Glowing reports of a 'revival' breaking out in Lakeland, Florida, hit the news in early April. As shown by the earlier brief examination of this 'ministry' (see e-mail), false prophet Todd Bentley (part of the infamous 'Elijah List', an umbrella group for false prophets preying on unstable churches) is claiming to be part of a 'latter rain outpouring'. As usual the heretics of the pseudo-Christian media circus - e.g. TBN (Paul and Jan Crouch) and the God Channel (Wendy and Rory Alec) - kept quiet (if they could ever recognise this obvious deception!) for fear of biting the hand that feeds their money-hungry ministries.
Bentley and his supporters reflect the faulty theology of 'The River Movement' popularized by the so-called 'Toronto Blessing,' probably the most famous wave of madness that hit the church in the late 1990s. 'Kingdom-Now' false visions of the church taking over all the elements of society and setting up a kingdom on earth before the Lord returns (in direct apposition to the Book of Revelation and many related passages about the end times!) continue to splutter along despite all evidence to the contrary.
Far from nations turning to God, we find the nations are transforming the churches into the world, as the 'Emerging Church' and 'Purpose-Driven Deception' prove.
Revival in Florida?
Todd Bentley was invited guest preacher at Ignited Church in Lakeland, Florida, for a 5-day healing revival starting on April 2, 2008. The church's pastor is Stephen Strader, the son of Karl Strader, formerly of Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland where Rodney Howard-Browne made his 'holy laughter' debut back in 1993, a false 'outpouring' that sparked the equally false revivals of Toronto and Pensacola. Bentley's visit was extended to the end of the month because of the crowds coming to get healed and to experience 'an anointing of the Holy Spirit.'
The usual effects of false 'anointing' were observed as hands were laid on people: 'the appearance of being in a drunken stupor ... claims of a burning sensation in veins, heads or stomachs ... of feeling washed back and forth like the waves in the ocean ... maniacal yelling, screaming and whistling ... head-holding ('the Holy Spirit about to split them in two') ... teeth transformed to a metallic finish ... people with their eyes rolled back in their heads weaving around like drunks ... lewd body movements ... uncontrollable drunken laughter in the middle of 'solemn' prayer time ... people 'slain in the spirit' falling down and being unable to move (as if held down).'
Those imparting this kind of nonsense, and the recipients, are unlikely to bother themselves that Biblical charismata - the Fruit of the Holy Spirit - is 'self control' (Greek: egreitei) and not the lack of it (Galatians 5:23; Titus 1:8). The fruit of the Holy Spirit is also 'gentleness' (Greek: prautas; Galatians 5:23), but how is gentleness evident in Bentley's claim that 'the Lord' told him to beat a woman's legs on the ground like a baseball bat - and knock out a Chinese gentleman's teeth!
What about the 'Healings'?
Bentley promised to give the names and medical records of three followers who would talk openly about his miracles. He never delivered. Instead, his staff presented a binder filled with claimed 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 tumour in her uterus that shrank after she saw Bentley. Her husband, however, said that it could be a 'coincidence' because she was still undergoing medical treatment. He also revealed that she was too tired to talk but was 'regaining her strength day by day.' The husband provided 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. They, however, insisted on obscuring the clinic's name and the names of the doctors (ref. ABC Nightline report) Some of those pronounced healed at Lakeland have since been medically documented as deceased and a statement by Arnold Palmer hospital likewise contradicts claims of a resurrection from the dead as bogus.
So - not a single claim of Bentley's healing powers have been independently verified. A familiar story?
His own testimony (ref. 'Fresh Fire' CD from ca. 2005 - called 'The Secret Place') claims Psalm 91 as a proof-text in 'getting power'. Psalm 91:1-2 reads: 'He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.' Bentley's paraphrase of it was shouted out:'Emma' - the 'Angel' who 'guides' Bentley!
'He who dwells, not visits, dwells in the abode of God shall be like the Most High in that you will be uppermost, far above, in the highest excellence of anything that you do in your life as supreme ruler in your circumstances. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High is supreme, far above uppermost, highest heights of heaven, lofty, excellence, overcoming Christian. Are you understanding me?!?'
According to Bentley, those who dwell in the secret place are 'supreme ... lofty ... uppermost' - words reminiscent of Satan:
'How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'' (Isaiah 14:12-14)
Like Satan, Bentley wants to appropriate the greatness of God to himself: 'You see, I want to be fruitful; I want to be far above. I want to be a conqueror; I want to be a mountain of strength; I want to be greatness. You know, we like that word greatness. Well, he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High automatically comes into everything that the Almighty is. It happens.'
This is the most frightful heresy! And God's response?: 'But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.' (Isaiah 14:15)
Bentley attempts to support his 'method' in another session from the same conference in a message entitled, 'Soaking.' Here he describes how he began to practice 'contemplative prayer' which he learned from studying the lives of mystics such as Brother Lawrence and an Indian mystic named Sundar Singh. What do we know about these sources of Bentley's?
Brother Lawrence developed a technique akin to those of either Zen Buddhism or mindfulness meditation. Lawrence was in the Carmelite order and therefore his spiritual practices were derived from or heavily influenced by Teresa of Avila who, in turn, was also affected by Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism, elements of which can be detected in her writings. Lawrence is often quoted by contemplative authors for his habit of what he called "practicing the presence of God." But what was the actual nature of this presence? No Biblical Christian could fail to find the following account (from a devout advocate of Brother Lawrence) less than questionable and disturbing:
'It is said of Brother Lawrence that, when something had taken his mind away from love's presence, he would receive "a reminder from God" that so moved his soul that he "cried out, singing and dancing violently like a mad man." You will note that the reminders came from God and were not his own doing' (Gerald May, The Awakened Heart (New York, NY: Harper-Collins, First Harper Collins Paperback Edition, 1993) p. 87, citing from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, translated by John Delaney, Image Books, 1977, p. 34.)
Singh was a 'Christian Sikh' (1889-1929), who practiced un-Scriptural mind-emptying meditation and claimed to contact Swedenborg in the spirit world: 'I saw him several times some years ago, but I did not know his earthly name. His name in the spiritual world is quite different just according to his high position or office and most beautiful character ... Swedenborg was a great man, philosopher, scientist and, above all seer of clear visions. I often speak with him in my visions. He occupies a high place in the spiritual world ... Having read his books and having come into contact with him in the spiritual world, I can thoroughly recommend him as a great seer.' Swedenborg and his followers have long been assessed as pseudo-Christian cults by comparison with the Word of God! Singh should teach us that, just because someone demonstrates great suffering and apparently faultless spirituality, they are never, ever, to be an authority for the Christian. Only the Word of God - as found in the Bible alone - is to be our guide!
Bentley also claims to have witnessed to a witch doctor on the spirit plane while his body remained in his hotel room and testified that 'unseen angels' (shades of the Emperor's Clothes Deception!) came to his rescue and threw 'a potential mugger' into a wall to protect Todd (a 'potential mugger' - how, then, would he know if he was really going to be mugged?).
Bentley claims that his un-Scriptural silent meditation (in an altered state of consciousness) launched his ministry after three months of this 'soaking' - and culminated in a physical encounter with Jesus Christ who stood behind him and spoke to him audibly (a bright child might ask how he could know it was Jesus speaking if the speaker was stood behind him?!).
Bentley's focuses on riches in a typical reflection of other contemporary deceivers (ref. Andrew Strom quoting Bentley's article from 2003 called 'Angelic Hosts'):
'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's 'principal money-gathering angel' is named 'Emma' - and here we find another unsurprising link with equally infamous false prophet Bob Jones (his predictions, such as warning of an immanent earthquake in Los Angeles, in 1997, have all failed to materialize and he was disciplined for using his 'prophetic office' to fondle women he persuaded to undress for him!) of the heretical Kansas City Prophet movement of the late 1980s. Bentley claims:
'Twice Bob Jones asked me about this angel that was in Kansas City in 1980: 'Todd, have you ever seen the angel by the name of Emma?' He asked me as if he expected that this angel was appearing to me. Surprised, I said, 'Bob, who is Emma?' He told me that Emma was the angel that helped birth and start the whole prophetic movement in Kansas City in the 1980s. She was a mothering-type angel that helped nurture the prophetic as it broke out. Within a few weeks of Bob asking me about Emma, 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...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! Thousands! ... During this visitation the pastor's wife (it was an AOG church) got totally whacked by the Holy Ghost - she began running around barking like a dog or squawking like a chicken as a powerful prophetic spirit came on her. Also, as this prophetic anointing came on her, she started getting 'phone numbers of complete strangers and calling them up on the telephone and prophesying over them... Then angels started showing up in the church.'
There are so many flaws in this account - both Scripturally and logically (for instance, there are no manifestations of angelic beings as women or as agents of healing in God's Word, but we have the clear warning of Satan appearing as 'an angel of light' - 2 Cor 11v14) - that one wonders how any sane person could contemplate it as an account of the God of the Bible at work!
Another Bentley claim is that his angel, 'Emma', also assisted William Branham in his healing ministry in the 1960s (Branham is another heretic who claimed that Satan and Eve had sex and Cain was the literal result, the Trinity was a pagan doctrine, the Son of God was not Deity or Eternal, and the zodiac was as valid as the Word of God). Branham also claimed that he was Elijah - and then the Angel of the church of Laodicea - and that he did not heal through the Holy Spirit but through his 'angel' (Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, p. 54, Regel). Bentley refers to his angel as 'the angel of the Lord' and also waits upon 'Emma' for the signs and wonders to manifest. It would not trouble Bentley that 'the angel of the Lord' is an Old Testament reference to the pre-incarnate Christ (a 'Theophany'). 'Emma' is credited with showing up in revivals spreading gold dust and dropping gems around. Of course, solid evidence such as this should be in abundance for investigators to seek out to authenticate this work - shouldn't it?!
Bentley imparts his 'Emma' spirit on people who come up for 'a touch' and 'flings the spirit' upon them while yelling, 'blah, blah, blah, blah', culminating this performance by 'slaying them in the spirit' with the word 'Bam!' (all clearly un-Scriptural and of the occult!). Why scream 'Bam!' over people? On 'The Secret Place' CD of the Fresh Fire conference, referenced earlier, Bentley said:
'We're like little chickens. We're pretty defenceless and sometimes we're just going through life pecking away ... and then the wolf comes and we don't even see it coming. Bam! He's got you!'
Bentley is endorsed by Wendy Alec, another rambling 'prophetess' (a plethora of unprovable 'prophecies' roll forth from her!) and ignorant co-founder of God-TV, who 'prophesied' this about this latest 'outpouring of the spirit':
'THIS is just the warm up party - for what you shall see in the coming days shall even make these days pale - with what I have up my sleeve. And I tell you my son - that THIS THAT I POUR OUT UPON YOU UPON FLORIDA shall flow to the east.'
God has something up his sleeve? Read Alec's nonsense regularly and you'll notice a lot of this kind of garbage! All of these deceptions find some supporters in 'Christian' circles - men such as Guy Chevreau, Elim's John Lancaster, Michael Brown, Wyn Lewis, Colin Dye, Thomas Trask, Gerald Coates, Andrew Evans, Terry Virgo, Pat Robertson, John Glass, Paul Weaver, Andrew Shearman, Rick Godwin, Sandy Miller, David Pytches, Nicky Gumbell, Phil Pringle, Bill Subritzky, Mark DuPont, Bryn Jones, Warwick Shenton, and the late John Wimber.
How many others, such as Elim's Ian Bilby, and the Assemblies of God (New Zealand) leader, Wayne Hughes, joined such as Bob Jones and Paul Cain in being forced out of the ministry due to moral scandals during these supposed 'revivals'?
Should we then be surprised that Bentley is a convicted homosexual paedophile (imprisoned at 15 for sexual abuse he committed when he was 13 against a seven-year-old boy) who now professes to have been 'born again' but, after supposedly becoming a Christian, had his body covered with a gross array of tattoos which reflect his behaviour in his private life and, indeed, his supposed ministry? Ironically but, for those willing to accept Bentley's un-Scriptural behaviour in the church, consistently: a recent study of forensic psychiatric patients in Michigan - half of whom were deemed unfit to stand trial and half of whom were found not guilty through insanity - revealed that 73% of the survey group who were tattooed also exhibited strong signs of anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Sufferers of the disorder are characterised by a lack of empathy and shallowness and are prone to pathological lying, cheating, stealing, physical aggression and drug abuse. The research also revealed that the inmates who had tattoos were more likely to have suffered sexual abuse, abused substances or attempted suicide (Dr William Cardasis, Michigan Centre For Forensic Psychiatry). That publicly exposed sexually immoral perverts are Bentley's extolled heroes and role models proves much about the spirit that leads him - and we certainly don't need psychiatric research founded in the occult realm to prove as much. This is about as near to humour as can be found in this sad deception perpetrated on the body of Christ!
His supporters claim Bentley doesn't shy away from talking about his past and takes responsibility for his crimes: 'I'm very open about my past. I've written a book and it's in my autobiography ... I served time in prison for my crime ... I'd break into vehicles, I'd steal, as I got older, I'd take your pot, I'd take your drugs. I got involved with people who were affiliated with gangs and bikers.'
At 18, Bentley claims that he found God: 'God found me in my drug dealer's trailer and spoke to me in an audible voice ... I was instantly delivered from drug and alcohol addiction, I never had one craving, not one withdrawal symptom, I was transformed from that man to the man that I am today.'
How do these claims stand up examination when we read that, within weeks of this supposed revival taking place, Bentley was forced to step down as head of Fresh Fire Ministries after the ministry revealed he had an 'unhealthy relationship' with a female member of staff - an announcement that came a week after Bentley's ministry announced he and his wife were separating. Bentley was also reported to be drinking excessive quantities of alcohol (shades of Cain et al). Yes, Bentley admitted he had a drug and alcohol problem as a teenager, before his conversion to Christianity, but what does this also clearly reveal about his self-vaunted 'methods' for living a super-spiritual life?
Discerning Christians well-grounded in the Bible could see through Bentley and his false ministry long before reports of the sin that overtook him and others closely involved with him, for the real fruit of this ministry was always clear - and this is not the first time such teachings and practices have been observed. But what about the church leaders and those surrounding Bentley who claim to hear from God but failed to recognise this heretical nonsense? In a recent article in Charisma magazine on the meetings, editor J. Lee Grady tried to excuse this monstrous error by those who defended Bentley, saying they displayed a 'lack of discernment' - in part because of a 'raw zeal for God.' Grady even admitted that Bentley had serious 'credibility issues' from the beginning of the meetings, claiming to have talked to 'an angel' in his hotel room, and bragging about knocking a man's tooth out during prayer. Does Grady also expect us to accept this clownish statement?:
'Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs, and wonders than have a quiet Bible study ... Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It's way past time for us to grow up.'
Grady exposes his lack of real discernment in this statement, when he admitted that news of Bentley's marital troubles would likely further polarize those following the 'revival':
'A large segment of the movement has been sceptical from day one. They're going to see this as a natural progression. Others who have been following Todd are going to be spiritually shipwrecked. We've most definitely seen through this revival a lot of people are not grounded in Scripture, so for them, it won't be an issue ...'
Does Grady really believe that he is 'grounded in Scripture'?! Grady actually criticized God-TV (who carried the Lakeland meetings live every night) for telling people that any criticism of Bentley was 'demonic.' But this is a standard 'touch not the Lord's anointed' response of the contemporary false charismatic!
Is this the end of Bentley's nonsense? Apparently not for, although Bentley resigned from the organization's board and agreed 'to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life,' he apparently remains on the staff of Fresh Fire Ministries, who stated:
'On behalf of the Fresh Fire leadership and the Board of Directors, we wish to apologize to our friends and partners and to the larger body of Christ and to ask for your forgiveness'.
Stephen Strader, the pastor who allowed Bentley to deceive his fellowship, said he had been told by Bentley's organization there was 'no third party involved':
'I was told Tuesday night they suspected something. I got the news Saturday morning. Todd told me he kept me out of the loop for my protection.'
Strader also said Bentley's relationship with the female staff member was the second time he has jeopardized his marriage:
'Three years ago, he did the exact same thing. He grew out of his relationship to his wife and transferred his affection to another. That's the biggest frustration with us. The bottom line is that he was travelling too much and not taking care of his wife and family like he should ...One of the things we don't understand is how God uses people of flawed character. People ask me, why choose someone who's dysfunctional? Because God does it ....'.
Lynne Breidenbach, a Lakeland woman who had acted as Bentley's spokesperson, echoed Strader's remark:
'This is a personal failing on Todd's part, and he can recover from it. It's not an excuse to live a sloppy life, but there should be some encouragement here. God knew ahead of time Todd's frailty but chose to use him anyway ... Unfortunately, some Christians are going to be disappointed with God. It's a good lesson for Christians to say, maybe you had unrealistic expectations.'
Strader stressed that the 'revival' is still continuing at Ignited Church, although with smaller crowds: 'Miracles are still happening. God's power is still present in the building ...'.
Truly, it is impossible to convince people of the truth when they want to be deceived, for we find Bentley's supporters falsely using Jesus' admonition, 'Judge not, lest you be judged' (Mt 7:1; Lu 6:37) while ignoring the true nature of Biblical judging (John 7:24: 'Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment').
Meanwhile a statement from the 'Board of Directors of Fresh Fire Ministries' (August 15, 2008) reveals further the depth of deception existing amongst many who claim to be believers in these End-Times:
'We wish to thank all of our friends and partners for the overwhelming flood of support and compassion we have received as a ministry on behalf of Todd and Shonnah Bentley. The many phone calls and emails of concern from people who genuinely love the Bentleys and Fresh Fire Ministries have been a great encouragement to all of us here during these past few days. In particular, the rallying of support and prayer for Todd and Shonnah by prominent leaders within the Body of Christ has been a beautiful indicator of the maturity and grace the Lord is bringing to his Bride.'
The state of the contemporary church truly reflects the words of inspired prophet Jeremiah:
'A wonderful [appalling] and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so' (Jer 5:30-31).