25 July 2011

Why Shallow Evangelicals Are So Susceptible to Charismatic Frauds

The Death of Discernment and the Rise of the Lakeland "Revival"
by John Macarthur
(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel, 3rd ed., Crossway)

ome of the most popular and dangerous evangelical fads of the past fifteen years have involved waves of charismatic fervor that have sown confusion and discord in every culture where they have been embraced. I'm talking about the Toronto Blessing (where "holy laughter" and other forms of pseudo-drunkenness were declared to be signs the Holy Spirit was moving); the Kansas City Prophets (a movement led by a group of self-appointed seers whose prognostications were usually false and whose private morals were even worse); the Pensacola outpouring (whose major features were gold dust and gold tooth fillings that supposedly appeared miraculously, but the revival disbanded amid charges of fraud and embezzled funds). Then (most recently) those movements were all eclipsed by a supposed revival in Lakeland, Florida whose leader embodied all those errors and turned out to be twice as much a son of hell as all the religious scoundrels he imitated (cf. Matthew 23:15).

Here's how Charisma magazine summed up that debacle:
[Lakeland Revival founder Todd] Bentley's faith and exuberance impressed seasoned, prominent revivalists while his wild tactics often tempered the enthusiasm of other leaders. When praying for healing, the tattooed evangelist was known to hit the sick in the stomach with his knee in a move more common among wrestlers than preachers. Bentley even recounted kicking a woman in the face in an act of "obedience to the Lord."

Yet, with the exception of a few ministers, many charismatic leaders chose to overlook Bentley's peculiar methods for the sake of what they saw as "fruit." They claimed the revival stirred many Christians worldwide to pursue God with a renewed hunger.

"Personally, I believe that the Lakeland Outpouring was another wave of revival like Toronto and Brownsville," said Los Angeles-area pastor [Ché] Ahn, referring to the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Revival, both of which occurred during the 1990s. "Each wave has its own life span." [Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, "Lakeland Revival Officially Ends" Charisma (13 Oct. 2008).]

You might think the cumulative effect of so many "prophetic" movements, all of them being totally discredited in fairly rapid succession, would heighten a craving for more careful discernment among evangelicals. But every new charismatic tsunami seems to grow larger and confound more people than the previous ones. Each wave is considerably more bizarre and certainly more grossly unbiblical than all its predecessors, yet each one pulls in Christians who previously seemed fairly mainstream. Craving something more than the shallow fare they are force-fed in the average evangelical church, they are eager patsies for a charlatan who promises supernatural signs and wonders instead of the superficial skits and tomfoolery they have grown accustomed to.

John MacArthur's signature


Tyrone said...

Let those who believe in God's Word be encouraged by this as it proves the accurateness behind the truth of God's Word, the Bible!

2Ti 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.

Anonymous said...

I think the answer lies in your question.

1. Perhaps some, evangelicals are susceptible to charismatic frauds because they are theologically shallow.
2.Perhaps those who call themselves Evangelical who don't endure healthy doctrine don't even define the term Evangelical theologically.
3. Perhaps those whom you mention as shallow are focussed more on man-centered worship and the personality of the pastor than corporate worship that focusses on God, so they fall into the Corinthian syndrome.

Morris Brooks said...

Put on a good show and the people will come. Those with shallow faith or no faith at all will call crowd frenzy a movement of the Holy Spirit, and those promoting or leading the event certainly won't correct them.

Pierre Saikaley said...

"They claimed the revival stirred many Christians worldwide to pursue God with a renewed hunger."

It's what I often refer to a "zeal without knowledge". These "revivals" may be giving off a lot of heat, but it's still strange fire. Lev. 10:1

Barbara said...

I know that a lot of people follow that because that's what they want, but I think that a lot of the time, people just don't know any differently. There is so MUCH of that in and around us that people think that's what Christianity is because that is all they have ever seen, and so upon coming to Christ they begin to follow the only "light" they see. I'm reminded of 2 Peter 2:18. Justin Peters (dot org) has a wonderful seminar entitled, "A Call for Discernment", very gently and lovingly presented, designed to equip the Christian to speak the truth in love to those who are being led astray by this, by taking these peoples' own words, manifestations, and doctrines (Christological and otherwise) and holding them up to the light of Scripture. It is eye-opening, well presented, and well worth the considerable time involved to learn these things.

Joe Blackmon said...

I think the likelyhood of someone following one of these false prophets is inversly proportional to their spiritual maturity. In other words, the ones who get drawn into garbage like this are either very, very weak in their faith knowing little of any doctrine or they're not saved at all to begin with.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Stephen Martin in his "The Heresy of Mind Control" cites physical abuse, particularly hitting, as an element of cult control.

Speaking of being susceptible to charismatic frauds let's hope that John MacArthur will be rethinking having any charismatics speaking from his pulpit.

The Predestined Blog said...

I am in agreement with Joe Blackmon and point #1 on Joshua Bovis. I'm here in KC where I have to constantly battle the international house of prayer (IHOP-KC). Almost everyone I know that goes there has very little grasp on theology and the Bible. Just ask them the difference between a miracle, answered prayer, and a spiritual gift or what is sola scriptura! It is unfortunate that many of the people who fall are the youth...

stratagem said...

I think the reason so many are attracted to these sorts of movements is because it is taboo in our culture to suggest that someone who claims to be a believer, isn't a believer.

Mike Westfall said...

I blame it on a lack of catechesis in the modern church. Nobody even knows what the Bible says, much less how to interpret it properly. Nobody knows what to believe, so they'll believe anything, no matter how bizarre.

Still waiting for some group to implement "Whizzing in the Spirit" as a new move of God, and I won't be surprised when it happens.

Ransom said...

I'll admit that Todd Bentley had one positive effect on me: during the whole Lakeland debaclee back in 2008, he inspired me to read Elmer Gantry. Between his violent "healing" schtick and his "blah blah blah" style of speaking in tongues, I couldn't remember ever seeing a more obvious spiritual fraud. (That he was having it off with his children's babysitter on the side at the time came as no surprise.)

Mike, I vaguely recall seeing a YouTube video of "New Mystic" John Crowder praying for a man to wet his pants. Frankly, I doubt there's anything within the most extreme fringes of charismania that isn't taken as a sign and wonder.

aaronisaiah said...

I personally don't go to these crazy events but if they're were only two churches left on earth Todd bentleys or a dead church where the bible is a dead book I would choose not to go to either one. They are both equally dangerous, one God is a show the other God is a no show.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Strat said: "I think the reason so many are attracted to these sorts of movements is because it is taboo in our culture to suggest that someone who claims to be a believer, isn't a believer."

We need to be careful here. Because we can't read the heart, all we can really say is "doesn't look like what a believer would do to me." And the Bible gives us plenty of instances of the fruit of unbelief (Galatians 6 comes to mind).

When a professed believer is confronted with his misbehavior according to the Biblical standard, he may either repent or ignore the message. That's the beginning of church discipline, according to Matthew 18. If he remains unrepentant, the process ultimately ends in his excommunication.

What excommunication says to the person put out of the church is that by Biblical standards they aren't acting like a believer, and so we must leave them to God's judgment rather than our own.

But outside the framework of this Scriptural form of discipline, it is perilous to pronounce a professed believer not to be. We can wind up tacitly setting ourselves as judge of the heart in place of God.

So when we deal with these off-the-wall sorts, it is probably best to simply identify their Scriptural errors and call for them to repent of what they have said and written.

donsands said...

"...superficial skits and tomfoolery they have grown accustomed to"


I pray God would grant His people a genuine hunger for His Word; a true delight in the Law and the Gospel. Psalm 1 Amen.

By His grace a have a fine pastor, who teaches and preaches the Word. And I hunger for my Lord, whom I love, and put all my trust.

Merrilee Stevenson said...


This is what I have come to appreciate so much about John MacArthur. Without batting an eyelash, he calls a spade a spade (or in this case, a son of hell twice the son of hell).

"Craving something more than the shallow fare they are force-fed in the average evangelical church, they are eager patsies for a charlatan who promises supernatural signs and wonders instead of the superficial skits and tomfoolery they have grown accustomed to."

This could actually describe a junkie, who needs more to get high. Would that the average evangelical church become so addicted to the pure milk of the word and hunger and thirst for righteousness, wherein they would truly be satisfied, and God be glorified!

stratagem said...

Mark Hanson - thanks for proving my point, I appreciate it!

Matt Aznoe said...


I think you raise an excellent point. As Jesus said, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. So when do we start calling leaven "leaven"?

The problem, I believe, is that when we start to hold ourselves to a Biblical standard, we risk condemning ourselves before God. But rather than confessing and abandoning our sins, we decided rather to simply let others slide, and so we no longer have any authority to speak. Instead, we should humble ourselves and draw near to God, and then, filled with His Spirit, speak out against all false doctrine and evil fruit.

The Church needs a season of repentance: from the churches of Joel Osteen and charismatics to the halls of Grace Community Church. We have all sinned and strayed from the Lord's commands, and it will take men of conviction and holy, Spirit-filled living to call the Church to account. May God raise up such men.

stratagem said...

Matt - thanks. I think you are saying that it's easier for us to let ourselves slide if we let others slide - that way, we're not hypocrites... true enough.

My reply to Mark Hanson was a slightly different point - we are afraid to call people who have no real Biblical beliefs, non-Christian, as long as they themselves claim the term. I don't for a minute think Matt. 18 applies to this type of person; it applies to brothers and sisters who are believers, but have gotten themselves into a ditch.

No wonder we've gotten ourselves into such a milieu of misbegotten manure: We're letting nonbelievers define what a Christian is or can be.

Eric said...

"...it will take men of conviction and holy, Spirit-filled living to call the Church to account. May God raise up such men."

Indeed God has raised up such men and will continue to...the current example included.

donsands said...

"The Church needs a season of repentance"

The Church needs to repent every day, 7 times 70 times. I know i do. It's the heart that confesses it needs repentance, and hates it, and longs for the realm of glory, where our Lord and Savior has made no room for sin, and perfect holiness. Wow! that's something to look forward to.
Until then, we need to stay in the Word, repent, confess our sin, and trust in Christ and depend on His grace, so that we can live and walk in His light.

here's a quote from one of our Puritan brothers, who probably walked in light, and lived a much more godly life than most of us:

"O my crucified but never wholly mortified
O my life-long damage and daily shame!
O my indwelling and besetting sins!
O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!
Destroy O God, the dark guest within
whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace;
The Cross still stands and meets the needs in the deepest staits of the soul." (Valley of Vision)

stratagem said...

I'm going to stick my neck out and add that calling a false teacher who claims to be a Christian, "twice as much a son of hell" probably qualifies as calling him a nonbeliever.

Mizz Harpy said...

"Craving something more than the shallow fare they are force-fed in the average evangelical church, they are eager patsies for a charlatan who promises supernatural signs and wonders instead of the superficial skits and tomfoolery they have grown accustomed to."

I would agree that it is craving something more that led me from the Episcopal church to charismania but at root it's really about catering to people's selfishness. I attended charismanic (the misspelling is intentional) churches because I craved something deeper but it was really because I wanted to feel special, have a 'special' prophetic word, speak in tongues, ect.. Modern seeker churches also cater to this base inclination by offering classes and teaching that help people feel included, entertained or helped. At root both cater to sinful human selfishness and neither offer any remedy, if they did they would lose their clientele.

I thank God for websites such as this and books by the reformers otherwise I would never have been aware of how deadly the sine of selfishness is.

Not Ashamed said...

Relevance is always waiting to rear it's ugly scripture twisting blasphemous head and throngs of sign seeking, tongue speaking, self gratifying, experience driven crowds can't wait for the next round of the charismatic gong show.
The problem is, they are so driven by their emotions that no one can hear the banging of the gong sounded by the (and God bless them) John McArthurs of this world...Augustine, Luther, Knox, Spurgeon, Pink all dealt with the same issue during their lives as did the Apostle Paul himself.

When the exhuberence is gone and fear and doubt creep in and your idol has crashed and burned what else do you have but to build another...and another....and another. Your temple is built fast and furious on sand.

You nailed it Tyrone 2 Tim 4:3. Seems that was written with today in mind...oh yeah, it was.

May God grant them grace and repentence for to hear those words of our Savior..."I never knew you."

John said...

If there should be any doubt about the false prophets that surrounded Todd Bentley, one only needs to go to YouTube and look at the video of his commissioning service. There was the might host of the New Apostolic Reformation (C. Peter Wagner, Che Ahn, Robert Johnson, Rick Joiner, John Arnott) pronouncing the things that would flow from Lakeland. What was it, four days later when Todd left his wife ran off with his little girlfriend. It might have been a record in terms of the time between the prophecy and its falsity coming to light. And these are the supposedly apostolic lights? Yea, right.

Barbara said...

Following up on John's comment....

...don't forget Stacey Campbell in the commissioning service, opening up the Old Testament and pronouncing Bentley as the new "Living Epistle like the Word become flesh" through her literal head-spinning. That's not just emotionalism - that's something else entirely.

stratagem said...

Someone said that? Wow that is outright blasphemy.

DJP said...

Barbara, looking at that sort of stuff — it's like when a Christian (ex-Roman Catholic) pastor friend told me about the scapular — which a priest had put on his dying, unsaved father. I was absolutely floored. No way, no way those people trying to explain how RCism was Biblical and Christian knew about the scapular.

So then I brought it up to a group of Roman Catholics, and got shrugs and defenses and "That was a nice touch."

So you'd think you'd show this to Charismatic enablers and see horrified disowning... but I remember the disappointing silence from some quarters.

Barbara said...

Well, Justin Peters' seminar helped to open my mother's eyes - and those of some of her friends. The Gospel still has power and Mr. Peters presents it in contrast to the doctrines taught by this movement. I am grateful.

Cork said...

2 Timothy 3:8-9 -Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was...

Apostle Paul said, "In the last days "PERILOUS" times will come"....not in "THESE" last days, but in "THE" last days...The perilous times Apostle Paul was talking about are these days of deception, men holding a form of godliness, doing great signs and wonders...

Apostle Paul also said that evil men will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Each move will continually worsen...My oh my, why don't people believe the Word of God? 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2 should put fear into any signs and wonders seeker.....

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Anonymous said...

I think this is due to the lack of Gospel preaching from pulpits which has effectively filled many churches today with the unregenerate, a/k/a goats.

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’’ Matthew 7:22-23

Jeremy said...

This is utter nonsense but I tell you it's relatively tame compared with the stuff they show over at The Museum of Idolatry. Another thing of interest if I'm allowed to mention it is an article called 'Navigating the Emerging Church Highway', it about 3 years old but well worth a look if you havent read it.

Anonymous said...

I am so totally sick of liars in the pulpits. Joyner, Jacobs, Pierce, Bentley and a host to many to name come to mind.

The few who do tell the truth are maligned just like the Bible said would happen.