“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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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