Thoughts on Bethel Church and the Kingdom Culture Conference 2010 – Part 1

Bethel’s Kingdom Culture Conference is over and I’m in Denver now for another two conferences. I’ve had about an average of 4 hours of sleep over the past few nights! This trip has been and will be fun and exciting, but I don’t exactly have a relaxing schedule! Not complaining though! :)

Where do I start about writing about the conference? Let me just start and see where this goes. First, I wish I was able to spend a longer time at Bethel. I’ve told friends many times that if I were like 10 years younger, I’d love to attend the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) for at least a year, if not longer. Many people ask me why I don’t consider going to a Bible College or Theological Seminary. That was a dream of mine for many years beginning about 13 years ago. My response would be that the past 15 years of reading, writing, learning, serving, being in different churches and exploring different Christian traditions have been the greatest Bible College experience for me. I’ve definitely learned more through all this than I would from 3-4 years of traditional theological studies. I don’t need more of such knowledge. If I were to consider any “Bible College” or ministry school, it would be BSSM or Randy Clark’s Global School of Supernatural Ministry or some place similar like Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College. Once one has seen and heard the stuff that goes on in places like Bethel, I don’t see how one can go back to a form of Christianity that is without power!

Why would I want to spend precious hours reading, learning and writing a paper about some moot academic and intellectual point of Christianity or theology when I could be learning about how to activate my faith and move in healing and the prophetic? Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent the last 15 years reading a lot and learning so much. It’s served me well. Early on in my Christian life I struggled in relation to the issue of grace and that led me to believe in the message of grace and ignore a lot of “mixture” I hear from the pulpit. But even during this time, there were things I just wouldn’t go into because I think it’s just too academic and irrelevant to my Christian life and me making a difference in the lives of others. I’m glad for what I’ve learned and I think there’s probably a place for all that. But definitely not at the expense of seeing power in one’s Christian life. Why can’t I do what Jesus and the Apostles did? It’s easy for me to make up an excuse and say that all that probably isn’t for today because after all I haven’t seen all that taking place very often. You hear it preached, but when it comes to demonstration time, reality doesn’t live up to the ideal. I know charismatic Christianity. I was transformed in a Pentecostal church 15 years ago and so I’ve been a charismatic at heart my whole Christian life. And yet, hey, I haven’t seen much power even in charismatic churches. Christianity has to be filled with the power of God to transform lives – setting people free from bondages, healing of sicknesses, etc. This was the kind of power that Jesus and the Apostles demonstrated. I know the last few sentences may be a bit judgemental and critical of many churches and Christian traditions (hey, I’ve always acknowledged I’m fallible and so this is my own fallible and biased perspective – so those who disagree with me have gotta forgive me!), but after all my years of experience in different Christian traditions, the kind of Christianity in a church like Bethel, while not perfect, is very close to what I think Christianity should be like.

I would never say that God is totally absent from any Christian church or tradition. I think there’s truths deposited in all traditions. And I don’t think Bethel’s form of Christianity is perfect or that they can’t learn anything from other traditions. But I think Bethel has got a lot of things going right for them and I’m very impressed. They are very well grounded in the grace and love of God – and the importance of knowing one’s identity in Christ. Joseph Prince’s books are sold in their bookstore and some conference attendees I spoke to know and love Joseph Prince’s stuff. As I mentioned before, I first heard of teachings on the love (grace) of the Father from the Toronto Blessing (some call it the “Father’s blessing”) 15 years ago. This whole focus on the love and grace of God may not have originated from Toronto, but I know the segment of Christianity that some call the Renewal movement sees all this (the love and grace of God) as totally foundational to all that they are doing. It is not just a teaching, but a message that undergirds everything they do.

Yet Bethel goes beyond just the grace message – without leaving it behind. One of my favourite messages during the conference was Kris Vallotton’s afternoon message on Friday. He spoke about believing in people. By the way, Kris’ life message is all about our identity in Christ and how we’re children of the King and thus royalty. He came from a really terrible family background (with unloving and even abusive? step-fathers) and thus he knows the importance and transforming power of experiencing the Father’s love and knowing who we are in Christ – which is really what the grace message is all about at its core. Anyway, Kris’ message was a very moving and inspirational message about how we ought to believe in people and love them even if they don’t deserve our love – just as God loved us even when we didn’t deserve it. And through believing in people and loving them despite their faults, we help them achieve the wonderful destiny God has for them. I’m starting to like Kris more as a preacher and communicator.

I loved his message, but here’s the point I want to make – which I’ll develop slowly. New Creation’s messages are focused solely on the grace of God (the indicatives of Scripture). Most other churches like City Harvest Church would focus primarily on what we ought to do for God (the imperatives of Scripture). I’ve argued on this blog (see here) that our preaching should not focus solely on the imperatives of Scripture – yet it also shouldn’t focus solely on the indicatives of Scripture. If I had to choose between a church that focuses solely on the indicatives and one that focuses solely on the imperatives, I’d choose the former – that’s why I appreciate New Creation so much. But I’ve also argued that I think Paul and the Scriptures don’t do an either-or thing. They talk about both. And it’s not just about preaching both in any fashion. The important thing is getting the relationship between the two correct. The imperatives ought to be grounded in the indicatives – the power to live for God and love Him and people comes from knowing how much God loves us. That’s the way Paul wrote his letters – e.g. Ephesians 4-6 (imperatives) come after Ephesians 1-3 (indicatives).

I don’t think we should ever have the imperatives as the dominant focus of our ministry or preaching. If we always hear about what we have to do for God and what God expects of us, we’re not going to live victoriously. And the sad thing is that most churches do preach a steady diet of imperatives after imperatives. That’s why New Creation exists and is so popular – that’s why so many lives have been transformed there. On the other hand, I also believe that we shouldn’t just focus on indicatives always. That’s equally unbalanced (by the way, this has nothing to do with mixing law and grace for I’m not saying we have to balance law and grace!). Some may argue that preaching the indicatives and grace will automatically result in transformed lives. That is, we don’t need to hear preaching on the imperatives because that will happen automatically. Well, I totally agree that preaching grace will transform lives. But Paul obviously thought that something more was needed in his teaching/preaching than mere indicatives because he didn’t just write Ephesians 1-3, but wrote Ephesians 4-6 too!

Now, my point is that there has to be a way that avoids both extremes of focusing almost solely on the indicatives or focusing almost solely on the imperatives. Could we preach in a way where we talk about what we should do for God yet do it in such a non-condemning way that people are inspired to live for God and become more like Christ? If in our minds the greatest accomplishment in preaching is to ensure that legalism and condemnation is totally avoided, then we’ll constantly make sure that our messages are totally devoid of any form of imperative because that could be dangerous – as is commonly thought. But I think Paul saw it differently. Constantly on his mind wasn’t the fact that legalism and condemnation need to be avoided. Yes, the grace and love of God is a totally fundamental message we need to keep returning to. There will never be a time when we never need to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, there are many other things in Scripture that would not be touched upon if we only talk about the gospel and the grace and love of the Father. To be sure, these (love and grace) ought to always undergird every other message. But we don’t have to be afraid of preaching the imperatives, or the “law of Christ”, as some people call it. These have nothing to do with the law of Moses. In the New Covenant context, there are lots of exhortations and imperatives made by the Apostles – and these are made to New Covenant Christians! Preaching them isn’t mixture if we properly bring out the fact that they do not save one and that the empowering to do them is found in the gospel and the grace and love of the Father.

When I hear messages from Kris Vallotton (e.g. like the above) or Bill Johnson or Andrew Wommack, I don’t feel condemned. They preach messages that touch on the imperatives and other things that may not be directly related to grace, yet it’s not in a condemning or negative way because the message of the grace and love of God (indicatives) is always there empowering our actions (imperatives). In fact, such messages inspire me to become more like Christ and I’ve learned tons from them.

I see in Bethel a church totally immersed in the grace and love of the Father and one that prioritizes intimacy with God and prizes His presence. There’s no hint of legalism, serving God through self-efforts or exhausted worn out Christians there. Messages aren’t focused solely on winning the world or serving God. But along with a culture that values intimacy with a loving and gracious Father and His transforming presence is a strong belief that we receive from God in order to bless others and the community. And the members actually do that as anyone who knows a bit about Bethel would know. Many non-Christians I talked to know Bethel and have only positive things to say about the church. They know the people are blessing the community and doing good. Members go out to pray for people and demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God. They do so not out of obligation, hope of reward or fear of punishment, but out of an overflowing of God’s love for them and in anticipation and expectation that God would demonstrate the power of His love to the lost. I can’t help but feel this culture of joy and excitement. It’s a culture that not only believes in receiving from God, but also in giving it all away. It’s emphasized there that God doesn’t show His power and love so they can keep it for themselves or keep it in the Church – but so that they can give it to the world. Freely you have received, freely give. It’s such an exciting culture and perspective they have.

So here’s a church totally saturated with the grace and love of the Father, yet one impacting its community and the world in a tremendous way. It shows that it’s possible for a church to be grounded in the radical grace of God in a way that doesn’t result in passivity on the part of members, but rather in them freely giving away what they’ve freely received.

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7 Comments

  1. hey shf,

    it’s so amazing that you’re in bethel now. i really do hope that I will have a chance to visit bethel one day as well. And if you are going to kickstart any work here in singapore, do count me in, please! im so excited to see what God can do through our generation!

  2. Hi s, yes I definitely want to do something with other like-minded Christians. I feel eminently unqualified in this area as I’ve got so much to learn but we can all learn together and learn from each other. I think the important thing is to encourage and challenge each other and create an atmosphere in which we can learn and take risks and activate our faith. I believe that as we pursue God and desire to move in these areas, He will teach us and empower us!

  3. Hi SHF,
    It’s long time we are yet to meetup. Been following up your blog and it’s just awesome and encouraging. Pls do count me in for any work in the extension of His kingdom.

  4. have been reading and following your blog for some 3-4 months now… Amen to your hunger – you have verbalised so much of my inner cries. I pray that you have an never-ending encounter, with increasing glorious with Him. Happy and thankful for you!

    thanks for sharing.

  5. have spent 4hrs going thru ur blog entries
    fr 1979- 2007.Have difficulties understanding some of your writings.Bcoz ur english too ‘chim’.深

    If you want to enter into the ministry ,serving part-time or full time,u need paper qualifications.All christian organizations including the church would only accept candidates with atleast a diploma or degree in biblical theology.

    The course is very tough.

  6. Hi Joe and kc,

    Thanks for your comments. Joe, yes, it’s been a long time. Let’s plan to meet up when I return from the States! :)

    jacktan, yes, I do know that in most cases paper qualification is needed for ordination – which is very sad. God can use anyone – even illiterate people as some of Jesus’ disciples were. It’s man-made (denominational) traditions that come up with all the need for paper qualifications!

  7. I like what you have written about indicatives and imperatives; about the latter being grounded or built or based upon the former. And that this is not mixture of grace and law, as demonstrated in Paul’s epistles in Romans and Ephesians. You have figured out something that I wish more pastors and preachers and lay people will also sort out as it is of primary importance for renewal in the church.

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