Welcome To Todd World

(And for those of you who don’t get the reference in the
title, you don’t have children who watch CBeebies.)

Last week I read with interest some of the posts on Richard Hall’s blog
regarding the possible ‘revival’ in Florida associated with the ministry of Todd Bentley. At the time, it was just
interesting reading. On Monday, it became more important for me to grapple with
this for myself. I received an email from my friend Peter Balls, the pastor of Chelmsford Community Church,
a church that has a wonderful heart for the community surrounding the school
where it meets for worship (see, for example, Our Cabin). Peter has invited a number of
local church leaders to meet next month and pray about whether we could do
something together for the kingdom of God in Chelmsford, in the light of the
Florida happenings. I am free on the date he suggests, and will attend.

So I watched one of the YouTube videos that Richard had
posted. What struck me first was the similarity to watching clips of the
dreaded Benny Hinn. The associate with the hand-held radio microphone tells the
big name the story of the person who has come onto the stage to testify. Big
Name then briefly interviews, and then prays, expecting the person to fall
under the power of the Spirit. I started comparing and contrasting this with
what I witnessed in 1995, when I visited the Toronto
Airport Christian Fellowship
at the height of the ‘Toronto Blessing’. I
thought this would be instructive, because some supporters and opponents of
Bentley seem to have been making connections.

Here’s what I thought: yes, in Toronto, people could offer
testimonies with the hope of being selected to share it on the main stage
during one of the evening renewal meetings. Yes, they would be interviewed and
prayed for. They normally fell under the power of the Spirit. However – I never
had any worries while I was there that they were being pushed in order to fall.
Sometimes I was sitting quite close to the stage: I think I would have noticed
anything that would have made me suspicious. Furthermore, the person leading
the meeting changed from night to night, and so no personality cult developed.
Not only that, the vast majority of prayer ministry there happened at the back
of the auditorium. It was not a show. (You can legitimately debate the way they
asked people receiving prayer to stand on lines marked ten feet apart, with
‘catchers’ behind them. Their reply was that in a culture that resorted quickly
to litigation, they had to protect themselves, and they preferred to risk the
charge that they were suggesting people should fall. Every night I was there, I
accompanied one of their team who was praying for people, and at close hand, I
never saw anyone pushed.)

However, with Bentley, I’m less convinced. Naturally, I have
only the evidence of the YouTube videos. That is inferior to the close personal
observation I was able to engage in at Toronto. However, it looked to me as if
there was movement of the hand and arm as he laid his hand on people’s
foreheads. At least one man in the video didn’t go down to the floor
immediately, and Bentley laid his hand on him two or three times until he did.
Strictly, I’m not offering conclusive proof, but I am disturbed enough about
it.

If that’s what happened, what might it mean? I have no doubt
that falling under the power of the Spirit is a legitimate experience of God.
It has happened to me some times, and it is a feeling that the body cannot cope
with the presence of God. (By the way, I don’t call it being ‘slain in the
Spirit’. That’s an awful term, and as far as I’m concerned, the only people who
have ever been slain in the Spirit were Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter
5.) But if you asked all the responsible church leaders who were heavily
involved in the ‘Toronto Blessing’ at least in this country, they would have
said that the outward manifestation was not itself the proof of the Spirit’s
work. Certainly, that was the line I heard David Pytches hold. The
evidence of the Spirit’s work is the fruit. Outward signs at the time may be
commentary on the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit, or they may be
‘fleshly’ human responses.

If that were the case, why would anyone push someone to the
ground? One possibility might be insecurity. Certain immature charismatic
cultures want to see ‘falling under the power’ as the clear sign that God is at
work. Suppose Bentley or others felt they needed to ‘prove’ they were men or
women of God: they might then find it tempting to do something like that. I
don’t know the man, I’m just speculating. But I do know that many Christians,
leaders included, get their sense of security from the wrong source. There is a
great pressure to show results (and not least in elements of North American
Christianity). Does Bentley feel he has to prove he’s getting results? Were
that to be the case for anyone, the antidote is to know that our security is in
the Triune God, and in grace. God has made us in his image; in Christ, he has
redeemed us in love at immeasurable cost; the Holy Spirit indwells us. Results
don’t make us loved and accepted by God: grace does. Someone not acting out of
grace is capable of unintentionally hurting people.

However, it could be worse. It could be a show of power.
‘Look at me and my power.’ If someone takes that attitude, then s/he is trying
to stand in the place of God. Of course, in Bentley’s case he is quick to
attribute the healings to God. However, that falls by the wayside is the rest
of a person’s demeanour is of the ‘Look at me’ variety. While I don’t believe
the nonsense about just being channels for God (it’s rather like ‘worm
theology’ – ‘O Lord, I am just a worm’) and I believe that God uses
personalities, I believe that in every way we must be quick to give the glory
to God and deflect it from ourselves. It comes back to the old Corrie ten Boom quote
about compliments. She said that when she received a compliment, she saw it
like a bunch of flowers. She enjoyed the perfume, and then said, ‘Lord, these
are yours.’

Then we have the question of the healings. Richard referred
in one of his posts to the Gospel story of the ten lepers, where Jesus tells
them to go and show themselves to the priests. I have long felt this is an
important test of healing. Some months ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed with
cancer. At one point, after prayer, he believed he was healed. I understand he
came off his medication. A month or two ago, I attended his funeral. I believe
that God can and does heal in response to prayer (just as I also believe he
gives grace when healing doesn’t materialise). However, if God has done
something like that, it is verifiable. Rushing someone up to testify before
there has been time to test the claim is dangerous. There may be other
explanations for short-term improvements or remissions. In that respect, I
think the Toronto church made mistakes. Clearly, Bentley does, too. If God has
done something, it sticks. It doesn’t matter if we have to wait awhile before
that person gives public testimony. It is probably better for the Gospel that
they do.

Other issues to consider include finances and politics. With
regard to politics, I found the Toronto church was dangerously interested in
Christian Zionism. That isn’t just a question of politics, it’s also the desire
to feel part of God doing something amazing today, but that desire does lead to
a lack of discernment, and hence to a cultural captivity to a kind of politics
that doesn’t always favour the well-being of individuals, especially the poor.
If we care enough about someone’s physical plight to pray for their healing,
then it seems concomitant to me that we care for their social needs, too.
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t make that link. I’ve yet to hear any
connection with ministry with the poor and social justice from Bentley, and –
if he fits the rest of the stereotypes – I’m not expecting to hear anything.
Perhaps I do him an injustice: I hope so, but I suspect not.

Then, what about the issue of finances and the handling of
money? Billy Graham led the move towards financial accountability of
evangelical Christians in the States, especially after the TV evangelist
scandals of the 1980s. I couldn’t find Fresh
Fire
on the Evangelical Council for
Financial Accountability
website. That may be because FF is a Canadian
organisation, not American, but since Bentley seems to work a lot in the
States, I would have thought he’d have had an official US operation. Maybe
someone who knows the North American scene better than me can offer an
explanation, but it initially looks worrying.

To some people, all that I have written so far will elicit a
reaction of ‘So what?’ It’s all obvious stuff on one level. However, what if
Bentley is dubious? On the other hand, even if he’s perfectly genuine, we need
a lot of reflection on the question of why such people flourish. Yes, there is
what my blogging friend Kim Fabricius calls on one or Richard Hall’s posts
‘gullibilitus’, but why are people gullible? I’ve already mentioned two
paragraphs above that people want to believe they are part of something epic in
the purposes of God. Some believe so in the light of the ‘prophetic movement’
that often speaks in large, visionary terms about what is going on in the
world. Days of small things are despised.

In addition, there is the whole ‘Touch not the Lord’s
anointed’ problem. This mantra has been repeated for decades in certain
Pentecostal and charismatic circles. In its rightful original context in
Scripture, it captures the humility of the fugitive David in the days before he
was King of Israel, while his predecessor, Saul (ironically, a classic example
of someone who practised spiritual abuse) was hounding him. It is never in
Scripture a reason to accept everything a certain person says uncritically, and
surely it is highly unflattering to be compared to Saul! Nevertheless, ‘the
Lord’s anointed’ gets elevated. David was very aware of Saul’s frailties and
sins. In our day, ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ is misused to build up people
who ought instead to be removed by church disciplinary procedures.

Worse than that, it is used to create a climate of fear.
‘Woe to you if you speak against the person the Lord has chosen.’ That is
unhealthy and dangerous, creating the conditions for abuse.

‘Touch not …’ is also used as the trump card against
cynicism. Yes, we need to guard against that in the church, although we should
always remember the saying that a cynic is a failed idealist. What needs
recovery is the gift of discerning spirits. Discernment is vital in the church,
and a valuable part of church leaders’ gifts. When someone doesn’t permit me to
weigh things carefully like the Berean people of Acts 17, I have every right to
be worried.

This post has started with Todd Bentley, but has spun off
onto wider issues that may or may not be relevant to him. On Bentley himself,
the jury is out, although I have seen enough to be concerned and need
convincing. He could be a holy man. He could be a charlatan. He could be a
mixture of sincere Christian and someone with dangerous weaknesses. And which
one of us doesn’t have a major weakness? However, unresolved weaknesses are the
fuel for spiritual abuse. As Marc
Dupont
argued ten or so years ago in his book ‘Walking
Out Of Spiritual Abuse
’ (and see also his more recent ‘Toxic
Churches
’), it is not downright evil people who tend to cause spiritual
abuse: it is those with unresolved ‘baggage’. If Bentley’s behaviour stems from
serious insecurities, then watch out: danger is coming. We must not inhibit a
sincere and open process of discernment. No peer pressures should be allowed to
militate against that.

Before I wrap this up, let me put in a good word for a book
I am reading at present, ready to review for Ministry Today. Rob McAlpine knows a lot about spiritual
abuse in charismatic circles. His ‘Post-Charismatic?’
looks like it will be essential reading on topics like this.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on May 15, 2008, in Religion, Web/Tech, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Well said, Dave. As a one who spent many, many hours in Toronto, your concerns and questions are spot on – in my not humble opinion.

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  2. Thanks for your kind words, Bill. Nice to hear from you again. BTW, the blog article I wrote last year based on your TPFKATC meme has become a journal article (out this week), and is available online.

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  3. Top Bentley post

    My friend Dave Faulkner has written the best post yet on Todd Bentley and Florida: Welcome To Todd World. It is a must read

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  4. Dave,

    Thank you for the trackback. You’re too kind – although I must admit the post took me three days on and off to write!

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  5. FF is not in the EFCA, like you I checked.

    I called Revenue Canada to get their listing – it’s posted at connexions in the comments.

    2008 is going to be a profitable year for Mr. Bentley. Not that they were financially strapped prior to this latest promotion. You can see for yourself.

    Thank you, this was a thoughtful warning.

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  6. Thank you, Bene D. I remember seeing your comment at Connexions, but I can’t phone Revenue Canada from here, so the ECFA was the next best option. Can the Revenue Canada data be accessed online? If so, where?

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  7. Thanks, Dave, for this interesting analysis. I am working on my own post in response to this and other issues about Lakeland and Todd Bentley.

    In my church, Meadgate, on the other side of Chelmsford we are watching carefully what is happening. I’m sure my vicar will be at the meeting with Peter Balls if he can make it. He may well have some personal experience to share.

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  8. Thanks, Peter, I know your vicar Mones – we’re old college friends. It will be good to have him at the meeting next month.

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  9. Well perceived and expressed. Thank you for this.

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  10. Thanks, Tim, and welcome around here.

    Like

  11. Thanks for the email.

    http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/charities/menu-e.html

    1) Charity Listings
    2) Canadian Registered Charities
    3) Search

    a) Charities Listings drop down: Charities listings
    b) Charity name: Fresh Fire Ministries
    c) City: Abbotsford
    d) BC
    e) Postal Code: V2T 6R3
    f) Designation:
    g) Category Code: 47
    h) BN/Registration: 880636428 RR000l

    If you have any questions please ask. I phoned Fresh Fire Ministries, they didn’t bother returning the call. In April The Province (a BC newspaper) asked for documentation of healings…

    “When The Province asked to speak to someone who had been healed through Bentley in either B.C. or Florida, Fresh Fire was unable to find someone at short notice, citing difficulties with outdated contact information locally, and record-keeping problems in Florida.”

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  12. This was very thoughtful. Thank you.

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  13. Pam,

    Thank you.

    BD,

    Thanks for the detailed instructions. I am still exploring, but so far have ended up here. What I found somewhat puzzling was some Maths. Fresh Fire Ministries has five employees, all earning between 40 and 80 thousand Canadian dollars a year. That makes for a maximum of 400,000. Yet the total of salaries, wages, benefits and honoraria is 1.1 million. I am no accountant, but am pretty darn good at Maths, so I don’t even need my wife’s professional background as an auditor to start wondering what I might be missing here.

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  14. I think I’ve made a mistake on the income front in my last comment. It wasn’t five employees, but the five top compensated employees who earned between 40 and 80,000 Canadian dollars (section D2). There were on average 25 full-time compensated positions in Fresh Fire during 2006 (section D1). However, on average they only employed 5 (D3).

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  15. An excellent article, Dave. Thank you. We were talking about this ‘revival’ in our home group the other day, and like most good Baptists (albeit charismatic ones!) we agreed that we were skeptical of any ‘catch the wave’ phenomena taking parts in warmer parts of the globe. But then one woman said she’d just received an email from a friend that morning who took her daughter who had been seriously injured in a hit-‘n-run accident to the Florida meetings. The young woman had lost use of her leg, but after prayer is now walking again. Ok, this is third-hand, but she showed me a copy of the email. I agree that there may be serious concerns, but that does not prohibit God from working if He still chooses to. I remember being extremely embarrassed when a ‘Benny Hinn’ style evangelist insisted on praying for me and my neck brace in the car park of a packed supermarket. Despite me cringing in humiliation he went ahead and prayed for me – at the top of his voice – and I was healed! When I asked God why, he said to me: it’s not for you to decide whom I can and can’t work through. Humbling.

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  16. Fiona,

    Thanks – I can cope with that. God is sovereign. He can use Balaam’s donkey or the abusive Saul to prophesy; in Philippians 1, Paul doesn’t mind people preaching the Gospel for mixed motives (and how many of us have completely pure motives?). If God were waiting for perfection, how long would he wait?

    Yet while I’m not, I hope, condemning Todd Bentley (I see myself as having concerns that need answering), were there to be anything awry, that would need addressing. The Rob McAlpine book I mention at the end of the post, ‘Post-Charismatic?’, is very good on this.

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  17. Absolutely agreed! I’ve already ordered the McAlpine book after you recommended it on Subway. And, I might add, the reason I’m back in the Baptist church now is because I spent a number of years in an independent charismatic church that got very caught up in the G12 fad with devastating consequences for the congregation. ‘Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed’ was practically their mantra!

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  18. Hmm – and my parents are just back in Methodism after ten or twelve years in an ‘interesting’ charismatic church. It was by no means abusive – far from it – but I remember a story my sister told me about it when the Harry Potter controversy was at its height in Christian circles. ‘The Lord has told me that ‘potter’ means demon’, announced someone. Funny, thought my sister, I thought ‘potter’ meant ‘potter’. (Which is not to say Christians can’t have reservations about Potter, but!)

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  19. Thought you might like to send some readers my way…
    Todd Bentley has become ashamed of his “angel” Emma!

    http://blog.thewaycf.com/2008/05/todd-bentley-do-we-have-anything-to.html

    Slice of Laodicea has linked a note about it to me…

    http://www.sliceoflaodicea.com/?p=787

    If you would do the same we can put some more doubt in more peoples minds about this false prophet/teacher.

    In Christ,

    Jon Sharp

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  20. Jon,

    Thank you. While I have my reservations about Todd Bentley and some of your links underline it (especially the stuff about angels getting us wealth – it sounds too much like the Word Of Faith teaching), I also wonder whether some of the links in your post are a little extreme the other way. I haven’t got it all thought through (and my excuse is that I’m responding late at night here in the UK), but is it right to condemn all tattoos, for example? Do the verses in the Torah equate exactly with modern tattoos? There were also positive markings on bodies in the Old Testament, for example, such as the piercing of a slave’s ear (violent as it may sound to us). What if the Japanese in one of the photos wasn’t the name of this dodgy angel?

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  21. Thanks for that, very balanced, which is refreshing for what we see so much. One thing though, regarding Todd Bentley and the poor. He has a HUGE ministry to orphans and the poor in Africa. I know of people who have seen the money really make a difference. Hope that helps.
    Regarding the pushing thing, he also sees alot that he doesn’t even touch do the same thing, and after the criticisms seems to be making a point of ot touching many. My take is similar to another pentecostal I know who gets so excited that you feel a bit ambushed, not to get you over, just over-excited.
    Bless ya

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  22. Stuart,

    Thanks – it would be good to hear more about what Bentley does among the poor.

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  23. In you church when you have your healing meetings, how do you handle the testimonies of all the people you see healed??

    I presume people are healed in your church all the time, and that devils are routinely cast out??

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  24. Jim,

    Sarcasm is not welcome here. I note from the home page of your website that you question the character of those leaders who have questions about Lakeland. By all means be more positive than I am about what you witness there – I have dear friends who differ with me, and two such couples are just back from Florida – but for the record, I, like many, have no financial interest in raising my questions. I have not written a book, I do not sell tapes, I receive no fees for preaching. I am paid a set stipend. Please engage with the issues, and in a peaceable manner.

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  25. Thanks I found this post really helpful.

    I was happy you made the comparision with TACF – I spent a month there (and went to two separate conferences and a very ordinary mid week (non conference time) meeting and everytime a) I was blessed and b) I never ever saw anyone pushed or manipulated … I wasn’t there at the beginning of the outpouring of the blessing but in my time there the only weird manifestation I saw (other than people being a lot more bouncy and ‘wild’ than is normal in church !) was what I can only term as holy laughter. It was fabulous.

    You wrote that you are less sure of the Florida outpouring. I was too. And I’m still not sure. But I want to add something to that. a friend of mine went to Florida – she’s very conservative, skeptical of charismatic hype etc – but she sent me an email two days ago – (with her permission I post a bit of it here – unedited!)

    I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am blown away!! ..by how good God is and how many good things he has in store for us!! He did SO MUCH in me during those 8 days, he spoke SO clearly and as I was in Estonia this past week (doing some worship stuff at their summer conference)I realized that there most certainly was a new anointing on me!! Someone had told me in the beginning of the summer that I should just wait until I’d been in Florida; that God would answer all my questions and heal me of my wounds… I thought “Yeah, right” – but he did :) I feel totally renewed – it’s awesome and amazing!!

    I am reminded that no revival /renewal movement is 100% pure. But after reading this testimony “they took SUCH a long time to organize people for prayer, that had there been any emotional hype or religious spirit it would have been long gone when they finally started praying for people :) It was the same every night – and there was no music to even help people stay in the Spirit :D I loved it. So real. So desperate.” I am reminded that God does work through things for good, and when people cry out in hunger He will meet them and satisfy them.

    There is a lot to worry about -isn’t there always – and my main concern is when back home those who have been in Florida (or Dudley) are helped by their local churches to stay close to God because its He who reveals Himself to us – primarily through scripture but also in other ways too.

    There may be a lot of what is questionable in Todd Bentley’s ministry – and we are right to be cautious – but again and again I’m getting the feeling that while caution is a good thing, we must be careful not to reject something which God is in the midst of. The account of David’s wife sneering at him when he danced in the spirit just came to mind. I don’t want to be guilty of that – but what I do want – and pray that all leaders of the church will pray for for themselves and their flock – is for a real spirit of discernment to help us hang on to the baby but allow the dirty bath water to drain away.

    thanks for what you write. It is most helpful to me – as I’ve deliberated on the issue for myself.

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