Thursday, April 6, 2017

Over-Importance of the End Times

There was recently an article posted on the IHOP-KC blog entitled: Why We Can’t Know the Day or the Hour: the Commandment to Know the Generation of the Lord’s Return. It was written by Adam Wittenberg, who serves on IHOP-KC's marketing department. I wanted to write a response to it, not only because of some of the erroneous teachings it bears, but also because it makes an amazing statement regarding eschatology which I felt convicted to address.

As I often do, all quotes from the article will be in purple. I'll be quoting the entirety of the article over the course of the blog post, but feel free to read the blog post in full before reading this blog post.
We know from Scripture there’s a storm on the horizon. It’s already here in many ways, and it’s going to increase. Darkness will intensify in the generation of the Lord’s return, and the more severe the darkness gets, the closer His return gets.

We find this tension and paradox in the end times—there will be the most intense darkness, and yet the greatest measure of the Spirit’s power and glory will be released. Both dynamics will be operating on the earth at the same time.

Scripture offers us many reasons to hope, yet without a solid understanding of the biblical narrative, we are left with a secular narrative, which will lead to confusion, fear, and offense.
Note that this article starts off with the presupposition that IHOP-KC's eschatology is correct, and takes it for granted that all the evil we see in the world is what is described in scripture as what will happen in the end times.

Obviously, any group, theologian, etc., is going to take certain beliefs for granted. The relevancy here is that this eschatology is grounded upon Mike Bickle's complete abuse of scripture, whether it's interpreting Haggai to mean the building of IHOP-KC (see my post here), or how Psalm 2 is a major end-times prophecy, even though the New Testament writers interpreted it as a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Christ (see my podcast here). Therefore, the presupposition here is important to note, since we will soon see Mr. Wittenberg commit a false dichotomy between IHOP-KC eschatology and secular thinking.
This applies to believers. There are many in the church today who say things like, “I love Jesus, but I’m not into the end times.” Instead of trying to search the Scriptures, they’re content to live off of someone else’s understanding.
I stop here because this is perhaps the most ironic thing someone can write on an IHOP-KC website. We shouldn't "live off of someone else's understanding" of the end times? That's precisely what happens at IHOP-KC: everything is grounded upon the teachings and personal revelations of Mike Bickle. This has been attested by those who were former members and experienced this cultic veneration of Bickle's authority firsthand (see my blog post here, as well as the post here). This is likewise attested by the simple fact that, the minute IHOP-KC supporters stray from Bickle's teachings and are forced to deal with scripture's context, and how the church has interpreted passages throughout history, their entire position falls apart (see, for example, my blog post here).

I invite any IHOP-KC supporters reading this blog post to attempt this themselves: without appealing to Bickle, or anyone else at IHOP-KC, try to look at the original context of scripture, and try to teach that there will be an end times, night-and-day prayer forerunner movement based on John the Baptist. I can promise you that you will come up with zero justification for such a doctrine.
Yet there are more than 150 chapters in the Bible that talk about the generation and events surrounding Christ’s return. God wants us to have more than a basic understanding of this.

Contrary to what some say, it is intensely practical—and relevant—to learn about the end times. Because without knowledge we are left with human logic, reasoning, and the secular narrative to interpret these events, and that will not help us amidst the intense pressures.
I have to wonder about that "150 chapters" number, given, as we saw earlier, Mike Bickle will apply eschatological interpretations of non-eschatological passages (eg., Psalm 2). There's also a tendency for IHOP-KC to take many passages regarding the church at large, and read the end-times prayer movement into it (for example, Isaiah 62:6). One can't help but wonder how much that 150 number would drop if all those chapters received a much more serious study.

More importantly, note what Mr. Wittenberg says here: it is important to know about "the generation and events surrounding Christ's return," because without that knowledge we are left with "human logic, reasoning, and the secular narrative to interpret these [current] events." This is the false dichotomy I mentioned earlier; that is, either we know the generation and events around Christ's return, or we're left being no better than atheists trying to make heads or tails of world events.

On the contrary, not having a dramatic narrative of the end times akin to Left Behind (though IHOP-KC denies the pre-tribulation rapture) has not caused much trouble for people of other eschatological mindsets. Amillennialists, Postmillennialists, and others have never been too troubled by current events, even with a denial of special knowledge regarding "the generation and events" regarding Christ's return. Those who see the moral decline in our current society can point to Romans 1, and say that the writers of the New Testament saw firsthand how a society could decline. Those who see the rise of false religions know such things were spoken of in the New Testament times. Even those without a scholarly understanding of Revelation are perfectly capable of comprehending the book's central theme, which is that, no matter what may happen, God still wins.

What gives such people peace, if they don't have the same elaborate knowledge which Mike Bickle and company do? It's the fact that Christ is sovereign, that our King is already set on His hill, and still reigns. This is why countless Christians have faced persecution and certain death for dozens of hundreds of years. The people who suffered under the Roman Empire, facing brutal torture and death, did so without any knowledge of the "generation and events" regarding Christ's return. Why do we suddenly need to know this to "help us amidst the intense pressures"? An honest and balanced review of various eschatological views, as well as even a cursory study of church history, shows we don't.
One of the greatest misconceptions in the church is that since Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour of His return, except the Father (Matthew 24:36), we can’t know the season either. But Jesus commanded His people to know the generation. He said that those living in the generation of His return would know it.

In Matthew 24, after laying out the signs of His return, Jesus says, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors” (Matthew 24:33)! That’s not a suggestion; that’s a command—know these things, because “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (vs. 34).
Mr. Wittenberg interprets Matthew 24:33 as a command; we are commanded to know the generation. Is the verse a command? There's nothing deriving from the text itself to suggest it is. The NASB reads: "when you see all these things, recognize that He is near." Even if IHOP-KC wishes to say that "recognize" must be a command, it's not to be taken as one at face value. Christ is simply saying that if the acts he is describing happen, then the people will recognize what's going on - they'll have a logical inference from the state of things. It'd be like if I said, "When the low fuel light comes on, know that it's time to fill the car." That's not a command to fill the car, that's just a logical conclusion from the situation. Likewise, when Christ says "when you see all these things, recognize that He is near," that's not commanding all believers to study about "the generation and events surrounding Christ's return"; Christ is simply stating that, if we see all these things, we'll then know that it's close to other events about to unfold.

But Wittenberg states that "this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place," referencing Matthew 24:34. He's obviously applying it to a future generation, outside of Christ's immediate audience. Is such an interpretation possible?

We need to remember that, earlier in the chapter, Christ had spoken of the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:2), which would eventually come about in 70 AD by Roman armies under General (later Emperor) Titus. As they sit on the Mount of Olives, the disciples ask, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Mt 24:3). Matthew then records that Jesus said "to them" (αὐτοῖς - plural), "See to it that no one misleads you (ὑμᾶς - plural)" (Mt 24:4). Christ is directly speaking to the disciples who had asked that question. Immediately we recognize that Christ's audience are the disciples, and hence everything Christ says would have to be somehow relevant to the disciples and the very first believers. This is likewise clear in the language of verse 33: "you also," from Mr. Wittenberg's translation, or "you too" in the NASB. The point is, Christ is clarifying that he is speaking to his present audience. In my conversation with Allen Hood, I asked him if he believed Christ could return that very minute, as we were speaking, and he replied no. According to such logic, and according to IHOP-KC's interpretation of Matthew 24:33, Christ saying "you too" to the disciples was completely nonsensical.

After much of Christ's description about coming events, we get to the part where Christ speaks of "this generation."
"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." [Matthew 24:34]
Christ, speaking to the disciples, says that "this generation" (γενεὰ αὕτη) will not pass away before the events he describes will take place. Within the Gospel of Matthew, Christ had used "this generation" before, and in all occurrences, it references the generation at that time (cf. Mt 11:16; 12:42, 45; 23:36). This isn't counting the other times Christ uses the word "generation" in reference to that current generation (cf. Mt 12:39; 16:4; 17:17). Within the teachings of Christ, and especially within the Gospel of Matthew specifically, we can only assume that the γενεὰ Christ is speaking of are those believers who lived at the time of Christ. For certain many interpreters have stumbled over the meaning of "this generation" (not just Bickle), but I would argue this stems from a tendency for man to read his eschatology into verses, rather than letting the verses form his eschatology.

In brief, Christ does not speak here of a special, future generation during which several specific events will take place. That would make the use of "this generation," as well as Christ's use of "you," completely nonsensical in this context.

What, therefore, is Christ speaking of? I actually hope to write a longer post on this, but I would argue it is a future judgment against Jerusalem and the unbelieving Jewish nation, which would be seen from the mid-to-late 60's AD, culminating in the destruction of the city and Temple in 70 AD. This would mean it happens at the tail-end of "this generation," and indeed many of the disciples listening to Christ (for example, John) were still alive. If one studies the events around Jerusalem's destruction, and the events described by Christ, you find a near perfect parallel. It likewise makes sense given Christ's language of approaching judgment upon the Jewish nation,

I know by saying this I've stepped on a lot of people's toes - not just IHOP-KC's, but brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope, however, this will not distract them from my larger point: 1) Jesus does not "command" Christians to engage in studious eschatology regarding an end times movement; 2) when one interprets Matthew 24, they must do it with the realization that Christ's words were relevant, somehow, to the believers present, not just believers 2000 years down the road.
We are very likely living in the early days of that generation. It’s not too early to prepare ourselves, and our children, for the return of Christ.

For the first time in history, all of the signs leading up to His return are increasing on a global scale at the same time. Various signs have been present since Christ ascended, but we live in a day and hour when they are rising globally.
What signs and wonders? Much of this is based on Mike Bickle's poor handling of Acts 2 and Joel 2, especially in the way he divides Acts 2:19 into two separate parts (see my blog post here). Many other supposed signs and wonders either didn't happen or were exaggerated and changed over time (for example, Bob Jones' drought prophecy).

Notice also "we are very likely living in the early days of that generation." IHOP-KC here, and many times in the past, has openly stated that Christ is coming back soon - whether in several decades or less, they don't know. (They don't make the same error as Harold Camping.) They literally believe they are part of an end times movement. The wiggle room of "we are very likely" here is interesting, however, as I've heard IHOP-KC personalities (such as Allen Hood) explicitly say that we are in the early days of that generation. One has to wonder if IHOP-KC may be getting a little bit anxious.
In these days, we need to gain more understanding of what Jesus said will happen in that generation. We need to study Scripture and to grow in knowledge of our Messiah who is coming.

Jesus warned that deception is one of the greatest threats to believers in the end times (Matthew 24). In light of this, we need to fill up on God’s truth like never before.

When you know what the Bible is referring to by all of these things, you’ll act differently. You’ll live differently. You’ll make different decisions.

Those who speak His truth will be lights in the darkness, helping turn others from death to life and keeping believers on the path.
Here is the crux of these end times movements: they place a high importance on eschatology, to the point that it nearly eclipses the gospel. Note that Mr. Wittenberg says "when you know what the Bible is referring to," you'll "act differently," "live differently," and "make different decisions." These are all things which, throughout Christian history, have been said of the Gospel.

One strong passage in this regard:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. [Colossians 3:1-7]
It is through the Gospel, and the sanctifying work by the Spirit, that we find we begin to act, live, and make decisions differently. From Christ's work on the cross, we are made new creatures. It is all owing to the salvific work of the Trinitarian God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]
It is never any wonder to me that, when I encounter people from IHOP-KC or similar movements, a common trait I find is they struggle with the Gospel. They have issues with depression, or doubts about their salvation, or show a lack of knowledge in regards to God's work of redemption. It's not that you would never hear anything close to the Gospel at IHOP-KC, Bethel Church, or anywhere else in the New Apostolic Reformation movement; it's just that something else is tacked onto the Gospel, and something else is made of equal importance. You are told that, now you are a Christian, something else is expected of you, and you are made to focus on that even more than the Gospel.

Am I saying Christians can't study eschatology? Not at all. Eschatology can be interesting, and sometimes (if done properly) it can nurture your understanding of the Gospel. Yet when we make eschatology as important as the Gospel - or we make eschatology serve the same purpose as the Gospel - we in essence create another form of Law. For those involved in IHOP-KC, or other New Apostolic Reformation movements, a heavy burden has been placed upon them, and for many it is too much to bear.
If you’re seeking greater knowledge of the end times and how to recognize the generation of the Lord’s return, check out Mike’s newest book, God’s Answer to the Growing Crisis: A Bold Call to Action in the End Times from Charisma House. Gain a fresh biblical perspective on the agenda to secularize and de-Christianize America; what the upsurge of secular humanism looks like; the rise of ISIS and Islamic extremists; and the looming financial crisis. Readers will overcome fear and confusion in the last days and learn to pray effectively for this nation and the world.
And herein is the cognitive dissonance I mentioned earlier: after being told we shouldn't "live off of someone else's understanding," we are in essence told live off Mike Bickle's understanding. I once spoke with a former IHOP-KC member who took a class studying a passage of scripture, and it was based solely off of Mike Bickle's commentary. When asked why they weren't looking at anyone else's commentary, the man was in essence told, "Who are you to question Mike Bickle?" I've walked into the bookstore at IHOP-KC, and I was shocked to find literally wall-to-wall copies of Mike Bickle's teachings on various subjects. If anyone thinks that IHOP-KC's teachings and doctrines aren't somehow grounded upon Mike Bickle's teachings and his person, then they are living with a spiritual blindness.

This article, though brief and perhaps not as detailed as other articles we've looked at, is but one example of the scriptural mishandling which happens at IHOP-KC, but more importantly why IHOP-KC's doctrine is so dangerous. It seduces people by promising a higher sense of spirituality, as well as a chance to make sense of what is going on. As I mentioned before on a podcast explaining forerunners, IHOP-KC promises order and sense to those who might be struggling with rising sin during this era. In the end, however, it only latches chains onto those who should be free under their King.

Do we need to know an end times narrative in order to feel peace with the world? Do we need to know this narrative in order to act, live, and think differently? No - as we saw before, from the very pages of scripture, all we need is the Gospel.

I hope and pray this article serves the body, and serves to awaken some within IHOP-KC to this error. God bless.