of the speakers warning that this heretical movement's influence has never really waned. Obviously, none would own up to the plain fact that they actually advocate the same positions. In fact, the fastest selling books at the booktable (courtesy, oddly enough, of the Church of God of Prophecy's White Wing Bookstore, and not the Church of God's own Pathway Bookstore) were books by Latter Rain-influenced and self-proclaimed apostle and prophet "Dr." Bill Hamon. I heard what I thought were Church of God ministers raving over Hamon's books and prophetic mantle at the table, happily telling all present to avail themselves of his "present truth". I saw not a few well-worn copies of his books in many a pew alongside someone's Bible at the conference. Books by other self-proclaimed prophets such as Kim Clement and Rick Joyner were there, men whose teachings are heavily influenced by Latter Rain teachings and practices.
5. It is almost possible to believe that learned and educated men such as Fisher, Swank and Moore could be unaware of the Latter Rain principles advanced at this conference (as unlikely as it seems). But it is a certainty that Floyd McClung and Michael Sullivant are quite aware of their Metro Christian Fellowship's long established historic entanglement with Latter Rain teaching. The luminaries of the Kansas City Prophet (KCP) movement that was most influential from the mid 1980's through the early 1990's (this included a brief stint with John Wimber's Vineyard fellowships) were all involved with Metro at one point or another back then. The cast of characters in the KCP movement involved the controversial and well known "prophets" such as John Paul Jackson, Rick Joyner, Paul Cain, Bob Jones and Mike Bickle. Their endless casting of many an oracle and other kinds of prophetic muddling stood the Charismatic world on its ear back then, as they do now. Michael Sullivant was there during all of this, even if McClung was not - see an excellent timeline of the KCP's organizational development and to demonstrate this by clicking here. Classically Latter Rain movement distinctives always included strong emphasis on the impartation of spiritual giftings and callings by a "prophetic eldership", the need for the apostles and prophets to lead the "fivefold" in perfecting the church, and the necessity to heed the "voice of God" heard in the "rhemas" presented in private and corporate prophecy. These concepts, restated and rehashed by McClung and Sullivant, were presented as cutting edge truth, as part of the "seasoned" wisdom that the Church of God is enjoined to embrace.
For many years, the Latter Rain has nurtured a wing of "New Order" folk who have created their own alternate universe that has established itself right under our very noses and has been hidden in plain sight, using to gain a hearing their appealing forms of extended dynamic worship, prophecy sessions in which personal prophetic words are regularly delivered to people lining up at the fronts of churches, "warfare" emphases in praise and personal prophesy, as well as the bandwagon Christianity most Charismatics and Pentecostals will jump on when ever some new emphasis breaks the surface of the tongue-talking seas of the earth. They have long sought to spread their influence to the established Pentecostal churches, but have not found a greater following. Latter Rain dynamics being what they are tend to find more of a hearing among independent works, and "revival churches" among non-denominational Pentecostals across the nation often lean to it's teaching, attracted by its rally cry of revival, new wine, etc. Although all of these various "full gospel" churches may differ on many things, their embracing of Latter Rain principles is wholehearted - including a strident anti-denominational stance that holds in contempt many denominational Pentecostal movements such as the Church of God, the Assembly of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church and the Church of God in Christ as well.
But Latter Rain proponents have never rested, continually pressing for a hearing among the "demoninations" as they would like to contemptuously call such Pentecostal assemblies as my own. The resources, finances, spiritual influence and cultural position of Pentecostal denominations are a big prize for such a movement, and nothing would please them more than to avail themselves of it. The still active figures of the now defunct KCP clique have found fertile soil across the Charismatic and Pentecostal subcultures and draw great attention from outside them as well. And I believe they are now starting to turn the corner, ever since the excitement of the now moribund "River" movement has waned considerably, and the Christians involved in it - conditioned to continually look for "The Next Great Move Of God" - have sought in vain for a new outpouring of excitement and glory. More and more we hear the cry for the "rising of a New Breed," a new species of Christian who is enjoying a long needed "New Anointing," as if the power of the Holy Ghost was insufficient to empower the church to minister in our apostate, amoral hour. Latter Rain-influenced Bill Hamon's Christian International (CI) influences were being established at the Brownsville revival a few years ago. Influential organizations being set up under the auspices of "the prophetic" and "the apostolic" by leaders like C. Peter Wagner and others are based largely upon Latter Rain foundational beliefs which are are simply unbiblical and have lead to much distortion and even denial of sound Christian truth. With the free acceptance of these writings and teaching as I beheld here, I know I am only seeing barely the tip of an iceberg whose vast bulk doesn't begin to break the surface of our own denominational sea.
The "New Order" of the Latter Rain, having long ago begun the process of mutating into beautiful, well-groomed, accomplished, dynamic and compelling Spirit-filled spirituality that excites and stirs us, is starting to pour again into the Pentecostal world. But this time, with the Biblical illiteracy and dumbed down nature of far too many of we tongue talkers, I fear that this time, it will cost the Church of God more than it did in the late 1940's, when it was largely spread to independent works of the West, the Plains and the Northeast. And no one seems to see it. No one.
Blind Blessers: Where Are Our Leaders?
So where are the "governments" - the leaders - of our movement when such a danger appears to be targeting our movement, out of the greatest of intentions? At the very least, this teaching is suspect and at worst, it poses an exceedingly subtle yet grave threat. How does a mile-long freight train of bad if not at least highly questionable teaching jump off the sidetrack and come thundering into the sleeping church village at the bottom of the mountain?
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the entire conference answered this question. It was a frank statement made by Mark Swank, one of the conference workshop speakers I attended. Swank's dedicated ministry with the Church of God in urban outreach and ministry is well known in the movement and has attracted much interest and attention. And it is a very selective channeling of the positive regard in high places that his dedication has earned which he suggests can best be used to influence the movement toward the "prophetic." A transcript of his remarks in his talk makes this quite clear:
"To bring change you have to submit to the leaders that God has appointed .. If God's gotta bring change in our denomination, he's gonna do it through people who .. are not outside the denomination, and are now independent, or so set free in their power that they don't need accountability and structure which are 90 percent of the prophetic people that I know right now. He's not going to use them to bring change because they are in rebellion to God, because God appointed these people .. But if we seek and we submit to their leadership, knowing that we are submitting to God through that, He makes them do amazing things so that change can take place. .. We're embraced by Lee, we're embraced by the Seminary, we're embraced by Headquarters, we're embraced by World Missions and what we do is actually very different in things that, really, they probably don't truly believe."
"But it's like God shows us that there are things that are missing, and we submit to those over us, and they just turned around and blindly bless us. .. This conference was done by submitting ourselves to leaders over us who may not even see the need for this conference. But by submitting. God gives favor and .. change. Every aspect of what God wants to do through the prophetic and through the sons and daughters He wants to do to bring change to God's church and our church and the denominations in the fullest context of it. .. In our attempt to bring change, if we go outside of our structure and don't submit to God's place, it's pride that keeps leaders from embracing the new vision and it's pride that thinks we know more than God but we're going to do our own thing as opposed to submit to the leaders God has placed over us. And what I really feel and have seen that if we will submit to God and to the leaders - and you actually can do that, even bad leaders - if you submit to God and the leaders, God brings the change and it just looks foolishly easy." (7)
While seeming to advance a very sound principle of submission to leaders so as not to be found rebelling against God's order He sovereignly has allowed to be in place, the speaker reveals an absolutely astonishing pragmatism that took my breath away when I heard it. I could not believe something so bald-facedly brazen could be so publicly spoken. Swank admitted freely to following the cues of an agenda that has less to do with true submission as obedience to God and more toward toleration of leaders who don't recognize what's going on! This is a plain and honest confession that spoke volumes. For him, the ultimate goal of his ministry's submission is to actually advance his own convictions on the "prophetic" by ingratiating servitude to leaders who don't even actually see the need for the conference! In so doing, he concludes rather triumphantly by stating "they just turned around and blindly bless us .." The stirring among the mostly young people in the room at how ingeniously this submission principle was able to win support from our movement's movers and shakers was most evident. The telling of it touched a nerve, and pens flew wildly over notebooks as sons and daughters learned thereby.
But I was dumbfounded at how totally it seemed to sanctify the worldly wisdom of man in a supposedly Spirit-filled church - "You scratch your back, and I'll scratch mine." In essence, this is what the speaker advocated. Many in our churches today have been exposed to such carnal wisdom as handed down through equally carnal church social traditions that this is how "Things Get Done" in "the church," and all of us lamentably behold it now and then. Power lunch politicking and golf course prayer meetings are part and parcel of this shameful dimension of church life. But simply because it does go on doesn't mean it should. Such an attitude stinks with the kind of carnality one might expect of an immature believer who tries to manipulate and connive others into following their lead. It does nothing to establish real change or discern truth - all it can do is to compel Christians to engage in a flirtation with eye-pleasing and tickling of ears that doesn't honor God whatsoever. And to win temporal support in such a way for a conference that is almost fatally flawed with imbalanced teaching aimed at transforming our movement from the ground up is an outrage.
I wondered at just who Swank was referring to, and perhaps, in the great economy of God's sovereignty, it isn't necessary to know just which movers and shakers in our movement he's been able to influence into an amenable frame of mind. To hear that it actually has happened so boldly is bad enough. But to hear that those in high places in our movement who authorized the creation of this conference not only may not have believed in its validity but who probably didn't even understand what's was at stake was absolutely stunning in what it implied.
What it suggests to me is that there was little if any serious spiritual oversight by our Church of God leaders as to just what this conference appears to be actually aimed to do. It strongly infers that our leaders were literally charmed into sponsoring this event, drawing support from tithes and offerings the larger church gave to further the Kingdom of God and not the kingdoms of men. This conference has little to do with "making room for the prophetic" in some reasoned, consensual, informed manner in which our whole movement is involved from beginning to end. What it does do is to boldly and unapologetically call for total, radical transformation of our fellowship by the full adoption of the "prophetic" -- and the "apostolic" as vaguely defined -- to rule over pastors, evangelists and teachers as proscribed by a fringe group of "five fold" elites. The "room" we are urged to make for this will therefore supposedly bring us to places by revelation which McClung says we need to simply obey and not necessarily understand. And of course, this declaration makes total sense since it is our leaders who "blindly" commissioned this conference without even understanding what it was about, either.
Perhaps Robert Fisher, director of the Center For Spiritual Renewal, gives us disquieting clues as to where this movement is being steered. In his talk Spiritual Renewal And The Prophetic Ministry, Fisher taught that he views the "prophetic movement" as the next phase of revivalism to precede a final great revival before the return of Christ. This is a traditional Pentecostal expectation in which a global outpouring of unprecedented revival will turn the world upside down (and is the foundational belief underlying the manifold claims one hears in full gospel circles about "the next move of God" or that "God's doing a new thing", a point that is far from substantiated from Scripture, but an argument outside the scope of this discussion we'll get into in another article). He defines the prophetic ministry as "predicting and proclaiming under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to edify, exhort and comfort" according to 1 Corinthians 14:3. But while this is a soundly Biblical definition, it is noteworthy to emphasize that Fisher clearly sees the rising tide of the so-called "prophetic" among us as part of a divine order of last days events: in his talk handout in which he gives this definition, he holds that the "current revival" (a reference to the fading River revivalism) "is restoring the prophetic office." He went on to teach that the prophetic dimension, emerging prior to "cataclysmic events" is what is needed by the church today to inspire and inform the church of the need to seek revival and to "usher in the final consummation" (8). These themes as he expounds them are painfully reminiscent of the Latter-Rain movement's belief that the full restoration of the fivefold ministry, as well as their direct influence upon the church, is what will create the "Bride of Christ" awaiting her marriage as an overcoming and triumphant church. He stopped short of going any further with the logical conclusion of this teaching (which would lead into the heretical side of Latter Rain doctrine), but it is troubling enough to hear from a fine man that I deeply respect and honor such a close proximity of sound to questionable doctrine. Perhaps that in itself is a prophetic sign ..
"Speaking To The Heart To Convince The Mind"
Brother McClung urged us at the outset of his Wednesday general session to exercise a faith and trust in what he says is God's Spirit - "blowing where it will" - that must be immediate, total and from the whole heart. We are not to be "waiting for full understanding" since that selfsame Spirit "is bigger than our theology", as we were instructed. In fact this fundamental truth behind just leaping by faith and trusting this "new move" became an admonition that came front and center the first night of the conference with a popular couplet adapted so as to be more palatable to our minds: "God speaks to the heart to convince the mind." Citing a popular notion that claims the "rational, linear thinking mindset of the West" will always conflict with the Eastern mindset that is always open to the unbound spiritual impulse, McClung very obviously upholds the non-rational, subjective impulse to simply "trust and obey": "we gotta trust God and not always understand." (9)
This popular notion is not lost upon many Christians as the belief that the mind and the heart are two human faculties that are fundamentally at odds with one another when dealing with a vibrantly worshipping spirituality has been long enshrined in Christian lore. Note the implications of the text of a huge banner strung at a Christian women's conference not long ago: using Luke 10:38-39's reference to Mary and Martha's contrasted personal styles of devotion to Jesus, and mindful of Jesus' gentle rebuke of Martha's impatience with her sister's adoration of Him, it reads "Mary Heart ... Martha Brain." I'm not sure what this conference set out to say by creating and displaying this banner in their meeting, but what this suggests is actually quite staggering and is an example of what McClung's proverb preaches: the heart is indeed to be followed more readily and immediately than anything the mind or brain might tell you. Indeed, God is pleased primarily by the actions following the impulses of the heart.
If this is to be the normative case for Christian life, then objective truth and critical thinking that follows from the Bible's mandates to discern, abstain from all appearances of evil, proving all things, holding fast to that which is good, etc. have nothing to do with how we decide what is true and what is false. It's all just a matter of how God speaks to our hearts - if from our hearts first we feel it's right, than it surely must be of God. No questions, therefore need be asked - indeed, to raise a question is to be betraying ourselves as unspiritual sticks in the mud who are "quenching the Spirit." We wouldn't want to be viewed as fighting against God, now, would we? There's no need to try those spirits in motion about us to see if they are of God or not. We just have to trust. There's no need to concern ourselves with the Biblical admonitions of watching out for false prophets and false teachers raising their cunningly deceptive voices among us in tongues of men and angels. Certainly, then, we would need to cross out in our Bibles those overly alarmist warnings of Paul regarding the advance of Satan's minions among us with dazzlingly spiritual angel-of-light manifestations among our Christian communities. Understanding isn't necessary when it comes to "the Spirit."
Israel's standard of discernment operated this same way - in the grossly apostate time of the Judges:
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25.
As a result, the 12 tribes engaged in pagan religiosity that plunged the nation almost into total darkness, with whole tribes turning to the worship of pagan gods whose allure spoke to their hearts. And ultimately 1 Samuel 3:1, written with some of the most tragic words in Scripture, gives a glimpse into the depth of darkness of Israel's rejection of God's standard of truth for her own twisted way:
.. the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
Imagine that - the very thing Israel wanted more of was precisely what her God cut off from among her, the true Word of the LORD! Does this mean that the wizards and false prophets of paganism and paganized Israel ceased their lying visions or oracles? Not at all - there was plenty of that to go around! The spiritual anarchy in Israel as it rejected God's rule for it's own comfortable religious relativism eventually was what would contribute to their demand for a king - which God's touching and prophetic lament in 1 Samuel 8:4-22 details the nation's depravity:
This example of Israel is a terrifying one which the author of the book of Hebrews (3:7-10 and 4:11) makes completely clear is one the church dare not ignore. In fact, the classic verse of God's Word being the only standard of truth that "is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword" is in 4:12; His Word alone is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart". As you can see, to cast off God's holy and unchanging Word of discerning for a nebulous feeling that God supposedly gives is spiritual suicide in any time of deceptive spirituality, and if ever an apostate age has swept our world, that time is now.
My lovely wife Joy loves to point out when she confronts the whole enterprise of seeking God's "Now Words" via "rhemas" that Hebrews 1:1-2 makes clear just Whose words are meant to be given our entire attention: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things .." The words spoke by the Son of God really are all we need. Words of knowledge and wisdom administered by godly Christian people we will always need and should cherish ... but in the end, our LORD's words have been preserved and held up before as the final Word for the Last Days. It is this reference that Chris Thomas amazingly did not include in his review of the New Testament evidence regarding the prophetic. The Christian cannot look to anyone but Christ as the center of his faith as God has ordained it, and the significance of this omission which my wife noticed is quite compelling.
The Scripture here in Hebrews 1 again reminds us of the central, exclusive place that our Lord Jesus Christ should be taking as the Head of the Body of Christ and the great Lord over all creation. It is in His life and teaching that all meaning, all definition and all context for any prophetic operation can ever be drawn from. Tragically, all too many Pentecostals and Charismatics pander to low forms of the "prophetic" that tend to the self-focused and the personal need, and I've heard many of these in many visits to "prophetic churches" here in Cleveland and outside it. Jesus Christ or His Spirit may be the one said to be speaking, but rarely, if ever, is His Lordship ever affirmed or the believer challenged to re-embrace it. Too often, the "oracles" are words telling someone to wait, to go here, or go there, or to expect blessings. The greatest sin of the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds is that too many among us both affirm and deny this: too many of us claim the Bible is our only rule for faith of practice but live lives driven by the spurious oracles of our favorite prophets and preachers whose dazzling delivery and on stage mystique compel us to receive it.
In the 1990's, during the heady days of the River movement, that little couplet McClung voiced was expressed in much more bolder and direct terms and had a more confrontational stance: Mike Bickle, former pastor of McClung's church, used it as a title for the fifth chapter of his book Growing In The Prophetic - "God offends the mind to reveal the heart." He explained then, as many others in "the River" then, that this "offense" typically was something God did quite regularly: "By offending people's minds, He reveals things in their hearts that cause them to stumble. .. what is most revealed in the offended heart is a lack of hunger of God and a lack of humility." (10) So, this claim goes on to say, God will shake us up in the form and "weirdness" of how some "prophetic" folk do their thing, doing strange stuff that often is so outrageous that it leads the "proud" to question it. It's a very convincing, even clever argument that effectively squelches any dissent or scrutiny of any of the more extreme forms of the so-called "prophetic", be it in content or delivery, that are routinely pressed on Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations as a "new thing" God is doing and which we should not "despise." Since most people don't want the suggestion of being labeled a proud character who really doesn't care for the things of God, they pretty quickly cease questioning in many a church and the madness goes on.
This is what is called a "thought-stopping cliche." It is used frequently among evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals and Charismatics. It is something used by cults just as quickly (working in cult ministry for the past eleven years makes that quite clear). A thought stopping cliche is a canned statement, phrase or word used within a group that immediately sends a clear communication that completely qualifies the situation and ends any discussion or thought. For example, we've heard someone say to us, upon seeing some one not liked, "boy, that guy is a JERK, isn't he?" That is a thought-stopping cliche. We are told that the guy is a JERK, so therefore, we are confronted with the choice to accept that insulting qualification as objective reality or to reject it AND live like it isn't the truth (in other words, we will say "you are wrong and I'm going to say hello").
So, to practically follow Bickle's aphorism is to effectively cease any questioning of the claims made by those seeking to speak or minister authoritatively, and this is clearly in the context of the so-called "prophetic." This popular Charismatic/Pentecostal straw man was made more user friendly by McClung at the conference and yet the central truth, cleverly restated and sounding deeper and gentler, is still the same. This, my fellowsaints, is where the danger of these "prophetic movements" is most clearly to be seen - they seek to establish a spiritual hierarchy under "apostles" and "prophets" with a pretense of order that isn't actually subject to God's Word at all, but the feelings of men who can do almost what they please with no means of keeping things "decently and in order." It is during the height of these movement's most cherished activities, their times of prophesying, "warfare praise," and other experiential and dramatically compelling religious activity that the disorderly and the unbiblical become sanctified as a "new move from God."
It is good to have heard all that I did hear about ensuring accountability and order at the conference, but in effect, the dynamics of the "prophetic" as the conference would have them followed effectively do an end-run around whatever safeguards would be in place because they rely so much upon the willingness of all to submit to them. And as Bickle and so many other "seasoned" prophets made it clear, the prophetic is an enterprise subject to their free reinterpretation of what it means to be "prophetic." Unlike the firm standards of pastoral, evangelistic and teaching authority that our movement has sought to walk in, such are not in place whatsoever for the prophets, let alone apostles, of this "New Breed." And mind you, one doesn't even have to be 100% accurate in the prophetic oracles you give - room is made for the "weak" and "imperfect vessels" to "speak into your life," and if disruption and confusion arise, the errant prophet is cut more slack than one might believe (never mind the horrific mess they might make of your life).
The candor of the so-called "Kansas City Prophets" - the spiritual womb from which McClung and Sullivant (left) have received formative influence - over their prophetic accuracy is hardly encouraging. At one point several years ago, one of Bickle's (right) most trusted prophetic contemporaries, the venerated Bob Jones "was told" by the Spirit of God that "the general level of prophetic revelation in the church was about 65% accurate at this time. Some are only about 10% accurate .. " (11) One of the group, John Paul Jackson, a well known prophetic figure in his own right today, claimed to have been dealt with by God about excessive viewing of television programming, which caused him to have "confused visions" drawn from flashback memories drawn from what he'd watched, a problem Jones struggled with as well (12). Bickle himself believes a "false assumption" is to expect that "a person who God uses in a genuine prophetic or healing ministry must be 100 percent doctrinally correct" (13) and that "on occasion (some individuals may) speak the words of God with complete accuracy" (14). These attitudes by those in this movement being invited to tell us "how it's done" doesn't inspire with any confidence at all. Indeed, it only again reaffirmed my position that a never-ending vigilance to guard against the infusion of error and disorder through the modern day "prophetic" must be maintained by any and all discerning, mature pastors and Christian leaders who venture into this area. While the conference did labor to make clear that there were definite boundaries of accountability through the submission of all words of prophecy to a band of ministry elders for the corporate church for weighing, the standards for personal prophecy became increasingly fuzzy and ill-defined. I never really saw or heard teaching that would address this, and it is in this very area that much of the abuse and misleading of Christians has gone on concerning the prophetic/apostolic.
The decimation of Christian lives through false prophecy they were enjoined by "prophets" to follow is one of the saddest, most tragic aspects of the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds. It has rocked my world and my family in ways too terrible and agonizing for me to relate here. Suffice it to say that my beloved first pastor (the one who discipled me after I came to the Lord) was led astray by "prophets" who "spoke into his life" and who told him "in the Spirit" that he, being a widower and pastor of our fast growing church, needed to take a Sister Soandso into his life as his new wife, and that this union would be a powerful "threat to the devil." A year and a half after he married, this precious man whom I loved more than my own pagan father was dead, the church split, and his numbed children packed off to relatives out of state - but not before Sister Soandso and her prophetic cronies in the church spread havoc that stings and blinds me with tears even now remembering.
The year was 1985, a year burnt into my soul that I can never forget. At the same time the Kansas City Prophets spoke their words over one another and began their journey into prophetic mysticism, several hundred miles away in the Midwest, both I and my four brothers found ourselves confronted by the self-proclaimed "anointed" who uttered self-evident abominations and could only find ourselves watching a precious and wonderful work of God in our local church spoiled and torn apart by them. Many young converts were alienated and exploited by them, and they drifted into obscurity, never to be heard from again. My godly Pentecostal mother and my four younger brothers were viciously assailed by these errant people and of them all, only my mother still walks with God and has only in the past three years started going to church again - an Assemblies of God, by the way.
If there is any lesson I can say that most immediately stands out of the dozen or so I've learned in my brush with this, it is that to speak in the name of the Lord God and give direction to other believers in His great and terrible Name is no enterprise that should ever be treated with the casual, almost reckless manner that too many of the "New Order" of today treat it in. It enrages me to see these excesses dressed up as "visitations of God" and yet, at the same time, a long, silent howl of grief goes through me - all too frequently - over how ignorant and blind we "spiritual" ones really are. A holy dread and an open view of the Bema Seat of God should be blazing like a torch in their mind's eyes whenever any professing "prophet" dares to speak, and their manner and lifestyle will be that of a man or woman of God who fears and loves their Father so much they will repeat only what they know they've heard Him say. This is where the true fear of God - so blithely spoke of by so many today - really comes home: out of one's relationship to God as both child and servant of God, the truly prophetic and apostolic will proceed forth to truly foretell and forthtell.
If I could ever meet Bickle, Jones, et al, I would have them show me whatever Bible they think they can use to set up their new standards for the "prophetic" and then point them to God's standard for prophetic accuracy as found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22:
But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
True prophets in the Bible spoke oracles only as moved upon by God's Spirit and only when He wanted them to do so. False prophets speak words God has nothing to do with out of a presumptive spirit trying to pose as God's inspiration. And furthermore, no one needs to submit to the divine dread they will try to cast over you. The fear of man is a snare no believer should ever yield to and their faith fully centered in God (Proverbs 29:25). The feigned prophetic mantle they use to cloak their manipulative agendas are all smoke and mirrors that blow away in the light of the Word. This isn't rocket science. It's not hard to figure out what God is saying here, and any true prophetic figure will acknowledge the truth of this.
In the book Some Say It Thundered by David Pytches, a sympathetic account of the emergence of the KCP movement, Mike Bickle tries in vain to turn attention away from the Deuteronomy passage recording Yahweh's divine displeasure with false prophesy by observing that "the grace of God" only admonished Christians to submit their visions and prophecies to the judgment of others as taught in 1 Cor. 14:29 (15). It is truly unbelievable that Bickle, who is cited as a sound, Bible-centered pastor in the book, can speak about this in an apparently total disregard to Scriptural warnings in the New Testament about those who would speak error in the name of God in the church:
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. Matthew 24:24-26
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. .. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostlesí hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. Acts 8:13, 18-23
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. Romans 16:17-18
This last verse is one Bickle and all of his tribe need to grapple with: despite his protestation that doctrinal integrity has no connection to prophetic accuracy, the apostle Paul begs strongly to differ. Note that the "good words" and "fair speeches" of those Paul rightly calls "divisive" and who cause offenses in the church are utterances that have no basis in the sound teaching the Roman believers had heard. A body of Christian teaching plainly identified as doctrine is what Paul uses as the plumbline to properly weigh and discern whatever "words" came forth, no matter how "good" or "fair" they would seem. The "New Breed" cannot hope to avoid accountability for their spurious words and questionable practices according to the Word of God. Doctrine indeed matters, and when confronted by the loud, colorful, compelling spectacle of Brother X and Sister Y floating into a service to deliver an inspired utterance, it is doctrine that the Body of Christ must use to properly judge it.
Now had the Christian Church been operating under the standards of the Old Testament, these prophetic mavericks of today whose oracles fail would have long ago been stoned to death. And rightly so, for the souls and lives of God's flock have been imperiled by too many of these errant brothers and sisters who refuse accountability to the Church and their mouths need to be stopped one way or another. However, the way of grace is indeed the highway of holiness we are to follow. The remedy of the New Testament is to shun such people completely after a public rebuke (1 Timothy 6:1-3) and that we should "have no company" with them to the end that they should be held in public reproof that leads them to repentance (2 Thess. 3:14-15). I certainly am not advocating stoning anyone to death, but I firmly hold accountability and rebuke must be exercised a lot more than it is and in the right spirit of relational love as the Word goes on to advise us in verse 15:
.. Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
All of God's people in our movement who've been drawing from these cracked, if not broken cisterns should shun the teaching of these people completely. I have no illusion that this will ever happen, however: my conscience, however, is satisfied that I make the warning and fulfill the prophetic role God has placed on me to say what I am saying. Their books should not be sold in our church bookstores or at our conferences, no matter how good they look on Sky Angel or how well they sell at Pathway.
A Final Comment
Until we have an intentional and deliberate season of study, prayer and Bible study in the context of Christian community among our movement, I assert that it is now in greater danger of finding itself led down the proverbial primrose path to deception than ever before. I make absolutely no apologies for sounding this alarm and will defend my assertions before any one or any group of people who would differ. A storm is coming on silent cat's feet and we are now making room for a lot more than just "the prophetic." We'd all better start speaking up, studying up, and grappling with this issue. Every Christian leader had better have arrived at where they stand on this issue individually because it's going to start knocking on our church doors more and more as time goes by - indeed, the time of trial has begun.
I have mentioned that Dr. Fisher's teaching draws from an all too close affinity to the concepts of Latter Rain teaching that are alarming. While I did not attend pastor Jim Bolin's teaching session at the conference, his teaching outline for his talk entitled Restoration Of The Apostolic Church And Mandate which was delivered at a Church of God leadership conference in 2003 uses the same dramatic vocabulary and conceptual imagery that seems to come straight from the same doctrinal wells that the Latter Rain's apostolic/prophetic progeny across the world draw from. He speaks of the rising of a "New Breed" who are also called "Kingdom movers and shakers." Additionally, the need for yet another "new Anointing" is cited so challenges and deliverances can be done, all to the end of taking cities and societies as the means to fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission. Of course, no one can argue against the fulfillment of Jesus' commands to preach His Gospel to all the world, but Bolin's belief, like Fisher's, is clearly restorationist as much Pentecostal thinking, including mine, actually is. Yet how does he define what the focus of his restorationist thought here? "God is restoring Apostles, Prophets and Teachers to their original destiny in the New Church" (16).
Again, the vocabulary is too evocative of Latter Rain principles for the parallel be lost here. Without knowing it, perhaps, both Fisher and Bolin may not realize just how loudly the depths of full gospel spirituality resonate when these words and concepts are used. I have no way of knowing. I hope to some day meet with these brothers and find out, but the teachings sound far too rooted in Latter Rain thought then can be believed. And this is no direction our church, in our moments of danger, opportunity and destiny that we stand in, needs to strike. In a day of enormous compromise and horrific backsliding, our movement's trumpets must not make uncertain sounds. Yet that is where our heralding is going ..
Right now, about the only thing that stands between our movement and the damage this storm can bring is the sheer grace of God by the Light of His Word .. and the collective inertia and/or suspicion our pastors traditionally have for those claiming to have some prophetic mantle that by default commands their attention and respect. If we avoid the apocalypse of these "anointed", it will be because of our own traditionalism - the very thing the "New Order" demands we ditch to truly be renewed with the "new wine"- and frankly, it is some of out own traditionalism that will keep us from truly embracing the GOOD that they do advance. There is indeed much about the truly prophetic and apostolic that we need to recognize and consider. And that is something left for another article. But for now, what I think is important to consider is just how divisive this issue already is, and how a time of real decision faces the Church of God.
(1) Book Of Minutes, p. 12
(2) Like A Mighty Army, p. 43
(3) Evangel, October, 2002, pp. 12-13 and Profiles, October, 2002, p. 6
(4) Book of Minutes, p. 14
(5) Evangel, October, 2001, p. 13
(6) Personal tape recording, made November 6, 2002
(7) Personal tape recording, made November 8, 2002
(8) Handout given out at conference
(9) Personal tape recording, made November 6, 2002
(10) Growing In The Prophetic, p. 77
(11) The Morning Star: 1988-89, p. 82
(12) Some Say It Thundered, p. 108
(13) Growing In The Prophetic, p. 63
(14) ibid, p. 118
(15) Some Say It Thundered, p. 109
(16) Handout given out at conference
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