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Assessing the Lakeland critics

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I got a number of emails this morning asking me what I thought of the Lakeland revival. One had a Youtube link showing Todd Bentley ministering to a group of hysterical people. Another one included a 16-page paper criticizing Bentley. It was thoroughly footnoted and said: “The…
By Seth Barnes
I got a number of emails this morning asking me what I thought of the Lakeland revival. One had a Youtube link showing Todd Bentley ministering to a group of hysterical people. Another one included a 16-page paper criticizing Bentley. It was thoroughly footnoted and said: “These demonic manifestations are called the ‘anointing of the Holy Ghost.’ This one will lead people to kiss the mouth of hell.”

As far as I can tell, the main critiques you hear are: 

  • his tattoos,
  • a fascination with angels,
  • many unsubstantiated claims of miracles,
  • his overly dramatic style, and
  • his biker background
I looked on the web and found a plethora of websites debunking what’s going on in Lakeland. One called The Heresy Hunter topped the list. The first comment to his blog (from “George the Genius”) began like this: “Any revival that has the involvement of sexual perverts, such as Paul Cain and Bob Jones, is from the pits of hell and not from God!”

Strong words. I’d sure want to know I was right before I said something that inflammatory.

I talked to the Lord about this and he pointed me to some principles about criticism from Scripture. He’s pretty emphatic about it. Check out Romans 2:1 “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself…” 

Some people are qualified to criticize and hold accountable and others are clearly not. How do we tell the difference? Here are eight tests which you can apply to debunk the debunkers.
No Scripture
“Every word of God is flawless…” (Proverbs 30:5-6)
Human beings will have opinions, but Scripture gives us an unchanging standard to which we can appeal. Critics need to have a good look at what God says first before sounding off. Don’t trust critics whose opinions don’t square with Scripture.

No fruit 
Everybody’s a critic, so who do we listen to? Critics need to have earned the right to speak because of the fruit in their lives. The Pharisees had a lot of opinions, but their fruit wasn’t very good. They were “white-washed sepulchers.” John 15:1-16 is a great passage about fruit.

No proximity
A dispute arose in Acts 15. Paul didn’t try to resolve it by letter. He had to travel to Jerusalem talk to James and the elders. Though they had a relationship, they needed to sort out their disagreement in person – it gave them a chance to pray together among other things. Lobbing critiques from afar may be interesting to watch on “Firing Line,” but it’s not something Christians should be practicing. We need to get up close to people to hold them accountable. We need to be able to ask them questions and see their eyes when they answer.

No relationship

 Paul railed on the Galatians, calling them “foolish.” But he also had a long history of relationship with them. (Galatians 3-4)  Before we criticize another person we need to know something of their hearts. You can’t know a person’s heart without connecting with them periodically. So, ask the question: Does the person leveling the criticism have any kind of relationship with the person they are criticizing?

No context
What’s really going on with the situation being criticized? If you look at the events leading up to it does it look more plausible? Anybody who has been misquoted or had a quote taken out of context knows how this feels. The Pharisees were forever taking Jesus out of context. (Matthew 15:1-11)

No humility

The story of the men Jesus confronts who were going to throw stones at the woman caught in adultery shows that we can all be wrong. (John 8:7) It takes an arrogant, unaccountable person to devote a website to criticizing other people. What’s going on in such a person’s life?  They could be engaging in long-distance hypocrisy.  Such graceless people have little in common with Jesus, who came to set men free, not join the “accuser of the brethren.”

No time frame
When did the situation being criticized occur? David (2 Sam. 11), Paul (1 Tim. 1:12-17), and Moses (Ex. 2:11-14) were all murderers. Trot out a Youtube moment of those sorry spots in their lives and you could debunk them pretty well. One reason Paul had to spend so long in Arabia before starting his missionary career was to put some time between his former life and his new life.

No research
Unsubstantiated opinions are a dime a dozen. What we need to know is that those leveling criticism have taken the time to really look into the matter. Jesus was forever challenging the Pharisees on this score, telling them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

In the end, Jesus is probably more interested in the quality of our love than in our ability to guard the truth. Romans 15:7 captures this emphasis well, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” I’d start there, and once I’d done a good job of that, I’d move on to figuring out how to bring correctives to the body of Christ.

For more information on the Lakeland revival, its critics, and their critics, go here.

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