There’s no doubt, as God’s Word clearly says, that many are headed for destruction but it also says much about about the kindness and mercy of God as He continues to raise up warning voices from among His faithful shepherds. Sounding an alarm about Bethel Church, faithful men are bringing Bethel’s false teaching under the ‘microscope’ of God’s Word. Despite clear biblical teaching, other very well-known false ‘shepherds’ continue to endorse Bill Johnson and his movement, men like Brian Houston and Phil Pringle, recently sharing a platform with this false teacher at Hillsong’s 2019 Conference, as he preached his kenotic Jesus.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
“Bethel’s theology is very appealing to the masses as it twists the Word of God and shifts the attention that should be on God, to self.”
Teachers to Suit Their Own Passions
The time has arrived. A time when sound biblical doctrine has taken a back seat to a more attractive and appealing, self-focused “gospel” message. This should be of no surprise to believers, as the Scriptures often warn of false prophets who preach a different gospel. After all, false teachers and teachings have existed for centuries. 2 Timothy 4:3 reads, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
There are countless false prophets and false churches thriving today, however, we will be focusing our attention on the enormously popular Bethel Church.
Bethel Church is a juggernaut of a megachurch located in Redding, California, known for its catchy chart-topping worship songs (such as “Reckless Love” and “Raise a Hallelujah”) that are played in many churches and on many Christian radio stations worldwide. Bethel, led by its charismatic, fifth-generation pastor, Bill Johnson, is also known for its wildly unorthodox behaviors and practices, such as emphasizing “power encounters” (prophecies, healings, and ‘feeling God’s presence’), appearances of “glory clouds”(supposed angel feathers or gold dust floating in the air from the air ducts), practicing “laughing in the spirit” (drunken like laughter attributed to the Holy Spirit), and being “moved by the spirit,” (erratic motions, jumping around in circles and falling to the ground) a display that resembles a scene out of a horror film.
Many well-known pastors and theologians have come out against Bethel Church’s teachings and practices, one of whom is Pastor Gabriel Hughes of First Southern Baptist Church in Kansas, in which he stated in a 2017 blog post, “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.”
Bethel’s theology is very appealing to the masses as it twists the Word of God and shifts the attention that should be on God, to self. This is explicitly seen in Bill Johnson’s haphazard treatment of Scripture. In his book, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, Johnson says,
“For many years I misunderstood the biblical concept of desire. Psalm 37:4 tells us: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.’ Like many pastors, I foolishly taught that if you delighted yourself in the Lord, He would change your desires by telling you what to desire. But that’s not at all what this means. That verse literally means that God wants to be impacted by what you think and dream. God is after your desires. The word desire is made up of the prefix ‘de’ meaning ‘of,’ and sire meaning ‘father.’ Desire is, by nature, of the Father.”
Steven Kozar, a writer for the blog site, Pirate Christian, explains how this interpretation is false, explaining, “The Hebrew word translated into English as desire is ‘mishalah.’ It simply means ‘request’ or ‘petition,’ but Bill Johnson is telling people that ‘God is after their desires’ because de- and -sire means ‘of the father,’ according to him. This is a complete fabrication and a deliberate twisting of God’s Word.”
Johnson continues using this unorthodox and unsophisticated Dr. Seuss-like style throughout his book, saying,
“Renewing the mind begins with repentance…‘Re’ means to go back. ‘Pent’ is like the penthouse, the top floor of a building. Repent, then means to go back to God’s perspective on reality.”
Again, Kozar corrects this severe interpretive error by stating that, “The word ‘repent’ has nothing to do with penthouses, obviously! The original Greek word translated is ‘metanoia’ and it means ‘I repent, change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), repent,’ according to Strong’s Concordance.”
Simply put, this abuse of the Word of God is either the result of austere ignorance or a sinister intent to manipulate the Scriptures for personal gain. Either way, followers of Christ must understand that the leader of Bethel Church is not a true representative or ambassador for Christ, for he preaches a different gospel.
A Different Gospel
Many may perceive this viewpoint as judgmental and believe that critics of Bethel Church should “mind their own business.” However, as substantiated by the Bible, the gospel is no small matter to be overlooked. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “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” (Galatians 1:8). Strong words indeed to warn that there is only one true gospel.
One of the gospel messages that Bethel Church preaches is one of prosperity, where followers can declare specific material blessings into their life simply by praying it and believing it. In the video clip below, Johnson leads the congregation in an offering prayer that sounds nothing like what the Old or New Testament writers ever wrote.
An excerpt from the reading is as follows,
“We are believing the Lord for: Jobs and better jobs, raises and bonuses, benefits, sales and commissions, favorable settlements, estates and inheritances, interests and income, rebates and returns, checks in the mail, gifts, and surprises, finding money, debts paid off, expenses decrease, blessing and increase.”
Jesus promised spiritual blessing (not material) to those that would follow Him. He also warned us to build our treasure in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20). In fact, followers of Christ are promised a life of persecution, not comfort (for a more in-depth look at Christian persecution, see my article, The Reality of Christian Persecution in the 21st Century).
Another theological flaw in Bethel’s gospel teaching is their view on healings. In a 2010 sermon, Johnson essentially claimed that his view of healing takes preeminence over Scripture when he stated, “I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness.” The problem with this view is that one of the members of the Johnson family is currently battling cancer (despite the heresy of Bethel Church, we as believers need to be compassionate in this matter and keep her in our prayers).
Johnson takes this heretical theology even further with his article, Is it Always God’s Will to Heal Someone?, saying that regarding prayer,
“Pray for people, NOT – ‘if it be thy will’ kind of prayer. In the thousands of people I’ve seen healed, I’ve never seen anyone healed from that kind of prayer.”
Praying for the Father’s will to be done is how Jesus prayed (Luke 22:42) and a model prayer for His believers. James warns against the dangers of speaking for God’s will, yet having no control over such matters, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:16).” But for Johnson, “that kind of prayer,” and trusting in God’s will, is ineffective and should be avoided. This teaching is evil and rotten to the core.
Moreover, Bethel Church and Bill Johnson have also been accused of preaching a false understanding of God’s sovereignty. In a tweet by Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church, Johnson claimed that “God is in charge, but he is not in control. He has left us in control.”
He also says that God’s hands are tied but it is our prayer that frees Him.
Johnson cites Adolf Hitler as an example of how God is not in control since He would never raise a person that we are called to pray against. However, this claim goes against the core doctrines found in Scripture. We have a sovereign God (Job 42:2, Psalms 135:6, Proverbs 16:4, Ephesians 1:11-12, Romans 8:29-30, etc.) who is fully in control (even in raising up Pharaoh and hardening his heart to fulfill His purposes; releasing the Israelites from Egypt and glorifying His Name) and we must seek Him for His guidance and His will, not the other way around.
Never in Scripture has mankind been given the control Johnson is claiming. This wicked desire to seek control of what God alone governs parallels Satan’s failed attempt to usurp God’s throne, as well as Adam and Eve’s failed attempt to “be like God.” Johnson goes so far as to speak falsely for God, saying,
“How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing…He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal.”
However, healing for everyone was never a promise found in Scripture. Although miracles can and do still happen today, we must surrender to God’s will and accept the times he does not provide healing, knowing and trusting God’s perfect plan is superior and more loving than our ambitious thinking (Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 8:28).
Lastly, in addition to the health, wealth, and sovereignty-of-man gospel that Johnson teaches, he zealously praises and advocates the use of The Passion Translation. Why should The Passion Translation be concerning to Christians? Biblical scholar and Hebrew translator, Andrew G. Shead, concludes that Brian Simmons, the sole translator of The Passion Translation, “seems as uninterested in linguistic accuracy as he is in textual accuracy. He searches the dictionary, and sometimes apparently his imagination, for ways to insert new ideas that happen to align with his goals, regardless of their truthfulness.” This is why any reliable Bible translation is conducted by a large committee of biblical scholars and translators (specializing in various areas), from multiple denominations, to protect against any unintentional or intentional bias. Simmons, left unchecked, has created a counterfeit “Bible” that is reminiscent of the heretical New World Translation “Bible” used by the Jehovah’s Witness cult.
For example, in 2 Timothy 4:2, from the ESV translation (a word for word translation), Paul states “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” However, The Passion Translation reads, “proclaim the Word of God and stand upon it no matter what! Rise to the occasion and preach when it is convenient and when it is not. Preach in the full expression of the Holy Spirit—with wisdom and patience as you instruct and teach the people.” The differences that we should note is the addition of the Holy Spirit and the removal of any rebuking or correcting in the passage (which is important for true gospel ministry). Clearly, Simmons adds his own bias in his translation, adding and removing whatever better fits with his theology and worldview. To see more comparisons, visit Bible Gateway, where you can view parallel translations of The Passion Translation with the ESV (or any other reliable translation) side by side.
In addition to bad theology and unbiblical practices, Bethel Church promotes another Jesus; a complete counterfeit to whom the biblical Jesus truly is. Again, the Word of God warns of this in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
Bethel Church presents some of the most shocking teachings on Jesus. For example, Seth Dahl, a youth pastor at Bethel Church, claims he had a vision in which Jesus asked him for forgiveness. He explains that a pastor he respected said something that hurt him and caused him great sorrow. Then, as he was lying on the floor reflecting on this, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and took the blame, weeping and asking Dahl to forgive Him for the pain he felt. To claim that our sinless Savior, the God of the universe, would ask any human for forgiveness is to talk of another Jesus altogether. This dangerous teaching is an affront to the divinity of Christ, making this form of “Christianity” so man focused that God surrenders to man. Simply put, it is heresy and blasphemy to the highest degree.
Dahl’s message aligns with Johnson’s unbiblical teaching on Jesus.
In his book, When Heaven Invades Earth, Johnson explains,
“He [Jesus] performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God, not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if he did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle.”
However, Scripture shows us that in the incarnation, Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Throughout the New Testament, this is proclaimed heavily. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John alone, it is revealed that “the Word [Jesus] was God” (John 1:1) and “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14).
We also see in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”
Commenting on this, Stephen Tan of the Gospel Coalition explains in his article, At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement,
“Johnson’s pursuit of signs and wonders has led to a deadly elevation of experience over Scripture. He argues that God wants to take us farther and we can only get there by following signs…When Johnson sees the miracles of Jesus in the gospels, he doesn’t see a unique manifestation of divine power; he sees an example for every Christian to aspire to.”
Johnson believes that if the gospel is proclaimed but it is not accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders, it is “a different gospel” because, as Johnson said in a 2015 sermon, “without power, there is no good news.” Not only does Johnson create for himself a gospel of his liking, but he also claims that the one true gospel message is false. Johnson is misleading his followers with the false claim that unless one experiences a miracle, then the message presented is not true. This puts Johnson in opposition with generations of faithful, Bible-based churches and preachers. Plainly stated, this is a direct assault on the Body of Christ and this cannot be taken lightly.
Johnson also positions himself against Jesus, who said in Matthew 12:38-39, when answering the Pharisees who wanted to see a miraculous sign, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet.” Instead of signs and wonders, we should look to the completed work of Christ as He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead, conquering both death and the grave!
I implore believers to pray for anyone under the spell and allure of Bethel Church. Though their songs may be addictive and their message appealing, they are simply not of God; it is not the Word of God, it is not the gospel message, and it is not the biblical Jesus. We are, in contrast to Bethel’s teachings, to surrender to God completely, follow His desires, ask Him for forgiveness, and be satisfied with Him and His gospel alone. We need to turn back to genuine, sound biblical doctrine. In the words of the great English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, “If we are to see the church of God really restored to her pristine glory, we must have back this plain, simple, gospel-preaching.”
Source: Samuel Faraq, ‘Crit-Large’ blog, https://www.critlarge.com/articles/2019/7/19/bethels-false-gospel?fbclid=IwAR31scAFJZdFqv–o6UgDtN6oF0GexWvoSX1zo2zf_r_8MJBFh1c5eu6p1g, Published July 27, 2019. (Accessed July 4, 2019.)
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