In 2011, Raymond Schwab and I produced a film called Sycamore The 9/11 Tragedy. This film was exploring the idea of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks being a warning and wake-up call for the church in America. Though the film was produced prior to the recent release of the bestselling book The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, many of Cahn’s interpretations were borrowed in addition to those of the late David Wilkerson, Times Square Church pastor, and others who also linked 9/11 with Isaiah 9:8-10. For various reasons, some of which are undisclosed while others will be discussed here, I have decided to remove the film from our website and YouTube.
Though I still believe God has revealed a warning to the Church in America through 9/11 and public events in the aftermath of 9/11 through the obscure passage of Isaiah 9:10 which Tom Daschle and Jonathan Edwards quoted out of context as a Scripture of hope rather than judgment, there are some disclaimers about Sycamore that I must make.
The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn has sold over a million copies since its release in late 2011. Though our film was produced prior to the book’s release, its popularity has naturally led many to lump our film into the same message of the non-fiction/fiction book by Cahn because we imported much of his material which I first heard in 2005.
Since the book’s release, The Harbinger and Cahn have received much criticism. While some are asking very intelligent questions about the book, others are unbalanced and unfair, in my opinion. The most helpful ministries have invited Cahn to speak for himself to answer challenging questions so that people may think for themselves. I hope to write a follow-up to this article including Cahn’s responses to some of these attacks against him and his book.
There has been some controversy around the book and author from which I would like to distance myself and watch unfold. Much of my concern has been with Cahn’s venues he has chosen to promote his book. On the one hand, there is a danger in labeling one guilty by association. For instance, T.A. McMahon of The Berean Call wrote,
In the case of The Harbinger, a big red flag went up regarding the publisher. Though the cover says “Front Line,” it’s actually an imprint title of Charisma Media/Charisma House Book Group, the publisher of Charisma magazine. For those not familiar with Charisma , there is no other publication that has supported and promoted more of the unbiblical Word/Faith teachers, the “wealth and health” preachers, the Kingdom/Dominionists, the Apostles and Prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation, the so-called spirit revivals of the Toronto Airport Vineyard, the Brownsville Revival, the Lakeland Revivals, the Latter Rain/Manifest Sons of God, and so forth. There is some irony in the fact that in chapter 9 of Isaiah, TH ’s key biblical chapter, God brings down His judgment upon Israel because of “lying prophets.” Charisma has over the years featured many who fit that description. That doesn’t automatically throw TH into a bin of rotten apples, but it should at least cause one to examine its fruit very carefully. Jesus said, “A corrupt tree [cannot] bring forth good fruit” and “by their fruits ye shall know them.” (source)
I admit that this connection is troubling, but Cahn makes a good point in response saying:
As to the criticisms of the book’s publisher (Frontline, CharismaMedia), I don’t believe this has any place, much less, significance in such a review – except to illustrate one of the dangers present in some discernment ministries, namely that of guilt by association combined with broad-stroke deligitimization. (source)
My concerns go deeper than mere charges of “guilty by association.” For instance, on October 24, 2011, Cahn launched his book on the Jim Bakker show. On April 5-8, 2012, Cahn was included with a team of ministers to celebrate Passover with Chuck Pierce, Peter Wagner, Dutch Sheets, Barbara Yoder, David Demian, David Schneier, Judy Jacobs, Kyle Searcy, Paul Keith Davis and Robert Heidler. Dated June 18, 2012, The Jim Bakker show announced, “The prophets are coming – the word is going out! Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, Sid Roth, John Kilpatrick, Rick Joyner, John Shorey, Bobby Conner, Cindy Jacobs.” On September 27, 2012, Cahn appeared on This Is Your Day with Benny Hinn. In a personal e-mail correspondence, I was prompted to ask Cahn if he cautions his congregation against false teachers by name and what his criterion for false teachers is. He responded,
There is distinction between believers who may speak or teach some errors in fact or doctrine, a category that basically includes every believer – And the other category where someone teaches that which clearly contradicts a foundational and central core issue of faith – that would be place them outside the gospel and would justify the label of false teacher. If giving specific identification was warranted to protect believers from falling into error as touching the latter category, we would not be averse to doing so.
I have no affiliation – There are those who assume that because one speaks from a specific platform, event, venue, conference, or media outlet, this means that one is in total or any agreement with the host or platform. This is not necessarily the case. By such a standard, they would judge Paul as a pagan for preaching at the pagan platform of Mars Hill. I will go and speak from virtually any platform I can that will allow me to give the warning of The Harbinger and the message of the Gospel unhindered – Whether I agree with that person on any issue or no issue – whether that platform be Christian, secular, Hindu, pagan – or a Mars Hill – as long as I am able to use that platform to preach unhindered, I will go.
I understand Cahn’s conviction about preaching at Mars Hill if need be as the Apostle Paul. But I would compare sharing the pulpit or being a guest in association with these false teachers as equivalent to early Christians sharing a venue with or speaking in a Gnostic congregation. I believe these teachers with which Cahn is affiliating and promoting his book are those which should be called out by name, exposed and avoided. Paul warned of those who would come in the last days with ”a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5). The Apostle John said, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 10,11). Paul said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). These verses considered, the associations to false teachers are too close for comfort for me.
David James, executive director of The Alliance of Biblical Integrity, wrote a book entitled The Harbinger Fact or Fiction? which sets out to refute the claims made in The Harbinger. Apparently David James received letters threatening legal action related to the publication of his book. James wrote,
These letters were from a lawyer with a firm which “serves as litigation counsel for Charisma Media, publisher of The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and published by Charisma Media.”
Therefore, we are asking that concerned believers everywhere make this a matter of prayer—that the Lord would graciously give us wisdom and that He would protect us in the midst of this challenge. We also believe it is important to bring this matter to the attention of the Body of Christ and would encourage you to share this article with others given the millions of people who have now been influenced by The Harbinger and its author. (source)
The following is an excerpt from the lead article by T.A. McMahon in the February edition of The Berean Call monthly newsletter.
Although for decades we at TBC have been exhorting and encouraging believers to be Bereans (i.e., to check out everything they are being taught by searching the Scriptures-Acts 17:10-11), we too have experienced the increased intensity of the spiritual battle and witnessed its exponential growth. The latest issue, which we submit to you for prayer support, is a threatened lawsuit over the book we published by David James (The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?). The complaint is that the author used too many quotes from the New York Times best-selling book, The Harbinger, without permission from author “rabbi” Jonathan Cahn and publisher Charisma Media Publications (CMP). The complaint further states that our use of the quotes has inhibited the sales of The Harbinger and has thus financially damaged Cahn and CMP in an amount yet to be determined. In effect, we are being told that we must limit our documentation in warning the body of Christ of the biblical errors in The Harbinger. In other words, we cannot be Bereans or like the watchman of Ezekiel 3:17-19 without Cahn’s permission.
This is the first time in my 35 years of working with Dave Hunt and our addressing nearly every major religion, religious cult, aberrational Christian sect, unbiblical trend, religious publication, book, media production, etc., that any organization or individual has even hinted at suing us. Now, however, we are being threatened with legal action by those claiming to be in the church. More critical than the unbiblical action of a brother threatening to take another brother to court (1 Corinthians 6) is the issue of preventing the biblical evaluation of a work that is influencing hundreds of thousands of professing and confessing Christians, as well as those who don’t profess to know Christ. We have hired a copyright attorney to address the legal issues and have responded to the attorney for Cahn and CMP. Even so, we covet your prayers that the Lord will be glorified throughout the process. (source)
I asked Jonathan Cahn, “What is your recent involvement, if any, in Charisma media’s threatened lawsuit against David James’ book The Harbinger Fact or Fiction?” to which he responded:
Very little. I don’t know exactly what has been said for most of the interaction and have had no direct contact with Charisma’s lawyer. As far as I know, as publishers they seek to protect the books to which they are entrusted and to uphold the law with regard to the property they are entrusted with. As far as I was told, The Berean Call /D James broke the copyright law – including over ten percent of The Harbinger in the book and that this constitutes legal infringement. Charisma wrote to TBC to let them know of the violation – to correct it – and as far as I know TBC/DJ have so far refused to correct it. Then TBC went public with the depiction that Charisma and, in particular, me, who was pretty much a bystander, were simply trying to stifle their freedom of speech and “discernment” instead of what it really was, the issue of copyright infringement.
Of course my concern over this threatened legal action was an infringement not of copyright law but of God’s holy law in the New Testament given by the Apostle Paul concerning Christians going to law against other Christians. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:1-10:
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
So I asked Cahn, “Do you believe that a lawsuit brought by anyone named a brother against another believer is contrary to God’s command for his people in 1 Corinthians 6?” Cahn replied:
Overall I would be the first to counsel believers to work it out – and I believe that this is always the best way. As to 1 Corinthians there has been a long stream of differing interpretations as to the practical applications. Example, the circumstance of a new faith and appearance under pagan magistrates – the condition of whether the situation involves a law being broken and the upholding of the law – or if harm, theft, etc has been committed etc – And if there exists recourse within the church to resolve the wrongdoing or conflict. That being said, I believe it’s best always to work it out. I believe Charisma sent a few letters to TBC – but there was no cooperation or offer to resolve or fix the situation. So Charisma has not had much recourse to resolve this.
These issues noted above scratch the surface of controversies surrounding Cahn and his book The Harbinger from which I hope to prayerfully watch unfold and keep safe distance. I also hope to offer Cahn the chance to answer some of the accusations and challenges against his recent book in a later post. In spite of these concerns, when asked, “What is the Harbinger actually saying?” Cahn answered:
Very simple. God judges nations. God warns of judgment. God is able to warn a nation of judgment in a way that is consistent with that which is found in the Bible. And that now the same biblical pattern, progression, and signs of national judgment that appeared in the last days of ancient Israel, are now manifesting to America. And that these signs are appearing in uncanny, eerily precise manifestations.
The Harbinger is not only the revealing of these biblical mysteries or connections, but is a call to repentance, salvation, and revival. (source)
Many of the viewers felt that our film suggested that America had a covenant with God because of the parallels made between Israel and America. We did say that America was “dedicated to God,” but it was never said that America was in a covenant with God. Because of viewers perceptions, this deserves clarification. Cahn’s book The Harbinger adds to this confusion by saying that the Founding Fathers saw America as a “new Israel,” and “in covenant with God” (p.19). God has a covenant relationship with His church which was established through Jesus Christ with Israel (Luke 22:20; Romans 11:1-25; Hebrews 8:8). The nation of Israel was a theocracy and Gentiles have been grafted into the New Covenant through repentance and faith in Christ. God’s covenant relationship is with His church and NOT the United States of America.
Another concern I had shortly after the production of Sycamore was the half-truths of America being dedicated to God. For instance, in George Washington’s April 30, 1789 Inaugural Speech, he warned, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
Yet we failed to present both sides of this issue. Whether or not the Founding Fathers really sought to honor and serve God is irrelevant to the fact that the nation was dedicated to Him at least in word. Nevertheless, it should have been pointed out that according to a biblical worldview, the American colonists and Founding Fathers really didn’t trust in God in many ways. For example, the Scriptures tell us,
For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. (Romans 13:1,2,7)
Yet, American colonists refused to pay their taxes and rebelled against their previous government. Many of the Founding Fathers also held to Deism and Freemasonry, the beliefs of which are incompatible with Christianity. Concerning George Washington, Paul F. Boller stated: “There is no mention of Jesus Christ anywhere in his extensive correspondence” (p. 166). Historian Barry Schwartz writes:
George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian… He repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary… Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative (pp. 174-175).
While I’d balance this truth if I had a second chance on Sycamore, the unspiritual lives of the Founding Fathers does not mean that God cannot use them. King Solomon ended up building altars to false gods and his heart was turned away by strange women but God still used him. God even spoke through Caiaphas (John 11:49-52). God can and does use the ungodly to carry out His purposes.
When we consider the idea of God using calamities as judgments, this prompts many questions which Sycamore did not adequately address. Consider Luke 13:1-5:
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Is every calamity a judgment from God? I don’t think so. While this verse is often cited to promote the view that God is behind every calamity, it actually seems to say the opposite. Those who perished were not more exceedingly sinful than other Galilaeans. We live in a fallen world where unfortunate events happen to both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. But an a priori conclusion that God cannot operate through such calamities would seem to contradict Scripture (Isaiah 10:6,7; Amos 3:6). Some of these calamities and natural disasters appear to be judgments from God and some cases are more compelling than others based on the evidence. Ultimately, it doesn’t stand up to absolute scrutiny. Why would 9/11 be linked to the judgment of God? Because of the uncanny and eerie events surrounding 9/11 which seem to be more than coincidence such as the political leaders’ out of context quotations of Isaiah 9:10, an obscure verse in the Bible, being linked to 9/11 along with the contents of the verse which parallel various significant public events as detailed in our film. If we have strong evidence to believe God has a message for His church in America through 9/11 which is consistent with the Bible, we should warn people with that message and, more importantly, preach the Gospel.
David Wilkerson, the messenger and watchman of Times Square Church in New York City, did not claim to be a prophet, but his unfulfilled prophetic predictions can discredit his ministry and cause confusion. For instance, pastor Wilkerson said in “The Solomon Church” dated December 19, 1994:
Right now I sense in my spirit that in less than five years, there will be no more so-called gospel television networks. They will all fall into bankruptcy and absolute ruin! (source)
We know that even today, as much as many of us would’ve hoped this to be a sure word of God, it did not come to pass. Note, he did say “in my spirit,” and not “Thus says the Lord,” or something similar. In a World Challenge cover letter dated May 1, 2000, Wilkerson stated:
For the last two years I have been crying aloud, warning all who would hear that America is receiving her last call and that judgment is at the door. I did not say this was the end of the nation, but the last call before a financial crash.
I am writing this letter to you on Saturday, April 15, 2000. I have on my desk the headlines in yesterday’s paper: “BLACK FRIDAY – BIGGEST ONE-DAY DROP IN HISTORY.” The Dow fell 618 points – the Nasdaq fell 355. I do not know what is coming in the next sixty days. If the market bounces back, I can assure you it will be temporary. THE CRASH IS INEVITABLE – NOTHING CAN STOP IT. (source)
In the subsequent sixty days of Wilkerson’s letter, the market did not crash. In fact, on May 22, 2000, Wilkerson admitted in the World Challenge cover letter:
In prayer, I have told the Lord I am ready at any time to confess I am wrong – that I must have spoken from my own fears or that I have spoken unadvisedly. Recently, when the market reached record highs, I wondered if those calling me a false prophet were right. (source)
In the end of our film, we included audio from “The Towers Have Fallen But We Missed the Message,” from World Challenge on October 8, 2001, in which Wilkerson said:
I was given a prophetic message nine years ago, and I delivered it at Times Square Church on September 7, 1992. Let me share it with you now:
“This warning is not meant to scare you. It’s meant only for you to take to the Lord and pray. This is what I believe God has shown me”:
“Thirty days of chastisement will fall on New York City such as the world has never seen. God is going to let down the walls. There will be unimaginable violence and looting. The violence will be so ferocious, it will shock the whole world. Our streets will be lined not just with the National Guard but with militia”.
“A thousand fires will burn at the same time throughout the city. The Los Angeles fires were confined to a few sections of that city, but New York will be ablaze in all its boroughs. Times Square will be ablaze, and the flames will ascend into heaven and be seen for miles. Fire trucks will not be able to handle it all”.
“Trains and buses will be shut down. Billions of dollars will be lost. Broadway shows will stop completely. Businesses will flee the city in an unstoppable hemorrhage. Such things are expected in Third World countries, but not in a civilized nation like the United States. Yet, in not too long a time afterward, New York City will go completely bankrupt. The Queen City will be cast into the dirt, becoming a city of poverty”.
“You may ask, when will all this happen? All I can say is, I believe I will be here when it happens. Yet, when it does, God’s people are not to panic or fear.” (source)
Wilkerson went to be with the Lord in April of 2011 and he was not here to see the fulfillment of his vision, though he said, “I believe I will be here when it happens.” Again, Wilkerson didn’t claim to be a prophet. He also clarified that this was his belief about when it would be fulfilled and not “Thus says the Lord,” but it is nonetheless confusing and discrediting when included in such a sobering message. This is not to say that Wilkerson’s vision was not of the Lord; it very well could be. But Wilkerson’s unfulfilled predictions taint the overall integrity of Sycamore with its inclusion in the film.
Our film Sycamore has been “cut down” from our website and YouTube. While I cannot with a clear conscience offer this film to anybody without first presenting these disclaimers and concerns, I still stand behind the overall message of Sycamore which is a warning of God’s judgment and severity, a call to repentance and revival, and a herald of God’s goodness and mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, in whom we have the forgiveness of sins through His blood.
I recommend that you read Cahn’s book The Harbinger as well as the refutations in David James’ book and other articles available online through various discernment ministries in order to make an educated decision for yourself.
Does the Church need Sycamore or The Harbinger in order to see the need to respond to the universal call of the Gospel? NO. But I do believe God can speak specifically in uncanny ways to link current events to His word, and to what Christians already know through His word. In closing, I’d like to leave you with a single salvaged clip from Sycamore: The 9/11 Tragedy of Daschle on September 12, 2001 and Edwards on September 11, 2004 quoting Isaiah 9:10:
The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars (Isaiah 9:8-10).