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Martyn Wendell Jones: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church

Outside of the Bethel community Jones does not comment or interview anyone with a positive word about Bethel.

During his time at Bethel, Jones was able to interview Lead Pastor Bill Johnson and BSSM Dean Dann Farrelly.

Johnson came to Bethel in 1996 to accept the lead pastor position provided that the church support his vision of revival.

In Johnson’s view, the risks incurred by Bethel’s culture of openness to fresh words are like occupational hazards: unavoidable but justifiable. ‘I don’t know how to learn except to experiment,’ he says. ‘My job is to create a safe environment [in which] to learn things.’” – Martyn Wendell Jones

Jones’ conversation with Johnson centered on revival, on the five-fold offices of the church found in Ephesians 4:11-12, and the gift of prophecy. The complaint by critics relating to the lack of teachings on repentance was justified. The names of Christ, faith, and repentance were noticeably absent from Johnson’s words.

Farrelly pointed out that the medical community “is also a source of God’s healing grace and is not inferior to a supernatural miracle”.

In spite of this positive statement, Jones also notes some serious abuses such as efforts to raise the dead and “grave sucking”.

Jones writes about an incident that took place in 2008. A hiker had fallen off of a 200-foot cliff. Two BSSM students thought that the man had died and for several hours they tried to reach him in order to pray him back to life. They didn’t call emergency services until the next day. The man was rescued but is now paralyzed.

“Bethel, in my mind, does not cleanly resolve. It is too big and complicated a place for me to collapse into a single theme.” – Martyn Wendell Jones

He also speaks of a disturbing practice that Bill Johnson’s wife Beni, and other Bethel leaders participated in, a practice known as “grave sucking” or “grave soaking”. A person would lie atop the grave of a Christian in the hope of receiving their spiritual anointing.

Although the environment at Bethel was foreign to Jones he did allow members to pray and prophesy over him. And he prayed over people, which showed his openness to the people and their beliefs.

I thought that Jones, although perhaps negative, was fair in his assessment of Bethel. He goes into great detail as to what happens during a typical service: praying and prophesying over one another, both during and after the service, as well as the excitement that takes place during worship.

Yet, Jones was relieved when his visit came to a close. He writes, “When I am halfway to Sacramento in the middle of the night, I realize that I am excited to get home, because I can’t wait to go to church.”

Reviewed by Larry Russi


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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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