Whatever happened to Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Awakening?

October 9, 2008

An article by Gerald Coates

What of a situation, where instead of a privileged upbringing, members of your family are drug addicts, poor, abusive, alcoholic, violent and often absent. What are the chances of becoming a good, healthy, Christian influencer?

Possible? Yes

Likely? No!

And this is the background of Todd Bentley, who grew up, or some might say failed to grow up, in a dysfunctional, damaging environment. In former years he was a victim who like many others, in turn, victimised.

As young as 11 he was a regular drinker and later a drug taker, aided by his father.

An encounter with Christ changed much of that, but as AW Tozer once commented, sin ruins our manhood, and the road to recovery is very much longer than we’d like it to be.

Until earlier this year, Todd Bentley, a stocky, tattooed biker, was a revivalist. In the western world he spoke at meetings of no more than a few hundred people.  But all that was about to change in the first week of April 2008. He was to be in Lakeland, Florida for a few days for what the Americans call a “revival”, where through extended worship, prayer and preaching the church is revived. And hopefully the unchurched and backsliders have a life changing experience, bringing them into relationship with Christ.

Rob de Luca from New Zealand prophesied to Todd that he should get ready for this special series of meetings and that something unique was going to take place. The meetings started with a few hundred people, but because of the miracles, healing and deliverances, crowds quickly grew to thousands and a special tent-like building was constructed that held up to 10,000.

God TV realised something very special was taking place and began to broadcast the previous evening’s event, followed by a live broadcast. It was compelling viewing. And the initial few days turned into around 4 months, 7 nights a week.

However, Todd himself was unconventional and created controversy. It wasn’t just the meetings themselves, he was now being broadcast live into well over a hundred nations and some smaller TV channels were taking a feed and broadcasting themselves, so we have no idea as to how many nations or people were viewing this, but we can safely say millions.

With his background and age he was an unlikely candidate for global evangelism and healing. And I don’t share his background to excuse, rather to understand.

Then came the bombshell. Advisors were saying that Todd was going to leave his wife (she was not leaving him), and that there was an emotional involvement with another woman in the ministry and lots more rumour. Some true and some completely untrue but all on the web.

As time went on it became clear there was a very serious history here and he was asked to step down from ministry and was offered help and support, hopefully leading to repentance and restoration.

Sadly, it is in times like these, that parts of the body of Christ can look really ugly. I do not recall a moment of glee (from charismatic evangelicals), when a leading male Reformed Bible teacher (non-charismatic) from Cambridge left his wife, children, church and significant conference ministry, to set up home with his male assistant.

Sadness? Yes. Bewilderment? Certainly.

But it has to be said, that the “I told you so” brigade made their ugly feelings known, far more concerned they had been right than caring for Todd’s wife, children or the many thousands who’ve been saved, turned to Christ or healed. And I know some of these people.

One of the most surprising and saddest moments, was when my friend Dr. RT Kendall, now residing in the USA, wrote an open letter carried in the last issue of Sorted.

In fairness to him, this was written before the closing chapter of the Lakeland Awakening.

Basically, in the light of a number of concerns, he concludes that the Lakeland phenomenon was not of God. He rightly explained in his article that this is what he concluded regarding Toronto in 1994. Stating this at an EA meeting I was present at, I quipped that he would regret saying this. That afternoon he then asked for prayer to receive the blessing. To the shock of us all, a non-Charismatic Reformed minister, not involved in the prayer promptly feel to the floor “slain in the Spirit”. RT therefore changed his mind.

So are we saying here, that Roy Fields, who led a lengthy time of praise, worship, adoration and thanksgiving most nights, was also not of God?

Or were the Bible readings not of God?

Were all those who claimed to be healed (and he only repeated what they claimed) also not of God?

I’m currently mentoring a guy in his 20s who gets married in a few weeks, and his fiancé was healed of a serious back conditioned she’d had for years in the first meeting, in the worship, without a word of prayer! And I see her regularly.

There is no evidence in scripture to suggest that the devil loves Christians singing God honouring songs with Bible based lyrics. Some of them started life here in the UK.

Some of RT’s concerns I share, and through a mutual friend I advised Todd to step back from saying certain things as they were a distraction from the main message – which he did. But I heard some good preaching and teaching from Todd and his colleagues, and how you get the balance right 7 nights a week for 4 months, I do not know!

A 21st century revival in the west will probably come from unexpected quarters and in unexpected ways.
Perhaps it’s significant that over 2 million people have been to an Alpha Course, thousands turn out to J John’s Ten course, there are nearly a thousand Fresh Expressions of church (most of which are expressions of mission) that are traceable, and after a lull of over a decade the New Churches (formerly House Churches) are beginning a pro-active programme of church planting and mission.

But back to Todd… what are we to make of him and those 4 amazing months?

I’ve never met Todd, or visited Lakeland, though I did visit Toronto and made good friends of John and Carol Arnott. And I also visited Brownsville, Florida, and on numerous occasions I talked to pastor John Kilpatrick, his preaching colleague, Steve Hill, and made friends with worship leader Lindell Cooley.

So  let’s go back to the Bible. Was Lakeland not of God, or is it possible or even likely that God chose Todd?

Take a look at scripture and read about the sensuous, naive Samson, or Abraham getting his wife to lie, or David, who is addicted to sex, gets a man killed so he can have his wife, or the Apostle Peter who was motivated by fear and became a racist, confronted by the Apostle Paul.

If I were promoting a religion I would take many people out of the Old and New Testament as they are hopeless examples of lovers of Jehovah and followers of Christ.

But God has left Biblical figures in the storyline I would have erased, to encourage people like you and me – flawed, deceptive, dishonest and professional in the art of cover ups.

Our sin may not be as damaging as going off with someone else and leaving family, but different sorts of sin have different sorts of repercussions.

So to conclude, why was the young Billy Graham (now my hero, he is 90 years old on November 7th!) so successful when others (and sadly and I could name a few more) have failed, tragically, and often publicly.

Well Billy, surrounded himself with people who were different to him. He and the team began to live by self imposed rules, because perception is sometimes more important than reality.

Being alone with someone of the other sex, issues relating to what to eat and drink, were all settled fairly early on.

I know of national ministries who choose to share a room with a colleague or an assistant. It assures the late night TV channels are kept off. And whether it be through God’s doing or not, some of us at various times in our ministries have had a profile out of all proportion to our holiness, Godliness and devotion to Christ.
It’s true that each one of us, whether that profile be local, regional, national or international, have put our trust in Christ, but he trusts us with gifts and callings.

But it’s up to us, by His Grace, to make ourselves accountable and at times vulnerable and transparent. God knows everything there is to know about us and we can trust him with the information. A few good God fearing people around us supporting, encouraging and at times correcting us will cause a little bit of what’s in heaven to come to the earth.

I could perhaps do no better than finish with some words of my other hero, AW Tozer, with what is often labelled The Prayer of the Minor Prophet he prays “I am unworthy of the least of my mercies, and if men knew me as intimately as I know myself, they would withhold their honours or bestow them on others more worthy to receive them”

And elsewhere, “save me from myself and from the all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others.”

Amen and Amen!