What Should We Think about the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOPKC) and Mike Bickle? Part One16
If I am asked one question more than any other, it typically concerns what I think about the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and Mike Bickle. So I am going to post two articles, the first about Mike and the second about the House of Prayer itself.
Before I begin what will undoubtedly prove to be two controversial articles, full disclosure is called for.
From 1993-2000 I served as Mike Bickle’s associate pastor at what was first Metro Vineyard Fellowship in Kansas City, later called Metro Christian Fellowship. I also served as the President of our full-time Bible school, Grace Training Center. I was present when the 24-7 prayer movement first began. In May of 1999, we initially met at midnight on Friday and prayed and worshipped until 8:00 a.m. on Saturday. In September of 1999, the House of Prayer moved to 24 hours of prayer, 7 days a week. I was on its Board of Directors when the House of Prayer began, but resigned about a year later after having moved to Wheaton, Illinois, where I taught theology at Wheaton College from 2000-2004. My resignation was entirely due to the logistical challenges of serving actively on a board while living a considerable distance from the ministry.
The early days (months) of the prayer ministry were inauspicious in terms of physical facilities. We met in a group of trailers that were hitched together, making room for about 100 people at most. One never knew if the next step you took would result in crashing through the floor. It was rickety and unappealing to the eyes, but it worked! Today IHOP owns multiple properties and the prayer room is filled with the finest sound and video equipment available. I encourage you to go to www.ihopkc.org and watch the round-the-clock prayer and praise meetings for yourself.
Another matter related to full disclosure is my personal relationship with Mike Bickle. Some will insist that because of our friendship I’m incapable of providing you with an objective perspective and that I will gloss over significant problems at IHOP. I doubt if there is anything I can say that will put to rest the fears of some critics. So I won’t try. What I will say is that Mike is one of my dearest, most beloved, and deeply cherished friends. That doesn’t mean he and I agree on everything, as you’ll shortly see. But it does mean that I know him better than most. My wife and I were part of a small accountability group for nearly seven years that included Mike, his wife Diane, and two other couples who were part of the senior leadership of the church before IHOP was launched. There isn’t much we don’t know about each other, our children, and our struggles. When we moved back to Kansas City in 2004, I was not officially a part of IHOP, but both my wife and I were regularly present for the prayer meetings, conferences, and other gatherings. When Mike’s brother, Pat, went to be with the Lord in 2007, Mike gave me the privilege and honor of officiating his funeral service.
Enough of full disclosure. Now to the substance of this article.
My suspicion is that most of the more vocal critics of IHOP-KC have never met Mike Bickle or even attended a prayer meeting or conference hosted there. They haven’t seen Mike dealing with pastoral crises, as I have. They haven’t watched him love his wife and raise his two sons, as I have. They haven’t spent countless hours with him processing challenging issues in the local church and making momentous decisions that affected the lives of thousands, as I have. They haven’t stood by, as I have, and observed his humble silence while his character was slandered in public. Mike determined years ago not to respond to his critics but to let God vindicate him in due course. Let me give you one notable example.
In January of 1990, a massive attack was launched against Mike and the church that was then known as Kansas City Fellowship. To make a long story short, John Wimber of the Association of Vineyard Churches entered the picture to oversee the evaluation of the charges and any discipline that needed to be imposed. Dr. Jack Deere was given the task of determining if there was any legitimacy to the charges leveled against Mike. After hundreds of hours of research and personal interviews with the people cited in the over-220-page document, the conclusion was reached that no biblical or ethical breaches had occurred. Mike confessed publicly to pride and to the promoting of prophetic ministry and ministers in a way that proved detrimental to the body of Christ.
But through it all Mike refused to respond in kind to the man who initiated the attack. What many (most?) people don’t know is that Mike was given information by several individuals that the pastor who attacked him was engaged in multiple adulterous relationships. Mike refused to make use of this knowledge. He remained silent, determined to give God the opportunity to vindicate him at the proper time. The accusing pastor eventually left his church, abandoned his wife, and moved away with one of his mistresses. By God’s grace, this pastor eventually was reconciled to his wife and was restored to ministry.
Most will not be aware of the fact that virtually all of the associates who aided this lead pastor in the composition of the 220-page document soon contacted us at the church and asked for a meeting with Mike and a few of us on staff. One by one, they repented, apologized to Mike, and asked for his forgiveness for their participation. The lead associate who had served with the pastor who launched the attack eventually joined Mike’s staff at the House of Prayer!
There is so much more to this story, not least of which was the incredible public service that took place in our building where the reconciliation was made known and the unity of the body of Christ in Kansas City was restored.
Let me bring this first article to a conclusion by saying something about Mike’s theology. As noted, he and I differ on a few issues, but that never hindered our ability to partner closely in ministry for seven years, and it has not affected our relationship to this day (and never will!)
People today often choose to separate from other Christians because of differences on secondary issues of theology. By “secondary” I mean those doctrines that are not foundational to the Christian faith, issues that are not essential to being saved. Foundational or primary doctrines would include such matters as: the truth of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being eternally distinct yet co-equal persons in the Godhead, each fully God, deserving of the same glory and honor); the inspiration, infallibility, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible, together with the affirmation that it is the perfect and final standard by which all truth claims are measured; the virgin conception and birth of Jesus Christ; his sinless life; his penal substitutionary sacrifice on the cross; his bodily resurrection; his literal, personal, physical second coming; as well as salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. One might also wish to include in this list the reality of an eternal heaven for the saved and eternal hell for the lost.
I’m sure there are some reading this article who would dispute my list of “foundational” truths. Some of you may want to include other doctrines, while others would probably delete a couple of the ones I listed. That’s not my purpose in this article. So I’ll proceed.
Mike has always passionately affirmed each of these primary truths. When the emerging church movement took center stage among evangelicals, Mike opposed it. When many charismatics embraced open theism, Mike denied it. When some began to turn from penal substitution as the biblical understanding of what happened on the cross, Mike loudly affirmed that Jesus suffered in our place, satisfying the righteous wrath of God that we deserved to endure. When many began to question if conscious faith in Jesus was necessary for salvation, Mike championed the exclusivity of Christ and the necessity of personal faith in his person and work (Mike even asked this question of the Pope in a face-to-face conversation at the Vatican). When others began to deny the reality of eternal, conscious punishment in hell, Mike didn’t budge. More recently, as some began to promote what came to be known as Hyper-Grace, Mike preached loudly of the importance of daily repentance in the Christian life and the urgent necessity of personal holiness.
Although not technically a theological issue, Mike and his family have lived a comparatively simple lifestyle, choosing to make use of the royalties and honoraria he has generated both to support the intercessory missionaries on staff at IHOP and to help the needy and poor of the earth. Mike is a staunch opponent and open critic of both the so-called “prosperity” gospel and the Word of Faith movement, and holds to a traditional biblical sexual ethic that insists on heterosexual, monogamous marriage. He is a passionate enemy of abortion, denounces all forms of racial prejudice, and preaches expositionally, verse-by-verse through the Bible.
At this point, you may be tempted to ask: “Why would he be the target of so much criticism?” Good question. Of course, if you knew the mentality of many in the broader evangelical world, you wouldn’t have to ask.
Are there issues in theology where Mike stands out from the mainstream, and in particular where his views differ from mine? Yes.
Mike does not embrace a Reformed or Calvinistic doctrine of salvation. But he is also the most Calvinistic Arminian I’ve ever known! His view of divine sovereignty and the providence of God over all of life is as thoroughly orthodox as any Reformed theologian I have known. You may think that is inconsistent, and perhaps it is. But no one I know of has a higher view of the centrality of the glory of God and his unrivaled pre-eminence in all things.
Mike is also an Egalitarian when it comes to the question of the role of women in pastoral leadership. But I have many friends who are also Egalitarians. I am a Complementarian, but I recognize this to be a secondary issue. There are numerous godly, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians on both sides of this issue who simply have a difference of interpretive opinion on those texts where the issue is addressed in Scripture.
Mike embraces a robust view of Israel in terms of God’s end-time purposes. I don’t know if he would call himself a Christian Zionist, but I suspect that the majority of Protestant evangelicals in American would agree with him on this issue. He advocates what he calls “apostolic premillennialism,” perhaps to differentiate his view from dispensational premillennialism. Mike holds to a post-tribulation rapture of the Church. He tends to interpret prophetic texts more literally than I do, but I prefer that to some who simply ignore or deny what the Bible says about future events.
There are, I believe, four reasons why Mike is vilified by so many.
First, it isn’t so much Mike’s belief in the contemporary validity of all spiritual gifts (a view that I also enthusiastically embrace). It is, I believe, his emphasis on the spiritual gift of prophecy. His critics are of the mindset that anyone (and that would include me) who believes God still speaks through revelatory gifts such as prophecy and word of knowledge necessarily undermines, if not outright denies, the final authority and complete sufficiency of the Bible. I know many people in the evangelical world, a lot of high-caliber theologians. And not one of them is a more vocal and sincere proponent of the finality, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture than Mike. He will never, ever permit any alleged prophetic word to be spoken that is in conflict with Scripture. Some of you may think it impossible to hold to the prophetic gift today at the same time one embraces the sufficiency of Scripture. Let me simply say, as kindly as I know how, you are wrong! But that is a debate for another time.
Second, Mike has been the recipient of numerous supernatural encounters from the Holy Spirit. Cessationists are incredibly skeptical of the validity of these experiences. I am not. If you are of the mindset that angelic encounters, trances, visions, and miraculous healings no longer occur, perhaps you should read your Bible more closely. Yes, that was a bit snide and snarky, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You can believe Mike is lying about his experiences if you wish. But I can’t think of anyone who has more integrity, honesty, and humility than Mike. I have no reason to doubt his claims.
Third, another reason Mike is subjected to ridicule and routinely called a “heretic” (yes, the man who believes all those doctrines that I noted above is called a “heretic” by many) is because of his decisions regarding with whom he will associate, on what platforms he will speak, and the people he invites to his conferences. I can assure you of this. If anyone denies any of those foundational doctrines noted above, Mike will not give them a microphone. Yes, he visited the Vatican and spoke with the Pope (by the way; he alone, of the several evangelicals present, had the courage to speak up and ask the Pope his views on the necessity of faith in Jesus and whether or not he is a Universalist). Yes, he is friends with many who might do or say things that are a bit goofy or off-base. Forgive me a little sarcasm, but I’m so glad that none of you have ever said or done anything goofy or off-base. God bless you for that!
Fourth, and finally, Mike’s association with Bob Jones and Paul Cain has been quite controversial, primarily because both men fell into sexual sin. You should know that when Bob Jones fell, Mike was entirely supportive of the discipline imposed by John Wimber and the Vineyard (this occurred when Mike’s church was still a part of the Association of Vineyard Churches). Bob was removed from ministry for two years and displayed a humble and repentant attitude throughout. If you are inclined to dismiss Bob because he was uneducated and not very articulate (to say the least!), ask yourself this question: Where in Scripture does it ever say that God only grants spiritual gifts to the educated, erudite, and eloquent? Mike has never glossed over or ignored the times when Bob got it wrong. But the remarkable accuracy of his gifting in the word of knowledge is affirmed by countless folk who were recipients of his ministry.
As for Paul Cain, I was present when news of Paul’s moral failure and drunkenness became public. Mike, together with Jack Deere and Rick Joyner, were firm in their response. The fact that Paul initially resisted their efforts to bring discipline to bear upon him, the fact that Paul did not submit to the course of counseling and restoration that was put in place, is no reflection on these three men. One can only be accountable if one chooses to be accountable. Initially, Paul did not. Whether or not he was ever fully repentant and rightfully restored to ministry is a question I cannot answer. I had no contact with Paul for the last 15 years of his life. He died earlier this year.
Has Mike been guilty of being overly loyal to his friends? Perhaps. But I can think of a lot worse things that can be said about a person.
In closing, I have addressed questions surrounding Mike Bickle because the existence and ministry of the International House of Prayer is inseparable from him. In the next article I’ll direct my attention to IHOP itself.
To be continued . . .