The worship band has departed from the stage. In its place, a blonde American woman strides across from one side to the other, speaking to a large, adoring throng.
She punctuates her sentences with occasional words that are not in English. Maybe it’s a language I don’t know, maybe it’s tongues. Perhaps if I’d tuned in earlier, I would have gleaned some context to know which it is.
Her sermon is a daisy-chain of Bible passages and miracle stories, each time coming back to a slogan: ‘Seek his face in the secret place.’ She tells of being miraculously protected from snake poison, and being healed of MRSA in an African hospital when she had been given up for dead. She speaks of being delivered from prison. She talks of miracles similar to the feeding of the five thousand.
In the top left corner of the screen, I see the usual God TV icon, telling me where this conference is coming from. Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. And I think, isn’t that where Todd Bentley came from? What is this? My theory is confirmed when I see the perspex pulpit. ‘Fresh Fire Ministries’, the name of the organisation Bentley was with until the tragedy of his fall last year. Anyone who has read my posts on Bentley will know that he and the whole ‘Lakeland Outpouring’ last year deeply troubled me.
But this – this is different. This is Heidi Baker. Sandwiched among the prosperity filth available on the same channel at other times, such as Matthew Ashimolowo wanting to flog me something on wealth creation, is this woman. I’ve read snippets about her before, but here she is. With her husband Rolland, she left behind southern California and also PhD research at Kings College, London to work among the poor of southern Africa. The miracles seem to have far more to do with ministry to the poor, sick and orphaned of Mozambique and neighbouring nations.
Sure, when I googled her name I found blogs that are critical of her. What I didn’t find wa any substance to the criticism. There may be and I could have missed it, but to date the most I’ve found is a kind of ‘guilty by association’ approach. She is regularly quoted at End Times Prophetic Words because she is on the same conference speaking list as a number of notorious extreme charismatic preachers. I’ve trawled through quite a few posts there where she is mentioned, but not found any specific, substantial allegations against here, whereas the site racks up all sorts of evidence against some of the others.
There are also some things on a blog called Spiritual Pathways Ministries but they are not easy to access. Click on them from Google and you are told the blog is protected. Only if you have the WordPress user name and password can you get in. You can instead click to see the cached version in Google, but it doesn’t come up with a lot. They come up with two or three allegations. One is that she has commended Todd Bentley in the past, and so lacks discernment. Maybe. Does that make her a deceiver? Not necessarily. She could have made a mistake, or she might have serious and honest grounds for Christian disagreement, rather like my friend Peter Kirk has done with me on the topic of Bentley, but we don’t unchurch each other. If you judge Bentley to be in error, the question should be whether she still endorses him. (The article predates Bentley’s fall last summer.)
The second allegation is that her husband Rolland thought a lot of the controversial Pentecostal leader William Branham, who certainly held some fundamentally heretical theological views. Rolland described him as ‘the most anointed man since Christ’, according to the blog, although they do not cite a reference to support the quotation. We would need to know more, though, to work out whether Rolland Baker is a heretic, too, or whether he has simply said something plain daft.
The third allegation is that the Bakers practise ‘soaking prayer’. Their criticism is expounded in another post that again is only accessible through the Google cache. (Why this protection?) The gist of the article goes something like this. Heidi Baker claims to have seen the greatest miracles after times of soaking prayer. Soaking prayer consists of three things that the writer finds objectionable: one, it originates in the ‘Toronto Blessing; two, it is akin to eastern mysticism, and three, proponents charge a lot of money in connection with it.
Well, I’m sorry, this is unworthy. Yes, there were some things wrong with the Toronto stuff, but plenty of people maintained a perfectly orthodox theology through it. Eastern mysticism? Not necessarily. Not all visualisation is wrong. Be careful about dismissing everything that is to do with the imagination. And the idea that it’s a money-maker – well, all I can say is, I’ve never come across that. I will not doubt the word of the writer who seems to think it does, but every single example I have known of churches practising soaking prayer there has not been a penny change hands. Heavens above, one of the Methodist churches here in my local circuit offers it once a month. My friend Stephanie the minister there is far from raking it in. Her prayer ministry leader is a woman of integrity, too. In short, the accusations against Baker on this one produce not a single shred of evidence specifically tied to her. It is all the ‘guilt by association tactic.
So there you go. I find it refreshing that here is a woman who, yes, has all the outward trappings of extreme charismatic Christianity, but who seems clearly committed to the notion that the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t to tickle the rich, but to bless the poor. Didn’t Jesus seem to think so when he quoted Isaiah 61 in Luke 4?
Of course, I could be wrong. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below. All I ask is that we pursue any discussion in a way that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit. If I am in error, show me, but without ranting. If you have contrary opinions, produce evidence with citations. And if you agree with me, please say why you do.
Over to you.
Finally tonight, one or two bits of blogging news. Firstly, I have finally deleted the old blog. It’s no use looking for http://davefaulkner.typepad.com anymore, because it doesn’t exist. Well, it probably does in Google searches, but you’ll need to read the cached version if you do. There should be no need, though: when I set up this blog last August, I imported all the old posts here. The only thing that will be missing is that since the move, and old piece I wrote about Larry Norman has continued to attract the occasional comment.
In passing, other bloggers might just be interested in this. Today, I submitted this blog to LoadedWeb. This service is a blog directory based on your geographical area. Currently they serve the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with mainland European countries to come next. Within each country, you click on your county/state/province/whatever, and then on your town. If you think you might pick up traffic through interest in where you live, it is worth investigating this service. You can also add your Twitter account.
I wrote several posts a few months ago about Todd Bentley. We arrived home from holiday to discover he was leaving the Lakeland ‘Revival’ and separating from his wife. Three days later his ministry admitted he was in an unhealthy relationship with another woman. Many bloggers have waded in. Dan Edelen has a lot of wisdom borne of pain in several posts. Bill Kinnon is more fiery, especially on the backtracking by C Peter Wagner. There are numerous others.
Whatever my criticisms of Bentley, I take no pleasure in these events. Here are some thoughts.
Losers According to Bill Kinnon, C Peter Wagner has described Todd Bentley as a loser. Crudely, that seems to mean Wagner didn’t back a winner, so he inflicts this description on Bentley. Whatever I think of Bentley’s ministry, especially the violence, if you write people off as losers you dismiss the Gospel. In the words of an old Steve Taylor song, ‘Jesus is for losers’. Watch the video for the song here:
No, if Wagner talks like this, what Gospel does he believe and preach? Where does the Cross fit in? Dan Edelen talks much about charismatics needing to recover the Cross: here is a prime reason why.
This isn’t a time for casting stones, it’s a time for prayer and grace as well as church discipline (which after all according to Jesus was meant to be restorative).
Scott and I knew about Bentley’s immorality two months ago, but couldn’t find anyone willing to go on the record.
It’s in the nature of wrongly relating to someone other than yourself that there will be deceit, but this implies that appropriate accountability structures were abused. Yes, it’s good that Bentley stepped down, but that seems to have been for the sin of having been found out. Why were others culpable in the cover-up? Was it conspiracy or fear? We may never know.
But there is not only the accountability to his organisation Fresh Fire and the wider church, there is also the question of accountability in marriage. In what I am about to write I am aware that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’, but – it seems one of the problems seemed to be Bentley’s protracted absence in Lakeland. Like many ministry marriages, Debbie and I have it built into our relationship that if a question arises of my being absent overnight or longer, we discuss it before agreeing. We have done so with respect to my forthcoming sabbatical early next year.
It must have been very tempting (and yes, I probably do mean ‘tempting’) for Bentley to stay in Florida rather than Canada, given what was happening. It must have been exciting for him. The emotional pressure on Shonnah to agree must have been huge. But the fatal flaw in the logic is the idea that the revival depended on him. I suspect that when I take my sabbatical next year, my churches (which have never had a minister on study leave before) will discover just how unnecessary I am! It is a salutary lesson.
Prophecy Clearly, Wagner’s ‘prophecy’ in June that Bentley would increase in this, that and everything looks pretty sorry now. While I am not one of those who believes modern-day prophecies have to be 100% accurate (as per Old Testament standards) because they’re not adding to Scripture, it does strike me that the prophecy concerned is just altogether too typical of the prophetic drivel that sometimes infects charismatic Christianity. It is the sort once characterised by a friend of mine as ‘Thus says the Lord, I love you O my children’. It’s all about how wonderful the recipient is. While I’m neither for the sort of word that reduces everyone to worm status, I thought the only person we were meant to big up like this was Christ. This stuff needs serious questioning. It’s linked to my next observation.
Personality Whatever happened to all those prophecies around the 1990s that ‘the coming revival’ would be ‘a nameless, faceless’ one? Rather than that, we still promote our personalities, and then (like the secular press) exclaim with horror when they fall. The personality cult is one of the most insidiously worldly aspects of evangelical and charismatic Christianity. Bentley often said on the stage at Lakeland that it wasn’t about him but Jesus. Nevertheless, others promoted him and he allowed it. He could have stepped out of the way more for his associates or others. He rarely did. This may have been a tactical error rather than malicious, but any of us called to a public rôle in Christianity need to learn and accept the hard lesson that it’s not about us, it’s about Christ, and our actions need to match up. That’s not easy, and it requires some holy ruthlessness on our part. Often we’re not willing. The attention or acclaim is too attractive.
So may God have mercy on Todd and Shonnah Bentley and the anonymous female staff member. May God have mercy on C Peter Wagner. May God have mercy on us all. We who are without exception sinners need grace – the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.