Though I have never attended a service at Bethel Church in Redding, California, I have listened to sermons by its founder, Bill Johnson.
I am almost hesitant to admit that I actually enjoyed his messages, because in recent years, several have publicly announced that they will no longer be using Bethel worship music in their services.
This is due in part to some controversial practices that have showed up a Bethel, including grave soaking, gold-dust glory clouds and what some allege is an over emphasis on angels.
The church has also been accused of not calling ambulances when people are in serious need of medical attention.
Of course, that is one side of the story.
So, I was keenly interested when a former minister at Bethel, Carrie Lloyd, recently wrote an op-ed for Premier Christian, where she addressed several of the mega church’s controversies providing a counterbalance to these accusations:
The gold dust
There have been several reports of what appears to be gold dust showing up during services. Pastor Johnson referred to it as a ‘glory cloud.’
There have been too many testimonies of this happening to suggest it never took place.
Lloyd witnessed it first hand and described a ‘gold-like essence’ swooping through the room. She was so struck by what was taking place, that Lloyd fell to the ground, asking God to forgive her unbelief.
But was the source, natural or spiritual?
I remember one Christian, but very anti-charismatic, website stating that Bethel was putting gold coloured dust in its ventilation system, so it would blow out over the congregation.
In her article, Lloyd added that because of the controversy, she did her own investigation to find out what was behind the gold dust, but came up with no natural explanation:
“The gold dust we still can’t explain, even after my thorough hunt for hidden air vents, or drum kits marinated in glitter, (both such things absent from the sanctuary). After hour-long interrogations by friends and family, I gave up explaining.”
Though I could find no Biblical references of gold dust appearing in services, there was mention of other unusual things taking place.
A visible cloud appeared at the opening of Solomon’s temple. This cloud was so intense that the priests could no longer stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10-11). It seemed to suggest they were falling down.
While in the upper room, Luke reports that there was a sound of violent wind and visible tongues of fires appeared on the heads of the disciples in the lead up to the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-5).
Another practice that has come under criticism is grave soaking, where people would lie on the graves of deceased saints praying to receive the person’s anointing.
Lloyd says that the rumours about this first started when a picture circulated on the internet of a person lying on the grave of CS Lewis:
“The grave sucking accusations came from as long as 15 years ago. Based on a photograph where someone was lying on the grave of a legend in the faith, a legacy they admired deeply.
“They expressed their treasuring of their existence by lying down in a state of wonder. There was no séance, no calling back the dead, no soaking of anointing, and certainly no straws (not even sustainable ones) present.”
She added that some students at Bethel’s Bible school later became involved in the practice after a guest teacher at the school stated he would suck up the anointing of dead saints, if he could. Lloyd added that the school’s teachers addressed the issue privately with the students involved.
Though there are no examples of grave soaking in the Bible, there was one incident on which this is likely based, when a dead body was hastily thrown into the grave of the prophet Elisha and came back to life after touching the prophet’s bones (2 Kings 13:21).
But this is the only verse that even slightly hints at this, and there is no record of anyone praying for the anointing on the dead.
I did a podcast on this issue, if you are interested:
Not calling ambulances
Another accusation levelled against Bethel is that they were not calling ambulances when people were experiencing cardiac issues, choosing instead to pray for them.
Lloyd said that during her tenure, she always called 911 when people were experiencing serious medical conditions, but admitted they prayed for them as well.
And related to this, there was an incident in 2019, when Pastor Bill Johnson stated the church was praying for the two-year-old child of a worship leader to be resurrected from the dead. The miracle never happened, and the church was widely mocked.
But even Jesus got into trouble when the Lord prayed for Lazarus to be raised from the dead. When Jesus ordered Lazarus’ tomb to be opened, his sister questioned the decision because her brother had been dead for four days (John 11: 38-44).
All this to say, that though these practices are unusual, are they important enough to break fellowship?
What is our fellowship based on?