Worship “M”, Exhibit A: The Church of Bethel worships itself

Last week’s post about the masturbatory cult certainly got the response I was expecting. Many of you said that hit the nail on the head and that the term “masturbatory”, while perhaps offensive to some, was inevitably appropriate. Others took my point, but suggested that I try not to be so “vulgar”, “rude” or “offensive”. Which is interesting, since the word itself is none of that, and my post didn’t delve deeper into the discussion of a sexual nature. Yet other readers, mostly from the “white women 55+” category, were not only shocked, but seemed confused as to the actual definition of the word, thinking there was actual sexual activity when of these “cult” events.

I noticed a comment from someone who said I probably wouldn’t like worship at their church, and I shared a video of their favorite moment in worship. Here is an excerpt from that moment.


Needless to say, this person was right. I didn’t like that at all, but it’s not really relevant to our discussion of worship in the church.

It took place at Bethel Church, the mega-McCongregation in Redding, California. Bethel’s music ministry has grown into a self-promoting record label and publishing house, winning numerous awards, selling a ton of its recordings, and making a lot of money in the process.

Anyway, the lead singer of the video is 34-year-old Steffany Frizzell Gretzinger, one of the artists from the collective Bethel Music. She and her band sang Bethel’s ubiquitous hit record “Reckless Love” for about 15 minutes. Steffany and her band made the crowd frenetic with their mix of hyperactivity and aggressive amplification. The crowd surfs on the emotional high, which they interpret as the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit.

At the start of this video, Stef completes what is supposed to be the last of many, many consecutive rehearsals and begins to stagger into a sort of euphoric state. Bethel’s longtime senior pastor, Bill Johnson, rises to his feet and summons “another shout of praise” from the group and the crowd. Of course, they oblige, because that’s what blind followers do. After enjoying the afterglow of their emotional high, Pastor Billy turns around and draws attention to Stef on stage. After cackling into the mic, she unleashes a spontaneous series of vaguely high-pitched orgasmic cries. “YOUR LOVE IS ENDLESS!” she says. The crowd, like any agitated gathering at any pop music venue, hollers and squeals with delight.

Head over to YouTube, watch any video of a live performance by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus or whoever, and you’ll see eerily similar behavior. The cheers, the looks of joy, the rhythmic gyrations, the raised hands, everything.

It’s not the Spirit, it’s the guitar riffs, vocal tracks and kick drum.

Bethel believers, and believers everywhere who give you that kind of experience, you are played.

People of God, this is the very definition of masturbation worship. There is no real Word or Sacrament happening here, there is no liturgy, there is no mission. It’s a self-gratifying pseudo-cult that only comes from within. It is designed to be an experience that meets MY needs, fulfills MY wants and gives ME good feelings on MY own schedule and on MY own agenda.

They might as well hang signs on the door, “Come in for an emotional high, leave for a retreat.”

If you’re looking for a masturbatory worship experience, you can go to Bethel or another mega-McCongregation that “worships” like that.

If you’re looking for more music from Steffany Gretzinger, she released a new album last year, and Bethel Music would love to sell it to you.

But if you’re looking for worship that builds up and strengthens the church of Christ to live out its calling in an ugly world, if you’re looking for Word and Sacrament, you better look elsewhere.

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