Thoughts on the Lakeland movement
I believe that the current movement centred on Lakeland, Florida, is not a true revival from the Lord.
Although I have not been to Lakeland, I have attended a number of UK meetings heavily influenced by ‘Toronto’ and its related phenomena, including one led by Rodney Howard-Browne at which Gerald Coates and Colin Dye were present.
I reported this in the Christian press, as well as in an interview with Mick Brown, a freelance journalist who had written a piece on ‘Toronto’ for the Telegraph Supplement. So I have had contact with these phenomena and with people who have been ‘Toronto’-ed or ‘Bentley’-ed.
Personally, I am a passionate hater of formalism and spiritual dryness in Christian gatherings. But from my understanding of Scripture, it happens to be the case that God always works in line with his own character. Additionally, he works in such a way that we can learn to discern his working and discover precisely what it is he is doing.
What, then, are my reasons for doubting the authenticity of the Lakeland movement?
1. Overemphasis on physical sensations
The emphasis on physical sensations from ‘Toronto’ onwards, through ‘Pensacola’, and now ‘Lakeland’, is legendary. People constantly speak of tinglings in the skin, burning sensations on their skin, ‘fire’ on the skin, and so forth. Occasionally we hear of ‘lights’ and ‘glory clouds’. Sometimes we hear of the implantation of metallic objects in the body, such as tooth-fillings, and the like. We also see and hear of people falling backwards or crumpling in a heap on the floor.
Of course, on occasions, a true work of God is accompanied by physical sensations. But in a genuine work of God, these are purely accidental. They are not a hallmark of a work of God. Similarly, people do sometimes fall down before God in genuine revivals: they fall face down, overwhelmed by the glory of God and conviction of sin. Then they rise up, just like some of the encounters with God described in the Bible, knowing that they have been cleansed of their sins. But always the God of the Bible, Jahweh, is at the centre of everything.
In this Lakeland movement, people feel zapped into a state of drunkenness or stupor, but these experiences are not self-interpreting. People will say, ‘Well, what was that about?’ Or: ‘What happened to me then?’ Then some an advocate of this movement will try to place some spin on these events. But in reality, they have no intrinsic intelligible content. Yet when God works and follows His word with signs, even the signs have a very clear message. God’s aim is communication with people. He does not give experiences for experiences’ sake.
Healings have also been described. But these in themselves prove nothing. And even they can be counterfeited by evil spirits. So they do not prove a genuine work of God.
But why so much emphasis on the physical? Why is this such a hallmark of this movement? Maybe God has allowed this feature so his true people can distinguish the false from the true.
2. Lateral impartation
In ‘Toronto’-type meetings, the Spirit is said to be imparted through the laying-on-of-hands. By this they mean not just that the Holy Spirit is imparted when laying-on-of-hands takes place, but that he actually travels through the very hands of the person placing his hands on the candidate. In other words, God’s power is thought to be conducted, almost like electricity, by physical objects and actually to travel through them. This opens the way to physical ‘points-of-contact’ as used by various well-known Healing Revivalists, in which they ask people to put their hand on a television set while they pray, and so forth.
This is a kind of quasi-magical practice and does not agree with apostolic practice. It is a fact that various spiritualists and magic practitioners use physical contact in order to transfer or impart power to other people. People know about this and so, when they come into the Christian arena, they think something similar is going on, except that for Christians the power happens to be the Holy Spirit. But this is not so.
How God really works
One passage in the New Testament tells us exactly how God works. In Acts 8, Philip proclaimed God’s message to the Samaritans (8.5,12). Philip was enabled by God’s Spirit to do various miracles and so people took notice of his words. By the way, please notice that the purpose of the miracles was to draw people to the message, not the purpose of the message to prepare people for the miracles (8.6). These people believed (8.14) and were immersed in water into the name of the Lord Jesus (8.12,16). So they became believers, most of them born again of God’s Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon them (8.16). What happened next?
‘Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received God’s Message, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet he had fallen upon none of them. They had only been immersed into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 8.14-17).
Although these Samaritans became believers, and were born of the Spirit, they had not received the outpoured Holy Spirit. We know this because it says: ‘For as yet he had fallen upon none of them’ (8.16). They had been immersed into Jesus’s name, yes, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon them. The apostles were concerned about this and wanted to complete the work by ensuring that the Holy Spirit did indeed fall upon these new believers. So Peter and John visited them and laid hands on them — and they received (8.17).
What does ‘falling upon’ mean?
If the Holy Spirit falls upon someone, he falls upon them from heaven. He is sent upon people from the presence of the Father and the Son in heaven. So he descends from heaven — from above.
It is clear, in Acts 8, that the Holy Spirit did not literally travel through the apostles’ hands because that would not be a falling from heaven — it can’t be. No, he falls upon people from heaven.
The point of the laying-on-of-hands is to declare publicly that these new believers were now officially part of the Spirit-baptised Body of Christ. It was a matter of identification. They now shared a common identity. So when hands were laid on them by these two representatives of the original body, the identification was completed and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. And where did he fall from? From heaven itself!
If the Holy Spirit really had to travel through people’s arms, then laying-on-of-hands would be necessary every time someone needed to receive the Holy Spirit as power from on high. But this is not the case.
So when the Bible says that the Holy Spirit was given ‘through the laying on of the apostles’ hands’ (8.18), it simply means that, when the apostles laid their hands on them, they did receive the Spirit — as simple as that. It is not describing the mechanics of the Spirit’s operation, but it is pointing out that the two events are associated in some way.
You can see the same thing from Acts 10.44 and 11.15. The Bible nowhere justifies the concept of ‘lateral impartation’ — the notion that the Spirit travels, like electricity, from one person to another as if by a physical conductor. Yet this is the very way the ‘Toronto blessing’ passes from one person to another.
‘Lateral impartation’ takes the emphasis away from God and places it in the hands (literally) of a cadre of ‘anointed messengers’ who go around zapping people into states of altered consciousness. So people are obliged to travel to ‘revival centres’ and receive impartations from these ‘key-players’.
3. Angelic visitations
There is no question in my mind that there are angels all around us and that God constantly uses angels to serve his people, namely ‘those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1.14). I can relate occasions in which angels have helped God’s people on earth in recent times.
But this is very different from the idea of one individual having frequent meetings with an angel, particularly one called ‘Emma’, dressed up like Kathryn Kuhlman, who floats above the ground, and so forth. Where in the Bible is there an example of a manifestly female angel? Angels, of course, are not sexual beings, but invariably the biblical angels, when appearing in human form, appear as men, rather than women, and the two that are named both have masculine names, ‘Gabriel’ and ‘Michael’. Interestingly, both these names contain reference to God ‘El’. The name ‘Michael’ means literally, ‘Who is like God?’ When angels appear, they are imposingly powerful and radiate strength. There is nothing delicate about their appearance. Significantly, William Branham’s counterfeiting angel understood this and appeared as a powerful man with brown skin and long hair. That angel was only too aware that Branham knew his Bible well enough to be suspicious if a spirit turned up dressed as a woman!
The Bible never suggests that we can experience daily or weekly meetings with ‘our angel’? On the contrary, angels turned up only when absolutely necessary. They would do the business and quickly move on their way so as not take the attention away from their Creator. Their business was to serve and glorify God, not to steal the show. We are told the names of only two, these being given tasks of making momentous announcements, such as the news of the birth of Messiah Jesus to Mary or defending the Jewish people as a whole. They did not routinely make trips to speak to people. If we are people of God, we have our fellowship with God. Like us, angels are no more than servants of God. And in the end we will be exalted over angels (1 Corinthians 6.2).
4. Lack of emphasis on the Cross of Christ
In any true work of God in this present age, we should expect a strong emphasis on the Cross of Christ.
The Cross of Christ is God’s tool to convert people from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God. It is only by means of Jesus’s sacrifice of himself on the Cross that sins can be forgiven. But before that can be appreciated, there needs to be some conviction of sin. Before people start seeking Christ for forgiveness, they have to know that they are sinners through-and-through — otherwise they will not genuinely see their need for salvation from sin.
But the Cross of Christ is also a mark of genuine ongoing, day-to-day faith in the context of the Christian life. Every day a true believer will be confessing his or her sins to God, desiring to be more like God in character. Every day the true believer must surrender his or her will to God’s will. Our purpose for being here is not to discover ‘the fulfilled life’, but to live entirely under God’s directorship. He is our boss, and we are born again to be solely at his disposal. Of course, this is the path to true fulfilment, but fulfilment is only secondary to God’s purpose for our lives.
Although it is claimed that some people are dedicating their lives wholly to God as a result of this movement, we still have to ask, ‘Which God?’ We have to question whether these alleged conversions are authentic or just counterfeit experiences. If the Cross is not in there somewhere, we can be sure that the work is not of God. On the other hand, just because the Cross may be mentioned in words does not mean that it is being proclaimed properly. These things need to be examined more carefully and not in the gung-ho way so prevalent in this generation.
The emphasis in the Lakeland movement seems to be more one of self-fulfilment and self-empowerment. In fact, Todd Bentley admits that he has been influenced by the late Kenneth Hagin, whose message was centred on personal empowerment and prosperity. But this is not true Christian empowerment. True empowerment is given to us to hide ourselves and, instead, glorify God by enabling us to lay down our own lives, take up our cross, and follow him — daily. We are to be ‘clothed with power from on high’. What does clothing do but cover us? We are to be covered up so that people will see not us, but the Lord. Then we become ready to proclaim his message in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we lay down our lives for him daily, then we can experience God’s empowerment enabling us to proclaim his truth.
6. Therapeutic testimonies
It is significant that almost all the testimonies of blessing are therapeutic. For example, there are testimonies of deliverance from health problems and addictions. But there is little mention of God forgiving sins and so releasing people from objective guilt.
7. A false image of God
It is possible to worship the true Creator, but to view him according to a false image. This is the point of the second commandment.
The first commandment to the Israelites was this: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ (Exodus 20.3).
It is possible to worship an entirely false God. However, it is also possible to worship the true God by a false image. So God made this the second commandment:
‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image: any likeness [of anything] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, Jahweh your God, [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments’ (20.4-6).
And the image in question does not have to be a physical one. It can be a mental or conceptual one. So, if my attitude is, ‘I like to think of God as X’, then I am projecting my own personal image of God on to God. In Islam, for example, the distribution and respective weighting of God’s characteristics or attributes is very different from the distribution and respective weighting of characteristics attributed to God in the Bible. This shows that it is possible to worship God the Creator according to a different image.
The image of God projected in this Lakeland movement, and throughout the ‘Toronto’ and Vineyard movements, differs in many respects from Jahweh, the God of the Bible. An obvious example is the assumption that God is willing to work on an impersonal level as a mere force, whereas, in the Bible, God always operates in a personal and relational way. That is because God is a personal being and the main aim of his intervention in our lives is to forge personal relationships with us. Another is the idea that God operates according to defined spiritual laws so that, just as long as we obey these laws or principles, the blessing of God is automatically guaranteed. This again makes our dealings with ‘God’ impersonal.
This idea runs throughout the writings of Kenneth Hagin, whose ministry was actually a fusion of E.W. Kenyon’s doctrines with Latter Rain spirituality.