History and Structure of Sozo
“SOZO” is a psycho-spiritual deliverance and inner healing methodology birthed out of Bethel Church in Redding, California. But though the Bethel Sozo website banner says, “[A] Ministry of Bethel Church,” the FAQ section disclaims, “The Sozo staff are independent contractors and are not Bethel Church Staff.” Apparently for legal reasons, no one wants to call this “counseling” or “therapy.” Rather, they simply call it “healing prayer” (and yet, they strongly recommend a suggested donation for receiving “prayer” for which recipients (“Sozoees”) must first sign a waiver.
For background, it is interesting to note that Bethel was once an Assemblies of God (AG) church, and Bill Johnson was an AG pastor; but he led his flock out of AG in 2006 to jump into the NAR/River Revival movement. Johnson is now a self-appointed “apostle,” and his church is now a part of his own “Revival Alliance” network, co-founded with Che Ahn (Harvest Rock Church, Pasadena, CA) and John Arnott (Catch the Fire Toronto; formerly Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship; formerly Toronto Airport Vineyard Church).
Although Sozo got its start at Bethel, other Sozo groups have spun off, such as The Freedom Resource (TFR). Headed by author and executive director Andy Reese, TFR publishes its own manuals and presentations on how to use Sozo. According to TFR’s website, no one individual “owns” or controls the copyright for Sozo concepts and “tools” used in the program: “This particular style or format for ministry has evolved (and continues to evolve) from roots in the Argentine revivals, the understanding and writings of various practitioners of inner healing and deliverance, and from the experience of several churches and individuals including Randy Clark’s ministry and Bethel Church in Redding, California. It is changing and growing as we all learn, grow, and share experiences and tools with each other.” [Note: TFR just announced brand differentiation from Bethel Sozo and will now practice under “Freedom Prayer.”]
Apparently, then, the system is very adaptable, malleable, and open-ended. But one thing appears clear: Something else is needed in addition to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. As Reese acknowledges, Sozo has “evolved...and continues to evolve.” From where? From God’s Word? Are the Scriptures ever-changing? No, Sozo comes from “roots in the Argentine revivals...the writings of various practitioners...and from the experience of...individuals.” Such a description can lead one only to the inescapable conclusion that these “evolving” techniques are adapted from man’s own inventions, not from the inspired Word of God.
Bethel Sozo: Redefining "Salvation"?
The Bethel Sozo website appears to redefine “salvation” not as an accomplishment of Christ at a moment in time but as a process of perpetual deliverance (with the help of their tools, of course):
The SOZO ministry is a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry in which the main aim is to get to the root of those things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.... SOZO is the Greek word translated “saved, healed, delivered.” Sozo contains the whole package of being made whole or well.
At the very least, this confuses salvation (the purchase of God) with ongoing sanctification of the believer (which comes as we mature in the Lord and respond in obedience to His word). The Sozo tools, according to Bethel, become part and parcel of a believer’s journey to complete the salvation (sozo) process. This subtle shift in terminology raises a critical question: In what then, does Bethel church encourage believers and non-believers to put their faith and hope: Jesus Christ, or the Sozo experience?
The Freedom Resource website makes a telling correlation between itself and the addiction recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Although it refers only to the organizational structure, in fact its use of divination, the technique by which AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson received its 12 Steps methodology, is the main technique of Sozo’s “tools.”
As explained by Dave Hunt in his article “God as You Conceive Him/Her/It to Be” (The Berean Call, July 1997), the principles of AA “came by direct inspiration from the demonic world and they open the door to the occult by introducing members to a false god” (www.thebereancall.org/node/5821). Like AA’s 12 Steps, Sozo utilizes methodologies that are either not found in Scripture or condemned by God’s Word.
Six Tools—Six Visions—Six Spirits?
According to the Bethel Sozo website, there are six tools (psychotherapeutic techniques) that are used by the SOZO team (“Sozoers”): • Father Ladder • Four Doors • Presenting Jesus • The Wall • Trigger Mechanisms (Advanced Tool) • Divine Editing (Advanced Tool).
By using these tools and following the Holy Spirit, wounds are healed, strongholds broken, truth revealed, and “doors” closed.... A Sozo session may last 2-3 hours and is conducted by two team members. The Sozo team will sit down with you and with the help of the Holy Spirit walk you through the process of freedom and wholeness.... Sozo is not a counseling session but a time of interacting with Father, Son and Holy Spirit for wholeness and pursuing of your destiny.
Sozo is indeed a “counseling session,” nevertheless. Dawna DeSilva, founder of Sozo at Bethel, describes the program this way in the Sozo Basic DVD:
“Our mission statement is to provide gentle, yet powerful deliverance in a safe and honoring atmosphere in which the godhead is allowed to direct our means of ministering. You will understand that when we teach you the “father ladder,” when we talk about the godhead. Most people [when we ask] ‘who do you pray to?’ God. Okay, that’s a good place to start. But we’re going to teach you to use the tool for the entire aspect of God. God the Father, God the Son, the Holy Spirit.”
It sounds as though DeSilva has discovered “a new way” to pray—one that believers have somehow missed or forgotten that needs to be “restored.” Jesus not only gave us a model for prayer in Mt 6:9-13, but there are many examples of prayer in Scripture, all directed to the Father, through the Son, and “interpreted” by the Holy Spirit (Rom:8:26). Though many believers innocently interchange “Jesus” and “Father” in prayer, finding fault in that would be slicing things pretty thin, since Christ declared “I and my Father are one.” Evidently, however, DeSilva suggests we should direct our prayers to three separate entities, depending upon the specific purpose or desired result. As we’ll see, this can be a door for unholy spirits to enter, especially if one is put into a meditative state of mind.
"Climbing Up Another Way"?
Co-founder of Bethel Sozo, Teresa Liebscher, elaborates on one of the program’s “tools”:
[The Father Ladder] is an amazing tool. It’s gonna get you some information, and to the wounds and lies really quick and easy. It’s also a tool that can be used in any way, shape or form, including, once you get healed, it’s gonna be a tool that you’ll be able to access for the rest of your life. I’m going to explain that as we go along. I use it all the time, with myself, with my friends, and a lot of time with my family too. It’s a great tool, you guys are gonna fall in love [with it.]”
So, what exactly is the Father Ladder? The Bethel Sozo website doesn’t say. Even the available YouTube clips featuring Dawna and Teresa only entice, not explain. In order to find out, you have to attend a seminar, or purchase their DVD series. The Basic Sozo DVD course is $105, plus a $10 manual. The Advanced Sozo DVD course is $77, plus a $10 manual, which includes the “continuing treatment” course called “Shabar,” sold separately for $45.
The Freedom Resource “Sozo Network” has authored its own set of guides and materials. The “ladder” is a computer flowchart method of interviewing clients that is designed to reveal what has been popularly described by both secular psychologists and Christian counselors as “the father wound” (although it may be a wound inflicted by someone else, or even yourself). In The Sozo User Manual, Andy Reese explains, “We are interacting with both the person [client] and God throughout the process. We begin by asking the person to picture Papa God, or by asking Papa to give the person a picture of Himself. We might say, ‘What picture comes to mind when I say “Father God”? or ‘Picture Papa God and describe Him to me.’” Curiously, Reese says that “We will use a Father picture to explain [the process] though a Mother or Sibling picture works the same way” (Italics added).
This is violation number one. (Actually, it is a “number two” violation of the Ten Commandments): “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above...” (Ex 20:4). Many will protest that a graven (three-dimensional) image is not the same thing as an imagined picture. But is this not the first step an artist or sculptor starts with to carve or cast a graven image? “It’s just a representation!” some would protest. “I’m not worshiping it!” Fine. But where in God’s Word are we ever instructed to picture or visualize God or Jesus? Of course, when Jesus walked the earth, He affirmed His deity by declaring, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jn:14:9). Christ also declared, “I and my Father are one” (Jn:10:30). However, we are also told that “no man hath seen God at any time” (Jn:1:18, 1 Jn:4:12).
Scripture instructs us not only to avoid making “graven images,” but also to avoid creating “any likeness” of “any thing that is in heaven above.” Unfortunately, the church has long succumbed to popular culture and mythology when it comes to depicting “angels,” “Jesus,” and “God” in all forms of art and media. But quite logically, any “representation” of Jesus or God today is patently false. Is He black? white? beige? Is He bearded? Long hair or short? Is He more like Santa Claus, or more like Gandhi?
As should be abundantly clear, it is absolutely preposterous (and pointless) to try and imagine God in our minds as a physical being. God’s Word declares, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn:4:24). Therefore, all attempts to picture or depict God are acts of the flesh at best (“which profits nothing”) or open one up to demonic deception at worst—for God is a Spirit. It stands to reason, therefore, that any imagined image of God is, by definition, the very opposite of Truth.
The “Father Ladder” flowchart then prompts the Sozo counselor to ask, “Is your picture of God a good one, or a bad one?” If it is a good picture, the client is instructed to speak (audibly or silently) to the “image” of Papa God, and ask the dreamlike figure, “What do you think of me?” If the client has a negative picture of God, the facilitator is instructed to find the reason by using other “tools” in the Sozo method, such as the “Four Doors,” “Presenting Jesus,” or probing for the presence of demonic oppression or possession in the individual using “The Wall” tool or “Dealing With Demons.”
Sozo: Presenting "Another Jesus"?
In the “Presenting Jesus” tool, the counselor asks the client to “Picture Jesus and ask for His help.” Once again, any such imagined manifestation of Christ in the mind’s eye can only be false. Jesus warned of false Christs and false prophets who would arise and show great signs and wonders, using all means possible to deceive the very elect: “Wherefore, if they shall say unto you, Behold, [Christ] is in the desert, go not forth: [or] behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Mt 24:24, 26).
The Greek word for “secret chambers” is tamaon, which means “a secret room” or “inner chamber.” Is not the mind such a place? The same word is used figuratively for praying “in your closet” (Mt 6:6), and again in Luke:12:3. Obviously, we are not only to pray “in closets” because we are elsewhere instructed to “pray without ceasing.” We certainly don’t live and work in a closet; neither can we pray out loud all day long, in every situation. Clearly, the meaning is that even secret (“closeted”) prayers, spoken from our innermost “chambers” of the heart and mind, are heard by our Father in heaven.
However, there is no “secret room” (or secret instruction) in God’s Word for visualizing Christ as a means of accessing Him through prayer. In fact, quite the opposite: Scripture repeatedly warns of false Christs who will even appear as “an angel of light” (2 Cor:11:14). Such demons have deceived countless individuals through the ages, many of whom have spawned some of the most widespread cults, based on doctrines of devils (1 Tm 4:1). Attempting to contact God or Jesus through our “mind’s eye,” therefore, is a form of divination and necromancy (attempting to communicate with spirits of the dead). These variations of witchcraft are expressly forbidden in Scripture.
Ironically, The Sozo User Manual by Andy Reese explains that if the client is unable to see “Jesus” (which could never be the real Jesus) there is a high likelihood of demonic blockage. In order to probe for the presence of a demon, the counselor is told how to gain access to the client’s mind, in much the same way as a hypnotist. In the example given on page 40, the counselor asks the client to “go to the back seat of your conscience right now—sort of like climbing into the back seat of your car, and we’re going to see if there is something that is trying hard to block you from getting freedom [to visualize Christ], Okay?”
Considering just two of the six “tools” found in the Sozo program, it’s clear that it is dangerously flawed. Furthermore, its methodology is indistinguishable from forms used by secular psychotherapists, which have their origin in the occult. Sozo is spiritualized Freudian psychoanalysis that includes psychic determinism and searching out the unconscious through techniques that include various forms of guided imagery. Anyone involved in Sozo needs to take to heart the admonition given twice in Proverbs:
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prv 14:12; 16:25).