To Sharon From Bethel Church: A Response To Your Rebuke
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Be assured that yours is not the first “rebuke” that we’ve received for what is viewed as an “attack” on Bethel Church, nor will it be the last.
But I would, at least, like to offer a response of my own to you. I attempted to reply privately to the email address you provided. However, my email was undelivered as the address you provided was invalid.
It is true that I have engaged – and Pulpit & Pen has engaged – in vigorous polemics against Bethel Church. But it has been done as a result of something that you actually mentioned in your email – it’s because “the Bible itself says.”
In places like Jude 3, “the Bible itself says” to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” This is what compels me – and others – to write or speak in a polemical fashion against Bethel. The “faith” that Bethel represents is clearly not the “faith once for all delivered.” (You can review the many assessments about the dangers of Bethel by going HERE.)
I contend not for the sake of winning an argument, but in the hopes that you, and those like you, being deceived by evident and identifiable error, might be prompted to “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) It’s as a result of a Berean-like comparison (Acts 17:11) of Bethel’s practice and teaching against Scripture that I – and many others – realize that Bethel is a toxic-waste dump spewing spiritual poison at undiscerning, emotions-driven souls. We contend because those souls matter and Scripture tells us to contend.
“The Bible itself says” in Romans 16:17-18 that we are to “watch out” for those who come along with “contrary doctrine” who not only “cause divisions” in the church, but also who, with “smooth talk and flattery,” “deceive the hearts of the naïve.” It’s in those same verses where we are explicitly told to “avoid them.” But, Sharon, “avoiding them” does not preclude me, or any believer, from warning those caught in the clutches of their deception. To not tell the blind man he’s about to plummet over the unseen-by-him-but-assuredly-approaching precipice would be, as “the Bible itself says,” sin.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17
Like the summertime ice cream truck as it drives by the playground broadcasting child-enticing melodies through its loudspeakers, so too does Bethel appeal with its spiritual charms that offer the exact thing that fallen human nature desires – an experience that empowers us beyond the often mundane realities of our sin-ridden human existence.
It’s not, as you say Sharon, that they “do it different than you” that prompts the polemics. It’s that they do it wrong – not according to my standards – but according to God’s, in His Word. The “Jesus” lauded by Bethel – though the “Holy Spirit” gets lauded far more often, and as equally illegitimately – is not the Jesus of His Word. The real Jesus revealed in Scripture is not driving the Bethel ice-cream truck as it plays enticing tunes to the world promising treats for your soul. The driver of Bethel’s vehicle is far more nefarious, far more deceptive. The real driver is an imposter who’s favorite alias is “Jesus,” and he’s selling spiritual treats in return for your soul.
It’s because, Sharon, that “the Bible itself says,” in places like Matthew 7:15, that “false prophets” will most certainly plague the church. You said, “I hardly think Satan could be behind such great fruit!” Again, however, “the Bible itself says” that these false prophets Jesus warned against would come attired not in the garb of the devil. The enemy doesn’t appear with fangs dripping blood and an angry, whipping pointed tail, bearing in his long-nailed clutches a scythe of death and mayhem. Jesus said the agents of the enemy will appear superficially just like the sheep, but that they are “inwardly ravenous wolves.”
Please be reminded also that “the Bible itself says,” in 2 Corinthians 11:14, that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” That’s the very logical reason that his deception works. It works because it masquerades as authentic, and those who don’t actually know what “the Bible itself says” are intentionally naïve and vulnerable to false teachers, false doctrines, and eternal destruction. It is imperative that we know exactly what “the Bible itself says” in order to recognize deception, especially the deception that comes slathered in an appealing veneer of Scripture and Christianese.
“The Bible itself says that it cannot possibly contain everything that could have been written. There is so much more to Him.” Sharon from Bethel Church
The Apostle John wrote, in John 21:25, that “there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” But Sharon, your implication about this is decidedly different than that of the Apostle, or, indeed, of the rest of the testimony of Scripture.
John’s intent in writing what he did – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – was very clear. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31) While there is indeed “so much more to Him,” there is nothing “more” that we need to know in order to arrive at the saving knowledge of Him for which John wrote his inspired Gospel, which happens to be the point of ALL of Scripture. God did not leave the Bible unfinished and lacking; He gave it as complete, closed, and sufficient.
“I pray that you would not be afraid of the ‘more’ of God, knowing Him, not just His written Word” Sharon from Bethel Church
The Apostle John did NOT suggest, encourage, advise, or endorse the need for – or the practice of – going beyond what had been written. In fact, God Himself has told us specifically NOT to do this. “The Bible itself says,” in places like Deuteronomy 4:2, that “You shall not add to the Word which I am commanding you.” “The Bible itself says,” in Proverbs 30: 6, “Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” Again, in Revelation 22:18-19, “the Bible itself says,” in a very dire warning, that “if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this Book; and if anyone takes away from” what “the Bible itself says” that “God will take away his part from the tree of life.”
There are many ways we may “add to” or “take away” from Scripture. To do either doesn’t mean we take actual ink to paper, penning what we presume are missing parts, pasting them in as an addendum to the actual bound book. We add or take away by failing to comprehend the Book we already have. We can do it by our professed theology, but, more often, we do it by our behavior. (Bethel does both, btw.) We naturally – or, as Paul would say it, “in the flesh” – want to avoid the difficult truths of Scripture while embracing the ones that comfort, console, and encourage us. This neglect of Scripture, though, is taking away from it. But, by falsely validating our desired behavior with favorite verses we’ve twisted to fit our ends, we are adding to that Word.
But your comment above is very reminiscent of what the “apostle” Bill Johnson wrote in his Scripture-twisting book, isn’t it? (No, though C. Peter Wagner referred to Johnson as an apostle, be assured of this: there are NO apostles on the planet today. If you want to hear from one, read their inspired New Testament works. They’re still talking today … in the Bible.)
“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.” Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth
It’s the mixture of truth with error that serves a lethal cone to the undiscerning Bethel ice-cream buyer. Johnson is correct that “none of us has a full grasp of Scripture.” And he is correct that for those who are authentically regenerated by Him – and false teachers are NOT among them – “we all have the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit will lead us into truth.
However, the truth taught by the Holy Spirit is NEVER found by following “off the map” of His inspired Word as Johnson claims. It is precisely because we have not grasped the fullness of Truth in Scripture that the Holy Spirit drives us deeper into that Word. The Holy Spirit never, ever, ever takes you off the path of Scripture.
The explicit point of God’s revelation in Scripture is so that we may KNOW Him and His redemptive Truth in Christ. The Holy Spirit does not lead us “beyond what we know” through ecstatic experiences but, instead, always leads us to more and deeper knowledge and continually growing understanding of His Truth so long as we “abide in my word.” (John 8:31). But this knowledge – this understanding- based on Truth, is divinely given as objective and propositional, not subjective and emotional. Unlike the off-roading Bethel ice-cream truck, the Holy Spirit will only drive you down the narrow path bounded by the guard rails of His inspired Word. (Matthew 7:13-14)
(For some worthwhile verses on the importance of “knowing” from Scripture, consider Colossians 1:9-10, Galatians 4:8-9, Colossians 2:2, Proverbs 2:1-6, Ephesians 4:17-24, Philippians 1:9-11, 1 Peter 1:13, John 17:3)
Sharon, it’s very much worth your study to consider another place where “the Bible itself says” that altering God’s word, adding to it, deleting from it, or seeking for “more” beyond it, brings condemnation, not the life-promising “more” offered warmly by the subtle deceiver of souls. In Mark 7:9-13, “the Bible itself says” that Jesus was engaged in dialogue with some Pharisees. Jesus chided them in Mark 7:9 by saying, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” This had to be a shock to the Pharisees. They were the experts in the Law. They were the religious elite of the day.
But what did Jesus say about them? Look at Mark 7:13 … they were “making void the word of God” by their “tradition.” The handed-down tradition of the Pharisees missed the intent of the Law of God and made His Word void. The “tradition,” Sharon, was their behavior. It was how they acted by adding “more” to God’s Word. They demanded behavior and practices unendorsed by God for the people of God that promised – by adherence to them – righteousness. The Pharisees were driving an ice-cream truck of legalism that promised “more.” But, if you’ll look over at what “the Bible itself says” in Matthew 23:15, you’ll find that the “more” of the Pharisees was not positively affirmed by the Lord. Rather, it was condemned.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
Sharon, it’s the “more” that you encourage and seek that is the precise problem with Bethel. There is no “more” that we need, have been given, or are to seek. In John 8:31, “the Bible itself says” that a disciple of Jesus would be known by one preeminent thing: they would “abide in my word.” It is by abiding in that Word that such wonderful – and authentic – fruit of the Holy Spirit is generated. As He guides us to grasp more understanding of His biblically-revealed Truth, the more we grow in legitimate spiritual fruit. That fruit is never found outside the boundaries of that “Word.”
The “more” traditions of the Pharisees, born outside the Word, are no different than the behaviors of Bethel which are also clearly outside the Word. Both bring condemnation – despite how good, spiritual, righteous or ecstatic those behaviors make you feel. Regardless of how enticingly soul-soothing the melodies of Bethel’s attractions are, its intentional willingness to “go beyond” what God has revealed in His Word will result in a Pharisee-like condemnation by the Lord.
Sharon, when I read your line about the “more of God,” I hear someone who has been deceived by the subtlety of an enemy doing the very same thing he did with Eve in the Garden. It’s the same sin-inducing query of “Hath God said?” He’s appealing to you that there is “more” to be had and that God is holding out. Sadly, Sharon, for you – and others at Bethel – the subtle echoes of an Eden serpent’s suggestive appeal “What else hath God said and how can you get ‘more?” is being heard – and you are following that voice at your peril.
But Sharon, from the fall of man onward, the deceit of the enemy has always been the subtle suggestion promising “more.” If he’s not trying to persuade that there is no God, he’s trying to suggest there are many ways to Him and that He is instinctively holding back the good until you get it right. But “the Bible itself says” that God has given us, by His divine power in the revealed Truth of His Word, “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) In fact, the Apostle Peter, a few verses later, in 2 Peter 1:19, said that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” – the “prophetic word” is, by the way, the Bible. But Peter adds a sobering reminder that “you will do well to pay attention” to that Word.
And that “Word,” Sharon, must always be the “Word” in your hands, consumed by your study, and comprehended by your mind. It is not a voice in your head, an impression in your soul, or a sensation in your emotions. By studying it, we may be “approved unto God,” as the KJV puts 2 Timothy 2:15. We are not approved to – or by – going beyond it in a destruction-sure pursuit of “more.” The lure of an Eden-esque “more” always leads away from the “rightly handled word of truth.” So Sharon, when someone suggests an extra-biblical detour, you should take note and be warned. The Holy Spirit will NEVER abandon His holy, inspired Word.
We are to “know the truth,” (John 8:32) so that we may be set free; not “feel” the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say “I am the experience. Go beyond my word to find “more.” We do not know Jesus outside His Word. The presence of His Word, the Bible, is more than a mere clue about how He intends to reveal Himself and His Truth.
The ultimate end of our Christian life is holiness. Though we will only be fully sanctified when finally in His eternal presence, the process goes on here by the illuminating and convicting work of the Holy Spirit. But sanctification – this process of becoming “holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16)– is also not driven by experience nor confirmed by emotions, regardless of how ecstatic. Sanctification is through His Word. “The Bible itself says,” in perhaps the most epic chapter of the entire Bible, that Jesus prayed to the Father for our sanctification. Note the mechanism highlighted by our Lord for that sanctification. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) Truth is not experientially apprehended, it is objectively comprehended. Truth comes not from feelings, but from understanding. It is found exclusively in “your word.”
It is not the “Holy Ghost gold dust” blowing from Bethel’s air ducts that indicate the presence of God. The evidence of God’s presence in a believer isn’t experientially spiritual. Rather, it is propositionally spiritual. We understand Truth, apprehend it, comprehend it – and that Truth develops within us a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) and authentic fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) We think differently and, as a result, we act differently, in accordance to the Word, not in addition to the Word. Spiritual fruit is never grown in an off-the-narrow-path orchard that is beyond the rightly handled Word of God.
Sharon, I’m not trying to win an argument here. But you have much to lose. Bethel, by its practice and by its proclamations, goes beyond the explicit, evident, and perspicuous Truth of God’s Word, twisting it to validate its appealing, though illicit, endeavors.
For the sake of your soul, Sharon, please consider that you are being deceived by an appeal from the wide path. And you can be absolutely sure it is from the wide path because it goes far beyond the boundaries of God’s Word. And once you fail to heed precisely what “God hath said,” you open yourself up to deception in this life and destruction in the next. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Sharon, once you are willing to go beyond what “the Bible itself says,” you have opened yourself up to certain deception, for you have nothing against which to compare truth from error. Outside the known revealed Truth of Scripture, you will be deceived by an enemy bent on your destruction. Warm-fuzzies and ecstatic spiritual “highs” don’t validate truth and those experiences quickly become our goal. Only knowing what “the Bible itself says” can you, or I, be absolutely certain about our faith, our practice, and our feelings. Emotional experiences can often deceive; God’s Word never does. Please don’t sell your soul in exchange for such temporal charms.
But, again, thank you for commenting, Sharon. I will pray for you, and the others caught in the deceptive trap of Bethel. To body-tackle the blind man approaching the cliff may appear unloving and cruel to one who cannot see the approaching precipice, but for those who see the danger, it’s the most loving thing that could be done. Such is this, Sharon. Such is this.
God bless you.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]
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