The Kansas City Fellowship Revisited
The Controversy Continues
by Stephen F. Cannon
© 1991 Personal Freedom Outreach
The controversy at Kansas City Fellowship (now officially a Vineyard Fellowship) continues. [See PFO's The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 10, No. 4, Oct.-Dec 1990]
The chief participants are Mike Bickle, senior pastor of Kansas City Fellowship; Paul Cain and Bob Jones, "prophets" associated with KCF; John Wimber, overseer of Vineyard Ministries; and Ernest Gruen, pastor of the Full Faith Church of Love in Kansas City.
In Ministries Today magazine (September-October 1990), Lee Grady chronicled Gruen's concern over KCF's aberrant teachings, which go back to 1984:
"After making several attempts to bring correction -- once in private with Bickle and twice with a group of KCF leaders present -- Gruen says he 'lost patience.'" (pg. 50)
This led Gruen to "tell it to the church" as instructed in Matthew 18. He did this from the pulpit on Jan. 21, 1990, with the sermon "Do We Keep Smiling and Say Nothing?"
In it Gruen pointed out false prophecies and aberrant teachings. Gruen taped the sermon and distributed it nationally. The battle was on.
Stung by Gruen's sermon, Bickle wrote an open letter on Jan. 22, 1990 responding to the charges. The response was: "...you don't understand our church structure ... nor the nature of our prophetic ministries." "...most of what you shared was not based on factual information and the rest was colored in an untruthful and negative way to seriously misrepresent the truth."
After making these comments Bickle said: "I open my heart to any correction that you have to offer that relates to any of our practices. I only first request that you take time to understand them accurately, thus, enhancing a more meaningful correction to us." <1>
So, while the letter had a veneer of loving submission -- "...we do not in any way charge you with insincerity or purposeful malice. I continue to receive you as a man of sincerity and integrity. ...Our desire is full and immediate reconciliation." -- its underlying mood was: "You don't understand, you are misinformed, and your misinformation is used in a negative way that misrepresents the truth." This attitude is consistent with the teaching of Mike Bickle on the general low level of understanding of the church today.
In a cassette tape message called "Divine Appointment," Bickle says:
"At this point in time, because of the pride of the church (just like the Scribes and the Pharisees) we have such a sense that we understand ... when we are not even the beginning of novices." We have ... "the church with absolutely no insight, judging the works of God with no understanding and missing out on the works of God." <2>
Evidently, Gruen interpreted the letter similarly. Correspondence proliferated between Bickle, Gruen and others in the controversy. The staff at Full Faith compiled 233 pages of tape transcripts, writings of KCF leaders, letters of former members and area ministers that documented Gruen's allegations. These teachings included "Charismatic heresy" and "prophecy through familiar spirits." Again, copies of this document were distributed nationally.
Bickle and Gruen finally agreed to a July meeting with other prominent members of the Charismatic movement to be present to mediate, but before the meeting, John Wimber intervened:
"In a surprise announcement, he [Wimber] said that Bickle and his associates had agreed to submit themselves to his oversight and become part of Wimber's Vineyard Ministries. The KCF network of fellowships would become Vineyard churches." <3>
Because of his interest in supernatural signs and wonders, and his acknowledgement of Paul Cain as a Prophet of God, Wimber already had strong ties to KCF (see PFO Journal cited previously). It was natural that Bickle would turn to someone with the national ministry recognition of a John Wimber for help in this time of growing crisis. Once Wimber acknowledged that there were excesses at KCF, Gruen was more disposed to allow him to mediate the controversy. The meeting was called off:
"In a letter to Gruen, Wimber promised to address some of the errors and declared, 'I am satisfied that we will not see these problems arising again in the future.' " <4>
Bickle, Wimber, Gruen, et al met June 28, 1990 to examine the charges and documentation made by Gruen. Charisma and Christian Life reports:
"They had found only a couple of areas of agreement, according to Wimber, but he said, 'I am glad to announce that there is a truce.'
"Gruen, who had distributed a cassette tape and a printed book of accusations, acknowledged that he had no authority to question or examine the validity of KCF's teachings and practices. He said he had full confidence that Wimber and the Vineyard team will properly correct any problems. However, both to Wimber in person and in a letter released a week later, Gruen held fast to his conviction that KCF had made serious errors." <5>
At a KCF-sponsored conference that evening Bickle confessed to 15 mistakes KCF leaders had made. Most of these points addressed the leaders' elitist spirit and lack of accountability. While some of the admissions are significant, they do not deal with most of Gruen's accusations. Most telling was that there was no repudiation of any of the movement's prophets.
While Bob Jones has been asked to limit his public ministry and prophetic teacher John Paul Jackson has been asked by Bickle to undergo some training from Wimber, none of their prior aberrant teachings has been renounced.
Wimber is on record as saying that while he disagrees with the City Church concept of KCF, he finds nothing else "reprehensible." Wimber describes Bickle's confessions as the type a gardener ought to make when he lets a shrub get misshapen, but not a questioning of what God is doing at and through KCF."
"'We are not about to lay an axe to anything,' Wimber said. 'long live a prophetic voice. We need to hear from God.'" <6>
After the June 28 meeting, Gruen summarized where Full Faith stood on the controversy. Although he defended the overall accuracy of his documentation on the aberrant teachings of KCF, Gruen conceded that it may have been faulty on three counts where complaints from former disgruntled KCF members were specified. He also withdrew all charges against Cain, saying he found him to be godly and a man of integrity.
Gruen then essentially took himself out of the fray by stating:
"Finally, we release the entire situation of Kansas City Fellowship into your hands. We recognize that it is not now our responsibility to provide either correction or approval of Kansas City Fellowship. We believe that you are sincerely trying to bring the balance and correction that is needed. We also understand that this will involve a process that will take some amount of time. We again wish to express our confidence in you, John, and state publicly that we completely and fully trust in your integrity." <7>
John Wimber now believes that "... with the public 'rebuke' of Bickle on the 15 points and the willingness of Gruen to discontinue public pressing of additional charges as of July 30, 'the process has been completed,' and Bickle and KCF have 'joyfully' been welcomed into the Vineyard coalition of Churches." <8>
Do We Return to Smiling and Saying Nothing?
In this writer's opinion, the process is far from complete. Nothing more than a bandage has been applied to a wound in the Body of Christ. If left untreated, the wound will fester and erupt with greater virulence later.
At issue is crucial doctrine. The outcome of this controversy will determine source of doctrinal and practical principles for many Christians. The struggle is not new. It has been raging since the Canon of Scripture was closed. It is not an internal battle between a "jealous old guard against a new move of God." The issue is not even a question of whether there are prophets in today's church.
Reduced to its lowest unit, the controversy centers around a primal question, "Yea, hath God said?"
Is the bottom line rule for the faith and practice of Chris- tians the written objective Word of God or is it the subjective personal prophecies of a group of elite Apostles and Prophets? Are all personal spiritual revelations to be judged by the Word of God or is the Word of God to be "interpreted" through personal spiritual revelations? It is on this level that KCF and if necessary all of the Vineyard Ministries must be called to task.
Teachers who make erroneous statements in a national forum to the effect that their fellowship will disciple the nations, that out of their leadership will come the new breed of Manifest Sons who will conquer death, that through their prophets will come a new definition of what Christianity is and say these statements have the Divine Imprimatur of "Thus Saith The Lord" cannot gloss over these statements with an "Oops, sorry, these were just the statements of a young and immature ministry."
When one prophesies with a "Thus Saith The Lord" to a committed Christian, something important has occurred. The person that has spoken has in effect said "That was not me talking, that was God talking through me." The first question that should be asked at that point is not "Is this man a prophet?" But, does he speak according to the Word of God? If he does not, then Isaiah 8:20 tells us that there is no light in him.
The men who wish to be known as apostles and prophets must realize that once those titles have been acquired, many people take their words seriously. Lives and families have been devastated by a few ill-chosen words. The weight of this responsibility precludes any casual apologies. In spite of the fact that Gruen apparently has thrown in the towel and Wimber has declared the correction to be complete, the controversy has not been settled. Hard, detailed questions should still be asked of both KCF and Vineyard.
Too often in the past when unscriptural doctrines are challenged in a particular group, a superficial apology has been offered by the offender to take the focus off the controversy. Then the group repackages the doctrines and returns to disseminating them. This has been the tactic of Latter Rain proponents and others for the last 50 years.
Because many erroneous KCF teachings were proclaimed publicly and people all over the world were affected by them, why doesn't KCF repudiate them publicly?
One of the 15 errors acknowledged by Bickle was: "Calling John Wimber, or others, apostles and prophets versus using the terms "apostolic leadership" and "prophetic ministry." Does this mean that Paul Cain and Bob Jones will no longer be called prophets? If they are not now prophets, were they ever? Is saying that someone operates in prophetic ministry the same as saying that he is a prophet? How do they differ? If Bob Jones is a true prophet, then why was he asked by Bickle to limit his public ministry? If Jones is not a true prophet, then why haven't his bizarre prophecies been publicly repudiated?
In light of the many unscriptural doctrines legitimized by Jones' prophecies -- Manifest Sons of God, the power to forgive sins, etc. -- how could Wimber say that he could find nothing reprehensible in the teachings of KCF? Does that statement signify that Wimber believes in these doctrines?
In his open letter to Wimber, Gruen said : "He (Paul Cain) does not hold to the doctrine of Manifested Sons, but totally denies ever having believed in that teaching." How can Gruen make that statement when in his own document exposing the aberrant teachings of KCF, he includes unmistakable proof that Cain does teach that very doctrine:
"... This army is also in the New Testament. It's referred to as the man child. I know some of you's gonna disagree with this; don't you even stop to disagree. Revelation 12:25, if you disagree, just file it in "miscellaneous" and don't bother with it. When you get to heaven we'll check it out, and you'll find out I'm right. Here it is -- this great army in the New Testament is a man child, Revelation 12:5; the overcomers, Revelation 2 and 3; the 144,000 servants, Revelation 7:3; the bride of the Lamb's wife -- see why they call me in on the carpet?...the revelation of the Lamb's wife, Revelation 19:7 and 21:9; and the white horse, Revelation 6:2; the first fruit, Revelation 14:4; the precious fruit, James 5:7; the wise virgins, Matthew 21:1-13; the manifested sons of God, Romans 8:19-23, and it's certainly a remarkable fact that none of these names are expressions applied to the saints of God at any other time in history, but all of them are in their context and promises showing undeniably that they belong to the end time. The end time, let's say the end time. They belong to the end time to this present generation, Matthew 24:34 ... this is the end time and God wants us to realize once and again, in closing, that there's gonna be a great company of overcomers prepared for this mighty ministry which I call the prize of all ages ..." <9>
If Paul Cain is a prophet of God, how can he call William Branham "the greatest prophet that ever lived," when Branham taught that the doctrine of the Trinity was "of the Devil?"
According to the September Charisma and Christian Life news article, Gruen "acknowledged that he had no authority to question or examine the validity of KCF's teaching or practices." If the pastor of a church whose members are being hurt by aberrant doctrines of a neighboring church doesn't have the authority to examine or question, then who does? Should Gruen have just smiled and said nothing?
These and many, many other questions should be asked of all the participants of this controversy. If we have misunderstood what these men are saying, they should take the time to clear up our confusion in public forums such as Christianity Today, Charisma and Christian Life, or Ministries Today magazine.
Is Vineyard Ministries the Proper Mediator?
Gruen has the confidence that Wimber and Vineyard Ministries will be able to correct the doctrines of KCF. However, one doesn't have to delve very deeply into Vineyard study materials to see that Wimber may be the wrong man for the job.
The first problem area is that of the close association between Wimber and Cain. The two men have become almost inseparable:
"In addition to his fathering relationship to KCF, Paul has come into a deep friendship and working relationship with John Wimber ... Paul has made a special commitment to traveling with John and to support the vision that God is currently unfolding to him." <10>
The question of who wields the most influence over whom is valid. Already Wimber is showing signs of accepting Cain's doctrine of The Manifest Sons:
"I think that what God is doing is raising up a new breed of leaders. And I believe that He's inviting us in this room to participate in that new breed."
"Now that's a term you've become familiar with this week. It's been prophesied by Paul Cain and I think it's a very important concept." <11> He also speaks favorably of the Latter Rain movement: "And I believe the Church of Jesus Christ that we are a part of (the larger body of Christ the world over) has been weighed and judged in this generation. That instead of learning from our predecessors from the Latter Day Rain movement, from any number of movements of God that have occurred in this century, we have allowed the enemy to come in and distract and take away the passion of God, and rob it out of our lives." <12> Another disturbing factor in looking to Wimber to bring balance to KCF is his weak view of the authority of The Bible. He has trumpeted the fact that his theology goes beyond scripture and is based more on experience.
"Now I don't want to, in any way, erode your confidence in the Word of God, but listen very carefully to what I am about to say. It (the Bible) is not God; it is the word from God. Don't worship the book. Evangelicals all over the country are worshiping the book. They have God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Book. They took the very workings of the Holy Spirit and placed it in the Book." <13>
This statement seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit works outside the Word of God and would be consistent with the "God is greater than His Word" attitude.
Wimber even disparages those who hold to a high view of the authority of scripture. Speaking of those from Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel (of which Wimber was once a part) he says "Calvaryites are sometimes a little too heavily orientated to the written Word. I know that sounds a little dangerous, but frankly they're very pharisaical in their allegiance to the Bible. They have very little life and growth and spontaneity in their innards. Sometimes they're very rigid and can't receive much of the things of the Lord." <14> This attitude led one researcher to observe, "Aside from these questions about Wimber's grasp of intellectual questions, there are some serious difficulties in his theology for a thinking evangelical. In the first place, his use of scripture is highly problematic. His starting place seems to be his own experience and scripture is drawn in to proof-text his own position." <15>
Christian Research Institute published a fact sheet on Vineyard that includes these comments: "There appears to be little emphasis on teaching the Bible per se ... While Bible teaching is not emphasized enough, the role of experience in the Christian life appears to be overemphasized. People in the Vineyard seem to be willing to allow their spiritual experiences to be self- authenticating." <16>
The above attitudes force us to ask: is Vineyard Ministries the proper mediator in this controversy, or, have Gruen and others placed their confidence in someone who believes essentially the same things as those to whom he is supposed to bring correction? Accusers of the Brethren?
Since the correction process for KCF is, in the opinion of many, completed, the fellowship is striking back at its critics.
Instead of dealing openly with the documented issues, KCF -- at least for now through Grace Ministries Associates -- is trying to cast doubt on the process of questioning and exposing aberrant doctrine. They are also seeking to vilify those engaged in that process as "accusers of the brethren, self-appointed heresy hunters, and those possessed by fault-finding demons."
The two most blatant examples of this is in an article by Grace Ministries associate Francis Frangipane and a portion of an article by Rick Joyner. <17>
"Satan has sent forth against the Church an army of fault-finding demons... How is the fault-finding demon manifested? It incites people to spend weeks unearthing old faults or sins in their minister of church... Beguiled by this demon, we circulate its accusations through a congregation or city, stimulating suspi- cion and fear among the people... But this enemy is not limited to attacks on local churches. Its attacks are also citywide and nationwide... To mask the diabolical nature of its activity, this fault-finding demon usually garbs its criticisms in religious clothing. Under pretense of protecting the sheep from a gnat-sized error in doctrine, it forces the flock to swallow a camel-sized error of loveless correction... In the final stage of this process we become crusaders against the other person. No defense he or she offers will satisfy. We are convinced the person is deceived and dangerous; it is up to us to warn others. Yet the truth is we who have succumbed to the fault-finder spirit are the ones who are deceived and dangerous... When the accuser comes, he brings distorted facts and condemnation. Satan never offers hope nor extends grace for repentance. Those who are trapped by this spirit never research the virtues in the organization or person they are attacking. Their goal is not to heal but to harm. <18>
"It seems inevitable that the self-appointed 'heresy hunters' will always do more damage to the church than the actual heresies... The free associations and wild overgeneralizations of those whom Jude called 'fault-finders' are a destructive force that has ensnared and destroyed the effective spiritual life and witness of larger portions of the church than possibly any false teachings... We consider the callousness with which we have been prone to falsely accuse one another and over generalize in our references to one another's teaching or ministry a far more serious and destructive matter in the church than these particu- lar doctrines... There are presently two ministries going on before the throne of God: one is intercession and the other is accusation. These are primary distinguishing characteristics of those who are walking by the spirit of Christ and those who are of the spirit of the evil one... Those who are of the nature of the evil one are the 'fault-finders' Jude warned about. 'Free association' and 'overgeneralization' are two of Satan's most effective tools in promoting innuendo and slander in his role as 'the accuser of the brethren.' These are the ones who 'cause divisions.'... One who has right doctrines and a spirit of pride or the accuser will devour far more sheep than those who just have some wrong doctrine." <19>
To accept the above arguments as true would put the Apostle Paul in jeopardy of being accused of having a fault-finding demon. In Galatians 2:11-20, Peter (a Christian brother and Apostle, not a heretic) was teaching false doctrine. Paul knew Peter was incorrect and challenged him publicly on the subject. Until that controversy was resolved, the Judaizers no doubt wondered who that upstart Paul was that was causing division in the church. In II Timothy 2:15-18 Paul again mentions false teachers by name so that believers would not fall prey to their teachings and again in Acts 20:29. Paul kept on warning the church to beware of false doctrine for "three years."
The simple truth is that the New Testament is full of examples of public correction of false teachings both inside and outside the church. The key word in the process set forth in I Thessalonians 5:21 is "test" (from the Greek dokimazo -- to test, examine, prove, scrutinize). This test applies to men, messages, and ministries. The basis of the test is the sure objective Word of God, not the unreliable word of today's prophets.
It is true that there are minor points of doctrine (whether the Rapture is Pre, Mid or Post; whether you do or don't have instrumental music in the church; or even how many angels can dance on the head of a pin) that we will never agree on. With these we should agree to disagree agreeably.
However, when it comes to such watershed doctrines as the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the accuracy and absolute authority of the Bible, we can and must challenge each other when our teachings denigrate either. This should be done with a spirit of grace and love. The motive of such a challenge should be to seek restoration and repentance -- for both sides if necessary).
The time has come for Christians to stop being browbeaten into silence by those who have set themselves up as modern day apostles and prophets.
- Letter on file.
- Divine Appointment (Introduction), Mike Bickle, 3/29/89, cassette tape.
- "Resolving the Kansas City Prophecy Controversy," Lee Grady, Ministries Today, Sept.-Oct., 1990, pg. 51.
- News Section, Charisma and Christian Life magazine, Sept. 1990, pg. 42.
- Letter from Ernie Gruen to John Wimber, dated July 1, 1990. Letter on file.
- Charisma magazine, op. cit.
- Documentation of the Aberrant Practices and Teachings of Kansas City Fellowship (Grace Ministries), Pastor Ernie Gruen, n.d., published by author, pp. 220-221.
- "Paul Cain: A Personal Profile," Terri Sullivant, Grace City Report, Fall 1989, pg. 2.
- John Wimber, Unpacking Your Bags, n.d. cassette tape.
- John Wimber, Healing: An Introduction, n.d., cassette tape no. 5, emphasis added.
- John Wimber, "Church Planting Seminar," cited in Testing the Fruit of the Vineyard, by John Godwin.
- Dr. Donald Lewis, Assessing the Wimber Phenomenon, Reagent College, June 1985, pg.3.
- Elliot Miller & Robert Bowman Jr., "The Vineyard," Christian Research Institute, San Juan Capistrano, February 1985.
- Francis Frangipane, "Exposing the Accuser of the Brethren," Charisma and Christian Life magazine, October 1990, pg. 89-94 and Rick Joyner, "Our Resolution for the '90s," The Morning Star Prophetic Newsletter, September-October 1990 pp. 10-13.
- Charisma, op. cit., pp. 89-90, 92.
- Morning Star, op. cit., pp. 12-13.
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