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The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace

29 Apr

I have read Lee Grady for a number of years. Grady is the editor of Charisma, the Christian magazine devoted to all things charismatic. I have enjoyed his monthly editorials and his blog, Fire in my Bones. He is both thoughtful and Spirited as a Christian committed to the charismatic tradition within the Christian Church. His editorials are often punchy and honest. He has publicly questioned some of the more extreme and fanatical expressions of charismatic Christianity (what I call “charismania”). And I found his most recent comments regarding Todd Bentley and the so-called “Lakeland Outpouring” to be right on target. It would be helpful for Christians both inside and outside the charismatic movement to read his editorial entitled “The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace.”

I am reposting the entire editorial here and then I have some comments below:

This week’s announcement about evangelist Todd Bentley’s hasty remarriage and restoration is sending a confusing message to the church.

I groaned when I learned early this week that Canadian preacher Todd Bentley, leader of the controversial Lakeland Revival, had decided to divorce his wife, Shonnah, and marry his former ministry intern, Jessa Hasbrook. The news surfaced after almost nine months of silence and speculation, during which time the board of Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries in British Columbia publicly scolded him for committing adultery.

In a statement released March 10 by Rick Joyner, the popular author and minister who is overseeing Bentley’s restoration process, we were told that (1) Bentley married his new wife several weeks ago and moved to Joyner’s base in Fort Mill, S.C.; (2) Todd and Jessa agree that their relationship was “wrong and premature” and that it “should not have happened the way it did”; (3) Bentley will remain out of public ministry while he seeks healing; and (4) Joyner will oversee the healing process with input from Dallas pastor Jack Deere and California pastor Bill Johnson. (Read Rick Joyner’s response to this column.)

It was also announced that Bentley plans to relaunch his ministry, called Fresh Fire USA, in Fort Mill, and that Joyner is now collecting donations from supporters to help rebuild it. (The Canadian ministry Bentley started has now been renamed Transform International, and it has severed ties with the evangelist.)

In a few places in his statement Joyner expressed tough love, especially when he said: “We know that trust has to be earned and that Todd will have to earn the trust of the body of Christ for future ministry, which will not be easy, nor should it be.” He also made it clear that true repentance and restoration “can only come if we refuse to compromise the clear biblical standards for morality and integrity.”

But there were some glaring omissions in the statements released this week that indicate a fundamental weakness in our freestyle approach to “restoring” fallen leaders.

First of all, it is outrageous that Shonnah Bentley, Todd’s first wife, does not seem to be an issue in the current discussion. Her name is never mentioned in Joyner’s statement—while Todd is mentioned 18 times. We are never told how Shonnah is handling the divorce. How will she manage to care for the three children she and Todd share? She and the kids seem invisible in this process. Yet if anyone needs healing and restoration, is it not the other half of this broken family?

Second, we charismatics still seem to have a habit of elevating gifting above character. It’s almost as if the end justifies the means. (So what if a preacher ruins one marriage and makes a hasty decision to marry a younger woman—the important thing is that we get him back in the pulpit to heal the sick!) That is a perversion of biblical integrity. God can anoint any man or woman with the Holy Spirit’s power; what He is looking for are vessels of honor that can carry that anointing with dignity, humility and purity.

What is most deplorable about this latest installment in the Bentley scandal is the lack of true remorse. In his own statement, Bentley apologizes for his actions and says he “takes full responsibility for my part for the ending of the marriage.” But how can he be taking “full responsibility” if he willingly chose to have a girlfriend on the side—and then married her immediately after his divorce was final? Why did he hide for several months when he should have been listening to counsel and seeking reconciliation with his first wife?

Many Christians today have rejected biblical discipline and adopted a sweet, spineless love that cannot correct. Our grace is greasy. No matter what an offending brother does, we stroke him and pet him and nurse his wounds while we ignore the people he wounded. No matter how heinous his sin, we offer comforting platitudes because, after all, who are we to judge?

When the apostle Paul learned that a member of the Corinthian church was in an immoral relationship with his father’s wife, he did not rush to comfort the man. He told the Corinthians: “You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst” (I Cor. 5:2). Sometimes we must draw a ruthless sword in order to bring genuine healing. The “wounds of a friend” are faithful to bring conviction and true repentance (see Prov. 27:6).

Paul actually delivered the unrepentant Corinthian man to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh” (5:5) so that he could be saved. That does not sound very nice. Many today would call Paul’s tactic harsh and legalistic. But that is because we have lost any true sense of the fear of the Lord—and we don’t realize that our laxness about God’s standards is a perversion of His mercy. When the sin is severe, the public rebuke must be severe.

In all the discussion of Bentley and the demise of the Lakeland Revival, I am waiting to hear the sound of sackcloth ripping into shreds. We should be weeping. We should be rending our hearts—as God commanded Israel when they fell into sin (see Joel 2: 13-14). To give guidance to a confused church, our leaders should have publicly decried the Lakeland disaster while at the same time helping both Todd and Shonnah to heal.

We have not mourned this travesty. We have not been shocked and appalled that such sin has been named among us. We act as if flippant divorce and remarriage are minor infractions—when in actuality they are such serious moral failures that they can bring disqualification.

If we truly love Todd Bentley, we will not clamor for his quick return to the pulpit. While we certainly want him to be fully restored to fellowship with God, we cannot rush the process of restoring a man to ministry. Leaders must live up to a higher standard. We must demand that those involved in Bentley’s restoration not only love him but also love the church by protecting us from the kind of scandal we endured last year.

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. To read Rick Joyner’s and Todd Bentley’s public statement click here.

You should read Rick Joyner’s reaction to Grady. Joyner has been posting weekly vignettes, documenting Todd Bentley’s “restoration.” In one vignette he explains his disagreement with, and concern for, Lee Grady (click here).

I really think Grady is right on this one. I do not think he is “self-righteous” in his critique of Joyner and Bentley. I share with Grady the concern that charismatics value giftedness above character. This is one of the values of an unhealthy charismatic subculture—a pragmatic spirituality. As long as people receive a positive benefit from a Christian leader then that leader’s character is not much of an issue. I assume most charismatics are disappointed that Bentley had to step out of the ministry due to some kind of moral failure, but I think many are hopeful that he will make a full “recovery” and make a full return to the preaching/teaching/healing ministry.

And here is the problem.

I am not going to stand in judgment of Bentley, Strader, Joyner, Johnson or any of the guys involved in the Lakeland “whatever-you-want-to-call-it.” There are a number of things I disagreed with, many things that have angered me, but before their own master they will stand or fall. I especially feel this for Todd Bentley. I do not know the guy, although I have corresponded with friends who have worked with him and his former ministry in Canada. I want the best for the guy. He seems to be sincere in his love for God and desire to follow Jesus. I have nothing but grace for the guy.

My problem is with the restoration process.

I think leaders who have experienced a moral failure need the body of Christ to rally around them, support them, and help restore them to the faith. My problem with Bentley’s restoration process is that they are trying to restore him to ministry. What?!? It seems that those closest to Bentley want to get him back to preaching and teaching and carrying on his former “ministry.” A part of this “restoration” is raising money on behalf of Bentley. Are you serious?!?

Grady’s issue is greasy grace. And I understand where he is coming from, but I have no problem in extending the grace and love of God for Bentley, his first wife, his kids, and his second wife. I do have a problem extending support to putting Bentley back into public ministry. It reminds me a little of the Apostle Paul. When Paul, who was called Saul, came to Christ he tried to preach in Jerusalem, but the Christians were afraid of him (Acts 9:26-31). He had previously been a Christian-killer after all. They sent him to his hometown and for three years he grew in his faith and in his knowledge of God. Then he went back to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles. It was then another eight to ten years before Paul was sent out from the local church in Antioch to begin his first of four missionary journeys. Paul spent somewhere between 11-13 years building credibility and character before launching out into ministry. Is Rick Joyner, Bill Johnson, & Jack Deere going to recommend something similar?

I think any high profile Christian leader should spend at least ten years living as a normal guy before ever considering public, full-time ministry. The best path of restoration would be to live like a normal guy, love Jesus, love your wife, love your kids, serve in a local church, work a full-time job, and just restore your faith outside of the public eye. It does not seem that Bentley’s restoration team is following such a path. Maybe they will, but I doubt it. Only God knows.

Credibility and character are the key issues.

This is the purpose for the power of the Spirit.

The power of the Holy Spirit is transformation, the power to become, the power to be.

The power to do ministry is an overflow of character and credibility, that is, who you are.

The power to be precedes the power to do.

If you are interested in experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, then look for him to do a powerful work of transformation within you, to change and renovate your heart.

Out of the heart flow all the issues of life.

God in his grace and sovereignty can (and indeed has) used broken men to accomplish his purposes, but only for a limited amount of time. We cannot and must not put our attention on the people God chooses to use. We should put our attention on their faith and their character and if their faith is in Christ and their character reflects the image of Christ, then follow them.

God help us.

Help.

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1 Comment

Posted by on April 29, 2009 in Ministry

 

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One response to “The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace

  1. Daria

    September 13, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Really enjoyed Grady’s article and your comments. There is a severe lack of humility, transparency, and genuine repentance among Charismatic leadership. It’s sickening and quite amusing to the adversary. As a born-again believer I truly question the validity of these self-appointed leaders making gross declarations of “restoration.”

     

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