One of the most interesting things to come out of yesterday’s story on the death of two year old Olive Heiligenthal and the prayers out of Bethel Redding church to restore her to life are the claims here and elsewhere of people that this must be a hoax. That this was not real, no church could possibly believe this, and it had been cooked up by a scandal-hungry media and the church to garner more eyeballs. People claiming that Bethel is a bit player out there tiny church with no influence. If only that were actually true they would be far less frightening!
I am going to explain why churches like Bethel Redding are real and the potential for worldwide spread of their ideas and toxic claims.
I guess this story sounds entirely too strange to be true. But it is the way things are handled at Bethel Redding.
Bethel Redding is no stranger to controversy and weird media outings, like their recent claims that the impeachment of president Donald Trump would end victorious for him, and badly for everyone else. Not quite the same thing I was viewing yesterday during the impeachment hearings, but Bethel has always made these very out there supernatural claims of spiritual activity steering daily life.
This isn’t some weird random happening with Bethel. This is business as usual at a place that has strayed many years ago into a rather strange place being led by Bill Johnson. I know Bill, and he’s a very convincing, convicting charismatic leader. Have heard him speak many times, he comes across as a guy with all the answers, so much so that you can almost miss all of the cult-esque things he’s saying.
The church had been Assemblies of God for many years, but in 2005 Bill Johnson, along with his wife Beni, son Brian and daughter in law Jenn, took the church into non-denominational direction. They left the Assemblies of God and evolved into the toxic Evangelical-Quiverfull mega church they are now.
Bethel is huge in the contemporary worship music scene, starting with such hits as “Oh Taste and See” all the way through the recent church anthem “This is Amazing Grace” being sung in churches around the world. If you’ve ever heard or sung songs by Phil Wickham, or Jeremy Riddle you’ve also embraced or enabled Bethel Redding. Their musical influence and publishing division is huge, that 900 pound gorilla on the worship scene that no one can ignore.
It’s hard to know who or what you’re getting into the musical bed with. Bill Johnson teaches that worship is a large important part in getting God to hear your prayers. Through their music Bethel now has found their wedge into other churches and denominations for subtle promotion of their agenda. You cannot claim their reach is small when they’ve turned out such a plethora of popular worship music sung in many churches.
The whole idea of “Glory Clouds” falling gold dust, gemstones and feathers came out of Bethel along with the idea of “Grave Sucking”. Now Bethel has now started to slightly denounce and back away from “Grave Sucking” but they still teach a signs, wonders, and angelogy type theology. They claim all of these things and more are signs of God’s presence in that place.
What is “Grave Sucking” I hear you say:
Some members of Bethel—including senior pastor Beni Johnson—have allegedly engaged in the practice of “grave sucking” or “grave soaking”—lying on a person’s grave to “soak up” the deceased’s “anointing.” In an interview, Bill Johnson has said that neither he nor Bethel encourages the practice of grave sucking. However, in his book The Physics of Heaven, Johnson says:
“There are anointings, mantles, revelations and mysteries that have lain unclaimed, literally where they were left, because the generation that walked in them never passed them on. I believe it’s possible for us to recover realms of anointing, realms of insight, realms of God that have been untended for decades simply by choosing to reclaim them and perpetuate them for future generations.”
Before you dismiss this all as lunatic hysteria let me just say I have sat in Bill Johnson teachings at places like the Voice of the Apostles conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvanis and seen this gold dust and feathers. Did not entirely buy it then, and still think it is some manufactured hooey dreamed up to bring in more people and more money.
Bethel Redding also has runs Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, both in seminars, teachings around the world and online. The school teaches all of the above things and more. Here’s what they claim:
“Students will learn how to read, understand, and ‘do’ the Bible, how to practice His presence, to witness, heal the sick, prophesy, preach, pray, cast out demons and much more.”
They do not advertise it here, but the “and much more” includes claims of raising people from the dead as well as all that soul sucking, angels, miracles, gold and feathers. Things that regular Christians would run from. Should run from because they aren’t so much Biblical as dreamed up by the guy I once heard describe his conservation experience as being stoned in a gas station bathroom as a young man in California. I heard this at the Voice of the Apostles conference. Unbalanced all the way around.
Bethel is nothing if not a cult of personality centered around the words of one Bill Johnson.
Here is the core of Bill Johnson’s beliefs, summed up in his own words from a conference. It is from his core belief that Jesus Christ was perfect and it is always God’s will to heal everyone that comes forward:
“How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it.
There are no deficiencies on His end—neither the covenant is deficient, nor His compassion or promises. All lack is on our end of the equation. The only time someone wasn’t healed in the Bible (gospels) is when the disciples prayed for them. For example, Mark 9 when they prayed for the tormented child. They did not have breakthrough. But then, Jesus came and brought healing and deliverance to the child.
Jesus Christ is perfect theology—He is the will of God. We can’t lower the standard of scripture to our level of experience . . . or in most cases, inexperience. It’s a very uncomfortable realization—not everyone can handle it. Most create doctrine that you can’t find in the person of Jesus. He is the will of God.”
This is Bill’s core sermon, and the thing that this church pursues relentlessly with their Healing Rooms and training of others to set up Healing Rooms. My old church had a Bethel linked Healing Room too. I was on that team.
Let me preface what I am about to say by stating there is nothing wrong with prayer, or praying for someone else, for you to pray someone will be healed of ill health. The only time it’s wrong is when you substitute ‘Thoughts and prayers’ for real legitimate action. Like being asked to make a meal for a sick person and saying no, but you’re be sending them thoughts and prayers.
People would come from all over the East Coast for prayer. I remember in particular a lady coming from Connecticut for prayer because she had end stage breast cancer. We’d worship and then pray. Clearly very few people were healed this way, althought many claimed it, but later you saw them and everything was exactly the same. The desperately ill being exploited.
What was telling was the answers given if a healing did not take place. Sometimes it was said that the healing had not yet manifested on this side, that it had happened supernaturally in heaven and you should wait for the manifestations here.
Sometimes the answer was that the person being prayer for had secret sin, or demons, or spiritual bondages. Never was it the fault of those praying, always the blame was cast outward.
I remember in particular a lady I knew with MS that we routinely prayed for and saw nothing happen. As soon as she left every week we’d seal the room and go into cleansing prayers because people on the team claimed she wasn’t so much sick as that she carried a ‘dark energy’ of the ‘demonic’ and we needed cleansing because of that.
That is Bethel! It is real. They believe it. No, no one is making anything about this situation up. I do not know the details of the child’s death, but I do know that the church is acting like they always do, swinging in to action in the most predictable way possible.
So many people have written about Bethel through the years. NLQ writer and friend Bruce Gerencser and I have spoken about Bethel because I’d told him about my own personal involvement with Bethel. None of this is a secret. It’s out there to discover for anyone that can Google it up. This article by The Gospel Coalition is good because it sums up Bethel quickly and accurately. They also have all the quotes I know are accurate for having sat through those teachings so many times.
If you think all of this is strange be sure to take a look at Bruce Gerencser’s take on their children’s ministry for the most bizarre content.
Bethel truly is a dangerous one man directed cult in every way.
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