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Todd Bentley Again

In the interests of fairness, I watched a broadcast of Todd Bentley from the 'Lakeland Healing Revival' on God TV last night. I know, I can't believe what I just typed: I watched God TV. Anyway, the alternatives included the Eurovision Song Contest and Britain's Got Talent! But watching the broadcast is the closest I'm likely to get to someone I wrote about. Here are my thoughts on what I viewed:

1. I have no doubt that the guy is sincere. He's loud and passionate, and just because my personality style is much quieter, I'm not going to diss him for that. I was less sure about Roy Fields, the worship leader's insistence on extravert styles of worship, rather than letting the expressions of worship come from the hearts. I don't suppose he either was being insincere, it was more about the mode of worship and church he knows. Traditional churches that insist on people not being bodily expressive are just as wrong, in my estimation.

2. I'm still nervous about the approaches to the testimonies of healing. All but one of them came without medical verification. The one that did was where a nutritionist accompanied the testifier. And in fairness, another woman was supported by a doctor. A third said she was going to ask for another X-ray, which at least meant she was serious about verification, but I would have been happier hearing her story after that test. Bentley also read out the thirteenth case of a resurrection from the dead, but admitted he was reading it out before the story had been verified.

In every other case, the people were coming onto the stage within a few days of symptoms having improved. I do hope and pray, and especially as someone who does believe that God heals in response to our prayers, that none of these people is disappointed. But when it is so quick, there is still the danger of a case of psychological remission. I am happy to give Bentley the benefit of the doubt that in his excitement, but I fear it is getting the better of him. What will happen if any of these people have relapses? There is a danger for the spiritual effect upon them, and for those who heard it. The name of God will be besmirched.

Likewise, I wondered about the practice of getting people to donate their walking sticks, zimmer frames and wheelchairs so quickly. The relapse question looms large. And what is Bentley's team doing with the collection? I don't suppose they are being held in case the original sufferer needs them back – that would be inconsistent with the tone struck. But are they being given to hospitals, for example, or are they being kept as trophies? I'm not accusing him of anything dishonest, I just felt like I wanted an explanation when I heard it. Perhaps one has been given on other evenings. Does anybody know?

3. I still think – watching on a 28 inch TV screen rather than a small YouTube video that it looks like Bentley is giving the adults a gentle push when he prays for them in the name of his Big Bam Boom God. He never pushes the children (whose stories are, perhaps, the most touching). He blows gently on them. This does seem more appropriate and sensitive. But he doesn't seem to stop the prayer and laying on of hands until someone has fallen down and an assistant can arrive to cover them with a blanket.

4. I couldn't believe he was saying this, but Bentley really did ask those watching on TV or the Internet to lay their hands on the screen or monitor in order to receive the anointing, or the blessing they needed. It sounded like all the worst televangelist talk, of the 'Touch the television and feel my sincerity' variety. It seems to be linked into this idea of the 'transferable anointing', just as church leaders are travelling to Lakeland to receive the anointing and bring it home.

It all sounds a bit animist to me, but maybe I'm being unfair. What I do think is reasonable is that someone may have a particular experience of the Holy Spirit, and then they are so endued with divine power that when they pray for people, things happen that didn't before. I'm sure that God could 'transfer the anointing' via screens and monitors, but I wouldn't want to baptise that idea. I would see it as an act of grace. I suppose it would be like the stories in Acts about Paul's handkerchief, and those who wanted to have the shadow of Peter fall on them. One would have to be very careful to keep the focus on God and not an object that becomes the object of veneration. (The same is true, of course, regarding personalities.) I notice from Peter Kirk's account of his trip to Dudley that a handkerchief soaked in anointing oil is being used there as the ostensible means of 'transferring the anointing'.

5. Further to the regular invitations to 'come to Lakeland' is the need to theologise about the notion of the 'holy place'. It is something evangelicals have either denied, been wary about, or just not thought about. God is God. God is omnipresent. Yet God also chooses to manifest his presence in a particular place for his sovereign purposes. It is interesting that the notion of 'pilgrimage' is coming back in all sorts of Christian traditions. Some of that is purely spiritual: it is the sense that we have not arrived, for we are still on a journey. But a Lakeland or a Toronto becomes like a Protestant Lourdes, Walsingham or Santiago de Compostela. Again, the place must not be venerated, only the Lord of the place. Making pilgrimage to such a place needs to be from a sense that this is the place to which God has called me out of obedience, rather than an assumption that a visit is the current cure-all.

I have related before the story of visiting Glastonbury twenty years ago with my sister. We found the town, with its occult and new age shops, spiritually oppressive. We made a point of walking to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, where Christian prayer had been offered for centuries. There we felt 'clean'. I have heard, too, stories of Christians entering houses and feeling a sense of peace, only to discover afterwards that the previous residents were a Christian family. I would be reluctant to suggest that spiritual power somehow resided in the ground or the premises, but perhaps there is something in the sense of dedicating a place or objects as holy to the Lord. Presumably we wouldn't do that unless we believed that God took us at our words in making the dedication, and acted accordingly?

Overall, then, there is still the usual church mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent. However, with this phenomenon it is all magnified to a huge extent. May all of us, whatever our views of Bentley and Lakeland, echo the words of John the Baptist: 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'

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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 25, 2008, in Religion. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. There is something about the need to be touched by Bentley or by something or someone who has gone to Lakeland that bothers me. I can’t put my finger on what it is at the moment, but everything about it screams that it’s wrong. There is something about the limitedness of it: that there is allegedly a great gift available, but only for those who can come into physical contact with the gift.

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  2. Pam,

    I’m uneasy, too, and for someone who – as I’ve said before – went to Toronto, I think that is significant. I’m also aware that in writing a blog post, I’m publishing something, and I’m not prepared to lower myself to the level of those who are turning this into a religious shouting match. (Not that I’m suggesting for one moment that you are – far from it, but you know the kind of people I mean.) Nor – for Christian as well as legal reasons – do I want to risk libelling someone. So I’m trying to remember years of training in academic caution, only to evaluate what I think I have clearly witnessed or understood, and believing the best of people. But no, push me on my feelings and I’m uncomfortable and like you, can’t exactly explain why. I don’t want to feel like that, I’d rather welcome it all with open arms, but neither (as I said in my previous post) do I want to be intimidated by the ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ approach.

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  3. Thanks, Dave, for your very fair comment.

    I should point out that the cloth used at Dudley was by no means venerated as holy in itself. It was merely being used as a kind of symbol. Use of holy or consecrated objects in this way is not at all strange in more high church traditions, even when evangelicals have tended to reject it.

    As for people being pushed over, as I have written before, there may be a gentle push as a sign that it is appropriate to fall, but in no way enough force to get someone to the ground who does not want to fall.

    I look forward to seeing what happens when my vicar and three others return from Lakeland on Friday 30th. They are planning an impartation meeting that evening, at Meadgate Church at 7.30, to include laying on of hands (or perhaps a cloth, who knows?) to transfer the anointing. You might consider a visit. Sadly I can’t be there myself but I think they are planning something similar on Sunday evening when I will be back.

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  4. Peter,

    Thank you for another measured and careful comment. You are of course absolutely right about the greater openness to consecrated objects in high church traditions. I’m glad for your clear comment about the cloth at Dudley. I hope I wasn’t explicitly suggesting it was venerated: what was in my mind when I wrote the post was the danger of doing so.

    As I’ve said, I am uneasy with some aspects of what I’ve seen and can’t explain precisely why, but I think it would be valuable to witness it close at hand. So I’ll see whether I can come to your church on Friday night. If I do, it will be a shame not to meet you, but who knows – maybe some time soon here in Chelmsford!

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  5. Many words of wisdom and careful consideration has been given to what is happening in Lakeland by many learned people. I’m a simple person who thinks in simple ways. My preference is to attempt to find a common denominator when I have to make a difficult decision about controversial issues like this Lakeland outpouring. Call it simplistic if you like. But the Lakeland outpouring is either birthed in the heart of God or in the heart of Satan. There really isn’t any middle ground in my opinion. Tens of thousands of people are making a decisions for Christ. If Satan is the instigator of the Lakeland revival, then a house divided cannot stand and Satan and will ultimately fall flat on his face yet again. In fact, as I have watched the Lakeland healing revival I’ve never heard the words, “In the name of Jesus” so many times, as it were, from ministers of hell – if you are of that opinion.

    John the Baptist was weird. Gideon did strange things to defeat the enemies of Israel – breaking pots, etc. God used a donkey to speak the truth to a prophet of God who had gone astray. And there are countless other stories in our Bible that demonstrated that God loves to use the base things of life to confound the wise.

    It’s time to take a stand using the James type of wisdom that God grants without hesitation to those who ask. Is it possible that we are standing still while God is moving well beyond our horizon. The answer can be found in our hearts if indeed the Lord resides there. I pray that He does, dear friends.

    Thanks for writing this article. God less you and keep you.

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  6. Gary,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. In your humility, please don’t put yourself down as simple or simplistic. You make some important points.

    I think you are right that the origin of what is happening in Lakeland must either be with God or the evil one. If people are becoming Christians, that would point to the former. I just wonder sometimes whether our human imperfections get in the way and dilute the purity of God’s work. I think that’s probably near the heart of my disquiet, insofar as I understand it. There may be a ‘wheat and tares’ issue here.

    Likewise, you are incontrovertibly correct about the accounts in Scripture of behaviour that seems weird or strange to us. As you say, we could add to the examples you list – Isaiah going naked throughout Jerusalem, for example. I don’t believe the Lakeland phenomenon should be strictly judged on the weirdness factor. If people condemn because stuff looks unconventional, I think that’s misguided, however well-intentioned. On the other hand, I have encountered Christians who deliberately pursue spiritual experience virtually on a ‘the weirder, the better’ basis. Somewhere we have to take on the (not always straightforward) task of looking for the fruit. That is one reason (along with what I’ve said in my posts about seeking proper verification for the healing claims) for taking the long view, and that isn’t easy in a culture where the Internet, blogs, TV and other media make a loud clamour for instant judgment.

    May God bless and encourage you, too.

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  7. ‘I look forward to seeing what happens when my vicar and three others return from Lakeland on Friday 30th. They are planning an impartation meeting that evening, at Meadgate Church at 7.30, to include laying on of hands (or perhaps a cloth, who knows?) to transfer the anointing.’

    I think it’s pretty easy to predict what will happen, Peter, with levels of suggestion like this. They’ve already scheduled-in an impartation meeting, because they are that sure that they’ll be coming back with ‘it’? Whatever happened to the sovereignty of God?

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  8. Graham,

    In many ways you have a good point. I would just add a caution or two. One is that, as I’ve indicated in the odd comment, I know Peter’s vicar and his wife, not only locally: we were at theological college together. I don’t think he’s the sort of person to go in for deliberate ‘suggestion’. He may also be facing the practical problem many pastors do, of a full diary, and so may have seen the need to schedule something in advance. I don’t know, I’m still just trying to think the best of people (although you’ll see I’m now even more disturbed by Bentley, if you see my more recent post, ‘Todd Bentley: Violent Healing?’).

    Having said all that, I think there are huge levels of suggestion at Lakeland. Last night I saw some more, and noticed Bentley responding aggressively to criticism, not by saying that people criticise what they don’t understand. Now while I’m sure some are guilty of that, I think many of the critics understand only too well. Not only that, the other night Roy Fields, the worship leader, was calling out at one point, ‘Don’t think!’ And while I accept there is some truth in the line that God sometimes offends the mind to reveal the heart, when I hear things like that I see red lights all over the place. It leaves people open to anything, and not necessarily in a good way.

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  9. Correction to my last comment: there was a Typepad blip and it omitted some vital words. In the second paragraph, third line, it should not read ‘not by saying that people criticise what they don’t understand’, but ‘not by answering the criticisms but by saying that people criticise what they don’t understand’. That should make the point clearer!

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  10. Mr Brian G Andrew

    I am troubled also by what has been going on re Todd Bentley particularly when a dear pastor friend of mines wife suggested that i had a pharisaical mind re the god channel generally of late…(Mike Murdoch UGH!), I did apologise for the possibility of my cynicism re many aspects of the healing outpouring especially some of Todds personal “visitations” Jesus manifest,angels on every mothers day, It could happen,I know it could. There is just a growing sense of deep unease in me that something that may have started out good will end up shipwrecking many. I mean my pastor friend was going to fly to lakeland with his crippled wheelchair bound child and I expressed caution to him, citing that if God wanted to heal her then there is no need to go thousands of miles…He did take her to Dudley last week it was a blessing to him, shes still in the wheelchair. All I can do is to bide my time and look for the fruit from all this and pray that God will make things a good deal clearer for all those who love the Son and yet have no peace about this and lots of other stuff the God Channel are presenting.dv Brian.

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  11. Brian,

    Welcome, and thank you for your comments. I too suspect that this may have started out as ‘something that may have started out good’, and yes, the same can be said for many older Christian traditions. But like you, I don’t think that means we can refrain from questioning, just so long as we guard our hearts against cynicism.

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  12. Mr Brian G Andrew

    http://www.amen.org.uk/studies/rh/testall.htm
    This has been a help to me today, maybe it could help others in a similar struggle…Jesus is Lord! Brian

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  13. Brian,

    Thank you for posting this link. I’ve just scan-read it quickly. I think it is important, as the article says, to look for fruit in subsequent weeks and months. That is difficult right now with Lakeland, because it has only been going since 2nd April.

    To the (correct) assumption that the Holy Spirit will lead us to repentance and new life, I would of course add other signs of the Spirit’s work, and yes, healing is one of them. I note that Bentley refers to what is happening as a ‘healing revival’. That is good as far as it goes and provided that is what is happening, but for all that, I find it surprising that a ‘revival’ (and here I have to remember that my North American cousins use the word differently from me) would encompass healing plus much more. Yes, I would expect conversions and increased holiness. I would also expect some similarities to the early chapters of Acts, for example in ministry among the poor.

    But also, like those chapters, there might be quite a mixture with sin (e.g., Ananias and Sapphira).

    My other piece of nervousness about the link is that it seems to think you can have a tick-list from Scripture of what manifestations are truly from the Holy Spirit. I would rather go back to first principles, and that means doing the difficult stuff of looking for the fruit and coping with a mixture of wheat and tares.

    Just my immediate reactions! I may think this through more clearly and logically later!

    Thanks for contributing further to the conversation and debate.

    Every blessing to you.

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