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A sad tale from charismania…gets even sadder

18 Aug

The Lakeland revival which I blogged on in a previous post is one sad tale from charismania. The story has become every sadder. The board of directors of Fresh Fire Ministries, Todd Bentley’s ministry, released the following statement dated August 15, 2008:

We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.

It is a sad tale that has been repeated over and over again from the land of charismania. A Christian leader is apparently filled with God’s Spirit. He (or she) is flamboyant, charismatic both in personal and in theological orientation. They boast of great miracles and the power of some sort of end-time revival. They utilize media and grow in popularity and then…a fall, a moral collapse, sin.

God have mercy on me a sinner.

As I think about Bentley, I am reminded that the arm of temptation is not shortened by prosperity, promise, or popularity. God does not tempt us, but he ordains moments of temptations so we can see who we really are.

“The beginning of all evil temptation lies in a flighty mind and insufficient trust in God. Just as a rudderless ship is buffeted back and forth by the waves, so the negligent and inconstant man is smitten by many temptations. As fire tests iron, so temptation tests the righteous man. Often we are unaware of what we can accomplish; it is through temptation that we discover what we really are.”

Thomas á Kempis
The Imitation of Christ
Book 1, Chapter 13: “How to Resist Temptation”

God have mercy on me the chief of sinners.

I have no stones to cast towards Bentley. I am just as capable of committing similar sins. I am a saint (by God’s grace) and I am a sinner (by my own doing).

I have nothing critical to write concerning Bently, who I assume is my Christian brother. I will reserve my remarks for Christians who willingly remain in charismania, those who remain in a Pentecostal/charismatic subculture that idolizes sensation stories of miracles, large crowds of emotionally-charged worshippers, flamboyant preachers who tantalize your senses for your entertainment. To you I ask how long…

How long will you value charisma over character?

How long will you value spiritual power over spiritual purity?

How long will you ignore your holiness roots?

How long will you allow an obsession with miracles to overtake the pursuit of spiritual transformation?

How long will you allow miracles to define the spirituality of a Christian leader?

How long will you amuse ourselves with sensationalized “gospel” entertainment?

How long will you reject theological reflection as worthless head knowledge?

How long will you ignore the wealth of spiritual truth in clear, compelling Bible teaching?

How long will you ignore other Christian traditions because you think you really are better than they are?

How long will you assume revival must be “big,” noisy, and sensational?

How long will you define fruitfulness in ministry by counting…people, offerings, meetings, reports of miracles?

How long will you continue to define your Christian life by the misplaced values of charismania?

How long?

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13 Comments

Posted by on August 18, 2008 in Ministry

 

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13 responses to “A sad tale from charismania…gets even sadder

  1. Aby

    August 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

    It is sad to see the fall of another Christian. Christians of every stream have fallen. Some are more visible and others not. May we be humble and place greater trust in our Lord.

    At the same time, I do not think that there needs to be a ‘hierarchy of priority’ between power and character. We need to think afresh and hold these two elements together. For long we have prioritized one over the other, leading to theological errors and lopsided living or expressions. I suggest that biblical Christianity includes both (and other elements), flowing from and into each other, sometimes in ways beyond our understanding. May we equally value both.

     
  2. Mark Main

    August 18, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Great questions Derek. Coming from that background they are questions I wish all charismaniacs would ask themselves.

     
  3. Derek Vreeland

    August 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Aby,

    I agree that we should equally value power and purity. I am not saying we should forget about spiritual power, but the purity comes first. Perhaps we can call it “first among equals.” Purity proceeds power, because charismatic ministry flows out from being.

    Character is the foundation for ministry. Christian ministry, which includes a a charismatic dimension, is subsequent to character.

    Before Jesus performed a miracle, he was tempted by the devil. Temptation, as Thomas of Kempis notes, test or proves our character.

    For this reason I do prioritize purity over power. We can do many miraculous things in his name, but without a relationship of purity he will declare “depart from me evil doers.” We can have great prophetic gifts and faith to move mountains, but without pure love we are nothing.

    Hope (expectation) for miracles is good and necessary. Faith in God for miracles is a part of continuing the ministry of Jesus, but as we abide in these three faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

    Maybe it would be clearer to say that I prioritize LOVE over POWER.

     
  4. Derek Vreeland

    August 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Aby,

    I agree that we should equally value power and purity. I am not saying we should forget about spiritual power, but the purity comes first. Perhaps we can call it “first among equals.” Purity proceeds power, because charismatic ministry flows out from being.

    Character is the foundation for ministry. Christian ministry, which includes a a charismatic dimension, is subsequent to character.

    Before Jesus performed a miracle, he was tempted by the devil. Temptation, as Thomas of Kempis notes, test or proves our character.

    For this reason I do prioritize purity over power. We can do many miraculous things in his name, but without a relationship of purity he will declare “depart from me evil doers.” We can have great prophetic gifts and faith to move mountains, but without pure love we are nothing.

    Hope (expectation) for miracles is good and necessary. Faith in God for miracles is a part of continuing the ministry of Jesus, but as we abide in these three faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

    Maybe it would be clearer to say that I prioritize LOVE over POWER.

     
  5. Derek Vreeland

    August 19, 2008 at 9:58 am

    The following is an email I received from P.G. Vargis…

    Tragedy of the decade.

    A minister or a believer must not take the glamour of a minister or the miracles or even the anointing as the yardstick of God’s favor and His approval on a person.

    Great miracle workers or preachers caused trouble to the church of God when they le the broad path God has laid and entered the dark lanes.

    We have matinee idols in the movie world.

    We must not have miracle idols in the Christian ministry though miracles must happen in the church.

    If we will give the opportunity to the devil with an unscriptural life style – money, luxury, extreme prosperity, extreme poverty, no desire to be under authority, no accountability – we can stumble and fall.

    Ministers – be willing to be under authority and correction. Appoint a team to watch you, correct you and admonish you. When they will do it – don’t get irritated or angry but take time to see whether there is any truth in it. Dot be with a crowd of praisers all the time and close our eyes towards the sin in our lives.

    God sent His fire once again and now it is quenched. What a pity!!!

    Can we learn something from this ‘tragedy of the decade” and surrender ourselves for a holy life?

    The need of the hour is men and women of God with character and not fancy charisma. Let us not make ourselves a matinee idol. Let us not create matinee idols of any one because of a special anointing, or a glimpse of His glory.

    Simple life.
    Holy life.
    Humility
    Hate sin
    Love God
    A strong commitment for God’s glory and not claiming any special halo for our fame.

    Let us walk a bit closer with Him.

    Now read the letter given below – and cry.

     
  6. Santosh

    August 23, 2008 at 10:34 am

    To quote U2: “How long to sing this song?”

     
  7. Derek Vreeland

    August 23, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Amen Brother Bono

     
  8. Sarah

    August 23, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Derek,

    We've worked with Todd for several years (hosted his crusades and conferences in India). I believe he and his wife and team are true lovers and seekers of God. Todd does move in the power of the Holy Spirit & prophetic accuracy. In addition, Fresh Fire has been aboveboard in every dealing with us, extended us every courtesy, and even given us the benefit of the doubt when a false accusation once came against us. Todd's challenge has been that he was sovereignly launched before he had a chance to observe many good role models in life. He has been mentored, but it's been before the eyes of the world. He's a sign and a wonder, someone whom God uses to encourage the rest of us that it's ok to move forward while our ducks are still getting into a row. My feeling is that God really likes him & that he and his family will come thru this.

     
  9. Anonymous

    August 26, 2008 at 7:08 am

    While 1st Corinthians is quite clear about the need for order in the Church and the proper place of the spiritual gifts, do not err toward unbelief in regard to supernatural phenomena. “Test all things and hold fast to that which is good” should be applied to the manifestation of the nine “gifts’ of the Holy Spirit.
    Of course the prosperity gospel has been often taken too far, but this doesn’t change the fact that God desires us to “prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper.”
    Simply referring to excesses in the Body of Christ as “Charismania” is not helpful and only reveals one’s “ignorance of scriptures and the power of God.” The coming of the Holy Spirit to the awaiting Church is documented in Acts. While miracles occurred and the gospel was preached with new boldness, doctrinal misunderstandings and sin still abounded. It is the same today. The renewing of the mind requires one “to receive with meekness the ingrafted word which is able to save your soul (Gk. “psuche” meaning mind or self, including the ego, will, emotions, thoughts, etc)”.
    It is helpful to recognize that the feast of Pentecost in the old Covenant was a leavened feast, unlike Passover and Tabernacles. Loaves baked with yeast were prescribed by the Law, signifying that the flesh of man is built-in to the feast of Pentecost in the new Covenant. David, the type of the old-Testament warrior king, fell into sin with Bathsheba, even having her husband killed, yet he continued to receive God’s favor due to his heart of faith. The passions shown by the Charismatic believers of today must be understood in a similar way.
    While there is never as excuse for sin, the feast of Pentecost is given to empower the church and reveal the indwelling leaven of the flesh. It is not revealed by Passover (spirit salvation by grace through faith). While complete atonement was made when Jesus died on the cross, 50 days had to pass before the coming of the other comforter, the Paraclete. “It is expedient that I go to my Father” said the Lord.
    It has now been 2000 years since that day. It is not the time for ignorance or fighting amongst ourselves. Tabernacles is now at hand.

    a brother in Christ, Nick

     
  10. Derek Vreeland

    August 26, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Nick,

    I think I see where you are coming from. I do not want to be ignorant concerning spiritual gifts. Testing all things is wise. The Scripture is a good gauge to judge so-called manifestations of the Spirit. The historical testimony of the Church is a good measure. A reasonable approach to the faith is a good measure of the Spirit’s work. The experience of the fruit of the Spirit is a good gauge to measure the authenticity of the gifts of the Spirit. When I apply these four—Scripture, tradition, reason, & experience—to what I have seen and heard out of Lakeland, I questions the authenticity of what was happening there.

    I am sorry that the term “Charismania” sounds offensive. My attempt is to be helpful. I use the term charismania to identify a Pentecostal/charismatic sub-culture that is unhealthy. By identifying the sub-culture (and giving it a name), my aim is to help people out of the sub-culture and into the culture of the kingdom. The values of charismania are anti-intellectual, hyper-emotional, ahistorical, spiritual elitism, selective hermeneutic, pragmatic spirituality, cultural disdain, and over-realized eschatology. (I explain these values here — http://www.derekvreeland.com/2008/01/emerging-charismatics.html)

    There is a charismatic dimension to the Christian faith that is not anti-intellectual, one that is not overtly emotional, one that embraces the Spirit’s work historically, one that does not look down on other Christians, one that deals with all the Scripture, one that isn’t moved by what “works”, one that embraces culture and realizes that the kingdom is already and not yet.

    It is this authentic charismatic dimension of the faith that I long for. I do not see it in charismania.

    I challenge you to rethink the analogy of the leaven in the feast of Pentecost. I think you may be reading too much into the concept of “the flesh of man is built-in.” In the New Testament, outside of Jesus’ reference to leaven as a metaphor for the kingdom of God, leaven is normally regarded in terms of hypocrisy or sin. Leaven is never referred to as the “flesh of man” and if you are implying that God mixes sin into the “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit, then you are missing the point of God’s salvation all together.

    Salvation is first and foremost for our transformation—spiritual transformation now and physically transformation when Jesus returns. This transformation includes cleansing us from stain of sin and empowering us to love.

    Derek

     
  11. sarah

    August 26, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Derek,

    The only time I recall Jesus saying “How long….” He ended it with “…must I put up with you?” and was referring to a generation that could not cast out demons and heal the sick (in this case, the epileptic boy).

    Of course Jesus also said that many would say that they had cast out demons, done miracles, etc. but He would have to respond “I never knew you” (because they had had no compassion for the poor, sick, imprisoned,etc.). This is more of a character issue.

    I see that the case could be made that while God reluctantly “puts up with” powerless living, he casts away those who have no mercy (as he did with the fogiven servant who wouldn’t forgive). And even above that, God values love: “If I give all I possess to the poor…and have not love…” it’s worthless.

    But Todd and his team seek to demonstrate both power and compassion, and they do both with love. During Todd’s trips to India, they visit prisons, hospitals, orphanages, etc. and distribute rice, blankets, and toys to the poor. They spend time in huts ministering to alcoholics. I’ve seen Todd weep over some of the sad stories people share, both in India and in Lakeland.

    And healing itself is a demonstration of God’s love and compassion. Once at a crusade, Todd called out a girl whose father had AIDS. Turns out that the father had been brought to the meeting on a stretcher in a dying condition. They brought him to the stage, and he gained strength and began to walk. The transformation was amazing. The father and daughter were in tears as Todd prophesied “15 more years.” That goes beyond, “Be warmed and fed,” and even beyond providing blankets and food (which FFM does at Todd’s insistence). The love of God was tangible that night.

    We’re all on a journey to wholeness in every area. It’s surprising that with a background like Todd’s, he has done as well as he has. Let’s be patient with him as he works out his marriage struggles before the eyes of the world.

     
  12. Derek Vreeland

    August 26, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Sarah,

    Thanks for your insiders perspective on Todd’s ministry. I am thrilled to read your glowing report to Todd’s compassion and love.

    My comments are not directed at Todd himself. I am not standing in judgment of him…I am for sure the chief of sinners. I don’t know the guy and I have no direct experience with him or his ministry (as you and James have).

    My comments are directed towards a Pentecostal/charismatic sub-culture that is
    – anti-intellectual
    – hyper-emotional
    – ahistorical
    – filled with spiritual elitism
    – reading the Scripture with a selective hermeneutic
    – led by a pragmatic spirituality
    – holding a cultural disdain
    – focused on an over-realized eschatology

    I still believe we are called to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus. But it is healing carried out as you have described…healing people of sickness and disease in a way that restores their dignity…not healing as gospel entertainment.

    …and not healing that values power over purity.

     
  13. Derek Vreeland

    August 26, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Sarah,

    Thanks for your insiders perspective on Todd’s ministry. I am thrilled to read your glowing report to Todd’s compassion and love.

    My comments are not directed at Todd himself. I am not standing in judgment of him…I am for sure the chief of sinners. I don’t know the guy and I have no direct experience with him or his ministry (as you and James have).

    My comments are directed towards a Pentecostal/charismatic sub-culture that is
    – anti-intellectual
    – hyper-emotional
    – ahistorical
    – filled with spiritual elitism
    – reading the Scripture with a selective hermeneutic
    – led by a pragmatic spirituality
    – holding a cultural disdain
    – focused on an over-realized eschatology

    I still believe we are called to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus. But it is healing carried out as you have described…healing people of sickness and disease in a way that restores their dignity…not healing as gospel entertainment.

    …and not healing that values power over purity.

     

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