If you haven't seen this story circulating, you will soon. Lindsay Davis is quickly gaining notoriety for speaking out against the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) by saying that they're a cult. Additionally, she claims that BSSM doesn't teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, that they don't value the Bible, and that many of their practices are New Age and heretical. Lindsay Davis was a first year student at BSSM who was asked to leave the school after a few months of attending. The expulsion occurred because the school felt that Davis was dishonoring the Bethel leaders, namely, Bill Johnson and Kris Vallotton, by sharing content on BSSM social media pages by pastoral leaders who openly oppose Johnson and Vallotton and what they stand for. The tension began to make BSSM students uncomfortable and fearful around Davis, so, the BSSM leaders asked her to leave the school. Since her 'excommunication,' as she calls it, Davis has been spreading her story and experience. In March, Davis appeared on the podcast Cultish where she told her whole experience at BSSM in a three part series with podcast hosts, Jeff Durbin and Jeremiah Roberts.
Cultish is a podcast where Durbin and Roberts interview ex-cult members and cover all things cult conspiracies. They interview personnel like ex-Mormons and ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, for example. Durbin and Roberts are both evangelical pastors and have a passion for the championing Truth and studying how it gets misconstrued. BSSM is a Bible school birthed out of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Thousands of students from around the world travel to Redding to attend BSSM and learn how to perform supernatural acts (miracles, physical healings...etc.), understand Jesus' heart, and live in a community whose goal is to manifest a Christian revival. From the BSSM website, "Our mission is to equip and deploy revivalists who passionately pursue world-wide transformation in their God given spheres of influence. Students are trained to continue in the ministry style of Jesus: to enjoy the presence of God, say what He is saying, and do what He is doing."
I encourage you to look into this story for yourself; There are plenty of podcasts, videos, and articles surrounding Lindsay Davis, Bethel, BSSM, and Cultish. A friend of mine introduced me to the Lindsay Davis story. She wanted to hear my thoughts, so, I started researching. Admittedly, I had never heard one negative thing spoken about Bethel Church or BSSM so I was intrigued. I also had no idea who Lindsay Davis was or where she was at in her life. After listening to the three hour Cultish podcast, researching Davis' pages, and digging more deeply into Bethel's and BSSM's beliefs and goals, the main controversy is about calling out Bethel & BSSM who, Lindsay believes, claim to know Christ and His Gospel but, in fact, don't. For her, it's about preaching the "real" Gospel and bringing "the deceived" into the light.
If this is a matter of Bethel and BSSM having the Gospel wrong and thus deceiving thousands and thousands of people, then we should all be in an uproar. I've been to Bethel and sat under their teaching and ministry for a few years now. I know that they have the Gospel right. I also know that their specific anointing is to train revivalists and lead the American worship movement and so, yes, things they do might look different than what your average local church does. So, I'm not going to use this post to defend Bethel's theology and "prove" Lindsay wrong. She's already decided what she thinks and Bethel and BSSM are doing just fine without my two cents. I also believe that Lindsay is a born again Christian so I have nothing against her.
What I want to use this post for is to dig into why it is that thousands can love this ministry and have their lives changed because of it and why one girl and others call it a gospel-less cult. What's true? And this isn't just about Bethel, BSSM, and Lindsay Davis. This is about the countless misunderstandings that take place between Christian denominations--especially between the Charismatic movements and Reformed groups. These misunderstandings and stone-throwings need to end if the Church is really going to be everything She's called to be. Jesus prayed that we would be one because He knew that a house divided against itself cannot stand. So let's just end it today.
The answer is simple: some Christians live out of an orphan mentality and others live an adopted life.
In other words, some Christians rely on principles and traditions without simultaneously relying on the person of Jesus to identify true and untrue, saved and unsaved, good and bad. This way of life is called Religion or the Religious Spirit or the Orphan Spirit. Other Christians rely on the person of Jesus to define and inform their principles and traditions. This is called living in relationship with Jesus, or, living from an Adopted Heart.
Living out of an Orphan Spirit or an Adopted Heart is not a matter of being saved or unsaved; It's a matter of choosing to live with the benefits of salvation or not. If you're unsaved, you're an orphan still separated from God and a sinner by nature. But, if you're saved and you're not actively living like you're saved and loved in your mindsets and worldviews, you're still living like an orphan even though you've been remade into an adopted child. Some call it it "practical atheism." It's the people who believe in God and profess Jesus as Lord, but who still live like an orphan navigating the world. This is not just people who get drunk on weekends, use drugs, and sleep around; These people can be in the pews completely taken over by worry and unsure how to trust God or wondering if He's even trustworthy to begin with.
Orphans generally have trust "issues." Depending on the situation, trauma, loss, poverty, and even war lurk in the orphaned child's past. With scars like these, orphans can spend a lot of time building protections and defenses because they can't see real love when it's offered. When a family adopts a child from a poverty stricken lifestyle, the child will often continue to hoard food and other items even thought there's no danger of running out. That mindset and way of life can't just be "shut off." It takes consistent compassion and unconditional love to transform an orphan into a child who truly walks in their adopted status.
While it's heartbreaking enough that Christians can still see themselves and live like orphans, what's even more tragic is that that identity incapacitates them to be able to graciously hold people where they're at in their spiritual journeys; We let ourselves be afraid of how others interact with and experience God differently. This fear comes from letting these unfamiliar paths threaten our own journey and letting them dictate the sincerity of our hearts. If we are threatened by others' experiences of God, whether it be them speaking in tongues or believing dancing is wrong, we are insecure in our own relationship with God and we need to take a look under the hood. This matters because as long as we are insecure in our relationship with God, our lives will not look attractive to the lost. We will live just as scared, just as worried, and just as hopeless as they are.
No one will want to follow a watered down Jesus. No one outside of the Kingdom of God will be convinced that Jesus is really Lord if His people aren't living like He is.
If we don't feel connected to and loved by Jesus in the deepest parts of us, we will spend all of our energy making sure that people are safe for us to be around instead of inviting everyone we meet into God's family. Without a true revelation of Jesus' love, we live rejected, defensive, and offended. We are so afraid of being wrong and so addicted to being right because we are completely out of relationship with God and settle for letting principles and traditions define what a true born again Christian is and what is not. We use the Bible to mask our insecurities, pulling out principle after principle to "straighten people out" and make sure that they are safe and that they fit in our box so we won't be uncomfortable or, God forbid, wrong.
I need to say what I'm not saying before I go any farther: Jesus cares about right and wrong and getting the Gospel right. He cares about our lifestyles being holy and our hearts being pure. But He has no part in withholding love from people until they reach a certain man-made standard. He has no part in misusing His Bible as a protection for our insecurities in the face of someone different than us. He has nothing to do with Christians tearing each other down just so that the one doing the destruction can feel safe and in control.
All that being said, the whole BSSM-Lindsay Davis controversy is a complete misunderstanding, in my opinion. Normally, I write these stories off as "Ah, yes. Another one." But this story is a perfect representative of misunderstandings that have been going on between the Charismatic movement and the rest of the Christian world (and the world in general), for a long, long time. I just couldn't pass it up. This kind of thing is not new. I myself have been warned about people who practice miracles and claim that they can hear God for fear that they could be cults. But I want to dive into the sneaky ways that this orphan mentality creeps into our lives and how we can be free of this fear and freed to live loved.
Lindsay, I'm not going to rewrite your story from my perspective. It's your story and it's not my job to reframe it.
Jeff and Jeremiah, your zeal for truth and exposing lies is part of God's heart.
Bethel, BSSM, Pastor Bill, and Pastor Kris, your presence is an irreplaceable blessing to the church and world at this time in history.
My story is the opposite of Lindsay's. I grew up in a conservative, reformed, and evangelical stream of Christianity. My parents took my brother and I to Evangelical Free and Presbyterian churches, enrolled us in Christian schools from kindergarten through high school, and had us lead undisturbed and very normal lives. While we didn't often pray together as a family or talk about the Bible, I was learning about God and the Bible at my high school.
I loved learning about God and how to read the Bible and what the culture was like when the Scriptures were written. I loved Jesus and was a good Christian girl and never wavered. I just had one question: what was the Holy Spirit?
I had been asking that question for years and no answer satisfied me. I would ask teachers, friends, and mentors and would get the same responses: He works on our sanctification, convicts people of sin, and points us to Jesus; And maybe something about Him praying for us when we can't thrown in there every once in awhile. All of those things are true of the Holy Spirit and can easily be found in the Bible; I had no problem with any of that. But, I couldn't shake the curiosity that there was something more.
Not having an outlet to learn about the Holy Spirit in high school, I was, instead, warned about Charismatics, International House of Prayer people, and the like. On one occasion, I said, "I'm so glad that I'm not one of those crazy people who believe that you can have intimate experiences with God because of the Holy Spirit." I didn't know what I didn't know and tried to be ok with it. But deep down I wasn't convinced that I really understood the Holy Spirit.
Everything changed when I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit for myself in college. I literally felt His warmth, felt the weight of His glory, I heard the voice of God in my head/spirit/heart (whichever you prefer), and I was freed from depression, anxiety, and a slew of other fears in a moment. I began to perform miracles, healings, speak in tongues, and prophesy. It became my new normal. I've written plenty about my experience with the Holy Spirit and it's not really what matters here. What matters here is why did I have such a drastically different experience with the supernatural than Lindsay? I believe it was one factor: the kind of people who guided me in my pursuit of God. I believe that she met untrained and maybe orphaned-hearted students while I met trained and adopted-hearted people.
Never once did any "Charismatic" pressure me into an encounter with God. Never once did someone who experienced the Holy Spirit daily tell me that I wasn't really a Christian or fully surrendered because I didn't have those experiences. Never once was I made to feel stupid, asked to do things I was uncomfortable with, or made to feel like I was missing out on something. And never once did anyone ever say anything degrading about the Gospel. Lindsay experienced all of those things. If any of those things had happened to me, of course I would've been turned off, embarrassed, and jostled off my path towards seeking out God. But, by the grace of God, I had wonderful people come alongside me.
Now, you will find me yelling in tongues and laying my hands on people and praying for their physical healing. You will find me going limp and falling down from feeling God's presence. You will find me practicing and celebrating miracles and prophesying. Why? Because I've experienced God for myself and it's always been good and amazing and transformative.
I'll say it again, I believe that the key difference between the people who guided me towards the Holy Spirit and the supernatural being made manifest and the people who tried to do the same for Lindsay, is that my people were trained in grace to hold me where I was at and didn't feel the need to "assist" me in my pursuit of God and hers did. My people weren't concerned with getting me on the "right" path because they trusted God enough to work on me. Lindsay, in my opinion, met untrained students who had a zeal for God but didn't understand how to speak Lindsay's language or hold her heart how she needed to be held at that point in her spiritual journey. Lindsay might say, "No. It's because it's all false and they are in a cult." Fine. I'm not rewriting your story.
But I do know for a fact that what I'm saying is a major problem in the Church at large and that it has caused countless and unnecessary divides, heartaches, and evils.
Being accepted into a system where we can easily and safely play by the rules is not the same as being in a community where we are loved for who we really are. And it is absolutely not the same as meeting Jesus and living life with Him.
The question that I want us all to consider is: what are we so afraid of? What makes us so uncomfortable that the only way we can be OK is by labeling groups and people in "cult, not a cult" buckets? In "he's right and she's wrong" groups? Truth is a person. When we divorce Truth from the person of Jesus and the person of God and the person of the Holy Spirit, we become orphans frantically trying to protect ourselves with knowledge and theories and concepts. We find fake homes in denominations and groups and never actually interact with Jesus as a person.
Just because I'm accepted in one group for adhering to their customs and thoughts doesn't mean that I'm loved or on the only right path there is. It means that I'm cooperative. And just because I don't fit into one group's traditions or beliefs doesn't mean that I'm unloved or on the wrong path. It means that I'm different and on a different path. We are all so afraid of not being loved that we will create entire church structures, movements, and denominations to make use feel somewhat secure and in control. Love does not feel safe, it does not feel rational, it does not feel controllable. But it's the only way to live.
When Truth is a person, we feel safe to not know everything. When Truth is a person, and when we trust that that person has good in store for us and loves us completely, we aren't afraid of people who might say we're wrong because we had real conversation with Jesus that morning and He reminded us that this is a journey and that we never stop getting to know Him. We aren't afraid of people with different customs and thoughts and ways of moving through life because we know that we are loved and being loved and loving is better than being right.
When Truth is a person, we are free to live our lives as adopted children who no longer strive to be loved because we already know that we are.
I'm not afraid of living like I'll miss love or "miss out on" Jesus anymore because I've met Him and I meet with Him daily. And He is the most secure, confident, gentle, compassionate, strong, faithful, comforting, and challenging person I'ver ever meet and will ever meet. He has all of my trust and yet He invites me to give Him a little more everyday. I always say "yes" because He is love and love is no where else and I'm ok with that.
When I'm secure in God's love, I can sit in anyone's company and not feel the need to make them the same as me or to think what I think. When I'm secure in God's love, the only thing I feel for the unsaved or mislead is compassion. Not panic, not dread, not pride, and not a crusade-like spirit. I just do what the Holy Spirit leads me to do with whoever I'm with.
On the Cultish podcast, Lindsay recounted how, while at BSSM, students were asking her if she had truly surrendered to Jesus because she hadn't experienced certain manifestations of the Holy Spirit (shaking, holy laughter, being slain the in spirit...etc.). Lindsay said that she recognized that these people had something that she didn't and she did everything she could to try to "get it." She even said that she began to wonder whether her relationship with God was real or not or if she had everything wrong.
Just because someone hasn't experienced the Holy Spirit in a specific way does not mean that they don't know the Lord or that they are unsaved. Don't do that to people. It's fear based. Also, if someone has ever said anything remotely like that to you, you don't need to go into a spiral, questioning everything you've ever known about God because someone is experiencing holy laughter and you just can't seem to get that. Just evaluate it against Scripture and ask, "Is this an invitation into deeper intimacy with Jesus?" "Do I need to ask more questions?" "Or can I just move on and bless those people?"
The Church is meant to be a family and a team working to introduce people to Jesus, glorify Him, and equip His people to bring Heaven on earth. Until we can have hard conversations and really, really seek understanding and have respect for one another, this whole team thing won't have much steam behind it. There's only way for this to happen: dropping pride and picking up humility. Humility is the path into each other's hearts. Humility opens arms, breaks defenses, and says, "I'm on your team and I'm here to listen without judgment." Orphans are prideful. Adopted kids are humble. Orphans are still convinced that it's them against the world while the adopted are well aware that they have nothing that wasn't given to them. We need each other. The world needs us to need each other.
As I listened to Lindsay's story, I thought about how I could be on Cultish because of experiences I've had in different streams of Reformed Christianity. The knowledge that Durbin and Roberts have about cults easily maps onto experiences I've had. I've had to heal from those experiences, I've had to distance myself from those communities, and I've had to unlearn who I thought Jesus was, what I thought Christianity was, and what the Bible and this life is all about. I've had to meet God all over again because I was fed something less than the Truth. Lindsay recounted a similar experience on Cultish and I have such compassion for her--it's a scary place to be.
We all need each other and no one stream of Christianity has it all "right." This is what a Christian is: someone who believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. A Christian believes that Jesus died the death that we should've died in order to atone for our sins and sinful nature and remove all of God's righteous wrath from our heads, that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and that His resurrection removed all power from satan on the earth and in our lives. A Christian believes that Jesus made a way for the Holy Spirit to make His home in our hearts and that He restores our nature and relationship with God to its original design. If anyone doesn't believe and practice these things, it's safe to say that they don't know Jesus. It would be a good idea to ask that person if they want to hear the Gospel and be saved. But, if someone does claim these things and how they experience God and express their devotion to Him looks foreign to you, you are family and you have no business tearing them down, trying to change them, or labeling them something that makes you more comfortable.
I believe that speaking in tongues is integral to my Christian life and that it helps me hear God's voice more clearly. I also believe that the voice of God that I hear in my spirit will never contradict the Bible and that the only way I'll hear God's voice accurately is if I'm saturated in the Bible and believe who it tells me Jesus is and what the story of the universe is. Not everyone will think speaking in tongues is real, much less, integral, to a healthy Christian life. It's not my job to bring them over to my side and I really could care less if they think I'm deceived because I speak in tongues. I know that I'm right with God and that's all that matters. I also don't think that anyone who doesn't speak in tongues isn't saved. That's not Biblical. I'm not going to lord my experience over anyone else and make them feel less than or inferior. That's not Biblical either. But I will invite people to taste and see if they want to. If they don't, that's their choice. My job is to praise God with all that I am, to share how God changes lives with the Gospel, to love the loveless, and to bless the church and the world however I can.
We don't need to waste any time defending God or His Gospel. He is a big boy and it's all true whether or not anyone believes it. We do need to spend our time preaching the Gospel and inviting people to be saved and experience the abundant life that God has for His kids. If we don't need to defend God, then we really, really don't need to spend anytime defending our small traditions and weird streams of how we believe Jesus should be praised, how a Christian should look, or what church services need to include.
This matters because if we don't get this right we will all be against each other. This matters because Jesus prayed that we would be one and the only way we will be one is if we are living out of love and not fear. This matters because people are saying no to parts of God instead of running into His fullness. This matters because we are hurting people, enslaving people, and preaching a watered down Jesus. I won't stand for it for one minute longer. What are we so afraid of? Get over it. If you're that fearful, you need to check on your own relationship with Jesus and make sure it's actually a relationship and not just a lifestyle. It's the truth. The whole world is quite literally at stake and at the whim of us choosing to live loved or us choosing to live afraid.
If you're saved, the truth is, you have rights to everything in God's kingdom. All of God's love, resources, wisdom, dreams, joys, and hopes. It's all yours to access whenever you want and need. You don't have to spend your life proving yourself, protecting yourself, protecting your beliefs, or searching for love. You already have everything you need. You have the permission and the resources to be the most secure person in the world. You have the strength to love the unlovable and the loveless ones. You have the Father's complete approval and that will never, ever change. If all of that's true, we have peace that surpasses understanding. Because none of this is really about our understanding being complete; It's about our relationship with God being whole and inviting everyone we know to the table.
God prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies. In the presence of fear, He serves love. In the presence of depression, He serves hope. In the presence of anxiety, He serves His trustworthiness. In the presence of insecurity, He serves His delight. In the presence of lack or threat, He always offers the way of abundance. There's always room at His table. And it is safe there. All it takes is bravery and faith to access it. And if you're safe, and more importantly, brave, then you can show others the way to your shelter, strong tower, and faithful friend: Jesus.
What I've learned about what it means to be transformed into the image of Christ, be reconciled to Him, myself, & others, and how to be His disciple.