Some go to Bethel to “see God move.” Bethel’s “encounter” theology has propelled them into experiential mysticism and demonic manifestations purported to be the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon people. Bethel’s “glory cloud” and other manifestations have deceived those looking for signs and wonders to validate their beliefs, and experience some sort of touch from God. This obsession with signs and wonders has become an indispensable aspect of Bethel’s evangelism.
(Rick Becker – Famine In The Land) Jacob had his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven at a city called Luz, which he renamed “Bethel”- meaning “house of God.” At a later stage in Israel’s history Jeroboam (first king of the northern kingdom) went off the map by ignoring God’s commands regarding worship. Jeroboam appointed his own priests, set up a golden calf at Bethel and seduced his people into idolatry….
Hosea and Amos later referred to Bethel as “Beth-aven” which means “house of idols” or “vanity.” Today, another kind of “Beth-aven” exists in the form of Bethel church Redding. It’s supposedly a place of dreams, angels, and open heavens. But like Jeroboam, Bethel church has found scripture too restrictive, and created it’s own “golden calf.” The lure has worked, but all that glitters is not gold, and Bethel’s seductive ladder does not lead to heaven. In this post, I examine what I believe are some of the reasons people are seduced by Bethel. These points also serve to describe the characteristics and teachings of churches that are caught up in the New Apostolic Reformation.
1. SCRIPTURE IS RELEGATED
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The relegation of scripture is the root cause of the errors in the points that follow. Those who defend Bethel will argue that Johnson & Co quote, and base their teachings on scripture. The problem is that the principles of biblical interpretation are ignored, and their error is compounded by their use of the Passion translation – a perversion of scripture. The result is the New Apostolic Reformation’s man centered theology. These man centered doctrines are a lure for itching ears and people eager to serve their passions (2 Tim 4:3)
Like any false teacher, Johnson will say the right thing at times. He is however a master at creating a false dilemma, one that places scripture at the mercy of some kind of experience or encounter. Johnson believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and that any new revelation does not carry the “same authoritative weight as Scripture” and that “everything we hear must be consistent with what He has spoken to us in His Word” 1 But Johnson’s duplicity is easy to identify. How can we be sure everything is consistent with scripture when we rely on a “presence” to take us beyond scripture?
“Following the leading of the Holy Spirit can present us with the same dilemma. While he never contradicts His Word, He is very comfortable contradicting our understanding of it.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. To do so successfully we must recognize His presence above all.” 2 (bold emphasis mine throughout this article)
Studying, examining, and meditating on the word of God is biblical, pursuing experiences is not. Johnson promotes a mystical and subjective means for spiritual guidance and growth:
“An encounter with God is often a power encounter. Such encounters vary from person to person according to God’s design. And it’s the lack of power encounters that lead to a misunderstanding of God and his word. Experience is necessary in building a true knowledge of the word. Many fear experience because it might lead away from scripture. The mistakes of some have have led many to fear experiential pursuit” 3 One would think that incorrectly dividing the word of truth leads to a misunderstanding of God and his word. When context becomes irrelevant, so does scripture, as presuppositions replace truth. When the Holy Spirit illuminates scripture to us, the meaning does not change, but Johnson pits experience against exegesis:
“FROM STUDY TO EXPERIENCE – The study of Scriptures must take us beyond the historical setting, beyond language studies in the Hebrew and Greek, and at times beyond the context and intent of the human authors of Scripture. It’s time to hear from God afresh—that His Word would once again become the living Word in our experience.” 4
Did God not inspire the context and intent of scripture when he moved upon human authors? “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 Lay aside every commentary on the bible that has been produced during the past two thousand years, lay aside all scholarship and studies in the original languages, Bill Johnson believes we need a different view:
“A NEW VIEW – We have gone as far as we can go with what we presently know. Not only are we in need of the Spirit of God to teach us, we are in need of a different view of the Bible.” 5
And if this is not confusing, I don’t know what is:
“Jesus is the Word of God. It’s hard for Him to not have something to say. Occasionally, we go through times when we feel God is not speaking to us. While that may be so, most of the time He has simply changed His language, and He expects us to adjust with Him.” 6
Now for a vague statement that allows for gold dust, gemstones, oily palms, feathers, road runners etc to become a means of communication from God instead of scripture:
“It is vital to learn how God speaks. His first language is not English. In fact, it would be safe to say it’s not Hebrew either. While He uses the languages of men to communicate with us, He is more inclined to speak through a myriad of other methods.” 7
Finally, Johnson plants the seed in the minds of his followers to blindly accept God’s additions:
“There are pillar truths in the gospel that form the most basic foundation of the structure. Once you have these in place, God delightfully adds to them, as a decorator decorates a house after the foundation and walls are secure. A man of understanding accepts God’s additions and doesn’t question them. He is not double-minded about them. That’s how a person of understanding attracts greater understanding. You treasure something that God says, and that builds a foundation for greater revelation.” 8
Conveniently, he does not specify what these additions are, or what they look like in practice. What we do know is that Bethel’s culture of “risk taking” had led them into mysticism, vain imaginations, and doctrines of demons. While Johnson acknowledges some form of foundational truth, it bears little relevance as Bethel’s theological foundation is flawed.
Bethel logic – there’s a law of attraction that rewards people who don’t ask questions.
It’s clear that Johnson’s position is scripture plus…plus an encounter, plus a new view, plus signs, plus other methods. By relegating scripture and exalting experiences, Johnson has created an attractive environment without boundaries that elevates experiences and leads to mysticism.