The Apostolic and Prophetic Movement
By Keith Gibson
“ 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.’” -Mike Bickle
The majority of the Church has not taken seriously the claims of the modern apostles and prophets to be introducing a new paradigm into the Body of Christ. These claims are far more than idle boasts. Indeed the paradigm shifts have already begun in many segments of Christianity. To say that the movement has grown rapidly would be a gross understatement. The issues raised go far deeper than a mere debate over the cessation or continuation of spiritual gifts. Without intending to be alarmist, it is the contention of this article that many of the statements and teachings of leaders within this movement strike at the very heart of essential Christian doctrine and the nature of Christianity. This is no longer a Charismatic vs. Non-Charismatic issue.
In this article we will attempt to evaluate this movement. It is not the intention of this article to insinuate that these teachers are not believers in Christ but only to bring a corrective to much of their doctrine and a warning to the church at large. It must be noted that space constraints will require this evaluation to be overly general in nature. The movement itself is loosely affiliated and contains great diversity. However there are some common themes that may be noted.
A Very Brief Introduction
The roots of the movement go back to the precursors of the Pentecostal Movement. They can be seen even more prominently in the doctrines of the Latter Rain teachings of the 1940’s to 1950’s. However for the purpose of this article, we will look at more recent developments.
Though no specific date can be given for the beginning of the prophetic movement, it began to emerge on a world-wide level in the 1980’s. In 1982, Mike Bickle began Kansas City Fellowship, the home of the controversial Kansas City Prophets. At the same time, other prophetic ministries were gaining prominence throughout the Church. On October 23, 1987, Bill Hamon hosted and sponsored the first “National Prophet’s Conference” with over 700 people in attendance. Today the movement has literally hundreds of thousands of adherents. The Elijah List, an email newsletter publishing the words of many of today’s new prophets, is received daily by over 130,000 people.
Emerging out of the Prophetic Movement, the Apostolic Movement began in earnest in the 1990’s. In 1999, in Singapore, a group of apostles gathered and laid the foundation for what has become the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Shortly thereafter, C. Peter Wagner was asked to lead the group. This organization, which is perhaps the most visible arm of the New Apostolic Reformation, now boasts a membership of over 440 individuals all claiming apostolic status. These apostles claim to have been given their office, not merely on grace alone, but in response to their works for God. The ICA official definition states the following, “However an office, such as the office of apostle, is not given by grace alone, but given as a result of works that have demonstrated faithfulness in stewarding the gift.”
It is important to understand that these movements consider themselves to be absolutely essential in the preparation of the church for the coming of Jesus Christ. Notice the role that these modern apostles are to play according to the ICA,” An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the growth and maturity of the church.” Notice that these leaders are to “establish foundational government within the church”. In other words, the rest of the Body should be submitting to them and indeed will submit to their leadership as the church matures.
Apostle Bill Hamon is even more direct when he writes, “…apostles and prophets must be restored before the Church can fulfill its predestinated end-time purpose on earth.” He continues later in the same work, “The full restoration of apostles and prophets back into the Church will then bring divine order, unity, purity and maturity to the corporate Body of Christ….That will in turn bring about the end of this world system of humanity and Satan’s rule. The fulfillment of all these things will release Christ, who has been seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, to return literally and set up His everlasting kingdom over all the earth.”
With the roots of the current movement planted firmly in the Manifest Sons of God teaching of the Latter Rain Movement, many of these teachers boldly proclaim that the church will conquer the world for Jesus Christ and establish His government by subduing the nations. A few, like Hamon, still teach that the church reaches glorification and immortalization (victory over death) before Jesus returns.
Issues of Concern
Though many red flags should have already been raised, the remainder of this article will examine the teachings of the new apostles and prophets and their ramifications related to several key doctrinal areas.
Without a doubt the most pervasive assaults by the modern apostles and prophets occur with regard to the inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency and perspicuity of the Word of God. In order to be fair, it must be noted that the vast majority of these teachers are completely orthodox concerning the Scriptures if one only reads their doctrinal statements. When one examines their actual teachings however, a completely different picture results.
Inspiration and Inerrancy. In his extremely popular book, “The Final Quest”, Rick Joyner postulates four different levels of inspiration ranging from impressions (lowest), to open visions and trance states (highest). In this discussion, Joyner places the epistles of the New Testament at only the second level of inspiration. Concerning this level Joyner writes, “The next level of inspiration is a conscious sense of the presence of the Lord, or the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which gives special illumination to our minds. This often comes when I am writing, or speaking, and it gives much greater confidence in the importance or accuracy of what I am saying. I believe that this was probably experienced by the apostles as they wrote the New Testament epistles. This will give us great confidence, but it is still a level where we can still be influenced by our prejudices, doctrines, etc.” (emphasis added)
Notice that Joyner, in this alarming statement, has completely undermined the absolute authority of the epistles. While, according to Joyner, we can have greater confidence in them than if they were given by mere impressions, these epistles may still contain information that comes from the apostle’s own prejudices and personal doctrines. This would mean, at least theoretically, that we as believers now have the task of discerning which parts of the apostolic message are actually the work of God and which are the result of the apostle’s flesh. Technically then, a believer would have the responsibility to set aside those parts of the New Testament that he determines to be from the apostle’s prejudice as opposed to the Word of God. Not only this, but Joyner claims that this level of inspiration frequently occurs for him when he writes and speaks. This would mean that many of Joyner’s words are on parallel with the New Testament itself. But it gets worse, for Joyner will also claim that he receives much of his information from the two levels of inspiration that are higher than that which the apostles received in penning the epistles. Though Joyner doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion, this would mean that the words of Joyner in works like “The Final Quest” actually possess greater authority than parts of the Bible itself. The result is shocking for if Joyner is correct, we can no longer evaluate his teachings based on the words of scripture but should actually evaluate some of the writings of scripture according to the standard of Joyner’s visions and trances.
How far are Joyner’s comments from the writings of the true apostles, “Knowing this, that no prophecy is of any private interpretation. For prophecy did not originate with man but holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”. (2 Pet. 1:20)
Joyner is not alone in placing his words alongside scripture in authority. In her book, “Heaven is So Real”, supposedly based on actual visits to heaven, Choo Thomas claims the following, “Like John, I had been called to write, and my mission was the same as his—to let people know that the marriage supper of the Lamb has already been prepared, and blessed are those who are invited to be there on the last day.” Elsewhere in the same book she writes, “Every word in this book is true. The words of Jesus have been transcribed exactly as He said them to me.”
Sufficiency. In a variety of ways, the modern apostles and prophets attack the sufficiency of scripture. Obviously, if the quotes already given by Joyner and Thomas are true, then the scriptures are not sufficient and the Canon is not closed. Among prophetic teachers, doctrines are being invented on an almost weekly basis that have little or no foundation in the Word such as spiritual mapping, heavenly portals, spirit-ties, spiritual inheritances, judicial intercession, soaking and the list goes on and on. This occurs, despite claims by nearly all the leaders that doctrine should be based on Scripture and not on modern revelation.
In some cases, the attacks are even more direct. For instance, Choo Thomas claims the following, “He wants me to serve as living proof of the Bible and His prophecies, because many people do not believe what they read in the Bible, nor do they believe that He is coming soon for His people.” Elsewhere she writes, “He had shown me how desperate many people are to know the truth about heaven, and I realized emphatically that my book would be the means whereby they could really know.” Examine the words of Thomas closely. Her words will do what the Bible is insufficient to do. Those unconvinced of the truth by the gospel will be convinced by Thomas’s testimony. Those desperate to know the truth about heaven will not find their hunger satisfied in the pages of Holy Scripture but in the writings of Thomas. Sadly, she is not the exception.
Perspicuity. The teachings of the modern apostles and prophets are destroying the churches traditional understanding of the Bible. They have, in large part, rejected the historical-grammatical form of interpretation and have substituted a prophetic hermeneutic which allows the Bible to mean whatever the prophet says it means today. In this way, the Bible is no longer able to fulfill its function as the basis for truth and corrective against error but rather becomes merely the puppet of the apostle/prophet to advance his agenda. Therefore Mike Bickle can find in Micah 2:12-13 justification for the “breaker anointing”, a doctrine completely unknown for the 2,000 year history of the church. Shawn Bolz can read Proverbs 6:31 and find authority to break off a poverty spirit. Key doctrines of the new movement such as the restoration of the tabernacle of David, enthroning God through worship, spiritual mapping and countless other examples are all based on a poor approach to interpretation.
The Decline of Doctrine
In addition to the undermining of core doctrines, within the apostolic/prophetic movement there is an overall disdain for doctrine in general. Doctrine is unimportant. Doctrine is minimized. Doctrine is seen as that which divides. We simply need to follow Christ. Substantive teachings on the fundamental doctrines of the faith is virtually absent from the works of most of the apostles/prophets.
What they fail to appreciate is that doctrine is that which is believed to be true. To say that doctrine is unimportant is tantamount to claiming that truth is unimportant. While it is certain that some doctrines are more central than others and that the church has been too quick to divide, the answer can not be found in minimizing doctrine altogether. Surely this is a case of the cure being as bad as the disease.
Additionally, the Christian faith has content. That is to say that when we affirm, for instance, that believing in Jesus saves, we are also understanding that there is a certain amount of content contained within such a profession. It is the Jesus of the Bible, the virgin-born, sinless, Son of God, who died and rose again, who saves as opposed to the Jesus of the cults. Cults and even other world religions may speak of Jesus but the content they attach to the name is different.
Sound doctrine is vital to the health of the individual and the church. Our relationship with God must be founded upon truth. It is for this reason that the scriptures place a premium upon doctrine. Paul writes, “Take heed to yourselves and to the doctrine for in so doing you will save both yourself and them that hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
Yet today’s teachers consistently downplay the importance of sound doctrine. Consider a couple of examples from Mike Bickle in discussing prophets in general and William Branham in particular. First, Bickle writes, “Yes, prophetic people must be clear about major doctrines like the person and work of Christ and the place of the Scriptures. But on lesser points of doctrine, they might be misinformed.” This statement doesn’t sound too bad, although it should be pointed out that if one were to consistently apply the standard of proper understanding of the place of scriptures to the modern prophets most of them would be rejected out of hand. But notice how Bickle equivocates as he discusses William Branham, “Branham ended up in some doctrinal heresy, although never to the extent of denying Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or doubting the authority of the Scriptures. While affirming the deity of Christ, he denied the Trinity.”
So apparently to Bickle, the Trinity is one of those lesser doctrines around which a true prophet may be misinformed. Further study of Branham reveals that Branham taught that God gave His Word in three forms, the Bible, the zodiac and the pyramids. He taught the serpent-seed doctrine and a host of other heresies. But none of these issues disqualify him as a true prophet in the eyes of Mike Bickle or other prophetic personalities.
Another example of Bickle’s lack of appreciation for sound doctrine can be seen when he writes, “True Christianity is a dynamic relationship with a living God, and it cannot be reduced to formulas and dry orthodoxy. We are called to embrace the mystery of God and not to lust after neatly tying up every doctrinal or philosophical loose end that we encounter.”
Here Bickle sets up a false dichotomy. It is true that we do not want a dry orthodoxy but we should still desire orthodoxy. It is true that we cannot tie up every loose end but we can know some things for certain. We are called to a dynamic relationship but this relationship must be based on the truth that God has revealed lest we find ourselves worshipping a God of our own creation. And given the number of strange practices that Bickle has endorsed in the past such as the Toronto Blessing, one can only wonder how many aberrant things may be covered under the “mystery of God”.
The Nature of God and the Person of Christ
There can be no more fundamental area of doctrine than that of the nature of God in general and the Person of Christ in particular. Even here one finds problems in the teachings of the modern apostles and prophets. We have already examined the willingness of those in this movement to endorse those who deny the Trinity. But sadly this is not all.
The Weak God. Consistently, the picture of God painted by these new leaders is less than the majestic, sovereign God of the Bible. Shawn Bolz for instance, tells of a God who has had some of the inventions He intended for His children stolen by those practicing witchcraft. Spiritual mapping advocates imply that God alone is not mighty to save unless the church first clears the spiritual atmosphere. Numerous members of this movement subscribe to the faulty views of E.W. Kenyon that God somehow lost dominion over the earth in the fall.
A classic example of this weak God can be found in the writings of ICA member Dutch Sheets. Sheets writes, “Recently, I believe the Lord showed me what sometimes happens when we come to Him with a need, asking Him to accomplish what He says in His Word. In answer to our requests, He sends His angels to get our bowls of prayer to mix with the fire of the altar. But there isn’t enough in our bowls to meet the need! We might blame God or think it’s not His will or that His Word must not really mean what it says. The reality of it is that sometimes He cannot do what we’ve asked because we have not given Him enough power in our prayer times to get it done. He has poured out all there was to pour and it wasn’t enough! It’s not just a faith issue, but also a power issue.”
Pay close attention. Notice that Sheets indicates that our prayers can line up with what God has already promised in His Word, may be according to His will, and that God may actually attempt to answer our prayer but be unable to do so because we have not given Him enough power through our prayers in order for Him to accomplish His will. So apparently God is not able to keep His own promises without our help. We have to give God the power to act.
The Nature of Christ. Modern apostles and prophets show a consistent confusion with regard to the person and work of Christ. For instance Rick Joyner states, “There is a tendency to continue relating to Him as ‘the Man from Galilee.’ Jesus is not a man. He was and is Spirit. He took the form of a servant and became a man for a brief time.”
Joyner’s statement is a complete rejection of the hypostatic union. Orthodox Christianity has understood for centuries that when the Second Person of the Trinity took to Himself a human nature, this was a permanent union. Jesus is forever the God-man, fully God and fully man. Jesus did not come in some sort of rent-a-body that He discarded after the crucifixion. Either Joyner does not understand this or he is denying it. Further, Joyner’s statements have serious implications for the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus for if Jesus is no longer man then in what way did He resurrect? Additionally, the scriptures link the ongoing work of Christ as intercessor to his humanity. (see 1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 7:23-23 among others)
In our brief discussion we have seen that current trends within the Apostolic and Prophetic Movement are undermining the historic Christian faith in regard to the place of Scriptures, the importance of doctrine and the nature of God and Person of Christ. If space permitted we could document similar issues with regard to the Person of the Holy Spirit, the atonement and the nature of the church. And we haven’t even mentioned the myriad of false prophecies made in the Name of our Lord.
These are not incidental issues. The church can no longer be silent. The new Apostles and Prophets were not speaking in hyperbole when they promised to bring a new understanding of the Christian faith. If the Church does not begin to respond, the Christianity that is passed on to our children will bear little resemblance to the faith of our fathers. A.W. Tozer wrote, “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him. We do the greatest service to the next generation y passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian Fathers of generations past.” God enable us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
- “Our Prophetic History” CD series. CD #1. Mike Bickle, 2002 Friends of the Bridegroom.
- Hamon, Bill, “Prophets and the Prophetic Movement”, 1990 Destiny Image Publishers (Shippensburg, PA) page 94
- Elijah List website “About Us”, http://www.elijahlist.com/ourhistory.html
- International Coalition of Apostles website, “Introduction”
- Ibid. “Members” http://www.apostlesnet.net/images/Directory.pdf
- Ibid, “What is an Apostle?” http://www.apostlesnet.net/images/What_Is_an_Apostle.pdf
- Ibid, “FAQ” What is an Apostle? http://www.apostlesnet.net/index.asp?action=faq
- Op. Cit. Hamon page 57
- Ibid page 59
- Joyner, Rick “The Final Quest” 1996 Whitaker House (New Kensington, PA) page 10 On page 133 of this same book, Joyner relates an encounter that he had with the apostle Paul that supposedly took place in heaven where Paul tells Joyner that the words in his epistles do not carry truths as powerful as the words of Jesus in the gospels. Essentially Paul says that his letters are not as inspired as the Gospels.
- Thomas, Choo, “Heaven is so Real” 2003 Charisma House (Lake Mary, FL) page 129
- Ibid page 153
- Ibid page 177
- Ibid page 124
- Bickle, Mike “Contending for the Power of God” CD #4 2003 Friends of the Bridegroom
- Bolz, Shawn “The Keys to Heaven’s Economy” 2005 Streams Publishing House (North Sutton, NH) page 88
- Bickle, Mike “Growing in the Prophetic” 1996 Charisma House (Lake Mary, Fla) page 51
- Ibid page 63
- Ibid page 77
- Op. Cit Bolz page 73
- Sheets, Dutch “Intercessory Prayer” as quoted in “The Worship Warrior” by Chuck D. Pierce and John Dickson 2002 Regal Books (Ventura, CA) page 211
- Joyner, Rick, “There Were Two Trees in the Garden” 1992 Whitaker House, (New Kensington, Pa) page 59 emphasis in the original