Friday, August 29, 2008

The Spin Doctors Dissect Lakeland (and Each Other) Part 1

On Thursday, August 28, Stephen Strang issued the following response to news of Todd Bentley's fall. Note that this is not an apology from Mr. Strang even though he promoted the "Lakeland Outpouring" from the beginning. My responses to Mr. Strang's comments are in red.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

When I was in Canada last week on vacation, I picked up a Canadian newspaper with a full-page article about revivalist Todd Bentley titled "Bentley Bends." It appeared in the National Post on August 19, and though it put the typical secular journalist spin on anything having to do with Pentecostals or miracles, it was surprisingly gentle in telling about Bentley's fall.

Meanwhile ministry to Bentley continues. I'm thankful that the Christian leaders who were set over him in the June 23 "alignment and commissioning" ceremony at the Lakeland Outpouring are ministering to him behind the scenes. In an earlier Strang Report I had called on them to step up and intervene in this situation, a day or two after news of Bentley's separation was made known.

(Why didn't Strang call upon these leaders to deal with Bentley's separation from sound doctrine earlier in the course of the Lakeland meetings? And why did he promote these meetings as a new move of God when Bentley was obviously moving away from God? In the earlier Strang Report, Strang said, "Now is the time for Bentley to be corrected. But it would also be good for Arnott, Ahn and Johnson, as well as other leaders such as Wagner, to issue a statement to the body of Christ to help the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands who were affected by the outpouring understand what is going on spiritually. Because all of these men endorsed the revival, it might even be appropriate for them to issue an apology." Where is your apology Mr. Strang? You endorsed the "Lakeland Outpouring" as a true revival very early on, and you promote yourself as one of the apostolic leaders.)

Two of the three leaders were out of the country and later challenged me via e-mail by saying that I had made it sound as if they would not do their jobs unless outsiders put pressure on them. Of course I assumed that they would do their jobs because I know they are men of integrity.

But in the rush of dealing with the situation quickly I did not contact them other than to send them an advance copy of my Strang Report. So, for what it's worth, I apologize for leaving the wrong impression. My reaction was based partly on past observations of situations in which spiritual discipline needed to be applied and those who were supposedly over the person ran for cover.

(So, which was it- did you assume "that they would do their jobs because...they are men of integrity" or did you think they would run for cover instead of applying spiritual discipline?)

Meanwhile, many people are talking about the situation and wondering why there wasn't more discernment. In fact, I had lunch recently with a Christian leader who watched the Lakeland Outpouring on the Internet for 60 days and said the longer he watched it, the more inclined he was to overlook some concerns he had. He said initially he felt that Bentley's actions, along with his tattoos and piercings, indicated that he was "in rebellion." This leader confessed to me that next time he is going to be more careful to listen to his inner witness when he has a concern about a ministry.

(Earth to Stephen: Hello? There was discernment. Did you even read the message boards at your magazines or the emails that were sent to you? I am glad that your Christian leader lunchmate has decided to listen more carefully to GOD next time instead of telling the Holy Spirit to be quiet so that he could listen to a rebellious false prophet. Unfortunately, many people "overlooked some concerns" because they wanted to have a spiritual experience more than they wanted to draw closer to Jesus. The Lakeland leadership and their cohorts in the apostolic/prophetic movement chastised anyone who was critical of Todd Bentley's messages or practices saying that the critics were judgmental pharisees who wanted to stop a move of God. Many of these so-called "judgmental pharisees" were sincere believers who were using God's Word as the standard by which to measure the message being preached in word and deed at Lakeland. The Bereans were commended for being careful to check that the message preached lined up with the Word of God. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11 The discerning believers who spoke out about Lakeland were condemned, not commended, by the undiscerning leadership.)

Others are e-mailing me what various people have written about the situation. If you have not read Dutch Sheets' very in-depth and thoughtful letter about Bentley and the Lakeland Outpouring, I urge you to do so by clicking here. I agree with essentially all that Dutch writes.

(What do you not agree with? Or are you just leaving yourself some wiggle room in case Dutch gets booted off the apostolic island?)

Someone else e-mailed me an item from the United Kingdom. We tried to get permission to use it but couldn't contact the author, so I am assuming it is all right to make this point. I was taken by the fact that the person who wrote it rightly comments that many Pentecostals believe "if it's odd, it must be God." I had never heard that expression, but I know his statement is true.

The writer also makes a comparison to the emperor in the old fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor's New Clothes. Because he relates the story better than I can I quote him here:

There is an old fable that should serve as a pertinent parable for today's church. The story is told of two unscrupulous tradesmen who offered to sell an emperor a quantity of material that was so exquisite that 'only those with the greatest taste and style' could see it. The emperor, not wanting to give the impression that he lacked such finesse, paid an enormous sum for the non-existent material that was then 'made' into a suit of clothes.

It was later announced to his subjects that he would be leaving the palace wearing clothes of such wonder that 'only those with the greatest taste and style' could appreciate it. The crowd, falling into the same trap as the emperor, cheered and shouted at the non-existent apparel.

The ecstasy and applause continued until a small child, who had come to the gathering late and had not heard the intimidating preamble, joined her mother and, pointing to the emperor shouted out loudly, 'Look, Mummy, the emperor is not wearing any clothes!' Only then did the bubble burst.

The e-mail I was sent is so good that I want to share some of the points the author made since I couldn't say it better myself. I wish I had been able to discover his name to give proper credit. He says, in relation to the fable:

We need the simplicity of that childlike voice in today's church.

It is the voice of people [who] refuse to accept that spirituality is "less than" if it is not accompanied by uncontrollable shaking. It is the voice of leaders who, when they see manifestations of the flesh, refuse to be intimidated by the voice of a crowd that declares that "If it's odd, it must be God" and have the courage to say, "Please stop doing that; it's silly."

Those who operate in this gift are almost universally considered to be the party-poopers of Pentecost. Their voice is universally seen as negative, and the body language of those who do not want to hear their message is always, "Why are you trying to stop us when we are having so much fun?"

(And weren't you one of the ones telling the childlike voice of discernment to be quiet? You endorsed Todd and Lakeland.)

Yet the Bible tells us to "test the spirits" and "weigh prophecy."

Why, with so many mature leaders present at Bentley's endorsement, was the gift not used or, given what we now know, why was there not a word of knowledge? Why was it that, as millions listened and a prophecy was given that Jesus would appear in person on the platform on a specific date, not one person expressed a word of caution? (Mr. Strang, you reach a nationwide audience with your magazines. Why didn't you express a word of caution? Couldn't you have at least sent us an email??) Could it be the intimidation of crowds, the awe induced by Christian celebrity or the absence of the childlike voice that needed to burst the bubble? What the church should be hungering for today is not "extreme prophetic" but "accurate prophetic."

Why is it then that some people who have gone to Lakeland are seeing things occur in their church that they had not encountered before? The answer is simple. God recognizes and responds to hunger. (Or demonic forces go where they are invited?) Leaders heard there was a fire and wanted to be warmed, heard of a well and wanted to be refreshed, and heard there was food and wanted to be fed. That God met them on their journey is yet another expression of His amazing grace.

Please share your thoughts with me about the situation. Meanwhile, pray for Todd and his wife, Shonna. Let's especially pray for Shonna, who received none of the adulation but is experiencing most of the pain. (And for their children who will suffer, too. And for all who were exposed to and accepted false doctrine from the mouth of Todd with the silent approval of undiscerning leaders. Lord Jesus, please help your Church to follow You and not be deceived by the next false prophets that come along.)

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