TODD BENTLEY AND THE LAKELAND DECEPTION
Updated March 13, 2009 (first published September 2, 2008) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
Some said that Todd Bentley’s recently-ended healing meetings in Lakeland, Florida, followed the lineage of the “Toronto Blessing” and the “Pensacola Outpouring” of the 1990s. Some had even prophesied that it was the beginning of a national revival and that entire cities would be “shut down.”
In fact, it was the Lakeland Outpouring that was shut down after Bentley announced that he was separating from his wife (“Todd Bentley, Wife Separating,” Charisma, Aug. 12, 2008). A week later it was announced that Bentley was stepping down as head of Fresh Fire Ministries, after the ministry revealed he had an “unhealthy relationship” with a female staffer (“Bentley Stepping Down,” OneNewsNow, Aug. 19, 2008). The two events are not unconnected, of course. The separation from his wife was due to the fact that he “had developed an ‘unhealthy’ emotional attachment to another woman” (“Legacy of Lakeland Outpouring Debated,” Lakeland Ledger, Sept. 13, 2008). The Ledger also reported that “there were reports that Bentley engaged in ‘excessive drinking.’”
In March 2009, it was announced that Bentley had divorced his wife and married the aforementioned female staffer (J. Lee Grady, “The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace,” Charisma, March 12, 2009).
The Lakeland meetings began on April 2, 2008, at the Ignite Church, which meets in a reconditioned building supply store and is pastored by Steve Strader.
Steve is the son of Karl Strader, who pastored the now defunct Carpenter’s Home Church where a “revival” broke out in 1993 under the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. Calling himself “the Holy Ghost Bartender,” he dispenses spiritual drunkenness and “holy laughter.” An estimated 100,000 people attended the Howard-Browne meetings at Carpenter’s home that year and the church grew from 1,500 to 8,000. A few years later the church fell apart after Strader’s son Daniel was convicted and imprisoned for “swindling investors, including church members” (Charisma Online, Aug. 24, 2005). In 2005 the church was sold to Without Walls International, but as of 2008 Without Walls was trying to offload the property after the “international” leaders of the organization, Randy and Paula White, got a divorce.
The Bentley meetings this year at Ignite Church also grew quickly. They had to rent larger facilities such as the Tiger Town baseball stadium, and the services continued nightly for more than three months.
Bentley wears metal studs in his ears and eyebrow and is covered with tattoos, some of which he got after he was converted. He claims that multitudes have been healed and some raised from the dead. He slams people on the forehead and shoves them. He has kicked an elderly lady in the face, banged a crippled woman’s legs on the platform, and kneed a man in the stomach. He hit another man so hard that a tooth popped out.
The meetings have a sideshow feel with raucous music blaring and Bentley crying out, “Come and get some,” and “[Miracles are] popping like popcorn.” He claims to know what is happening in the audience, calling out things like, “Someone’s getting a new spinal cord tonight.” He “flings” the Spirit upon people while weirdly yelling, “blah, blah, blah, blah.”
“Holy laughter,” spiritual drunkenness, violent shaking, and “falling under the power” are an integral part of the “revival.” People bend over and can’t rise up. Women shake in weird and violent ways.
Bentley’s healing claims are spectacular and strange. One man even came on stage with two prosthetic legs and a glass eye, claiming that he could see out of the glass eye and that one of the stumps of his leg had grown an inch and a half (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHAf3W3iPPY&feature=related). This was praised as a great miracle, but if it was it was certainly a pathetic half-way thing!
Bentley made the following statement on June 23:
“We have received thousands, if not tens of thousands, of healed people’s testimonies. I have staff working 80 hours a week working on the biggest catalogue in the world of such data with names, addresses and the medical verifications. We have medically verified doctor’s evidence of the dead raised. ... every conceivable miracle we have in this catalogue of outstanding medically verified miracles. We have blood tests, x-rays, even letters from the medical community. We are making these medical stories available to any media. We also have got a video catalogue with follow ups and literally thousands of testimonies for the media for the most notable miracles to present to a skeptical world--this could be one of the most well documented revivals in history!” (“Todd Bentley’s Type of Medically Verified Healings,” http://endtimespropheticwords.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/).
A few days later the Associated Press made an attempt to follow up on a list of 15 names that were given by Bentley’s ministry to represent healings that can be medically verified.
“Expecting critics, Bentley’s ministry distributed a list of 15 people it said were cured, and vetted by his ministry, with all but three of their stories ‘medically verified.’ Yet two phone numbers given out by the ministry were wrong, six people did not return telephone messages and only two of the remainder, when reached by The Associated Press, said they had medical records as proof of their miracle cure. However, one woman would not make her physician available to confirm the findings, and the other’s doctor did not return calls despite the patient’s authorization” (“Fast-rising Preacher’s Healing Draw Ire,” USA Today, July 10, 2008, Travis Reed, Associated Press, http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-07-11-revival-healing_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip).
ABC Nightline also tried unsuccessfully to follow up on Bentley’s healing claims.
“When asked to present evidence of the healings, Bentley promised to give Nightline the names and medical records of three followers who would talk openly about his miracles. He never delivered. Instead, his staff gave Nightline a binder filled with what he says are inspiring miracles, but with scant hard evidence. It offered incomplete contact information, a few pages of incomplete medical records, and the doctors’ names were crossed out.
“When pressed further, Bentley provided the name of a woman in California who had a large tumor in her uterus that shrank after she saw Bentley.
“Her husband, however, told Nightline that it could be a coincidence because she was still undergoing medical treatment. He said she was too ill to talk to the media. The husband did provide some of his wife’s medical records from a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, where she went for cancer treatment after being turned away by American hospitals. The wife, however, insisted on obscuring the clinic’s name and the names of the doctors” (“Thousands Flock to Revival in Search of Miracles,” ABC Nightline, July 9, 2008, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaithMatters/story?id=5338963&page=1).
Psychotherapist Bridget Piekarski wrote to the Lakeland Ledger and gave the following warning about Bentley’s healing claims:
“After the June 22 front-page article on the Florida Outpouring Revival [‘Signs and Warnings’], I simply have to speak up. I am a psychotherapist. Several weeks ago, the mother of a young adult patient of mine called for an appointment for her son. He had been stable for quite some time on his medications for schizophrenia. He had recently decompensated, and was hospitalized in order to stabilize him and restart his medications. He had attended one of Todd Bentley’s gatherings and was told by Mr. Bentley that he was ‘healed.’ He stopped his medications, only to relapse into psychosis. The outcome could have been worse. My client has very risky behaviors when psychotic. He might have died. Please, if you think you have been “healed” of mental or physical illness, please consult your doctor before stopping medications or treatment. Your life may depend on it” (“Healed: Double Check,” Lakeland Ledger, July 5, 2008, http://www.theledger.com/article/20080705/NEWS/588942307).
It seems to me that the ability to see out of a glass eye could be verified with great ease. Bentley could send the guy for a simple eye examination, and that would be that, BUT DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH.
Bentley claims to be following in the footsteps of the apostles and exhibiting “kingdom power,” but he is doing no such thing. The apostles did not conduct healing meetings. They didn’t call out psychic healings. They didn’t shake and laugh hysterically and stagger around like drunks and flop around on the floor. We believe in divine healing for today, but we don’t believe in Pentecostal showmen (see “I Believe in Miracles” http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/ibelievein-miracles.html). Furthermore, when the apostles healed, they really healed!
The devil is just as much in the business of religion today as God, and the only way we can discern the difference is by comparing all teaching and practice to the Bible.
Bentley says of the “spiritual drunkenness” and other phenomena, “Don’t try to figure it out with your head” (“Florida Outpouring of Drunkenness,” http://christianresearchnetwork.com/?p=5075).
This has been one of the theme songs of the Pentecostal movement from its inception, but the Bible warns of deceiving spirits and instructs God’s people to carefully prove all things. The Bereans were called “noble” because they tested everything by Scripture (Acts 17:11). Any type of Christianity that draws back from testing everything carefully by Scripture is ignoble and wrong. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Bentley was promoted by the discredited “prophets” Bob Jones and Paul Cain, who were associated with Mike Bickle and John Wimber in the 1980s.
Jones was disciplined in 1991 for using his “prophetic” office to cause young women to disrobe before him (J. Lee Grady, What Happened to the Fire, p. 103).
Cain was exposed in 2004 for homosexuality and drunkenness, but the “restored” Cain appeared with Bentley in Lakeland in May 2008 at the baseball stadium and declared that Bentley was a “new breed” and the “spirit of Elijah.” In spite of their incredible claims about healing, Cain suffered a stroke soon thereafter and was hospitalized (“Paul Cain,” Wikipedia).
Bentley claims to have seen many angels. Not surprisingly, some of them were “financial angels” who spread prosperity to him and to those who attend his meetings.
“So when I need a financial breakthrough I don’t just pray and ask God for my financial breakthrough. I go into intercession and become a partner with the angels by petitioning the Father for the angels that are assigned to getting me money: ‘Father, give me the angels in heaven right now that are assigned to get me money and wealth. And let those angels be released on my behalf. Let them go into the four corners of the earth and gather me money’” (Bentley, “Angelic Hosts,” 2003, http://www.etpv.org/2003/angho.html).
One of Bentley’s angels is named Emma. Bentley says:
“I was in a service in Beulah, North Dakota. In the middle of the service I was in conversation with Ivan and another person when in walks Emma. As I stared at the angel with open eyes, the Lord said, ‘Here's Emma.’ I’m not kidding. She floated a couple of inches off the floor. It was almost like Kathryn Kuhlman in those old videos when she wore a white dress and looked like she was gliding across the platform. Emma appeared beautiful and young--about 22 years old--but she was old at the same time. She seemed to carry the wisdom, virtue and grace of Proverbs 31 on her life. She glided into the room, emitting brilliant light and colors. Emma carried these bags and began pulling gold out of them. Then, as she walked up and down the aisles of the church, she began putting gold dust on people. ‘God, what is happening?’ I asked. The Lord answered: ‘She is releasing the gold, which is both the revelation and the financial breakthrough that I am bringing into this church.’ ... Within three weeks of that visitation, the church had given me the biggest offering I had ever received to that point in my ministry. Thousands of dollars!” (Bentley, “Angelic Hosts”).
In Scripture there are no female angels, no angels that sprinkle gold dust, and none that float two inches off the floor.
It appears that the Lakeland Outpouring is finished, but it was unscriptural from the start.
My friends, God is not dead, but He is not a puppet on a Pentecostal healer’s string. He has given us clear instructions in Scripture about healing. Those that are sick are to call the elders of the church and he is to confess any sins and they are to anoint him with oil and pray over him (James 5:13-16). This assumes, first, that the individual is born again through faith in Jesus Christ. It assumes, second, that he or she is a member of a Bible-believing church. James 5 does not describe a raucous “healing crusade.”
As we said earlier, we believe in divine healing for today, but we don’t believe in Pentecostal showmen.
See “I Believe in Miracles” http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/ibelievein-miracles.html.
For a more extensive study of this subject see The Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements: The History and Error, which is available from Way of Life Literature. See the online catalog.
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TODD BENTLEY AND THE LAKELAND DECEPTION