Bethel Church – Cult or Cure? The God, the Bad and the Ugly

Kris Vallotton one of the primary leaders of Bethel Church in Redding, CA shares a heartfelt perspective in response to decades of ridiculous ridicule and misinterpretations of their preaching and practices. Most of the filament in the “danger”  light bulb people have been flashing regarding Bethel church has been made up of those who have never even taken the time to experience Bethel for themselves, let alone take one of their leaders out to coffee and even attempt to understand through relationship what they’re truly about.

Kris does a phenomenal job expressing the fact that so many conclusive judgments have been made towards Bethel that stem from things like a message taken out of context, or a person or group of people that have come to Bethel in search of God, but then take their own liberty to practice spirituality in ways that the leaders of the church would never endorse. Then they personally identify or endorse themselves with a connection to Bethel Church. Additionally, he shares –

Bethel has chosen to be a family, and as such we do our best to love people wherever they are in life, regardless of their character, doctrine, political views or philosophical persuasions. Much like our natural families (whom we don’t get to choose), God often assigns people to be part of our spiritual family who, like Jacob, walk with a “limp” yet still deserve to be loved. We work hard to try to understand these people, although we sometimes don’t agree with their perspectives.

These factors have combined to form one of the most extraordinary experiences in our history, and yet it’s also inspired many challenges. I have traced the majority of these challenges back to a few common themes. One of these themes is misunderstandings that are rooted in the way various people who hear our teachings apply them. Like any movement—be it spiritual, political or whatever the arena—people often take what you say and practice it in a way you never dreamt of. Sometimes the things people do in the name of something we taught are hilarious, while other times they are downright stupid. I cringe when these misguided people quote us as the catalyst for their crazy exploits.

Another major problem in our movement happens when people innocently take what we say out of context. This has happened to me, personally, on more occasions than I care to count. Many times someone will quote me on Facebook or post a YouTube video that is a 3-minute clip of an hour-long message I shared. It’s difficult to tell people you didn’t mean what they’re crediting you for saying when they’re simply basing it on a short video clip; but as with any conversation, the context often dictates the definition.

On the other hand, there are always malicious people who work hard to deceive the masses by intentionally ignoring the context of our teaching to make some distorted point. I don’t understand how these people live with themselves when they intentionally twist something we teach to deface our character or undermine our ministry. Some people are so convinced we’re a cult that they are willing to sacrifice their own integrity “to keep people from going astray.” For example, we’ve had people write negative reviews about our books that they have never read, or blog about the source of our income or how we spend our money without even checking the facts. Disagreeing with someone is one thing, but lying to make your point is downright wrong.

The Big “C” church at large has had its fair share of moments be it revival, despair, healing and rejoicing, or persecution. The American, or Western, Church at large has been confused and divided, complacent, and counter-productive in many ways. I heard a saying once that has stuck with me for years and years… Someone once commented about the church in this way, “We’re the only army that shoots at its own soldiers.” I’ve never been able to shake that argument.

Don’t get me wrong, as a man of faith who loves the church, I don’t neglect how many churches are full of passion and achieving the great commission in ways that are just astounding. Take Bethel as an example. Many wouldn’t even realize that for all of the global influence they have, they’ve been content to hold their services in the same building for decades, and they’re changing the world from a gymnasium. That’s right, their main auditorium seats about 1,400 people, and they literally hoist the basketball hoops up to the ceiling on the weekends and reach millions from a gym! So again, don’t get me wrong, I’m simply expressing that I feel many churches haven’t tapped into the depths of God, nor the miraculous power that Jesus led His life as an example of and said that we would do “greater works than these”. For those of us who are comfortable, or who have maybe fallen asleep in our pursuit of the “more” of God, it’s time to wake up! In fact, it’s well over-due! As anyone can see in the current state of our society, we need a cure to the hate, the division, the malice, the lies, the deception, the fear, need I go on? Church, come alive! Shake the walls and foundations of sleepy and complacent hearts. If Jesus was walking the earth during these times, I wonder what tables He’d be flipping, or what people groups He’d be dining with? I bet most of us would be offended and confused by His plan of action. When will we learn?

I won’t try to convince or convict you one way or the other. You believe what you will, but if you’re ready to cast judgment over a body of believers like “cult” or “heretics”, I would propose that you should be ready to bring a good explanation to the pearly gates of why you worked harder to tear down the walls of the saints than the walls of the enemy. What a waste of time and breath when there’s so much evil in the world! Yet here we are trying to combat one another over theology and preference. Didn’t Jesus say it Himself, “If they are for me, they’re not against me”? Even He didn’t allow His disciples to stop others from ministering, or to criticize, silence, slander, or ridicule a group that they thought were “doing it wrong”.

I personally see Bethel Church as a cure to the complacency I’ve personally experienced in churches across the nation that find their comfort swimming in the shallows. I see Bethel Church as a cure for the staunch, religious mentalities so many of us have allowed ourselves live by. A cure that breaks the fear of religion, the fear of man, the fear of rejection or failure. It beckons us beyond our familiarity and the safety of our boats. It calls us to step out onto the waves! If you ask me, conservative, “safe” Christianity is more deserving of a definition like “cult.” You want to know what pandemic scares me more than Covid?! That we as the people of God are content to practice a form of religion that would ever deny the power of the Spirit!! That’s a pandemic worth a lot more than just our recognition. We are more than a social country club! I’ve personally sold my stock and shares and turned in my membership from powerless, conservative Christianity, and I’ve placed all my eggs in the basket that displays the Kingdom of God in power and demonstration. A person is considered righteous by what they do, and not by faith alone. Faith without works is dead. Do works always have to be miraculous? No. Is it enough to show love? Often yes, but when miracles are fully absent, we neglect the full intent of the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to empower us to live beyond the natural.

Mark 16 “These signs shall follow those who believe, in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

How many of these signs do you have trailing behind you? I know I could do better. I want to live a life that reflects this level of faith and belief.

So you decide for yourself, Cult or Cure? I’ve cast my vote, and the more the ridicule rises, the more I’m convinced. The world needs a cure. The American church needs a cure.

Read Kris’s full narrative here