Some time ago a “revival” in Lakeland, Florida, was widely reported, especially in charismatic circles. Friends told me that God was on the move and that this was real. I’ve heard this before. When this happens, as it does every few years in America, I generally say nothing but wait and know that time will likely prove things otherwise. I admit I am suspicious about most of these modern reports regarding revivals in America. This suspicion is not because I do not still believe in true revival. I wrote of the real thing in my own book, True Revival, more than seven years ago (copies are available though the book is out-of-print right now). My suspicion is rooted in the widely divergent claims often made in these outpourings, as well as in the people who lead these revivals. Their confidence, if you watch and listen carefully, is generally in themselves, not in the Lord God. There is just way too much "flesh" in all of this, something about which the older Pentecostals were so fearful. This is apparent even to some young Christians, which shows just how undiscerning so many Christians really are today. (One is tempted to say gullible here, but that is unkind and unnecessary.)
In the Lakeland movement, evangelist Todd Bentley (seen in the picture on the right)
had openly heralded that revival as the greatest Pentecostal outpouring since Azusa Street. From his stage set up inside a gigantic tent in Florida, Bentley preached to thousands. Night after night he brought multitudes to the stage for prayer. Many claimed to be healed of all kinds of illnesses: deafness, blindness, heart problems, depression and dozens of other conditions. The continuous services ran for more 100 consecutive nights. The most amazing claim of all was Bentley’s assertion that people had been raised from the dead during the revival.
As a historian of true revival I must say to people again and again that no true awakening was ever called a real revival, at least not early on, until many months or years had passed and the fruit was tested and proved good. This was true of all previous American awakenings.
This week, a few days after the Canadian minister Bentley announced the end of his visits to Lakeland, he proceeded to inform his staff that his marriage was ending.
This was reported by J. Lee Grady (seen at left), the editor of Charisma magazine, not exactly an anti-revival publication to say the least. Bentley’s board released a public statement saying that he and his wife were separating. The news shocked his friends and saddened those who have questioned his credibility ever since the Lakeland movement erupted in early April of this year.
Grady adds, in Charisma, “I’m sad. I’m disappointed. And I’m angry.” He then writes of questions he has about all of these reports. In my view, since Grady is a major defender of charismatic renewals, his views should be heeded with much care. Here are a few of the questions he posed in his own comments. (The entire piece can be read at his Charisma blog site.)
Why did so many people flock to Lakeland from around the world to rally behind an evangelist who had serious credibility issues from the beginning?
To put it bluntly, we’re just plain gullible.
From the first week of the Lakeland revival, many discerning Christians raised questions about Bentley’s beliefs and practices. They felt uneasy when he said he talked to an angel in his hotel room. They sensed something amiss when he wore a T-shirt with a skeleton on it. They wondered why a man of God would cover himself with tattoos. They were horrified when they heard him describe how he tackled a man and knocked his tooth out during prayer.
But among those who jumped on the Lakeland bandwagon, discernment was discouraged. They were expected to swallow and follow. The message was clear: “This is God. Don’t question.” So before we could all say, “Sheeka Boomba” (as Bentley often prayed from his pulpit), many people went home, prayed for people and shoved them to the floor with reckless abandon, Bentley-style.
I blame this lack of discernment, partly, on raw zeal for God. We’re spiritually hungry—which can be a good thing. But sometimes, hungry people will eat anything.
Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up.
Why did God TV tell people that “any criticism of Todd Bentley is demonic”?
This ridiculous statement was actually made on one of God TV’s pre-shows. In fact, the network’s hosts also warned listeners that if they listened to criticism of Bentley, they could lose their healings.
This is cultic manipulation at its worst. The Bible tells us that the Bereans were noble believers because they studied the Scriptures daily “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB). Yet in the case of Lakeland, honest intellectual inquiry was viewed as a sign of weakness. People were expected to jump first and then open their eyes.
Just because we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit does not mean we check our brains at the church door. We are commanded to test the spirits. Jesus wants us to love Him with our hearts and our minds.
Because of the Lakeland scandal, there may be large numbers of people who feel they’ve been burned by Bentley. Some may give up on church and join the growing ranks of bitter, disenfranchised Christians. Others may suffer total spiritual shipwreck. This could have been avoided if leaders had been more vocal about their objections and urged people to evaluate spiritual experiences through the filter of God’s Word.
Why did a group of respected ministers lay hands on Bentley on June 23 and publicly ordain him? Did they know of his personal problems?
This controversial ceremony was organized by Peter Wagner, who felt that one of Bentley’s greatest needs was proper spiritual covering. He asked California pastors Che Ahn and Bill Johnson, along with Canadian pastor John Arnott, to lay hands on Bentley and bring him under their care.
Bentley certainly needs such covering. No one in ministry today should be out on their own, living in isolation without checks, balances and wise counsel. It was commendable that Wagner reached out to Bentley and that Bentley acknowledged his need for spiritual fathers by agreeing to submit to the process. The question remains, however, whether it was wise to commend Bentley during a televised commissioning service that at times seemed more like a king’s coronation.
In hindsight, we can all see that it would have been better to take Bentley into a back room and talk about his personal issues.
The Bible tells us that ordination of a minister is a sober responsibility. Paul wrote: “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others” (1 Tim. 5:22). We might be tempted to rush the process, but the apostle warned against fast-tracking ordination—and he said that those who commission a minister who is not ready for the job will bear some of the blame for his failures.
I trust that Wagner, Ahn, Johnson and Arnott didn’t know of Bentley’s problems before they ordained him. I am sure they are saddened by the events of this week and are reaching out to Bentley and his wife to promote healing and restoration. But I believe that they, along with Bentley and the owners of God TV, owe the body of Christ a forthright and public apology for thrusting Bentley’s ministry into the spotlight prematurely. (Perhaps such an apology should be aired on God TV.)
Can anything good come out of this?
That depends on how people respond. If the men assigned to oversee Bentley offer loving but firm correction, and if Bentley responds humbly to the process by stepping out of ministry for a season of rehabilitation, we could witness a healthy case of church discipline play out the way it is supposed to. If all those who were so eager to promote Bentley now rush just as fast to repent for their errors in judgment, then the rest of us could breathe a huge sigh of relief—and the credibility of our movement could be restored.
My own conclusion is quite simple. I believe, with Lee Grady, that God may still visit our nation with his power. I see little or no evidence that this is in fact happening just yet. Here is where Grady and I might part company, though I am not sure. Charismatics tend to see what they want to see beyond what is real at times. Non-charismatics tend to see nothing at all except doctrinal debates. But without solid moral and doctrinal fruit these waves of revival will always be mostly made up of chaff, if not outright deception. In the end they make even more of God’s people suspicious of revival in general, as Grady hints. That is a real shame since we still desperately need a real awakening to stir the church in America into a state of wakefulness. Our sleep is long and growing deeper every day.
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I have been happy to see this move of God at Lakeland as far as it was able to go. It has motivated people to re-examine what they believe about God’s provisions for Healing.
I have supported it, encouraged people to look into it and said good things about WHAT GOD WAS DOING.
I got a great deal of email from Pastors and leaders around the country asking me what I thought of all this and did I think it was God. It was and is.
This was the Prophetic Pronouncement I made on June 7:
It still holds.
God is up to something. The day of the superstar is over. But God is out to destroy anything that hinders love. Religion being among the chief offenders.
I was not “Suckered” in. I saw people who needed a word of hope and faith and who upon receiving it their Faith made them Whole just like the woman with the issue of Blood. Many people WERE and ARE healed. I know some.
They tapped into virtue. Even though it came from a fallen man. Just like the sermons from pulpits all across the USA will be delivered by fallen men on Sunday. People will still look past the man and look toward the Virtue. Same level of giftedness, same fallenness. We must learn to see what Jesus is doing and embrace it.
Lee Grady is a friend of mine. I trust him. BUT, in this case, we need to look not at Todd Bentley but at God. God is in the business of
He’s up to something (God is) and I’m looking forward to what it is. Lakeland is a shot across the bow.
I just want to have a sense of what this is all about in the spirit. Depending on emotion and reason is unreasonable. Even Luther would agree with that in that he said “Reason is the Enemy of Faith”. I agree with Luther.
This doesn’t invalidate what God has done and is doing. It does illustrate the demands that are on the one who carries the anointing.
James 3:1 KJV comes to mind. My brothers, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
I guess that’s why for so many years I have tried to keep my head down. I know that my life, as good as it may be, doesn’t always line up with expectation of others. I know that if people knew all about me they would give me greater condemnation.
It seems like God uses the most flawed people sometimes with the biggest warts to keep anyone from thinking they are something special.
1 Corinthians 1:
26 For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong;
28 and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are.
Todd Bentley certainly fits that category, so do I and without being mean, so all who read this blog. We aren’t always the best at everything and pretty darn flawed in the world’s eyes.
But he chose us and without repentance keeps bringing us back up.
Todd will come out the backside of all this refined as by fire.
Just like everyone called of God is. The option is to not be refined or matured at all. That is worse. How can you or me or Todd benefit those who need hope if we are destroyed at every turn by circumstance.
Jacob after Penial walked with a limp. God wounded him permanently to help him stay dependent on God. Hosea says that He wounds us but will bind us up again.
Todd Bentley and many of us will forever walk with a limp. But God will bind us up again.
We must not be critical of What God does or how he Does it.
Reason and Intellect is the enemy of faith. Let’s quit trying to reason our by our feeble human understanding what God is up to.
He’s up to something. Let’s be like Blackaby encourages and get on board of what God is doing.
Yeah, a friend struck up a conversation concerning Bentley a few weeks ago. I had some initial skepticism, but my friend assured me, “don’t worry about anything. This is God and ALL GOD since Bentley has raised people from the dead!!”
In other news, my dad noticed a man carrying a cross on his back off of the highway in 90 degrees weather. My dad pulled the car over, and asked him some questions about his “ministry.”
To be brief, it turns out this guy was unemployed, does not attend church, was/is not accountable to a church, does not report to a board of elders, and almost every comment he made was reference to how God was telling him his financial needs will be met by somebody he will meet today.
I do not know the motives of this guy’s heart.
Initially, I thought it was cool to see a guy with a cross on his back. Upon reflection, why is it after meeting him, the first thing that always pops up is not “Sin, Salvation, and Savior,” but “Money, money, and more money.”
Reading through the Scriptures, I have never seen Jesus or the apostles kick a guy in the stomach who has Stage 4 colon cancer.
Is that how God works??
Sadly, the “faith healers” will probably blame the sick patient for not having enough “faith.” Tragic.
When I was in Florida on vacation, I went to the Revival for one night. Although I don’t think I can do justice to it, I suspect I am speaking from one who went than from many who never went at all.
The night I went, Bentley asked for people to pray for him and hs wife because he said publically they were having marriage problems (this was back in the first week of July).
I am not positive (if I remember correctly?) but Bentley said it was his wife divorcing him (has anybody been there when you try to save your marriage but the other person just digs in and dissolves the marriage anyway?).
Revivals are always messy and typically (historically) short lived.
Why a revival is being evaluated by a leader rather than the the revival itself is beyond me.
I will say there have been some things I questioned or felt uneasy about as I have followed this revival but people should talk to first hand witnesses and examine the fruit of that and not listen to critics (which charisma magazine has been one—–especially hung up on the fact that would God use a man who has so many tatoos? (please, give me a break!).
So my response is to continue to pray for revival for this country while I also pray for people like Todd Bentley and a host of other Christian leaders in our country that do struggle with many major issues and problems.
May God help us ALL!
Shalom – Chris C.
I thought carefully about the appellation “Faith Healer” noted in a previous comment.
I suggest by the evidence of Scripture that all healings are of faith.
I have never heard of a healing based in Doubt and Unbelief.
You wouldn’t even go to a doctor if you didn’t have faith (in the doctor).
I will not pile on Todd Bentley. He is unusual.
So was John the Baptist.
So am I sometimes.
When you or I have done what Todd Bentley has done in the kingdom we can then stand in judgment of him.
Till then we need to allow God’s threshing machine to separate the wheat from the chaff.
We haven’t heard the last of this. God’s about to bring Judgment on self appointed Judges. Decide carefully what side you will be on.
I have chosen.
Gene – I agree with you that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and that he uses imperfect people to enact his perfect will, but I am a little concerned about your idea that “reason and intellect is the enemy of the faith.” I certainly affirm that we are utterly dependent on revelation so that we may understand what we could never arrive at on our own. Moreover, I get that worldly wisdom is antithetical to the wisdom of God. However, I do not think that intelligence or reason is necessarily opposed to Xian faith. In Luther’s reference to reason as the enemy of faith he stated that it “is the Devil’s greatest whore.” This would imply that reason is made for one thing but has fallen short of its original purpose, as when a woman engages in sexual acts for money. God is the author of reason in the human soul, but since sin has effected us noetically, it too has been blighted by sin’s effects. However, it to, in the process of our salvation, can be baptized and brought into the service of the Lord. I think Luther’s convictions emerged from his battles with tradition as it had been corrupted in Rome, at his time, and his battles with overly developed scholasticism. Consequently, I view him as one who was prone to hyperbole, when it comes to this matter.
I did not intend any personal offense concerning my earlier comment.
I tend to be very opinionated due to my employment at a hospital, where every day I help treat patients whose bodies are close to death full of wicked cancers of all types.
I was filled with anger at Todd Bentley for kicking that unsuspecting guy whose frail body had Stage 4 cancer.
I do know one thing for sure:
and that is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, contrary to Todd Bentley’s “I had to be obedient to the Lord”, would never command his servants to kick a Stage 4 colon cancer patient in the stomach. That was wicked. And it was cruel. And it did not come from “the Lord.”
I do hope my post challenges my fellow believers to ask questions of Biblical Discernment that are rooted in epistemology, like, “how do we really know God said x or y or z?”
Gene, I have been to your website a couple of times. I will continue to read your blog with interest, my friend.
Here is the quote from Luther exactly:
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God”
I would amplify Luther’s thought by saying he who attempts to come to faith by trying to reason and understand God will neither understand God nor come to faith.
Reason, rationale and intellect have a very difficult time swallowing the claims of Christ.
I’m for reason, but first a man’s mind must be enlightened by the Spirit of the true God.
I have never led ONE person to Jesus because of reason. Many because God gives them the faith they need to come to Him.
Just thought you would want to know what those who are on Todd Bentley’s board have to say about this now. I spent an evening with one of his board members at Wheaton College and he wasn’t aware of this situation:
August 15, 2008
From the Board of Directors
We wish to thank all of our friends and partners for the overwhelming flood of support and compassion we have received as a ministry on behalf of Todd and Shonnah Bentley. The many phone calls and emails of concern from people who genuinely love the Bentleys and Fresh Fire Ministries have been a great encouragement to all of us here during these past few days. In particular, the rallying of support and prayer for Todd and Shonnah by prominent leaders within the Body of Christ has been a beautiful indicator of the maturity and grace the Lord is bringing to his Bride.
We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.
On behalf of the Fresh Fire leadership and the Board of Directors we wish to apologize to our friends and partners and to the larger body of Christ and to ask for your forgiveness. We are truly sorry for the pain many of you must feel and so regret that in the midst of great revival, the enemy has found a way into our camp. To those who have stood by us, we wish to thank you for what in many cases has been years of support. Thank you for your financial giving towards the vision of this ministry, and thank you especially for your prayers. For those of our partners, friends and supporters who may be struggling with the recent disclosures and finding continued support of this ministry in conflict with either conscience or conviction, we release and bless you with all our hearts and trust that God will redeem in your hearts the good that He has accomplished in your lives through this ministry. It is our sincerest hope and prayer that the Lord bless you and bring you into your fullest destiny in Him.
When this ministry was initially birthed in May of 1998, Todd had but one simple desire in his heart – to see the world come to know Jesus. Now, only 10 years later, Fresh Fire Ministries has grown to become a Resource Center that is literally reaching out to all the corners of the Earth. There have been dozens of associate ministries, scores of interns and hundreds of graduates from the Supernatural Training Center. Over 60 nations have received a combined total of more than five million dollars in humanitarian aid and we have seen well over one million conversions for Jesus Christ.
And so, the question can well be asked… where do we go from here? It is true that we are deeply saddened by these recent events, but it hasn’t shaken our faith in either God or His goodness towards us and with the help of wise and compassionate leaders within the body, we will do everything within our power to see our brother and sister healed and restored.
As a ministry, we can not forsake the vision and heartbeat upon which Todd Bentley founded Fresh Fire Ministries which is simply this:
And as you go, Preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
While Todd and Shonnah each go through the necessary steps towards restoration and wholeness, we are compelled, with the resources with which God has entrusted us, to continue to spread God’s love and power all over the world.
There are many noble activities and endeavors in which Fresh Fire Ministries is involved, initiated by Todd, and to which we are still committed. We have the Supernatural Training Centre, our school of ministry, already in it’s fourth full year and with more than 50 students already enrolled we’re believing for an amazing year of biblical instruction, practical application and encounters with the presence of God. Many mature and gifted speakers and associates, graduated interns and teachers filled brim-full with the DNA and fire of this ministry are ready to pour revelation and passion into the hungry hearts of this coming year’s student body.
We will continue to host conferences in our region with speakers and worship leaders from around the nation whose message and mandates resonate with the vision and heart of Fresh Fire Ministries. In addition, we are committed to supporting the growing “OutPourings” across North America and around the world with our Associates, with encouragement and prayer support. In Todd’s own words, “What God is doing is bigger than one man”, and we now have a golden opportunity as the Body of Christ to pick up the baton and to run with perseverance for His glory.
Our missions department is progressing, as previously mentioned, with our major African crusade. With close to 100 team members in attendance, excitement is beginning to build and team members have responded that they are still believing God for the most amazing missions trip ever! Our Uganda Jesus Village in Kampala is forging ahead with the recent acquisition of 35 acres of land 30 minutes drive from our present location. Two of the 15 homes planned for the property are nearing completion, and the expanded village, when finished, will house almost 150 orphans rescued from war torn northern Uganda.
So whether in our Children’s Home in Africa, in our Supernatural Training Centre in British Columbia, in the revival meetings and outpourings spreading around the globe, or in taking teams to minister compassion and practical assistance to the poor in the far corners of the Earth, we have been and still are committed to bringing love, hope and a demonstration of the saving, healing, delivering power of the Gospel to a world in need.
Thank you all once again for your prayers and support. We bless each and every one of you in whatever decision you must make. Please know that our heart in all of this is to see the name of the Lord vindicated, and we take great encouragement from Psalm 23 and the Lord’s promise that He will “lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Together we look to the mercy and wisdom of our loving Father and we remain as ever, your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Fresh Fire Board of Directors
The Lakeland Outpouring isn’t dead YET.
I wrote on this today and
believe you will find it encouraging.
Evan Roberts would have been crushed in today’s national enquirer tabloid culture in the church.
It was bad enough what happened to him that crushed the Welsh Revival.
I am not satisfied to be among the tisk tiskers of our day.
Like those who crushed an Evan Roberts who was destined to save a whole nation, perhaps a culture, the judgment of God now and everafter against the ones who crushed Roberts will be severe.
I understand discernment, we need it and have to have it. But we must also allow God to do what He will do and accept it as such.
I believe that none of this shocks or surprises God. His reputation is intact even if many others suffer.
God’s judgment is dangerous territory and I would be very careful in being party to crushing what God is doing with or without Todd Bentley.
Perhaps it is an issue of definitions and nuancing, but the problem is not reason per se, but the establishment of reason as King instead of Christ. Van Til, I believe, gets at this well with his “saw analogy”, which basically points out that reason is a tool in the hands of man and in the hands of a sinner reason is misused, because its settings are wrong. In regeneration, the saw is set right (at least in principle) and can be used properly. Hence, the Lord can say to his people “Come, let us reason together!”