Is Bethel Church A Cult?

Some time ago, someone left several comments on one of my Facebook posts, warning about Bill Johnson as a “false teacher.” I’ve never been to Bethel church, but I have friends who have. Bill Johnson’s teaching has had a strong positive impact on my life since 2005. I don’t see everything the same way as Bill Johnson does. I even strongly disagree with him on one point. But how many of us share exactly the same doctrine? 

A “false teacher” isn’t just somebody who has a different viewpoint than we do. A false teacher undermines the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, such as Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. False teachers teach that there is a way to God other than through Jesus.

The Facebook comments went on, repeating “do your research” and “don’t be deceived,” but still didn’t state what was wrong with Bill’s teaching. So I asked, “Why is Bill a false teacher?” It took a bit of digging to get past the long warnings of deception and find out why exactly why this guy believes Bill Johnson is a false teacher, but when I insisted that he be specific if he is going to call someone a “false teacher,” he finally posted this article by “Pastor Gabe”:

“Bethel Church Believes A Different Gospel.”

So I read the article. I also followed the links it included to other articles or videos. It reminded me of several things people had pointed me to earlier, including a book called “Christianity in Crisis” by Hank Hanegraaff.

I’ve seen several sincere Christians very disturbed and confused by such articles. Similarly, as a teenager, I was confused by what other Christians said about the “Toronto Blessing.” So I thought I’d write a response to some of the reasoning in the article “Bethel Church Believes A Different Gospel,” in the hope that my articles get picked up by search engines along with several others that are spreading such a negative report about Bethel. Honest criticism is sometimes necessary, but honest criticism attempts to accurately represent the teaching of the person or group it is directed to. These articles people are sending me about Bethel church do not.

Let’s start by responding to some of the more generic criticisms of Bethel church in Pastor Gabe’s article.

What Is False Prophecy?


The article starts by criticizing prophesy that isn’t 100% accurate and sharing a one-sided account of two “incidents” that happened with people associated with Bethel.

Pastor Gabe seems to believe that prophecy must be 100% accurate or else the person prophesying is a “false prophet.” Bethel doesn’t claim 100% accuracy with prophecy. They see it as a spiritual gift which we step out in and take risks with. We miss it sometimes, which is why we must test prophesy and listen to the Holy Spirit’s confirmation. It’s also why we take a humble attitude and often use phrases like “I feel like God’s is saying…”

I agree with this view. Yet even if your view is different, a fair article on Bethel church should give an honest representation of their attitude and approach to prophesy. Teaching a way of salvation other than through Jesus makes a person a false prophet. Not saying “I feel like God is showing me something” and missing it.

As for the statement “Only one out of every hundred prophesies are true”—where did Pastor Gabe get that number? Is this in any way an objective number? Or is it subjective, pulled out of thin air by someone who is starting with a bias against Bethel Church?

Miracles!


Quoting: “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.”

It’s sad to see the word “miracles” in quotation marks, as if to say “so-called miracles. Bethel church has specific criteria for how to document their testimonies in order to avoid exaggeration, even if unintentional. What reason do we have to believe that these hundreds of testimonies are false? Are the people sharing their experiences of healing at Bethel lying? Do their experiences have a purely natural explanation? Shouldn’t we expect miracles if Jesus is the same “Yesterday, today, and forever?”

Take some time to read some of the stories for yourself on Bethel’s healing room testimony page. I find it sad that someone could read all these stories of God’s mighty works and so easily dismiss them rather than catching a glimpse of Jesus through them.

The word “miracles” is in quotation marks, not because there is anything less than an abundance of credible testimonies of miracles happening at Bethel, but because Pastor Gabe’s worldview does not allow for such an abundance of miracles. Does he believe God no longer has the same compassion today as he did when Jesus walked the earth? Or does he believe the miracles Jesus did had little to do with God’s love but were only to “prove his divinity?”

The statement that “We never hear about the failures” is patently false. Anybody who has heard very much of Bill Johnson speaking knows that. Bill has often talked about losing his own father to cancer. Neither Bill nor Bethel have ever claimed everyone who goes there gets healed. They believe it is God’s will to heal everybody.

It’s funny that people would tell me to “research Bethel” and “research Bill Johnson,” yet they themselves have only listened to what people say about Bill Johnson and Bethel. If they want to do good research, shouldn’t they at least take as much time to listen to what Bill Johnson himself teaches instead of what people say he says? It’s not like it’s inaccessible. Many videos of his sermons are on Youtube. If they would listen to what Bill says, they would know how many people are lying about what Bill says. “We never hear about the failures” is just one of those lies.

After that, the article mentions two “incidents” that happened with Bethel students. Even if the accounts of these incidents were perfectly accurate, it is problematic to condemn a leader (like Bill Johnson) or a whole group (Bethel Church) because you were able to find someone associated with the movement who did something irresponsible.

Even so, Pastor Gabe’s is all too quick to latch on to the worst report he can find. He writes “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.”

I read the article Pastor Gabe got this story from. Quoting from it:

(Several months after this article was published, the woman who said she called 911, Andrea Martin, reached out to BuzzFeed News with a different version of events than the ones Zibull had described. Martin, a Bethel churchgoer, gave a detailed account of the incident when she found Orian gasping for breath in the street: once she realized he was having an asthma attack, she said she immediately returned to her house to get her cell phone and call 911, asking her neighbors, who were watching, to pray for him as she called. When she returned, she tipped Orian’s head back to clear his air passageway, as paramedics had instructed her. Only a “minute and a half” elapsed, at most, between her call and when she first found Orian, Martin claimed.

The neighbors who first prayed over Orian were Catholic, Martin said, and not members of Bethel. Martin said she did keep in close touch with Orian’s mother and returned to Orian’s hospital room with friends to pray for his “restoration,” and that other Bethel members may have also come to the hospital. But she said the art she gave Zibull’s daughter was from local children who had witnessed the incident, not a Bethel child.

“I want to make clear that there was no wasting of time in calling 911,” Martin told BuzzFeed News. “From the time I found [Orian] to the time he passed away, my actions were always for his well-being. In any way that my words and prayers misled and/or upset the family, I do apologize to them. They are wonderful people who I grew to care for and continue to care for. I am truly sorry for their loss, and hope nothing but comfort and love for them all.”)

So there are two sides to the story! Doesn’t fair “research” consider both sides of the story? In such a situation it would be very easy for an observer to miss the fact that the lady who first found the boy was already getting help? And thus the observer might assume that “Bethelites” were “wasting precious time trying to heal him rather than calling 911.” 

As for the other story about some Bethel students trying to heal a man who fell off a cliff before getting help…well, how about reading the original newspaper story about the incident:

“The biggest criticism has been the delay in reporting the incident to the authorities, but this criticism isn’t an issue with respect to this lawsuit,” Haslerud said. “The delay was the result of having just witnessed a very traumatic event coupled with fear and confusion and the possibility that Mr. Carlsen has just committed suicide. The delay was not occasioned by some religious belief Sarah had that they were going to ‘raise the dead.'”

Doesn’t scripture say that love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth? All I hear in Pastor Gabe’s mention of these stories is confirmation bias from a guy who already has a problem with Bethel church. He already wanted to believe the worst before he even found these stories.

Even if Bethel students had withheld medical care in order to pray for someone, Bill Johnson and the leaders of BSSM (Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry) encourage people to seek timely medical help, to appreciate medical professionals, and to have doctors verify supernatural healings. I know because I’ve actually done more research than the guy who told me to do my research. I’ve heard what Bethel teaches and not just what people say (or imply) they teach.

The New Apostolic Reformation


The next item on Pastor Gabe’s list of problems with Bethel is that it’s part of the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR.

So? What is the New Apostolic Reformation? What makes Bethel a part of it?

“Didn’t you know? The NAR is a heretical movement in the church. Doesn’t everyone know that? Bethel is a part of it.” 

The “NAR” is just a label that gets slapped onto a wide variety of people and groups, with a wide variety of different beliefs. It is regularly used to “prove” that certain Charismatic Christians are heretics without actually saying why, and without demonstrating that their teaching is contrary to the essentials of the gospel.

Once someone asked Bill Johnson if he was part of the NAR. He wasn’t even sure what it was!

A few critics of the NAR have pointed to some extreme teachings that really are out of line with orthodox Christianity. However, what makes the people who taught those things “NAR” other than the fact that you decided to slap that label on them? And most of the people or groups that are labeled “NAR” along with them (including C. Peter Wagner), also reject those teachings as unorthodox.

So you call Bill Johnson a false teacher and Bethel a cult because they are “NAR” and someone else whom you also call “NAR” taught something false? And by the way, “NAR” is your label, not theirs? That is guilt by association. It’s like calling someone a Nazi because they are German. At least being German is not as subjective as being labeled “NAR.”

It’s amazing how some people can go on and on with phrases like “Don’t be deceived,” “NAR,” “do your research,” and  “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” without actually stating what it is they disagree with. When the critic finally does find a reason that this person is a “heretic,” it becomes clear that the real problem is that the critic has a problem with the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus came in the flesh.


After these weak criticisms of Bethel church, none of which convince me that Bethel is a cult, Pastor Gabe gets down to the real issues by accusing Bill Johnson of preaching a different gospel. He says that the real issue is doctrine and that Bethel is not a doctrinally sound, Bible-believing church.

His allegations against Bill Johnson backfire, revealing that he is the one who does not fully accept the orthodox Christian doctrine of the incarnation.

We’ll talk about that next time in “Is Bill Johnson A False Teacher?”

 

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9 comments on “Is Bethel Church A Cult?
  1. Emilija says:

    So true, people comment so much, and create buzz around Bethel but they take something out of the context not even trying to understand what do they actually preach. Perfect example would be this – I saw one post against Heidi Baker using some words in her sermons, claiming that she is publicly praying in tongues. And you know what? She was actually saying word Daddy in one of African languages. I think fear is ruling people who preach against Bethel and others so much. I always wonder why do they have so much fruit if they are ‘false’?

  2. Erik Richey says:

    To answer your question:

    “But how many of us share exactly the same doctrine?”

    Paul says, “Retain the standard of sound teaching which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

    I’ve had the same questions regarding Bethel Church a couple-few months ago when their music video came out for their song called Peace. It created a lot of controversy among believers around the world, and the video has since been removed from YouTube by Bethel because of the controversy it created. I’ll admit that the video was interesting. Some Tubers took it upon themselves to try to decipher the video and try to persuade others that Bethel is promoting witchcraft and Satanism, etc. While the music video can lead to wild imaginations about that because of its imagery, I would say that people trying to persuade others that they were promoting witchcraft and Satanism is really inconclusive and, to be honest, a waste of time that could be best spent persuading others of the Good News of Jesus.

    After watching the video, YouTube was giving me video suggestions that people had made about Bethel being a cult or false church, etc. There were also some videos that people had made about Bethel being involved with grave soaking or grave sucking or necromancy. In the videos, there were pictures of people laying on well-known evangelist’s graves, like Smith Wigglesworth, in order to soak up the anointing of the passed evangelist, including Beni Johnson, Bill’s wife laying on the grave. There was also a picture of Bill with a young man, who were both smiling in the photo. They were standing behind a headstone, but not the appearance of necromancy in that one. Whether her these images are photoshopped I can not tell, but I’m also not a forensic photographer or detective trained to know that. Here is the video. There are many others.

    https://youtu.be/BzQuNwn1JRo

    Bethel does have an article on their site called ‘The Power of Soaking,’ but nothing in the article gave any hint of necromancy at all, but only that they tried to raise a dead person from the grave.

    • Jonathan says:

      OK, I agree with you about holding fast to sound doctrine. I also agree with you about testing teaching. But this is what I’m saying: There are plenty of doctrines that are not a matter of Christian orthodoxy. There are some that are.

      Some of the ones that aren’t a matter of basic orthodoxy are still harmful. I can point out why I believe those doctrines are harmful and incorrect without dismissing the validity of the Christian faith of a person who teaches them. Theologians know this. There are very few people whose doctrine is exactly the same as mine. However, we agree on many things and I still celebrate what we agree on and recognize the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. I should also humbly accept that my understanding is not yet perfect. As Christians, we have fellowship around trust in Christ and faith in his incarnation, death, resurrection.

      Peter was a disciple of Jesus and in one moment spoke a divine revelation from God the Father, saying “You are the Christ.” Not long after he spoke satan’s words. Was Peter wrong? Yes. Was he a “wolf in sheep’s clothing? No. Did his error in this case invalidate his personal revelation of Christ? No.

      I am a Christian and God has done a powerful work in my life, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have also spoken what Satan was saying more than once and my thoughts have been influenced by an antichrist spirit. I recognize that now.

      Yes, some doctrines we must recognize as fundamentally unorthodox. A while ago Bethel had a guy who did go off the deep end and Bill himself called out the error of this man’s denial of Christ’s deity. He warned his church not to listen to the guy. Bill is routinely accused of denying Christ’s deity but Bill says flat out that Jesus is God and never stopped being God. And Bill actually disfellowshiped a man who did deny Christ’s deity. The accusations that Bill denies Christ’s deity, as absurd as they are, are actually based on lacking a Biblical understanding of the other side of Christ’s incarnation. That is, that Jesus came in the flesh, became like us in every way, with every weakness we have, but without sin. Scripture is clear that just as we can do nothing on our own but have to rely on the Father, Jesus could do nothing on his own but also had to fully rely on the Father. Bill is accused of heresy for teaching Biblical theology about the incarnation. It is his accusers who accept that Jesus is God but do not accept a Biblical theology about Jesus’ humanity.

      The major standard in scripture for discernment and testing the spirits is the incarnation. Most of the criticism of Bethel comes from a place of having very little understanding of the incarnation. It is rooted in the thought systems of the Gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, Stoic philosophers, and the other Hellenists who the apostle Paul argued with. These belief systems are contrary to the implications of the incarnation. I find Bill’s teaching to be much more in line with the truth of Jesus’ incarnation than that of his critics.

      • Erik Richey says:

        I love this statement you made! It’s so true!:

        “Peter was a disciple of Jesus and in one moment spoke a divine revelation from God the Father, saying “You are the Christ.” Not long after he spoke satan’s words. Was Peter wrong? Yes. Was he a “wolf in sheep’s clothing? No. Did his error, in this case, invalidate his personal revelation of Christ? No.”

        Believers can be seriously misguided and children in their understanding, but we should be wise to look at our own lives to make sure that we are not in error in view of Who Jesus is. This was my point that I was making with answering your question. Paul says to hold fast to the pattern of sound teaching in the faith and love of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the focus of our sound teaching and anything else is a distraction that many believers get caught up in quite a lot. So many think there’s a conspiracy around every corner and maybe there is, but where is Jesus? Maybe he is facepalming his face on his sovereign throne. Lol

    • Jonathan says:

      Erik, I’m just been listening to the video you posted (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3tEv26OMTU) . It’s the first time somebody linked me to that one. Here are some of my thoughts on a few of the main points.

      This is a guy (Mike) who is at least trying to do his best to accurately represent what Bill and Bethel do teach, and for the most part, he does. While I do agree with a few of his concerns to a very limited extent, for the most part I disagree with his doctrine. But disagreeing with doctrine is fine and at least then we are in a place where we can discuss.

      The one area where I don’t feel he represented Bethel very accurately is how they say “raise your hand if you’re healed…” Mike feels this is gimmicky and encourages false positive reports of healing.

      I’ve seen this practice many times at conferences with Bill and Randy Clark, and they often say “We aren’t just asking for positive confession.” They specifically ask people to wave one hand if they felt a decrease in pain of felt something like heat, electricity, and two hands if they feel at least an 80 percent reduction in pain or can do something that was previously impossible. Then they bring people up to share testimonies. I’ve never heard them say simple “Raise your hand if you’re healed,” and nothing I’ve seen them do with healing is gimmicky or designed to encourage a false positive.

      As far as doctrine, there are some areas I agree with Bill but he could definitely explain better. I have an article on Job as well as on Paul’s thorn that lay things out really clearly, and no, nothing in the passage on Paul’s thorn suggests a physical sickness. I know Bill is aware of a more detailed take on Paul’s thorn, but I think he didn’t want to go into all that detail in clip where he mentioned it, as it’s a whole teaching in itself.

      There is a lot to respond to, but as far as Bill talking about a false gospel when spiritualizing the gospel-I do agree with Bill there, and I don’t think Bill would say people who don’t believe in physical healing aren’t saved, but separating the physical from the spiritual comes from Greek philosophers and the gnostics who denied that Jesus came in the flesh. So it is literally, according to the Apostle John’s teaching, an antichrist teaching. It’s also unscientific to separate the soul/spirit and body in this way. This teaching lies at the root of sexual immorality and was the primary reason that those heretical groups denied Jesus came in the flesh. Not that it’s complicated, but it takes much more than just a few paragraphs to lay that out.

      As for the comments regarding judgement and revelation, I do sometimes think that many Christians have gone to the other extreme of under-emphasizing the truth that God is a just judge. However, I’m much closer to Bill’s view than the other, which sees earthquakes and natural disasters as God’s judgement.

      As for Mike Winger’s comments from the book of Revelation, this brings up the eschatology view. And although Bill is ambiguous about eschatology, many people in that movement hold a partial preterist position, as I also do. That connects the events of Revelation specifically to the old, inferior covenant. The judgement that came on Jerusalem was fulfilling the curse of the law, and as Galatians says, everyone who relies on the law is under a curse.

      So, I agree with Bill about the Christocentric hermeneutic, especially since scripture says “nobody has ever seen God, but the Son has made him known.” This shows us that even the Old Covenant only gave us a glimpse and there was no full revelation of the Father until Jesus came in the flesh. And the issues that Mike views as inconsistencies, I see as very well explained by an understanding of covenant.

      So there’s a little bit of what I would respond to this video, again, it would take quite a long time to fully respond to all the issues Mike brought up…but I do appreciate that he is actually engaging with theology and attempting to represent what Bill teaches fairly.

  3. Erik Richey says:

    This is a really good analysis of Bethel and what they teach.

    https://youtu.be/r3tEv26OMTU

  4. Aspen says:

    I read these fear-mongering articles several years before digging into Bethel’s teachings myself, and even attending a local correspondent school for Bethel’s school of supernatural ministry. However, a couple things still bother me: I would have liked to see “grave sucking” addresses in this blog regarding Bethel, something students have done in the past to visit graves of famous Christians to “soak” up any lingering anointing. This bothers me.

    I will leave the other teaching alone for now. I don’t think it makes them false teachers, but some of their teachings are false. Wow. Isn’t it about that way in every denomination around the world?!

    • Jonathan says:

      Yeah, the article I was responding to doesn’t mention so-called “grave sucking,” but that is a common point of criticism.

      Here’s what Bill said about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLq6O6tLzAc
      Here’s what Kris Vallotton wrote: https://www.facebook.com/kvministries/posts/10152893202998741

      Even if leaders in the school of ministry did suggest laying on graves to try to get an impartation…it still doesn’t amount to necromancy, which is actually consulting with and calling up dead people. Calling it necromancy is quite an exaggeration.

      My friend Brian worked with his wife and another couple to start a rapidly growing church multiplication movement in Mongolia when there were very few churches. It was (and is) a great work of the Holy Spirit, sending more missionaries per believer than any other movement in the world. At one point some Christians decided only speaking in tongues was spiritual and stopped speaking in their mother tongue. So they would meet someone on the road and say “shabalabkanaba….” Yeah, they needed corrected, but it did not invalidate the work of the Holy Spirit and honestly, there are much worse ways that churches can go astray. I’d rather have to teach the young believers they don’t always need to speak in tongues and sometimes we need to speak so others can understand, than having to hand someone over to Satan for sleeping with his mother in law.

      I see the “grave sucking” thing the same way as the tongues extremism. Yeah, could be a thing that needs corrected. But there are actually a lot more serious issues that few people make as much of a fuss about as laying down on a grave to try to get an impartation.