The main campus of Bethel Church, the nondenominational megachurch known for its charismatic practices and chart-topping worship ballads, has been spared threats by a wildfire raging in and around the congregation’s hometown of Redding, California. However, a different kind of firestorm—theological and social—has continued to stir online.
The Carr Fire, which began July 23 when a vehicle’s “mechanical issue” sparked the blaze in nearby Whiskeytown, had charred more than 131,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 residences by Friday morning, making it one of California’s top 10 destructive fires. More than 30,000 residents have been displaced and six people—including two firefighters, as well as two children and their great-grandmother—have been killed, the Sacramento Bee reported. At least a dozen others have been injured.
It didn’t take long for the maelstrom to make its way online, where Bethel supporters shared prayers and prophesies while the church’s critics pointed out what they view as overpromises of God’s favor. The digital discussion also rekindled a debate that may be a new normal for big-name churches in the face of disaster: How much help is enough?
One does not need to look far on social media or in more niche corners of the Christian blogosphere to see the flurries of judgment. But Bethel has held its theological ground, prophesying rain, commanding calm winds, and inviting divine intervention.
Competing narratives of God’s modus operandi and the power of faith increasingly cloud the digital air in times of intense heartbreak—a cautionary tale of how Christians of different strands respond to crises and to each other amid them.
Bethel has been at the heart of a charismatic boom in North America and around the world. Famous—and in some circles infamous—for its healing and prophetic ministries, and known in Sunday gatherings around the globe by its Bethel Music record label, the church has played an outsized role in the mass popularization of its charismatic brand of Christianity.
The church also finds itself the subject of regular criticism for its unabashed and sometimes controversial charismatic practices, as CT explored in a 2016 cover story.
In the wake of the Carr fire, the theology behind those practices has served to strengthen both adherents and opponents in their own convictions.
Last Saturday, with the blaze only a few miles away and the fire line extending to less than a mile from the Bethel campus, according to Dann Farrelly, associate pastor and dean of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), Bethel leaders and members sounded off a call for prayer for the church and the surrounding community.
“We’re inviting the global community to join us in praying for Redding, for Northern California, and for California overall,” church officials said.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Griffin Paul Jackson