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The Todd Bentley "revival" fall-out

“I insisted much on the necessity of a new birth, as also on the necessity of a minister’s being converted before he could preach aright. Unconverted ministers are the bane of the Christian Church. I think that great and good man, Mr. Stoddard, is much to be blamed for endeavoring to prove that unconverted men might be admitted to the ministry. A sermon lately published by Gilbert Tennent, entitled ‘The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry’ I think unanswerable.”

- George Whitefield, Journal, 1741

If you are a person who was affected by the “revival” meetings conducted by Todd Bentley in Lakeland, Florida this past year, you might be confused or asking questions in regard to the fallout surrounding his ministry. I hope you will read what I have to say here and consider it.

Prior to August 3rd, I had an internet conversation with a friend whose church is experiencing a similar “revival” movement. I had heard a message on CD from the pastor of this church and I thought it was very sound. At the time, I spoke my mind that what I had seen of Bentley on GodTV looked “vacuous” in comparison. A few days later, Bentley was forced to step down from public ministry. I wrote to tell my friend that I blame those people responsible for endorsing this as much as Todd Bentley.

How can it be a “revival” if the leader is preaching heresy and engaging in immoral behavior?

My friend wrote back to say that it is really too bad that people have shut out Bentley’s message just because he faltered.

I then explained that I shut out Bentley’s message even before I knew about his moral failings. It was the message that made me shut out the message! And in the end, we know a tree by its fruit.

My friend then suggested that to be consistent I should not receive the message of God’s grace carried through prophets such as King David, King Solomon or the Apostle Paul, since they too sinned. Yet they were used of God to write scripture. I might as well in effect “shut out” what they have to say about God too.

So the reasoning goes.

I’ve heard the “David” argument many times before.

I have one word for that idea: antinomianism.

This is the heresy that faith is divorced from works or that faith does not produce obedience to the law of God. If these men are preaching the Gospel yet living in gross unrepentant sin, then they may not even be converted.

Here is what I believe God is leading me to say about all of this.

There are revivals all over the world today. They aren’t in the spotlight or on GodTV every night. But they are genuine. I am not saying we should not seek God or that there isn’t something wonderful going on in churches who are promoting “revival.” I am just against the idea of treating these men differently when they sin and preach heresy because they supposedly have the “anointing.”

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The strategy of preachers in these revival meetings — Lakeland, Toronto, Pensacola, etc. — is to tell people who see their nakedness, that they just aren’t “spiritual” enough to receive all the wonderful things God is doing, that they are “blocking” the anointing, and so on. It’s a heresy in and of itself — elitist Gnosticism.

Beyond the issue of personal character, I don’t believe that meetings emphasizing gifts, miracles and the “presence” of God are necessarily “revivals” at all. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Once we are saved, we do not become sanctified through spiritual experiences. We become sanctified by obeying God day by day as we are enabled by grace. In other words, there is no “fast track” to sanctification.

Therefore, we cannot “miss the anointing” simply because our hearts are not “open to receive” an experience. There are no higher levels of anointing you can attain in a revival meeting. It’s complete nonsense. It’s manipulative and it’s totally contrary to the message of historic revival — the message of the Gospel.

In 1994, I decided that experiences with God are a good thing, but you can have them in your living room — or anywhere God chooses to move. Four years ago, God healed me of a ten day bout with atrial fibrillation in a hospital room. I was simply praying by myself. I rebuked the enemy and my heart converted to a normal rhythm. A coincidence? Maybe. I believe it was a providential healing through prayer. But this experience didn’t bring me any closer to God than I was a minute before. Even though I certainly felt closer to God due to that experience, it didn’t change my standing in God. Our position with God is a judicial standing, not an experience.

People feel the rush they get in a room of thousands of people worshiping God, and they assume this is the “presence” of God. It’s not a bad thing to feel this, but it’s totally contrary to scripture to claim that our standing with God is gained through a good feeling or an experience.

My Eyewitness Account

  1. I was living in Orlando during Rodney Howard Browne’s “laughing revival” in Lakeland, Florida in 1993. I visited several times and wasn’t overly impressed. There was not any “supernatural presence” of God there that I could not find through personal devotion or in any church service or prayer group.
  2. I moved to Melbourne, Florida soon after that and was disturbed by the worldly carnality of Michael W. Thompson and the antinomian teachings of Randy Clark. I wrote a position paper on that in 1994 called Revival: It’s No Laughing Matter. I won’t repeat the content of it here, but I tried to explain what historic revival is and why this was not it. This was several years before the leaders of that renewal movement were exposed in sin.
  3. I lived in Pensacola during the Brownsville Revival. I had a friend who came all the way from Russia to sit in those meetings. He claimed it was the strongest anointing he had ever experienced. I sat there with an open mind and an open heart. I just couldn’t bring myself to fake being slain in the spirit or to lie and say I experienced something amazing when all I saw was a religious meeting with a lot people seeking an experience.
  4. Todd Bentley was more vacuous than all the others, but I expected the usual crowd to go along with it and claim, “This was the greatest revival since The Great Awakening!” as they always say. Even though I live in nearby Kissimmee, I did not visit the Bentley meetings.

How many times can people be fooled by the Emperor’s new clothes?


I am nothing special. I don’t have a “super-anointing” or a special gift of discernment. If it were not for the grace of God, I could be fooled too.

In fact, you may think I am fooled by a “hard heart.”

So I will leave you with this.

George Whitefield preached that one of the signs of God beginning to judge a nation is that He will give the church over to unconverted ministers — even those who do not behave as sinners — and God will turn the people over to blindness so that they will receive them as angels of light.

Comments

Your comments are welcome!

Jay,

I live 20 minutes from the Todd Bentley phenomenon. I’ve had numerous friends participate in this supposed outpouring of God’s spirit (The Florida Revival). I’m always open to a genuine move of God but thus far, much like you, all I have seen are counterfeits.

Funny thing is (actually tragic and not the least bit comical) that when asking these attendees if what they were experiencing was Biblically-based, they gave me a rather vacant stare like, “How can you tell?” And then after a rather pregnant pause they usually come unashamedly with, “Because I could feel God’s presence”. Or in justification, “People were getting healed”. Why don’t these revivals ever take place at hospitals?

It’s at that moment I know there’s trouble. Why are so many taken by these charlatans? Let me say at this point that I don’t use that term recklessly for I would never categorize anyone thusly if it were not deservedly so. Jay, people are not steeped in the Word. They don’t study to show themselves approved. They don’t have discerning senses because they are not impregnated with God’s Word. And they can be easily driven and tossed by the wind of any doctrine or movement.

I watched roughly 4 hours of GodTube Bentley videos and I witnessed a great deal of commotion, screaming, euphoria and absolute craziness—but if what I saw was the manifestation of God’s Spirit, then the Bible I own is a counterfeit. Nothing I saw was replicated on the pages of Scripture.

Was Jesus’ name exalted above every other name? Was the message of the cross clearly preached without ambiguity? Was God truly being glorified? Are the followers of this man leading lives of humble submission to the law of Christ? Are they more engaged in His Word? Are they becoming greater disciple-making tools? Do they demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit?

These are the things with which I think a ministry should be judged by. Clearly, all ministers of God fail. Every human being born on this planet is part of the Adamic family and we sin willfully and far too often. Were it not for the blood of Christ we would be forever banished to wallow in the depravity of our nature. Therefore, I agree that a ministry should not be judged solely by the indiscretions of one man or a handful of leaders since to one degree or another we are all hypocrites.

However, the Todd Bentley apologists make their appeal from a rather spiritually vacant position. Yes, anyone can and does sin but does that mean we should never have the capacity to use a discerning spirit to identify legitimate moves of God? In my heart, I knew it was merely a matter of time before this man’s true nature surfaced? How could I be so certain? Some say that’s the epitome of arrogance—far too judgmental. We can know by the message he and others are preaching and whether their activities line up with the Word.

As I watched those GodTube videos of Bentley punch that poor gullible soul in the mid section, I became furious. What was he doing? Then it was revealed the man had a cancerous tumor that Bentley was supposedly healing. The man writhed in pain doubled over for what seemed like an eternity. The poor fella could hardly breathe. Where in Scripture do we find this kind of account where Jesus or Peter resorted to sheer violence in order to wake the healing hand of God?

Then, later in the same video Bentley recounted how he’d drop-kicked an elderly lady right in the nose sending her sprawling to the floor. Then what did this supposed man of God do next? He jumped on her and began to beat her. If I’d have read this account in the newspaper I’d have believed it to be a gross exaggeration—but these were the words of Bentley himself. Did it go down that way? I don’t know but to brag about it as though this is the way to minister God’s healing power is insane.

Am I angry at those who are taken in by these men? No, but I am frustrated that so few seem to have the spiritual acumen to determine truth from error. I am however, livid that leaders have the audacity to mock the Scriptures as they lead people astray. For they shall not be treated kindly.

I’m not going to say whether Todd Bentley is or is not a child of the Most High. That’s out of my jurisdiction. But what I think we can do as believers is become effective Bereans, checking to see if these things are so—matching behavior with rhetoric.

I’ve been privy to the laughing ministry of Rodney Howard Brown and the massive growth of the Church Without Walls. I’ve seen the rise and fall of the Carpenter’s Home Church. When emotionalism wins the day and rational discernment is cast off as cumbersome and confining, run for the hills. A true move of God can be easily identified by the lives that it produces. Are they fully devoted followers of Christ desiring above all to glorify the King of Kings? Do the men love their wives? Are they kind to their neighbors? Do they weep for the needy?

Every failed ministry is shallow and me-centered. Most of them are infatuated with the health, wealth, prosperity Gospel. Throughout the Gospels and Acts we find healing was predominantly for the purposes of the Gospel’s proliferation. Why did Paul continue to suffer from his thorn in the flesh? Why did he tell Timothy to sip some fermented grape juice instead of healing his bout with GIRDS? God sovereignly heals people but he doesn’t need a meeting to do it. Is it His desire that we be sheltered from suffering? All the disciples with the exception of John (he was exiled) were martyred and Peter was told that he would glorify God in the manner of his death. This is rather foreign from modern day expectations.

I think every “move of God” should be investigated with openness but when it is found wanting (and most unfortunately are) it should not be given a free pass. When we don’t police our own the Gospel suffers.

Thanks Jay for provoking me to recount these things I’ve harbored in my heart. My prayer is that Bentley and all those who attended his camp meetings would receive a genuine move of God’s Spirit. How will we know? When they are found on their knees worshiping the Savior without expectations.

Posted by Charles Coty on 03/09/2008 01:14 PM #

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