Question: "What is the bridal paradigm, and is it biblical?"
Answer: The bridal paradigm is a teaching that emphasizes the Church as the Bride of Christ and the Kingdom of God as a love affair between Jesus and His Bride. A paradigm is a perspective or framework; the bridal paradigm is an eschatological framework that stresses loyal love for the Savior in the end times, soul-winning, a special anointing of the Spirit, and an emotional, “intimate” attachment to Christ. The bridal paradigm is taught by the International House of Prayer (IHOP) and similar groups in the Charismatic movement.
According to bridal paradigm doctrine, the whole Bible is the story of God’s seeking a suitable mate for His Son. Jesus is pictured as a lovesick suitor who is passionately awaiting the time when He will be reunited with His beloved Bride. While the New Testament does use the metaphor of the Bride of Christ, the bridal paradigm takes the metaphor to an extreme, teaching that it is the primary picture of the Church and that each individual believer is the Bride.
In the bridal paradigm, people are taught to see themselves as “married” to Christ. In some meetings “wedding ceremonies” are held in which individuals speak marriage vows to Jesus and walk under a huppah, a Jewish marriage canopy. They are encouraged to participate in a “bridal fast” and are often told to allow themselves to be “ravished” by Jesus. Words such as intimacy, passion, and lovesick are part of the standard vocabulary.
Teachers of the bridal paradigm place a heavy emphasis on their highly allegorized interpretation of the Song of Solomon. In their view, the book is more than a depiction of sensual love between a husband and wife; it is a metaphor of Jesus and the individual believer.
Concerning the end times, the bridal paradigm teaches that the Church will go through the Tribulation. During that time, the Church becomes a sort of “super church” as it finally recognizes its calling as the Bride of Christ. When the Church awakens to its true nature, it will experience a special anointing from the Holy Spirit; unite in intercessory prayer; call down judgment, Moses-like, upon the Antichrist; lead an unprecedented global revival; and, in the end, welcome Christ to the earth as a zealous Lover.
According to bridal paradigm doctrine, the problem with the Church today is that it is unenlightened and defeated. It does not see Christ as the Bridegroom and is not “intimate” with Him. Mike Bickle, the founder of IHOP, claims that, due to the “revelations” given to him, we can finally see our true purpose. Bickle has said that the end times are the “only . . . time in all of human history where the people of God universally, worldwide will see Jesus as a Bridegroom King” (from a message recorded March 6, 2008).
Bickle also teaches that Jesus will not return to the earth until His Bride really wants Him to come. He is being held back right now by our own lack of knowledge: “Jesus is not coming until the Body of Christ globally is crying out ‘Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus,’ and they don't just say, ‘Come and forgive me,’ they are crying out in the understanding of who they are as the one that is cherished by Jesus in the bridal identity” (op. cit.). He uses Revelation 22:17 as a “proof text” for this teaching.
Is the bridal paradigm biblical? No, it is not. This is not to say that there is not some truth being presented in the movement. Jesus does love His Church (Ephesians 5:25), and the picture of the Church as a Bride is biblically supported (Revelation 19:7). But the bridal paradigm is an unbalanced approach to Scripture. Other problems include the teachings that the Church will experience the Tribulation; that everything God does is centered on a passion for us, rather than on His own glory; that the primary meaning of the Song of Solomon is a mystical one; and that all previous generations of Christians have failed to understand what Bickle now knows.
Second Timothy 4:3–4 warns that “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” One such myth is the romantic, sensual Jesus of the bridal paradigm.