I’ve been around charismatic church for a fairly long time now, I’ve seen a few different waves come and go, all of which doesnt make me any better at discerning between the good stuff and the dross, in fact it may have made me worse, as I am definitely more cynical now than I was, but all in all I hope it has leant me some perspective which is useful.
So my natural reaction when I hear about new revivals or miraculous ministries, is to be catious. The first time I saw Todd Bentley in action was in a video projected in a church meeting. I had never heard of him, and was not particularly taken with his style, or what he had to say. I was most disturbed though when the encouragement was given to: “look at this with the eyes of a child, dont let your brain get in the way” – I paraphrase, I wasnt carrying my notepad.
I think that all of these waves of spiritual renewal/revival etc need to be looked at from two perspectives simultaneously: 1) God can do anything, and frequently works in strange ways through strange people. 2) The bible warns, and experience shows that false prophets are all around, against whom we need to be on our guard.
Assuredly most of those false prophets are those who have so effectively encouraged and enabled us to syncretise Jesus teachings with secular materialism, or empire worship. But some of them are knocking around in the crazy charismatic scene too.
Get where I’m coming from on this, I am part of two different self styled charismatic churches. I’m not anti Charismaticism, I dont think we should all just chant and meditate all the time, I beleive that there is a healthy mix, which involves corporate expression, holy spirit stuff, silence, lots of other stuff too.
I find the ‘post charismatic‘ approach rather sniffy, somewhat too close to looking down the nose at those in a more primitive state. This is just as wrong as the approach that says ‘unless you’re getting slain in the spirit all the time, you arent in the right place’.
So back to Bentley, I have a few points that I dont like about this Florida stuff.
1) I feel like its too close to being a personality cult. There’s a lot of talk about Todd Bentley, I would prefer if there were lots of talk about Jesus, and everyone else involved was of little importance. I know that this is the way it goes of course, Evan Roberts was the big name in the Welsh Revival, but I dont get the impression he was the same kind of character as mr Bentley. From the stuff I’ve heard and read about Todd, he seems an anointed individual, and a damaged individual. Some of the things he writes and says, such as the well referenced trip to heaven where Paul tells him how Abraham gave him the material for the book of Galatians seems out and out nonsense. However, people are getting healed, and apparently even raised from the dead… (If I was wikipedia, I’d say citation needed). (On one video a guy ministering with Todd declares: ‘The moslems have a spirit of infirmity because of inbreeding…’ huh?
2) There is an unhealthy approach to money. This seems to be a major problem in America, and I cant quite get to grips with it. You’ve got people like Joyce Meyer living in vast mansions, complaining about taxes etc, while all over the world people dwell and die in abject poverty… that’s just weird and wrong. On Todd’s website I read that there are three ways of giving to the ministry, if you go for the top level ($500 per month, or a one off payment of $5000) you get special access to Todd, including special ministry sessions and stuff. Euurgh. That is just disgusting. Not what I see as fruit of a truly Jesus devoted life.
3) I have a problem with this kind of phenomena which is that it proves exciting for a while, but then people get disillusioned, and when they find the only place they’re getting the experience is in Todd’s meetings… and perhaps even that’s not what it was… guess what? They pack it in, Christianity is another thing to write off. Hmmm. This is a big problem.
4) It has sparked another gold rush of Christians jumping in planes to get over to Florida in order to be able to catch the spirit and bring it back home. This just makes me uncomfortable… maybe I’m wrong, but I just dont see God working like this. If anything, then what happened at Pentecost, and the 1904 revival, was that people went out from the outpouring to pour out their lives into other places, and that is how the thing travelled. But instead, people who are in the midst, seem just to stay there, desperate for another hit… its a kind of consumerist holy ghost experience, get as much as you can while stocks last.
5) And lastly I’m yet to see any fruit from all of this – and that is surely the biggest proof of what value something has. If we see radical shifts in church, people selling their goods and giving the money to the poor (or Todd B???) then that will be a good sign. That’s the kind of thing we see afterwards, so a bit of hindsight will be helpful on this one.
Here in Llanelli, Antioch Church has recently hosted an event called ‘slosh fest’ – subtitle ‘head in the barrel’.
With the help of Emerge Wales, and assorted bods from the charismatic world, they held a few days of meetings where the holy spirit stuff was really emphasised. I have to admit, I didnt go, although I often go to Antioch’s sunday services. I dont like the idea of a ‘slosh fest’ – but I’ve been interested to look at the aftermath.
Without a doubt (in my mind) there was some bonkers stuff going on. I’m not convinced that the prophecy of streets full of people in spiritual trances is right (I heard that one from the train station platform!) And I am sorry, but I’m pretty sure some people were just there for an experiential spiritual hit – which I think is a crap reason to go to a meeting.
But here’s the reason I respect Antioch – they are fully and holisitically engaged in their community, which is a rough one. And the outworking of the slosh fest thing is that this engagement has increased. They’re doing more work out on the street, they are not just sloshing up all the time. This is a clear example of fruit – and it suggests to me that there is something genuinely happening here.
I may not like the type of meeting, I dont fall down or twitch, or make funny noises like a lot of the Antioch folk do, but if God is doing something in them with the twitching and what not, which means they will have a greater impact on the poor and downtrodden around them, I’m happy about that.
A few of the Antioch leaders went to Florida, they seem to have been impacted by it – I cant say that it seems to have particularly impacted the rest of the folk there. (On a side note, one lady (not an Antioch regular) came up to me and said she had been to Florida, she told me when she was there, God told her to put her hands on people and make a ‘wooshing’ noise. She wanted to know if I minded… I said ‘no, please go ahead’. Guess what, nothing happened, but at least she didnt try to push me over 🙂 )
So here’s my opinion in a nutshell (after 1300 odd words) Todd Bentley: anointed but flawed, handle with care. Florida revival: probably not a revival, let’s wait and see. New Charismatics: don’t give them a hard time, they might be nutty, but the ones I know have hearts devoted to Jesus, and are living out their faith in a very real way. They are mental though 😉 Post charismatics: smacks a little of spiritual snobbery, lets accept our differences and all get along.