Question: I don’t understand why Bill Johnson and Bethel Church in Redding are not classified as a cult (along with Word-Faith). They deny the deity of Christ, they deny the Scriptures and add to and subtract from them, their schools of ministry are lessons in how to operate in the occult and demonology (I was shocked when a friend told me what techniques they used). They are false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. What do you think?
Response: Bill and Brenda Johnson are the Senior Pastors of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Bethel Church is firmly aligned with the Word-Faith movement and identifies with the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), or the Third Wave Movement with its “prophets,” “apostles,” and alleged manifestions. Bill Johnson is called an “apostle” by C. Peter Wagner (See TBC 5/97, 2/07). His theology has amounted to what some call a “de facto denial of the deity of Christ.”
By this, they are referring to Johnson’s teaching that Christ set aside His deity during His earthly sojourn. Johnson has said, “Jesus was (and is) God. Eternally God. That never changed. But He chose to live with self-imposed restriction while living on earth in the flesh—as a man. In doing so, He defeated sin, temptation, the powers of darkness as a man. We inherit His victory—it was for us. He never sinned!” (Bill Johnson, Facebook 3/21/2011).
If Johnson had stopped at this point, his view of Christ would seem to be biblical—but he didn’t.
Consequently, that’s not all that he’s taught or all that his followers have said. Speaking of Jesus, Johnson wrote, “He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us” (Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth, p. 29). That’s human reasoning, and by implication opens the way for a deification of man.
Johnson’s view of our Lord’s “emptying Himself,” of which the literal meaning is “humbled himself” (Philippians:2:7), aligns very well with the Latter Rain/Word-Faith “little gods” teaching of Kenneth Copeland and others. Johnson has gone on to say, “God gave every believer the power to heal as Jesus did” (Johnson, “You’ve Got the Power,” Charisma Online, March 2012). In line with Word-Faith teaching, Johnson and his followers speak of these presumed abilities in a way that sounds very much like mind science and departs from Scripture.
Though differing from Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the deity of Jesus, Johnson’s view of Christ is confusing at best, and he endangers his followers by leading them away from the security of the Word.
Johnson writes, “Those who feel safe because of their intellectual grasp of Scriptures enjoy a false sense of security. None of us has a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map—to go beyond what we know” (Johnson, When Heaven, p. 76).
In conclusion, Johnson is advocating extrabiblical revelation. Going “off the map” is forsaking the safety and sufficiency of Scripture.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua:1:8)
The human tendency is to focus on experience, which then can lead to a number of problems. The charismatic movement is full of examples of people who did not “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians:5:21), and it eventually led to pride, an attitude of superiority, imitating and covetousness by followers, and ministries full of error and imbalance. The works of God are indeed splendid and hand tailored, but how we handle them must glorify Him and Him alone.