Lessons for the church from the Todd Bentley affair

In a comment in response to my question “Why does Todd Bentley inspire such hatred?”, Tim Chesterton has asked

why Todd Bentley inspires so much interest – especially in you.

Along the same lines, in a private comment I received by e-mail a suggestion was made that I am being neither gentle nor wise in focusing so much on Todd.

The second commenter certainly has a good point: it is probably not helping Todd’s restoration to discuss the matter too much or to treat him as a celebrity. And in answer to Tim I wrote:

Tim, I don’t blame you, if you are not interested in Todd. But a lot of people are, as I can tell from my statistics. And many of them are writing a lot of nonsense about him. By contrast, most of my other posts, even on controversial subjects, attract few readers or commenters. I don’t blog to get attention, but I don’t want to bore people by writing posts which no one reads.

I stand by that, but I must also admit that this is only part of the story. Another aspect is that recently I have not been inspired to blog much about anything else.

But there is more than that to it. Some people may think of the Lakeland revival as something inconsequential, last summer’s fad which can and should be forgotten quickly in a new year with its new challenges. But to me Lakeland, and Todd Bentley’s part in it, was something of real significance for God’s purposes for the world, or at least for the western part of it.

So, with apologies to Tim and the other commenter, I will write one more post about Todd, bringing out some lessons for the church from this affair. I won’t promise to write no more about Todd after that, but I will try to keep it to a minimum.

I believe that at Lakeland God was testing his church, at least in the West, to see if it is ready for the next step in his purposes. Here are some things that he wanted to find out:

  • Is the church forgiving, of sins committed by people before they become believers?
  • Is the church accepting, of people who don’t wear the expected clothes, etc?
  • Is the church characterised by grace, or does it legalistically apply Old Testament rules out of context for example about tattoos?
  • Is the church listening to everyone, or only to those of a certain background and age?
  • Is the church teachable, or does it only accept teaching from those who confirm the doctrinal prejudices it already holds?
  • Is the church non-judgmental, or does it reject people quickly because of unsubstantiated allegations against them?
  • And perhaps most importantly, is the church open to the work of God the Holy Spirit, or is it quick to claim that certain manifestations and ministry styles cannot be from him?

Of course God knew what his church was like. But did the church? Did it know that on each of these issues, when brought to its attention in the person and ministry of Todd Bentley, it would to a large extent be found wanting? Yet it was found wanting: Todd’s childhood sins, unconventional clothing, tattoos and youth (but he is as old as Jesus ever was on earth) were presented as disqualifying him from ministry; his teaching was rejected as novel without being given a proper hearing; his recent sins have been exaggerated and considered unforgivable; and his ministry style has been lampooned and rejected as not genuinely from God.

In the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11), although she was actually guilty, in response to Jesus’ words the scribes and the Pharisees dropped their stones of accusation against her. In the case of Todd Bentley, although there is in fact no evidence of physical adultery but only an admission of an “inappropriate relationship” and a divorce action, Todd’s accusers in the church are not prepared to listen to the one they call “Lord” and drop their accusations. I think the scribes and Pharisees get the better of this comparison.

God grieves over the state of the world, lost in sin and shame. He is looking for a church, a people, who he can use to reach it with the message of the gospel. But mostly he finds professing Christians who are self-righteous, legalistic and unwilling to accept anything or anyone not meeting their own expectations. He longs to revive his church and use it to bring in multitudes of the lost. But he cannot do so while it is led by such people, people who would not accept the lost if they did come in. This is a time for the church to repent, before God brings his judgment on it, discarding the old wineskins and creating new ones to contain his new people.

26 thoughts on “Lessons for the church from the Todd Bentley affair

  1. Peter:

    Let’s not be overly simplistic in comparing any ‘fallen’ person to the one woman caught in adultery.

    From what we can gather from the short reference, she was really a nobody. Not a Judge of Israel. Not a Queen. Not a city official. Not a prophetess like Anna. Not the Jerusalem Madam running the biggest brothel in town. Not one where character was critical to the function she wielded. That is what I gather from the story anyway.

    Bentley was not at all upfront about his foibles. Passed himself off as one whom God’s favor rested on. Claimed to be the ‘chosen’ one to perform great miracles. The uber-prophetic types along with the uber-apostolic types affirmed, confirmed & commissioned Todd as the man-of-the-hour. He climbed atop the stage into the spotlight. Was elevated atop a high pedestal by those that thought him the next incarnation of Dhanwantari & he accepted the adulation. And remember, Todd only represented a small portion of the Church Universal. Only the hyper Pentecostal/charismatic camps bought into the PR & exaggerated claims. Could be the Lakeland pilgrims that did attend came from a broader representation of the western church, but most of the ‘church’ did not care what was going on there, let alone make the hajj to Florida. He cannot be a universal representative of such a disparate body of believers. Let’s bring this consideration down to a more realistic scope. Personally, I do not like any exaggeration or implied importance being given to Todd or Lakeland. That is the biggest problem with any high-profile ministry expression IMHO.

    Let’s get more realistic with the comparisons. Take Nathan’s stern rebuke of David after his adulterous affair. And the ‘fruit’ of that dalliance was pronounced in no uncertain terms: death. So, if we want to be more realistic with the comparisons, then any & all ministry/gifting claims Todd made need to be put to death even though Todd himself escapes stoning in the process.

    He should not consider himself ‘restored’ by any stretch of the imagination if it is the same hyper-prophetic/Pentecostal types supposedly doing the restoring. That is akin to the fox guarding the hen house. Or the wolf the sheep pen. Since I can assume no such prophet like Nathan is alive today, no such stern public rebuke & divinely stated consequence will be forthcoming anytime soon. Like it or not, Todd heaped upon himself the scorn he elicited. He lives in the make-believe world of supra-natural miracle workings replete with prophetic & apostolic authentication. This is not even regarded as a valid representation of the kingdom by the larger majority of believers in this country. It is seen as a questionable fringe expression at best, an absolute abomination at worst. And much of the negative perspectives coming from post-charismatics addressing the abuses & the excesses & the misuse of genuine spiritual giftings.

    I am thinking the scrutiny Lakeland earned from its extensive GodTV airing paid off in a way nobody expected. And for that I am grateful. It’s time the garish carnival ‘revival’ events exposed charismania for all to judge. And since it was broadcast for all to see it earned itself all the press it so coveted. Todd needs to drop the charade. Get a real job. Lay low for a long, long, long time. Get himself right with his soon to be ex-wife, his kids & his conscience. If he continues to make a living peddling his miracle crusades ala Benny Hinn, he will be worse off than he is now IMHO. But since character was never the primary concern for either Todd or his supporters, I do not doubt he will be out on the signs & wonders circuit shortly.

  2. Joseph, I am the one comparing Todd to a biblical nobody, and you are the one comparing him to a king. So who is making out to be someone special? And that king was restored to kingship and became the ancestor of Jesus despite his sin. Yes, the first child of his adulterous relationship died, but the second child was his successor and the greatest king of Israel. Anyway, you can badmouth Todd as much as you like (but not here, your first comment was more than enough of that), but don’t ignore the content of my post, which was not about Todd but about the way people like you responded to him.

  3. Peter:

    We see the glass half full or half empty according to what we discern I suppose. You see Todd as a man that had supernatural power given to him by God to heal people. You see him as spiritually ‘gifted’ to operate in signs/wonders/miracles. His unconventional antics some sort of ‘test’ of whether or not his ministry is accepted or rejected by judging the outer appearance. All God’s doing. Todd’s only problem being one of a common sinner. Marriage problems, drinking, tats, piercings, his past & such; heck, he is just an ordinary man in all those respects. No need to make him out to be more than just what he is: a sinner saved by grace.

    I see the same thing sans any miraculous powers. That is where the distinction begins. All the claims that Lakeland & Todd were directed or ordained or destined or lead or prompted or called to do what occurred there by the Holy Spirit is just not tenable. And Todd’s own claims after he was shown to be 1) a liar; & 2) disreputable, cannot be accepted as being either 1) sincere; or 2) accurate. It is so much easier to point to what did not happen at Lakeland (no resurrections, no dramatic healings) than it is to support the claim that it was God’s great outpouring of supernatural power. The onus on all the Lakeland staff, GodTV, Todd & those that truly believe great miracles happened. If the 2 media organizations investigated it & were not provided any verifications even though requested & promised, what does that say about the integrity of the entire event?

    Nobody has come forward in Todd’s defense with doctor’s reports & verification that they were dramatically healed, have they? All the claims & requests for verification have been oddly ignored or sidestepped or deflected. Todd, Strader, the Alec’s, the uber-prophets & the uber-apostles make wild claims of “God this & God that” & they want their hearers to believe them? Since when? They want to receive the benefit of the doubt yet they are making the grandest of claims?

    Not one of the major players in the entire event has taken personal responsibility for the exaggerations, the outright lies, the hearsay, the gossip, the wild supernatural claims of power & legitimacy that they spewed forth in abundance. No repentance. No asking for forgiveness. No making restitution. And the naysayers are being painted as the evil ones here?

    The prophetic-rhetoric is considered akin to an infallible statement. If they repent of a wrong word it will undermine their entire claim of being prophetic. I think most people that support Todd & the Lakeland event truly want to believe God is at work today doing great signs & wonders. I believe they want God healing people & raising them from the dead. But when the big claims are made in a very public setting & aired for all to see, then someone better make pretty damn sure what they are claiming in the name of God actually occurred.

    Todd is not anointed, chosen or blessed with super-duper heavenly visits. He is way out in left field so far he can’t see home plate clearly. He has strayed way beyond the outfield fence. Todd’s reputation does not negate the principle of divine healing or miraculous workings in the world today. But his claims sure have been scrutinized from up & down & sideways & found wanting. His works & claims have been tested. They have failed. He needs to repent. Become sober minded. Reject the foolishness of what is billed as God doing a “new thing on the earth” through him. I do not hate Todd Bentley. On the contrary, I pity him. I pity those that accept the hyper-prophetic ministries & the hyper-apostolic ministries & the hyper televangelist ministries. Todd is goofy more than anything. Odd. Quirky. No need for me to believe his claims. No need for me to be accepting & in awe of his claims. No need for me to turn off my discernment or remain silent about his claims. This is the healthy way to deal with the controversy, not to pretend the mistakes were minor or well intentioned or not as prevalent as may be the case. I will not accept any miracle workings from Todd. Will not affirm or believe him to be a minister of anything. So as far as believing the worst about him, I don’t. I just don’t accept all the hype about his supernatural claims.

  4. Joseph, indeed Todd is an ordinary man with ordinary sins – and also with “ordinary” spiritual gifts which are in principle available to every believer. He was called like many others to the work of the gospel, and he accepted that calling and preached the gospel, with demonstrations of God’s healing, around the world. What really distinguishes him and what he did from many others is the exposure that Lakeland got through God TV.

    The “naysayers” are being hypocritical in asking for evidence of healings etc but refusing to provide evidence for their own speculative accusations of lying, adultery, fraud etc.

    I will not accept any miracle workings from Todd. Will not affirm or believe him to be a minister of anything.

    If you take that attitude, then you have closed your mind and heart to what God still might want to do through Todd. God is not prepared to accept your conditions on who he can work through. So what is the point of continuing this conversation?

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  6. Peter,

    Most of your points are irrelevant and an attempt to construct straw men. But two, in my view, are worthy of a response.

    Is the church teachable, or does it only accept teaching from those who confirm the doctrinal prejudices it already holds?

    “Doctrinal prejudices” is incredibly biased language.

    The truth is that we all have our views on what is and isn’t sound doctrine. And if we conclude that something is off the straight and narrow, then we are entitled to reject it.

    Are you teachable? If so, would you accept teaching from (eg) a catholic on the topic of transubstantiation? Or from Gene Robinson on human sexuality? I very much think not.

    It’s worth mentioning that there has been a signficant number of people who have expressed serious concerns about Todd Bentley who themselves have pentecostal or charismatic beliefs (myself included).

    I believe, for example, that the gifts of the holy spirit are present in believers today, and than people can be supernaturally healed. But such healings are genuine, lasting, and verifiable, not five-minute wonders produced by crowd manipulation and mass hypnosis in the charged atmosphere of a “revival meeting”.

    Those people who don’t accept the lies and heresy spouted by Todd and his associates are not refusing to listen to something that is outside of their prejudices. Instead, they are guarding against someone who is coming from their camp but is actually a fraudster. That cannot be described as doctrinal prejudice.

    And perhaps most importantly, is the church open to the work of God the Holy Spirit, or is it quick to claim that certain manifestations and ministry styles cannot be from him?

    Again, that is a biased statement. You are basically suggesting that the events in Lakeland were a move of God.

    However, God has revealed himself through the Bible and the person of Jesus. If something is not only incompatible with the Bible, but actually goes against the Bible, then it is not of God, period.

    Saying that Lakeland was a false revival is not demonstrating a lack of openness to God the Holy Spirit. Quite the opposite in fact.

    I’ll try to write a few thoughts of my own on lessons from Lakeland, but will give you a chance to reply first.

  7. Sidefall, thank you for your comment.

    I was obviously writing a very compressed, and perhaps misleading, comment about “doctrinal prejudices”. There are certainly teachings which any one of us would reject as false doctrine, because they contradict basic Christian teaching. That is good. What is not good is when people condemn others’ teaching as “heresy” (your word) on the basis of half understood soundbites, without proper examination of whether there is a real and fundamental theological problem or just a difference of emphasis and presentation. Most of the accusations I have seen against Todd’s teaching have been in the latter category. Indeed I don’t think I have seen anything which he has been proved to have really taught which is not.

    You are basically suggesting that the events in Lakeland were a move of God.

    Well, I am, but not in the statement you quote. The point of that statement is that we should not be quick to judge something as not a move of God because of externals, “certain manifestations and ministry styles”. I’m not quite sure about your statement “If something … actually goes against the Bible, then it is not of God”. One cannot prove for example from King David’s moral lapses that nothing in his life was from God. But on my judgment nothing at Lakeland was demonstrably “against the Bible”, at least before things started to go wrong in July. So it is very dangerous to claim that something cannot be of God.

  8. I can’t help seeing the relevance of these words about John the Baptist in the play extract at 2:08 into this YouTube video (thank you, Eddie, for the link – watch the whole thing) – the characters are Simon Peter and his brother Andrew:

    Simon: And did he, or did he not, turn out to be a loony?

    Andrew: Well yeah, he’s a little eccentric, but …

    Simon: He eats locusts, Andy. He picks them up, puts them in his mouth and eats them. Ergo, loony.

    But was John the Baptist a loony? How about Todd?

  9. GW, without necessarily agreeing with everything you have ever said in your life (this is the type of disclaimer one just has to insert to pre-empt being viciously attacked on extraneous issues, as you know, and it usually does not work!), your 7 things bulleted in your post are absolutely brilliant, congratulations.

  10. “Nobody has come forward in Todd’s defense with doctor’s reports & verification that they were dramatically healed, have they?”

    Many credible people have come forth with testimonies of healing.

    The whole doctor verification thing is problematic, and has become an unfortunate red herring. There are many reasons why real healings do not result in formal medical affirmations.

  11. Dan, thanks for the support. It’s interesting that the people who insist on medical evidence of healings etc are quick to make accusations against Todd for which they can provide no evidence. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

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  13. GW, it looks like it is you and me against the world on this issue.

    Certainly Todd B., whatever his strengths and weaknesses, has been a sort of spiritual litmus test, a shibboleth as it were, and it has been fascinating (and saddening) to observe the pronounced reactions elicited by his brief appearance in the spotlight.

    I think your seven points stand as the epitaph on this matter.


  14. I have been amazed at the hatred that has been spewed against Todd by the most amazingly hypocritical people on the planet. They scream about Todd’s lack of accountability, but refuse to talk about who they are accountable to. They denounce every visionary experience Todd has ever related, but expect people to accept their prophetic revelations without question.

    The day that Todd announced his separation, I asked the Lord and all He gave me was a line from an old Dave Mason song: “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy,” which immediately told me that it took two to create this disaster in the marriage, Todd and Shonah. Things that Rick Joyner has said and some things I recently saw by Todd and his father have rather upheld this belief.

    Todd has been honest about becoming emotionally entangled with another woman AFTER he separated from his wife. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence he has either been sleeping with her nor that they are living together. In point of fact, I seriously doubt Rick Joyner would invite Todd to bring his paramour to Morningstar with him for a “restoration” process.

    Rick is not Jessie Jackson, who took his mistress with him to go “pray” for Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky. I don’t seem to remember months of blogger outrage over that fact, come to think of it. Jessie has never stepped down from any of his positions that I’m aware of and he still holds the the title “Reverend.”

    Todd has, to my knowledge, been honest about the struggles he and his wife have faced in their marriage. They were separated before and intended to file for divorce then, but counseling brought some breakthroughs.

    You know, Charles Stanley, who pastors a Southern Baptist Church, was separated from his wife for EIGHT YEARS before his divorce. That little fact was kept completely silent. His wife NEVER attended the church he pastored.

    When they divorced, I don’t think he ever missed a service, and said God called him to pastor, not marriage. Again, my memory finds no outrage on the part of the church. They continue to listen to his broadcasts and purchase his books. Now, I know SBC pastors who were divorced, and the SBC refused to allow them to pastor in their single, divorced state. Bit of a double standard there.

    Christians divorce more frequently in the US than non-Christians. I find it highly entertaining to see the church try to hold Todd to a standard they themselves refuse to live by. Now, who does THAT sound like?

  15. Thanks, Peter.

    I thought I’d go after this comment while I’m at it:

    Bentley was not at all upfront about his foibles. Passed himself off as one whom God’s favor rested on. Claimed to be the ‘chosen’ one to perform great miracles.

    HOW DARE YOU MOCK THE GRACE OF GOD. The only reason anyone is in the Kingdom is because of the UNMERITED favor of God. That’s one of the definitions of grace. You are saying with your statement that somehow you merit the favor of God, unlike Todd.

    According to the words of Jesus Christ (you remember him, don’t you?) ANYONE who believes will do the works that he did, and even greater because he’s was going to the Father. That’s in the Gospel of John. You should try reading the red words occasionally. They’re quite enlightening about how Jesus intended his Church to function, you know.

    You didn’t choose Jesus, he chose you. That same favor Todd “claims” is the only reason your sorry self is in the Kingdom. God doesn’t use anyone because they are worthy of being used. He chooses whom He chooses.

    Todd Bentley has been transparent about the struggles he’s faced in his marriage, his personal life and his attitude at times. But to know about those things, you would have had to actually listen to his teachings and been around him in conferences. But then again, had you done any of those things, you might have actually come to like the guy and cared about his soul. Oh, no, you can’t have that happen, Then you might have actually felt obligated to actually PRAY for him in LOVE and see him the way JESUS sees him, and we can’t have that. Mercy and compassion really put a crimp in people’s ability to throw brothers under the bus in their “Stand for Righteousness.”

    I have a very good friend who is a master astrologer. He used to be a pastor before he got enough of the viciousness of the church and decided it’s all a myth, because if Jesus was real, his church wouldn’t be this way. His comment to me once was, “The meanest, most vicious people I have ever met claim to be followers of your Jesus.”

    Watching how Todd Bentley has been treated by some, I have to agree with him.

  16. Thank you, Patsy. Indeed it is only because God’s favour, otherwise known as his grace, is on each one of us, including Todd and commenter Joseph, that any of us are saved and not consigned immediately to hell. Nothing to do with our merits. But we are expected to respond to God’s favour by obeying him and his calling on our lives. For Todd this was to preach and to minister the healing power of God. For none of us is this to criticise others and tear apart the people of God.

  17. Peter –

    I see gloating in some quarters, I also see a lot of people who critiqued TBs teaching at the time who aren’t gloating.

    You are basically dismissing any critique of TB due to the character and behaviour of (some of) his critques. Ironically, this is exactly what you yourself are criticising!

    Finally, you have variously claimed that TBs teaching is either not unique or is unique and the church should accept them. You have been repeatedly called on both claims, and have continued to repeat them without providing substantive evidence either way.

  18. Chris, I am glad that there are some people who are not gloating at Todd’s fall. But sadly there are quite a lot who are. There are of course legitimate critiques of him and his preaching as with pretty much every other preacher. There is nothing much unique about his teaching, which is by no means perfect, and I don’t think I have ever claimed otherwise, nor that the church should accept it uncritically. What is unique is perhaps the level of anointing, and certainly the level of global publicity. What I have argued is that the church should accept the genuineness of his anointing, in which I still believe.

  19. Patsy, so hearing the words from an old “rock” song is sufficient to excuse Todd from being accountable here? He is the one in ministry. It is possible he could not have been restored to his wife, but that does not justify his adultery in any way.

    I realize you are not directly justifying it, but your words here and in other replies imply that his wife is equally “guilty” in this whole affair.

    Leaders should be held to a higher standard.

    I will note that I do understand many women (especially in today’s society) have a hard time “following a man” when it comes to his pursuit of a calling from God, but I also don’t think that excuses immoral behavior on his part.

    I have seen enough similar behavior to his in my own children. The character flaws must be dealt with. While TB should be restored to all that God wants for him now, God is not limited to working through him now.

    I would rather see a repentant heart on his part than quick restoration to ministry. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely….

    BTW, the attacks against God moving in miraculous ways are stupid. One of the reason for things like this happen is because people are so desperate for real contact with God and the supernatural that they can suspend their concern about other serious issues.


  20. Brad, do you have any evidence to back up your accusation of adultery against Todd? There is no evidence that I have seen to suggest that he is any more guilty than his wife. I do not allow here comments making accusations without clear evidence.

  21. The one great misfortune about this situation of Todd Bentley is that the, “Revival was cut short”.

  22. I can’t prove what he did, I am only going by what Rick Joyner said and his own speech. I expect a man in that position to show a bit more of a desire for restoration than he has exhibited. Sure, it may not help, but I don’t see the desire on his part for hit to work. I see someone “pursuing god” and using that to excuse many other things.

    If he was really seeking restoration, wouldn’t his speech actively indicate that?

    It still might not happen, but at least he would be pursuing it with a bit more outwardly visible effort.

    It sounds like one of my children claiming they believe that hard work is good while playing a computer game all day. 🙂


  23. Brad, we don’t see a lot of Todd’s desire for restoration to work because we don’t see a lot about him at all, apart from unsubstantiated malicious rumours. He is trying to rebuild his life in privacy, hopefully including steps towards restoration which have not been made public. I would expect a clear public statement before he returns to public ministry, but until then surely he should be given privacy and the benefit of the doubt.

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