Bethel Church | Deception, Heresy & A Call to Discernment

Apologetics | Culture

Published on August 21, 2020

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It has come to my attention that some people claim that Bill Johnson may have (since the writing of this article) explicitly renounced Kenosis heresy. If this is the case, I rejoice to hear that. However, at this time, I haven’t found any research to warrant a revision of the article below. Thus, this article may not reflect the most recent stance on these doctrines by Bethel Church. (The original article was written in 2015, I did a revision in 2018, and a minor update when I migrated the article to Theotivity in 2020) So in the interest of being forthright and endeavouring not to slander, please read this article with that disclaimer in mind.

As far as I know, the quotes from Bill Johnson’s printed work still stand and exist today. If this continues to be a concern to you, I’d urge the reader to do their own research on these matters to see if the current position of Bethel’s teaching contradicts Scripture. There still remain, however, many errors and concerning issues in Bethel’s theology and practice that have not changed. Any misrepresentation or inaccuracy reflected in this article is not done maliciously or intentionally, as it reflects my best knowledge at the time of authorship. If anything is inaccurate, please disregard it. My intention is not to mislead but to point out issues of serious concern. As always, I urge readers to be good Bereans.

“I know after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).

Sharp Words for an Important Point

There are many who are enthralled by Bethel Church’s worship music—however, I’m a bit less than excited, to say the least. This is not a concern that revolves around secondary issues such as musical style, fog machines or lasers. Rather this is one which is substantially important. These are not simply issues we can “agree to disagree” on. There are some issues which we should not cause division over because they are not definitional to Christianity. In those areas, grace and understanding are needed. However, one of the greatest dangers the Church faces is not from the outside, but rather from the inside. From wolves who sell lies,

“namely: emotionalism over doctrine; feelings over truth; relevance over repentance; experiential subjectivity over biblical objectivity; safety in and acceptance by the world over self-denial and faithful cross-bearing; eisegesis over exegesis; Christianese over communication; CEO’s over shepherds; coaches over elders…”[1]

Yes, those are sharp words. However, when wolves stalk the sheep, it is appropriate to draw the blade. I’ve intentionally tried to steer clear of personal attacks against specific individuals or groups in the past as that’s sometimes not the best way to go about things. I have no desire to become a ‘discernment blogger’ – there are enough of those around already. Furthermore, people tend to be a lot more defensive when their favourite teacher/pastor/singer is named and criticized as opposed to when you simply refute the teaching itself.

This is why most of the focus here will be on the teaching of Bethel. I know that this post may not be a popular one, and there will come all sorts of charges of creating division, being too harsh, criticizing fellow brothers, and a whole host of other accusations. Such is the risk of stating plainly the truth in a culture that has become opposed to any absolute assertion of truth and accepts all things under the guise of a redefinition of “tolerance” so that we can no longer meaningfully have any discussion. The greatest sin nowadays is no longer a departure from truth, but rather an assertion that there is truth and it is worth defending! “Niceness” has become the be-all-end-all of the discussion, and calling out a lie is not considered “nice”.

Worth the risk

It’s a risk I’m willing to take though because I think the stakes are high enough on this one. Furthermore, it is one which affects me personally, since I know friends who are caught up in this Bethel movement and as of yet, it seems, have not been able to see the danger. It also seems that many creative types are drawn to movements such as these that utilize aesthetic excellence to draw them in. True friends warn each other of impending danger—so take this as the faithful wounds of a friend (Prov. 27:6). I’m not out to attack Bethel just to get my jollies on or stir up controversy—but rather speaking out because I think these issues are deceptive and dangerous. Theology matters, especially when it isn’t just some minor discrepancy over a secondary issue but rather a perversion of essential Christian truth, Christ and the Gospel.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

Some will say, how can we criticize what is obviously a work of the Spirit—people are getting healed, these people love God, they use the Bible, etc. Their music is powerful and emotionally stirring—some are even lyrically great worship songs which I would otherwise have no problems singing. However, the most dangerous deception must be mixed in with some truth to cloak the lie. “Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his ministers as ministers of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) It is unfortunate, but there are a few musical groups that offer amazing worship music but err horribly in what they preach and thus their music ends up being a sort of gateway or Trojan Horse for their false teaching to lure those unsuspecting.

The errors are so numerous that it would be impossible to give a comprehensive response to everything. So, rather than write a lengthy thorough expose of all of Bethel’s errors (of which there are myriads), I will focus on the most glaringly erroneous and serious ones (which as of yet, I am unaware that they have changed their stance on or repented of). I start off by examining what I think is the most important aspect, the Christology they teach, as put forward by their lead pastor—Bill Johnson—then I will move on to further issues related to Bethel in a brief overview. There are numerous resources online for those who would like to dig deeper for themselves and I include links in this article. I pray that you will take the time to read and investigate these yourself, test it against the scriptures and be a good Berean (1 Thess. 5:21, Acts 17:11)!

A False Christ

Probably the most glaringly obvious problem is their teaching about Christ and His nature. Bill Johnson, their lead pastor of Bethel Church is known to have both taught and written errors about Jesus—some of which are blatant heresy. A false Christ is a non-saving Christ, so this is an issue of primary importance!

Kenosis Heresy

One of the major doctrinal errors he preaches is called Kenosis Heresy, which is a heresy introduced in the 1800s. It comes from the Greek word, κενόω [kenoó] which means “to empty out, render void; (passive) be emptied – hence, without recognition, perceived as valueless”[2] It is based on a misinterpretation of Philippians 2:7, where it says that Jesus “emptied Himself”.

“The kenosis theory states that Jesus gave up some of His divine attributes while He was a man here on earth. These attributes were omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Christ did this voluntarily so that He could function as a man in order to fulfill the work of redemption.”[3]

Here are some quotes from what Bill Johnson teaches and writes:

“Jesus did everything as a man, laying aside His divinity in order to become a model for us.”[4]

“…Jesus did everything in His earthly ministry as a man who had set aside all His divine privileges and power in order to model the Christian life for us.”[5]

Why is this a big deal anyways?

At first, this may sound okay to some, most false teaching does at first, however, under further examination of the text and the testimony of all of Scripture (not just single texts out of context), it is plain to see that this teaching is plainly wrong. The proper understanding of the incarnation of Christ is called the “hypostatic union” which maintains that Jesus possessed a fully undiminished human and divine nature. He was the God-man. Truly God, and truly man. One of the major reasons we have early church creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed (325 AD) was to defend the doctrine of the nature of Christ. So what then did Christ empty Himself of if it was not His deity? Deity cannot stop being deity obviously—for if God stopped being God, everything would cease to exist because He holds all things together (Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3, Acts 17:28).

“Rather, the ’emptying’ is satisfactorily explained in the subsequent words of the verse, taking note of the two participles which grammatically modify and explain the verb: He emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. This emptying, in fact, was done as the man Christ Jesus, and neither of these ideas necessitates or implies the giving up of divine attributes. Christianity maintains that Jesus did not ’empty’ himself of any of his divinity in the incarnation, although it is true that his divine attributes were veiled.”[6]

This “veiling” of Christ’s full glory and deity is, in context and within the lexical range of the Greek word, exactly what is being taught by Paul in Philippians. He is NOT teaching that Christ lost His divine nature.

“The Kenosis theory is a dangerous doctrine because if it were true, then it would mean that Jesus was not fully divine. If Jesus was not fully divine, then His atoning work would not be sufficient to atone for the sins of the world.”[7]

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology writes explicitly against Kenosis Heresy (and I’d encourage you to read it). He says,

“The reason why [Kenosis heresy] must be rejected is the larger context of the teaching of the New Testament and the doctrinal teaching of the entire Bible. If it were true that such a momentous event as this happened, that the eternal Son of God ceased for a time to have all the attributes of God… then we would expect that such an incredible event would be taught clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament, not found in the very doubtful interpretation of one word in one epistle. But we find the opposite of that…”[8]

Twisted Understanding of the “Anointing”

Bill Johnson uses this twisted Kenosis Heresy as the basis for his theology of miracles. He writes:

“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.”[9]

“…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…”[10]

Dear friends, I submit to you that Jesus did what He did because He was GOD. The miracles of Jesus point to His deity, and He Himself pointed to them as evidence in John 10:37-38. Jesus fulfilled miracles which only the Messiah would be able to do according to Jewish beliefs such as healing a man born blind from birth (John 9:1-32), and miracles which confirmed His deity—such as control over nature (Matt. 8:25-27), ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:3-12), and power over life and death itself (Matt. 9:18-25, Luke 7:11-15, John 11). They confirm that He was who He said He was. However, this is not what Bill Johnson and Bethel teach.

Johnson teaches that Jesus became the anointed one or Christ at His baptism.[11] This is blatantly wrong. He says,

“The outpouring of the Spirit also needed to happen to Jesus for Him to be fully qualified.  This was His quest.  Receiving this anointing qualified Him to be called the Christ, which means ‘anointed one.’ Without the experience [‘Christ anointing’ by the Spirit after water baptism] there could be no title.”[12]

Jesus IS the Christ. He did not become the Christ. The term “Christ” in orthodox Christianity denotes deity as shown in numerous Systematic Theologies such as Wayne Grudem’s popular one and Louis Berkof’s.[13] So what Johnson teaches is that Jesus was not divine before the Holy Spirit came upon Him after his baptism by this “Christ anointing”—something totally foreign to any Biblical theology and outright heresy. Furthermore, Johnson teaches that Jesus had to be “born again” via the resurrection![14] Johnson uses this twisted view of “the anointing” to try to propagate his theology of miracle-working—that believers too can have this “Christ anointing” and walk in the same power as Christ. They often misuse the “greater works” which Jesus talks about believers doing in John 14:12 for saying that believers can do greater miracles than Christ Himself! This misinterpretation also has been refuted numerous times, so I’d direct you to a good article from Desiring God on that.[15]

Antichrist teaching – Separationist Christology

Johnson’s Christology contains a heresy known as “separationist Christology” because it separates Christ from Jesus. [16] This plainly meets the requirements in 1 John 2:22 for antichrist because it denies that Jesus is the Christ.

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)

“…since He is only human (having “laid His divinity aside”) and becomes Christ only by virtue of the “Christ anointing” which also, in effect, denies Jesus is the Son of the Father (as opposed to merely a son) which in turn denies the Father [1 John 2:22-23];35 moreover, Johnson’s Christology denies that the person of Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [1 John 4:1-3] since it was merely Jesus of Nazareth who came in the flesh.”[17]

The fact that Bill Johnson will sometimes make statements about Christ which seem totally orthodox, makes it sometimes confusing and hard to spot his heresy. However, it is clearly seen in his books and sermon online—both of which are readily available. Johnson has a New Age version of Christ, one which is propagated by such as Alice Bailey or even found in the New Age book, “The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[18] As a result of his separationist theology, Johnson has said that Christ was unable to raise Himself from the dead. He says:

…The sacrifice that could atone for sin had to be a lamb, (powerless), and had to be spotless, (without sin). The anointing Jesus received was the equipment necessary, given by the Father to make it possible for Him to live beyond human limitation…[19]

…Jesus gave Himself to be crucified.  He did not raise Himself from the dead…His job was to give His life to die.  The Father raised Him by the Spirit…[20]

This is in direct contradiction John 2:19, where Jesus says “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” referring to His death and resurrection, or:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

Johnson’s “gospel” is thereby a non-saving one because he preaching a false Christ and false hope. To say that these things do not matter is to basically have no grounds then for rejecting the Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon “gospel”. It is emphatically of utmost importance!

For an even more thorough refutation of Bill Johnson’s Kenosis heresy, you can read these articles here and here.[21]

Further cause for concern: More false teaching, Waking angels, Necromancy, etc.

Kris Vallotton

In case one may think that the problem is only with Bill Johnson, I’d like to point out that Bethel has a school that trains and teaches all their leaders including their worship leaders. So its teaching spreads downward through the whole of Bethel’s ministries and it is usual that their worship concerts are not just music but also have teaching and indoctrination with their aberrant theology. There’s even a video of a girl at one of their events claiming to forgive sins.[22] Also, Kris Vallotton, the Senior Associate Pastor at Bethel Church also has his fair share of erroneous teachings and beliefs (of which I will not go through all but point out a few briefly).

Vallotton outright dismisses proper hermeneutics and exegesis and has even accused Jesus of taking Old Testament Scripture out of context in order to teach something “new”. [23] He teaches “oneness with God” instead of what Jesus actually prayed in John 17:20-21, that believers would be united with each other as the Godhead is united with each other. From this false teaching, he teaches a false “law of attraction” which says that since we’re one with God, unbelievers can see God in us in a way which is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture (1 Cor. 1:18, 1 Cor. 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 2:1-3).

He along with others at Bethel, ascribe to Word of Faith theology and “little gods” theology—both of which have been demonstrably shown as wrong (see article in the endnotes).[24] Vallotton and Bethel, along with all the others in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) teach a false doctrine of apostleship. Biblically speaking, all the apostles are dead and there are no modern-day apostles by the Biblical standard (see footnote).[25] He has partnered together with Catholic priests in ministry together[26]—however, what kind of protestant gospel is it that can be squared together with Roman Catholic theology?[27] Vallotton has released a “7 Signs of a Poor Gospel” where he attempts to defend their version of the gospel and beliefs, however, it falls sadly short of anything Biblical. You can read full responses to it here and here.

Beni Johnson Waking Angels?

As if this wasn’t enough, Bill Johnson’s wife—Beni Johnson—apparently goes around “waking up sleeping angels” by going around and yelling “wakey, wakey!” This is documented on her own blog.[28] (If it’s still online at the time of reading this)

“There are 282 occurrences of the word “angel” or “angels” in the Bible (ESV). I encourage you, the reader, to read the verses for yourself. You will not find a single instance, not one, that even remotely compares to Beni’s alleged encounters with the “angels” in her “Wakey, Wakey” story. You will not find a single instance in the Word of God where a person exerts authority over an angel, like waking them from a sound sleep.”[29]

Bethel has also been recorded as involved in demonic activities such as necromancy through their “grave sucking” events where groups go to the grave of a deceased ‘saint’ and ‘suck up the anointing’ from there. The Bible strongly warns against this numerous times (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; 20:27; Deut.18:11; 1 Sam. 28:3; 28:9; 2 Kings 21:6; 23:24; 2 Chron. 33:6; Isa. 8:19; 19:3). In case you think this is a stretching of the truth, there are videos documenting this as well as personal testimonies directly from the Bethel site.[30]

Soaking Prayer?

Related to this is Bethel’s “Soaking Prayer” which is defined as:

“Since the 1990s there has been an increased focus on mysticism within various segments of Christianity. Bordering on the esoteric, these mystical experiences broaden the division between a ‘factual faith’ and a ‘felt faith,’ and threaten to replace sound biblical teaching with emotion-driven response. Soaking prayer is one such mystical activity. It is described as resting in God’s presence. This is accomplished by playing some gentle worship songs, either sitting or lying down, and praying short, simple prayers for an extended period of time, but otherwise keeping your mind free of other thoughts. At the point when you sense God’s presence through some type of manifestation like tingling skin, a sensation of heat or cold, or even a gentle wind seemingly blowing through your body, you are to just ‘soak’ in that presence.”[31]

More info can be found here.[32]

In addition to all of this, and not to drag this article on, I could also expand volumes also on Bethel’s false signs and wonders such as Angel feathers, gems, ‘glory clouds’ and gold dust supposedly appearing in their meetings. These have been previously found out to be false and even set up on numerous occasions – see footnote.[33] Also, add to this false healings, prophesy and extra-biblical revelation as well as their misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit and His ministry. They’ve also done ‘readings’ on people based on tattoos and piercings. Their school of ministry has been involving Christians in mysticism and something of dead energy called “toking the Ghost” which is a horrible mockery of the Holy Spirit where they pretend to ‘smoke’ Him like marijuana. In addition, uncontrollable laughing, jerking, fire tunnels, tuning forks for prophecy, ‘drunken glory’ and so on are common in their movement. This is directly in contradiction to the fact that we’re given a spirit of self-control and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)

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Most recently, Bethel had an event where a lady comes on stage dressed in wizard’s garb and a replica of Gandalf’s staff who leads in some sort of ceremony inspired from Lord of the Rings to tell racism “you shall not pass!” Nope. I’m not making that up – it actually happened.

None of this can be justified Biblically—so these sorts of excesses are hardly evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. It may be the result of some sort of spirit, but I’m pretty sure it’s not holy. Examples of all of these are easily accessible online if you do a little digging.

Why bother?

The common refrain that you will hear from them and those who support such things are that “we cannot limit God.” However, this is a false argument. If we believe that the Scriptures are indeed Spirit breathed and are the ultimate authority—then God would not contradict Himself. Far from “putting God in a box”, we are rather fulfilling the Biblical mandate to “not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). The Bible is our only and final authority for spiritual truth, and it comes from God Himself. God is not self-contradicting. All of these errors are exactly what comes out of when we put aside God’s word as both sufficient and authoritative and turn to extra-biblical revelation. We do a disservice to its authority and sufficiency when we go outside of what it clearly outlines for us.

“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)

Led Astray Via Signs and Wonders

These false signs and wonders are extremely concerning for me, especially in light of Paul’s warnings:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,; and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17-18)

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

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I’m not the only one who has raised issues and you can watch testimony from those who have defected from Bethel – Part 1 and Part 2. Even our Lord warned us, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mark 13:22, Matt. 24:24) “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) The church, even from the beginning has always struggled and fought against heresy. We are to be united as the church, not in a way which compromises truth, but rather to be united IN THE TRUTH. This is why Paul in Ephesians 4 calls us to “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son.” This is true Christian unity.

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Naming Names

These issues are not secondary, in fact, Biblically they are of utmost importance—and that is why I speak out against it. Some may have a problem with calling names—and I’m not too quick to be excited to do so myself as I know the possible backlash people respond with often when this is done. However, there is a Biblical president for this when necessary—especially when dealing with dangerous doctrines or false teaching. Paul named and rebuked Peter publicly for unscriptural practice (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul named Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:18-20) and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:15-18) and Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14-15). John named Diotrephes (3 John 9). And these were inspired writers! Imagine having your name forever engraved in the holy writ as a heretic! Peter also talks about such people:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1)

Genuine Concern

It is out of a heart of genuine concern that I write this, hoping that some may come to see the dangers of such a ‘ministry’. The errors they propagate are not just periphery, but essential doctrines having to do with the nature of Christ Himself and the Gospel! The title “wolves” is not one said lightly, but when it comes to the essential message of Christianity there are very strong words used in opposition to those who would distort the one message that saves! We bark at the wolves for the sake of the sheep. Am I saying for you to delete all your Bethel music? Not necessarily (although I have stopped listening to their music because of how music royalties work). However, I’d encourage everyone to be on your guard to test ALL things Biblically.

In my local context in the Greater Toronto Area, Catch the Fire Revival Ministry is the group led by John and Carol Arnott. Catch the Fire is simply a repackaging of the Toronto Airport Vineyard and the false revival of 25 years ago known then as the “Toronto Blessing.” If you’re familiar with the history and what transpired at the Toronto Blessing, you can understand my cause for serious concern (see footnote for more info).[34] There’s much more I could have written about and I’d encourage you if you’re interested to dig for yourself. Far from asking you to lay aside your reason, or be unquestioning in what I’ve “authoritatively said”—this is simply a call for Biblical discernment.

I’ve seen the horrible mess that this sort of theological error can lead to. The false promises and broken trust. The emptiness of the ‘hope’ it offers. The lies, the deception, the false assurance and conversion. This is NOT what the Christian message is or what the blood of thousands of martyrs has been spilt over to preserve the true message of the Gospel for us today. Though some of their songs may be harmless and even good for use as “Christian worship”—their doctrine is dangerous and their ‘gospel’ is false and there are some of their song lyrics that go off into error as well (see endnotes).[35] It is with these things in consideration that every Christian and church should seriously consider just how helpful or dangerous Bethel’s music and content would be to their own congregations. But that is an issue I would defer to the elders of each church to weigh seriously for their own churches.

Sorry for the lengthy article, but I hope that it was helpful to you. Stay in the Word and SDG!


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