Heresy and IHOP

Ancient Icon of the Good Shepherd

I first heard about IHOP – the International House of Prayer – via facebook. Of course, I thought they were talking about the International House of Pancakes, the chain resaurant featuring many flavours of corn syrup to pour on flapjacks. I had no idea it was so controversial until I read an article in the New York Times. Now I can see what all the shouting is about. When I did see some assertions about IHOP, Bickle’s forerunner theology, and end-time prophecies fulfilled, my response was a shrug and “Nonsense,” which hurt those “friends” who are enamoured of Bickle and his praying down the eschaton.

I am not the only mainline theologian to think this way.

This sort of muddle-headed and puropsely deceptive theology is what I have called before “heroic Christianity.” With our efforts, Jesus will return! We have the knowledge!

The “forerunner” part of this is dangerous. It contradicts what both Jesus and John the Baptist taught, that John’s time has been supplanted, and that those who follow God will model themselves on Jesus Christ, not on John the Baptist. It turns ordinary Christians who should be out living good plain lives of faith, humility and virtue into generals in the heavenly army. It elevates hubris through false ascetic practices. Mike Bickle has already been involved with a discredited “Prophets” movement, and he seems to have carried that mistake into his new heretical teachings.

I am particularly disturbed by his teaching about a “killing Jesus,” that the Son of Man will return, literally, with a sword in hand to destroy those who serve evil, and that – literally – the streets of Jerusalem will run with human blood. This is based on an exaggerated interpretation of the Revelation to St. John the Divine, commonly and incorrectly called the Revelations. John was caught up in the horrific persecutions of Christians under Nero; city streets did run with Christian blood. Certainly, John is offering visions of the return of Christ, but he is also offering Christians of his day comfort in their afflictions.

Bickle also promotes the false teaching that Christ cannot return until the temple is rebuilt, contradicting 2000 years of orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ Himself is the new temple, as He said in the statement that the temple would be torn down, but rebuilt in three days. Yes, He meant His own body and being. End of argument.

Don’t be pulled in and deceived by these false prophets. Bickle is just another nutbar looking to for his megalomania to be aggrandized by a lot of naive people who will donate money and time to his cause.

A Salacious Curiosity

Many centuries ago, the great faithful fathers of the church warned monks and priests to beware of taking too much interest in what the enemy was doing. They were warned to stay out of the towns, out of the cities, out of the marketplace where sin was apparent. They were warned not to engage in learning about heresies or the ways of wickedness; to avoid pagan knowledge, lest they be tempted.

It is tempting; perhaps not to become pagan, but to learn more and more about the past pagan practices, to find out about heresies, to learn about sin. One may say, “How else shall I avoid it, if I don’t know what it is?”

But this is salacious curiosity. It is not just a waste of time, but a temptation. Even if one is not led astray – and many have been, from an Anglican priest who renounced the church to live in India as a Hindu, to ordinary women who got interested in witchcraft – one is in danger of becoming “heroic.”

I put the word in quotes, because it isn’t real heroism. It is a false feeling, that the Christian is in danger body and soul, not from the ordinary sins of pride and greed and anger, but from external forces of darkness besetting one.

Satan works more subtly through the things that are appealing – like pride –  than from threats without. Live an ordinary Christian life, in an ordinary place, and the worst bogeyman you will meet is the one in your head. Christian life is, in its best form, rather dull in worldly terms. We live quietly out of the way, minding our homes and our business, helping others, raising our families. We put ourselves in quiet places like that for a good reason – so we can have the time and spiritually space to confront the rather tawdry and ordinary sins that are the real enemies.

The great teachers of the past taught this: don’t be overmuch concerned about the threat of the world. Turn away from it. Don’t seek out reading about Satan, pagans, heretics, and demons. Read the scripture and turn to God. Christians were advised to avoid too much spiritual reading! It was better to get down to work and accomplish something than to seek esoteric knowledge.

When I was a theology student at Georgetown, I had to go down to the basement level to find some books for a paper I was writing. There were endless stacks of books – all on theology, all “the words about God.” Yet the Bible itself is one thin book – and God Himself is endless! It suddenly seemed vain to pursue trying to read all those books. While it is helpful to have the wisdom and guidance of one more experienced, and thank God we have great spiritual literature from the past, is it productive  to spend all one’s spare time reading this and that, always seeking out more hidden knowledge?

 I have read extensively in the heresies, and in pagan literature. Few of my class knew as much about the witchcraft trials as I did.

And yet the reading was incredibly depressing. There was a vileness to the inquisitors’ questions and the answers attributed to the tortured victims. (Be clear about this – there was never a widespread post-Christian pagan cult in Europe. The sameness of the answers given under torture were because the same inquisitors traveled from place to place, leading the victims to give those answers.) The accusations and admissions were shocking; but the shock wore off. I decided after leaving seminary that was enough. I didn’t want to steep myself so thoroughly in paganism and heresy that I could never get the stain out of my mind.

I had to get books out of the library back then. The internet was slow and cumbersome, and most of us did not yet have regular connections. (I did learn how to make someone into a zombie by internet reading, though.) It was strange and depressing sitting in the library, night after night, reading journals and old books, immersed in occult knowledge. I ate a lot of chocolate.

It was not tempting to continue after the papers were written. I had enough of it. I wondered if I would start seeing either witches or inquisitors around every corner. What I needed was a healthy dose of the Psalms and the beatitudes, and some work helping people deal with their everyday, ordinary life problems – getting to the doctor, buying shoes for their kids, looking for a job. Keeping sheep was a good remedy for esoteric study, too. Nothing is much more real than cleaning the barn or carrying pails of water.

I say this by way of warning: It is too easy to submerge oneself in strange “spiritual” studies on the internet. We can spend way too much time looking at the unhealthy side of the universe. There’s only so much you need to know. No ordinary Christian needs to be an expert in heresy, paganism, or dark theories. Only the very strongest of spiritual warriors can take that on – and that isn’t us.

Who are heretics?

In my websurfing I come across quite a few headcovering and Christian simplicity sites. Many of you have found them, too. I am a little worried that some writers and some of their commentators are perpetrating some damaging and erroneous information. Most of these are extremists in view, so do not be deceived.

Heretics are those who sort of hold to Christian theology but somehow miss the boat. Usually, they emphasize one aspect of Christian belief over all others. They lose a sense of perspective, or ignore parts of the Bible that don’t support their point of view.

Even if you belong to a church that does not regularly use the creeds (Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian) these embody the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The basic tenets are the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); the virgin birth, the redemptive death of Jesus Christ and His physical resurrection, the historicity and accuracy of the scriptures (containing all that is necessary for redemption); that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them; that Christ has gone to prepare a place for us and will come again to judge the earth, and that prayer is effective (i.e. that God is active in Creation still,and hears the prayers of His people.) This leaves a lot of room for differences in practice.

I am not making this up, and it is not unique to Anglicanism. It is a definition of orthodox faith that holds up under the scrutiny of the millenia.

So Roman Catholics, in ordinary, accepted practice are not heretics. Baptists are not heretics. Most people claiming to be Christians probably are.

The test of heresy can be made only by a church body, not by individuals. And church bodies are really reluctant to get into the debate except when their ordained people have wandered way too far. (Remember the Inquisitions? We don’t want that again.)

I believe that it will be before the Dread Judgment Seat that we will know how faithful we have been. It won’t be a matter for our fellow Christians to decide.