Pastor Bill Johnson, formerly of the Assemblies of God, leads Bethel Church. This leader and church are a segment of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) called the Revival Alliance (http://revivalalliance.com/). Bill Johnson regularly speaks at The Voice of the Apostles Conference, has written several books, one of which is entitled When Heaven Invades Earth, and has ministry engagements with fellow NAR leaders around the world.
One of the most popular influences of Bethel Church into mainstream (Non NAR) Pentecostal and Charismatic churches is its music (originally Jesus Culture and now Bethel Music), which houses names like Jeremy Riddle, Brian and Jenn Johnson, Amanda Cook, and Kalley Heiligenthal. Even Kari Jobe and now Hillsong participate in Bethel Conferences from time to time.
It is not the goal of this article to cover general NAR beliefs (you can see the previous post for that information), but rather to look at the specific teachings and practices at Bethel in Redding, California. In the end, I believe it will be clear that the influence of this church needs to be guarded extremely cautiously, if not completely eliminated from the Evangelical community.
At the end of each section of this article you will find the relevant sources for that section. I have taken great care to especially document Bethel’s own teaching on the issues listed, so that you can see for yourself this is what they teach. I then attempt to add clarity to where these teachings are incorrect and differ from orthodox Christianity.
I. Misunderstanding Jesus
Bill Johnson teaches that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity, not just in the sense that he laid aside his divine rights as taught in Philippians 2, but rather that he stopped being God. He says that Jesus was eternal in the sense that he was not created and didn’t ascend to the position, (Watch Bringing Heaven to Earth beginning at 3:20 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_85bCON5YhU), but he misses the full meaning of God’s Eternality (that God has no beginning or end). This means that God cannot stop being God. In other words, in the incarnation, Jesus retained his divine nature, but also took on human nature. This is how he was uniquely the God-man.
Johnson also teaches that while Jesus gave up everything, including his divinity, to become a man, He then re-inherited that divinity again after the cross (Bringing Heaven to Earth (above link), minute 2:27, also see “born again Jesus” section below). This is why Johnson teaches that Jesus is our elder-brother (Bringing Heaven to Earth (above link), minute 3:48), because he was not divine during the incarnation. According to this theology, Jesus was not the unique God-man, he was only man.
As confirmation of this, we’ll see in the quotes below how Johnson teaches that Jesus was merely a man who lived in right relationship with God, and who then God gave an anointing or empowering to, that enabled Jesus to live his mission. Jesus, according to Johnson, was only human while on earth, and as a human inherited his divine nature back. This opens the door for the teaching that we can become like Jesus in the sense that we are “little gods” (Kris Vallotton: Your Identity as Sons of God, begin watching around 16:00, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZtTSY889rA). So according to this understanding, we are human like Jesus was on earth, and if we live in right relationship with God, like Jesus did, we can also, through the inheritance of being born again become little gods. This is a poor understanding of Scripture and just down-right bad theology. This type of teaching was popularized by the Word of Faith movement and many NAR leaders have adopted it. (For a clarification regarding the little gods theory and the Scripture used to support it, check out, http://www.gotquestions.org/little-gods.html, http://www.gotquestions.org/you-are-gods.html or http://www.compellingtruth.org/little-gods.html).
Examples from Johnson’s Writings:
“Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’ In the Greek language that word nothing has a unique meaning—it means NOTHING, just like it does in English! He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever!…He 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” (When Heaven Invades Earth, 29).
– This is at best a confused image or at worst, a purposely distorted version of the Messiah. Jesus was both fully God and fully man in the incarnation. That is was made him uniquely the God-man. There are times in Scripture when he speaks through his human nature and times when he speaks through his divine nature. For a more detailed presentation of the incarnation check out my series on Understanding Jesus (http://saraboyd.org/?p=138).
“He laid his divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father . . . The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitations” (Heaven Invades, 79).
– Again, Johnson is implying that Jesus was only human and that he had forfeited his divine nature. That is why his theology depends on the anointing. However, Philippians 2 is not teaching that Jesus gave up his divinity, as Johnson teaches. Instead, it is emphasizing the fact that Jesus laid aside his divine rights, or as the NLT puts it, his divine privileges (2:7). Jesus didn’t stop being God, but there was a sacrificial element in the willingness to also take on the form of humanity.
“Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah.” It is a title that points to an experience. It was not sufficient that Jesus be sent from heaven to earth with a title. He had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired. (Heaven Invades, 79).
– False. Jesus was the Anointed one, the messiah and the unique God-man from from his conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. Luke 2 heralds the Savior being born. Jesus did not earn this title, and side note, Christianity is not a works-based system. The idea of Jesus becoming the Anointed One at his baptism is taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus’ baptism did mark the beginning of his ministry, but to say that Jesus earned his identity as the Anointed One or Messiah is simply confused.
“…The anointing is what linked Jesus, the man, to the divine enabling Him to destroy the works of the devil” (Heaven Invades, 79).
– Again, false. The anointing did not link Jesus to the divine. Jesus possess a divine nature. Johnson is twisting Scripture and theology to mean what he wants it to mean in order to justify his NAR position.
“For us to become all that God intended, we must remember that Jesus’ life was a model of what mankind could become if it were in right relationship with the Father.” (Heaven Invades, 138).
– Jesus’ life was an example to us. Yes, the Christian life is about becoming more like Christ each and every day, but not in the sense of Johnson is implying. We can be like Jesus, but because Jesus was the unique God-man, there are also be certain aspects of him we will never share in. Chief of these, is that we will never inherit a divine nature.
“…Jesus had no ability to heal the sick. He couldn’t cast out devils, and He had no ability to raise the dead. He said of Himself in John 5:19, ‘the Son can do nothing of Himself.’ He had set aside His divinity. He did miracles as man in right relationship with God because He was setting forth a model for us, something for us to follow….Jesus so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help…” (Supernatural Power of a Transformed Life, 50).
– This is why ripping verses out of context is so dangerous. In John chapter 5, Jesus is making the point that his will, and therefore his actions, are not independent from the Father’s will. If you only highlight the first part of John 5:19, as Johnson does, you may get the idea that “on his own,” so to speak, Jesus is powerless. However, if we consider the context, and read the entire verse, we quickly see that the exact opposite is true. Logically speaking, if Jesus does whatever God does, then Jesus can do whatever God can do. So then, if Jesus can do whatever God can do, then Jesus must be God. We see confirmation of this understanding in verse 21, when we are told that just as God can raise to life those who he chooses, so to can Jesus raise to life whoever he chooses as well. Scripture will interpret Scripture, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to context.
Flowing out of this belief that Jesus was only a man, and not God, Bethel also teaches that Jesus was born again. Johnson teaches:
“…Did you know that Jesus was born again? I asked the first service and many said, “No.” But I will show it. It’s in the Bible. He had to be. He became sin. In Hebrews 1 it says this, “For to which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are my son. Today I have begotten you’?” And Acts 13 explains that: “God has fulfilled this for us, their children, in that he has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, Today I have begotten You.’ And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption.” He was born through Mary the first time and through the Resurrection the second time. He was ‘born again.’” (YouTube audio clip, begin at 3:20, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzAwFYKe3h0 also verified at www.bethel.tv/watch/390/jesus-is-our-model/2009/12/20 begin around 20 min. in)
This is a very wrong understanding of how Jesus paid for our sins. He did not become sinful himself, and thus need to be born again, but rather, he was counted as sin for our sake in the eyes of God in order to pay the penalty of sin. In other words:
“God used the principle of imputation to benefit mankind when He imputed the sin of believers to the account of Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for that sin – death – on the cross. Imputing our sin to Jesus, God treated Him as if He were a sinner, though He was not, and had Him die for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). It is important to understand that sin was imputed to Him, but He did not inherit it from Adam. He bore the penalty for sin, but He never became a sinner…” (http://www.gotquestions.org/definition-sin.html).
As is clearly displayed by the above examples, the teachings that take place at Bethel regarding how to understand Jesus are misguided and contrary to orthodox Christian teaching. For this reason alone, if you read no further in this article, you should have cause to limit the influence you give Bethel in your life.
Sources for this section:
Cross Wise: https://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/bill-johnsons-christology-a-new-age-christ/
Cross Wise: https://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/bill-johnsons-born-again-jesus-part-i/
When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson
The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson – Bringing Heaven to Earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_85bCON5YhU
Kris Vallotton (Sr. Exec Pastor at Bethel) Your Identity as Sons of God
Johnson Sermon Audio Clips on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzAwFYKe3h0
Johnson Sermon – “Jesus is Our Model” from December 20, 2009
Got Questions? What is the Definition of Sin?. – http://www.gotquestions.org/definition-sin.html
Geivett and Pivec. A New Apostolic Reformation? A Biblical Responseto a Worldwide Movement. Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014.
Geivett and Pivec. God’s Super-Apostles – Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014.
About the NAR – www.spiritoferror.org
II. Dominion/Kingdom Now Theology
In a very small nut-shell Kingdom Now theology teaches that when Adam sinned, God lost control of the earth, and that He needs a special over-comers army of believers to conquer social institutions (7 mountain mandate including media, government, church) to rid the earth of territorial spirits and all evil. Then Christ will return in the 2nd coming. Thus on this view there will be no rapture, however, the rapture is not an essential Christian doctrine.
First, the teaching that God lost control of earth is not only unbiblical, it also violates a variety of God’s attributes: Perfection, omnipotence and sovereignty to name a few. Anytime a teaching presents God in a misunderstood way, it is important to correct it.
While less important than the nature of God, the teaching that there will be no rapture, is in my opinion, unbiblical. However, it is important on this point to remind ourselves that this particular doctrine is not an essential one. If this was the only concern, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. In light of the other theological concerns though, it seems fitting to mention. From this author’s perspective, while there may be mystery surrounding what the rapture will look like, and varying opinions on when it will happen, the Bible does seem to indicate an event/experience that we call the rapture:
“Kingdom Now’s denial of the rapture of the church is also unbiblical. The explanation that the rapture is nothing more than the people of God being caught up in rapturous feelings ignores the fact that such an application of the term “caught up” is strictly an idiomatic expression peculiar to English, not Greek. “I was all ‘caught up’ in the movie (or other excitement)” is not the equivalent of harpazo, used to describe the catching up bodily into heaven in 1 Thessalonians 4:17;2 Corinthians 12:2-4; and Revelation 12:5” (What is Kingdom Now Theology – http://www.gotquestions.org/kingdom-now.html).
There are some who at this point attempt to make the case for no rapture by saying that the word itself is not in the Bible. This, however, is poor reasoning. The words Trinity and Incarnation are not in the Bible either, but the principles are clearly taught. This is true for the rapture as well.
For proof that Bethel teaches this Kingdom Now doctrine see the following:
– Kris Vallotton – Your Identity as Sons of God – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZtTSY889rA)
Begin around 8:00 to see teaching on rapture
Begin around minute 12:00 to clearly hear Dominionist teaching
– Johnson writes that a great end-time revival that will be initiated by an Elijah generation which “…will carry the Elijah anointing in preparing for the return of the Lord in the same way that John the Baptist carried the Elijah anointing and prepared the people for the coming of the Lord” (When Heaven Invades Earth, 184).
– These modern day apostles and prophets will lead a great revival of signs and wonders, taking captive territorial spirits, and vanquishing evil so that the return of Christ can take place. For example Johnson says, “In Adam and Eve’s commission to subdue the earth, they were without sickness, poverty, and sin. Now that we are restored to His original purpose, should we expect anything less?” (Heaven Invades, 33) and “The second greatest reason for revival’s end is when the Church begins to look for the return of the Lord instead of pursuing a greater breakthrough in the Great Commission” (Heaven Invades, 161).
– Part of the Kingdom Now or Dominionist theology that Bethel teaches is that when Adam sinned, God lost control of the earth to Satan, as seen here: “All that Adam owned, including the title deed to the planet with its corresponding position of rule, became part of the devil’s spoil” (Heaven Invades, 31).
Sources for this section:
What is Kingdom Now Theology – http://www.gotquestions.org/kingdom-now.html
When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson
Kris Vallotton (Sr. Exec Pastor at Bethel) Your Identity as Sons of God
III. Denial of the Effects of Original Sin
The denial of the effects of original sin is not new to the church. It is also known as Pelagianism (http://www.theopedia.com/Pelagianism) which teaches that man is unaffected by the fall. It still sees man as fundamentally good, instead of sinful, and it is a non-orthodox teaching that violates the doctrine of man’s depravity (For more on original sin see http://www.monergism.com/legacy/mt/sitepages/original-sin-ji-packer or http://www.gotquestions.org/total-depravity.html).
It is also something that Bethel teaches as seen in this clip of Pastor Eric Johnson who is on the senior leadership team at Bethel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZQqBntB0C0).
Quotes from the video:
- “Every system fundamentally and theologically must start with the concept and idea that people are good and they mean to do good. Even if they are not saved. You have to start from that premise.”
- “You’re not born evil. It’s amazing how many theologies begin with that.”
This, another violation of widely accepted, essential Christian doctrine, shows that Bethel does not belong to mainstream Evangelicalism, but instead marches to its own theological beat. Accordingly, we should be cautious to allow Bethel’s teaching to have any sway in our lives.
IV. Bethel’s Treatment of Scripture vs. New Revelation
If you listen to teaching from Bethel, you will of course hear them make statements claiming to value Scripture and weigh things according to Scripture. This is good. However, if you listen long enough you will also hear concerning statements about Scripture and doctrine and the Holy Spirit giving new revelations that are eye-raising, even alarming. In fact, Johnson almost seems to be teaching that we need on-going revelation in order to fully understand the Bible, and that if you had to prioritize, the Holy Spirit’s revelatory activity today outweighs the old faithful B-I-B-L-E.
See for yourself (All the numbered examples come from Johnson’s book When Heaven Invades Earth). My responses are found underneath:
- “For decades the Church has been guilty of creating doctrine to justify their lack of power. . .” (116).
– The Apostle Paul spent a lot of his letter’s space exhorting the early church to guard sound doctrine.
- “A powerless Word is the letter not the Spirit. And we all know, ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’” (116).
– This is a misapplication of this passage from 2 Corinthians 3. This wrong understanding promotes the idea that studying the Bible will kill you spiritually. However, the context shows that Paul was speaking of the letters written on stone, referring to the Ten Commandments. So really, Paul explains how the law “kills” because it exposes our sinfulness, not because it is studied. This view of Scripture demeans its authority and value which is a dangerous position.
- “Those who feel safe because of their intellectual grasp of Scriptures enjoy a false sense of security. None of us has a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map—to go beyond what we know” (76).
– Johnson’s method uses the Holy Spirit as a way to reject any scholarly Bible study, and to promote ambiguous and subjective religious experiences. He is setting up a false dichotomy. According to him, those Christians who desire God’s spirit of power will desire signs and wonders, while those who love, study and desire to obey Scripture are Pharisaical and lack power.
- “But in reality, the Bible is a closed book. Anything I get from the Word without God will not change my life. It is closed to insure that I remain dependent on the Holy Spirit” (93).
– This is just ridiculous. The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, so it is its own revelation. We do not need new religious revelation and experience to understand God’s Word. Johnson’s view is simply false.
The problem with this way of thinking is that every spiritual experience should be weighed according to Scripture (1 Thess. 5:19-22), because while we may be well-meaning the human heart is corruptible and fallible (Jeremiah 17:9) as where the Word of God is not (2 Tim. 3:16).
Finally, and perhaps more telling, is the New NAR translation of Scripture which is being produced, in installments, by “apostle” Brian Simmons (associated with Stairway Ministries). Aside, from being horribly unqualified for this sort of undertaking, this new Passion Translation rewords verses in the language of the NAR. For instance, Galatians 6:6 now speaks to a “transference of anointing” and that we should expect an impartation from our teachers. However, no other translations of Scripture come close to that sort of language. Sadly, the popularity of this “translation” is growing, partly because of the endorsements that it is receiving from well known apostles in the NAR, one of which is Bill Johnson of Redding, California.
(Entire paragraph: God’s Super Apostles, 67-68. Also see Brain Simmons on the Sid Roth show, begin 15:00, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOzvcz49O4c).
V. Conclusion for Bethel Teachings
All of the teaching that we have looked at so far, should raise red flags about the validity of this ministry. Whether innocently (from lack to knowledge) or intentionally, Bethel and its leaders are walking dangerously close to being the sort of false teachers that Paul warned the church about:
(Rom. 16:17-18, 2 Cor. 11:4-6, Gal. 1:6-10, 1 Thess. 5:19-22, 2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Tim. 1:3,19; 4:1-2,6,11,16, 2 Tim. 2:25-26; 4:2-5 Titus 1:13-14; 2:1, 15, Matt. 7:15-23; 24:24, 1 John 4:1-6, 2 John 1:6-11, Jude 1:3-4)
This is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of all practices associated with Bethel. Rather, it is merely a highlight reel of the sort of practices which are taking place at Bethel, and with the NAR Movement. I encourage you to learn more so that you can decide for yourself.
I. Teaching and Excepted Practice on the Holy Spirit and Prophecy
These videos demonstrate a concerning lack of discernment regarding the spiritual gifts. Perhaps an in-depth study of 1 Corinthians 14 is in order (pun intended).
1. Prophecies over the Netherlands – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOHrxAg94XU
2. Bethel’s Children’s Director and Trips to Heaven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZxijRzkyrA
3. Jenn Johnson on the Holy Spirit – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Ec_shJ-dk
4. Bethel Team at a Youth Group – Releasing the Spirit – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J25iUQ76fNw
5. Heidi Baker at Bethel on Imparting to others – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQHsgY5EzVc
II. Sozo Prayer Ministry
This ministry, according to its own materials, has its roots with Randy Clark and the Toronto Blessing, which should be a HUGE red flag! Sozo also dangerously resembles new age mystical practices and memory manipulation. It is said to be from the Greek meaning to save or deliver, unfortunately, when the Bible was teaching about salvation, none of the six Sozo tools made the cut. These tools are: Father Ladder, Four Doors, Presenting Jesus, The Wall, Trigger Mechanisms and Divine Editing.
Sources for Further Study
Victim’s of Johnson’s Sozo Ministry Speak Out
III. Fire Tunnels
A Fire Tunnel is the practice of two lines of people, facing each other, about an arm’s length from across from one another. This formation forms the tunnel. Then, those not comprising the tunnel begin to walk in between the two lines, having hands placed on them as they pass in order to receive an impartation of the spirit.
This is what Bethel calls the pursuit of intimacy with God. For the most part it looks like regular Charismatic worship. However it can extend as far as to expect, “dreams, visions, trances, out-of-body experiences, angelic visitations, or being transported in the Spirit…” (Geivett, 187).
A New Apostolic Reformation? by Geivett and Pivec
God’s Super-Apostles by Geivett and Pivec
“Treasure Hunts incorporates the use of words of knowledge (clues) that you write on your Treasure Map to find Treasures (people) who need a supernatural encounter with God through an encouraging prophetic word or healing…Through this fun and easy method you become empowered with confidence and competence to bring supernatural encounters to people around you. Through treasure hunts you can become a world changer, transforming your community one encounter at a time!” (http://www.ibethel.org/treasure-hunts)
Dead Raising Team
This is a team that was started by Tyler Johnson, an attendee of Bethel’s Supernatural School of Ministry. The team “goes to funeral homes and morgues at the request of grieving loved ones, and prays for the dead to be raised” (God’s Super Apostles, 107).