Tuesday, September 25, 2012

God Doesn't Need Todd Bentley (or me for that matter)

Author's note: I grew up in a fundamentalist charismatic church and have been in many church meetings that at least looked like the ones depicted in this video. Although I left that tradition and culture for the Anglican church, it is not without respect for the genuine spiritual heritage of divine immediacy and biblical groundedness bequeathed to me by my charismatic upbringing. [added 8:03 PM, 9/25]

I watched this documentary of the 2008 Lakeland Revival in full today while adding comments on a friend's Facebook wall (she posted the link I followed to watch it) as I watched it. Here are some of the things I said, with additions:

"I can't get a read on this guy's (the filmmaker's) perspective after watching a half hour of this. Not sure whether that's good or bad."

"He certainly hasn't crafted a screed against it. There are moments where I feel like he's highlighting the socioeconomic and psychological instability of the people drawn into this, but his apparent refusal to editoralize makes it hard to tell what he thinks about that."

"Jesus Camp had a very clear perspective, sometimes to its detriment. The fact that he and his crew participate in 'revival' moments un-ironically locates them in particular way to the events. It's possible that they're attempting to do a positive spin in a dead-pan objective style. I at least appreciate it in that I feel free to sort through my own reactions instead of having it processed for me."

"The man talking about the 'little lambs' in the last 10 minutes or so was heart-breaking. Perhaps the most infuriating thing about the fallout has been Morningstar's 'restoration' doublespeak, which is all biblically absurd.

I was in a Todd Bentley meeting once, about nine years ago, and I didn't see any healings but I did experience God's presence in a powerful way. But 'anointed' or not, God doesn't need Todd Bentley. He might show up through the man's ministry from time to time--he's merciful and he does that. But with or without him, God will be present to his church.

That is part of why Morningstar's approach to this represents such a colossal failure of church discipline. It's as though their inflexible conception of revivalist as indispensable vessel has pressured them into a willfully ignorant application of Jesus and the apostles' teaching on marriage and divorce. It's heart-breaking because I know what it's like to be an emotionally wounded teenager in need of God and the example of virtuous leaders and just how confusing it would be to think that the backbone of God's most important ministries were somehow above the need for ethics.

I couldn't help but think of so much of what is onscreen during this documentary as a reflection of the charismatic world's rejection of reason in favor of gut-level intuition. As much as I don't want to take an entirely negative stance towards what I see going on in these revival services--I don't think it's all mass-psychosis and hysteria, because I've been there and God's been there with me--throughout the doc I was made repeatedly thankful for the Anglican seminary I ended up in, despite (because of?) the charismatic world I was reared in."


As we've been reading Francis MacNutt's Healing in class this past week, I've been thinking on and off about the healing ministry and the spiritual gifts in the church. I want that kind of ministry to be at work in the church and, no doubt from the influence of my charismatic/pentecostal upbringing, I can't help but see resistances to that ministry as both encroaching modernism and collusion with the principalities and powers. We talked in class last week about how abuses and disappointments also fuel reticence regarding healing and how to engage that both as pastors and people struggling with our own disappointments and weak faith. It's neither easy nor fun to try and engage with these dynamics, given the fact that so many go unhealed and unaffected by the gospel, but it's part of responding to God's call to ministry.

Watching this video, I couldn't help but think about some of my recent reflections on the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. What makes the Eucharist special is that Christ set it aside as a promised moment of encounter between God and his people, a symbolic remembrance that comes attached with a promise for the infusion of resurrection life. What's beautiful to me about it is the fact that God shows up to meet with his people in such a simple, no-fuss way--no strings attached. We prepare our hearts through corporate repentance and worship, yes, but Eucharist/communion is primarily a moment of receiving. It's not something the lay participant or the priest has power over, that either's worthiness or holiness makes valid. And by no means is it the only time God meets with his people or fills them with life! But it is a time and place set aside by God for that very thing, meaning that regardless of what has gone on in our week, regardless of how much energy we have left to give, God has promised to meet with us, Christ has promised to meet with us in the receiving of the bread and the wine.

God doesn't need the vessels or ambassadors he has chosen to work with and through, but he does work with and through them. God doesn't need the bread and the wine, but he does work in and through them. It is a small view of God to think that we need one particular minister or Christian leader so badly that we can overlook their personal sins in order to keep them on stage or at the altar. But it's often a big view of God that puts broken people like Todd Bentley in the limelight.

Too often I hear revivalists dismissed as flim-flammers, Machiavellian schemers who set out to dupe and destroy the church, with examples like Bentley offered up as exhibits A-Z. As much as I feel compelled to condemn the way this adulterer has been "restored" without repentance (which I'm not sure how that works in the case of divorce and remarriage, but it does seem like his second marriage would not be valid in God's eyes, given that he is not a widower), I don't see that as carte blanche for writing off spiritually efficacious ministry. It makes me long for it to be done rightly. It makes me long for people to be ministering in the power of the Spirit in ways that are submitted to church discipline, ethical standards and in ways that encourage instead of discourage rational engagement with the living God rather than the spasms and paroxysms of "revival". It's not God's design for us to look like crazy people being undone by unseen and unknowable powers, but to be humanity restored by divine life walking in love with Father-Son-Holy Spirit and our neighbors. I long to see the vital divine energy of revival being channeled in that way, for the power ministry of the apostles and prophets to coincide with the patient and reasonable application of the church's instruction.


carl thomas said...

I went to Lakeland a handful of times. It was about 4 hours away from me. At the beginning it was amazing. Then it grew a little ridiculous. Then it went into the tent and became pretty boring.

I saw people get healed with my own eyes. But I have seen that before, and after Lakeland.


Mike Radcliffe said...

That's cool. I don't doubt that God was moving there, or that people were healed.

I think though that one of the reasons God doesn't show up in powerful ways more often is precisely because news of a gifted healer can foment hysteria, and because his church often seems ill-equipped to guide people pastorally through times of revivalistic encounter.

If you haven't encountered Francis MacNutt or Christian Healing Ministries, you may be interested in some of their literature or even conferences (they're based in Jacksonville, FL). Though I'm sure they're not without their own problems (who isn't?), they seem to be the most level-headed, wise and biblically sound group promoting the healing ministry right now.