This past week on the show we had Mike Clark from the Bethel Church and Christianity page (link here) and it was on a very important topic. The topic was on the Dangers of Bethel, and it is a very important and pressing issue for our generation. If you haven’t listened to that episode you can do so here.
Before going into the specifics of this follow up, here are some resources. First, is a book by Costi Hinn and J.R. Miller on the topic of “mystical-miracle enthusiasts”. In this book the authors talk on spiritual abuse by leaders who claim powers of the Holy Spirit. The book is extremely helpful for those who are wanting to look further into this subject. You can get it here.
Another resource is a film, which makes it appealing to many, and it goes heavy on the word of faith movement, prosperity gospel, and touches on the effects of such movements. You can get that movie here.
Without further ado, I hope this follow up gets you into deeper research on the topic of Bethel church and the dangers within it. This follow up will focus on Bill Johnson a bit, since he is the “ring-leader” of Bethel, but ultimately this follow up will point you to a number of resources.
Bill Johnson is the pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California and it is impossible to understand Bill Johnson without first looking at his book, “When Heaven Invades Earth”. For a fantastic review and examination of this book and its teachings, I recommend David Schrock’s treatment here. Another solid treatment can be found in the review, “An Invasion of Error“.
It firstly must be noted that Johnson rejects the sufficiency of scripture and argues against it and sound doctrine in his book (p. 85, 91, 103). In this, we can better understand where all of these issues ultimately arise as most errors and heresies derive from a person or group rejecting the sufficiency of scripture.
As it has been noted in the episode, and in this review, Johnson’s clearest error is the kenosis heresy in which Johnson claims, “He [Jesus] laid His divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father” (p. 87-88). In Johnsons’s work, Face to Face with God on page 108 we read a similar notion, “Jesus set aside His divinity, choosing instead to live as a man completely dependent on God.” This removal of Jesus’ deity is a very serious error and needs to be considered. Johnson has said, “Jesus had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever!…He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God.”
To say that Jesus has no supernatural abilities, when Jesus’ signs show himself to be God, it quite peculiar. Johnson continuously reads his theology of miracles and signs into the text. The issue is that the signs and wonders were to show people that Jesus WAS divine and that the power of the cross was in both Jesus’ humanity and divinity. In history, the kenosis teaching has said Jesus left some of his attributes behind so he wasn’t fully God, Johnson takes heresy further and states that Jesus was only a man. His justification is always, only, in his teachings that we are to do greater signs and miracles than Jesus which is a misunderstanding and butchering of John 14:12. Johnson says, more fully, “It’s vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God. If He did them as God, I would still be impressed. But because He did them as a man yielded to God, I am now unsatisfied with my life, being compelled to follow the example He has given us. Jesus is the only model for us to follow.” This is obviously problematic in that the eternal Son of God is immutable, and to say that he was only a human on earth is to say that his immutability is gone. You can check out this post, which touches on this issue as well. What is fascinating is that John 1 is completely ignored when we learn that the Word, whom is eternal (v. 1-3), takes on flesh (v. 14), which is consistent with the whole of scripture, but not with Johnson’s statements. More interesting is that Johnson contradicts himself in his book by stating early on that he believes Jesus is fully God and fully man, and so we see inconsistencies of great proportions.
Within his dangerous Christological errors, Johnson is forced into having errors in regards to the Doctrine of God. The reason is simple, Johnson’s Christology makes Jesus’ deity contingent. This is very similar to the heresy of the Arians, that is, the claim that there was a time when Christ was not. The issue is that Jesus is the Eternal Son of God as the article “An invasion of Error” states, “The prologue of John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) claims that Jesus existed from all eternity as God and with God. The prologue contains an allusion to Exodus 34:5-7 where Yahweh revealed Himself to Moses as the One who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14 and see John 1:16). Jesus is thus equated with Yahweh the Creator.” We must recognize that Jesus is eternal, and does not cease to exist, and he is immutable, as God is. In all this there verses after verses that are impossible to reconcile if we take seriously Johnson’s beliefs.
Heresy that Jesus was Born Again, and a changing of the Gospel
In various sermons you can hear Johnson relay a heresy that Jesus was “Born again”, when the very reason for regeneration is to bring dead sinners to life. Why would Jesus need to be born again if he was sinless? Here is a short treatment of that. In truth, this is a very dangerous claim and while Johnson says that Jesus was born again through his resurrection, there is an obvious misunderstanding of what “born again” actually means. If we take seriously the fact that men need to be born again, because they are dead in sin, spiritually dead, than why would Jesus need to be born again as the sinless savior of the world?
In that same sermon, Bill Johnson makes the claim, “Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, which has been interpreted by many a diseased allowed or brought on by God, that’s a different gospel” (listen here). In that same video Johnson says you cannot change the standard, referring to the gospel, and he is exactly right, but the problem is that he equates healings with the gospel. This of course doesn’t focus on his misunderstanding of the thorn in Paul’s flesh, which Johnson must ignore and twist for his theology. In Galatians 1:8, Paul states, “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.” What is that gospel Paul is referring to? Is it the teaching that believers or Paul couldn’t have been sick? That they must be healed? Gabriel Hughes points out in this article,
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 elude 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. Look at the man. If the gospel means miraculous physical healing, why is he wearing glasses?
For a thorough treatment on Johnson and other statements relaying Johnson’s teachings, I recommend you read the entire article put out by Pastor Gabe Hughes here. In fact, Hughes links to many other resources that can take you deeper on this subject.
The Seven Mountain Mandate
Another issue that was raised in the episode on the Dangers of Bethel was the “Seven Mountain Mandate”. The belief of this movement is that in order for Jesus to come back to earth, the church must first take over the seven major spheres of influence in society. It is only when those spheres have been taken over that Jesus will return to rule the world. As Mike noted in the episode, the seven “mountains” consist of: (1) Education, (2) Religion, (3) Family, (4) Business, (5) Government/military, (6) Arts/Entertainment, and (7) Media. Taking into account the heresies already coming from Bethel, and their hyper-signs prosperity gospel, we can see where “Arts/Entertainment” become an issue in terms of Bethel’s music. In some sense, we are allowing them to infiltrate according to their mandate, which is in accordance with their false teachings. I digress, though.
Bethel uses a variety of terms to avoid calling this the seven mountain mandate such as pillars, shapers, molders, spheres, etc. They wish to invade the culture and transform society, and this is problematic when they teach a false gospel and thus a counterfeit Christianity. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) teaches that the church of our day will be ruled by apostles and prophets, and thus those who are leaders within this movement are alleged “prophets” and “apostles”. Of course, this allows for the disregard of scripture’s sufficiency, and what we see is an experience oriented mysticism. The NAR is a mixture of New Age, Prosperity, and ancient Heresy. GotQuestions has an article that relays this same information, but with more detail here. The article will also point you to two important topics Dominionism and Kingdom Now Theology. Both of those topics are important for understanding and learning more about what is coming out of Bethel.
The most important things to remember, in my opinion, were relayed by Mike Clark in Episode 80. Firstly, these groups are not monolithic. They are sometimes hard to pin down, and this is easy to understand when these groups reject the sufficiency of scripture and see individuals as prophets and apostles. Another thing to remember is that this is not a cessationism vs. continuationism issue. Bethel has made this a Gospel issue, and a Christological issue. Additionally, is the reality that Bethel has continuously been tied up with individuals such as Todd White (whose mentor was the prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland) and Benny Hinn (famous word-of-faith teacher). If there is any doubt that Bethel is dangerous, the association with prosperity teachers should be a red flag.
Bethel is your children and grandchildren’s Joel Osteen, and we must realize that not only does Bethel teach dangerous heresies, and practices, but they desire, plan, and do infiltrate churches, especially through their music. At the end of the day, we need to understand that if we do not address this now, this heresy will become the orthodoxy, and this heresy is a threat to the very gospel. This is very important and pressing issue for our generation. If you haven’t listened to that episode you can do so here.
I again want to point you to American Gospel, which you can get that movie here.
Further research and reading:
Why I Started Looking into Bethel article here.
For one treatment on Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry look here
Aside from some of the work of TGC, the Australia Edition put out a great piece on the theology and practices of Bethel here
For a thorough video that covers this and other issues click here.
Another great resource is found here just search Bethel and Bill Johnson.
Do you have any books or resources on this subject you could recommend? Leave them in the comments section.
God bless you all,
Nick resides in Texas with his wife, daughter, and son. After meeting Christ in 2012, Nick began a blog in order to teach things that he found interesting. Eventually this blog would become a podcast in 2017 wherein the vision was to teach the scriptures and theology to anyone who was interested!