“fair is foul and foul is fair” (MacBeth Act 1, Scene 1)
If you didn’t think grave soaking was a thing, think again!
Ben Fitzgerald, a former Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and one of the organisers of Awakening Australia has a thing for visiting cemeteries and attempting to ‘suck up’ the spiritual powers of dead Christians. I kid you not!
This is only one of many crazy and unbiblical practices that are encouraged and taught by Bethel teachers around the world.
The reason why this is of interest to us in Australia is partly because Bethel music is hugely influential in many churches today, and because of the ‘Awakening Australia’ movement which is being sponsored by and promotes Bethel. Awakening Australia, an upcoming revivalist event in Melbourne (November 2018).
While Awakening Australia is more than a Bethel event, the chief organiser is from Bethel, two of the keynote speakers belong to Bethel (Ben Fitzgerald and Bill Johnson), and Bethel is providing much of the music.
Awakening Australia website explains their aims,
“Our vision is to raise up a nationwide prayer mandate for the salvation of our families, friends and our country.
Right now our country is at a critical point in history, so now more than ever we must lift up prayer that grips us for our loved ones who do not yet know God.
God clearly gave us the number of 100,000 Australians coming to Him in 2018. If we all take our place in this mandate this is very possible.”
This all sounds exciting and amazing until one scratches the surface and reads that the Jesus believed and preached by Bethel is not the same as the Jesus revealed in the Bible and the Christianity that is promoted also differs to the Gospel that is outlined in the Scriptures. I am not saying that everyone involved or who is planning to attend aligns with Bethel theologically, for no doubt there are many genuine followers of Christ who will be there. But surely, because of such influence, it’s important to make people aware of concerns regarding Bethel’s influence and involvement.
Stephen Tan has published an insightful and important article on the Bethel Movement and its connection with Awakening Australia. At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement has already been read widely by 10,000s of people all over the world, especially in Australia and the USA.
As with any article, there are people who agree and there are people who disagree. Some of the criticisms suggest that Stephen Tan (and the Gospel Coalition) are just mounting an attack on a legitimate Christian group, simply because they are different to TGCA. People should know though that Stephen has not written an anti-Charismatic or anti-Pentecostal article; he’s not a cessationist! Stephen Tan is not writing from the perspective of an outsider, but as someone who once attended a Bethel connected church in Melbourne, and who has first-hand experience of Bethel teaching and practices. Also this, he has carefully and fairly laid out the theology and praxis of Bill Johnson and Bethel, citing many examples which anyone can source and investigate for themselves. It is also interesting to see many people coming forward as a result of this article and sharing their own experiences from being part of the Bethel movement.
It’s important for me to be upfront, I know Stephen personally. He was an intern at Mentone Baptist for two years, and 18 months ago he planted a church with a team from Mentone. He is a man of integrity and with a deep love for Jesus and for people. Before his article was published on the Gospel Coalition Australia website, I had an opportunity to read the article. Having read the draft, I know there is much more that can be said of the Bethel movement but we wanted to keep the article short enough so that people would read it.
Another criticism being leveled against Stephen is that he’s been uncharitable toward Bethel, pointing out negatives and not the positives. Regardless of how many niceties and positives one might say, none of them can cover up and denude the very serious theological concerns that have been raised.
I have also noted that some critics have confused disagreement on secondary matters, with disagreeing over primary core doctrines. Bill Johnson holds that the incarnate Christ is less than fully Divine. He preaches the necessity of miracles and healing attached to the Gospel. let the reader understand, we are not talking about insignificant matters, but ones that question the power and definition of the Gospel and the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not uncharitable of a Christian leader to inform others of a popular movement that is gaining acceptance in the broader church. The New Testament outlines how Christian leaders have a responsibility to alert fellow believers to dangerous ideas and doctrines. Correcting and exposing a movement like Bethel is important because the glory of God matters, the purity of the Gospel matters, and the health and life of people matters. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders of Ephesus,
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:28-31)
Over the past week, the Australian news has been dominated by the story of strawberries. There have numerous incidents of people biting into strawberries, only to be stabbed by pins and needles that have been hidden by some yet unknown persons. Beautiful, sweet and tasty strawberries have been contaminated, and so it’s vital that the public is made aware. When the good news of Jesus Christ has been contaminated, it is incumbent upon pastors to warn people and to explain what is wrong, and to point people to fruit that is safe and good.
We pray for revival, longing to see many Australians coming to Christ, but no one has ever been saved by a false Gospel, no church has ever grown closer to God through a spirituality that has more in common with MacBeth’s three witches than the God of the Bible.
I agree with Stephen’s concerns with the gathering that is taking place in Melbourne later this year. I would encourage people not to attend, for the sake of their own spiritual health and for the good of their friends. I would urge churches to reconsider their participation and for pastors alert their congregations.
“I am concerned that the upcoming “Awakening Australia” event also fits the description and has the potential to cause much confusion and spiritual damage to thousands of unsuspecting Australians. To those who are supporting this event in the name of revival, may I ask this question: “At what price, awakening?” Is it worth pursuing awakening if it means that the gospel is compromised and that false teaching is promoted? I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:6: If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
UPDATE September 27th
Following a story published in Eternity, Ben Fitzgerald offered this comment on Eternity’s Facebook page,
“you guys did a great job in this article- we are very thankful for your editorial gifts. As one the organizers I’d like to add something to this. A fair amount (not all) of the focus of this article is about Bill Johnson and some concerns / comments from one other pastor about him and Bethel. But to clarify a few things, Bill only speaks one time in the whole event- literally 1 hour from all 3 days, and right now most churches in Australia (maybe even those who don’t like Bethel) are probably singing a Bethel worship song every Sunday in their church. I don’t think it’s right people get so concerned over one of 8+ speakers..and focus on the fact that he said to “pray for trump”- by the way he never told anyone to go vote for him. The Bible tells us to pray for leaders so that’s scriptural. People can get so caught up on smaller issues and think of the many reasons to divide “yet again”- but the fact is Australia is in desperate need of the love of God and we certainly aren’t going to show them that as long as we are focusing on small division. The goal of this event is someones unsaved brother meeting Jesus. The goal is us bringing the real gospel to hurting people…we don’t have time to lose as our nation has clearly shown a radical decline in those who believe God these last 10 years. Already since we began this campaign over 1 year ago we have seen close to 1000 Aussies meet Jesus, and I hear similar reports from churches all across the nation- that something is changing. We work as an “All church” event…many Baptists leaders, free church leaders, Anglican, Pentecostal…the list goes on will be at the event and as of now we’ll over 200+ churches are already supporting this and its growing daily. Aussies churches are coming together not just for this event, but doing many other things like it because they sense an urgency to act and to show Australians and Undivided church. Last time I checked unity wasn’t an option in the Bible, but rather a command. I encourage people to lay down their tiny things, gather around Jesus, gather around the fact that our country needs God and if we do it together we are stronger. Bless you guys”
To which I have responded,
“A number of things can be said in response to this:
- Bethel’s involvement is greater than you have suggested here. Not only is Bill Johnson a key note speaker, but so are you and as you state, you’re an organiser of the event (and formally a Bethel pastor). The Bethel music band are performing. As the Awakening Australia facebook page has shared, you recently visited Bethel Church to give a report about the event, where Bethel members contributed financially to Awakening Australia and who are sending hundred of members to be present at the event. It may not be an official Bethel event, but it is certainly heavily influenced by and supported by Bethel.
- The criticisms of Bethel that were published last week are significant and substantial. While you may describe the differences “smaller issues” and “tiny things”, many of us think that the fully Divinity of Jesus Christ is a big deal. The fact that you are dismissing these criticisms as ‘tiny things’ only adds weight to the concerns of a growing number of Aussie Christians.”
Encouraging Update (July 29 2020): One of the keynote speakers, Todd White, has publicly acknowledged that God has convicted him of preaching an errant gospel and that he is repenting. For the story – https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-real-miracle-in-prosperity-network/