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.