Rejecting Branham's false model of ministry with spiritual gifts

Marko Joensuu         2 comments
If there is one person who has influenced the spiritual gift ministry model in the contemporary prophetic movement the most, it must be William Branham, whom many prominent Charismatic and prophetic leaders call “the greatest prophet that ever lived”—even when at the same breath they seem to admit that some of his teachings were "strange". And even if Branham didn't single-handedly create the stage performance driven ministry model of today, he certainly made it popular.

But in reality Branham wasn't the greatest prophet that ever lived. Instead, he was a false prophet whose teachings and ministry model are still poisoning the Charismatic movement. 


How come so many Christian leaders today idolise a man who taught that the Trinity is a doctrine created by Satan, a man who never rejected freemasonry? Many people today visit his grave, believing that going there could somehow impart Branham's anointing, as this video demonstrates. 


At the heart of this man-worship is commonplace but false perception that Branham had allegedly 100% accurate words of knowledge. 


But what if Branham's allegedly accurate words of knowledge were a result of his mastery of stagecraft and illusion rather than hearing from God? Then the ministry model that he has passed on to the contemporary body of Christ would be based on a lie. And it is a lie I have, over the years, seen destroy the lives of many Charismatic ministers, as they have, in vain, pursued stage performance driven use of the spiritual gifts, rather than learning to use the gifts as vehicles for God's love. That has taken many down the road of hypocrisy and the using of unethical methods in ministry.




The reality is that the contemporary worship of Branham as the greatest prophet that ever lived is based on a rather unhistorical legend—and the Branham of the legend never existed. But unlike with say King Arthur or Merlin, there is plenty of historically reliable material that contradicts the legend.

It is my conviction that it is this honouring of Branham by the prophetic movement that has opened the doors of deception and is one of the main reasons why the prophetic ministry is failing so spectacularly in the Charismatic movement today. Why? Because nearly everyone in the prophetic movement pays at least a lip service to Branham as the greatest prophet since Jesus—even when they should know better. When you single out a false prophet as the highest expression of ministry, it is bound to have consequences.

But what Branham really gave us is the perfection of a false ministry model that is based on a performance act on stage. Branham didn't invent it; he only perfected it. 


Kris Vallotton offers the standard Charismatic defence of Branham in his Facebook post.


“So the question is who should we let influence us and is it okay to admire people such as William Branham who believed things (especially towards the end of his life), which definitely fit into this definition. Branham was reported in his latter years to not believe in the Trinity, there are mixed reports concerning the possibility that he believed that he was Elijah and his view of women was always harsh throughout the years of his ministry. There many other questionable things that he believed also but I think you get the idea why people get pretty anxious when you mention his name. On the other hand, he was probably greatest miracle worker since the 12 apostles. There were literally thousands of doctor verified miracles that William Branham performed by the power of Jesus Christ. He was partner with Gordon Lindsay for many years, and during that time, for the most part he was very orthodox in his approach to Charismatic Christianity. It was only after Lindsay left William's ministry that Branham's doctrine became quite controversial. There are many people like William Branham who did great miracles and yet had character and/or theological issues in their lives throughout church history. . . So what's my conclusion, I think that admiring people who walked with God and learning from their successes and failures is not only healthy but biblical, (at least by example). To throw away the lessons we can learn from men like William Branham seems silly to me.”


This defence has a number of major problems, which frankly speaking, I find unsurmountable. 

1. Using supernatural as evidence for God

First, Vallotton uses miracles as evidence of Branham’s spiritual authority and claims that this should be enough proof for us—even when Branham's teaching was clearly unbiblical. But Jesus warned us of this very obsession with the supernatural.

In Matthew 24:23-25 Jesus says, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand."


See, I have told you beforehand. (But we didn't care.)


Obviously, you can't use miracles as an evidence against anyone either, like many cessationists do. Not every miracle is fake. Even the fake Rolex is sellable only because there are genuine ones. But it should be clear that miracles themselves aren't enough, and that the enemy can use them to deceive Christians. 


Should we just keep on ignoring the warnings of Jesus? Or is He no more our Master, whose words should matter more to us than the words of any men? Certainly Branham seemed to think that he was bigger than the Bible. But when we are talking about someone like Branham, who said that the Trinity is Satan's doctrine, then we certainly should inspect his teaching and works carefully. There are still people who expect Branham to be resurrected—and not on the Last Day. Because of that, anything else but careful inspection would simply be irresponsible. And it seems to me that Vallotton—and large part of the prophetic movement—seems to think that a false teacher can perform genuine miracles.


I am sorry if I am offending some of my friends here. But we need to be truthful about things.  

2. Misunderstanding the role of prophets in the New Testament Church

Second, Vallotton misunderstands the role of the prophet in the New Testament. He argues that it is alright that Branham didn't get his theology right, because he was not a theologian or a teacher. He was just a prophet. (And yet we should respect Branham more than theologians and teachers that got their teaching right.) Many Charismatic leaders list Branham's venturing into teaching as the main reason for his failure. But what they fail to understand is that our ministry is always an outflow of our theology. There really isn't any separation between our theology and our ministry. If Branham's theology was false, it is also likely that his ministry and practice were also false. After all, he wasn't a new believer who had been instantly filled with the Holy Spirit and ministering before their theological and biblical understanding had managed to catch up with their experience. No. Branham was a veteran, and he had plenty of opportunities to correct his teaching.

The Bible doesn't know the separation between a prophet and a theologian that we like to make today.


Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-16,


"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."


The fact is that most of the Charismatic movement has got the main role of the prophet—and the whole fivefold ministry—completely wrong. According to Paul the role of the prophet is—together with the apostles, teachers, pastors and evangelists—to connect the body to the Head by removing the main obstruction—false teachings. Based on this job description, William Branham could never have been a genuine prophet, as he spread false doctrines rather than fought them.


Prophets in the fivefold ministry 
(audio teaching by Marko Joensuu)

Branham clearly taught unbiblical doctrines that seem designed to connect people to Branham rather than Jesus. The existence of Branhamism as a cult today with its total focus on the person and sayings of Branham and ignoring the Bible shows that he has been remarkably successful. 


There is a misconception in the Charismatic Church about prophets. The misconception is that prophets don't really need to know the Bible and theology. But in fact, the prophets are supposed to be theologians and Bible scholars; otherwise they won't be able to do their job of dealing with false doctrines and teachings. How can a prophet deal with a false teaching if  he or she isn't clear about what sound teaching is?


This might sound countercultural to you, but in fact, if you look at the prophets in the Bible, it is clearly the case. 


Why shouldn't the lover of God's word love God's Word even more? 


True prophets are friends of God. And if they know God intimately, why would they go on writing and proclaiming lies about Him? But that's what Branham did. He went against the person of God and the teachings of the Bible—and yet many Charismatic leaders continue to celebrate him—because they want to have a supernatural ministry so badly that they don't really care too much about the source.

3. Sugarcoating Branham's failures

Third, Vallotton sugarcoats Branham’s failings and presents the legend of Branham rather than true historical account of Branham’s life. Vallotton says that "Branham was reported in his latter years to not believe in the Trinity", making Branham's disbelief into some sort of unsubstantiated allegation—as if the jury were still out on the issue. But what Branham said himself is: 

"Satan is a liar and the father of lies, and whenever he comes with any light it is still a lie. He is a murderer. And his doctrine of the trinity has destroyed the multitudes and will destroy until Jesus comes."


These aren't some reports that Branham might have denied the doctrine of the Trinity. This is Branham himself saying that the doctrine of the Trinity is satanic. And his followers keep on teaching that the doctrine of the Trinity is not not biblical doctrine. And all his followers do is to study Branham's teachings, so they should know the best. Who but the devil himself would come up with such a teaching? And yet there are many in the Charismatic movement who worship this man.


There is so much real historical data about Branham's ministry that ignoring it all is perhaps not unforgivable, but it is inexcusable. You are not much of a teacher if you don't bother to study the subject of your teaching first. But that's what these Charismatic teachers are doing. Either they are lying wilfully or they have never really bothered to study what they are teaching.


For example, it seems clear that Branham got his most famous prophecies wrong. This is not a matter of interpretation, but his prophecies clearly failed to pass the test of time. And yet so many Charismatic leaders call him the greatest prophet that ever lived. I mean, how bad are the other prophets for him to be named the greatest? 


It is worth at looking at this Facebook page created by ex-members of his cult, as it collates historical evidence to combat the legend of Branham.


Braham’s most infamous teaching was the doctrine of the serpent’s seed. According to Branham, Eve gave birth to Cain through sexual intercourse with the snake; consequently every woman potentially carried the literal seed of the devil. He also taught that denominations were the mark of the beast.

As I said, there are many credible websites created by the Christians who have left Branhamism. I don't want to duplicate their work here. But let me say one thing—when I researched Branham for my book—and I only deal with him for one simple reason—he has brought a false model of ministry which must be uprooted—the road soon led into total darkness. It doesn't take you long—if you really want to have an educated opinion—to find out what Branham really stood for in real life, and the kind of things he really did. You can find clear allegations of child molestation, which appear quite credible, you can judge them yourself—they should be alarming enough for us to pause to think, whether we should promote Branham's ministry so enthusiastically.

But you don't even need to hear his critics. All you need to hear is his followers, who have made all his sermons available online as transcriptions. You can let Branham's own teachings judge him. That is why I find the collective amnesia in the prophetic movement about the real Branham inexcusable. 

4. Ministry model based on legend

Any study of Branham’s actual ministry model would make it evident quickly that perhaps Branham didn’t actually perform thousands of doctor-verified miracles at all. I don't know why Kris Vallotton makes this statement about medically verified miracles, as mostly, the only person who verified Branham's 'miracles' was Branham himself.

For example, famously, Branham allegedly raised a boy from death in Finland, but if you investigate the claim you soon find out that the only person who made that claim and witnessed the 'resurrection' was Branham himself. His most amazing miracles stories can not withstand any scrutiny or verification at all.


I have deconstructed Branham’s ministry model in my book Supernatural Love: Releasing the Compassion of Jesus Through the Gifts of the Spirit, on my journey to look for biblically sound model of ministry with the spiritual gifts. But let me outline it here briefly.


If you look at any videos of Branham’s stage ministry, you can easily come to the conclusion that Branham had a powerful gift of the word of knowledge. But it is possible that Branham was one of the best illusionists the Church has ever seen, or as Derek Prince said, Branham might have been channelling a demonic spirit. I personally find Derek Prince's theory concerning Branham having two spirits—the Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit—theologically rather problematic, but it is illuminating, as he ministered with Branham and knew him well enough. I think that Derek Prince was unaware of Branham's card trick that I will describe below, and that's why he came to a at least slightly wrong conclusion. I don't think that at this stage Branham had the Holy Spirit at all. 


When Branham ministered, what seemed to happen is that he invited people randomly on stage, told intimate details of their life, and then he healed them.


And like any illusion artist worthy of their profession, Branham went to the grave without revealing the exact way he performed his illusion act. But it was preceded by an extreme level of manipulation and preparation that caused the crowd to see what Branham wanted them to see.


First, Branham insured himself against anyone not getting healed by claiming that any failure was never his fault. 


According to F.F. Bosworth, a healing evangelist that assisted Branham,


"If a sick person did not receive healing, the problem was either some unconfessed sin or the presence of a demon."


Branham used fear and intimidation to manipulate his audiences. He said that the exorcised demons looked for new inhabitants and warned that the demons would enter the sceptics, asking them to leave before the healing stage of the service. He was convinced that it was lack of faith that obstructed people from getting healed. He admonished audiences to persevere in their faith, and said that some healings were gradual. 


When Branham started his ministry, all people were allowed in the line. But soon, Branham was exhausted. After that, one hundred cards were given out for each service. I don’t know exactly when Branham introduced the prayer cards, but I would conjecture that the timing was somewhat linked to the introduction of his new gift of “discernment”—the word of knowledge.


Each person was instructed to write the nature of their illness and other personal details on the card. As he passed through the prayer line, a Branham team member collected the card.


Bosworth said,


Branham does not begin to pray for the healing of the afflicted in body in the healing line each night, until God anoints him for the operation of the gift, and until he is conscious of the presence of the Angel with him on the platform. Without this consciousness, he seems to be perfectly helpless . . . When he is conscious of the angel’s presence, he seems to break through the veil of the flesh into the world of the spirit, to be struck through[…]”


Branham asked the people in the prayer line:

Sir, do you believe me? Do you accept me as God’s servant? Do you believe that I am his prophet that was sent here for your purpose that you might be healed, and will you obey what I tell you to do? . . . You have arthritis . . . Jump up like this on the platform like this. 

You’re healed my brother."

Often, Branham ‘healed’ people of sicknesses they didn’t even know they had. But because of high level of manipulation and subtle intimidation, not many people would have protested, with most believing afterwards that they had in fact had the sickness.


Like with today’s healing evangelists, many criticised Branham because his healings didn’t last. But in the Bible no one ever lost their healing.


But how did Branham acquire his seemingly accurate words of knowledge?


They would have been easily taken from the prayer cards, as most of his words of knowledge referred to people’s sicknesses and their home addresses.


We can see this model at work in this video:


Branham 'healing' through the 'word of knowledge'

You can see how Branham asks for confirmation from one of his assistants regarding the identity of the person he will pray for. And nearly everything that he says as 'word of knowledge' would have easily been picked from one of the cards. Neither the audience nor the person being 'healed' fully grasps what is going on, as no one on stage mentions the prayer cards, which were all in numerical order, and Branham always called them on stage based on their number in the queue. So, Branham could, for example, memorise the prayer card details of number twelve in the queue and focus on that person. This would give an illusion that Branham would know—if needed—the details of everyone in the queue. The art of the illusionist is distraction.


You can call me cynical. But I am cynical based on experience. I was raised in the Pentecostal movement after all, lived in a Penteocostal church for seven years, encountered my first book by Branham on my grandmother's bookshelf when I was younger than ten, and I have now worked in the Charismatic movement full-time for over seventeen years. I have seen a lot of things. And that gives me the courage to write about these things. It was because Martin Luther was so steeped in the ways of Catholicism that he had the courage to stand up against issues such as indulgences and ask for a reformation.


If the people in Branham's prayer queue were in the wrong order, the 'word of knowledge' usually stopped working.


Now if all the details in the 'word of knowledge' were available on the prayer cards, what is the probability that Branham got those details from the prayer cards? Or put differently, why should God give Branham a word of knowledge about what had already been revealed on the prayer cards?


What made the illusion work is that the audience—and the person being prayed for—took Branham's accurate words as word of knowledge, which created a powerful effect. And because of the 'word of knowledge' no verification of the 'miracle' was needed, as most people in the audience took the 'word of knowledge' as the verification for healing. If God revealed all these details to Branham, surely He would also heal the person!


When Vallotton says that Branham performed thousands of medically confirmed miracles, that is simply not true. Usually, the only person who 'verified' the miracles was Branham himself—on stage. I have come across hundreds of claims that Branham had a healing ministry but not across a single verified testimony of healing.


Now,  I am not saying that you can't have a word of knowledge about someone's sickness in the audience. I have seen it happen. I am also slightly worried about the use of this technique for the simple reason that if, say, a pastor says that he feels someone in the audience suffers from back pain, statistically, if there are more than 2-3 people in the church, at least one of them will suffer from back pain. So, the seemingly successful feedback loop can encourage ministers to develop unhealthy forms of ministry that might seem impressive but might also be deceitful—even to the ministers themselves.


But it seems clear that Branham's industrial manufacturing of these 'words of knowledge' was largely based on the one hundred numbered prayer cards that were given out before the meeting. It seems clear that he was a master of deception. But who are you serving really, if your ministry model is based on deception?


But because many Charismatic leaders believe the legend about Branham's accurate words of knowledge, they are tempted to follow him into a manipulation of the audiences—without being aware that the trick of their 'master' was actually a card trick.

I find it unfathomable that many in the Charismatic movement idolise a man whose followers have created a cult that worships a man. And following Branham's model has led the prophetic movement into a crisis, as it has opened the doors to deception. Not only are we tolerating deception but through our idolatry of Branham we actively embrace it. 


It seems to me that Branham's card trick that many try to emulate—but without the cards—is behind the failure of the Charismatic stage performance driven use of gifts, and the Charismatic movement will continue to fail, until we renounce the ways of Branham. We desperately need authentic expressions of the gifts of the Spirit, but as long as we are more concerned of how it looks rather than whether the gifts are genuine, we won't be getting any of these genuine expressions. 


True gifts of the Spirit are expressions of God's love. Their use might sometimes be public, but the stage performance is never at the heart of them.


You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at facebook.com/marko.joensuu or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 

Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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2 comments:

  1. Guess we are unwilling to pay the price of intimacy with the Lord that ultimately brings us to that place of knowing His heart and ministering through this. The Lord will come into His church before He comes for it and every deception will be exposed and truth of His word will begin to manifest. That season is upon us.

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