An American and a Scottish perspective on Lakeland
Two church leaders - one in America and one in Scotland have (this week) put down on paper their observations on the Lakeland events.
These are copied below - and are both are in the public domain. However if anyone wishes to respond to these messages please <click here> to the discussion thread which is available to (logged on) site members only.
David Robertson is a Free Church of Scotland minister, and a writer and author. He is also the editor of the Free Church Monthy Record (from which the following is extracted with permission from the September edition published this week)
Eating Grass for Jesus?
Apparently there is a revival in Florida. Thousands gather every night in a place called Lakeland. People travel from all over the world to “get the blessing”. Hundreds are healed and at least 20 people have been raised from the dead. Allegedly.
The “revival” began on the 2nd of April this year. It is led by 32-year-old Canadian preacher Todd Bentley and has grown to between 5,000 and 10,000 people attending nightly. Bentley was converted at age 18 after a youthful life of drugs, sexual sin and crime, including a conviction for the sexual abuse of a child. Now he is the latest in a series of “miraculous” healing preachers who claim that they are able to bring the latest “anointing fire” (one of the things about this type of Christianity is that there is a whole jargon which seems to have some meaning for those who are in the know, but leaves the rest of us baffled). His style is flamboyant. Bentley dresses in shirts with biker logos, most of his body is covered in tattoos, he has a number of body piercings, he shouts and emotes when he preaches, and he follows the usual pattern of “slaying people in the Spirit”.
Is this for real?
Normally we would ignore such claims. But because of the impact of modern technology, (God TV is covering the whole event daily in glorious Technicolor), and the increasing gullibility of the British and American churches, we cannot do so. Christianity, a mainstream British magazine, carried a feature in its April edition that was very positive about the Lakeland show. Although critical of some aspects of the “work” in general, the article encouraged us ‘to be where God’s Spirit is’ and to take part in what is clearly of God. Other Christians adopt a ‘wait and see attitude’ and think that any criticism of the event is at best ‘unChristlike and judgemental’, and at worst blasphemy against the work of the Holy Spirit. However, it is the responsibility of the Church to expose error and protect the Lord’s people from being deluded by false teachers and prophets. There is no question about the Lakeland event. It is beyond heresy and false teaching. It is insane psychological manipulation, resulting in emotional, and in some cases physical, abuse. It is of the Pit. Consider the following quotes from Bentley.
The church gone mad?
‘Her tumour exploded out of her right leg, and slid down her leg onto the floor.’
‘God told me, “I want you to grab that crippled lady’s legs and bang them up and down on the floor like a baseball bat”. I walked up and I grabbed her legs and started yelling “be healed, be healed”. I started banging them up and down on the platform. She got healed.’
‘I asked God, “Why is the power of God not moving?” He said, “Because you haven’t kicked that woman in the face”. There was an older lady worshipping right in front of the platform, and the Holy Spirit talked to me, the gift of faith came on me, and he said, “Kick her in the face with your biker boot”. I inched closer and then went “bam!” as I kicked her in the face. And just as my boot was about to make contact the power of God came on her and she fell.’
And there is plenty more. You can watch Todd Bentley kick a man with colon cancer in the stomach, abuse people, and tell his stories ad nauseum about “leg dropping” a pastor, choking people and hitting a man so hard that he fell over and knocked out his tooth. One of the most disturbing things about this is that when Bentley tells these stories people in the audience are laughing and clapping. In addition he talks about going to heaven to meet Jesus, having regular conversations with an angel called Emma who tells him to talk more about angels rather than belief in Christ, and numerous other heresies. Has the world gone mad? No. Just “the church”.
Let them eat grass
Bentley teaches the principle of “transference”. You can get the “anointing” yourself by going to Florida, or if you cannot do that then through your TV screen, or if you are really desperate you can go to Dudley in the West Midlands, where a fresh “impartation” of “the blessing” is being “poured out”. One of the leading Lakeland preachers was at a conference in Scotland this July. He told the leaders there that God had tested his faith by asking him to eat grass and he wanted them to do so as well. There is the test of your faith – eat grass for Jesus!
It is embarrassing for us as Christians to have to admit that we have this kind of lunacy done in the name of Christ. We know that there will be those who read this and say, “That’s typical Free Church. Always so negative”. There will be others who argue, like Christianity, that John the Baptist, Elijah and Jesus were “unusual”, and that therefore we have no right to dismiss Todd Bentley. Let us answer this simply. To compare the miracles of Jesus with the Showtime of Lakeland is to betray a profound ignorance of Scripture. We do not deny the miraculous. God worked miracles in the Bible. He can do so today. We do deny that God tells evangelists to kick people in the face. We do not care about what Mr Bentley wears. We do care about what he says and does in the name of Jesus. And we dare not set up the Free Church as a faultless church that all true Christians should join. Far from it. Our problems and sins run deep. But whatever weirdnesses we may have, we can at least be thankful that we do not advocate hitting people for Jesus. May God have mercy on us all.
Dutch Sheets is the Senior Pastor of Freedom Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. He is a close associate of C. Peter Wagner
A Statement and Appeal Regarding Lakeland
August 21, 2008
It has now been a couple of weeks since I heard about Todd Bentley's plans for separation and divorce. Like everyone, I have had a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, and grief. Every time I see this scenario repeated, I grieve: for the husband and wife involved; for the family that will be scarred in so many ways; because of the incredible reproach it brings to Christ; and the distortion it gives concerning God's heart and ways. I am praying for Todd and his family.
I was asked numerous times to write my position on Lakeland while it was happening, but always felt checked by the Lord-the waters were too muddy and emotions too high. I now feel strongly that the Lord wants me to do so. It will be arguably one of the greatest risks of my ministry to date, but one I feel must be taken. Fathers, when given the voice to do so, bear the responsibility of giving correction and wisdom. I hope mine qualifies for the latter. I assure you I have spent many hours praying and thinking through the situation.
The risks are broad: with some of my dearest friends and co-laborers, I risk harming those relationships; with many in the charismatic body of Christ, I risk appearing to be an arrogant, "self-appointed" spokesperson for them; to the "I told you so" crowd, I risk the accusation of "spinning" the situation. (As far as the heresy hunters and revival police-not those who raised legitimate questions about Lakeland, but the attack dogs who make their living and build their ministries criticizing everyone else-I lost respect for them long ago and couldn't care less what they think.) My purpose and sincere prayer in writing this statement, however, is three-fold: to see healing begin for the body of Christ; to initiate a process that can remove the reproach brought to Christ and the Church; and to do these things while preserving and honoring my current relationships. I pray that these desires, along with my heart, come through loudly. And I hope I'm writing this with true humility-who among us clearly sees all hidden in our own hearts?
Let me also preface this statement by saying that what needs to be said cannot be done quickly or carelessly. I do not want my heart to be missed and am not willing to run that risk for the sake of brevity, so please bear with the length. (Incidentally, I think it will be obvious no one involved in the Lakeland situation has asked me to write this; and for the sake of integrity on my part, none have been consulted concerning what I'm stating.)
Mistakes at Lakeland
1 Did leaders handling the Lakeland situation make mistakes?
Yes-huge mistakes. Beyond the obvious fruit of salvations and healings, can good come from Lakeland, as some have suggested, even with the recent revelations concerning Todd Bentley? Yes, but only if there is complete honesty and transparency, the removal of all attempts at self-preservation, and absolute humility from all sides.
2 Did I endorse the Lakeland meetings?
No, I did not, nor did I condemn them. I acknowledged that healings were occurring and some were being saved, which I still believe and rejoice over. I realized and stated that the thousands of people attending were hungry and sincere, as were those involved in leading the meetings.
The worship was regularly good. But looking past some of the immediate and positive results, I, like many, also looked ahead to the possible fruit from questionable doctrine and experiences, exaggeration and hype, youthful pride, character issues and the frightening potential of a 32 year "young" man leading a movement that could shape the future of the Church. These things were frightening, very frightening, to others and me.
When something has the potential of setting precedent, birthing a movement and being reproduced as a prototype, we are no longer simply endorsing good brothers, good intentions and miracles. Doctrine and foundations will be built on these events. Teachings and paradigms for future ministries will be formed-in short, the next generation of the church and the move of God in the earth could be greatly impacted. This is why I stopped short of endorsing everything at Lakeland. Just as importantly, I could not ignore the "check", the uneasiness, the sickening feeling deep in my spirit telling me something else was wrong-terribly wrong-in this situation. Like other leaders I tried to push past my uneasiness with the showmanship, the "bams," the head butts and kneeing, along with certain experiences and doctrines, all in order to embrace the good. Like many of my friends I tried to be-and believe I was- gracious, accepting, ready to think "out of the box", etc. But try as I may, the uneasiness in my spirit just wouldn't leave.
3 Did I voice my concerns to the appropriate people?
Yes, including stating my concerns for Todd's marriage to the Lakeland Outpouring Apostolic Team. Did they listen? Some did, some didn't. But I want to state emphatically, this is not an "I told you so" statement. In fact, much of what I want to address goes back several years into our charismatic Christian history. And I assure you that concerning our present weaknesses in the charismatic church, there is plenty of blame to go around. Personally, I've been right at times with my discernment and decisions, wrong at others. It would be worse than hypocritical for me to point the finger of accusation-I have no stones of judgment to throw. Nonetheless, mistakes were made and must be acknowledged and learned from in order for us to heal, grow and move forward.
Some of my closest friends endorsed and participated in the Lakeland meetings. For them I have both criticism-all of us lose credibility at this point if we're not completely honest-and affirmation. Should they have been more discerning and have listened to the warnings they received? Obviously. Should those who "aligned" Todd with spiritual fathers (which was a good thing and positioned him to receive help if he chooses to accept it) have realized to do so publicly was a mistake and could be interpreted by those watching in no other way than as a complete endorsement? Yes, they should have, especially when the event became a commissioning ceremony, complete with decrees and prophecies of going to higher levels, predictions of Todd's increasing world-wide influence and leading a world-wide revival, emphatic and prolific endorsements of his character, etc.
4 How could those watching believe the evening was anything but an aligning, endorsing and commissioning ceremony?
It really doesn't matter who laid their hands on Todd-all share responsibility. This was unwise at best, naïve at least and at its worst, foolish. And should the leaders involved have realized that those of us connected to them relationally, ministerially, and as movements-some even in alignment with them apostolically and as sons and daughters-would feel minimalized, if not betrayed, by the fact that they were in essence taking us onto the stage with them? Yes. These feelings were inevitable, especially when we had such uneasiness and asked them not to. Should there be an acknowledgment of these mistakes to the body of Christ for the sake of accountability and in order to rebuild trust? I believe so, and remain hopeful this will happen.
5 With such strong statements of disagreement, what is the affirmation toward my friends who led, participated in or endorsed this ceremony (and the meetings in general)?
Simply stated, I know their hearts. It is not a contradiction of my criticisms toward some of their actions to, at the same time, defend and endorse their hearts and character. It is completely appropriate-when true-to defend a person's heart and integrity while disagreeing with their actions. I think the blunder of that night was huge and very damaging to the body of Christ, but I also realize that in their hearts, those involved honestly felt they were doing the right things.
Again, while not defending the action taken, I would defend the character and integrity of Peter and Doris Wagner as vigorously as anyone I know, and do so with absolute confidence. There are no two people, and I mean that literally, who embody the qualities of humility, integrity, holiness (no compromise!), sacrifice, unselfish kingdom-thinking, the tireless giving of themselves to Christ's cause and the body of Christ-and do I need to add risk-taking?-as much as Peter and Doris Wagner. It remains my great honor to be associated with them and call them a spiritual father and mother. And again, while not minimizing or "sweeping under the rug" any wrong decisions, I remain steadfast in my belief that similar affirmations could be made of others involved-either directly or indirectly-in the ceremony. And some of them still see their endorsing of Lakeland as an endorsement of revival generally, not of Todd personally.
The Bigger Picture
It may come as a surprise, however, that my real purpose in writing this is not to only state the above, as important as I believe saying it is. My primary purpose, and I believe my assignment from the Lord, is to identificationally repent on behalf of the leadership of the charismatic body of Christ (see Nehemiah 1:4-7; Daniel 9:1-19). In doing so, I do not have a pompous, "no one else will, so I'll do it" attitude, nor am I arrogant enough to think I have become the spokesperson for the charismatic church. But in the same way that I can identify with the racism of white predecessors and repent to blacks, Native Americans and other races, I can represent the leadership of the charismatic body of Christ and identificationally repent for our sins and weaknesses. I encourage leaders who find my statements true and appropriate to join me. Beyond the simple fact of it being appropriate, I firmly believe it is the only way to begin the process of rebuilding trust with those asked to follow us and to remove the cynicism of the world we ask to listen to us. As you know, regaining credibility is much more difficult than attaining credibility.
Concerning what I'm about to say, I don't believe I have a critical spirit, nor do I want to diminish the sacrifices, faithfulness, and hard work done by so many in ministry. The fact remains, however, that we have failed the Lord and His people in many ways-not just with Lakeland but in countless other situations- and must repent if we are to be trusted in the future. And as you also know, no repentance is effective if watered down and couched in excuses, therefore, I intend to be brutally honest:
a) We, the leaders of the charismatic community, have operated in an extremely low level of discernment. Frankly, we often don't even try to discern. We assume a person's credibility based on gifts, charisma, the size of their ministry or church, whether they can prophesy or work a miracle, etc. (Miracles and signs are intended to validate God and His message, not the messenger; sometimes they validate the assignment of an individual, but never the person's character, lifestyle or spiritual maturity.) We leaders in the Church have become no different than the world around us in our standards for measuring success and greatness. This has contributed to the body of Christ giving millions of dollars to undeserving individuals; it has allowed people living in sin to become influential leaders-even to lead movement, allowing them influence all the way to the White House. Through our lack of discernment we built their stages and gave them their platforms. We have been gullible beyond words-gullible leaders producing gullible sheep. When a spiritual leader we're connected with violates trust, is exposed for immorality or falls below other accepted standards of behavior, it does not exonerate us simply to say we don't condone such behavior. Those we lead trust us to let them know whom to trust. We have failed them miserably in this regard. For this lack of discernment, and for employing and passing on inappropriate standards of judgment, I repent to the Lord and ask forgiveness of the body of Christ.
b) We, the leaders of the charismatic church, spin our involvement and fail to acknowledge our responsibility when other leaders fall-all of which stems from our self-preservation and pride. Enough of the spin-we're no different than Washington, DC. Every time another embarrassing and disgraceful situation is exposed, the dancing begins. It seems that no one bears any real responsibility except the man or woman who actually commits sin. Incredibly, we even blame "revival" itself-the pressures, attacks, weariness, the "revival is messy" argument, etc., saying it is responsible for the failures. This is disgusting. Those of us on boards of fallen leaders, those who helped give them a voice, put them on TV, published and endorsed their books (yes, I have), etc., are not exonerated simply by saying we don't condone the wrong behavior or that we didn't know. We're supposed to know.
I don't believe anyone is expecting perfection from us-I know I'm not. We're far too human for that. But we are expected to have enough humility to look the world and those who follow us in the eye when we miss it and say, "we were wrong and we are sorry."
Our careless accountability has caused the body of Christ to be spiritually raped and abused. It has produced disillusionment and brought immeasurable reproach to our God and cynicism to His message. Concerning Lakeland, what was called the "greatest revival since Azusa Street" has become possibly one of the greatest reproaches. We, the leaders of the charismatic church, are responsible.
For not accepting and acknowledging our responsibility, for caring more about our own reputation than Christ's, I repent to God and ask forgiveness of the body of Christ.
c) Our procedures and standards of accountability are incredibly inadequate. We have provided camaraderie, not biblical accountability. For those on Todd Bentley's board who had previous knowledge of his marriage problems and said nothing, it was more than a mistake-it was reckless, foolish, and irresponsible. For those on the stage the night of his aligning and commissioning who knew and said nothing-ditto. For those there who didn't know, my question is, "why didn't you?" You were trusted to know. That is one of the purposes of public commissioning and the purpose behind the concept of endorsement. I'm not trying to point the finger; I'm endeavoring to get us to be honest about our failures-we have serious credibility issues. Have I ever laid hands on, commissioned or endorsed anyone without adequately checking them out? Yes, but you better believe I'll be more careful next time! And we must not single out Lakeland. We're all guilty.
What about the leader in my city who ran with some of the leading spiritual fathers in our nation-sincere and good men, I might add, and not all "charismatic" leaders-who sang his praises and helped build his stage-all while he was doing drugs and having sex with other men? But we shouldn't blame only the high profile cases-what about those of us who unknowingly have had adulterers on our staffs or appointed elders that turned out to have compromise in their life? Sounding familiar yet?
This is so epidemic that every member of the body of Christ stands guilty-what pastor or leader did you follow that turned out to have sin issues? What ministry did you support that was unworthy? There is plenty of blame to go around. The big question becomes not "who do we blame" but "how do we fix this mess?"
Leaders can live in sin-adultery, homosexuality, financial wrongdoing, drugs, etc.-for years without it being realized. They can offer completely unacceptable lifestyles for the body of Christ to follow and still keep their TV programs and lavish lifestyles. In the name of grace, compassion and forgiveness we have lowered the standard so much that often there isn't one. We have bought into the lie that true discipline is "shooting our wounded." We have made a mockery of biblical restoration, making "ministry"-not healthy individuals, marriages and families-its ultimate goal. The fact is, integrity matters. No, we don't need legalistic, pharisaical standards, but we must have standards. For this lack of biblical accountability, I repent to God and I ask forgiveness of the body of Christ.
d) We, the leaders of the charismatic church, have built on hype, sensation, innovation, programs, personality and charisma. This has produced: shallowness; false movements; novice leaders-gifted but immature and untested; a deficient understanding of God's word; the building of man-centered rather than kingdom-centered churches and ministries; competition rather than cooperation; humanistic, selfcentered Christians who don't understand sacrifice and commitment; Christians without discernment; superstar leaders; a perverted and powerless gospel; prayerless and anemic Christians; a replacement of the fear of the Lord with the fear of man; and a young generation that is cynical of it all. We are responsible, not the devil; he takes what we give him.
For this compromise in the way we build, for giving the Church watered down wine, commercial Christianity, a flashy but weak Church and hype disguised as anointing, I repent to God and ask forgiveness of the body of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-5 is an appropriate reference with which to end this statement: "Brethren, even if a man caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one shall bear his own load." (NAS)
My passionate prayer is that God honors this repentance – I believe He led me to do it and therefore, will-and uses it to begin a process of cleansing and healing for all of us. In order for the coming great awakening to bear maximum fruit we must have both, as well as a course correction that sets us on a path of wisdom leading to life. There is no doubt that past moves of God have been aborted, ended prematurely and contained error or heresy that have wounded, if not destroyed, many. The healing revival of the 40's and 50's, the charismatic movement, discipleship movement and Jesus movement are all examples. My heart is to help shape a movement, the fruit of which will last for decades-better yet, forever. And I have great expectations for us-I am not a cynic.
My passionate prayer is also that Todd Bentley's marriage survives and thrives. that he turns his heart fully toward Christ and toward those with whom he is aligned, and allows them, as God leads, to put him on a path of complete restoration. I thank God for those who were touched by the Holy Spirit at Lakeland and while watching it on God TV and the web.
May we all move forward into all God has planned for us in this awesome season of endless possibility.
With great hope,
1. The Lakeland phenomenon was endorsed at the Clan Gathering in St. Andrew's (Scotland) in August this year.
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