Last week, a reporter at BuzzFeed posted an in-depth article after going undercover during prophecy week at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. The school is one of the darling ministries of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, which also includes the music of Jesus Culture and their healing ministry Bethel Sozo. Any look into Bethel is bound to uncover some strange things, and the author certainly did. But despite an excellent exposé, she overlooked something crucial.
Molly Hensley-Clancy's revelation of the charismatic school -- nicknamed Christian Hogwarts by its own students -- presented more than the usual anecdotes of the weird. She also brought to light what Bethel is doing in their own city. They've given money to civic government, invested in the town's infrastructure, and even paid handsomely to save the jobs of four police officers. Bethel Church members have run for public office and started a secular public school (they get by with this saying the message of the "kingdom" is love, not religion).
All the kooky trickery that Bethel is known for was there, too: glory clouds, fire tunnels, grave sucking, dancing, chanting, healing, creepy laughter, and speaking in tongues. Oh, and false prophecy. Lots and lots of false prophecy. As one former student named Chris pointed out, what they call prophecy is no different than when a psychic does a cold reading. Only one out of every hundred prophecies are "true." We hear all about those, which they catalog along with their "miracles" like a baptist church does its baptisms. We never hear about the failures.
Hensley-Clancy also pulled back the veil on the dark side of Bethel's reckless charismaticism, from being a disruption in the community to the point that it has cost people their lives. Perhaps you've heard the story about a man who fell down a cliff and some students of Bethel attempted to heal him before they finally got help. There's another about a young man who died after an asthma attack. Neighborhood Bethelites wasted precious time trying to heal him instead of calling 911.
The coverage was thorough, sure to mention that Bethel is part of the New Apostolic Reformation, (though Hensley-Clancy called it New Apostolic Christianity) before shifting to the new name they wish to go by: the Independent Network Charismatic, or INC. Chris Rosebrough reported earlier that the NAR was attempting to shed the term coined by the late C. Peter Wagner and adopt this new moniker. That's a change we might have to get used to.
|Bethel Church INC makes a lot of sense, when you think about it...|
Hensley-Clancy also noted the seven mountains mandate believed on by every NAR church... sorry, INC. She says it is the "belief that Christ will only return to Earth when true believers bring God into seven spheres: religion, family, education, government, media, arts, and business." Mike Bickle at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOP), just down the road from where I live, has taught the same thing. It's one of the reasons I've paid so much attention to Bethel in recent years. Even though I'm in Kansas, this does affect my area.
It's an excellent piece of journalism, something I'd expect to see in a more high-profile publication. As I said, Hensley-Clancy's writing is great, but the story lacks an important consideration, which even reputable media outlets miss when covering these kinds of things, from religious movements to radical religious extremism. That crucial examination is this: theology. Why is Bethel different than most Bible-believing churches? Are there any spiritual concerns we should be aware of? Is it really all that bad if they are lying about their miracles and glory clouds if they do so much good for a community? The article only barely touches on such questions, much less gives answers.
The reporting is straight-forward and the writing balanced enough that you could fall to either side of the opinions about Bethel: you might think they're a nuisance, or you might see them as harmless, even helpful. Sure, there are those students who were so charismatic that their detachment from reality resulted in someone's death (IHOP has those stories, too, and attempts to cover them up). But at the same time, Bethel is doing a noticeable amount of good for an otherwise drug and crime-riddled city.
Students are coming to BSSM from all over the world, and they're staying and contributing to the local economy. Hensley-Clancy's reporting is so fair that she included a comment from a community member who wasn't thrilled with the international presence Bethel brings to Redding. The resident's comment came across as bigoted. Who wouldn't want to see the kind of unity promoted by Bethel Church? Furthermore, their students are often educated, employed, entrepreneurial, and eager to do more.
This is where theology becomes really important. It really doesn't matter how much good Bethel does in their town. It doesn't matter that Bethel produces quality and inspiring music being sung all over the world, even in otherwise doctrinally sound churches. It doesn't even matter where you fall in the cessationism-vs-continuationism debate, whether you believe miracles are still common or not. What Bethel Church is doing is deeply and deceptively demonic. Bear with me as I explain.
Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church, preaches a different gospel. This is a very serious charge, and I'm very serious when I make it. Galatians 1:8-9 says, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
Citing this very same passage, Johnson teaches that the gospel is miraculous physical healing, and if anyone says that God doesn't miraculously heal, or that He would even bring harm rather than healing, they're teaching a different gospel. But the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't physical healing, it's spiritual healing. More than that, it's spiritual regeneration. The Bible says, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked," but God who is rich in mercy "made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:1-10).
As I pointed out in another recent article, the Bible does not say or even allude to the idea that the good news of Jesus Christ will miraculously heal you from any of your physical diseases. Bill Johnson would say I'm teaching a different gospel. But it is he who is preaching a message that can neither save the human soul, nor can it deliver what Johnson says it will. Johnson cannot heal you. Just look at the man. If the gospel means miraculous physical healing, why is he wearing glasses?
|He won't heal his wife either? What a monster!|
Johnson teaches about a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible. He and many other word-of-faith charismatic preachers believe that when the Bible says Jesus left His throne in heaven and "emptied Himself" (Philippians 2:7), He actually gave up being divine. The incarnate Christ was fully man but not at all God. When Jesus lived a life of sinless perfection, it wasn't as our substitute but as a model. Any one of us are capable of the same perfection. Jesus didn't do miracles because He was God. He did miracles to show us that we can do them, too, if we just believe that we can.
Here is Johnson in his own words (Justin Peters also mentioned a portion of this sermon in his DVD series Clouds Without Water):
"Jesus was so emptied of divine capacity, eternally God but He chose to live with the restrictions as a man. Why? To set a model, to set something to follow, an example. His lifestyle, if He did all of His miracles as God, I'm still impressed but I'm not compelled to follow. I just stand back and go, 'Wow, that's amazing. God, do some more. That's awesome, do some more, God!'
"But when I find out that He set aside divinity and chose to display what life would be like for anyone who had no sin, and was completely empowered by the Spirit of God, He models something that is made available because the blood of Jesus was shed to deal with the sin issue. There is no lack in the power or the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus. There is nothing He left outside of its reach. There's nothing if He had it to do over again He would include that He didn't already include. It's all covered.
"When He said, 'It is finished,' He meant it. He meant it is a complete job, and it is more than sufficient for absolute transformation. So what does He do? He models for us the normal Christian life."Boy, there are all kinds of problems with this, but let me try to narrow it down to three. First of all, did you catch that Johnson isn't interested in following Jesus if Jesus was still God? He would be amazed by Him, but he wouldn't be compelled to follow Him. That's craziness. Many unbelievers think Jesus was a good man who did some amazing things, but they refuse to honor Him as God (Romans 1:21). Johnson's Jesus is no better than an atheist's!
Secondly, there's no room for sanctification in his message. If the moment you come to Christ, you're instantly perfect, there's no growth in holiness because you're instantly holy. That is counter-biblical. If you are not being sanctified, you were never justified. Those whom Christ has justified, He also sanctifies (John 17:17, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 10:14).
Those who follow this teaching believe they are sinless. Todd White, an evangelistic partner with Bethel Church, recently said about himself that he was without sin. But the Bible says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). If we become sinless the moment we believe in Jesus, then why did He teach us to daily pray, "Forgive us our debts"? (Matthew 6:12) Why did He tell us we are evil? (Matthew 7:11)
Third, if Jesus was not God, then He is not good. Jesus Himself said, "There is no one good but God alone" (Mark 10:18). If Jesus wasn't good, then He was imperfect. If He was imperfect, then He could not have been the spotless sacrificial Lamb whose blood atoned for sins. If you follow the Jesus of Bill Johnson, you believe in a different Jesus, therefore you have received a different atonement. If you have a different atonement, you are still dead in your sins, and you are not saved.
When the Bible says that Jesus "emptied Himself," it does not mean that all of His divinity drained out of Him. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." So at no point did Jesus cease being God. Rather, He set His rightful claim as God aside and willingly submitted to the will of His Father, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). The miracles that Jesus did were not because He modeled a perfection that every human is capable of. It was to verify that He was from God.
When you hear the word "gospel" mentioned at Bethel Church, know that it is a different gospel they're talking about. This filters into all of their ministries. The "Jesus" in the name "Jesus Culture" is not the Jesus of the Bible. When you listen to their worship songs, you might hear all the right Christian words, but you are not praising God with them because they are writing and singing about a different Jesus.
Even if the signs and wonders witnessed at their school were real -- and they aren't -- they're encouraging students to follow another god. Deuteronomy 13:1-3 says, "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
The work of Bethel Church is for the devil's kingdom, not God's (Romans 16:18). Satan is absolutely delighted with the work Bethel is doing for the city of Redding. Good deeds if not accompanied by good doctrine are as good as polishing the brass on the Titanic as its sinking. Michael Horton on page 15 of his book Christless Christianity said the following:
"What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma'am,' and the churches would be full every Sunday... where Christ is not preached."In the case of Bethel Church, a different Christ is preached. Molly Hensley-Clancy is a good reporter, but she didn't go far enough. Only when you consider the theology do you understand just how dangerous Bethel really is. She admitted that she's not a born again Christian and mildly hinted at being raised Catholic. I have prayed for her salvation, and I hope over the course of her investigation that someone shared the gospel with her.
Hensley-Clancy mentioned in her article that Bethel takes its name from the place where Jacob the patriarch had his vision of a stairway to heaven. That place eventually became a great city in Israel. Do you know what happened to them? They chased away the true teachers of God and were destroyed for worshiping false gods.