Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley has announced that he will leave the Florida Outpouring revival meetings in Lakeland on August 23 to conduct revivals overseas. But some local Pentecostal leaders, as well as some national ones, won't be sad to see him go, and have been wary of giving approval to the meetings since they began in April.
Bentley shrugged off the criticisms.
"We're preaching and teaching the gospel and praying and healing the sick," he said. "Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit. What's the fruit we've produced? Thousands are coming to praise God."
The Pentecostal revival has drawn an average of 30,000 or more people each week, according to its leaders, with about half of those from outside Florida. Almost a third come from outside the United States, leaders estimate. Observers say the Internet, over which the services are streamed live twice a day, has also fueled attendance.
Bentley, 32, runs Fresh Fire Ministries, an independent organization based in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He is an unusual sight with his many tattoos and jeweled lip studs. A self-professed fan of professional wrestling, he is prone to giving gentle shoves or kicks and shouting "Bam!" as he touches people to "impart" the Holy Spirit to them. His antics have alarmed some, such as Charisma editor J. Lee Grady, who editorialized against those methods in the magazine. But the crowds beg to differ.
Bob and Hilkka Mounder traveled from Sheffield, England, to attend the revival. "Todd is rather special to us. We've really experienced God's presence at his meetings," Bob Mounder said. "I'm 20 years older, I know lots more about the Bible than he does, yet there's something about him. He's got something I haven't got."
While faith healing is a part of the Pentecostal tradition, leaders' claims that at least 25 people have been raised from the dead have especially raised eyebrows. No dead bodies have been brought into the revival. Rather, reports of the recent death of a loved one—in some cases located long distances away—are relayed to the stage by e-mail or cell phone, and Bentley has led prayers for the person to be revived.
"We do our best to find out the situation. In one case, a boy drowned in a pool. He had no pulse, wasn't breathing, and was clinically brain-dead," he said.
Recent news reports have been unable to verify any of the claims of healing, although revival officials say they have been barred from releasing complete information about the identities and conditions of people claiming to be healed due to privacy concerns and laws forbidding the release of medical records.
"We hear about the dead being raised, but we don't know who they are or where they are," said Reggie Scarborough, pastor of Family Worship Center in Lakeland, a charismatic congregation that frequently practices faith healing. "I saw a lot of passion from [Bentley], but there was too much hype. I just don't feel I can endorse something that's being exaggerated."
In June, the Assemblies of God issued a statement about revivals that, while not targeting the Florida Outpouring specifically, seems to caution people about it. For example, one guideline warned against Christians being "overly enamored with charismatic manifestations."
George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, said he watched YouTube video clips of the revival and was concerned about a claim Bentley had made in the past about encounters with the apostle Paul and angels named Emma and Wind of Change.
"That sort of information is not in the Bible," he said. "We need to make sure there is adherence to Scripture in any spiritual movement."
The Rev. Stephen Strader, pastor of Ignited Church, who invited Bentley to Lakeland, is a minister in the Assemblies of God. He said he agreed with Wood and the denomination's statement.
"We have the exact same concerns. We watch over everything. Everything that happens on the platform is scriptural," he said. Strader and Bentley say there has been very little talk about angels.
"Emma has never been part of this outpouring. It was an experience Todd had seven years ago, and it's been totally blown out of proportion," Strader said. "The nightly message has been totally 100 percent nothing but Jesus.
"People are saved, people are healed, and Jesus is being glorified," he said. "Even some of my so-called friends are questioning my integrity, but they never come to the services. It's not fair just to watch [them] on TV."
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Bentley's Fresh Fire Ministries has revival reports, including video links.
The Ledger reports that Todd Bentley and his wife are separating.
CT News Feed's section on church life has updates on Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring revival.
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