Bethel’s Bill Johnson: A Response to Charisma News (Part 2)

This is the second part of my response to Jennifer LeClaire’s, and Dr Michael Brown’s PR job on Bethel and Bill Johnson.

In my previous article I argued that Charisma’s article confirmed that Johnson and Bethel should be avoided because of 1) heretical influences 2) False teaching about healing 3)The downgrading of the doctrine of Revelation and Scripture 4) The down grading of preaching 5) Unbiblical mysticism 6) Occultic Influences 7) Human manipulation. In part one, we covered points one and two in this blog, we shall look at the rest of these points, as they are all inter-related in some way.

Bill Johnson said he works hard to create an atmosphere.

atmosphere-bethel

I think Bill has confessed more than he intends to in these statements. Of course, he believes God’s presence is manifesting in supernatural ways at Bethel, but at the same time, he admits he works hard to create that kind of environment. I would say what is happening at Bethel is exactly that, a manufactured environment. Remove the lights, remove the high-powered music, remove the emotionalism, remove the hype, and remove the ministry of transference (where God’s presence is passed from one person to another) and what sort of an atmosphere would you have left? Not much.

This is the problem with modern healing ministries, they are dependent upon a manufactured environment. An environment that can create a sense of group euphoria, or even self-hypnosis, but in the end it only masquerades as supernatural healing power. People in pain may feel better for a brief time, but once the euphoria wears off, their pain is back and they realise they are not healed. This is what is happening in mass healing crusades.

The glory of God?

I also want to pick up on something Johnson said about ‘the glory of God’.

“When the glory of God begins to come into the room, I’m not going to stop that to teach. I don’t have anything that important to say. To me, it’s all about the presence.”

This is a packed statement that raises so many issues, that we need to take some time with it.

This statement gives us some insight into Johnson’s understanding of the doctrine of revelation, the doctrine of scripture, and the place of preaching. Further, it reveals Johnson’s commitment to what he understands to be the glory of God. Leaving aside what Johnson means by the glory of God for a moment, let us take a moment to think about what he thinks about the regular ministry of the church. In his view, an experience of ‘the glory’ is more important than teaching. This encounter is the goal for Johnson. So, if we can achieve the goal without the means, we can abandon the means. However, notice  how Johnson views the preaching ministry, or rather how he does not view it. In his mind, he doesn’t ‘have anything that important to say’. I agree, he doesn’t. But the point is, teaching should never be about what Johnson, or any other preacher has to say, preaching should be about what God says.

Here is the fundamental issue: Johnson, and charismatics who embrace his kind of thinking, seem to be unaware that preaching and teaching should not be promotion of our ideas, it should be the expounding of the Word of God.

Johnson pits the Word of God against the presence of God, but in reality, these cannot be separated. I find it interesting that Johnson thinks he is justified in setting aside something that God does not,

you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Psalm 138:2)

God has a high view of scripture. Of course Johnson thinks the manifestation of God’s ‘glory’ justifies the setting aside of teaching – because he has nothing that good to say. Perhaps the issue is that he should be showing people what God has said, and not what he thinks. But this is a contemporary charismatic problem, the preaching of the word has been replaced with the ideas of man.

However, Johnson’s other issue is this, he assumes that the Word and Presence are at odds with each other. Somehow in his mind, experience of God’s presence removes the need for God’s word. Biblically speaking, this could not be further from the truth. Johnson claims to be something of a Restorationist – he wants the book of Acts type stuff – yet even on the day of Pentecost – when the presence of God was poured out like a flood upon the early church, rather than setting aside the preaching of the Word of God – the presence of God empowered the church to declare the Word of God!

In Acts 2: 1 –3  we see the presence of God flood the church.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (Acts 2:1-3 NIV)

But what is the outcome of this? Peter teaches – he explains the manifestation by preaching the Word of God – he takes them through the Old Testament.

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: (Acts 2:16 NIV)

Let me suggest that as anointed and Spirit-filled as Johnson claims to be, that he is nowhere near the level of the Apostle Peter. And if even the day of Pentecost did not cause Peter to abandon the scriptures and preaching, dare I suggest that Johnson should also not set aside the Word of God in place of mystical experiences.

But this raises the question, what does Johnson mean by the glory of God? Well we don’t need to guess. We have him on video speaking about the time he believed the glory appeared in his church. This is when gold dust seems to fall from some kind of air conditioning mechanism which was hanging from the ceiling of the church.

Crowds at Bethel Capture the Cloud on Cameras

The crowd gather to gaze, take pictures, catch gold flakes and laugh and squeal with excitement. The video is bizarre. Theories abound as to what is happening. But all that aside, the incident again gives us insight into Johnson’s theology and priorities. Here is what he said.

There’s just signs that make you wonder. It’s really a big deal that we have things that we cannot explain, or understand or control. I wondered if it’s okay to run to a corner of the room and watch and take pictures . . .I think he (God) rather enjoys it as long as we don’t prostitute it for our glory. As long as we give him glory and celebrate, it feels like children, you know, just discovering him. You know, we don’t seek for signs, but we don’t ignore them either.

The church has been gathering together, for decades, around a sermon, Israel camped around the presence.

And we’ve known that there are going to be some dramatic shifts take place on how we do life and how we do church. The presence of God is the greatest gift we have. And to shut everything else down, because of that, is absolutely worth it to me.

The contrast between the glory of God in scripture and the ‘glory cloud’ at Bethel should be obvious. Let’s just say, if your ‘glory of God’ cloud does not result in people falling face first in total terror whilst crying out in anguish and fear – it’s probably not the Glory of God. If your ‘glory cloud’ causes people to laugh, and take selfies with the ‘glory cloud’ instead of falling down as if dead – it’s probably not the glory of God. It’s a sad day, when street artists like Banksy are more prophetic than the so called charismatic prophets.

banksy-cameras

A picture paints a thousand words. Banksy is spot in caricaturing our culture. This is what would happen if Jesus were to be crucified in our time. Bethel thinks Jesus is appearing in their church, and what do they do? They try to Insta Gram it. And Johnson endorses it – whilst trying to remain pious by saying ‘don’t prostitute it’, yet all the time prostituting what he thinks is the glory of God.

What is going on at Bethel? Is it a deceptive, humanely engineered hoax? Is it demonic? Is it God? I think the first two are a real possibility. I can’t accept it is the latter. Now, charismatics freak out at that. They are too scared to say that. I’ve been warned about speaking out ‘just in case it is God’. However, I’ve already given some good reasons as to why this can’t be God – but let me spell them out.

God doesn’t contradict his Word. God’s Word is the Revelation of God. It leads us to him. Anything that leads us away from the Word is deception. A pursuit of experience, at the expense of the Word of God is mysticism – a mysticism that will end up in the Occult. Johnson claims his mysterious cloud is the glory of God, if it is – it lacks the marks that always accompany the glory.

When God shows up in scripture it is always an awe-inspiring experience. Johnson’s glory is more like the catholic stories of Jesus appearing on a slices of toast than it is the true manifestation of the glory of God we see in scripture. Further, God’s manifestations in scripture go hand in hand with his word. Johnson pits scripture against the Word of God, he says the church gathers around a sermon whilst Israel camped around the presence, but he seems to ignore two important things. With the OT presence came the OT Law. In other words, the very Words of God. And, in fact, Israel actually camped around a golden calf – a man-made idol. Johnson is in danger of doing the same thing.

Further, God called Israel to camp around the tabernacle, for New Testament believers, we are the tabernacle. We don’t need to go looking for the glory, if we are truly in Christ, the glory of God is within us. Why go in search of glitter out with, when we can know the power of Christ within?

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:22)

This is the real issue. Like the false teachers at the time of the apostles, Johnson promises us deeper spirituality, but in the end sells us short. He offers us glory, but delivers us glitter – and not all that glitters is gold.

Here is my advice, stick to the scriptures, stick to the gospel, stick to the true preaching of the word – and there you will find the true glory of God – not in the cloud that glitters, but in the Son of God who died and rose again.

Let me finish with a quote from J.I. Packer which sums up the problem with Bethel.

Christian history has seen many movements of experience-orientated reaction against theology’s supposedly barren intellectualism. These movements have thought they could get on without serious theological study, and have discouraged their adherents from engaging in it. In the short term, while living on theological capital brought in from outside by their founders, they have often channelled spiritual life in an impressive way, but with the passage of time they have again and again lapsed into old errors and forms of imbalance and stuntedness which, for lack of theological resources, they are unable effectively to correct, and which prompt the rest of the church to stand back from them. J.I. Packer.