< Browse > Home / Bill Johnson/Bethel Church, Developing Discernment, Miracles/Supernatural Powers / Blog article: ‘Eat the meat and spit out the bones’: A proper response to NAR teaching?

‘Eat the meat and spit out the bones’: A proper response to NAR teaching?

“Eat the meat and spit out the bones” is a common refrain in NAR. Typically, it means that if you hear a teacher give a questionable teaching — something that you don’t understand or that seems off somehow —  ignore that particular teaching. But don’t stop listening to his other teachings.

Bill Johnson, one of the movement’s most influential “apostles,” delivered an entire sermon promoting this idea. It’s titled “Don’t Eat the Bones.” In context, Johnson is speaking about men, including the “prophet” William Branham and the “healing evangelist” Todd Bentley, who claimed to operate in miraculous power and led major revivals. Yet they fell into heresy or sinful lifestyles. Critics of NAR have argued that the heretical teachings and immoral lifestyles of these men — and of other influential NAR prophets, such as Bob Jones and Paul Cain — raise the question of whether these individuals actually may have been false prophets. Their unsavory behavior challenges the validity of the revivals led by them — or so the critics say.

But Johnson argues that it’s a mistake to write off these “prophets” and the “moves of God” they pioneered, or their other teachings, simply because of their failures. He prays that Christians will be able to discern how God sometimes works through “unusual tools,” including individuals with lifestyles of secret, hidden sin. He states:

You can’t tell me you’re hungry and have me give you a chicken and say, ‘I’m not gonna eat it because there’s bones in it.’ Learn to eat meat and throw out the bones. (00:30:25)

So what’s wrong with this popular refrain? I can think of at least two problems.

It’s not biblical

The idea of eating fish, and spitting out the bones, certainly sounds reasonable when the subject is dinner. But when it comes to responding to false teaching, this maxim doesn’t have the support of Scripture. For example, the apostle Paul told the Romans to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned” and to “Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). In light of those serious warnings, can you imagine Paul telling the Romans, “Don’t worry about false teaching, guys; just eat the meat and spit out the bones”? Sound teaching matters.

Character matters, too. Jesus warned his disciples to watch out for false prophets. He said the way they could be identified is by their “bad fruit” — that is, by their sinful lifestyles  (Matthew 7:15-20).

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

In other words, Jesus says, “Watch out for bad fruit. It’s a sure sign of a false prophet.” And what would that bad fruit consist of, according to Scripture? It manifests itself in bad character. Sexual immorality and idolatry are specifically associated with the false prophetess Jezebel at the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20). Paul describes the false prophet Bar-Jesus as being a “child of the devil,” an “enemy of everything that is right,” and “full of all kinds of deceit and trickery” (Acts 13:10). Old Testament false prophets were characterized by greed (Micah 3:5, 11; 2 Peter 2:15) and drunkenness (Isaiah 28:7-8).

It’s a faulty metaphor

Second, fish dinner is not an appropriate metaphor. When eating fish, you can easily pick out the bones and there’s no real danger. But the metaphor implies a simplicity of division and a lack of danger that may not be present when listeners are absorbing teaching. The meat is easy to swallow, and the bones are obviously inedible. In the case of chicken or fish, they’re easy to separate. And their presence does not taint the entire fish. That’s not always the case with teaching, however, especially when the person teaching is held in a position of extraordinary authority and claims to possess supernatural power. Who are these average Christians to question Healing Evangelist Bentley or Prophet Branham? If Bentley says it’s all fish, you’d better eat up or you’ll be missing out on the move of God. Swallow it whole or get left behind.

Instead,  another metaphor may be more apt. What if, instead of eating fish, you were drinking a milkshake and it had been laced with poison? In that case, it would be ridiculous to advise someone to just “Drink the milkshake and spit out the poison.” Such a task would be impossible. The poison couldn’t be separated out.  It would contaminate the entire milkshake.  In a similar way, dangerous teachings and immoral lifestyles–even when mixed with some good teachings–are so corrupting that following a teacher who engages in them is too risky.

What Matters to Johnson

When listening to Johnson’s sermon, one may get the impression that, for him, the bottom line isn’t orthodoxy vs. heresy. The line is not godliness vs. immorality. The issue for Johnson appears to boil down to one word: power. If a person has the supernatural goods — that is to say, if they work miracles — then they obviously have a special anointing from the Holy Spirit that trumps any concerns about other, false teachings or about an immoral lifestyle.

But again, this doesn’t match Scripture. Jesus gave multiple warnings about “evildoers” and “false prophets” who would appear to work mighty miracles (Matthew 7:21-2324:24). Their miracles would be so convincing that even God’s elect would be in danger of being deceived by them.

So instead of “eating the meat and spitting out the bones,” followers of Christ would do better to heed the apostle Peter’s words and “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

————-

Holly Pivec is the co-author of A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement and God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement. She has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.

  • No Related Post
Follow Discussion

31 Responses to “‘Eat the meat and spit out the bones’: A proper response to NAR teaching?”

  1. Diana Lesperance Says:

    Galatians 5:9 says “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” How can yeast (leaven) be separated from bread? Jesus called the false teaching of the Pharisees “leaven.”

  2. Holly Says:

    Diana, yes, excellent. You point out a metaphor that is used repeatedly in the New Testament, by Jesus and the apostles, who depict false teaching as yeast and leaven — which permeate the entire loaf of bread.

  3. Naomi Says:

    We’ve had 20+years of that teaching, but we weren’t very discerning, so we swallowed the bones as well. Trouble is we didn’t realise this was the cause of our spiritual state, like slow poisoning, the life was seeping out of us. We’re forever grateful for that moment in time when God woke us up. So glad that we follow the biblical metaphor of yeast now & chuck out the whole bad batch when we come across heresy. Such clearness in knowing & hearing from God, so thankful!!

  4. Holly Says:

    Naomi, yes, the biblical metaphor of yeast is very helpful to this discussion.

  5. Chris Says:

    I completely agree with Naomi. Those within the movement are unable to discern the difference between obvious “bones” and supposedly beneficial “meat”. Too often, the meat is actually bone. It is by God’s grace that any of us have been saved out of this extremely strong delusion.

  6. Patricia Says:

    I agree. I came out of a church that was letting falsehood creep in. I could not stay there and be a part of a church that brings in false teaching. I pray people will wake up to the truth. I had been praying for truth in my life and God showed me. Thanks be to God who reveals things to us. If people would just listen! God Bless You for speaking up for truth!

  7. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    The real issue in my mind is whether the imbalance in teaching is about the essentials of the faith or merely non essential issues. Branham was a heretic with his twisted teachings about the Trinity and the “serpent seed” although I’m not sure that he started out his ministry that way. Paul Cain at one time was teaching the immortality of overcoming end time believers and this clearly was heretical as it denies the biblical teaching about the second coming of Christ. Paul Cain has since retracted these views and hopefully has changed his immoral ways.

    If my disagreement with Paul Cain was about the timing of the rapture or the chronology of end time events this would be over non essentials and would not require me to separate from fellowship with him. Disputes over the baptism of the Spirit,is the prophetic for today, healings and revival experiences are not essentials of the Christian faith. People have the freedom in Christ to disagree over them and they do. Making dogmas out of non essential issues and dividing over them is a sickness that has infected Christianity since its beginnings. Love and tolerance of other faith traditions is what should guide us unless they have become clearly heretical or are forcing divisions on the Body of Christ as the Kansas City prophets once did in Kansas city. Even then, we should not just write them off as it is so easy to do. Paul could have done this in his rocky relationship with he Jerusalem church which was very slow to accept his preaching on the gospel of grace. He continued to visit them, took up a collection for them that nearly cost him his life, and prayed for their reformation. Eventually, the church in Jerusalem produced the letters of James and Jude which are now in the canon of scripture. Paul chose the path of love and patience in dealing them and it was the right path.

  8. Mike Lightsey Says:

    I came out of a NAR Church and the pastor had us read a book that was full of bones and he said we would discuss these bones but later changed his mind. I have found that none of these NAR types will identify the bones they are more concerned about unity than orthodoxy. If you are concerned about false teachings then you are accused of having a spirit of fear.

  9. Tia Marlier Rebholz Says:

    As usual, Holly, brilliant insight and measured (by the Word) arguments that effectively illustrate the dangers of NAR teachers. Thank you for this. May believers wake up and walk in discernment!

  10. Donna Says:

    Hi Holly,

    I am glad to have found your blog. I have family members who have swallowed the Bethel teachings hook, line, and sinker. I’ve been accused of having “the spirit of religion” when I brought it up that they need to be careful about what they are following and involved in. It’s like they have thrown their discernment out the window to chase a feeling. So sad. I’ll be reading through your blog.

    Donna

  11. Holly Says:

    Donna, yes, unfortunately, the “spirit of religion” accusation is common from people who attend a NAR church.

  12. Aaron Says:

    This idea is also taught in the Word of Faith Movement as well. The thing is with William Branham is probably the biggest heretic the Pentecostal movement has ever had. He was a Oneness Pentecostal, and had several false prophecies. He also had many strange and unbiblical teachings. If anyone is promoting William Branham, my advice is run, and run far away.

    All people in the NAR have to do is do their research and they would realize they are being led astray. It’s that simple. However, just like in Mormonism, they are taught not to question their leaders.

  13. Carol Berubee Says:

    Donna, I’m glad you see the error. I pray that your family members will come to see the error.

    “The spirit of religion” and “Pharisee” are often hurled at those who have discernment and take the Bible as the very Word of God.

    One other misnomer thrown around by the NAR and some Pentecostals/Charismatics is that “the letter kills,” meaning that the Bible kills but the Spirit gives life, particularly as He imparts a fresh word from God. However, an examination of 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that “the letter” Paul was talking about was the Mosaic Law, not the Bible.

    You probably already know that, but I just wanted to put it out there because I’ve run into this argument more times than I can count.

  14. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear Holly, The leaven that Paul was talking about in Galatians 5:9 was the heresy of mixing Jewish law into the gospel of grace. It was a perversion of an essential of the Christian faith; sola gratis, salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Disputes about revival experiences do not fit into that category. I do agree with you that Bill Johnson among others talks about “spitting out the bones” of bad teaching but rarely if ever does. Has he or the Bethel church leadership ever officially distanced themselves from the “grave sucking” practice of Bethel students? Probably not. The problem with Bill Johnson and other Bethel leaders is that they don’t lead. Correction, admonishment and rebuke is almost unheard of in those circles. Still, I visited Bethel about 6 months ago and was blessed to see the authentic reach of this church among the youth of that area, and the spiritual beauty and creativity of their healing prayer ministry. They combine art, dance and music involving much of their younger congregation in a gentle and gracious way. Their alabaster prayer room is open to anyone from any faith tradition and rules of quiet and order are enforced there. Jesus culture worship music is anointed and virtually all of the lyrics are acceptable to evangelicals. I personally know a young woman who was miraculously healed there and her HIV infection has been in total remission for over 2 years. Are there excesses and mistakes being made a Bethel Redding? Yes. Is Jesus alive and working among these people, yes He is. Is there a danger of Bethel Redding going over the edge and descending into actual heresy and bad fruit? Yes. I’m concerned for the place but I’m not writing if off as so many discernment ministries do.

  15. Drew Says:

    I guess it comes down to whether we believe the Bible is sufficient or not. Do we need the higher knowledge of Johnson, Jacobs, and Bickle? Are we really “missing out” on the “move of God” when we ignore the revelations of Dutch Sheets and Rick Joyner? Why could George Mueller thrive on nothing but the Bible and see God support thousands of orphans when today we have to seek the new strategy for reaching the nations? Is simple faith in Christ deficient now? Is Jesus powerless? Must we “release” the power of God? I listened to Dutch Sheets the other day reveal the newest revelations God has given him and it made my heart feel sick. Oh God please give the grace and gift of repentance to these men and women who are changing the true apostolic church that Christ founded. I do not seek to demonize anybody. I was demonized when I left the movement. I pray that God will open eyes to the crippling nature of this movement. I am seeing the fundamental nature of God being twisted into something I hardly recognize. Lord, I know you told us this would come, but please save my friends out of this snare! Amen

  16. Jaeson Says:

    Thank you again Holly for this excellent article! Much appreciated.

  17. Andrew Leong Says:

    How about this verse from Song of Solomon 2:15 “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,for our vineyards are in blossom.” signifying the dangers, obstacles, and threats towards our growing intimacy with Jesus Christ.

  18. Mike Lightsey Says:

    1 Cor.5:6 also talks about a little leaven leavens the whole lump and is talking about sexual immorality in the church not Jewish law. This scripture can be applied in a broader sense and I believe is applicable to Bethel other NAR churches.

  19. Holly Says:

    Mike, agreed. Leaven and yeast are used repeatedly in Scripture as metaphors for sin and false teaching.

  20. Bruce Cooper Says:
  21. Holly Says:

    Thanks for the link, Bruce. I can’t read the full article without being a subscriber. What, in particular, caught your attention?

  22. Bruce Cooper Says:

    Hi Holly, originally the whole article was available but now I’m also just getting the partial. The article was quite long and detailed basically showing how the NAR movement is now spreading within some Calvinists churchs across the country. The wikipedia link was the networking agent they are using. Sorry about that. It’s a shame, it had a lot of names and details. My apology.

  23. Holly Says:

    Bruce, thanks for bringing the article to my attention. I will look for the full article.

  24. Bruce Cooper Says:

    Hi Holly,

    I found a repost of the long version
    https://www.douban.com/note/655679788/

    Note the Every Nation network affiliation

    Blessings

  25. Holly Says:

    Thanks Bruce. I’ll check it out.

  26. Mike Says:

    NAR is entering into many kinds of evangelical churches. Especially hyper grace churches which are a form of hyper calvinistic. They read book from Bill Johnson like “God Is Good” and preach sermons from it and other NAR heretics like Jonathon Welton.

  27. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear everybody, Just a final note about the whole Bethel, Redding controversy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Holly should actually visit Bethel, Redding to get her own personal feel and discernment of the place. Paul did this with the Corinthians when he personally went to them to judge not merely their words but to see the power behind them (1Cor14:17-19). The staff at Christianity Today did this at Bethel Redding and came back with an experience that was not as overwhelmingly negative as Holly portrays at this blog. I also believe that based on Holly’s past work with the Christian Research Journal and her education at Biola that she strongly tends to view that the sign gifts and prophecies have ceased. She certainly has a right to her views, but this view represents only a relatively small camp in the history of Christian thought. It is not synonymous with unquestioned biblical orthodoxy. Bethel Redding certainly needs correction, but I’m not convinced the place is just another cult like the Jehovah Witnesses, Children of God or the Mormons. The strong authoritarian control by leaders that is such a hallmark of cults is not in evidence there. Holly, if you actually addressed Bill Johnson in a way that he thought that you were trying to help him instead of tearing the place down, you might do a real service to the place. Dialogue is always better than accusations. Sincerely, Tyrone Flanagan

  28. VWB Says:

    The milkshake example, though good, could be replaced with a more biblical example of a little leaven, leavening the whole loaf. But I don’t think people today would understand that very well.

  29. Diana Lesperance Says:

    In response to Tyrone. I was wondering if @Holly Pivec ever received any personal responses from Bethel in regards to the concerns she has documented. Wouldn’t this be necessary in order for a dialogue to begin?

    Do you think Jesus was concerned about “tearing down” the Pharisees when he warned others about their “leaven?”

  30. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Dear Holly,
    I want to say that in my last post I got caught up too much in the debate aspect of this blog and went a bit too far in some
    debate gamesmanship. Biola is a great school and there is an excellent community of faith that surrounds it. I agree with you
    in a number of your observations about Bethel and the NAR. Prophets and so called apostles are not supposed to govern the church today. Much of the prophetic claims to oversight of the church are based on Old Testament models which are now obsolete with the coming of the church and the universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers. Churches today should be led by overseers, pastors and elders who govern and guide the church with the consent of God’s people. Prophetic attempts to govern the church have historically ended up in train wrecks or even heresies. Sincerely, Tyrone Flanagan

  31. Holly Says:

    Thanks Tyrone. I appreciate your participation on my blog.

Leave a Reply

* Please read my Comment Policy