Bethel Church is perhaps best known for the worship music routinely heard in churches around the world. Yet those efforts do not represent the whole of their ministry. People from all over the globe tune in to watch their worship services each week, and it’s truly difficult to overstate the positive influence they have had on the kingdom.
As with any group as large and pervasive as Bethel, however, they are not free of controversy. Much of the negative response centers on their School of Supernatural Ministry where students from a multitude of nations come to learn how to better perform the “signs and wonders” seen in the New Testament as a way of helping others come to Christ.
As Molly Hensley-Clancy described, the students like to refer to the school as a “Christian Hogwarts” in reference to the school of wizardry from the Harry Potter books, and it’s not difficult to see why. Over the course of two to three years, they are essentially taught to harness the power of the Holy Spirit in order to heal the sick and hurting, deliver prophetic messages, and generally perform miracles of every sort in the name of the Lord.
To be clear, my issue with the school is not their teaching that miracles are still possible today. The belief that such signs ended with the apostles is one borne from history rather than Scripture, and there are countless places around the globe where the signs and wonders Jesus promised continue to take place. Rather, my issue is with the general theology that Jesus promised to put such power at the beck and call of believers.
The healing power of Christ, even in New Testament times, was never simply a tool imparted by the Holy Spirit to be used whenever the believer deemed fit. Rather, it was always up to God to decide when and where his people could use such powers.
It’s why, for example, Peter and John didn’t/couldn’t heal the lame man in Acts 3 until the Spirit prompted them to do so (Acts 3:1–10). The Greek is clear that there was something special about the way that the Holy Spirit drew their gaze to the crippled beggar that day. It was fundamentally different than the countless times they had previously passed by him, including when they had been with Jesus, and he too had neglected to heal the man.
If the apostles, and even Christ himself, relied on the Father’s guidance to know when and where they could heal people and perform other signs and wonders, then the same is true of us today as well.
The students at the Bethel School are not the only ones who make this mistake, though. You and I do the same thing when we only approach God at those times where we require something of him. That too is acting as though the Lord waits to serve us rather than the other way around.
Throughout much of their history, Israel attempted to turn their relationship with God into the kind of transactional covenant that defined the religion of the nations around them. Each time, it led to pain, loss, and judgment.
I doubt the students and faculty at Bethel truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is theirs to command rather than available to those longing only to do as the Father commands. Still, their errors have had tragic consequences and have undermined many of the truly amazing things they have done in the community around them.
Hensley-Clancy described one instance, for example, where students came across a boy having an asthma attack and tried to heal him through the power of the Holy Spirit before someone finally called an ambulance fifteen minutes later. They then spent the next following days continuing to pray over him at the hospital and reassured his mother that God would do a miracle or even raise her son from the dead should he pass. The boy died four days later, leaving behind a grief-stricken and bitter family.
I relay that story not to condemn the Bethel students, but rather to remind us that when we act as though we are in charge in our relationship with God, the consequences can be dire and negatively impact others in a way we might never fully understand this side of heaven. On the other hand, when we follow the lead of the apostles and of Christ, placing our lives at the disposal of the Father to use and guide according to his will, there is no end to what we can accomplish for the kingdom. God has left it to us, however, to decide how we will approach our walk with him.
Who’s in charge of your relationship with the Lord today?