To Live Again
Recently I became aware of a growing church in Redding, California. The church is called Bethel and it probably qualifies as a mega-church. Controversy swirls around Bethel because of healings and supernatural events that purportedly occur with regularity at the church. Bethel’s mission is Revival. The controversy has been raised by Christian pundits, ex-congregants, and pastors of other churches. They accuse Bethel’s pastor of being a false teacher. They suggest the miracles and supernatural events at the church are counterfeit. If you want to learn more about the miracles and the controversy, check out the Bethel website at http://www.ibethel.org/ and look up “Bethel of Redding” on YouTube. Some harsh, even mean, things are being said about Bethel.
I don’t know if the miracles, supernatural events, and Bethel’s pastor are legitimate. I have not yet attended any of Bethel’s services so I am still on the fence. I have examined Bethel’s statement of faith on their website and it seems like they adhere to mainstream Christianity . . . at least from a basic doctrinal standpoint. And yet I believe there are many styles of Christian churches. Just because a style doesn’t work for me does not give me license to call it heresy. Yes, I know some of the critics are citing Biblical doctrine for their opposition to Bethel. I get it. They may be right. Again, I don’t know. But I have noticed that the bigger a church gets, the more critics come out of the woodwork. There’s no shortage of heresy-hunters. Of course I strongly believe we need to be on guard against false teachers because the fallout can harm and disillusion many people. A counterfeit church experience can drive people away from God for the rest of their lives.
Here is the core of the issue for me: I don’t know if Bethel is for real. If I get the chance, I will attend one of their services and use my spiritual discernment to help me decide. But sometimes we simply don’t know if something is from God. In those cases I think we need to be cautious and take the advice of Gamaliel, which is found in Acts 5 beginning with verse 17. In that passage the apostles of Jesus have been arrested by jealous religious leaders for teaching the people about Jesus and performing many miracles. The apostles refused to stop. The religious leaders were so mad at the apostles that they planned to kill them. That’s when Gamaliel, also a religious leader (a respected man), stood up and advised his fellow leaders that they should: “take care what you are planning to do to these men!” He told them that if the apostles were doing those things with human effort, they would be overthrown. But if the work of the apostles was from God, the religious leaders would be fighting a futile battle against God. The religious leaders agreed and did not kill the apostles.
If the events and things done at Bethel are not from God, it will be uncovered. In the meantime—barring any strong evidence—critics should take care.
If events at Bethel turn out to be counterfeit, the congregation won’t need to hear a bunch of I-told-you-so comments. They will need love and encouragement. If, on the other hand, Bethel’s ministries turn out to be legitimate, then the critics are persecuting God’s work. A sobering thought!