An Appeal to Bethel, Redding: God is Not a Heavenly Landlord!

Follow the MoneyIf you want to see corruption in any endeavor, simply follow the money. Where money aggregates in large quantities, corruption easily follows–secular or “spiritual.”

The internet can be a very hostile place. Facebook can be toxic. I try not to respond to things I see in social media, because I know how easy it is to be slandered and attacked by people who do not know me. I have been the recipient of that kind of treatment and do not want to make a habit of doing it to others. I much prefer leaving people alone and not “policing the universe,” especially if I do not have a personal relationship with those who some might think need policing!

However, every once and a while, something comes across the internet, which if confirmed, can be so disturbing and so slandering to our Father’s nature and character, that it is appropriate to respond publicly. This is especially so if the source is from someone who influences hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. With great influence comes great responsibility, and the need for great accountability, and not just from “hand-picked friends and associates!” If someone posts something publicly, a public response is not a “violation of Matthew 18,” neither is it “judgmentalism” nor slander.

I have confirmed from two sources (1) that Bill Johnson of Bethel Redding, taught the following in the context of a mandatory tithe to his local church:

The tithe is God’s rent payment for living on His earth and breathing His air. Beware of being evicted!

Other than “Jesus is Lord,” Bill and I would agree on very little. That’s neither a big deal nor big news. So that is my disclaimer! 

Bill and I disagree on the issue of a mandatory tithe to a local church to “fulfill righteous obedience,” “avoid being cursed by God,” or worse, being “evicted by God” (Whatever that means!), etc.  If there are those who want to pursue the details of that difference further, I recommend Matthew Narramore’s book: The Tithe: Low Realm, Obsolete and Defunct, and for a New Covenant alternative to coercive tithe teaching, our own title: Money and the Church. If these titles do not convince anyone that Bill, and others, are mistaken on this subject, and that there is a better way to handle finances in the ekklesia than guilt, fear, and shame-based, “punitive God” doctrines,  nothing will.

Christians have disagreed on this topic for two thousand years! We can and should walk together in spite of strong disagreement on this topic or many others for that matter! But walking together does not demand silence on controversial topics. Secure people can take having their views challenged without viewing it as an attack on their person, or a “lack of submission to authority,” or “the devil attacking the ministry,” and so forth. That applies to me as well as anyone! Bill is entitled to teach what he understands to be “truth” as much as any of us are. But this quote/statement crosses a line: it slanders God. 

It is a gross misrepresentation of our Father. Our Father is not a demanding heavenly landlord who keeps ledgers and accounts on “who has paid Him and who hasn’t,” charging his children as “tenants” for the privilege of being in His spiritual apartment complex and using His cosmic utilities! God forbid! There is not a shred of scripture, either old or new testaments, to support this metaphor.

Our God is FATHER, NOT LANDLORD, and at that, a Father who out of His great love and abundance, lavishes freely on the JUST AND THE UNJUST. The notion that his children owe Him “payment for services rendered,” is morally and spiritually offensive.

Now, financial giving–especially to the poor, those in need, and for gospel propagation–out of a spiritually sensitive, generous, and responsive heart to God’s goodness is, of course, kingdom normal! We cover that at length in our book.

But if we have to slander God’s character to keep the cash flowing into our institutions (the illegitimately alleged “storehouses”), we have reached a new low.

I am someone who has been in the calling of public speaking and teaching for several decades. I know what it is like to fire-off an ill-advised and ill-thought-out metaphor, and regret it (especially if we are trying to be “clever” . . . yes, preachers do it all the time) and wish I could have it back, but it be too late. I would hate to be judged by the stupidest thing I have ever said in my life while I have been teaching: You know, the “I’m an idiot” moments of life where the tongue speaks before the brain thinks! I don’t want to make a man an offender for a word, as the scripture says.  I hope this is an “I’m an idiot for saying this” moment for Bill and Bethel! I have certainly had my share of those moments, and imagine before I die, I will have others! But I also hope I will find the grace to admit them when my lips flap before my brain is on the job.

My hope is that Bill would regret this offensive metaphor. Because I know the greater scope of Bill’s (and others who would agree with him) teachings and practices on the subject of money–elder’s must be mandatory tithers, charging fees for special weekend retreats with elders, etc.– my hunch sadly is, that he means it. If it is not an ill-advised preacherism, it reveals a very disturbing attitude of heart, as the heart is where speech comes from. I pray he doesn’t mean it, and that if given a chance, perhaps spurred by this and the writings of others, he might withdraw that statement.  It is a painful, manipulative, and fear-based attempt to control people and their finances.

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Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephrcrosby@gmail.com. Would you like to partner with us in distributing our materials and perhaps generate some income for yourself?  Please go to www.stevecrosby.com for details of our Affiliate program. This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those believe in the message of a radical grace in a new covenant understanding. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible contribution through our Paypal button to help? Thank you and God bless you.

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1) Confirmed sources: http://www.ibethel.org/podcast/2012/01/31/money-101, (This podcast has been recently taken down by Bethel.); http://theautumnrains.wordpress.com/category/tithe-gifts/

20 comments on “An Appeal to Bethel, Redding: God is Not a Heavenly Landlord!

  1. Not to mention – there is no biblical basis for paying Rent to God on his planet. Also, begs the question – what does it take to get “evicted” from planet earth? Sounds like a works-centered rather than grace-centered message to me.

  2. I agree with your understanding on giving and tithing. I also agree that that statement by Bill was ill conceived / relayed. Perhaps he was trying too strongly to make a point. I read the rest of the transcript which seemed right on other than the heavy emphasis on tithing with that one manipulative statement even if it wasn’t meant to be. I think more than anything it shows what kind of thinking the legalistic view of tithing can produce even if you hold to a purely loving and graceful view of Jesus and the Father which I believe he does.
    Thanks for pointing this out. It was premised and handled very well.

  3. I heard many pastors use Scripture to guilt many believers into giving to their business.

    I say business because they treat it like a business instead of ministry.

  4. Let’s recognize: anyone who draws their salary from people’s “tithes and offerings” is compromised when it comes to objectively teaching on the topic. Bill does donate his salary, but both family and friends are on the payroll: it’s hard to criticize the hand that feeds your family.

    At the same time, I’m thankful that unity in the Kingdom is not built on doctrinal agreement, but on pursuing the same heavenly Father.

  5. It is a very healthy thing, Steve, for you to challenge this and for others to join in. My entire lifetime, I have heard the world watch and be bothered by church financial ways of doing business. In some ways worse than how the world does business. Maybe, a bit off point but will bring it up anyway. Concerning, good manners. Let’s say you have new neighbors and invite them over for a barbie. Before the meal, they are handed an offering plate to donate towards their visit. Kinda tacky right? In congregations this happens all the time. Invited guests are welcomed to the church’s menu by be handed not a plate of food but rather an offering plate, feeling obligated to pay their hosts for the invite.

  6. My prayer is this message would be received with humility and in the spirit of which it was intended. I pray the Lord would keep a hedge of protection around it that people may NOT respond in a divisive way but as in a “the Lord only chastises those whom he loves” response. Lord remove the scales from the eyes that interpret and live your word in error. Albeit with the best intentions. AMEN.

  7. Hello Steve, Many times I have found myself on the other side of the table with your writings. Mostly finding them too sharp and without exposing the good side of the perverted truth of which you happen to be speaking. In other words often in the past exposing the perversion without acknowledging the good truth that is being perverted. That laid aside, I must agree with you fully in the mandatory tithe thing. It is hard to imagine how intellegent and mostly sane people can continue the twisted teaching of mandator tithe, especailly as rent payment. The only statement that made me twinge in this one is that you would disagree with most everything Bill would say. Just and opinion, but there is some kingdom reality working with him, at least I think so??

    • Hi Ron, thank you for posting and your very helpful candor. Let me try to respond in candor.

      1. Bill and Kingdom – kingdom reality works in us because of the indwelling Spirit among those who are His. Ergo, Bill and I share the same Spirit because of the same confession: Jesus is Lord, ergo kingdom. That’s where we are united. Regarding most anything else he teaches or practices (theology or praxis), to use your terminology . . . pick any topic or area . . . I would be on the other side of the table! I am a very poor Protestant, poorer Evangelical, and poorer still, “charismatic.” 🙂 But those things do not define our union . . . unless we allow them to.

      2. Too sharp #1 – I Believe Jesus is our model. All my articles have been milder and gentler than Jesus (and Paul, and the prophets of old) who insulted people, called them names, used biting sarcasm and more. The more conservative and pious they were, and the more they professed to “see” have “light” and to influence others, the more biting Jesus was. He even insulted his friends and disciples! Called them names too! This is so offensive to our cultural sensitivities of what it means to be a “nice person,” that we can’t imagine Jesus doing it. He did, to people he loved and gave His life for! So, as I believe Jesus is the pattern, I am generally much milder, gentler, and more considerate than He in dealing with like kind. Well, what about “grace?” Whatever “grace” looks like, whatever “gentleness” looks like, it is found in Him in fullness, and his “love-grace-bandwidth” included insults and more, always with the end that it might redemptively shock folks into self-understanding. That is my goal too. Ergo, purposeful, strategic, “sharpness” as you call it. You are of course, free to not like it. 🙂

      3. Too sharp # 2 – You would not want to do surgery with a dull knife, I would hope it would be sharp. The debate enters on who or what requires surgery and who or what is healthy and who or what isn’t. Well, there will always be an element of subjectivity to that. We will just likely disagree on the need for it. Focusing on the healthy tissue around a cancerous growth, doesn’t remove the tumor. I do not agree with the presuppostion that to be “legitimate” one must always present “both sides of a matter.” Not when dealing with cancer (perversion that abuses people), and not in a 1,500 word or less article: get to the point, cut it, and move on! A letter, or epistle, perhaps–present a more fully “balanced” perspective. I think that if you read my books you would find a more comprehensive and balanced treatment of these subjects, but in a blog article, not likely. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Focus on the leaven, not the lump. The lump would be fine if not for the leaven.

      4. Too sharp # 3 – in 1975, as a twenty-year-old whipper snapper, barely even born again at the time, I was called into ministry by a credible and reliable prophet, with a word that God would make me a sharp two-edged instrument that cuts away death and disease and those things that hinder a revelation of the ancient of days. I thank you for bearing witness and testimony that I have been faithful to that calling all these years. I am greatly encouraged by your comments. Thank you for taking the time to post and share them.

      As we have spent no time with each other, I hope these responses to the issues you bring up helps you to understand me a little better . . . where I am coming from. You are free to not care for what I do, or write, and to pick a seat on the other side of the table! LOL! AT least we are at the same table! That’s the point! That’s what’s so great about the kingdom. Brothers who don’t even care for what each other does or says can be seated at the same table . . . it’s a great thing. Some of my BEST FRIENDS are folks with whom, I agree in theology and practice very little (I can think of several who would take a proverbial bullet for me, with whom I agree on very little)! Our union is deeper than those things, and it has a kingdom outcome!

      Love to you and yours,

      Steve

  8. Stephen,
    I have been listening to Bill Johnson for a couple of years – I have never heard any mention of that or anything in any way related. I have never been asked for $ for Bethel ( I remember once an offering for a missionary to Africa – Tracy Evans). Maybe more importantly ( I hope this helps) what is mentioned above is just not the spirit he ministers out of.
    Thank you for your articles – Tim

    • Hi Tim, Very wonderful people can say, and do, stupid things from time to time, even Bill Johnson. I would love to be wrong, or if I have been duped by internet junk, I will gladly publicly repent. I try to verify these things. I went to three sources (two I mentioned), one a podcast from Bethel, which oddly enough, is no longer available . . . hmmmmm. Challenging someone’s teaching is not the same as challenging their person or their value.

    • Tim – I also have been blessed by many of Bill’s teachings. The larger a person’s ministry and influence, the more they need to be careful about what they say – and be willing to repent if they get it wrong occasionally. The problem with many of those in large ministry is they begin to see themselves above correction and accountability. I hope that is no the case with Bill – I believe he has definitely had a positive influence in many ways, and I also know he believes in a God of love. However, when we hold onto certain traditions of men – we unknowingly pervert God’s character in sometimes subtle ways.

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