Over the past two months, there have been several articles, many conversations, and 100,000s of people engaging in reading and talking about Christian revival.
The catalyst for this discussion is a revival event that is planned for Melbourne next month, “Awakening Australia”. Hundreds of Churches and thousands of Christians across Australia have been energised and excited by the idea of coming together and hearing Christ preached, and praying for many thousands of Aussies to come and to know Christ.
In September, Stephen Tan wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition Australia, in which he offered a critique of Bethel Church and Bill Johnson. Stephen attended a Bethel connected church in Melbourne for several years, and so he has first-hand knowledge of their teaching and practices. The impetus for that article is the upcoming “Awakening Australia’ weekend, which is heavily influenced by, supported by, and promoting Bethel ministries.
I have twice already stated that “Awakening Australia” is more than a Bethel event, but it is not less than. For example, the organiser and one of the keynote speakers, Ben Fitzgerald, is a Bethel missionary, Bill Johnson will be speaking from the platform, and Bethel is supporting the event financially and is sending hundreds of volunteers to serve in Melbourne. In addition, the vision for this event lays in similar events that have been organised in Europe, which again have their origins in Bethel Church, Redding. There is nothing wrong per se with an American Church coming to Australia and bringing other churches together for an event. It is misleading, however, to explain away or to minimise ‘Awakening Australia’s connections with Bethel and with the word of faith movement.
Why am I writing again on this topic? Because, as a Christian and as a pastor and as a Melbournian, I remain very concerned by this event and the potential it has in damaging the physical and spiritual well-being of many people.
One of the concerns that have been raised relates to Bill Johnson’s teaching about the Divinity of Christ, and the ways in which his writings repeatedly minimise and at times seem to deny, that the incarnate Christ is fully Divine. Two weeks ago Bill Johnson issued a statement through text message to Ben Fitzgerald, which I was given permission to make public. The statement clarifies and to some extent corrects Johnson’s own public teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.
If Bill Johnson’s statement reflects a genuine correction, surely he will make further public clarifications and go to great to lengths to correct this teaching in his books. After all, is there any more significant a subject than who is Jesus Christ? To date, Bill Johnson and Bethel have released no such statement on their websites or in any public forum, other than this one casual text message. I find that astonishing.
There have been a number of updates over the past couple of weeks. I wish to bring to attention two of these.
First, a major Christian documentary was released last week. American Gospel: Christ Alone. It is a documentary produced by Americans to warn Christians around the world of what is America’s most dreadful export around the globe, the word of faith movement. The documentary features American theologians and pastors who are decrying a false Christianity that has gained wide acceptance in the United States and is now being transported globally and is leaving behind millions of shattered people. There are two hours of interviews, testimonies and biblical explanations of what the word of faith movement is about, and why it is so dangerous and damaging. Of immediate interest are sections in the documentary that explore some of Bill Johnson’s and Todd White’s teaching and ministry, including White’s connections with Kenneth Copeland and the prosperity gospel, their views about healing and the kenosis heresies. If anyone is interested to know why Stephen Tan, myself, and many others are so concerned about ‘Awakening Australia’ and the word of faith movement more generally, it is worth taking the time to view American Gospel: Christ Alone.
Second, ‘Awakening Australia’ has released and promoted a profile of Bill Johnson, ahead of his visit to Melbourne. As part of this bio, we read,
“healing and deliverance must become the common expression of this gospel of power once again”
“Bill teaches that we owe the world an encounter with God, and that a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached.”
By power Gospel, Bill Johnson believes that miracles and deliverance from evil spirits is an essential aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so much so that “a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached”.
First of all, let’s note the implication of these words. These statements work against the very claim that the organisers have been making, namely, these revival meetings are about building unity amongst Aussie Churches. Hold on, Awakening Australia has just informed thousands of Churches across the nation that they don’t believe the real Gospel. Straight away, evangelical churches and reformed churches are excluded, based on these statements.
Let’s be clear, both Johnson and White believe that the Gospel centers on the manifestation of miracles and healings, and as Johnson loves to say, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (as though we can drag heaven into our lives now and overcome sickness and poverty, etc). This differs substantially from the Gospel of Christ that is revealed and taught in the New Testament.
In American Gospel: Christ Alone, one of the interviewees offers this comment on Todd White’ messaging,
“This method of evangelism by blessing, it’s changing the Gospel from you are dead in your sins and this is what you need by God’s grace, repentance, and faith…it’s changing that message to God loves you, he accepts you, here’s some free stuff. He’ll cure you of your ailments, he’ll heal your back pain”
The focus shifts from sin and God’ wrath, to a positive message of, ‘you’re ok and let me give you a blessing today’. What did the Apostle Paul teach?
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
Not only does the New Testament focus on atonement for sin by sufficient death of Christ, New Testament authors specifically repudiate teachers who add to the Gospel of Christ, including those who demand or expect to see signs
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-23)
Hymenaeus and Philetus are two blokes who are mentioned in the Bible, not as examples to emulate, but as people to avoid (2 Timothy other 2:17-18). They taught that the “that the resurrection has already taken place.” In other words, they alleged that the promises that will one day be experienced at the resurrection could be enjoyed in the present. Paul says of these two men that their teaching is like ‘gangrene”, they had “departed from the truth” and that they “destroyed the faith of some.”
God does not promise physical or mental healing in this world. If you’re sick, visit your GP. Doctors and medicine are God’s common grace available to us. We can, of course, pray for God’s healing for our Heavenly Father invites us to talk to him about everything, but it is a lie for any preacher to promise such and to suggest that miracles must accompany the Gospel. The power Gospel is not signs and miracles today, it is Christ crucified: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1).
Sean DeMars rightly points out in the documentary, “bad theology hurts people.”
I am not suggesting that there are not genuine believers involved in Awakening Australia. I am not discouraging Churches from partnering together in the Gospel. I am not dissuading Christians from praying for revival. Praise God for such things. The greatest joys I have witnessed in life are when I have witnessed or heard of someone coming to know Christ through repentance and faith in him. Christian unity is beautiful and precious, but fudging the Gospel or downplaying aspects of the Gospel will not create a greater sense of unity amongst brothers and sisters; it only distorts and fractures.
Over the past month, a number of people have suggested that it is wrong and divisive to question ‘Awakening Australia’, and instead of criticising we should get behind it. Let’s remind ourselves, by their own promotional material, Awakening has implied that thousands of Australian churches are not preaching the Gospel. My response to those who have pushed back and raised concerns from what I and others have said is this, pastors of churches have a responsibility under God to be concerned for truth and to teach what is right and good and to warn our churches of ideas that or contravene or muddy the Gospel.
Jude exhorts us to “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted”
As Paul shared with Timothy that he was being poured out like a drink offering, he gave him this charge,
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
I trust and pray that this is not the case, but if the Gospel presented at ‘Awakening Australia’ reflects the messaging that Bill Johnson and Todd White are widely known for espousing (and remember they are both speaking at the event), the effect will not be greater Gospel unity or genuine Spirit given Christ glorifying revival. The effect will a hyped up pseudo- spirituality which will fade in the weeks to come and which will confuse unbelievers as to what Christianity is really about, and which will cause great pain for the sick who are offered false promises of healing. Until such time that Awakening Australia distances themselves for these speakers and their links with the word of faith movement, concerns will remain.
Encouraging Update (July 29 2020): 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/
9 thoughts on “Concerns with ‘Awakening Australia’ remain”
Pingback: Update on Questions relating to Bethel and Bill Johnson | MurrayCampbell.net
I appreciate your blog greatly. I am certainly concerned about deficiencies in the core teachings of the faith wherever they appear. I am deeply committed to authentic Christ-centred unity by the people of God in their communities and regions and value the Lausanne Covenant as a very reliable standard to use as a basis for joint action. But are you saying that those who are not cessationists (as you appear to be) are therefore preaching Christ plus? Are we not to pray for the sick nor rebuke demons in Jesus’ name when we observe what looks very like a demonisation similar to what manifested in Jesus’ presence during his ministry? One of the most prominent conservative reformed evangelical theologians in Melbourne who shared his experience with me some years ago has had to deal with demonic manifestations, unlooked for, at various times in his ministry. He has seen people delivered. But he never confuses healings and deliverance with the core gospel message itself. This is the point isn’t it – whether we believe signs and wonders still occur or not (or have or haven’t had experience of them)?
Hi Peter, I’m not suggesting any of those things.
As I mention in the article, I believe that we Christians can ask God for healing, and I certainly believe in a demonic realm, and have shared experiences of such in the past.
There are multiple issues with the word of faith movement, including that they tie promises of healing to the Gospel, they insist that without signs the true Gospel hasn’t been preached, and they minimise sin and judgment. This newly released documentary is very telling.
The issue isn’t whether one is a cessationist or a continuist (such terms aren’t always very helpful anyway) but are these preachers making claims about the Gospel which the Bible does not? Are they changing the Gospel by adding to it or subtracting from it?
Agreed . Thanks for clarifying.
And if God is moving his people to engage in a new season of big event evangelism as may be the case in Sydney with Franklin Graham next year and Jesus Loves Australia from this December it is all the more important that we don’t encourage or stand with ventures that are preaching another gospel.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: ‘Awakening Australia’ won’t wake the dead | MurrayCampbell.net
If these people believe in miracles why is it that they can never cure amputees? I notice that they never sent a healing team to the Invictus games. They only seem to be able to generate miracles that are not creditable or observable. (yes fake miracles) I believe in a God that can move mountains, but that doesn’t mean that I have to see mountains moving to prove God’s existence. Likewise, if God chooses not to do miracles, there is no reason not to believe in him.
What is the gospel? What is the good news we carry? Who do we follow? What was and remains the message of Jesus Christ our Lord ? These are all questions we ultimately need to keep asking ourselves here above our fears and doubts and concerns and bents.
What are we commanded to do as followers of Jesus? To ‘therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you?’ (Matt 28) This is our great commission is it not?
Did Jesus command his followers to go with a message which included deliverance and healing? Did he teach them to heal the sick and cast out demons? Did he teach them that by faith it is possible to calm storms, to move mountains … ? Did he then get frustrated with HIS followers when their faith had little conviction of these realities? Perhaps I am wrong…? That in the same manner as he demonstrated to us in Scripture that as disciples of Jesus Christ, that AS we are sent out, as we go, preach THIS message: As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give (Matt 10). That these indeed were the types of signs that would accompany those who believed?
If I then pray for someone and don’t see them healed … do I then bend this part of the command? Did Jesus teach this to his disciples which was then meant to make its way to me another disciple of his who has been baptised in his name thousands of years later? Do I bend theology here because i’m not seeing it in my life? Or are there also instances in scripture where the disciples who followed Jesus also struggled at times see these things come to pass?
Matthew 17 – I brought him (a demon possessed boy) to your disciples and they could not heal him. Jesus gets frustrated and replies: ‘You unbelieving generation…bring the boy to me’
Likewise in Matthew 13 we know the story that He (the son of God) actually couldn’t do many miracles in Nazareth because of their lack of faith…
We know that at other times the disciples saw incredible things through their own hands. This had no reflection on whether or not they were following Jesus as they clearly were! But the reality is the life of our Saviour, the life we follow, the life we imitate didn’t leave these things out. So we can pull apart the wording of these speakers, but the reality is if we don’t come with a gospel, if we don’t come with a message which includes these things perhaps we are not carrying entirely the same gospel as Jesus commanded us – perhaps some things have been diluted over the year through our traditions.
Like we saw with Constantine that whereby the early followers of Jesus, people of ‘The Way’ were now lumped in with Christianity as the state religion whereby the supernatural difference demonstrated on your life, where people could LITERALLY say things like ‘And seeing the boy healed they had no argument…’ and ‘they could tell that they had been with Jesus.. they were amazed at these unschooled ordinary men’ … these kinds of followers of ‘The Way’ who would go to from town to town and see signs that made people wonder, who would come with a message of salvation and come with a demonstration of the signs of that reality…these things no longer were what distinguished Christians. You could be Christian now even though your life didn’t ever bear this kind of fruit. You were Christian by belief, Christian by worldview… Christian by name not necessarily by the nature you displayed. That responsibility on us to see outwardly supernatural fruit accompanying the life of a believer began to diminish.
The question is have we stopped teaching people about what Jesus’ death fully means for us? That because of Jesus because of his atonement, because of his blood shed, because no longer is our interaction with God based on our performance, that we who were born in sin and so in need of saving that we now have access to salvation in Jesus name, and that we also have access to healing and deliverance in Jesus name. That the gospel we preach which is Christ and Christ crucified – that within those nail pierced hands, within the very stripes of our Saviour lay the power over sin and death. The power over sickness and disease. The power over satan and darkness. That this is our message and it hasn’t changed, it hasn’t become more narrow. And whilst we live in the now and not yet, whilst we live in a world that is still not as it should be until Jesus’ second coming, that this kingdom,our message of this kingdom being at hand is the same message Jesus and his disciples started to voice and demonstrate all those years ago.
The message of all the speakers involved in this event is not a message contrary to that of Jesus Christ. The message of salvation for the forgiveness of our sins is something that all of these people preach. But their lives and the fruit of their lives is challenging for anyone who doesn’t see the same kind of supernatural fruit that also happens throughout their lives as they go ministering. I’m constantly challenged by it! But they’re calling us up to “not forget all His benefits.” They’re calling our faith to increase for these things. Because if there is no faith – then as we have seen – where that has been lacking in Nazareth, or when the disciples tried to cast a demon out or in the countless other recounts in the gospels… where there was little faith, where there was little conviction of these things… they simply didn’t happen. But when there was faith – we typically saw the fruit of it. We have faith for the forgiveness of sins but do we have faith for these things which aren’t meant to be pushed to the side and left out today. These guys are saying the gospel should include these things… and don’t you agree that they should? So why are we throwing criticism their way and pulling apart their theology with a fine toothcomb? Are we offended at what they are calling us to? Is this more an issue of our own self preservation?
Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
I thank God for people like Bill Johnson, Like Todd White, Like Heidi Baker who are gifts from God that remind us as they go preaching the message of Christ crucified not to exclude these things in the midst of our message AND to not separate them from the gospel that Jesus and his disciples preached and demonstrated.
I stumbled across this article, and comments section as I have recently been quite troubled over the Awakening Australia movement. This is not because I don’t agree with the teaching of healings but because of the practices of the speakers.
I began listening to Bethel sermons several years ago, and subsequently stopped listening after one particular heretical sermon given by Heidi Baker. It was not the content of her message but her calling on people to come ‘on to the stage and touch me for your healing’. Correct, she believed she had the anointing on her physical body which could heal people.
Several months ago it was brought to my attention that the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry carries out an exercise called ‘grave robbing’ in which participants lay on the grave of a deceased ‘great’ man or woman of God to receive their anointing, to ‘suck’ their anointing out of the grave into their own spirit.
1.5 years ago Ben Fitzgerald spoke at my then churches leadership conference. He spoke on the ‘spirit of joy’ and proceeded to ask the congregation to laugh to receive joy. In another session he had the congregation actually roaring like lions to get the spirit of a lion.
My parents are involved in a Bethel afilliated church in which my mother participates in a prophecy line, very, very similar to new age practices. It involves people lining up at a stall and her drawing a picture for them and giving them a prophecy.
I have friends who adore Bethel, Bill Johnson and Heidi Baker and this troubles me greatly.
I was in the midst of Pentecostalism and have many friends and immediate family in the adoration of Bethel.
I cannot, or rather, could not place my finger on why it was so disconcerting but I do believe it is because of the pain it will cause many people in the near, and far future.
I came out of a Pentecostal cult when I was 18 after being born into it and the mental, spiritual and emotional damage false doctrine and ‘slightly based on one sentence in the bible’ theology was long lasting. I am okay and following Christ today ONLY because I met my husband at the right time, at 22 -28 when I began questioning everything I could ask him my questions (he is a scientist, apologist and bio medical ethicist). My point in saying this is that not everyone will have that opportunity, so when the questions and doubting comes in the wake of the bad theology people will hurt.
Thanks Murray for this article. Bethel church and the NAR movement is evidently heretical and we need to warn people of the dangers of it. May the true Biblical Gospel go forth with power.
Comments are closed.