Bethel's Bill Johnson defends worship leader Kalley Heiligenthal in praying for daughter's resurrection

Kalley Heiligenthal

Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church, has responded to criticism over prayers for worship leader Kalley Heiligenthal's daughter to come back to life.

After two-year-old Olive was pronounced dead by doctors a week ago, Heiligenthal went on Instagram to ask for "bold, unified prayers" from the global church for her daughter to resurrect.

"We're asking for prayer. We believe in a Jesus who died and conclusively defeated every grave, holding the keys to resurrection power," Heiligenthal wrote.

"We are asking for bold, unified prayers from the global church to stand with us in belief that He will raise this little girl back to life," she said, adding, "Her time here is not done, and it is our time to believe boldly, and with confidence wield what King Jesus paid for. It's time for her to come to life."

She has since followed this post with several more on Instagram telling supporters each time that today is "a really good day for resurrection".

Comments posted to Heiligenthal's Instagram have been sympathetic and many have expressed solidarity in praying for Olive's resurrection. But opinion has been divided, with others questioning whether this is the right way to respond  and instead suggesting an attitude of acceptance. 

Johnson addressed the critics in a Facebook video in which he said there was a "biblical precedent" in Jesus raising people from the dead and commanding His followers to do the same. 

"Saturday, just a few days ago, we had a great tragedy, one of the key individuals in our world, their 2-year-old little girl died, quite unexpectedly, just out of nowhere. So we've been praying for the miracle of God. Mom and dad, Andrew and Kelly, have asked us to pray for resurrection. We've joined with them," he said. 

He continued: "We have a biblical precedent, Jesus raised the dead! Not only that, He introduced Himself as the resurrection and the life. In fact, in John 11 verse 40, He says, 'If you believe you will see the glory of God.'

"So seeing what Jesus has accomplished, what He did in His lifetime, and then when you add to that He commanded His followers, His disciples, in Matthew Chapter 10, verse 8, 'to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cast out devils, to cleanse the lepers.' None of those are things that we can actually do. Yet He commanded us because somehow, in our Yes, He gives us the ability to carry out His mission. Being commissioned means we've said yes to His mission."

He denied that praying for Olive's resurrection was "false hope" or "interrupting the sovereignty of God". 

"Some have asked, 'isn't this interrupting the sovereignty of God?' And my response is, first of all, we don't ever want to violate the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign. He chooses what He wants and we cooperate with Him. There's no question.

"But then my question is, why did Jesus raise the dead? Did He violate the sovereignty of God? Did the Father will one thing, and Jesus will another? Of course not!"

He added: "The reason Jesus raised the dead is because not everyone dies in God's timing. Jesus could tell, and He would interrupt that funeral, He would interrupt that process that some would just call the sovereignty of God. And He'd raise the little girl, he'd raise the adult person from the dead."

He admitted that as a church they are in slightly uncharted territory and that he had no answer for how long they should keep praying for Olive's resurrection. 

"There's no manual that tells us to fast this many days, pray this many hours. We don't have any of that. What we do have is a biblical precedent, Jesus' lifestyle and Jesus' commands," he said. 

"Someone asked, 'How long do you pray, when do you quit praying?' I don't have a good answer. We're kind of in the middle of that journey right now."

A GoFundMe page set up to help the Heiligenthal family with medical costs has raised over $50,000 so far.