Joel’s Army

John Peterson

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JOEL’S ARMY TIMELINE

1946: Franklin Hall wrote Atomic Power with God through Fasting and Prayer.

1947: Sharon Bretheran introduced to Hall’s book through a visit to William Branham’s Crusade in Vancouver.

1947: Sharon Bretheran instituted Hall’s approach of fasting and prayer among students. Revival breaks out.

1951 George Warnock, influenced by connections to Branham and Hall, wrote The Feast of Tabernackles, which spells out the “Manifest Sons of God concept.

1950s – 1980: Paul Cain, Bill Hamon and other evangelists involved with the Latter Rain revival movement maintain the apostles/prophets and Manifest Sons of God concepts, later becoming key figures in the Prophetic Movement and the New Apostolic Reformation.

1980: The Prophetic Movement officially began, according to Hamon. Conferences followed, expanding the movement’s reach.

c1990: C. Peter Wagner, professor at Fuller Seminary, observed the growth of “third wave” independent churches and named the phenomenon “postdenominational.”

c1990: Observing and supporting the concept of an end-times army of Manifested Sons of God, led by prophets and apostles, Wagner himself, his student John Wimber, or evangelist Rick Joyner coined the name “Joel’s Army.”

1994: The Toronto Airport revival broke out, originally following Vineyard teaching.

1994: Wagner changed the term “postdenominational” to “New Apostolic Reformation” (NAR).

1994 (and following): Prominent members of the NAR such as Wimber, Hamon, Cain, Joyner, Rick Warren, Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, and others developed both the apostles/prophets and the Joel’s Army concepts.

c1996: As the Joel’s Army name became a bit too well known, various adherents chose a bewilderingly long list of alternative names.

c 1996: Key followers began to organize training operations, including “boot camps” for children.

2008: Todd Bentley (with “Joel’s Army” dogtags tattooed on his chest) lead the Lakeland, Forida revival, using highly militant language, bringing the Joel’s Army concept wider public attention.

2014 -: Megachurches of the NAR have continued to emphasize the apostolic/prophetic position and grow rapidly. Rhetoric concerning end-times army and dominion over all Christians, along with the intent of that army to wipe out those Christians who resist, has raised concerns among more orthodox believers.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

The concept of Joel’s Army, a force of immortal overcomers with Christ-like powers and a mandate to dominate the world and create the Kingdom of God on earth, is a direct extension of the Manifest Sons of God theology, frequently associated with The New Order of The Latter Rain. Manifest Sons of God is another name by which it is sometimes known. (Sanchez 2008:5)

The Manifest Sons of God concept arises from a particular reading of Romans 8:19. It suggests that the deeply committed and fully saved will remain on earth to create (by force if necessary) a kingdom of God to which Jesus may return. This is contrary to more orthodox Pentecostal views of the eschatological (end-times) scenario in which the truly saved will be plucked away in the rapture (before a period of tribulation). The Manifest Sons of God concept was not originally as militant and dominionist as the Joel’s Army rhetoric has made it. (Tabachnick 2011:1)

While the idea was not new, Franklin Hall in his 1946 book, Atomic Power with God Through Fasting and Prayer, predicted that intense and lengthy fasting and prayer could lead believers to become Manifest Sons of God, able to perform miracles in supportof Christianity. This book became very influential in healing revival circles, particularly among those in William Branham’s organization (Branham himself seems to have embraced this position but somewhat later). (Hall 1946; Liichow 2011; Branham n.d.)

In 1947, several leaders of the Sharon Orphanage and Bible School in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, in Canada, visited a Branham meeting in Vancouver. Here, they were blessed by Branham and introduced to Hall’s book (Warnock 1951). These leaders, including George Hawtin, Percy Hunt, and Herrick Holt, returned to Sharon and introduced to the Bible school students what they had learned, especially the ideas of long fasts and intense prayer. Soon one of the students reported a vision and revival broke out, first among the students and then more widely. (Warnock 1951)

The expanding revival was soon known as The New Order of The Latter Rain. Some, but not all, of those involved also accepted as Hall’s concept of the Manifest Sons of God and the eschatology this implied. The Latter Rain movement also embraced the five-fold ministry concept, suggesting that God restored to the contemporary church the leadership of apostles and prophets, as well as those of teachers, preachers, and evangelists (Riss 1987:53-79).

In 1951, George Warnock, who had once been personal secretary to Ern Baxter, an associate of Branham, and who later joined the leadership of the Latter Rain movement, wrote the book The Feast of Tabernacles. In this book he developed the concept of modern-day apostles and prophets and specifically the concept of Manifest Sons of God (Warnock 1951; Riss 1987:73). The Latter Rain movement also placed emphasis on the experiential and supernatural elements of faith and prophecy (Warnock 1951; Riss 1987:53-79).

The Latter Rain movement itself began to wane in the late 1950s, absorbed into the Charismatic Movement, then into the Prophetic Movement, but several evangelists who had been involved with the Latter Rain movement, notably Paul Cain and Bill Hamon, kept the basic concepts alive through their involvement in the Charismatic and Prophetic movements (Riss 1987:140-43; “William Branham” n.d.; Baker 2010:1,6; Simpson 2002:7).

Eventually they became involved with those around C. Peter Wagner, a Fuller Seminary professor, who was at that time engaged in developing the concept that he first called the postdenominational movement and later called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) (Baker 2010:1). Several of Wagner’s students and associates were involved in this development, as well as the Prophetic Movement, and the various conferences held under these banners. An important aspect of these movements was an emphasis on extra-Biblical revelation and prophecy (Baker 2010:6).

Among those active around this time and a little later were such familiar names as Cain, Hamon, the late John Wimber, Rick Joyner, Rick Warren, Todd Bentley, Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, and others. Soon after, the Toronto Airport Revival broke out, originally in association with Wimber’s Vineyard movement (Wimber later disowned the Toronto organization). Various sources have identified Wimber, Cain, or Wagner as the original coiner of the term “Joel’s Army,” but it may have been in use earlier (Hunter 2009; Hanegraaff 1997; “The Major Players” 2008).

As the term Joel’s Army became somewhat tarnished in popular use, and as individual ministries sought distinctive identities, a large number of names came into use. Among others were the names Overcomers, New Breed, the Phineas Priesthood, First-fruits, Elijah Company, The Bride, New Wave and New Wineskin (Tabachnick 2011:5, van der Merwe 1991:2).

About the same time, various training operations, aimed largely at youth, sprang up around the continent. These included Apostle Bobby Torres’ Elijah Generation spiritual boot camp for young children, Todd Bentley’s (now defunct) training program in Canada, and various youth gatherings and programs offered by the Kansas City International House of Prayer (IHOP) (Tabachnick 2011:5).

In 2008, the Lakeland, Florida, revival broke out, led for several months by Todd Bentley. Bentley, a Canadian evangelist with Joel’s Army dogtags tattooed on his chest, led the meetings until an affair with an assistant and a pending divorce from his wife became public knowledge. During his leadership of the revival, Bentley repeatedly used very aggressive and militant behavior and language, including kicking a woman in the face, bringing Joel’s Army wider public attention, including an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center suggesting that the movement has the potential for violence (Sanchez 2008).

Several churches and groups of churches continue the apostolic/prophetic emphasis on extra-Biblical revelation and the role of an overcoming force with supernatural powers to create the kingdom of God on earth, ready for the return of Jesus Christ. Among these are Wimber’s Vineyard Ministries International, Warren’s Saddleback Church, IHOP in Kansas City, Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries and Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries. These groups hold varying degrees of interlocking theories with several branches of Christian dominionism, reconstructionism, Seven Mountains, and Strategic-level Spiritual Warfare strategies.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

Joel’s Army belief grows originally from Pentecostal roots in that it is based on an experiential and supernatural view of God’s relationship with believers and the role of the Holy Spirit in the world (dogemperor 2009; van der Merwe 1991:10).

Many in this tradition accept that we are now in an end-times scenario in which God has restored to the church the roles of apostle and prophet. The belief is that these specially-anointed leaders have direct communication with God, Adam, the apostle Paul, and other Biblical figures and are the recipients of revelations interpreting and extending Biblical content. Since they claim new interpretation and prophecy come directly from God, it is difficult to challenge or even question these pronouncements. A key understanding, based on Romans 8:19, is that, in these end times, a large body of particularly pure and committed believers will be manifested as sons of God with Christ-like characteristics of immortality and power. These beliefs became closely aligned with various branches of the dominionist movement, such as the Word of Faith, Kingdom Now, Christian Reconstructionism, and others, during the Prophetic and Charismatic movements of the 1970s and 1980s (Hunter 2009:1-2; Oppenheimer n.d.:1-2; Tabchnick 2011:1-2; Simpson 2002:7).

Generally, these groups believe that Christians have a mandate to take dominion over governments and institutions of the world,usually with a view of establishing an Old-Testament-law-based regime. As one commentator noted, this view leaves no room for democracy or diversity. Various programs and approaches for accomplishing this goal have been proposed, notably Strategic-level Spiritual Warfare and the Seven Mountains project. The former includes “mapping” various areas to identify demonic presences, which must be neutralized in order for large-scale evangelism to proceed. The latter proposes Christian infiltration of such sectors as government, advertising, the arts, and finance (Sanchez 2008:2; Fanning 2009:2, 5, 7, 8; Enlow 2008).

This theology rejects the traditional eschatology (theology of end-times), -the rapture and tribulation usually associated with Christ’s return, in favor of a belief that God’s kingdom must be established on earth in order for Jesus Christ to return. This belief holds that to establish the Kingdom, Christians must control all governments and institutions. In addition, all churches must be united, one church per city, by force if necessary (Tabchnick 2011:1-2; Oppenheimer n.d.:2).

Since accomplishing all this will require force, or at least forceful evangelism, this belief postulates that the Manifest Sons of God will constitute a large army. Following Joel 2:28, believers hold that this large and conquering army will be on the order of the army of locusts described in that passage, thus Joel’s Army. Some believers also use other names and other scriptural texts to arrive at the same point. The Joel’s Army concept along with dominionist, reconstructionist and related strategies, is usually found in NAR churches (Sanchez 2008; Baker 2010).

RITUALS/PRACTICES 

Since Joel’s Army and related beliefs do not constitute a church as such, nor are there regular meetings, there are no known rituals associated specifically with this belief. Since most of those holding such beliefs are members of NAR churches, however, it could be assumed that any such rituals would follow the pattern of the most extreme of these organizations. These have been described as a “party atmosphere,” in the case of the Toronto revival, and resembling a rock concert, in the case of Todd Bentley’s leadership of the Lakeland, Florida, revival (Sanchez 2008:2; Hanegraff 1997).

 ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

The Joel’s Army theology holds that its irresistible and immortal soldiers will be led by contemporary apostles and prophets. A number of evangelists who have declared their association with the NAR have claimed these titles, but, there is no established leadership structure. The group is a self-identified relational structure rather than a legal one (Hunter 2009:1ff; Wagner 2011; dogemperor 2008:5; Tabachnick 2011:1).

A number of names are often associated with the Joel’s Army concept, prominently including Hamon, Wagner, Wimber, Joyner, Warren, Engle, Torres and Bentley. However, none can be considered an established national leader, with the possible exception of Wagner, sometimes called Mr. Joel’s Army (Hunter 2009; dogemperor 2008:1, 5, 6).

Other than the declared objective of creating a Kingdom of God on earth by establishing dominion over the earth and its institutions, and Bentley’s statement, (“An end-time army has one common purpose — to aggressively take ground…”), there does not appear to be any agreed-upon unifying strategy. Hamon has declared that churches will become armories and training centers for those who are to become the soldiers of Joel’s Army and implied that this development has already begun (Hunter 2009:1-2; Sanchez 2008:1; Tabachnick 2011:4).

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

The Joel’s Army concept has caused controversy since its inception. First of all, those holding this position are usually involved with the very large and rapidly growing churches of the New Apostolic Reformation, itself the target of extensive criticism. The NAR, according to C. Peter Wagner, the Fuller Seminary professor who named it, “is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader.” There is no membership list. “Individuals themselves would need to say whether they consider themselves affiliated or not.” There is no newsletter or annual meeting. It is a relational, rather than a legal, structure. With NAR churches growing rapidly, there have, of course, been the inevitable charges of “sheep stealing”. Others have noted obvious parallels with early Christian heresies such as gnosticism, Montanism, and Pelagianism (Wagner 2011:p3ff; Sanchez 2008:2; van der Merwe 1991:4; Liichow 2011:2; Simpson 2002:19-20).

Its amorphous organization notwithstanding, the NAR and the Joel’s Army concept have attracted widespread criticism. There seem to be several identifiable sources of that criticism.

Traditional Pentecostal/fundamentalist “heresy watch” groups challenge the concept of apostolic/prophetic governance, contending that apostles and prophets were never replaced after the apostolic age. Further, Pentecostal and fundamentalist groups, as well as others who contend that the Bible is complete and inerrant, reject extra-Biblical revelation. Finally, Pentecostal and fundamentalist groups challenge as heresy the eschatological position that eliminates the rapture and requires that the Kingdom of God be established before Christ’s return (van der Merwe 1991:8, 11, 12; Sanchez 2008:3; Tabachnick 2011:1).

Some critics say the Joel’s Army concept itself is a misreading of Joel. These critics contend that the army mentioned really was of locusts and that the locusts demolished a believing community rather than defending or advancing it (Sanchez 2008:5).

Both religiously based critics and secular political observers challenge dominionism and its associated positions as intending a theocracy, a position rejected by most churches and even some dominionists, and by non-religious critics as a violation of the U.S. Constitution (Sanchez 2008:2).

Most often, the whole NAR network, including dominionists of several types and particularly the Joel’s Army concept, has been ignored by mainstream media and observers. However these groups become more noticeable as they have been associated, sometimes as a slur, with right-wing political groups and candidates. One media outlet described them as “America’s Taliban.” Other secular sources have speculated on the potential for violence as suggested by the rhetoric associated with these groups (Sanchez 2008:2; dogemperor 2008; Tabachnick 2011:4; Rosenberg 2011:1, 5).

REFERENCES

Baker, D. 2010. “Manifested Sons of God heresy and the New Apostolic Reformation, Rejoice Forevermore.” Accessed from http://rejoiceforevermore.com/tag/joels-army/ on 14 February 2014.

Branham, William M. n.d. “Manifest Sons of God.” Sermon Preached by William Branham, May 18, 1960. Accessed from http://churchages.com/en/sermon/branham/60-0518-manifested-sons-of-God on 26 April 2014.

dogemperor. 2009. “The AWARE steeplejackers and their deep connections to Joel’ Army and American dominionists.” “Talk To Action, May 8. Accessed from http://www.talk2action.org/story/2009/5/7/222448/6244 on 22 March2014.

dogemperor. 2008. “Rick Warren’s Connections to Joel’s Army.” Newsvine, December 30. Accessed from http://dogemperor.newsvine.com/_news/2008/12/30/2260274-rick-warrens-connections-to-joels-army on 30 January 2014.

Enlow, Johnny. 2008. The Seven-Mountain Prophesy. Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House.

Fanning, Don. 2008. “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare.” Accessed from http://digitalcommons./liberty.edu/cgm_missions/8 on 10 January 2014.

Hall, Franklin. 1946. Atomic Power with God. Heber Springs, AR: Covenant Publishing.

Hanegraff, Hank. 1997. Counterfit Revival. Dallas, TX: Word.

Hunter, Bob. 2009. “Joel’s Army Marches On, Christian Research Institute.” Accessed from http://www.equip.org on 10 January 2014.

Liichow, Robert S. 2011. “The Prophetic Movement in Our Time.” Discernment Ministries International . Accessed from http://discernmentministriesinternational.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/the-prophetic-movement-in-our-time/ on 28 January 2014.

Oppenheimer, Mike. 2012. “The Manifest Sons of God teaching, Let Us Reason Ministries.” Accessed from http://www.letusreason.org/latrain on 25 January 2014.

Riss, Richard M. 1987. Latter Rain. Mississauga, Ontario: Honeycomb Visual Productions.

Rosenberg, Paul. 2011. “America’s own Taliban.” Accessed from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion on 23 April 2014.

Sanchez, Casey. 2008. “Todd Bentley’s Militant Joe’s Army Gains Followers in Florida.” Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report. Accessed from http://www.spicenter.org/get-informed/intelligence on 17 April 2013.

Simpson, Sandy. 2002. “The Third Wave ‘New Apostolic Reformation’.” Apologetics Coordination Team. Accessed from http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/thirdwave teachings.html on 18 March 2014.

Tabachnick, Rachel. 2011. “The NAR Apostles and Manifest Sons of God Theology: Training the Army of the Lord.” Talk to Action. Accessed at http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/4/5/141110/1743 on 11 April2013.

“The Major Players.” 2008. The Deception of “DominionTheology.” Accessed from http://dominion-theology.blogspot.com/ on 25 April 2014.

Van der Merwe, Jewel. 1991. “Joel’s Army Error.” Accessed from http:www.velocity.net/~edju70/JoelsArmy 1.htm on 29 January 2014.

Wagner, C. Peter. 2011. “The New Apostolic Reformation.” Accessed at http://mkayla.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/c-peter-wagner-in-his-own-words on 5 February 2014.

Warnock, George.1951. The Feast of Tabernacles. Springfield, MO: Bill Britton.

“William Branham.” n.d. Apologetics Index. Accessed from http://www.apologeticsindex.org/b05.html on 25 January 2014.

Post Date:
26 April 2014

 

 

 

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