I am approached often regarding the ministry of Bethel Church in Redding, California (and subsequently, music that outflows through their musicians Jesus Culture). For weeks, I’ve prayed about how best to respond, not desiring to present a statement out of context, gossip, assault the true body of Christ, nor give any further attention to a ministry that is frighteningly far from biblical truth. An opportunity presented itself recently when a friend provided me with a Bethel post “God, Bad, & the Ugly” from Kris Vallotton who is considered, along with Bill Johnson, the chief leader/prophet for Bethel Church in Redding. So, instead of providing thoughts out of context, I will simply provide biblical response to his publicly made statements regarding Bethel’s ministry philosophy.
Author’s Note: After reading over his comments, I did not laugh nor mock, but more than anything shed tears. It appears that Bethel desperately desires to “mainstream” their church but cannot synthesize Scripture with their ministry. Their words display a desire to be spiritual but it is quite apparent they have no systematic interpretation process for the Scriptures they attempt to use. Therefore, not only are the positions false, they are theologically immature. This is sad for the leaders and their families, but much more so, for those that follow such behavior blindly. We cannot call what these men say or do “church”. In it’s best form, it may be considered immature confusion, a youth ministry gone mad. In it’s worse form, it is demonic. When people say that I should “go to my brothers” regarding this matter, I disagree, because I cannot consider them brothers. My prayer is that God enlighten them to truth and call them to repentance. As you will see, I ardently recommend that people avoid Bethel and any platform of media, music or otherwise, that comes from it’s dark center. Mr Vallotton’s reflections will be found in bold. I’ve noted vital biblical references below, alongside my brief thoughts. For sake of time, I’ve only highlighted the most evident errors, while leaving dozens on the sideline. For a more concise defense of biblical gifts vs. the supposed sign gifts of modern charismatic-continuism click HERE.
#1 CHURCH INVENTIONS
“…a small, yet influential coalition of people has shared negative reports about us. These reports often include words such as “controversial,” “unbalanced,” or even the word “cult” to describe us. To be frank, I can understand why certain religious leaders or unbelievers might view us through these perspectives. We certainly have made our share of mistakes, both as a leadership team and those who follow us. And we have such a high value for freedom and risk that it has created a kind-of research and development culture where people are encouraged to take risks. I think this stems from the fact that we view ourselves much more as pioneers than settlers. Therefore, we celebrate creativity, revelation, invention and innovation above comfort, safety and security.” – Vallotton
“Research and development” along with pioneering, invention, and innovation, are beneficial values for corporate America but the Church was long ago invented by Jesus Christ, pioneered by His apostles, and comes complete with the bible, a manual on how it is to be operated. Because Christ is the “inventor” and the head of this body, called the church, it becomes a fundamental, and deadly, flaw when any man attempts to build something called, “Church” on a set of values outside those clearly specified in Scripture (and hence practiced in orthodoxy for millennia). No natural man should ever presume to take the supernatural pen from the Eternal Architect’s mighty finger, and attempt to re-craft His preeminent design. The Church is certainly operated by imperfect people but its inception and directive stands most holy as crafted by a perfect God. In the original article, Bethel also moves to support this “R&D” culture by referencing a slew of Old Testament characters who proved “fallible”. Yet, Bethel forgets, or has not properly studied, that we do not live in the age of Law like these men and women but have received the progressive revelation of Christ’s incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and institution of the Church, with the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, and provides clear documented biblical principles to guide us. Thus, although our natural sin nature may be “fallible” like our Old Testament counterparts, through grace we can receive freedom from these carnal propensities, and the Church itself is to be led by those being sanctified unto the specific promises and purposes of this age of grace. (CF Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:26-30, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Cor 4:7-10, 2 Cor 5:17, Ephesians 2:1-10, Ephesians 4:17-32)
The most basic error of the Word of Faith movement (which attempts to add personal revelation atop what is already completed in Scripture) is that it places fallible human opinion atop perfected divine truth. Usually when a man or woman claims to have a, “A Word from the Lord” he presupposes himself as divinely inspired. Whenever he or she claims, “A dream to be divine” He says in essence, “The bible is not enough” or, “Although Paul says ‘Scripture is adequate,’ I’ve still got a little bit more.” And, this has no decent ending resolve. See the passages listed below. The bible speaks of itself and says clearly, “I am enough. I am complete.” In fact, it warns all men from daring to add or delete even one word. (Matt 16:18, Eph 2:19-20, 2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Rev 22:18-22)
#2 UNBRIDLED ECUMENICALISM
“We really think it’s important to give people the freedom to disagree with what we teach or practice without feeling like they are being disloyal or dishonoring. We have strong feelings about certain subjects that are even contrary to what some of our good friends believe. But we don’t want to be right at the expense of being together. If Jesus only had relationships with people who were doctrinally perfect… I’d be the only one he’d hang out with (smile face).” – Vallotton
The statement, “We do not want to be right at the expense of being together,” appears gracious to the one who accepts that there is no clear right. This is modernism, pluralism, and often taught by Oprah and her friends. But, to the man who trusts that Christ, and His Word, present a clear (and literal) right, and that this clear right is what leads a lost sinner away from darkness and into light, he will naturally conclude that speaking forth this right, and speaking against wrong, is not only a necessary thing, but the most loving thing. This is the definition of Christ’s, “Narrow Road” and is the model of the apostles. Yes, the bible clearly presents that Jesus healed the hurting and took time for the doctrinally lost but it is equally clear that Jesus had judgment reserved for the “doctrinally able” whom twisted and perverted spiritual doctrines unto their own ends. His indictment on the Pharisee will make any knee tremble. His curse upon Bethsaida will make any jaw clench. Paul, Peter, and Jude spend chapters of their letters calling the church to protect itself from error. Thus, if a man accepts Christ as Lord and His Word as the complete authority for Christian living and conduct in the Church, secondary differences may be patiently navigated between Christian brothers. However, if one attempts to diminish the inerrancy, authority, or sufficiency of Christ’s plan as presented through Holy Scripture, takes advantage of the sheep within a congregation, or elevates their own status over Christ as Lord and Master, there is ample biblical support for “not being together for the sake of being right.” (Luke 11:39-44, Luke 12:52-53, 2 Tim 4:3-5, 2 Peter 2:1-2, Jude 1:17-18)
#3 APOSTOLIC SIGNS
“Some write about me, Bill Johnson or Bethel Church as if we were the originators of the idea that Christians should have a supernatural lifestyle. This is comical to me. People will often write something like, “Bill Johnson says,” and then go on to quote the Bible word for word. For example, it was Jesus who said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…these signs will accompany those who have believed in My name: they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover,” (Mark 16:16-18). The exhortation, command and commission to do miracles, heal the sick and cast out demons is all throughout the New Testament. A supernatural lifestyle is articulated, demonstrated and replicated by Jesus and the apostles, as well as everyday believers from the book of Matthew to the book of Revelation…Yet some Christians choose to live with less than Jesus paid for, and that is their prerogative…” – Vallotton
The New Testament provides the inerrant account of Christ’s life on earth along with His miraculous signs specifying Him as Messiah. It also provides testimony of those whom He designated as apostles, whom would join Him working miracles testifying to the inception of the Church age. This period is often termed the Apostolic Age. To be an Apostle during the Apostolic Age, there were three basic requirements (see references below). Firstly, a man must have been an eyewitness of Christ. Secondly, he must have been appointed by Christ. Finally, his work was to be authenticated by signs. To the contrary of Bethel’s statement, this was not a commission given to “Everyday believers” nor were these apostolic furtherances even mentioned in any of the Prison or Pastoral Epistles of Paul. For a more comprehensive understanding of how Bethel misuses the Book of Acts see The Errors of Bethel & Jesus Culture Part 2 HERE.
Based on these biblical truths agreed to by fundamental, liberal, and even renewal theologians, the apostolic period ended with the death of the Apostle John in approximately 100AD. And, the early church fathers, Clement, Ignatius, and countless others, including Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Whitefield, for almost 1800 years termed the Apostolic Era finished. It was not until the early twentieth century that any “evangelical” would attempt to reinstate it. These “ministries” claim to hold a position that ended with the early church, hold onto an era that ended with the death of the Apostle John, and claim a designation that even the early church Fathers, closest to the original disciples, dared not maintain. We live in the post Apostolic Age, and the qualifications of the apostles, including their eyewitness accounting, appointment, and normative authenticating signs of miracle, have ceased to be possessed by any one man or any one ministry. This does not mean that God ceases to conduct miracles, through prayer, in unique situations. It does mean that the “Office” or “Authority” of any one human to conduct these miracles at-will has concluded. [For the sake of clarity, I’ll repeat this statement, “Historically, the cessation of sign gifts is not the cessation of miracles, but of any one man to operate those miracles at will.] Based on this, we must be ever vigilant when a church, denomination, or sect, attempts to utilize apostolic vernacular or usher normative sign gifts upon the body.
All of this concludes that any regular “sign” or “wonder” of today consists of one (or more) of the following elements: 1) An emotional or para-psychological response, prompting one feel better for a short time 2) Trickery and manipulation, wherein a leader stages or poses healings to gain followers or income 3) Demonic activity, that does assist in healing the body and further propagates the lie of a false prophet, as he destroys the soul. Kris Vallatton, Bill Johnson, C. Peter Wagner, and any man who claims the mantle of “Apostle” and thinks of himself as a modern Peter, Paul, James, or John, is not only misguided, He is opposing two millennia of church history. And, when these men attempt to sell the “apostolic” privilege to others, as these men do, they are leading many astray.
Finally, the statement that, “Some Christians choose to live with less than Jesus paid for” is the quintessential line of a False Prophet. It assumes that there is, “Hierarchy” in faith and that some Christians receive the “In” on God’s blessing while other are “stuck out in the cold of their faithless existence.” It assumes that this leader with the “In” can help others get “In”. Peter explained that it is greed which drives such teaching (2 Peter 2:3, Jude 1:16). To state that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is more meaningful for one than another, based on earthly profit or benefit, is to diminish the very substitute itself. How dare any man say such a thing?
One need not think long before discovering the weakness in this position. Why is it that those with the supposed “In” still get sick? Still die? Often lose all their money? Often blow up their marriages? The simple fact that Oral Roberts, Smith Wigglesworth, and Aimee Semple all lost their ministry, money, and died is ample evidence that faith doesn’t equate to health, wealth, and longevity. And, the historic (and continuing) thread of Christian martyrs, who have died, died young, and died in disrepute, unknown by earth but made famous in heaven, is the greatest proof that faith often comes with greater suffering not greater surplus! It is either insecurity or demonic dread that prompts any man build a ministry on, “Hierarchy” stating that they have a special “In” or “Anointing” or “Power” than those that follow. Bethel has taken a step further, conducting a school for innocent young people, immersing them in this deception. What must their secret club meetings be like? Who can ever attain their supernatural level? Jesus tore down the veil and those lies saying, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3, Mat 10:1, Acts 10:41-42, Mark 10:14-15)
#4 WORSHIP CONDUCT
“Then there is the infamous gold dust; again the phenomenon comes and goes. The first time I ever witnessed this myself was at a MorningStar conference more than fifteen years ago. The speaker released the “glory of God” in the room, and suddenly gold dust appeared on everyone’s face and hands…But the truth is, I really don’t know why these things happen. Therefore, I do think feathers and gold dust qualify as “wonders.”… One of the manifestations that has been most offensive to people is something we call “holy laughter.” This condition occurs when, for no obvious reason, people just begin to laugh hysterically as if they are drunk. Some laugh so hard that they literally fall on the ground… Again, I have never experienced this condition myself, but I have carried my wife out of several meetings when she was so “spiritually drunk” that she couldn’t walk. Weird you say? Yeah, I agree, it looks that way to me too. I love what Angela Monet said, “those who danced look quite insane to those who didn’t hear the music.” I think this quote applies here.” – Vallotton
Firstly, the (doxa) glory of God is not glitter, and those who encounter it in Scripture, fall to their faces in fear. Secondly, Jesus Christ came and walked earth as the glory of God. Secondly, the apostle Paul and Angela Monet seem to clearly disagree. Angela apparently wishes the church to look insane while Paul wrote clearly that the church would contain order and truth that would prompt the unbeliever to be, “Convicted by all… so that he would fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” Chaos does not convict sinners of God’s truth, the prophetic (spoken forth) Word given in order does! I refuse to give glitter clouds, feathers, or church drunkenness further writing time. It’s chaos. It’s been around for many years in different forms, and it’s not of the Lord. I do not have time nor space here to examine Bethel’s ministry of “Grave Sucking” nor their new “Prophecy of the Tattoo” ministry, dead-raising team, healing rooms, post-tribulationalism, nor the fact that their youth frolic through tunnels of fire in orgie induced euphoria. Come, please leaders of Bethel! Please consider your own families! You’ve allowed your wives mimic alcoholism, a sin that has destroyed hundreds of millions of lives and is clearly against Scriptural mandate (Eph 5:18). And, you now publicize that the Holy Spirit wants your family this way. Repent! (Ex 33:20, John 1:14, 1 Cor 14:23-25, 40)
#5 THE DEVIL
“Again, it’s very hard to attribute this to Satan when the fruit of this manifestation is always positive in the people having the experience… Could it be the devil? If it is the devil, he is doing a wonderful job of helping people get closer to God. In almost every case where people have been “slain in the Spirit” they report being more convinced than ever of God’s love for them.” – Vallotton
One of the pragmatic proofs used by ecstasy-based religions is “feeling” as conceptual evidence of it’s impact. It is remarkable, in fact, that Bethel focuses such inordinate amount of time on mystical experience, that there is very little, if any, doctrinal teaching about Christ at all. This is seen in Bethel’s assessment that, “They report being more convinced than ever of God’s love for them.” The obvious question here is, “Has Bethel not heard that ‘Satan disguises himself as an angel of light?'” (2 Cor 11:14)
Based on his words, I will suppose that Bethel’s leaders (and Mr. Vallotton himself) hold 1 John 4 & 5 as an arm’s length proof text that, “Feelings of God’s love equate to proper spiritual practices”. I’ll agree that the love of God is a central joy in the relationship with Christ and fellowship within a local church. But, allow me to show that it is NOT the only evidence of proper doctrine nor application within the church.
Notice contextually, that in 1 John 4 & 5 the apostle John references God’s love repeatedly but goes on to explain the “evidences” of any man “convinced” of God’s love for him. God’s love prompts that the individual accept Christ as Lord (4:2), God’s love is then evidenced when the individual loves others (4:8), God’s love is then evidenced when the individual accepts and obeys God’s commandments without burden (5:3), God’s love is then evidenced when the individual refrains from habitual sin (5:18), and God’s love is evidenced when the individual no longer holds any idols (5:21).
Therefore, being convinced of God’s “love” is not near enough evidence. Muslims believe in love, Jews believe in love, even Buddhists, and Hindus believe in love. The evidence of whether a person is truly called by Christ unto salvation comes following this reflective “convincing” of God’s love through the determined response to 1) adore Christ, 2) love others, 3) obey Scripture, 4) turn from sin, and 5) lay down all idols! I would recommend Bethel assess if this is happening to all those being, “slain in the spirit.” For it is my continual experience that those who grow to true depths in God’s grace are not at all interested in an emotional pulpit show, have no desire to have glitter dumped on them, and do not wish to leave church feeling inebriated. They can easily receive that Monday-Friday. They attend church to “grow in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior and to know Him and His sufferings, knowing that these light and temporary troubles are storing up for them a glory that outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17)
As we’ve seen, Bethel holds a theology that 1) Maintains new revelation 2) Is willing to unite with virtually anyone 3) Claims to operate as Apostles 4) Conducts worship outside biblical directive and order 5) Claims emotion as evidence of its veracity. Any one of these issues is error, all combined it is frightening. This stance against biblical authority and biblical methodology is not Christian orthodoxy.
People will ask why it is necessary to take time to point out the errors of another. My answer is simply that, “The Bible commands it.” Paul was clear that there are times when error must be clearly specified. The American Church has a lost sense of conviction because it does not operate precisely as the Bible commands.
Much of Paul’s final letter before death, 2 Timothy, was regarding false teaching. Paul commands young Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ASHAMED, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) The key word is “ashamed.” Shame is the painful feeling that rises from an awareness of having done something dishonorable. Anyone who “teaches falsely” will be ashamed when they meet God. It does not matter how many degrees on the wall, or how many people in the seats, or how passionately they believed what they said. If they have mishandled the Word of God, they will be ashamed.
Paul goes on to say that there’s one way to avoid being ashamed. You must, “Be diligent” and “Accurately handle” the Word of truth. In modern english we would say it this way, “Work with maximum effort to cut a straight line when you’re studying, teaching, and preaching.”
Much of what pretends to be, “Bible” and, “Church” and, “Preaching” today actually is not. Therefore, to help others avoid shame on the final day, and to protect even one sheep from being led astray, “truth in love” mandates clarity and boldness, regarding what is clearly unscriptural. As it relates to Bethel, the sword of the Word of God must be taken out of its scabbard. May true followers of Christ delete the music, set down the books, avoid the school, and lovingly steer others from anathema.
The preceding was written for the theological clarity and intended use of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, CA. To email the author directly, email email@example.com