Analysis of the Jesus Ministry - (Living Free Course)
Jesus Ministry - (Living Free Course)
I put this study together after a number of members of our church got involved with the Living Free course. Living free is a subset of the "Jesus Ministry" in the UK this is promoted and administered by ChristChurch in Fulham, London. It is not intended to be criticism of any individuals but simply an analysis of what the Jesus Ministry believes and teaches.
The basic premise of the Living Free (LF) course by the Jesus Ministry (JM) is as follows.
- As believers, we have what they describe as an “original design” for our lives. Which we are, of course, not realising.
- That we must “recover” the freedom God intended for us in order for us to live this “original design” because we are prevented from doing so in our current state.
- In order to do this we must enter an “invisible” realm to seek out the root cause that prevents us from having this freedom.
- Inevitably this problem lies with some past issue, normally under the influence of Satan. However we have authority over Satan, sickness, etc.
- We may encounter areas that seem particularly tricky to be set free from - these they call “strongholds” which may be caused by any number of past activities but also could be a result of:
- Generational sins
- Soul ties
- LF is not a self-help system but rather requires the intervention and assistance of those that have been “trained” by the JM in order to deliver the program.
After looking into the teachings of JM and the LF course and also having researched other materials by Mike Riches and The Sycamore foundation, my main issues with it are as follows:
- A wrong understanding of the nature of man.
- A misunderstanding of the sanctification process.
- An over-realised eschatology that implies a dominionist theology
- An emphasis on experience at the expense of plain biblical truth
- An overstating of the power and authority of Satan
- A modern reworking of the old deliverance ministry model
- A never ending cycle of bondage
- Reliance on an unbiblical “discernment” practice.
The Nature of Man and Original Design
To quote from the LF course manual
Inside of you there is another you. Hidden deep in your heart is a person whose character is everything you have ever thought you could be and more. This person is fearless, able to navigate through every storm of life. This person is compassionate, able to love all of humanity - from the broken to the brash to the boorish. This person is filled with joy, bringing life and hope to every situation he or she encounters. This person speaks the truth, knowing that in a world in need of direction, someone must courageously point the way. This person that resides in you - the real you, the you that God, your creator, created you to be. This is the person that, in your heart, you are crying out to be.
This depiction of someone, ultimately good, seemingly trapped inside of our hearts is at odds with what the bible teaches about the nature of man. It would seem to me that the scripture teaches us that no good thing can dwell in the unregenerate heart. There is nothing worthwhile about my unsaved nature. Quite the opposite, the natural state of man is one of depravity and is at enmity with God. Even post-regenerate the flesh is still our main problem.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? "
And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
The only righteousness that we have, that we can claim, is the righteousness that we inherit when we are born again. That is NOT our own. We inherit it. It comes only from Jesus. It does not “reside in you” it is not “the real you”. The “real you” is destined for judgement and wrath. It is only because of the saving grace of Jesus and his Holy Spirit residing in us that we are delivered.
Even after the regeneration of our hearts we are not free from the effects of this “real you”, he continues (and will continue to do so until the Lord’s return) to cause us to stumble.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
This view of the “almost there” version of you is not uncommon. In fact it is part of the bedrock of all religions. The idea that we are all basically good but we need a little help to reach perfection - That if only we do XYZ to release the potential within us. For instance Mormonism says:
Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity...
...all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realise their divine destiny.”
Or this from Swami Brahmeshananda
The Hindus have further elaborated this concept by stating that the real man or Atman is conscious, ever free, blissful and immortal... ...Swami Vivekananda laid the greatest stress, in his message, on the divinity of man because he knew men are divine, and since truth liberates, the only way to be free was to perceive the truth of one's divinity.
Sound familiar? All religions have this common philosophy but biblical Christianity holds that the opposite is true - we are utterly fallen and can do nothing of or for ourselves.
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;
As stated above the aim of the LF course seems to be to make you a better version of you. Or rather, to restore a version of you that has yet to be realised, this so-called “original design”. This can be achieved by our adherence to and practice of the LF course.
However the bible teaches that the sanctification process, which started on the day we were born again and will not be completed until His return, is not a journey of “self help” style classes to attend but rather a transformation from the image of a sinful man into a child of God in the image of His son Jesus - through the vehicle of a crucified life. More than that - it is His workmanship that transforms us, not our own efforts.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-53)
Living Free or Born Again?
There seems some confusion as to whether the LF course is aimed at the saved or the unsaved. In its delivery it is squarely aimed at the believer but some of its content it seems aimed at the unsaved. In many instances it seems to suggest that salvation comes via the LF course itself - some examples:
- “Living Free” in contrast, includes reconciliation with God, being accepted by Him
- “Living Free” includes living forgiven of the guilt of our sin, with peace toward God
- “Living Free” includes learning to live a life of faith
- “Living Free” is being released from judgement
I would suggest that all of the above come via the new birth rather than taking part in the LF courses.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgement, but has passed out of death into life.
There are elements of Dominionism or Dominion Theology within the teachings of JM. Dominionism comes in many guises and various names may be used to describe it, such as:
- Kingdom now
- Latter rain or Latter day rain
- The third wave
- Joel’s Army
- The seven mountain mandate
- New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)
Dominionism is not necessarily a title that a group or church would apply to themselves but it is rather a set of theological characteristics that one would find in their interpretation of doctrine. As such there is a large variance in the specifically held beliefs within dominion theology. It is tricky to find a biblical justification for dominionism (mainly because there isn’t one) as it is such a broad definition. But generally speaking it is the belief that the Church must take “dominion” over the earth before Jesus can return. It is predicated on this logic:
- God gave Adam dominion over the earth
- Satan usurped man’s dominion over the earth through the fall of Adam
- Jesus defeated Satan and took dominion back in his victory on the cross
- He then gave dominion back to believers
- The Church must gain control of the earth’s governmental and social institutions and establish the “Kingdom on Earth”
- Then and only then, can Jesus come
JM borrows heavily from dominionist theology as it attempts to convey the believer’s role in this world. The primary idea being that we have authority to rebuke Satan, sickness etc.
We must learn to use our divinely powerful spiritual weapons, exercise our authority, and do battle in the heavenlies to take back territory that the enemy has taken in people’s lives and in the world, and thereby plunder Satan’s kingdom on earth. This is what we are on earth to do - to extend Jesus’ ministry and kingdom.
Please tell me where in the bible it says that we are here to “plunder Satan’s kingdom on Earth” - let alone that this is our primary mission?
The interesting thing is that Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."
It is interesting that very often the justification for ministries such as JM comes back to statements like “It worked for me” or “I was so blessed by it” or “if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t understand”
As believers we cannot validate any ministry or teaching by our own experience of it. The only thing that can validate a ministry, teaching or apparent work of the Holy Spirit is The Word of God. We are told:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
(1 John 4:1)
How should we test it? What does the bible say?
Even real, powerful, Godly experiences are played down in the light of God’s word. When Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emaus he could have recounted all the times that they had seen him exercising supernatural power but instead “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” What about Peter, James and John at the transfiguration? Such a huge experience and obviously real. But Peter says that it was “so we have the prophetic word made more sure”. Our experiences NEVER trump the word of God.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your loving-kindness and for Your truth's sake; for You have magnified Your Word above all Your name.
The Power of Satan vs Sin
The LF course makes much of the power of the enemy. Not that I would want to ignore or dismiss Satan as irrelevant in the life of a believer. But the LF course devotes such a huge amount of its explanations as to why we are struggling to become this “original design” persona to the activity of Satan, demons & evil spirits that it often feels that is all they teach.
Satan finds entry points into our thinking & emotions... There is a direct correlation between sin and Satan’s kingdom... There really is a connection with what Satan wants to achieve in your life... It helps to know that Satan is behind this so I know what to fight against... I spent the longest time fighting against the wrong thing...
In the video that these quotes are taken from, Mike Riches seems to be implying that he sins because of Satan’s activity. He also indicates that until he began to deal directly with the demonic forces he struggled to deal with sin. Mike most often talks about Satan’s will for us but rarely speaks of God’s will. Talks more about warfare with the enemy than living a crucified life. It is interesting to me that the word of God gives us a different perspective on how to deal with our sin.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
(1 Corinthians 10:13)
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
(1 Peter 2:24)
In JM we find the age old false doctrine that sickness is from the devil and of course the equally old lie that we can take authority over it. This is simply a repackaging or the E W Kenyon style word of faith type doctrines that have been around for decades.
- The human body is vulnerable to demonic attack, resulting in physical sickness and disease.
- Sickness, disease and death find their source in Satan’s kingdom
- “Living Free” includes learning to take up Jesus’ authority over illness and disease.
The over emphasis on the demonic extends to various natural emotions or elements of everyday life. Everything leads back to some kind of Satanic influence. Where there is fear it becomes a “spirit of fear”, self pity a “spirit of self pity”, competition a “spirit of competition”, jealousy a “spirit of jealousy” and so on and so forth. When JM says “a spirit of...” they do actually mean a demon, a spiritual entity that has a mind and a personality and that ultimately they claim can be rebuked.
If our sin, our ill-health and our negative emotions are the work of the enemy do we not have a valid case to claim “none of this is my fault” or even “only some of it is my fault” and if so does that not lead us to ask why did Jesus have to go to the cross?
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Whilst it is true that Satan is a defeated enemy, the believer is cautioned in God’s word on how to deal with him. First and foremost we should “Submit therefore to God.” we are then instructed to “Resist the devil” then we are told “and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). In Ephesian we are taught about the Armour of God and how our fight is not against flesh and blood. But our instruction is to “Stand Firm” - “Submit to God” - “Resist the Devil”. JM has turned these simple defiant actions into a licence to go to war with forces of darkness. Satan has no authority over us - but likewise we do not have licence to presume to tell Satan what to do.
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgement, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
Although the JM is at pains to not present itself as a deliverance ministry, this is exactly what it is. It uses the same language as all deliverance ministries, draws on the same scriptures. Has the same warnings about curses, soul ties and of course “Generational Sins”. It even borrows its Five R’s from Derek Prince’s infamous book about deliverance “They Shall Expel Demons” It contains the same superstitious teachings about not entering certain places for fear of being demonically infected.
Rather than going over old ground, some years ago I prepared a document that specifically addressed this issue - “What's The Problem with Deliverance Ministry” - which you can find here. It is a long read so I apologise in advance.
The LF course places the onus squarely on our shoulders to a) understand that without these teachings we are doomed to continue under the power of Satan and b) that by taking part in these sessions we can find freedom and liberty.
The trouble is because they have a wrong understanding of the nature of man, the nature of sin & sanctification, there can be no deliverance from what they wrongly determine as “strongholds”.
The key thing for me is this - This one scripture completely negates the entire JM teaching.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
A fundamental misunderstanding of the salvific process leads the JM adherents to enter into a never ending cycle of self examination and deliverance. Rather than the much simpler version of living that the scripture promotes.
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
By way of example I will confess a problem that I have experienced. For many years I have struggled with smoking. I know it is harmful and definitely not something that God would want me doing. But sometimes I end up turning to tobacco in stressful times. Once I fall it takes time to get back up. For me the biblical explanation for this is pretty straightforward. If I take my eyes off of God then “the sin which so easily entangles” me raises its ugly head. It may take time but by “picking up my cross daily” I am set free. It is indeed a sin-cycle but I am not condemned and Jesus is there to pick me up every time I fall - and I will fall because my flesh is weak even if my spirit is strong.
The JM version of this situation would involve delving into my past to seek out the root cause of this “stronghold”, maybe some past injustice or lack of love is to blame - perhaps an ancient curse on my great-grandfather’s side. To discover how the “spirit of nicotine” (an actual demon by the way) entered into my life. Once discovered a series of prescribed procedures are engaged to root out this demon and set me free to live as God had intended. But what happens when it happens again (as it will)? What then? Who is to blame? Is it my faith that wasn’t strong enough to believe in my healing? Is there another stronghold? A different demon?
The truth is that no matter what we do, in this world we will continue to battle with the old man. We will have a warring in our members - there will be no escaping that until the Lord returns. But praise Jesus we can pick up that cross.
One thing that struck me about the whole process of the JM and LF course is how closely it resembles humanistic psychological practices.
Psychologists look for the underlying causes of behaviour and the mental processes involved. Once researchers have described general behaviour, the next step is to explain how or why this trend occurs. Psychologists will propose theories which can explain a behaviour. Once psychology has described, explained and made predictions about behaviour, changing or controlling a behaviour can be attempted.
This sounds very close to what the LF course attempts to do. But of course the difference being that most psychologists would undergo many years of training before being allowed to practice. As well as it being considered pretty unethical to treat someone that you have a personal relationship with - something that happens quite often in JM.
Finally we come to freedom prayer - In some ways I find this the most concerning and troubling aspect of the whole process. Here is Christ Church Fulham’s explanation of what Freedom Prayer is.
In freedom prayer a small team (2/3 people) will listen to God on behalf of the prayee and share what they believe he is saying. They will be listening for words from God speaking to the true identity of the believer and also insight from the Holy Spirit concerning those things that are rooted in the lies that have been believed and the brokenness of the past. The term strongholds may well be used (2 Corinthians 10) to describe patterns of thought and behaviour that resists the truth of the knowledge of God and keep us enslaved. We believe that through prayer these can be wonderfully demolished
Repentance forgiveness and agreement with God's word are central to freedom prayer and we believe that it is a form of prayer that empowers Christian to rise up into their identity in Christ
In freedom prayer the team will only ever offer their revelation and will in no way seek to impose it. The prayee is always at liberty to pray and engage with revelations offered, or not, because freedom prayer is a collaborative way of praying in which prayee and the team work together under God's leading
Please do not misunderstand me - I think that praying for one another is not only valuable but also required of us. It is entirely biblical for Christians to pray for each other.
However this methodology - where a group of believers (who have had special training) go to God on someone else's behalf? Very often in silence. In order to gain a special insight into the identity, history, sins, strongholds and ultimately Satanic influences in that person’s life? With a view to prescribing a spiritual treatment? This raises many questions:
- Does this not smack of Gnosticism?
- Where is the biblical imperative for this?
- Where are there examples in the scripture of this type of prayer?
- Does this not introduce an unbiblical class of specially “trained” believers
- What is the difference between this and shamanism/divination?
Jesus Ministry has a fundamentally wrong understanding of the nature of man. Like all religions it seeks to identify our shortcomings and develop a plan to rectify them. Rather than the simple biblical explanation that we are all fallen and cannot redeem ourselves, the JM explains that because of the various activities of Satan, spirits and/or demonic forces, we are hindered from the freedom available to us to live out our “original design”.
The LF course then leads us into an unbiblical practice of delving into our past or the past of our families in an attempt to find spiritual clues and pathways to understand what has transpired to bring us to this point, most often pinning the blame on Satan, curses, generational sins etc. Even though the scripture tells us clearly that when we were born again we became a new creation and that all our past sin has been washed clean.
The LF course then engages in “Freedom Prayer”, a practice of deliverance from these demonic forces. A methodology which resembles a cross between Quakerism, cold reading and divination and is neither practised nor taught in the new testament.
At best JM/LF is an unnecessary set of procedures that gain us nothing over and above the freedom we have already gained at the point of salvation.
At worst it is a false gospel based on a poor exegesis, a wrong understanding of man, sin and redemption that gives an overemphasis to the power of Satan, de-emphasises the sufficiency of the cross and leads believers into a dangerous self-centred cycle of fruitless spiritual self-examination, from which there is little hope of escape.
Jesus Ministry has turned the simplicity of the Gospel into a set of religious practices.