Saturday, August 23, 2008

At the risk of offending everybody

Like most pastors in North America, I've been asked about Todd Bentley and the revival with which he was a part in Florida. And while I had some concerns, I didn't want to deny the possibility that God was truly up to something down there. Now that Todd has fallen, and fallen hard, people are trying to figure out what it all means.

1. Does this just prove it was false to begin with?
2. Does this just prove that Satan has attacked the Lord's anointed?
3. Does this just prove that everybody is fallible, even God's servant?
4. Does this just prove Todd was a sham and his work a put-on?
5. Is God still causing revival, even with Todd no longer a part?

I'll tell you a little of my starting position: historically, true revival has always been marked by repentance more than healing. Changed lives, more than fixed bodies. And, from the little I paid attention to this one, I can't say I saw much of a spirit of repentance. It seemed more about "getting the goods" (be it healing or "an anointing") and less about deep, Spirit-led repentance with a parallel commitment to mission and ministry. So I wasn't completely sold.

But tonight as I read a few of the news reports related to Todd's, ahem, indiscretion, as I sifted through some "comments" pages and some blogs related to the issue, it began to dawn on me that I'd been looking at it all wrong.

What we have here is the latest in a series of "revivals" - Toronto, Modesto, Brownsville, and more. All have drawn a lot of attention, all were marked by healings (or, at least, rumors of healings). And while most made extravagant claims to "commitments to Christ," the numbers never played out. For instance, in Modesto they proudly tell of the 70,000 people who accepted Jesus there. Unfortunately, church attendence in the area didn't grow by 70,000 people. It didn't even grow by 10,000 people. If I remember correctly, church attendence didn't grow AT ALL following the event. (Well, the church hosting it grew; most of the other churches in the area lost attendence; iow, it was simply church-hopping, not conversion growth).

Yet the hosts of these revivals proclaimed loudly that God was pouring out his blessings, and tens of thousands of people flew into town, or drove in in their motorhomes; the revivals saw packed-out buildings for weeks on end as Christians showed up to take part. I know of people here in Washington who flew all the way to Florida to take part in Bentley's "anointing."

But the sad truth is, there is no long-term appreciable difference in the Church today. Those who go to these revivals have a powerful experience, they meet God in new ways. Supposedly some are healed (although it would be nice to see some hard, fast evidence, like doctors going on Nightline saying "20 of my patients came back to see me, and I can say the blind can now see, the deaf can now hear, the lame can now walk."). But when all is said and done, the Church is no different.

So here's my question: Is this not the exact same thing as when Catholics claim a vision of the Virgin Mary, and suddenly tens of thousands of people descend on some poor town, hoping to see the Virgin themselves? They believe it passionately, they claim a deep spiritual experience, they dismiss any negative voice in their midst. And we laugh at them with their silly superstition. How crazy, that they would believe Mary is there and wants to show herself to them.

But yet isn't this talk of revivalism the same? It has more to do with the "faith" of the people than any tangeable evidence or report. Any Christian who questions the authenticity is accused of "quenching the Spirit" or denying the power of God. Even when things fall apart, when healing doesn't happen, when conversion growth doesn't appear, the emotion of the moment carries everything on of its own accord.

I'm not saying God can't work through Todd Bentley. I'm not saying God doesn't show up when people seek him. I am saying I'm concerned that often we mistake our emotions, and the emotions of those around us, for a movement of God. Most Protestants would scoff at the Catholic who runs to Omaha to see Mary (or Jesus) in a piece of toast. Should we not apply the same standard to Christians who need to run off to Florida to see Jesus in a questionable servant?

I'm just asking. Feel free to disagree.

1 comment:

Beth B said...

Amen!

There is a double standard going on here, Dan. Thanks for pointing it out.