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Beware the ‘Bright Ones’: Bethel Church’s big-screen debut to hit theaters nationwide on April 22

Bright Ones – a full-length feature film being marketed to families, youth and churches – will debut in more than 700 select theaters across the United States on April 22. Billed as an “inspirational” film, Bright Ones tells a story of a group of talented, teenage kids from a performing arts school who face an impossible challenge. But behind the seemingly innocuous story lies the dangerous theology of one of the nation’s most controversial churches – Bethel Church in Redding, California. Led by the “apostle” Bill Johnson and the “prophet” Kris Vallotton, Bethel Church is the spearhead of a fast-growing, theologically aberrant movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

The production company behind the film is Bethel Church’s Bethel Music. In 2018, Bethel Music released a Dove Award-winning children’s album of the same name as the film, performed by youth ages 12 to 16. Music from the Bright Ones album makes up the movie’s soundtrack.

In a statement, Bethel Music CEO Joel Taylor said, “We truly feel like this film is the fruit of our community’s culture – to see the next generation rising up and leading while being confident in their gifts and identities in Christ is a powerful thing. As with all things we do, we pray that Bright Ones would not only be a reminder of truth, but also be a resource for other churches to foster their own community of ‘bright ones.'”

On the surface, Taylor’s statement sounds very good. After all, what Christian parents wouldn’t want their children to be confident in their gifts and identities in Christ? Yet, the problem is with what Taylor didn’t say. Lurking behind Bethel’s use of the words “gifts” and “identities” is a set of unbiblical teachings that are peculiar to the New Apostolic Reformation.

The hidden, dangerous teachings

For example, when most Christians hear the word “gifts,” they may think of any special talent that God gives to an individual. They may also think of a full range of spiritual gifts that are referred to in Scripture, including gifts of serving, teaching, and acting mercifully (Romans 12:6-8). But when Bethel Church refers to “gifts,” typically they’re referring to miraculous gifts, such as prophesying and healing people of sickness and other physical conditions. What’s more, Bethel Church not only teaches that some people today have those miraculous gifts — a teaching held in common with Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Bethel Church teaching goes way beyond historic Pentecostal and charismatic teaching by claiming that the key to acquiring those gifts is through receiving new, authoritative revelation given by modern-day, governing apostles and prophets, like Bethel’s Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton. These extreme and distinctive teachings represent neither historic Christianity nor historic Pentecostal and charismatic belief.

And, shockingly, Bethel Church teaches that Christians must learn to work greater miracles than Jesus did – as in more spectacular and more awe-inspiring miracles. But what miracle could possibly outstrip the stunning works of Jesus: calming storms, giving sight to the blind, and, most impressively, raising the dead, including even himself (John 10:17-18)? According to Bethel leaders, when Christians learn to perform more spectacular miracles there will be a worldwide revival in which a billion people will convert to belief in Christ. In short, this miracle-working army will usher in God’s kingdom. Thus, Christians who do not seek to develop such miraculous gifts and exhibit them in their everyday lives are settling for a “powerless” Christianity. God’s freedom to establish his kingdom on earth has been limited by their unbelief, according to the church’s leaders (see, for example, Bill Johnson’s book When Heaven Invades Earth). In contrast, the Bible teaches that God gives spiritual gifts, including miraculous gifts, to individuals as he alone decides (1 Cor. 12:11). Furthermore, it makes it very clear that not all can have each of these gifts (1 Corinthians 12:29-30).

Targeting college-age students and children

Yet Bethel Church teaches that miraculous gifts can be “activated” in any person who desires them. In line with this teaching, countless books, curriculums, and workshops – taught by Bethel leaders – offer training to activate the miraculous gifts. In fact, Bethel runs an entire school to train college-age people to work miracles: Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which has an enrollment of more than 2,500 students from 64 countries. Children are also “activated” into the miraculous gifts at Bethel. In their Sunday School classes, they talk with angels and practice raising the “dead” by wrapping themselves in toilet paper, like mummies. These radical teachings and practices are not what most Christians will have in mind when they take their children to the theater to see Bright Ones.

The film, most likely, will not present those controversial teachings; I haven’t seen it yet. But it will certainly draw people to Bethel Church, at which point they’ll learn about them. The church is quite explicit and bold about those teachings in their sermons, books, and other teaching materials. Yet, for some reason, they’re not so upfront about them when promoting their new film aimed at mainstream audiences. Could that be because they know audiences would be scared away? Let’s do our part and warn everyone we know to beware of Bright Ones.

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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.

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22 Responses to “Beware the ‘Bright Ones’: Bethel Church’s big-screen debut to hit theaters nationwide on April 22”

  1. Katie Wojta Says:

    Thank you for another excellent article. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bright ones are like manifest sons of God.

  2. James Ackaret Says:

    Thank you Holly for this warning!

  3. Michael Says:

    Thx, Holly, that was really informative. I keep hearing that NAR and certain ‘CharismaticCatholics’ out there are often involved i different types of movies that pop up in theatres. Some may have an important msg like regarding abortion or human rights violations, etc., but that they often come short of presenting the Gospel of grace/salvation in Jesus Christ alone, which really should be the point if these are presented as ‘christian movies, right? But I don’t know enough about them, or who’s behind the diff offerings, or how necessary it is to be ‘preaching the gospel in a movie format’ if the producers just have a specific issue or msg they’re trying to put forth. If anyone has any info on who’s behind many of these other movies, and whether we should support them, that would be really helpful(or maybe should we just pray…would the Holy Spirit say ‘yes, support’ to one person but ‘no, don’t’ to another? (idk, that often confuses me(. Or should each person be left to be persuaded in their own mind? Again, I’m often unsure how that works. Anyway, thank you and God bless you. ✝️🕊️

  4. kadri liisa Says:

    Thx for information. However this teaching of “making creater miracles than Jesus did because bible seems to say it like His followers suppose to do it in end times” is not only common to Bethel. I have heard in several churches here in Estonia in past. And i have not thought much about it. So thx for pointing it out. However at same time in end times when there is needed for those greater things then i hope that God will let it happen…Bethel teaching is going of course bit too far.

  5. L. J. Warren Says:

    Thanks for the warning, Holly. I am in agreement with your caution and teaching regarding Bethel and the NAR. However, I think it might also be important to address the 3 Scriptures that groups like Bethel are honing in on to base their methodology.

    These verses are ones I have heard used more than once in AG churches. How would you respond to them when they are used as proof texts?

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

    I know we can say that the greater works involve going into all the world, whereas Jesus’ earthly life was confined to Israel, and we now have media and rapid transportation, etc. That’s one way to look at it. The Pentecostal and Bethel way would say it means greater miracles, etc.

    “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31

    “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

    Yet we know that another Scripture says the Holy Spirit gives His gifts to each as He desires. Not easy Scriptures.

  6. Deena Says:

    Thank you so much Holly for the warning. As always these “Christian” movies always have a undertone of apostasy for the unsuspecting. They wrap it all up in glitter and goodness while teaching contrary to the scriptures. This is nothing but “little god theology” telling people they can do and be more than Jesus Himself. I have learned a very long time ago to stay away from the latest Christian best seller books and movies that are being put out by contemplative authors or NAR people. I also know people who are deceived by this crowd and I hate to say they are nasty arrogant unteachable people. I pray the Lord will continue to bless this ministry as you warn His remnant.
    MATANATHA!!!

  7. Deena Says:

    oops, sorry. It is suppose to be MARANATHA!!

  8. Jeff Says:

    And, shockingly, Bethel Church teaches that Christians must learn to work greater miracles than Jesus did – as in more spectacular and more awe-inspiring miracles. But what miracle could possibly outstrip the stunning works of Jesus: calming storms, giving sight to the blind, and, most impressively, raising the dead, including even himself (John 10:17-18)?

    The only problem is that no persuasive, integral alternative exegesis has ever been offered to these verses. This appears to be a “plain reading” of the text. Citing Kostenberger in a footnote (which many people will not trace down) is not sufficient. Tell us what the greater works are (for the first time) and have some mercy on the terrible Bethel sinners who misunderstood Jesus so dangerously by taking his words at face value. Please don’t say “go read Carson, Keener, Michaels” etc, because none of them have a decent explanation of the text either. Until you can provide a decent exegesis of John 14:12 Bethel is winning.

  9. Mike Says:

    Thank you for the warning against this movie. They are succeeding in their mission to infiltrate the entertainment mountain as I’ve heard this referred to before. Although I stand against Bethel and their new age heresies I’m not a cessationist. This stuff with Bethel and their network of deceived deceivers just gets more crazy as time goes on. The pot is simmering and those caught up in this upside down gospel which is not the gospel delivered by the apostles but another gospel, are in the ditch. I was in that ditch following Todd White and Dan Mohler for a time. Pray some come out.

  10. Ben Says:

    Walmart glitter in the ventilation system is winning? Some team ya got there, champ.

  11. Jonathan Says:

    I believe you are correct and that Bethel is a counterfeit movement. But we need to increase the magnification on both their practices and the scriptures in order to show their error clearly because it is very subtle!

    You write that Bethel says that God’s freedom to establish His kingdom on earth is limited by Christian unbelief. Yes, Bethel is wrong if they say this, for,

    “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Psalm 115:3

    However, Jesus did not do many mighty works in His own country because of their unbelief (Matt 13:58).

    Likewise, Bethel encourages its students to seek spiritual gifts and teaches them in classes. I also feel uncomfortable about the idea of ‘practicing’ to become a prophet by giving a series of fleshly prophecies! Or teaching children to play at raising the dead as if acclimatizing them to the practice (flesh) will impart to them FAITH to perform the miracle (Spirit). Jesus said that “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). So it is misguided and yes, potentially harmful for these children and their faith in later life. And you are right that the Holy Spirit gives gifts according to His will,

    “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” 1 Cor 12:11

    But His will is not without relationship to us because we are enjoined to covet to prophesy (1 Cor 14:39) and to earnestly covet the best gifts (1 Cor 12:31). Now, if the Holy Spirit did not concern Himself with which gifts we desire, then these scriptures would be vain. 1 Tim 4:14 is a verse that also speaks of the Holy Spirit working relationally by God-ordained pathways through the Church in the matter of gift-giving or ‘activation’.

    I know you are a cessationist, and this I am sure subtly affects how you judge Bethel’s teaching concerning gifts. I would consider the possibility that the miraculous gifts are still given today and then look at why Bethel church is STILL wrong. That would lead to an even sharper scalpel when it comes to exposing their error.

  12. Holly Says:

    Jonathan, I would encourage you to read my two co-authored books on NAR. Your presumption that I’m merely arguing against the miraculous gifts is in error. I tried to make that point clear in the above post, where I explained that what sets apart Bethel/NAR beliefs from historic Pentecostal and charismatic beliefs is the belief in present-day, authoritative, governing apostles and prophets.

  13. Sophia Says:

    Sounds like a movie I need to watch! 😁

  14. Terry Says:

    Just saw the movie Bright Ones in Des Moines. It was great! Go see it and decide for yourself. I saw no adverse doctrine there, only relaying the love of God. It is apparent the naysayers didn’t see this, only trying to sway a fearful opinion. Go see it, you won’t be disappointed.

  15. Jamie Says:

    A couple of years ago I read a book and did the study that accompanied this book called, “Living From The Unseen” by Wendy Backlund. This book and study transformed my life! It taught me exactly what my spirit is, it’s importance and it’s role living in both the spiritual realm and the physical realm. Everything Wendy wrote in that book was not only based on scripture from the Bible I found it to be an invitation to inject more life and vigor to my relationship with Jesus. I believe that God put this book in my path as answer to my prayers for a deeper, more intimate relationship with him. I learned that Wendy Backlund attended and was affiliated with a church in Redding, CA known as Bethel Church. I didn’t think much of it. A little more than a year ago I traveled to Redding to attend an event where Wendy Backlund was speaking and that is where I found Bethel Church and attended a church service led by Bill Johnson. Truthfully, I was instantly won over! I have watched and listened to countless sermons and podcasts from Bill Johnson and Kris Valloton. I have travelled to Vacaville, CA to hear Bill Johnson speak and read and did the corresponding studies for ‘God Is Good” and “Hosting The Presence” I greatly benefited and grew spiritually from both of these by Bill Johnson. In regards to their teaching on healing and spiritual gifts I would definitively say that Bethel and their leadership don’t preach that there is a specific formula to follow for success. Rather they challenge followers to step outside of their comfort zone and earnestly seek and pray that the Spirit will reveal to you your gifts. In my experience Bethel preaches again, to step outside of being comfortable and content with just showing up for church on Sunday but rather using your spiritual gifts revealed by the Holy Spirit to actively to bring revival into our world. Not to say that such teachings as the 7 Mountain Mandate isn’t part of Bethel’s teachings but I have never heard anything about it in the two years I have been a follower. Regarding Healing Rooms and modern-day healing, again I would say in my experience Bethel’s teachings challenge Christians to not accept that miracles and miraculous healings exist today. Instead, when Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” in John 14:12, that we believe that we should literally be doing just that in present day. Is it really false doctrine or wrong to believe that Jesus’s own words are still true and applicable today just because churches and believers have steered away from this over the years? Again, teachings on healing from Bethel advise seeking God and asking for HIS authority and power to heal and to strengthen our faith to receive such healing. I have never heard of any one formula to guarantee healing from Bethel Church. I have heard Bill Johnson say and repeat that sometimes people are healed and sometimes they aren’t. Bill further states and I have heard him repeat that only God knows why people are or are not healed and that he fully trusts God (and so should we) in his decisions. I have heard, seen and read
    numerous testimonies of healings from people through Bethel Church, their staff and follwers. So here’s the bottom line for me: The teachings I’ve received from Bethel Church, their leadership and their associates (Heidi Baker and Steve & Wendy Backlund)have transformed my relationship with God The Father, God The Son and God The Spirit! I talk with God all throughout the day, every day and eagerly seek his counsel on literally everything! Our relationship is so strong, deep and intimate that I have no trouble deciphering his voice from any other voice or thought. Because of this renewed relationship with God, I am finally able to trust him in every circumstance and stand on his promises given in scripture. I have unquenchable desires to grow in him and serve him by serving others. I feel like I finally found my worth and the purpose for which he created me!!! I have continously moved forward in my life and in my relationship with God instead of being imprisoned by past since I started following Bethel. These are things I have searched for three-and-half decades, all of my Christian life, for these things so this is monumental! I’m not saying that Bethel hasn’t or doesn’t teach the things you’ve stated above, I’m saying that I’ve never heard any of those things in my experience. As always, Christians should seek God when interpreting scripture they find unclear and continue to study His Word as written in the Bible to properly identify false teachings, false prophets and erroneous theology. If one is earnestly seeking God with all of their heart then I believe exactly what God said in Deuteronomy 4:29; Proverbs 8:17; Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9; and Acts 17:24-28, YOU WILL FIND HIM! God’s infinite power, love and grace are enough to keep us on the right path!

  16. Angela Says:

    Hello Jamie,

    Do you still feel you should follow Bill Johnson when on at least 3 occasions, he has said he believes Jesus did his miracles only as a man, not as God, both in his book “when heaven invades earth” and more recently, at Awakening Australia 2018? I would hope anyone who follows Bill Johnson who reads this information would at least think, hang on, that’s not Biblical (its actually a twisting of Ephesians 2….). God bless, Angela

  17. Angela Says:

    https://churchwatchcentral.com/2018/12/29/how-bethel-made-a-mockery-of-the-australian-gospel-coalition/

    Please watch the Bill Johnson clip here where he says, “If Jesus did his miracles as God, I stand and applaud…”

  18. Angela Says:

    Jesus did his miracles as God, he never stopped being God, he did his miracles as the prophesied Messiah, we are not “little christs” but we are huiothesia, adopted through Jesus! Bill Johnson lowers Christs deity at the same time as glorifying man, so, Jamie, I would plead with you to consider this and would point you to the likes of Dr Andy Woods for sound teaching….

  19. Angela Says:

    Sorry, its a twisting of Philippians 2 rather than ephesians 2…. Nowhere in the text does it say Jesus laid aside his deity – as I remember the word doulos is used, but theos isn’t to be found anywhere in the original Greek (am not a Greek scholar and I’m sure others out there could phrase this better than me!)… But surely as Bill Johnson preaches a Christ not described in Scripture, then he is to be marked and avoided…

  20. James Ackaret Says:

    Jamie,
    Thank you for your post, and sharing your experience. For me, it’s the mixture of the good things that are said and the bad…, meaning…, I’ve heard Bill Johnson teach that the apostle Paul preached a false Gospel…., that God is really not in control…, and several statements that actually diminish the authority of scripture…, “God is bigger than his book”, or “people care more about a book the early church didn’t have, instead of the Spirit they did have…” etc. It’s the mixture that scares me, and why I am thankful for this blog. Matthew 7:21 has forever corrected my understanding about the importance of healings and miracles compared to the importance of knowing Christ. And I love how Jesus said we would bear fruit…, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” John 15:4 (I’m still working on this one…, it’s my favourite thing to do)

  21. Kristen Says:

    Hi Holly,
    may I offer a caution against critiquing a movie you have not yet seen?
    I do believe that we need to be discerning, and always hold up teachings to the truth of Scripture.
    One of the best interpretations I’ve heard of John 14:12 (Jesus’ actual words) is that all of us—together, as the body of Christ still here on earth–will collectively “do greater” than Jesus did in his life here on earth.
    I attend a church that embraces some of the teachings of Bethel Church…and I believe we need to continue to search the scriptures and embrace its truth. For every church that is seen as “excessive” in its interpretation of the charismatic gifts and who they are meant for, are tens upon hundreds of church that are simply not believing that we are in a spiritual battle that require spiritual weapons. Which pleases the Enemy more?

  22. Holly Says:

    Kristen, the warning I gave was not about the content of the movie, but the teachings coming from the church that made the movie. So, whether or not I’ve seen the movie has no bearing on the concerns I raised.

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