Lakeland Outpouring God, Deception, or Little Bit of Both?
by Greg Austin www.gregaustin.org
Navigating the Turbulent Seas of Revival in 2008
By mid-June of 2008 if you havent heard of whats been labeled the Lakeland Healing Outpouring, youre very much out of the loop of revival happenings around the world. If you dont know what Im talking about, do a quick Google for the words Lakeland Outpouring, then come back and read.
The question in the minds of millions of believers and non-believers alike who have heard about, viewed (its being broadcast nightly by GodTV) or attended the Lakeland meetings is, how do we know what this is? Is this truly revival? Is this a mixture of God, the flesh and the devil? Is this the Third Wave or is it the Great Deception? Where is truth?
Is there a method of determining what is and what is not a genuine move of the Holy Spirit in the earth? There are so many questions, regarding so much about the Lakeland meetings, one hardly knows where to begin in responding.
Revival, by its very nature is non-normative, unusual, and often foreign to our conventional spiritual experiences.
Whenever there is an outbreak of revival, or something called revival, spiritual people, honest inquirers of truth, begin to ask questions, especially when they encounter spiritual practices and behaviors theyve never seen before. Such questions are a natural response to the unusual and oft times strange dealings and movings of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus walked among men, more than once His own disciples found themselves bewildered by Jesus non-normative words or actions. Jesus often said what conventional religion was certain was the wrong thing to say; He healed on the wrong days, He visited the wrong environments and spent time with the wrong kinds of people. His Kingdom was in direct conflict with the kingdom of this world, and even with the religious understanding prevalent in His day.
For the disciples of Jesus to be puzzled by these things was normal, and to be anticipated in a non-normative environment. When His followers and his questioners were confused by His words and His actions, Jesus provided a basis for understanding by revealing the fuller truth of scripture that they hadnt considered.
Today, leadership bears the responsibility of responding to questions about revival, and to attempt to answer the doubts that always appear with a visitation from heaven. This is not to suggest that leaders will always have a full understanding or ability to answer every question if heaven is invading earth after all, much of what God is doing will be beyond the understanding and explanation of earthly leaders. But when leadership either fails to respond to questions or attempts to dodge the doubts that appear, the credibility of leadership and the veracity of the supposed revival are both cast into suspicion.
Misunderstanding and misinterpretation will always occur when God is moving because those in leadership arent always clear, arent always complete in what they say and do, and dont always realize they have spoken part, but not all of what they understand. To put it simply, leaders are human, and the best of us will be guilty of errors of commission and omission from time to time. But when misunderstandings are voiced, leadership bears the responsibility of responding openly and without defensiveness to those misunderstandings.
Where error is discovered, leaders must speak openly about that error, and make whatever correction is appropriate. An attitude of openness and humility will go a long way in creating a sense of trust and confidence among those attending or participating in revival meetings.
Since there are so many questions swirling in the Body of Christ about Lakeland, I want to respond in principle to what Ive observed, read and communicated with other respected leaders about these particular meetings. Lakeland, it seems to me, is unique among the historical and contemporary revivals we can examine, to include Toronto, Brownsville, Smithton and other recent visitations of God, in part due to its access to daily, worldwide television broadcasting, coupled with the power of the internet.
I fully realize that to address Lakeland by name immediately makes me a target of those who are defensive about the subject. There are those who will attack any inquiry, using the default defense of claiming that anyone who questions anything about a revival is either demon-possessed or demonically inspired. Charges of religious spirit are hurled at anyone who asks questions such as, is there a biblical basis for (fill in the blank).
Severe warnings are leveled at those who question a practice or a doctrine in revival such as, if you keep asking those questions, youll quench the Spirit and stop the move of God. If we truly believe that revival, and the Spirit behind revival are so fragile that an honest question might kill it, how can it be much of a move of the God of creation in the first place?
Heresy hunters are abundant who appear at the door of every move of God with their spiritual fly-swatters, ready to squash anything they dont understand or like. There are any number of critics of revival who will deny virtually any move of the Holy Spirit, and denounce any supernatural event that is claimed to have originated with God. Im not a part of that attitude, spirit or company. I trust that the reader will understand that my only agenda is Gods, and that the only side I take is the Lords. Having cried out to God for revival through the past nearly forty years, and having seen God graciously bring His manifest presence among the church, I believe that those credentials will establish the foundation from which I view whats happening at Lakeland.
I have experienced both personal and corporate revival. Ive personally experienced moves of God in Southeast Asia, Europe, North America, the Pacific and Central America. Im not a stranger to the surprising and even shocking appearance of the Holy Spirit in the midst of Gods people, accomplishing things I had previously never known about or understood. I have searched the scriptures to either validate or to nullify what was happening in those places. I have witnessed the creative, miracle-working power of God, and have witnessed incredible physical healings and have received documented, professional evidence of such healings. I have personally experienced one, documented raising from the dead (1988, Washington State, independently certified by a physician, a fire department chaplain, the deceaseds wife and hospital staff).
Ive been counseled to lay low and say nothing regarding Lakeland, because my reputation may be damaged by speaking out, but I have no reputation to protect. Within my heart is a longing to see a true, world-shaking revival. That longing compels me to speak out, even at the risk of losing friends and of making enemies. Thats not my intent or hope, but its an eventuality that I recognize may well occur.
I dont intend to offend or to anger anyone in what I will say, and I beg the reader to receive my words as those from a sincere brother who desires to see the fullness and the glory of God expand in the earth.
Finally, my responses are not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of concerns, but are the major concerns I have about what is being called revival in Lakeland, Florida.
First of all are the many questions about what has been taught about angelic encounters. There should be nothing wrong with asking questions about the subject, because the topic of angels and angelic ministry is replete throughout scripture. An entire branch of theology is called Angeology or Angelology (depending upon ones educational system). The study of the ministry of angels will convince the honest heart of the veracity of angelic reality, of their ministry to the saints of God and to the fact that their activity on earth is normative rather than exceptional. I have personally been ministered to by angels on several occasions in the past nearly forty years of my Christian experience. My personal familiarity with angels is not a proof of their existence and ministry, but rather is an attempt to show the reader that I have no theological or practical objection to teaching about angelic ministry.
Given the revelation of scripture that angels exist, move, speak and act on behalf of the saints of God, there should be no apprehensiveness to speak about and deal openly with the subject.
Further, there are questions regarding comments or stories about communication with the dead. Todd Bentley has spoken openly about being taken into the Third Heaven where he met with Abraham, David and the Apostle Paul. Todd describes Pauls physical appearance, and tells us that the Apostle revealed to him that he, Paul was the author of Hebrews. He tells us that Abraham visited Paul and virtually dictated the Book to him. This is something that no scripture supports, and is a claim Paul never made while he was alive. A law of biblical interpretation, and thus, our understanding of doctrine is that we ought to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where scripture is silent. If the Bible does not mention the authorship of Hebrews, and if the best scholarly investigation of the ages cannot conclusively show the authorship of the Book, we should not presume that God would reveal this to one particular person among all the saints of God who have walked the earth in two thousand years.
Without entering into the deeper discussion of the Bibles command not to seek communication with the dead, let me simply say that this kind of teaching is troubling, at best. The entire discussion as presented by Bentley can be found at http://www.etpv.org/2007/encwh.html .
Suffice it to say that communication with the deceased is a serious matter and it is needful that we rightly understand what the Bible says on the subject. (See Deuteronomy 18:10-13).
To his credit, in an attempt to deal with some (but not all) these questions, Todd has recently published Lifting Jesus High! Bringing Biblical Light to Your Questions about the Lakeland Outpouring & Todd Bentley.
In his letter cited above, Bentley says, I'm thankful that people are being watchful in these last days, just as I am watchful. Questions are good when we're uncertain of things."
And Todd is correct: Everything - every word, every song, every manifestation must be tested and discerned by those who are spiritual, not to discourage these things, not to thwart Gods people in the manifestation and use of the spiritual gifts, but to preserve that which is true.
But discerning and evaluating are never enough in themselves. If what is applied to the test of scripture has failed investigation, but is not corrected and made public, where is the value of discerning? If at some point leadership does not answer the question, "Is this, or is this not, God?" what is the benefit of such testing?
Discernment and public explanation of that which is truly a mixture is not a negative thing, but is rather a safeguard to prevent the false from weakening the true; it is a means of preventing the escalation of an imitation revival and to encourage true, Holy Spirit-borne revival. Discernment, coupled with action towards what is discerned is like a chef preparing a dish who tests the flavor, discerns the subtle presence of spices and evaluates the whole process of preparation. Without this procedure, the resulting meal can be inedible.
I, for one would not want to attend a meeting where nobody (in spiritual leadership) could look me in the eye and state, "THIS IS GOD," anymore than I would want to dine on a meal where the chef could not say to me THIS IS GOOD.
What are we thinking if we believe we can get by with an attitude that says, I think this is God, I hope this is God, or this may be God? The Apostle declared without equivocation, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak (2 Cor. 4:13). Revival is far more than spiritual fun and games; revival is a life and death matter. The Kingdom of God demands that we investigate, search out, and then speak out.
Again, I want to emphasize that Im not some kind of revival policeman. I have had deep experience with the non-normative, exceptional workings of God. Ive walked for years in the physical manifestations of the Spirit of God. God has expanded, more than once, my capacity to grasp that He, God is much larger and more capable of operating outside my paltry theological systems and understandings than I ever believed possible.
Im not throwing cold water on the hot coals of Lakeland. Indeed, if possible, I want to blow on those hot coals the transformed and radically energized lives touched by Gods Spirit there and see them scatter across the earth to create a fire of heavenly glory that will transform society. But if I or any Christian leader simply winks at what we know is false and dangerous, we do far more damage to the work of God than is supposed by our calling to account those who laugh and continue on, enabling false mixture to corrupt the work of God.
In my opinion, much good has come out of Lakeland in the hearts and transformed lives of honest seekers of God. But before we assign too much credit to the leadership of the revival, we should separate the personalities of leaders who may be in error from those who come, seeking an encounter with the Lord who, in spite of practical errors of leadership and even grossly errant doctrine, receive of Gods goodness. God will not deny Himself. If an honest heart reaches out to Him, He will fill that heart, and God will deal with the leader who speaks that which God has not spoken, and does that which God has not commanded.
Indeed, one of the most frightening dangers surrounding revival arises when leadership begins to believe that what God is doing has something to do with the leaders of that revival. There is a slippery slope that has led many revivalists to ruin, that begins when they begin to feel either indispensable or key to the perpetuation of Gods presence. The truth is, God meets His people where hunger exists. As a former leader of revival, I understand intimately the relative insignificance of my presence, my teaching, my leading in revival. The painful truth (to our fragile egos) is that God moves, with or without us, and certainly without our help.
There are some who will read my words and conclude that Im just another guy with control problems. I am not. I want God to be in control in total control. But Gods control always presumes our compliance with His will and His word.
Lastly, allow me to speak about the reality of three personages that always are part of the mix when God is moving extraordinarily, namely, God, the flesh and the devil.
This mix can never be totally controlled or eliminated among the attendees of a revival, and leadership should actually expect the unsanctified and the unholy to have a place in revival meetings, since the very reason for Gods manifest presence is to reveal and deal with the works of the devil and the flesh. If everyone attending our revivals were sanctified, Holy Ghost-filled, dedicated disciples of Jesus, why would we need revival?
Mixture in those who gather for revival must be anticipated and even welcomed because God desires to heal and to deliver people whose lives are entangled with sin and failure. However, mixture in leadership is another matter altogether, and one that MUST be addressed by "those who are spiritual."
Where a leader is in error, his peers must help him, teach him, admonish him as brothers and sisters and as fathers and mothers. No spiritual leader is correct one hundred per cent of the time. There must be a spirit of humility in all of us that welcomes the corrective judgments of spiritual peers. We all are flesh and are subject to the limitations of the flesh. We get tired. In our weariness we may say or do things we would not do or say in a more rested state. We receive teachings that are less than biblically based. We believe things we cant support. We are young, inexperienced and unlearned and we must grow. The best among us know in part, and prophesy in part. These are not ear-marks of a demonically inspired ministry. These are not indications of a false prophet or that the evangelist is a counterfeit.
Heresy hunters without spiritual discernment and with obviously selfish agendas abound, looking to stamp out any spark they deem to be ignited in hell.
Im speaking of correcting, not crushing.
Many years ago, I was a military Air Traffic Controller. I guided countless aircraft through thick fog and what we called zero visibility. My radar provided an accurate representation of where an aircraft was in relation to altitude and course. The pilots I worked with were the best in the world. Some wore the rank of General. But all of them, because of the limitations of their aircraft or human ability or because of weather conditions would tend to drift off course from time to time. And in those times, I would say to them something like, drifting left, turn right, heading such and such. The pilot, realizing I had his safety foremost in my mind would respond, Roger, turning right, heading such and such, and would immediately comply with my instruction.
Never did a pilot say to me, Im offended that you would suggest that Im off course. Dont you think Im a qualified pilot? Dont you understand that Ive flown thousands of hours? Who are you to tell me what to do? (After all, I was just a lowly Staff Sergeant, and he was a mighty Officer).
Im not claiming in this article to be a General in Gods Army. Im probably closer to the rank of a lowly Staff Sergeant. But Ive got a radar (Gods Word) to guide me, and a responsibility to say to erring leaders, drifting left, turn right heading such and such.
Hopefully, those who recognize that drift will respond, Roger, turning right.