Bill Johnson is the pastor of Bethel Church, and Jesus Culture is their band. I hadn’t heard of them until recently, but they are popular, blasphemous and dangerous. Whether you hold the view that the “sign gifts” (miracles, signs and wonders) ceased at the end of the apostolic age or not, you should still steer clear of them.
Our former church inexplicably went from having very sound doctrine to following the Bethel model, and it has been a train wreck. We keep hearing stories of people who left after it got worse and worse. We were the first to go, after I met the pastor for coffee and he played a recording of a psychic reading he got at Bethel (he claimed it was from the Holy Spirit . . . more below). I told him it was garbage (perhaps using a stronger word). Now the entire church is based on the Bethel model. The pastor claims that he is the one that gets the vision for the church from God (but he doesn’t mean through the Bible). Worst of all, they have changed the children’s curriculum from something sound to having lots of spiritually dangerous practices. They use Bethel’s Kingdom Culture model, and as I like to say, you can’t spell Kingdom Culture without C-U-L-T.
Here’s an overview of them and many of their theological errors and dangers.
Bethel Church of Redding, California was founded in 1952 and was affiliated with the Assemblies of God until 2006, when current pastor Bill Johnson led the church to dissociate itself from the denomination. The current attendance at Bethel’s Redding location is just under 8,700 each Sunday. The now denominationally independent church operates on a $9 million annual budget.
We downloaded a Bill Johnson book (“God is Good”) and scanned it. He got an ejector seat from me in his introduction, claiming that God “mandated” that he write it. That’s rather passive-aggressive, as if to disagree with the book is to disagree with God. God told me to tell you to ignore the book. He gets original sin wrong and ignores obvious teachings like Job and 1 Peter 4:19 when trying to get God off the hook for the existence of evil.
But it gets much worse than that. No exaggeration: Johnson claims this his church gets hit with gusts of wind, angel feathers and gold dust falling on them regularly, and that they had a glory cloud come and hover over them (start at the 2:20 mark of the video for all that). Sounds to me like they have an issue with their HVAC system. I assume that the angel feathers were identified with DNA tests. Seriously, how would you even know what angel feathers would look like? Those claims alone should send you scurrying from this wolf. This video also tells you about the Jesus Culture band.
Even when they defend themselves they concede their weirdness. This came from an article that describes some wise people in an Irish church who opposed Bethel.
One of its leaders, Kris Vallotton, wrote an online article in 2012 addressing what he believed was miscommunication about the church by its detractors. In the article he said that while he had personally tried to raise people from the dead twice, he was not successful. He added that some of the church’s students had formed DRTs (Dead Raising Teams) and that he had personally witnessed the manifestation of gold dust on followers’ faces and hands “hundreds of times”.
You can make appointments for them to give you
prophecies psychic readings. I listened to part of one that our former pastor had recorded — and yes, this is why he is our former pastor. When he pressed play it was like he had pushed an ejector seat button. As Mrs. Eternity Matters said, “Our pastor went to a fortune teller.” It was Psychic 101, with vague comments such as someone being from the East Coast (uh, the place where 1/3 of people currently live, where many more have lived or want to live, etc.) — as if the Holy Spirit speaks that way.
And the people I know who believe in Johnson’s ministry said the same things about the “prophecies” as this witch does. Yes, a witch who self-describes as a polyamorous pagan. She went to Bethel and recounted her experience. And you can go here to read how their “prophecies” are just like the “East Coast” gibberish.
Annika: When the children waved their scarves in front of us, I thought about how I was just like them when I was their age, completely involved in whatever ministry was happening at our church, dancing, performing pantomime, praying, worshipping. Suddently the woman sat next to me, placed her hand on my knee, and said she “had a Word” for me. I was excited to hear it. Just a few months ago I had met a couple of women from Bethel and they gave me an amazing prophecy, astonishingly accurate and full of things they couldn’t have known about me.
“I feel the Lord saying to you that He is very pleased with you. You have been so faithful to Him. You have been faithful to His Word, even when though there are many people telling you that you are now going the wrong way. But God knows it isn’t true. He wants you to know that He is proud of you. God knows that you are walking with Him and He is so proud of your faithfulness.”
I smiled and nodded, and said “I know”. Then she looked into my eyes, repeated how important it was for me to know that God approved of how I lived, and implored me to keep doing what I was doing. When she stood up and the girls wrapped up their scarves, I sat there speechless. This was essentially the same prophecy I had received from the two women several few months back.
Got that? The witch wasn’t told to repent and believe, and, by the way, to stop being a witch! She was completely affirmed to do exactly what she is doing and to ignore those who would tell her otherwise. Did they know things about her? Sure, but so do Satan and his demons, and the “prophets” can pick up the rest with basic fortune-teller techniques. As I like to say, Satan knows where your car keys are, so if you pray to the patron saint of lost stuff and get an answer you shouldn’t assume it was from God.
The people who seek things like this insist that the prophecies must be positive because 1 Corinthians 14 speaks of prophecies “building up” the church. But the passage never hints that prophecies are for individual bits of good news. These people are basically going to see fortune tellers — only with the restriction that the fortune tellers can only tell them good news! How can they be so blind?
There is an old trick that stock hustlers can use, where they tell half of a list of people that a stock will go up and the other half that it will go down. If it goes up, they split that group and tell half that another stock will go up and the other half that it will go down. They repeat until a small part of the original group thinks the broker is a financial genius, because they don’t realize he stops contacting anyone to whom he gave the wrong advice. Prophetic predictions are similar! You don’t hear about the false ones. Via a great overview of Bethel’s false teachings:
“Bethel was the beginning of realizing, like, this is all bullshit.” Chris was a good prophet, his teachers told him. While he was studying at Bethel, he once had a vision from The Song of Deborah as he prayed over a woman whose name he did not know. As he told her this, she cried out in surprise: Her name was Deborah. “What I see now is, those are random thoughts,” Chris says. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, your prophecies are horrible misses. But you don’t remember them being a terrible flop — you remember the one time it worked.”
Here’s a Bethel youth pastor who says Jesus apologized to him and asked for forgiveness. That previous sentence is so ridiculous that I had a tough time typing it. Yet here we are. He is either making up the entire experience or he was visited by a demon and thinks it was Jesus. Either way, that’s really bad. And Bethel put this up on their own site, so they obviously support it.
Their youth ministry is demonic, coaching kids to interact with alleged angels. This may be the creepiest video of all. They also coach little kids – who may not be saved – to interact with Jesus in their imagination. He falsely says that the Greek word for heart also means imagination, and then twists it for his purposes. Praying to Jesus would be fine, but not imagining his response. Saying otherwise is really bad for adults and even worse for kids.
They teach kids how to prophesy?! (2:25 mark) They claim you have to learn how to hear his voice. That is transparently false. Either God is talking or He’s not. If He is talking you cannot miss it. If He isn’t there is nothing to hear.
The church thought it was cute that the kids were practicing raising the dead. They claim to take kids on visits to Heaven on a regular basis. Their “proof” was that kids separately shared the same vision – as if Satan couldn’t plant that vision in the minds of unbelievers or that the “tour guide” didn’t plant a similar vision. This leaves kids wide open to demonic influences. This is Satanic and child abuse.
She claims to teach the prophetic, but if it is an authentic gift then you don’t need to teach it. And perhaps these phonies could give their “prophetic” messages before disasters happen — to prevent them! — and not afterwards.
Again, they take their youth to Heaven, and apparently the adults get to go as well. Just your average field trip, eh? “Angels are out of a job . . . angels are being assigned to you . . .” Who believes this?
They are your basic prosperity pimps — and purveyors of gibberish — as well.
Bethel Pastor, Kris Vallotton, has revealed an important principle:
“Wealth is not just a condition, it’s a power. God is the one who gives people the power to make wealth, which is the magnetic attraction to prosperity.”
“His celestial mission was to make us wealthy. He didn’t become poor so He could demonstrate the power of poverty; quite the contrary. Actually, He became poor to demonstrate the process to prosperity.” -Kris Vallotton from his blog
Johnson is so busy with his prosperity gospel / healing ministry that he distorts or ignores the real Gospel. Jesus’s death on the cross atoned for the sins of the believers, not the sickness, but Johnson teaches otherwise.
As John Piper explains, The prosperity gospel in action “minimizes sin, minimizes pain, and only talks about how well things will go for you if you follow Christ.” In listening to Bill Johnson’s sermons, I noticed all of these trends. Specifically, Johnson teaches a doctrine known as “healing in the atonement.” This view holds that in Christ’s death, all true believers are given physical healing and can expect deliverance from all disease and infirmity in this life.
On this topic Johnson declares “I refuse to create a theology that allows for sickness” arguing that “The price Jesus paid for my sins was more than sufficient for my diseases.” But Johnson goes a step farther. Referring to 2 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul refers to his “thorn in the flesh” Johnson states “[this] has been interpreted by many as disease allowed or brought on by God… That’s a different gospel.” Johnson believes a gospel that allows for Christians to suffer from disease is a form of the false gospel Paul warns about in Galatians 1:8.
Via John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference that addressed charismatic errors and excesses, here’s more on Jesus Culture at the 43 minute mark. And see the “fire tunnel” at the 51 minute mark. And the International House of Prayer (IHOP) at the 58 minute mark. The trademark charismatic spasms are straight from Hinduism.
Not surprisingly, Johnson associates with and supports a Who’s Who of false teachers like Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, IHOP, and more. He said this about the transparently phony Hinn:
What an incredible honor it was to have Benny Hinn with us last night. God showed up in a powerful way and many people were healed. As Pastor Bill said, “God has helped to raise the water level of expectation in the body of Christ because of [Benny Hinn’s] gift.” We are indebted to your powerful “yes” to God…
Here’s an account from a reporter who visited Bethel. Whether by design or not, the constant pressure to affirm these “healers” led the woman to lie and say she felt a little better. Bethel documented that as a miracle. Keep that in mind when they make claims about how many they have healed. It is another one of the downsides of the word of faith / healing movement: Making people feel like it is their fault they aren’t getting better. Nothing like a little guilt to make your cancer/injury/sickness worse!
I can tell I’m a tough case, because a third healer comes over to us, and then a fourth. Soon I’m surrounded by people praying for me, one woman’s hand on my shoulder, another on her knees in front of me, and the force of their expectation — desperation, almost — is palpable. Unrelentingly, every few minutes, they ask me how I’m feeling, whether I’m better.
I try to deflect some of their questions, but it never works. When one healer asks me what I feel, I tell her I feel “your energy and prayers.” She jumps back, “But what about your knee?”
“Well, it’s a really serious injury,” I try. “So I think it might take some time.”
The woman seems almost offended. “Time?” she says. “Jesus doesn’t need time! Jesus can heal you right away.”
We start praying again, and I start feeling a little desperate, like I’ll never get out of here. The next time they ask me how my knee feels, almost automatically, without thinking, I lie.
“I think it’s more flexible now,” I say. I move it back and forth, and I can see my healers’ eyes light up. “I think it’s getting better. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Father!” one of them cries out, taking my hand. We’re both, I think, relieved, though maybe for different reasons. “Thank you for beginning this journey to healing.”
It’s finally over, and my healers ask me to give them my intake form. When I take the paper off of the clipboard, I notice there’s a back side, too, meant to be filled out by Bethel staff: a checklist labeled “Miracles Performed.” It includes healed shoulders and knees, zapped tumors, cured cancer, and limb-straightening, as well as soul-saving. At the very bottom of the list is the very miracle that the Stanford professor told Stefan would convert him: “Limb regrown.”
I hand the form over, wondering if they’re going to check me off as a Miracle Performed. As I leave the room, I think I see one of my healers do just that.
I initially didn’t include anything about Bethel’s grave-sucking / grave-soaking and their belief in the power of soaking. It was so outlandish that I feared people would think I had made it up. But one of my favorite people mentioned it as his top Bethel creep-factor so I added it.
There’s more, but you get the idea. Run, don’t walk, from anything tied to Bill Johnson, Bethel Church or the Jesus Culture band. They are dangerous and bring mockery to the name of Christ. Just because they allegedly do some good does not mean you should get involved with anything by them. Using that standard would let you partner with any religion or cult. Mormons make nice neighbors, after all, once you get past their false theology. And recommending Bethel’s not-as-bad-as-their-other-creepy-stuff resources is like offering a gateway drug. If someone likes an author of a book, don’t they often see what else he has to offer? The discernment starts to drop when trusted people position the author as “respected.”
The more I learn of Bethel, the more I think they use the strategy of those employing the iconic “Nigerian Prince funds transfer” email scam. We know those emails are ridiculous, but they write them that way on purpose. If they made them more plausible they’d attract too many responses from people who would eventually figure it out. So they make the emails so extreme that only the truly gullible would reply. Same thing with Bethel. They say and do such ridiculous things that only someone with a discernment vacuum or some deep emotional issues would give them a second glance. God’s word isn’t enough for them, so they seek experiences and “new revelations.” It is one of God’s graces that He makes these phonies so obvious.
And of course, they think Catholicism is a valid form of Christianity.
Before anyone seeks the “greater” gift of prophecy — however one defines it — he should seek the “lesser” gift of discernment. I’ve never had a strong position on whether certain spiritual gifts have ceased or not. I see merits in both arguments. But while I left the possibility open that they could remain, I can’t avoid two truths: I’ve never seen them applied properly (i.e., those who focus on tongues as evidence of salvation brutally misuse the few and clear verses that address them) and I’ve seen countless examples of abuse (false teachers, fake healings, guilt over “not having enough faith” to be healed, etc.). But this post wasn’t about which side is right on that debate, it was a warning against a ministry that has serious issues either way.
That said, I do like to point out that Most charismatics are closet cessationists, in that many who believe in the continuation of the “sign” gifts (healings, tongues, prophecies) are very sound when it comes to the essentials of the faith, the inerrancy of scripture, etc., yet they concede that many things have indeed ceased since the 1st century (the canon of scripture being closed, no more New Testament-style healings, no gift of foreign language tongues, no church discipline a la Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, etc.).
P.S. Here is a recommended reading by John MacArthur on miracles, signs and wonders.