The Danger Against Playing Church, Playing God: Bethel Responds to #WakeUpOlive

“The reason Jesus raised the dead is because not everyone dies in God’s timing. Jesus could tell, and He would interrupt that funeral, He would interrupt that process that some would just call the sovereignty of God. And He’d raise the little girl, he’d raise the adult person from the dead.”
That’s the reason Bill Johnson, senior pastor at Bethel Church Redding, asserts for his church’s request for prayer to raise a dead two-year-old girl according to his interpretation of this portion of the gospel but it begs the question: is that the real reason Jesus raised the dead?

Johnson released a video message Wednesday in response to the outcry and criticism explaining that he and his church family believe God has called them to follow the precedent that Jesus set forth by commanding His followers to raise the dead.

“Saturday, just a few days ago, we had a great tragedy, one of the key individuals in our world, their 2-year-old little girl died, quite unexpectedly, just out of nowhere. So we’ve been praying for the miracle of God. Mom and dad, Andrew and Kelly, have asked us to pray for resurrection. We’ve joined with them,” Johnson said in a video clip posted on Instagram.

Johnson addressed their church’s beliefs in the video.

“We have a biblical precedent, Jesus raised the dead! Not only that, He introduced Himself as the resurrection and the life. In fact, in John 11 verse 40, He says, ‘If you believe you will see the glory of God,’” Johnson said.

“So seeing what Jesus has accomplished, what He did in His lifetime, and then when you add to that He commanded His followers, His disciples, in Matthew Chapter 10, verse 8, ‘to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cast out devils, to cleanse the lepers.’ None of those are things that we can actually do. Yet He commanded us because somehow, in our Yes, He gives us the ability to carry out His mission. Being commissioned means we’ve said yes to His mission,” the Redding, California-based church leader continued.


The leader said when there is breakthrough or a miracle, Jesus gets the credit, adding, “but when it doesn’t work, we don’t blame God. We give him the glory. We give him the praise. We celebrate his goodness, his kindness, because nothing about our experience – difficult or not – changes who he is.”

Johnson said he and his church members are committed to living with a conviction and a devotion to what Jesus taught them to do. While in this period of believing for a miracle and hosting worship services to pray for Olive to “wake up,” some have criticized the church and its leadership for giving the family “false hope” or interfering with God’s will, but the minister says he believed this death was not God’s timing. 

“Some have asked, ‘isn’t this interrupting the sovereignty of God?’ And my response is, ‘First of all, we don’t ever want to violate the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign. He chooses what He wants and we cooperate with Him. There’s no question.’ But then my question is, why did Jesus raise the dead? Did He violate the sovereignty of God? Did the Father will one thing, and Jesus will another? Of course not!” Johnson emphasized.

He added: “The reason Jesus raised the dead is because not everyone dies in God’s timing. Jesus could tell, and He would interrupt that funeral, He would interrupt that process that some would just call the sovereignty of God. And He’d raise the little girl, he’d raise the adult person from the dead.”

Johnson maintained that Jesus set a precedent for the church to follow and that is what they are doing at a time when they are unsure of how to proceed other than believing for a miracle.


Playing God

The dangers of interpreting scripture are very real. Christ’s encounter with the devil in the desert proves even Satan has knowledge of the Scripture. The key is discerning who is speaking them in Truth. Christ demonstrates that same knowledge and greater discernment in His response to the devil (See Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

The danger in taking Scripture at piecemeal (or even face value) rather than in its intended context is that we are behaving just like the devil. We are putting God’s words together in a way that justifies our own behavior rather than exalts the actual glory of God. In essence, we too, like the devil, are guilty of playing God.

Johnson uses a quote from John 11:40 where the author is retelling the account of Jesus Raising Lazarus’ from the Tomb. Jesus is speaking to Lazarus’ sister, Martha.

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.”

Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,

Fast forward a few lines and a very perturbed Jesus is speaking:

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

Why is Jesus perturbed?

Because the people are not understanding what he is preaching. They are looking only at the reality of the situation and the physical actions occurring rather than the spiritual implications of what Christ is actually demonstrating.

Why does Scripture say Jesus raised the dead?

It has nothing to do with him noticing that Lazarus’ death was ill-timed. The answer is right there in Scripture:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father,* I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here (that unbelieving, see only the physical account and not the spiritual crowd who had perturbed Jesus) I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”

In fact, none of the accounts of those Jesus raises from the dead give any indication in Scripture that their death is out of timing with God. What is clearly demonstrated is Jesus’ power over death in those circumstances. A demonstration which Jesus only performs at certain times according to the Father’s will.

Is Jesus the resurrection and the life? Absolutely! But does that mean that all of us are to experience our Resurrection Day all at once just because someone in church stands up and says, he believes our day is here? No!

This is one of my problems with the Church today. There is so much focus on using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to imitate Jesus to the world and not enough focus on imitating Jesus’ prayer life, his discernment, and his unity with the Father. Knowledge and Love of the Giver is more important than using His gifts. Christ came to show the world the Father not glorify himself in reckless use of power. He prayed more than he performed miracles. The Bible records Jesus praying continually while it records only 7 major miracles. If the Acts Church appear to be demonstrating the gifts more than they are praying then either the Scriptures are simply leaving out prayer recordings because it’s a matter of public record they too would have prayed continually like Jesus or they were already imitating Him falsely. There is more to the Word of God than what is written, there is more to the lifestyle of Jesus than what is read.

Knowledge and Discernment of the Scriptures is vital in this Age, lest we be lead astray following the doctrine of demons who are not God but only playing at trying to be Him (Read 1 Tim. 4:1).


Playing Church

Johnson concludes his argument with a final vague explanation of how his church will operate moving forward.

“There’s no manual that tells us to fast this many days, pray this many hours. We don’t have any of that. What we do have is a biblical precedent, Jesus’ lifestyle and Jesus’ commands,” he said, adding, “Someone asked, ‘How long do you pray, when do you quit praying?’ I don’t have a good answer. We’re kind of in the middle of that journey right now.”

Is that true? Is there really no manual? Have we no other guidance than simply ‘Jesus’ lifestyle and commands’?

Pope Francis and others don’t seem to agree and offer another explanation of Jesus’ raising the dead.

“Jesus can raise everyone from the tomb of a dead, tired soul,” Pope Francis says.

His remarks came during a late afternoon visit to the Church of St. Gregory the Great on the outskirts of Rome. Before he celebrated Mass, he met with young people, the sick and elderly and heard the confessions of a number of parishioners.

“Come out from the dark cave of pride, sin and death and into the light of a new life with Christ,” Pope Francis said. “Take away the stone of shame” that is keeping you trapped inside a life that is dead or painful and be raised up again by Christ.”

In his homily and during his Angelus address at noon with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope spoke about the day’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of John (11:1-45), which recounts Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

When Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb, he asked that the stone sealing the entrance be taken away. He then “cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus come out!’ And the dead man came out,” the Gospel says.

Jesus is saying the same thing to people today, the pope said at the Mass, “because we’re all marked by death” and sin. “All of us have some areas, some parts of our hearts that are not alive, that are a little dead and other people have a lot of their heart that’s dead — a real spiritual necrosis!”

The parts of a person’s heart that have died have become “tombs of sin,” he said, and some people become trapped inside, either because they are afraid or embarrassed to come out or they have become “attached” to their sin and corrupted.

The pope asked people to think about what part of their hearts have died, that have become a dark tomb, and then listen to Jesus calling, like he called Lazarus: “Come out!”

“Christ doesn’t give up in front of the tombs we have built by our choosing evil and death, by our mistakes, our sins,” the pope said. Jesus “calls us incessantly to get out of the darkness of the prison we’ve locked ourselves into by making do with a false, egotistical, mediocre life.”

“‘Come out!’ is a beautiful invitation to true freedom,” he said.

“Our resurrection begins here, when we decide to obey Jesus’ command, to come out into the light, to life,” he said.

Just as Jesus asked that the burial cloths that were wrapped around Lazarus’ hands, feet and face be untied, so Christians today need to uncover their true selves.

“Many times we are masked by sin; the masks must fall and we will rediscover the courage of our original face,” created in the image of God.

There is no limit to how much love and mercy God offers to everyone, he said.

I have the utmost respect for Pastors who are trying to lead their flock in Truth. The community at Bethel has no doubt brought a wealth of deposits to the Faith in areas of worship and healing evangelism. However, it is obvious from Pastor Johnson’s message that a little more surety could be added to their faith. This is where Faith and Reason must begin to align together within the Church Body. We cannot rely solely on the gift of faith where the work of reason is also necessary. Jesus demonstrated both Faith and Works of Reason were necessary to advance the Kingdom.

If we’re to follow Johnson’s formula of Biblical precedence then it should be obvious that Jesus was never unsure about anything he did. Everything Jesus did was done in accordance with the will of Our Heavenly Father and with perfect accuracy. There was no room for error or wounding on part of an over zealous Christ who “got it wrong” or “heard another Jesus” speaking. If the Church is to advance in this Apostolic Age, it needs to stop playing dress up and start demanding of itself a greater maturity in both discernment and accuracy. This can only be done in places where hearts are committed to the Battle of Prayer and becoming completely united, undivided, with the heart of the Father through Jesus and the works of Wisdom by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Johnson was truly right about one thing, Jesus did command us to raise the dead and since we do not have the ability to do so in our own strength “He commanded us because somehow, in our Yes, He gives us the ability to carry out His mission. Being commissioned means we’ve said yes to His mission.” My only question is are we going about the same mission or are we playing church? Pretending we don’t know what Jesus was really preaching that day, refusing to listen to others in the Church who can offer spiritual guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

If your faith rests solely in the interpretation of one person’s account of the Scriptures, you are sorely missing out on the fuller expression of the Gospel.

To believe that any one man (or even a few) is capable of receiving the full deposit of faith in his lifetime is prideful. If we are to live by the lifestyle and commands of Jesus then we have to recognize that his entire life is the embodiment of every soul to have ever lived. Within Jesus is the wisdom given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Enoch, Elijah, and all the prophets through John the Baptist. Jesus is the living embodiment of the collective Wisdom deposited into mankind (1 Corinthians 1:30). No one man can pull that out of Him. Jesus is the singular man who pulls Wisdom out from all of us.

In the tradition of the Jews and the Apostles, there is a collective Truth handed down through the Ages that is represented in the saints of all churches, the popes, bishops, priests and even martyrs. Among Catholics it is known as the Magisterium or “Deposit of Faith” which has been collected and protected and defended (even if at times imperfectly) throughout the Ages since Jesus handed the key of David – ‘O Key of Wisdom’ – to Peter.

So, yes, there is a manual for us all to follow.

And, I pray we do start following it, together. So that we can stop playing church and start being the Church.

There is no need for us to wander without answers when we have been given the gift of Jesus’ Wisdom in the Holy Spirit. My prayers go out to the fellowship at Bethel that they might discover the fullness of Truth, with an undivided heart, a greater level of discernment, and demonstrate Him with accuracy, so that more might be healed and come to know the real Christ than are wounded and led astray by the other Christ (2 Corinthians 11:14).

May the Body of Christ truly unite ourselves to Christ’s mission, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” John 17:21. Come Holy Spirit! Before we desire your gifts may we desire more the heart of the Giver. Grow us in prayer and discernment that we may be made worthy of your gifts.