Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church, addressed critics who’ve accused him and his church of interfering with the sovereignty of God by praying for the resurrection of his worship leader’s daughter who was pronounced dead on Saturday.
Johnson explained 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 Wednesday.
In an Instagram post on Sunday, Kalley Heiligenthal, a worship leader with Bethel Music asked all of their supporters to pray for her 2-year-old daughter, Olive, after she stopped breathing and was pronounced dead by doctors over the weekend.
“We’re asking for prayer. We believe in a Jesus who died and conclusively defeated every grave, holding the keys to resurrection power,” Heiligenthal wrote.
“We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life,” she said, adding, “Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for. It’s time for her to come to life.”
Heiligenthal’s pastor linked arms with the “Ever Be” singer and her family because, he said, Scripture proves time and time again that resurrection of the dead is possible.
Even though Olive is at the morgue they are still praying for a miracle from afar, he added.
“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.
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.
“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.”
Blog Editor’s comment
Sure Bill, lets pray, but where is the precedent beyond reading through the gospels, and did the Lord lead you to pray for Olive, or was it just a good idea??
Many popular fellow worship leaders and groups from around the world posted prayers and encouragement for the family.
“Dear praying friends … let’s go … pray without ceasing for sweet Olive to be filled with the breath of God and rise back to life,” said Darlene Zschech on Instagram.
Hillsong’s Brooke Ligertwood wrote a comment to Heiligenthal’s declaration of faith amid the tragedy, saying, “THIS. IS. WORSHIP. In awe.”
Kari Jobe added, “Praying Kalley, warring. In JESUS NAME.”
Blog Editor’s comment
Sure Darlene, Brooke, Kari, right….. keep warring in Jesus Name…
The family is now on their fifth day of believing for a resurrection miracle for Olive. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family.
Which is it guys? A resurrection gift for the family or a go-fund me account?
“Along with the overwhelming shock and devastation of losing their daughter are the unforeseeable expenses the Heiligenthal family will incur, medical and otherwise,” the page reads.
The following article by Holly Pivec is the follow up to the church folk at Bethel pleading for God to resurrect this poor little girl.
The story out of Bethel Church in Redding, California, this past week — following the sudden death of two-year-old Olive Heiligenthal — is tragic. The hearts of people across the nation have gone out to her parents in compassion — not just because they lost a child, but also because of the false hope they’ve clung to that their little girl would come back to life.
Many news sources have already reported on this story. But I want to point out what has been missed. In their coverage of the fiasco, reporters have noted that the parents’ church, Bethel Church, has rallied around the parents’ prayers for a resurrection — calling for people across the globe to join them in those prayers. But what Bethel Church has been engaged in, since Olive Heiligenthal died on Saturday, is not prayer. They’ve actually been making “declarations.” There’s a big difference.
Prayer vs. Declarations
In the New Apostolic Reformation — the global movement that Bethel Church is part of — equivocation is common. By equivocation, I mean that leaders in the movement often call two different things by the same name. The result is ambiguity that allows them to promote non-biblical teachings while cloaking those teachings in biblical terminology.
Case in point: Consider Bethel Church’s use of the word “prayer.” Historically, prayer has been understood by Christians as making petitions or requests of God to do such-and-such a thing. That’s how prayer is taught in the Bible. And that’s the understanding most people will have of the word prayer when they read articles stating that Bethel Church is “praying for a resurrection.”
But when Bethel Church uses the word “prayer,” they often mean something very different.
They’re generally not requesting or asking God to do such-and-such a thing, such as asking Him to resurrect Olive Heiligenthal. Rather, they’re often referring to the making of “prayer declarations,” or just “declarations,” for short.
So, what is a declaration?
A declaration is making verbal affirmations that allegedly release God’s power to create a desired reality. In much the way God spoke and brought the world into existence, believers today – who are created in the image of God – also have the power to bring things into existence through their spoken words, according to Bethel teachings. Declarations are seen to be more effective than traditional prayer because they don’t ask God to do something He has already authorized believers to do themselves.
These teachings about declarations can be found in Bethel “apostle” Bill Johnson’s books, including When Heaven Invades Earth. Yet they’re not supported by Scripture. Rather, they’re in line with the teachings of Word of Faith movement leaders such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland.
Yet the uninitiated missed the fact that what Bethel has been calling for is not actually prayer as it is normally understood. Instead they’ve been calling for declarations.
Here’s the call the church issued on their Facebook page, December 15.
Our God is the God of miracles, and nothing is impossible for Him! We are asking you, our global church family, to join with us in prayer and in declaring life and resurrection over @kalleyheili and @apheiligenthal’s daughter, Olive Alayne! (emphasis mine)
The phrase “declaring life and resurrection over … Olive” was lost on the media as well as many mainstream Christians.
Yet Bethel’s call for declarations wasn’t lost on the insiders, i.e., those who hold to Bethel teachings. This can be seen in the nearly 3,000 comments posted on the church’s Facebook page, in response to the call. Notice the many Bethel followers who used the words “declare” or “declaring,” such as this comment posted by a Rick Davis: “Praying, and declaring resurrection Life for Olive … Little Olive, arise, in Jesus’s name!” And here is a similar comment from Susie Mehlig: “Father in Jesus name we decree and declare Spirit of life come back into Olive!” (emphasis mine).
And this video shows Olive Heiligenthal’s parents, Kalley and Andrew, on stage at Bethel Church leading congregants in the singing of a declaration: “Olive, come out of that grave. Come out of that grave, in Jesus’ name.”
Even the hashtag that has gone viral, #wakeupolive, reflects the language of declaration, not petitionary prayer.
Equivocation of ‘Prayer’ to Downplay Bethel’s Failure
Bill Johnson has employed this equivocation in an apparent attempt to downplay the church’s failure to resurrect Olive Heiligenthal. Notice, in his official statement to the media, he suggests that the only things Bethel Church has been doing at their meetings this past week is taking part in “singing and prayer.” Here’s what Johnson said:
“Since that night, and at the continued request of the Heiligenthal family, Bethel Church has hosted prayer and worship gatherings which consist of singing and prayer (this is the first-ever public gathering of prayer for resurrection that Bethel has hosted).”
Prayer and worship gatherings. He makes it sound as if the church has been engaged in merely an old-fashioned prayer meeting. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yet why would Johnson downplay the main activity — making declarations — taking place at the Bethel Church meetings this week? Could it be because, despite the thousands of declarations that have been made on Olive Heiligenthal’s behalf for five days, her lifeless body still lies at the morgue? This is certainly tragic — but even more so because so many of Johnson’s followers have doubled down and refused to admit what’s obvious to everyone else — they have a broken theology.
And here’s the kicker. The failure of the church’s declarations suggests something bigger than failure to raise one little girl.
It suggests that Bethel Church’s entire paradigm — of bringing heaven (or God’s physical Kingdom) to earth through spoken declarations — is based on false hope.
About the Author
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