Bethel Church, Redding
Last night I went to Bethel Church in Redding, CA. They’ve got a reputation up there for being kind of intense, to say the least. People come from all over the world to worship there, be healed, and get crazy in the Spirit. Now before I go any further I must tell you that I am not a charismatic person, nor have I had much involvement in charismatic, or pentecostal circles. I only dance when drunk at weddings, or when challenged to a dance off by thuggish creeps getting up in my grill. I have never spoken in tongues, though my nearly 3 year old nephew and I occasionally make up languages and converse with one another. I have never been drunk in the Spirit, and I am very curious to know if it feels like the drunkenness that I have experienced via booze a few times too many. Oh yeah and I’ve never been any kind of advocate of flag-waving for any reason that I can think of at the present moment. These were acts that I witnessed while visiting Bethel Church. Correction! I didn’t actually see anyone drunk in the Spirit close up, though there were some raucous yelps throughout the sanctuary. I decided that whether drunk on God or drunk on alcohol I’d keep a safe distance from those under the influence to avoid undesired banter about “how good it is to see you man” and affirming “I love you’s” from complete strangers. And so I remained standing in front of my chair, near the aisle for quick escape if necessary, and absorbed the scene with wide-eyes mounted curiously on my skeptical head.
Why was I here? Well I’d heard about it through a few different grapevines. The first time from a friend of my brother’s who had just returned from a Youth With a Mission outreach and was interested in Bethel Church’s “School of the Supernatural”. The fact that there was a school with “supernatural” in the title caught my attention. It also made me suspicious as to what variety of drugs my brother’s friend had been ingesting. I asked a few questions about what it was all about and he filled me in to the best of his ability. He told me that they train people to be better equipped in the spiritual gifts talked about in I Corinthians 14. These gifts were the ones that Paul talked about as coming from the Holy Spirit for believers to use for edification, exhortation, and consolation in the body (Church) of Christ. The school also teaches its students how to prophesy, interpret dreams, heal and become more aware of the present kingdom of God now here on planet earth.
For those of you who are not Christian of any kind I’m sorry that this blog won’t make much sense to you. For those of you who are Christians without education in the spiritual gifts I urge you to do some prayerful research. And for those of you who are skeptical of the practical uses of spiritual gifts in today’s world, and the modern Church then we could probably go get some coffee and chat sometime. For those of you who are full-fledged spiritual gift wielding warriors in Christ know that I love you and I’m on a journey with God whose walking me through my doubts, so be patient with me and don’t try to slay me in the Spirit just yet.
I’d heard of Bethel Church again through various eye-rolling criticisms coming from certain conservative church settings. Much of their criticism seemed to stem from a disbelief in the reports coming from Bethel in regards to healing and miracles taking place there. These critics always emphasized the importance of the Word of God, meaning the Bible, and therefore not-so-inadvertently implied that Bethel was a church that did not hold the Bible in as high esteem as they did. Oh how you’ve got love the body of Christ punching itself in the face with such divisive critiques! There’s a popular worship song that begs the question “if we are the body then why aren’t our hands reaching?” and I believe that the answer to that question is because we’re too busy slapping ourselves around. Our hands are tied by our denominational bickering. I digress.
Anyways, recently I’d been re-introduced into thinking about Bethel Church because a friend of mine, visiting from Scotland, wanted to go out there and see what was up. I fancied the idea, and so we embarked into the heat lamp of California that is Redding. P.S.: WJU soccer dominates Simpson. That is all.
As we drove up the hill to Bethel’s church and campus I felt as if this were some kind of pilgrimage. People ascend this drive multiple times a week to partake in the worship, healing, and prophetic ministries that this place has become known for. Here I was without any clue as to what was in store for me.
The worship was incredible for many reasons. 1. It was worshipful and sincere (a must!) 2. the band was completely in one another’s musical pocket 3. the congregation actually did what they sang! For example, the first song said something along the lines of shouting, singing, and dancing before God, and wouldn’t you know it that these people actually shouted, sang, and danced before God. What a concept! So far so good. Worship went on for a little more than an hour, and people weren’t seeming to get tired of it in the least. It was beautiful.
When Pastor Chris was introduced and asked to take the stage nearly everyone in the audience gave him a standing ovation. I felt a little uneasy about this, as it seemed that they treated this guy as some sort of celebrity. My guard went up slightly at this reaction by the people, but I stayed tuned in nonetheless. The message of the evening was on the gift of prophecy. This was just the kind of topic I was interested in hearing about from their (Bethel) perspective. I guess this Pastor Chris guy had written a manual on how to give a prophetic word and such. Maybe this was why he was so popular around there.
He spoke incredibly clearly and communicated his message in a way that made total sense to me. Now understand that I myself have never been the giver of a prophetic word to anyone as far as I know. I have had the opportunity to receive prophetic words from believers at different points throughout my journey with God, but in my most frequented church circles this does not happen very often. In Bethel Church however this kind of thing happens all the time. People give one another prophetic words all the time, and so it made sense that this topic needed to be addressed in such a formal setting.
Originally I had planned on going to Bethel Church as sort of an anthropological investigation into the crazy world of church. I was going to be a sort of participant observer in all that happened there. I hadn’t anticipated that I would be challenged with so much information and insight from the Bible. Once the flags stopped waving and the people stopped murmuring their prayers the church really hunkered down into an intense study of what it means to have the gift of prophesy and how to use it wisely.
I don’t want to repeat or even summarize the lesson that I learned from last night’s teaching. If you’re interested in hearing it I’d encourage you to download it as a podcast when it is released from their site http://www.ibethel.org/site/podcast . Regurgitating what I heard last night isn’t why I wanted to share this experience with you.
The reason I wanted to write this blog was because I’ve had a lot on my mind lately in regards to spirituality, Christianity, denominational differences and the like. I’m trying to bridge gaps for the sake of my own spiritual sanity. Part of me feels like if I can make sense of a pentecostal approach to God, a conservative approach to God, an Orthodox approach to God, and any other funky “living out” of the gospel of Jesus then there’s hope of bringing unity to the body. I’ve been raised in one certain style of church upbringing, but I’m not sold on it being the “right” way of doing spiritual things. I’m on a journey towards finding the most essential priorities in regards to following Christ. Fortunately Jesus makes things very simple when telling us to love God, and love our neighbor, but for some reason we complicate that really well. I’m sifting through traditions, rituals, ways of following Christ and I’m finding some real nuggets of wisdom, and truth. As I’ve been asking God to take me to new heights with Him I’ve been challenged by everything and everyone around me. My faith hasn’t been ridiculously shaken, nor have my doubts overcome me. It’s just that I’m trying to make sense of all the Christian stuff I see, and some of it just doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to make sense of some of the priorities that churches have at the top of their lists and it doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not trying to bash on anyone, that would be counterproductive, instead I’m trying to find my role in the body. If I can’t dance like the pentecostals, or fast like the Orthodox saints, or be hip enough for some of the mega-churches around here then where’s my place? I’m not questioning the divinity of Christ, or debating predestination, or talking about baptismal protocol; I’m asking a simpler question: Where’s Christ in all of our Christianity? Where’s loving God, neighbors, and the world in all of our disunity? And what’s the body of Christ doing, or supposed to do?
Finally, one more question: Is there anybody out there? Please talk to me. I believe that God will use many of you to help bring me to a better understanding of my place in the Church (universal body of Christ). I also believe that many of you have given up on the church for many of the reasons I find frustrating. I have one bit of advice for you: being Christian without love and accountability from a fellowship of passionate believers in Christ is darn near impossible. I’m not trying to sound preachy or anything, but that’s just one of the nuggets of goodness I’ve recently been given. You need to be there for the body. Western society makes everything about us, but being co-heirs with Christ for the kingdom isn’t just about you! It’s about the kingdom. It’s about the saints. And it’s about the redemption of the world. It’s about so much more than you and your dislikes, or me and my dislikes. I have been challenged lately to shut my mouth when it comes to sharing my critiques unless I also have a plan to implement some form of change for the better. Thumper’s mother had it right, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But if you’re aim is to edify, exhort or console Christ’s church then please open your mouth and be bold. At this point in history I think the Church needs more bold saints proclaiming the truth in love. Let it be so.