It was C.S. Lewis who said – “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” Human experience tends to confirm Lewis’s assessment. We are spiritual beings who are intuitively supernatural. Atheists object to this assessment though. They assert that there is nothing supernatural and that the uninformed are not being spiritual but rather “superstitious”. But when Christians who claim to be spiritual behave superstitiously and call it “revival”, we have to think that’s an odd Gospel, or perhaps a “Todd Gospel”…
The Todd Gospel is the gospel of Todd Bentley. While there are heresy-hunters who poo-poo anything Charismatic or Pentecostal, like Toronto or Pensacola, what is happening in Lakeland, Florida deserves a more rigorous treatment than that done by these cynics. While the ministry of Todd Bentley bears some similarities to previous Pentecostal/Charismatic “outpourings”, it is fundamentally different. Todd Bentley’s message is also radically different from other “revival” leaders.
I live in Tasmania. This is about as far away from Lakeland, Florida, as anywhere in the world! Yet nearly everyday someone contacts me either to share their opinion (or to seek mine) about Todd Bentley’s ministry! Therefore, in reviewing his ministry I am susceptible to the criticism that I have not visited his Lakeland meetings, but due to the village-nature of the modern world (thanks to satellites and digital media) it is perhaps easier than ever before to be well informed about trends within Christendom happening anywhere in the world. But this doesn’t just extend to the particular ideas being promoted, but thanks to the same technology, there is also a sense of immediacy about this- we can be informed about events happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Boise, Freetown, or Lakeland, immediately. This has changed the nature of war because of the increased accountability from the media. But it has also changed the nature of “revivals”. Preachers are now more susceptible to criticism and evaluation than at any other time. And those able to evaluate revivalists are not just theologians or pastors, but thanks to YouTube, Google, and blogging, anyone can pass judgment on anyone. My preliminary research found no shortage of people seeking to savage not just Todd Bentley, but anything Charismatic. Here’s why…
THE ESSENCE OF BEING “CHARISMATIC”
Christianity is miraculous. It is fundamentally spiritual. The notion that only certain branches of Christianity promote, or have access to, the miraculous is ill-informed. The foundation of Christianity- the Resurrection of Christ, is profoundly miraculous. The transmission of Christianity, where the Gospel (as outlined in 1Corinthians 15:1-4) is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit resulting in the spiritual regeneration of a soul as the grace of God imparts faith – is profoundly miraculous and not just the expression of Charismatics or Pentecostals. The ministry of healing through prayer and care for the sick has a long tradition within all branches of Christianity. Therefore, it is over simplistic to distinguish forms of Christianity into either Charismatic or non-Charismatic since Biblical Christianity is intrinsically spiritual and miraculous. But those who designate themselves as “Charismatics” generally place an emphasis on supernatural spiritual gifts. The original Greek word in the Bible for these gifts is charismata which is where the English word charismatic comes from.
Those who designate themselves as “Charismatics” believe in and practice the spiritual gifts which are referred to in First Corinthians 12 and include speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, healings, miracles, prophecy, and discerning of spirits. Those who refuse to be designated as “charismatic” generally claim that such spiritual gifts ceased when the Canon of the New Testament was completed. This group are often labeled “cessationists”. They appeal to First Corinthians 13:8-10 which says that tongues would one day cease as the proof text for their position. An initial reading of the text seems to support their position but soon betrays them when it becomes clearer that this text is not talking of the Canon as “the perfect” but the final consummation of the ages (1Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:10) where sin, death and suffering are finally put away. This is called the Resurrection.
People often confuse those who are designated Charismatic with those prefer the designation: Pentecostal. This confusion is sometimes promoted by Pentecostals themselves who have failed to recognise fundamental differences between the two. Charismatics are far more subjective about their spiritual experience than Pentecostals. Pentecostals have a somewhat more objective approach to spiritual experience. For Charismatics spiritual gifts are any gifts from the Holy Spirit to any believer. For Pentecostals, the supernatural spiritual gifts mentioned in 1Corinthians 12 are the available result of being baptised in the Holy Spirit subsequent to the Holy Spirit’s wok of salvation and regeneration. For Pentecostals, the evidence of being Baptised in the Holy Spirit is speaking (more accurately, praying) in tongues. There are some Charismatics who are known as “Neo-Charismatics” who also believe that there is a subsequent experience to salvation with the Holy Spirit where the evidence may be tongues or any of the other spiritual gifts.
“every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit … [y]et not every Christian is filled with the Spirit … Some [Christians] have only got the pilot light of the Holy Spirit in their lives, whereas when people are filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to fire on all cylinders… When you look at them you can almost see and feel the difference.“
Nicky Gumble, “Questions of Life”, Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne, 1993:131-132, 133)
Pentecostals have generally endorsed the ancient creeds of the church, defended the inerrancy of Scripture and upheld Sola Scriptura (the Bible as the highest authority on matters of faith, doctrine and practice). There are Hyper-Pentecostals who teach that salvation is given through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues. Therefore, they claim, unless someone speaks in tongues they are not saved. This is a heretical notion. But Charismatics are less doctrinally dogmatic. Thus, there can be wildly different doctrinal positions between Charismatics. And this is where Charismata becomes Charismania…
WHEN “CHARISMATIC” BECOMES “CHARISMANIA”
The common doctrinal vacuum of Charismatics makes them vulnerable to false teaching. The pursuit of sound theology and doctrinal precision are often ridiculed by such Charismatic preachers. Instead, they emphasize connection with God through spiritual experience which may not be rational, logical, or even reasonable. This philosophy of Christian worship encourages people to “let go” and go with their impulses which may mean shaking, rocking, screaming, jumping, or even barking. “Stop trying to work it out with your head- just surrender to it” seems to be a catch-cry of these Charismatic leaders to their skeptics.
And this is the foundational problem of the Charismatic movement. It tends to encourage the lessening of self-control and the abandonment of the rational discerning of teachers. This is despite the New Testament encouraging both self-control (1Corinthians 9:25; Galatians 5:23; 1Timothy 2:9, 15; 2Timothy 1:7; 2Peter 1:6) and using our minds to rationally evaluate what we are being taught –
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.“
First Corinthians 14:20
When the Charismatic movement goes extreme by placing the highest authority for God’s will on some dream, vision, out-of-body experience, or prophetic declaration, it has become Charismania!
Most “Charismaniacs” would be shocked to realise that if God never speaks again we already have His sufficient word in the Bible. We could spend a thousand lifetimes trying to plum the depths of God’s message in the Bible and still only scratch the surface! You don’t need a prophetic word from a prophet to know God’s will! Yet Charismatics place an inordinate emphasis upon visions, dreams, and prophecies. First Thessalonians 5:20 tells us not to despise prophecy- but in the next verse it also tells us to “test” these prophecies. Which presumably means that some “prophecies” will not pass the test. But what is the tool for testing such prophecies/visions/dreams? Scripture.
This is sometimes hard for Charismatics to understand when some Charismatic leader has just been used to heal a cripple then declares that God has just spoken to him about leaving his wife and getting remarried to his more supportive secretary. I even heard one Charismatic leader commence his latest ‘prophetic revelation’ with – “I know the Bible says…but, God has shown me that…” I would like to encourage Charismatics to apply 1Thessalonians 5:21 to such statements before they abandon Sola Scriptura. It is with this understanding and foundation that I have considered the ministry of Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Revival…
THE TODD GOSPEL…
Todd Bentley is a changed man. From a background of sexual abuse and criminal activity he was confronted with the Gospel in his late teens. He surrendered his life to Christ and was instantly delivered from various destructive conditions. He began spending extended times in Bible reading and prayer and was soon preaching to the unsaved. He describes how he began to have visions and out-of-body experiences, and direct visitations from Jesus Christ who gave him instructions on leading a global revival to prepare the world for His return. There is ample repetition of this message in the many YouTube videos of Todd with Bob Jones or Patricia King. I have watched hours of Todd speaking/preaching and being interviewed. You very soon pick up what he’s about and what he considers to be the Gospel.
While God confirmed His Word with signs and wonders (miracles) during the ministry of Christ and the apostles, some assume that if a ministry demonstrates miracles, it must be because God is endorsing the teaching of that ministry. But miracles are not the divine validation of a teaching. This means that someone might have the gift of miracles but be flawed in their teaching. In fact, there is a good argument to be made that the person who experiences continual miracles in the ministry may be more susceptible to error since they elevate the ministry of miracles to a higher importance than right doctrine. Therefore, while we can criticise the teaching and emphasis of Todd Bentley it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are automatically cynical about claims of people being ‘healed’ or ‘touched by God’ (although any such claims should also be tested). Thus, our scrutiny is more skeptical (rather than cynical) than that of commentators like Hank Hanegraaff who was recently interviewed and stated-
Hanegraaff, of the Christian Research Institute, sees darker implications to what he terms “counterfeit revivals.” He says participants leave believing they are truly healed, but back in the real world, they find nothing has changed. “That’s when they start thinking God has abandoned them or doesn’t love them,” Hanegraaff said. “The vast majority of what is claimed to happen in these revivals…doesn’t happen.”
Tampa Bay Online Article, 1st May 2008, Michelle Bearden & Billy Townsend
Other Christian leaders who are open to Charismatic expressions are a little slower than Hanegraaff to condemn what is happening in Lakeland. For example, George Wood, President of the Assemblies of God in the USA commented to one enquirer-
“Thank you for your email. I have been in Korea and Portugal the past two weeks – in Korea for the retirement of Dr. Cho and the 50th anniversary of his church; and in Portugal for the World Assemblies of God Congress. I have not been following events in Lakeland. Historically, the General Council has always been slow to respond to comments about particular revivals or personalities. We tend very much to trust the discernment and maturity of our Assemblies of God people.
There are elements in any revival that invite criticism – certainly the Azusa St. Revival itself was not immune from excesses. However, with the judgment of time, we now see how effective that revival was. Other revivals turned out only to be so-called revivals – and they left nothing fruitful in their wake.
When and if it seems appropriate for my office to release a statement regarding what is happening in Lakeland, I will do it first through communicating directly with the pastor of the church. My lack of a statement on this matter at this moment should not be interpreted as a lack of concern; but more of a desire to not make a hasty or premature judgment. We are told in Scripture to test all things and hold fast that which is good, and we will endeavor to do that.”
Dr. George O.Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God
What is being taught at Lakeland? For Todd Bentley, the Gospel is all about “experiencing God.”
“I grew up a drug addict,” Bentley said. “I got saved at 18 in my drug dealer’s trailer because I had an experience with God.” His purpose, he said, is to preach intimacy with God. And that’s what he says the healing services provide.
Tampa Bay Online Article, 1st May 2008, Michelle Bearden & Billy Townsend
For Todd Bentley experiencing God can involve a direct out-of-body experience where a person can be taken to heaven, or it might involve a direct encounter with an angel, or a physical visit from Jesus Christ. Each of these Todd Bentley claims to regularly experience. In an article written by Todd Bentley in 2003 and referred to in the Wikipedia article on him, Todd Bentley claims to have been caught up into heaven where he was greeted by the Apostle Paul and taken back to Paul’s heavenly cabin…
More recently, Todd stated that in one of his “Third Heaven” trips he literally visited the small cabin where the apostle Paul lives in Heaven. Paul told him that he wrote the book of Hebrews with the personal help of Abraham the Patriarch: “The authorship isn’t clear because it was Abraham and I; Abraham shared the content with me.” Todd’s ‘Third Heaven’ tales are full of such astonishing claims.
TODD BENTLEY, “THE THIRD HEAVEN”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Bentley
Todd has been endorsed by such Charismatic leaders as Paul Cain, Bob Jones (whom he regards as a mentor). Bob Jones and Todd Bentley are so close they even share an angel called “Emma”.
“Now let me talk about an angelic experience with Emma. Twice Bob Jones asked me about this angel that was in Kansas City in 1980: “Todd, have you ever seen the angel by the name of Emma?” He asked me as if he expected that this angel was appearing to me. Surprised, I said, “Bob, who is Emma?” He told me that Emma was the angel that helped birth and start the whole prophetic movement in Kansas City in the 1980s. She was a mothering-type angel that helped nurture the prophetic as it broke out. Within a few weeks of Bob asking me about Emma, I was in a service in Beulah, North Dakota. In the middle of the service I was in conversation with Ivan and another person when in walks Emma. As I stared at the angel with open eyes, the Lord said, “Here’s Emma.” I’m not kidding. She floated a couple of inches off the floor. It was almost like Kathryn Khulman in those old videos when she wore a white dress and looked like she was gliding across the platform. Emma appeared beautiful and young-about 22 years old-but she was old at the same time. She seemed to carry the wisdom, virtue and grace of Proverbs 31 on her life…
Todd Bentley, THE THIRD HEAVEN
But this is not the only experience with angels that Todd claims to regularly experience-
I was at another meeting in Atlanta when my wife, Shonnah, saw two financial angels walk into the service and pour oil out on the pastor. Shonnah then knew there was financial breakthrough coming. That night two people wrote the pastor cheques for $16,000 and $17,000 and others also wrote cheques to Fresh Fire for thousands of dollars, which we used for missions to the nations. In addition, many people experienced great financial blessing as well. The day after this angelic visitation one guy had millions of dollars released to him-he had been waiting for about 10 years for this breakthrough. All this financial release came because my wife saw two financial angels walk up and stand on the platform. Can you imagine? We need to pray for the Father to give us financial angels for our lives, our church and region. With this angelic assistance, we will prevail and overcome the warfare trying to hold back our financial breakthrough. Some of you don’t know how to use the angels in intercession like this. You don’t even know whether it’s OK or not….”
No Todd, it’s not OK. Our walk with Christ is not authorised to the sphere of angels by commanding them to do our bidding! This kind of mysticism which promotes seeing, praying to, commanding, and talking with angels is not what Christianity is about. While angels clearly interacted with Christ and the early Church, at no point do we find Christ teaching His disciples to do any of the things that Todd Bentley claims we should do with them! Even though they appeared to the apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts, there is no evidence that any disciple ever prayed to (or even for) an angel to intervene on their behalf. In fact, we find the Apostle Paul warning against such interchanges with angels-
Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are.
Colossians 2:18 THE MESSAGE
Paul warned believers not to trust so-called angelic appearances since-
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Second Corinthians 11:14
And he used even stronger language to warn believers against putting any confidence in alleged angelic messages-
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
The over-emphasis on angels, visions, or prophetic words by Charismatic leaders like Todd Bentley, Bob Jones or Paul Cain, should concern Biblically-literate believers who understand that Biblical Christianity is a transaction of God’s grace primed by faith made possible by the finished work of Christ on the Cross. The Christian walk requires faith, discipline, perseverance, community, accountability, study, solitude, and teaching. All of these aspects of our discipleship require the power of God. And the power of God described in the New Testament is not merely about physical urges but about the work of the Spirit to form believers into the image of Christ through the ministry of God’s Holy Word.
Todd Bentley may not be your Grandmother’s evangelist but his desire to evangelise and be used to heal the sick is to be commended. But someone close to him needs to challenge him to focus more on the Word of God and the God of the Word than angels, visions, trips to heaven and whatever Bob Jones suggests. Then someone somewhere needs to tell the hordes of Protestant Charismatics queuing up at Lakeland that we are all priests who share equal access to God and His blessings irregardless of where we are on the planet. And then finally some Bible-teaching blogger should offer the following how-to for applying 1Thessalonians 5:21-
- Does Scripture support , endorse, confirm, this revelation/idea/teaching/prophecy?
- Is this ‘prophecy’ producing godly, lasting, fruit?
- Are those delivering these visions/revelations/teachings/prophecies of proven character- especially in the public arena (note 1 Timothy 3:1-13)
- Is this something Jesus did, or would do, based only on what we have revealed of His life, character and ministry in the New Testament Gospels? (Did Jesus go around punching cancer sufferers as he yelled “Bam!” at them?)
- Do these prophecies contain a clear deadline for their fulfilment which can then be objectively evaluated over this time period?
- Does this prophecy contain a subjective condition which might be impossible to determine whether it was met or not? (“Thus says the Lord, if you will pray, then God will… “)
One of the dangers of Charismania is the preaching that Christianity is only Christianity if it is hyper-mystical (subjective physical experiences, heavenly visions, supernatural phenomena, personal prophetic words), is what the Bible says about conversion to Christianity. I commenced this article stating that conversion to Christianity was necessarily a miraculous experience. But this subjective experience of conversion is thoroughly grounded in the objective claims and instructions of God’s Word.
Therefore, if you have felt convicted of your sin and called upon the Lord – who became a man and was crucified for our sins – then rose again to life, to save you from your sins, you have been enabled to obey God’s instructions for salvation. Rather than mystical experiences, you will continually experience the transformation of your rebellious, self-focused life into the image and likeness of your Saviour: Jesus of Nazareth. Your independence-obsessed heart will also be transformed into a heart that is prepared to be interdependent through belonging to a caring community of fellow believers. This is a miracle. This is literally “revival” – to bring back to life. It should be our prayer that as many people as possible experience this kind of revival even in the midst of so-called “revivals”.
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