The Deficient Pulpit of Bethel and Hillsong: The Growing Influence of the Modern Charismatic Movement

Josh Buice

people raising their hands during night time

In October of 2013, a conference by the name of “Strange Fire” was held on the campus of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley , California. That event landed like a major splash in the evangelical world which provided much light on the prevailing influences of the charismatic movement. Countless testimonies of former charismatic believers and Pentecostals have pointed to that conference as a means of opening their eyes to the truth.

Today, the influence of the charismatic movement has not declined. In many ways, it has grown to become stronger and more acceptable across evangelicalism—even within some of the most conservative circles. For this reason, we will be hosting a conference on the doctrine of cessationism in October where we will expose the false teaching of such practices in our day and point to the positive work of the Holy Spirit among his people.

Any serious survey of the influences of the charismatic movement will lead you to Hillsong and Bethel—two worldwide brands that influence multitudes through their music which can be heard daily on mainstream Christian radio stations around the world.

Hillsong Music operates out of Hillsong Church which is a megachurch founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston in Australia with approximately 100 different campuses worldwide and more than 150,000 members. Hillsong as a brand is renowned for its contemporary worship music that is deeply influential worldwide. Their songs often reflect themes of personal devotion, spiritual renewal, and personal encounters with God that’s based on emotional experiences which they claim are led by the Holy Spirit.

Bethel Music, a brand that functions out of Bethel Church, a megachurch led by Bill Johnson in Redding, California which boasts of more than 10,000 attendees, multiple schools, and a $60 million budget.1See also Bethel TV, Bethel Music, and Bethel Media which are all controlled under Bethel Church Both Hillsong and Bethel are built upon a charismatic foundation and their influence is grossly underrated.

Although we can point to the perversion of worship that happens through the influence of Hillsong and Bethel, we must not forget that their influence through music is build upon their teaching ministry. They have a deficient pulpit with aberrant theology and false doctrine which is interwoven into all of their ministry offerings—including their worship music. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church.

Grave Soaking

Every ministry of the local church is connected to the preaching and teaching of the church. In 2012, a book titled The Physics of Heaven was published by Ellyn Davis and Judy Franklin. In the book, Bill Johnson contributed and spoke of reclaiming mantles and anointings of dead saints who have gone before us. As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir. Bill Johnson writes the following:

There are anointings, mantles, revelations and mysteries that have lain unclaimed, literally where they were left, because the generation that walked in them never passed them on. I believe it’s possible for us to recover realms of anointing, realms of insight, realms of God that have been untended for decades simply by choosing to reclaim them and perpetuate them for future generations.2The Physics of Heaven – Bill Johnson

The idea that unclaimed mantles and anointings can be received that have been left unclaimed for many years is beyond bizarre. Yet, when criticized for the practices, Bill Johnson denied the label of “grave soaking” (sometimes referenced as grave sucking) by claiming it was merely a way to honor those who have gone before us. However, in that same video, Dann Farrelly, the co-host of the podcast episode who serves as Dean of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) said the following:

Sometimes.. the Lord “hits somebody” …but it’s 10% God and 90% the person. But that’s 10% percent more of God than they ever had before. So you’re on this journey of I’ve gotta, with the community, with our feedback with each other, kind of walk these journeys of risk.

So in the School of Ministry, one of our leaders had a profound encounter with the Lord at the grave of a former church leader. So he comes back and gives a testimony about this and because our students are so hungry, I mean it’s like meat to a wolf at some level, like ‘you’re kidding the Lord will meet you at a grave?’

So I remember in that as the Dean watching like ‘whoa what what?’ But I’ve had to learn over time if I try to kill something too early we totally miss the potentially the good things and again, the weird things that come, but when I kill everything too early, our people, our students stop taking risks.3Does Bethel Church Teach Grave Soaking? Bill Johnson

This is one example of the deficient teaching that comes from the pulpit and practices of Bethel by Bill Johnson. This is why you can find students of Bethel traveling around to “soak” anointings and mantles of dead charismatic leaders—in some cases lying on their graves or hugging their tombstones as they request for a special anointing from the Spirit.

Charismatic Positions

Hillsong incorporates charismatic worship practices such as spontaneous prayer, prophetic declarations, and an expectation of encountering the Holy Spirit during worship services. On their website, Hillsong explains what they believe and one statement makes it clear that they embrace a health, wealth, and prosperity position. Their website explains their doctrinal beliefs by writing:

We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

Once again, this is indicative of their foundational charismatic doctrine that undergirds their practices which are evident in how they approach God in worship. Is it God’s will to heal everyone? Is he hindered from providing this healing to everyone? Why did Paul teach something contrary to this as he experienced a thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12? The health, wealth, and prosperity teaching is massively problematic and deceives multitudes of people worldwide.

The health, wealth, and prosperity teaching is massively problematic and deceives multitudes of people worldwide.

Bethel is known for its emphasis on “Kingdom theology,” which often includes the belief that Christians can usher in God’s kingdom on earth through signs, wonders, and spiritual authority. On their website, they state the following about their beliefs:

We believe and live the prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Therefore, we partner with the King in natural and supernatural ways to establish mercy, justice, and righteousness until He comes.

As believers, we are all in full-time ministry as God advances His Kingdom into every area of society. Our work and efforts both inside and outside of the Church are sacred and valuable acts of worship to God.4Bethel Core Values — His Kingdom Is Advancing

They teach their members that they are partnering with God in supernatural ways to advance his Kingdom in every area of society. This is viewed as an act of worship to God. Furthermore, their supernatural engagement involves modern prophecy. They explain what they believe:

Prophecy is not one-way communication. It involves two people hearing from God: the one who gives the prophetic word and the one who receives it. With the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and our community, we judge the spirit and accuracy of the words we give and receive. Holding on to what is good, we let go of what is not.5Bethel Core Values — God Is Still Speaking

The practices of the charismatic movement malign the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit and deny the sufficiency of God’s Word. John MacArthur once said, “The Holy Spirit is the most forgotten, the most misrepresented, the most dishonored, the most grieved, the most abused, and I might even say the most blasphemed of the members of the Trinity.”6Sermon: The Modern Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – October 23, 2011 Not only is this a true statement, it remains a mainstream practice to this very day.

The modern charismatic movement openly denies the sufficiency of Scripture through modern “prophetic” utterances and false tongues that claim to be ongoing revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit. Is God’s Word insufficient?

The modern charismatic movement openly denies the sufficiency of Scripture through modern “prophetic” utterances and false tongues that claim to be ongoing revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit. Is God’s Word insufficient? Do we need more prophecy? Do we need more Apostles today to communicate more truth? Is the biblical canon closed or should we anticipate additions to be made to the Bible in our day? These questions and more will be addressed in our conference this October.

By way of conclusion, allow me to be clear, the ministries of Hillsong and Bethel are led by wolves and should be avoided. It’s not that I’m simply opposed to their style. I’m opposed to their organizations’ embodiment of false teaching and ministry philosophies that are built upon the foundation of that false doctrine. They are false teachers who peddle false doctrine in the name of Jesus. Beware. Be on guard.

However, not all people who embrace charismatic theology are wolves. This is why we are holding a conference in October on this very subject in order to bring light and clarity to this major issue. Take a moment to watch the trailer below and register to join us for this important event.

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1 See also Bethel TV, Bethel Music, and Bethel Media which are all controlled under Bethel Church
2 The Physics of Heaven – Bill Johnson
3 Does Bethel Church Teach Grave Soaking? Bill Johnson
4 Bethel Core Values — His Kingdom Is Advancing
5 Bethel Core Values — God Is Still Speaking
6 Sermon: The Modern Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – October 23, 2011
Author people raising their hands during night time

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.