Years ago, I heard a wise old preacher observe: “When our humanity meets His divinity, things often get messy.” I also once heard a theologian discuss the meeting of flesh with God’s power as compared to the meeting of a finger with an electrical outlet. “If a few volts scars the flesh and stands one’s hair on end, what might happen when a man radically encounters the presence and power of God?”
I am a Pentecostal. And I am a Charismatic (as are all Pentecostals). My Pentecostal history, which includes Methodism as well as Judaism, is filled with stories of messiness and craziness. It is filled with all sorts of bizarre phenomena, unexplained manifestations, and oft-criticized weirdness. A prophet supposedly called by God to marry a prostitute. A man of God supposedly called to lay on his side for 14+ months. A preacher who claims God told him to cook his food over piles of human feces. Imagine for a moment that a prominent speaker in 2008 started eating his Big Macs over steaming piles of human poop. Now imagine what would happen in today’s culture–someone would come and videotape it and put it on YouTube. And then everyone could write articles about their opinion of this preacher, and evaluate whether he has heard from God, and they could discuss whether there was truly any fruit coming out of this “ministry” of dung dining.
Fact of the matter is this: When God meets man, weird things happen. Imagine if someone with a reporter’s pad and a YouTube uplink was present when Jesus was healing the blind. I wonder what everyone would have to say when Jesus started rubbing spit and mud on the guy’s face. Or how about the time when Jesus ministered healing to the blind man, but it didn’t “work”? The guy still couldn’t see very well, even after the prayer of healing. Things changed later, but I wonder what onlookers from 2008 might have recorded about Jesus’ false claims to healing–“He claims to be a healing minister, but this guy wasn’t even healed after Jesus prayed for him.”
Consider also the state of the Corinthian church. Here’s a church with some real issues. Some serious sin. Like spiritual abuse; spiritual excess; lots of flesh, control, and manipulation wrapped up in the spiritual gifts… incest, fornication, all kinds of immorality. False teaching. And yet… and yet… the Apostle Paul calls the church “saints,” and REPEATEDLY VALIDATES THE TRUE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN THE MIDST OF THE FLESH.
Why am I writing all of this? Because there is something going on in Lakeland, Florida, tonight. Something that has been going on for months now, and will continue for who-knows-how-long after tonight. Some call it the “Florida Outpouring”; some call it the “Lakeland Revival.” I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s Spirit-led. I have not been there. But what I do know is that I have been reading opinions and evaluations of these meetings for some months now, and most everything I have read is very quick to find the flesh in Florida, but very slow to find the Spirit. I suppose that is because, like most news media, people like to write about and read about the negative. Saying “God Is Good!” is not as “sexy” (to use a journalist’s term) in the headlines as “People Are Bad!”
What I also know is that if the criteria currently being used to judge the “Florida Outpouring” had been used to judge the leaders, prophets, and even Savior of my Judeo-Methodist roots, the baby would have been thrown out with the bath water, and I likely would not be a Christian today. Some of my thoughts on the logic of how many Christians are evaluating the Lakeland phenomenon:
* IF a movement is damned based on the mistakes, blunders, and impulsive statements/actions of the leader, then the early church, just after Christ’s death, should have been damned under the grossly flawed and human leadership of Peter.
* IF a movement is marginalized based on the weird, bizarre, unfamiliar, and seemingly fruitless/fleshly manifestations that distract others, alienate the lost, and at first glance draw attention away from Jesus, then the 120 in Acts chapter 2 should definitely have been marginalized.
* IF a movement is deemed heretical because the leadership’s “spiritual” behaviors remind onlookers of pagan practices and remind observers of the occult, then not only was the church of Acts 2 heretical based on Peter’s cultic babblings and seemingly drunken freakish behavior; but what of Philip’s ministry after the astroprojection-type incident in Acts 8?
* IF a movement is condemned based on the disreputable associations of its leadership, then Jesus had a lot to answer for when one considers Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot, Matthew… the list goes on (at least two of whom ministered on His leadership team).
* IF a movement is kicked to the curb because its leadership claims to have had visions that are absolutely anti-biblical, then we should discredit the early church based on Peter’s claims in Acts 10.
* IF a movement is to be vilified because of sin in its leadership and sin in its constituency, then Paul should not have encouraged and guided the Corinthian church, nor should he have validated the authenticity of their faith. He should have slandered and criticized them.
* IF a movement is invalidated when the leadership has problems with control, manipulation, sensationalism, or egocentrism… Then I suppose that covers just about every move of God throughout history. Do not those words basically describe the human condition?
* IF a movement should be shut down based on some stupid stuff, even ungodly stuff, that has been said or done from the platform… Well, I guess your church oughtta be shut down, too.
I’m not defending or justifying any behavior or any claims of “revival.” As for Lakeland, I consider myself an ignoramus unless I were to visit there myself; until then I can only look through the tinted and filtered lens of some reporter. What I AM saying is that many people are coming to conclusions using logic that they cannot consistently apply, and would not consistently apply, to the scriptural narrative.
My purpose in this post is not to give a solution, nor is it to suggest what the proper criteria are for evaluating a purported move of God. I am simply attempting to hold a mirror up to what I see as faulty thinking and double standards. I challenge every critic of the “Florida Outpouring,” and the critics of all these other controversial pastors/preachers/churches, to shift their focus for even a moment. Amidst the hundreds of things you have written about all the wrong, why don’t you take an evening–just one evening–and see if you can find some right?
SOME USEFUL LINKS:
* Letter from Florida Outpouring Leadership, Addressing Criticisms
* NBC News Report on Florida Outpouring
* Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera Interviews Todd Bentley (below)