Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God . . . . (1 John 4:1 NIV).
This spring, the evangelist, Todd Bentley, and the leadership of Ignited Church, began a series of meetings in Lakeland, Florida, that drew thousands as reports of dramatic healings and resurrections from the dead gained national attention. As the services began to be televised on the God Channel, sermons re-broadcast on You Tube, and stories repeated through internet bloggers, publicity for these meetings spread faster than any previous “outpouring.” Criticism of this renewal movement followed just as rapidly. Charismatic leaders most concerned were denominational officials, theologians, and pastors sympathetic to the practice of spiritual gifts and divine healing, yet baffled by Bentley’s ministry methods and dramatic declarations.
J. Lee Grady of Charisma Magazine wrote several articles (here and here) concerned with Lakeland practices that he felt produced “bizarre manifestations,” “hype,” and “exaggerated claims.” Grady targeted Todd’s fascination with angels, lack of Christ-centered teaching, and practice of bizarre methods like hitting, spitting, and the proclamation of “bam” when praying for people. These criticisms generated ire in many of the attendees and real consternation for the supporters of the renewal. Lakeland worshipers felt unjustly criticized for seeking God with all their hearts. They questioned the spiritual credibility of writers like J. Lee Grady who seemed to intellectualize the Move of God. The attendees felt that the Holy Spirit was using Todd powerfully and that any doubts shared by Charismatic or non-Charismatic leaders were unwarranted.
The controversy reached a crescendo when Fresh Fire Ministries, Todd Bentley’s home ministry (here), disclosed that Todd was formally separating from his wife. After this announcement, Dutch Sheets, Charismatic leader and friend of Florida Outpouring leaders, wrote (here) of his concerns about the hyped methods and immature leadership of Todd Bentley. He criticized an “apostolic alignment ceremony” conducted for Todd by many of Sheets’ closest associates. Sheets felt that Todd was not prepared for such of a release of responsibility. In his open letter, Dutch Sheets repented for the Charismatic movement’s lack of discernment concerning Bentley’s ministry.
Being theologically trained, I have been asked many questions about the Florida Outpouring. As a result, I watched with great interest Todd Bentley’s ministry on the God Channel. What I saw was a congregation hungry for more of God, yet I observed a leadership team which lacked maturity, and in some cases, integrity. There is no denying that real healings, deliverances, and salvations occurred during the meetings under the Tent in Lakeland. However, a great anointing does not make a spiritual leader flawless or faultless.
Lack of Verification
For example, Todd Bentley’s organization, Fresh Fire Ministries, gave the Associated Press a list of fifteen people who they said could be medically verified as healed, yet the reporters could not substantiate any of the healing stories. The phone numbers were inaccurate and the doctors cited would not return calls. “The Associated Press tried to follow up on a list of 15 names that were given by Bentley’s ministry that is supposed to represent healings that can be medically verified. ‘Yet two phone numbers given out by the ministry were wrong, six people did not return telephone messages and only two of the remainder, when reached by The Associated Press, said they had medical records as proof of their miracle cure. However, one woman would not make her physician available to confirm the findings, and the other’s doctor did not return calls despite the patient’s authorization.'” (“Controversial Revivals Draw Even Pentecostal Critics,” Christian Post, July 13, 2008).
Second: The ABC News program, Nightline, stated that a whole notebook of healing reports which Todd Bentley’s staff made available were unverifiable. In this notebook, Todd claims that a certain woman was healed from a massive cancerous tumor. Nightline contacted her home and her husband stated that she was not available for she was in chemotherapy. This is problematic to say the least: an individual that Todd’s ministry claimed was healed is found to be in treatment. This discovery is not good for the ailing woman or for the integrity of Bentley’s ministry.
Third: Todd Bentley reported twenty-one resurrections from the dead, yet none was confirmed by outside sources. Most of these resurrection stories were conveyed on television during phone conversations with television viewers. In other words, the resurrection reports were given “live” without proper research and background checks.
Fourth: Todd said that a man was raised from the dead because of “impartation” prayer. “Impartation” prayer is the belief that attendees could leave the Lakeland meetings and take that same anointing with them. The leadership taught that the same miracles performed in Lakeland would and could manifest among their friends and family back home. As a result, a woman testified over the phone that she had prayed for a deceased man at a funeral home and saw him resuscitated. Bentley stated that the man came forth from a casket during the viewing. No location is given, no individuals’ names stated, or date provided.
Are we saying to the world that a fully embalmed man sat up and talked? If so, produce a death certificate, a funeral director, and an amazed and grateful family. Surely, Fresh Fire Ministries would expect questions when making claims as dramatic as these. I do not doubt that God can resuscitate a dead person today as Jesus did in the life of Lazarus, but what I question is the veracity of Todd’s claims.
Fifth: In May, a Charismatic pastor from the State of Washington came forward for healing. He was suffering from terminal bone marrow cancer. Todd boldly proclaimed from the platform that the man was totally healed, yet the pastor tragically died two weeks later. The pastor’s family must be devastated. This kind of hype and on-stage theatrics wounds many a follower of Christ. In times like these, I miss John Wimber. John saw incredible signs and wonders in his ministry, yet the healing model he followed did not contain the theatrics found in Lakeland.
Sixth: Fresh Fire Ministries is now admitting that Todd was in some sort of “inappropriate emotional relationship” with a woman other than his wife.
Lack of Propriety
“We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.” Full letter found here.
This news is very heartbreaking and I pray that Todd will receive pastoral care with spiritual and emotional healing. I pray that full restoration of their marriage would be possible. In addition, I pray that no critics would gloat over the tragedy of a broken family. Yet, this misconduct is just one more red flag in a series of red flags that mark Todd’s ministry. Repeatedly, credibility issues keep manifesting without resolution.
Lack of Accountability
In a letter written last week, Doris and Peter Wagner are pastorally gracious toward Todd: they defend their relationship with him. However, Peter admits that he never met with Todd before welcoming Bentley into their Gospel Alliance ministry. Peter brings Todd into “apostolic alignment,” but has never spent any time with him, how responsible is that? How can Todd be accountable to them, if they do not know him?
“I could easily see that Todd needs deep inner healing and professional-level deliverance he has not yet had the opportunity to receive. One of our critics said that we got it backwards and should have taken him into a back room and ministered to him before the ceremony. We had the luxury of a few minutes with Todd before the evening meeting. We had never met the man before. Was I to say ’Hey, Todd, you’re a mess and need help in the next five minutes?'” [Peter Wagner email]
Well, yes, Dr. Wagner, if he is a mess please minister to him. If you see that Todd needed help, stop the ceremony, and pray for him. The question I ask, “Is why you, Dr. Wagner, laid hands on a man for apostolic impartation when you knew that he had deep personal problems?” The Apostle Paul is clear, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure”(1 Tim. 5:22, NKJV). As members of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, we recognize the importance of personal accountability, long-term relationship, and spiritual oversight. Evidently, the leadership in Lakeland did not see the need to keep Todd pastorally accountable.
Lack of Discernment
It has been reported that in Lakeland, one is labeled a doubter, “Grays,” when questions are asked about the ministry methods used by Todd Bentley. “Blues” are those who put aside their minds and accept everything as from the Lord. This kind of insulated attitude prevents accountability and correction. The New Testament affirms our responsibility as believers to weigh, measure, and discern the use of the spiritual gifts in ministry (1 Cor 12: 10, 14:29, Matt. 7:20). Discernment is insight from the Holy Spirit which enables a believer to know whether a practice, teaching, or gifting is from God, Satan, or a manifestation of the flesh. Certainly, in these Last Days, the church needs the gift of discernment more than ever before. Discernment is a check in one’s spirit with a question mark in one’s mind.
Some people perceive me as “smart” or “theologically deep” and immediately conclude that I am a skeptic who is not open to the work of the Holy Spirit. Thirty years ago, I first spoke in tongues on a street corner in Dallas, Texas. From that day, I have been a pastor in a Charismatic ministry or church. I have experienced many of the charismata listed by Paul in First Corinthians 12. As best as I can be, I am open to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit in a public setting. However, God does not ask us to “turn off our minds.” The Lord desires for us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are to be a people who are in love with Jesus with both our heads and our hearts. It is not unspiritual to walk out the spiritual gift of discernment. Practicing the gift of discernment does not make anyone super-intellectual.
Many are citing Samson as a model for what God was doing in Todd’s ministry. God anointed Samson for a special purpose: Samson was a fighting warrior sent by God to deliver Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines. Samson had many character flaws and personal indiscretions. Nevertheless, the Lord poured out his Spirit on him anyway. It was argued that the Lord was anointing Todd in the same manner. However, Samson’s spiritual carelessness and overt sin prevented him from fulfilling God’s mission of delivering the Israelites until his dramatic death. Samson’s faith is honored in scripture (Heb. 11:32), but his life is not to be modeled.
Samson was not a presbyter, prophet, or leader in a New Testament church. As leaders in Christ’s Church, we are called to a higher standard of holiness (1 Tim. 2, Titus 1). “Dear brothers not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1, NLT). The issue is not Todd’s tattoos, strange T-shirts, or quirky mannerisms. The issue is his lack of holiness and credibility as an evangelist.
I do not deny that some signs, wonders, and miracles occurred in Lakeland. I pray that the many stories of divine healing are true. However, I cannot understand why the leadership of the Charismatic movement did not examine Todd Bentley’s ministry more closely before he was given so much public access.
The Holy Spirit is moving in Lakeland, but as I see it, the Holy Spirit poured out his grace because of the faith of attendees not due to the maturity and wisdom of the Florida Outpouring leadership.
I pray that all those who have attended or will attend the meetings in Lakeland would be healed.