I just saw that Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church, is speaking in DFW again this weekend. While I greatly enjoy and appreciate much of the worship music that Bethel produces, I admire their faith in God's power to heal and I respect their zeal and passion for worship and for the Holy Spirit, let's face it: Bethel also does and teaches some wacky things. A few months ago, while preaching at Gateway Church, Mr. Johnson made a very serious doctrinal error by claiming that Jesus was completely emptied of divine capacity during His time on earth. Colossians 2:9 directly contradicts his teaching by saying of Jesus: "For in Him dwells ALL the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Since this teaching is part of Johnson's newest book and a standard part of his message while traveling, I believe it is important to carefully examine this issue.
There is a heresy in the New Age movement that teaches Jesus was only a man who performed miracles by tapping into the same divine power that is available to us all. Johnson teaches that Jesus did not perform miracles as God, but as a man in right relationship with God tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit in the same way that we all can. This similarity is too close for comfort.
There is also an ancient heresy known as "Adoptionism." The adoptionists taught that Jesus was only a man and was not God until His Baptism, when God adopted Him as a Son. Similarly, Johnson claims that while Jesus did eternally exist as God, when he came to earth He was only human and was without divine power until His Baptism. His version isn't heresy, but it is a serious error.
Mr. Johnson also taught that John the Baptist could not receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible records the angel Gabriel telling his father Zachariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. The Bible also tells us that He ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah, which is the Holy Spirit.
There are two key passages of Scripture that Mr. Johnson has unfortunately taken out of context to form his incorrect opinion, claiming Jesus was without divine capacity. The first comes from John 5:19:
Truly, truly I say to you,, the Son can do nothing OF Himself unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner."
Other translations say the Son can do nothing BY Himself. This word is the Greek word APO. It describes being apart or separated. This means that the Father and the Son are inseparable. The Father and Son are of the same essence. This statement actually affirms Jesus divinity when studied properly and taken in context. If we look at the Scripture that follows, we see that the passage is primarily about the DEITY of Christ.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son ALSO gives life to whom He wishes, For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgement to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father....For just as the Father has life IN Himself, even so He gave to the Son ALSO to have life IN Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgement.
This passage does not teach that Jesus was emptied of divine capacity, much to the contrary, it affirms His divinity. It proves that He has authority, judgement and the power to give life in and of Himself. While He was on earth, Jesus Himself said: "I and the Father are One."
The other passage which Johnson and others have misunderstood comes from Philippians 2:6-7. The chapter begins by encouraging believers to enjoy the encouragement and fellowship of the Holy Spirit and to be humble, to look out for the interests of others, saying in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be GRASPED, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The reference to Jesus being emptied is a reference to His death on the cross, where His blood was poured out on the ground like a drink offering and He willingly died as a man. This has nothing to do with Jesus being emptied of divine ability during His life. He could have come down off of the cross at any moment and judged all of humanity with one word, but He chose to love us and to die in our place. Paul calls for us to be humble and in verse 17 mentions that he, himself is about to be poured out as a drink offering, referencing his own impending death. When verse 6 says that He did not consider equality with God to be grasped, this word (harpagmos in Greek) means to grab something and to take it by force. It means that Jesus chose not to strong arm his way into power as He had every right and ability to do. He could have ruled by force but He chose not to exercise His divine privileges, instead willingly choosing death. He could have destroyed the earth with a single word, but He chose to humble Himself and die in our place. He had every right to demand that we serve Him, but instead, He chose to serve. In other words, He chose Grace. The all-powerful God of the Universe chose to postpone judgement in order to offer mercy, salvation and forgiveness to us.
All orthodox Christian pastors, teachers and theologians teach the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union. Jesus was fully human and fully divine during His time on earth. This has been a foundational teaching that all denominations agree on for over 1500 years, since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Jesus is the God-Man, fully human, fully God. Remember the counsel of Hebrews 13:8:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.....