‘Unhealthy relationship’ sinks faith healer’s visit
A controversial faith healer’s return to Abbotsford after a four-month revival stint in Florida has been cancelled amid scandal.
Todd Bentley was slated to be the main speaker at a conference in his hometown Wednesday.
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The event was cancelled when it was revealed he had had an “unhealthy relationship on an emotional level” with a female staff member during the revival.
The married father of three made international news in April when he arrived at the Ignited Church in Lakeland, Fla., for a five-day preaching stint that eventually stretched to four months. The nightly revival meetings — during which Bentley prayed for healing for the sick — are estimated to have drawn more than 300,000 people.
But things began to unravel in August, when Bentley suddenly left the pulpit. A message was soon posted on the Fresh Fire Ministries website — the Abbotsford organization Bentley helped form — revealing the faith healer’s emotional infidelity. He has since separated from his wife.
The message, written by the organization’s board of directors, said Bentley and his wife, Shonnah, would be going through the “necessary steps towards restoration and wholeness” while the evangelist took time away from the ministry.
Further revelations by those close to Bentley have since revealed he was drinking heavily during the Florida revival.
The conference scheduled for Abbotsford on Sept. 17 was cancelled and removed from the Fresh Fire website.
Contacted last week, Shonnah said she isn’t certain where her husband is. She declined an interview about the Florida revival.
In an article posted two weeks ago on the website of the Christian magazine The Voice, evangelist Rick Joyner claims to have had daily contact with Bentley as he spends time with friends in California. Joyner provided a statement on behalf of Bentley, saying the faith healer is “grieved by the trouble and confusion this has caused, especially to his friends, coworkers and all who have trusted him.”
Cary McMullen, religion editor of The Ledger — a newspaper based in Lakeland, Florida — has written a number of articles about Todd Bentley. In his most recent article, he looks at the ongoing debate about the ‘Florida Outpouring’s legacy:
Legacy of Lakeland Revival Debated
For four months, the Florida Outpouring was an international phenomenon.
Then, in early August, the board of directors of Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries of Abbotsford, British Columbia, announced he and his wife were separating because he had developed an “unhealthy” emotional attachment to another woman. There were reports that Bentley engaged in “excessive drinking.” Bentley abruptly turned the revival over to the Rev. Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, and left town.
Now followers and observers are left to wonder what the legacy of the Florida Outpouring will be. Will it be remembered for its rapid growth and for its claims of spectacular miracles?
Will it be regarded as a spiritual circus, filled with outrageous sights but little substance and even dangerously misleading teachings? Or will it be an event in which there was good despite the flaws of its leader?
One effect of the revival was to provoke what some believe is a crisis in the Pentecostal community, or in that part of it known as “charismatic,” meaning those who believe in powerful manifestations of God, such as speaking in tongues, faith healing and prophecy.
“Major Pentecostal figures have been alarmed because the Florida Outpouring epitomized recent excesses in the charismatic world. The dark side of the Florida Outpouring has been a wakeup call,” said Jim Beverley, professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, an evangelical who has studied the Pentecostal movement.
“In 20 years of looking at charismatic Christianity, I’ve never seen the internal tension since this revival got going.”
The article continues by quoting from a column by Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady:
Call for Discernment — from an unlikely source
Why did so many people flock to Lakeland from around the world to rally behind an evangelist who had serious credibility issues from the beginning?
To put it bluntly, we’re just plain gullible.
From the first week of the Lakeland revival, many discerning Christians raised questions about Bentley’s beliefs and practices. They felt uneasy when he said he talked to an angel in his hotel room. They sensed something amiss when he wore a T-shirt with a skeleton on it. They wondered why a man of God would cover himself with tattoos. They were horrified when they heard him describe how he tackled a man and knocked his tooth out during prayer.
But among those who jumped on the Lakeland bandwagon, discernment was discouraged. They were expected to swallow and follow. The message was clear: “This is God. Don’t question.” So before we could all say, “Sheeka Boomba” (as Bentley often prayed from his pulpit), many people went home, prayed for people and shoved them to the floor with reckless abandon, Bentley-style.
I blame this lack of discernment, partly, on raw zeal for God. We’re spiritually hungry—which can be a good thing. But sometimes, hungry people will eat anything.
Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up.
On the face of it, that sounds good. However, Charisma magazine has long been — and continues to be — part of the problem; not part of the solution. The magazine has promoted and helped promote (e.g. via advertisements) a plethora of aberrant, heretical and otherwise off-base ‘Christian’ teachers, ministries and movements.
‘Discernment‘ is certainly not a term discerning Christians would associate with Charisma.
Grady himself was at first very supportive of both Todd Bentley and the Lakeland ‘revival.’ He appears to have woken up somewhat, but it should be noted that both J. Lee Grady and Charisma president Steve Strang are ‘apostles’ aligned with C. Peter Wagner.
In what can be considered both a postmortum and an attempt at damage control, a partial report by C. Peter Wagner was posted on Charismamag.com:
A Report From Peter
THE LAKELAND APOSTOLIC FINDINGS
From the Lakeland Outpouring Apostolic Team
Written by C. Peter Wagner, Convening Apostle
In this report, Wagner identifies Strang and Grady as ‘apostles’:
I felt that I needed a team of apostles who were willing to work with me in order to identify the concerns that had been brought up, define them as carefully as possible, and come to an opinion that could be issued to the public. Ten other apostles have agreed to work with me in this project: Che’ Ahn, Bill Johnson, John Arnott, Chuck Pierce, Stephen Strader, Lee Grady, David Cannistraci, Steve Strang, Jeff Beacham, and Joe Askins.
Wagner is the “convening apostle” of the New Apostolic Roundtable. He defines the term ‘convening apostle’ as follows:
Apostles who have authority to call together on a regular basis peer-level leaders who minister in a defined field.
Wagner also is the ‘Presiding Apostle’ of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) – which currently has 500 paying members who claim to be ‘apostles.’
Christians who know their Bibles will be surprised, if not shocked, to learn that these folks consider each other to be ‘apostles’.
However, ICA has conveniently redefined the biblical term ‘apostle’ as follows:
An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, and commissioned by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the extension of the kingdom of God.
Those who have bought into the so-called ‘restoration’ of the five-fold ministry will likely see no problem with Wagner’s claim that
[t]he Second Apostolic Age began roughly in 2001, heralding the most radical change in the way of doing church at least since the Protestant Reformation. This New Apostolic Reformation embraces the largest segment of non-Catholic Christianity worldwide, and the fastest growing. Churches of the Apostolic Movement embrace the only Christian megablock growing faster than Islam.
We have earlier referred to this charade as a ‘Christian role-playing game.’ We did so in our comments on the report that Wagner and fellow ‘apostles’ had on June 23, 2008 commissioned Todd Bentley as an evangelist — with Wagner reading a statement “about the need for apostolic alignment.” (You’re right, there is no such thing, but that doesn’t quite matter when you are in a role-playing mode).
Note that the gathered ‘apostles’ had no discernment whatsoever — not with regard to Bentley’s outrageous behavior, nor about the unbiblical teachings and practices at the so-called revival, nor about Bentley’s drinking problems, nor concerning the fact that he was about to separate from his wife in part due to the fact that he was carrying on what Fresh Fire Ministries described as an “unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff.”
Meanwhile Cary McMullen ends his article by saying
Beverley, the seminary professor, said Bentley’s style and his “wild claims” have caused a re-examination of practices in the more freewheeling parts of the Pentecostal community.
“My guess is that this has been a tipping point, and there will be improvements,” he said.
Grady is among those calling for such reforms, which could be the true legacy of the Florida Outpouring.
“If all those who were so eager to promote Bentley now rush just as fast to repent for their errors in judgment, then the rest of us could breathe a huge sigh of relief – and the credibility of our movement could be restored,” he wrote on Aug. 13.
“True revival will be accompanied by brokenness, humility, reverence and repentance – not the arrogance, showmanship and empty hype that often was on display in Lakeland.”
We welcome Grady’s calls for reform — but with the following suggestions:
First we’d say, lee Grady, take a dose of your own medicine: come back down to earth, stop playing games, and start applying Biblical discernment yourself.
Second, if Grady believes there was any credibility to start with, in what he earlier in his article refers to as the ‘Lakeland movement,’ please refer to the previous sentence.
It would be great it the Lakeland Outpouring’s legacy was a return to Biblical Christianity — including a rejection of modern inventions such as Wagner’s ‘apostles.’