Every once in a while, I get to ponder an issue. Or wrestle, in Christian-speak. Being a teacher and preacher, many of these are theological or doctrinal in nature, and understandably so. After all, I do not wish to teach wrongly nor lead others down the wrong path, albeit unintentionally.
A present conundrum is that of false teachers and false prophets. Of late, there has been quite a focus on certain leaders and ministries. Sadly, given such a critical issue, there is no consensus within the Body of Christ and this can be clearly seen whenever any of these is highlighted. To this end, all we have is a general warning to be careful of deception in the Church, but believers are none the wiser as to what constitutes deception, who might the deception be coming from, or the consequences of one who is deceived.
Take, for example, the ministry of Bethel, fronted by Pastor Bill Johnson, associated with the New Apostolic Reformation movement, presumably an evolved version of the Latter Rain Movement. Without doubt, there have been positive experiences and expressions associated with this ministry. At the same time, more than a few have highlighted Bethel’s questionable theology and doctrine; not to mention the practice of grave sucking (which many are happy to disregard, preferring to focus only on the good stuff).
In a post about Bethel, “On Babies and Bethelwater”, Andrew Wilson (a pastor, writer, and columnist for Christianity Today) sought to provide a balanced perspective of what he had observed and experienced. After sharing points of concern and compliments – ten each – his conclusion was that Bethel should not be considered cultic or heretical, and that more churches could learn from Bethel and be more like them in their expressions of love, faith and passion.
This appears and sounds good, and we should just move on and not worry so much, right? And yet, …
In Wilson’s assessment of Bethel’s theology, he described it as “problematic, troubling, concerning or even dangerous“. In fact, he says that “there are worrying correspondences here with several of the biggest heresies the Church faced in the first few centuries” (emphasis mine). Yet, these do not seem to matter too much when viewed against the radically transformed lives of Bethel’s followers. Perhaps, it is thus not that dangerous after all? If there is no cause for alarm, then why be troubled or concerned in the first place?
Even worse, could one possibly misconstrue and therefore surmise: That it is okay to have bad and wrong theology if the people are generally loving and nice? That it is okay to have unsound doctrine as long as the sick are healed and the ministry is evidenced by signs and wonders, gold dust and glory clouds? That it is okay as long as the music takes one into God’s presence? – if the ‘presence’ is even an objective indicator in the first place.
That the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater, Wilson advises, “Eat the fish, yes: but spit out the bones, and make sure there aren’t so many bones that you choke.” In other words, just take the ‘okay’ parts but not the ‘iffy’ ones. But what if a believer is not able to discern which is which? Is it all a matter of preference then? Would it be a tad too late when one chokes on the bones? What does that even mean, spiritually? What if it is not bones, but poison? Is that okay still? Once again, how dangerous is dangerous?
Please do not miss the point here. I have nothing against Pastor Andrew Wilson at all. I believe he wrote and crafted the post carefully, seeking to preserve peace and unity in the Body of Christ. I am not exactly a Bill Johnson fan but I must confess that his gentle posture of honour is rather alluring (great one-liners too!). I also know of many who have been positively impacted through this ministry. No, this is not a Bethel-bashing post, so please refrain from reading it as such. This is just little ol’ me trying to grapple with something I consider very important and critical – and yet, there does not seem to be clear answers at all.
I suppose my pondering and wrestling will continue as I prayerfully consider the goings-on in the Body of Christ against a postmodern backdrop of experiential spirituality. I will remain open to how the Lord would move by His Spirit, but must also not forget to stay grounded in His Word. In a generation where blessings are emphasised, perhaps overly, it would do us well to remember to also heed the warnings, equally God-breathed, given for good reason and especially to ones such as us living in the last days.
Related Posts: Pray for Those who are Teachers of the Word, How Dangerous is the Error of Hyper Grace, The Dangers of Biblical Illiteracy: Inspiration or Interpretation, Biblical Interpretation: Dividing or Separating