-by J. Lee Grady (Charisma).
Lakeland Revival leader Todd Bentley’s unusual prayer methods
have triggered questions about Holy Spirit etiquette. For weeks the
blogosphere has been sizzling with comments, pro and con, about
the unusual ministry style of Todd Bentley, the leader of the
Lakeland Revival in Florida. Thousands of people have watched the
tattooed evangelist shout “Bam! Bam!” as he prays for the sick and
interviews those who say they were instantly healed.
Nobody could ever accuse Bentley of lacking zeal. And he always
gives Jesus the credit for the healings he announces on God TV
every night. But he has come under fire because of video clips
from a sermon in which he says the Holy Spirit told him to use
violent means to heal people.
The sermon, preached in Lakeland and posted on YouTube,
features Bentley demonstrating how he (1) banged a woman’s
crippled legs “like a baseball bat” on a stage; (2) tackled, mounted
and choked a man to free him from a demon; (3) shoved a Chinese
man to the ground to pray for him (causing the man to lose a tooth);
(4) kicked an older woman in the face with his biker boot to heal
her; and (5) “leg-dropped” a pastor—a professional wrestling tactic,
popularized by Hulk Hogan, in which the aggressor jumps in the
air and lands on his opponent with one leg outstretched.
When we asked Bentley about his unorthodox methods, he
assured Charisma that none of the people were hurt and that
many were healed. He also explained that British evangelist Smith
Wigglesworth, a legend in the hall of fame of Pentecostal
preachers, used similar methods.
So if Wigglesworth healed a man by punching him in the stomach,
and Bentley sees similar results by using techniques borrowed
from the World Wrestling Entertainment, does that mean we
should teach all altar workers to become more aggressive?
I know that people have been healed in the meetings in Lakeland. I
know of a woman from South Carolina who was healed of cystic
fibrosis while sitting in one of Bentley’s services. (She was never
touched by anyone.) I also know a man from California who was
healed of sleep apnea while watching the Lakeland revival on
television. Jesus is most definitely still in the healing business.
I also know that Bentley is not performing Hulk Hogan stunts from
the stage in Lakeland every night. But because his comments
about violent prayer have been so widely broadcast, we need to
call a timeout and make it clear that hitting people is wrong, period.
Bentley’s teaching on unorthodox prayer methods should include a
disclaimer: “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.” Here are three reasons why:
1. The Holy Spirit is gentle. Jesus boldly drove the moneychangers
out of the temple with a whip. But when He prayed for sick people,
there is no record of Him head-banging or leg-dropping anyone. He
rebuked evil spirits authoritatively, but He never hit, slapped,
choked, mounted or kicked a person. He was meek, which means
He knew how to control His strength, and He never threw His
When He commissioned His followers to heal the sick, Jesus told
them to “lay” hands on them (Mark 16:18). Since gentleness is
part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (along with kindness—see Gal.
5:22-23), any ministry we do should be tempered with mercy and
2. If we minister in the flesh, we will reap flesh. Several years ago I
was standing near the stage in a large meeting when a visiting
evangelist said he wanted to pray for all the ministers in the room.
Immediately some ushers yanked me up to the platform and the
man of God raced over to “pray” for me. Before I knew it, I was
assaulted in the name of the Lord.
Whack! The guy hit me so hard that I fell down and held my face in
my hands to hide my grimace. The skin on my neck was stinging.
When I finally went back to my seat, a friend ran over to
congratulate me, saying, “Wow, I saw you go down under the
power!” I had to grit my teeth and ask the Lord to help me forgive
the preacher who inflicted pain instead of a holy impartation.
Why do we think that more bodies on the floor equals “more
anointing”—especially when the evangelist shoves people to the
ground or slaps them silly? To build a ministry on such foolish
theatrics is to trust in the arm of the flesh.
3. Somebody’s going to get hurt. We reported last week that a
Tennessee man sued his charismatic church because its pastoral
staff did not provide the proper “catchers” when he fell down during
a prayer meeting last year. Matthew Lincoln of Knoxville said he
struck the hard floor of the sanctuary with his head and aggravated
a disc problem in his back, resulting in the need for surgery.
I don’t know the specifics of the situation in Knoxville, Tenn., and
it may be that this church has done everything possible to provide
a caring atmosphere in their meetings. Plus, the man suing the
church does not say anyone hit him or knocked him over. But
serious accidents are bound to happen if we don’t stress the
importance of ministering with gentleness and wisdom.
In our zany charismatic world we often let our zeal run wild. I’ve
been in services in which all kinds of injuries happened. Once I
watched a 300-pound man fall on a frail woman. I’ve seen heads
hit metal chairs. I’ve seen evangelists step on people’s arms and
legs. We may say the Holy Spirit is moving, but—more often than
we want to admit—our chaos may be a sign of our immaturity.
Please understand me. I desperately want the power of God to
invade our churches. I’ve been in meetings in which the Lord’s
glory was so thick that no one could stand up. I have felt the
weight of His presence fall like a blanket on a congregation. And I
remember falling to the floor when I got within four feet of a humble
Indian preacher who barely touched people on the forehead when
he prayed for them.
We don’t have to force things to happen. God’s power is real. May
we never settle for a man-made imitation.
~J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.