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Martyn Wendell Jones: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church

Martyn Wendell Jones, “Kingdom Come in California?Christianity Today (May 2016).

Describing himself as a curious skeptic, Martyn Wendell Jones set out to find out for himself if what was happening in Redding, California at Bethel Church was indeed a move of God and that revival was taking place.

Jones who attends a Presbyterian (PCA) church in Toronto admits that he has never heard anyone speak or pray in tongues. He also declined prayer for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit when asked by some members of Bethel.

In spite of his background Jones provides a balanced assessment on the ministries of Bethel. He writes that he half-expected to find an organization of hucksters or a community of believers devoted to God. Neither fit his expectations.

In this in-depth article Jones describes in detail the ministries of the church and the people who attend Bethel. Because of this, I believe that readers of his article will have a good idea of what to expect should they decide to visit Bethel.

Bethel was at one time an Assembly of God church affiliating in1954. In 2006, the church voted to become independent. Today, Bethel boasts of a weekly attendance averaging over 8,600 and an operating budget of over $9 million dollars.

Four ministries make-up Bethel: the church itself, iBethel, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), and Bethel music.

The more than 2,000 students from 57 countries and 45 states at BSSM are trained to become “revivalists”. A description of the courses and interviews with the teachers would have been helpful for the reader of his article to perhaps get a better idea as to what is being taught at BSSM and of the attendees of Bethel.

Jones states that the unifying theme at Bethel is revival.  In fact the walls above the auditorium floor have banners with images of people holding signs that say “I am revival”.

“I have seen an earnest enthusiasm for Scripture and a bracing zeal among people here that puts my own devotion to shame. But when I think of the excesses …” – Martyn Wendell Jones

Critics such as evangelical Bart McCurdy of Redding say that at Bethel there is never a call for repentance or faith in Christ. According to him, “It is all about experience and signs and wonders”.

McCurdy says that some Bethel students have been kicked out of some of the local stores for their “erratic behavior”, including a BSSM student who had been trying to prophesy to a customer through their dog.

Phil Johnson, who spoke at a John MacArthur Strange Fire conference, says that Bethel “constitutes a whole different message from biblical Christianity” and that it is “totally devoid of any true and consistent proclamation of the gospel.”

On a positive note, the mayor of Redding estimates that Bethel’s members have saved the city the cost of five full-time jobs annually as a result of their pro bono work. Jones does not elaborate on what those jobs entailed.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2016

About the Author: Larry Russi, M.A. in Urban Ministry (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), is the Senior Pastor at Glendale Christian Lighthouse Church in Everett, Massachusetts. In ministry for over 40 years, he is the coordinator for the New England region of the American Evangelical Christian Churches (AECC) and also a member of the denomination's advisory board. Facebook

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