Sunday, September 10, 2017

Brownsville, Lakeland, and Irma

In 1995, the Brownsville Revival broke out in Pensacola, FL, and lasted over five years. More than four million people attended, with at least 200,000 new converts to Christianity, receiving the power to work indescribably great miracles. More than a thousand enrolled in the supernatural ministry training school, hoping to harness their new supernatural apostolic anointing to work miracles and spread the wonderful message of Brownsville.

In April 2008, the Lakeland Revival broke out in Lakeland, FL. Lasting over six months and led by Apostle Todd Bentley, this revival had over 10,000 nightly attendees and hundreds of thousands more watching over the internet. Over the course of this apostolic outpouring, tens of thousands of people were brought to Christ, and myriads were anointed with apostolic, miracle-working power.

So, Florida should be chock full of Spirit-empowered, apostolically anointed, miracle-working believers who can do greater works than Jesus (per John 14:12). And Jesus calmed a raging storm. So as this massive Hurricane Irma is barreling down on the state...

You know where I'm going here, and you already know that it isn't going to happen. Oh, sure, there may be a total loon starved for attention who will try it and accomplish nothing (update: when you need an attention-starved total loon to accomplish nothing, Kat Kerr and Lance Wallnau have you covered). But the vast majority of these self-proclaimed workers of miracles won't even bother trying. Much like how Benny Hinn never seems to bother healing all the patients in a children's hospital, these folks yammer endlessly about their great power to do the miraculous, yet go mysteriously silent when they could actually be of use. I'd like to offer some reflections on this for your consideration.

1) Their lesser interpretation of John 14:12 is wrong and they know it.
The interpretation widely accepted within Charismaticism limits the "greater works" to miracles, and they claim that anyone who has received the Spirit can and will do miracles surpassing what Jesus was able to do. Then they consistently fail to do so, and rarely make even a token attempt. Though they say they believe this interpretation, few of them even try to act like they do, and none of them - not individually, not all of them combined - have a track record that would confirm it.

Now why do I call it the "lesser" interpretation? Because their strict focus on miracle working eliminates the actual greater works - bringing new life to spiritually dead sinners through proclamation of the gospel, building the church. This is shown in Acts, which was in circulation before John's gospel was written, and serves as a record of the ministry of the Apostles. This verse must be understood such that the greater works Jesus mentions are those emphasized in Acts. There we find that the miracle working was continually downplayed, while gospel preaching is central.

Take all the miracles recorded in Acts together, and you get less than Jesus did in just Matthew 8 and 9. But what greater works do we see? "There were added that day about three thousand souls." "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed." "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul." And on and on. Those are the greater works Acts emphasizes and Jesus meant - the proclamation of the gospel bringing sinners to repentant faith in Jesus Christ.

That was the emphasis of the ministry of Peter, Paul, John, Philip, and the like. Their obsession with miracle working shows them to be not like Simon Bar-Jonah but Simon Magus.

2) The actual number of people who came to faith in Christ at these revivals is probably zero.
I was going to say the reported number of converts is greatly exaggerated, but let's cut right to it - based on everything I've ever seen from these revivals, there is zero chance anyone could be saved through them. Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. To be saved, the gospel must be preached - and so far no one has produced any evidence of that at these so-called revivals.

Lakeland was primarily Todd Bentley. Zero chance of gospel proclamation there. Brownsville lasted five years, so maybe in those hundreds of messages, something Biblically sound snuck through. I've personally heard several dozen of them, from luminaries such as Steven Hill, Michael Brown, Yonggi Cho, Jentzen Franklin, and Rodney Howard Browne, and if they are at all representative...

Chris Rosebrough has been digging up Brownsville sermons for the last year or so. Listen to a few, such as these recent examples from Michael Brown and Jentzen Frankin. Can someone be saved by that? There are numerous other examples, and they follow a similar pattern. The main focus of the sermon is the greatness of the preacher. The secondary point is "Yay, revival!" There will be a heavy dose of "you have to do this better!" Any scripture brought up will be twisted beyond recognition and discarded. Jesus will scarcely be mentioned if at all. You might get the occasional blatant heresy. And the gospel will be completely absent.

When I evaluate sermons, I ask what the result would be if someone fully believed and completely obeyed everything that was said. In the case of every single Brownsville sermon I've ever heard, the answer is the same - the listener would remain dead in his sins and destined for hell.

I'd love for someone to prove me wrong here. Just one example of the gospel being clearly and faithfully presented at one of these revivals. But the more I've heard from Brownsville, Toronto, Lakeland, the Fire and Glory one in San Diego now, the less likely it seems anyone can produce it. It just isn't there. And without the gospel, nobody is being saved.

3) Whatever spirit was leading these revivals sure wasn't the Holy Spirit.
I don't know how someone could listen to Todd Bentley for more than about three minutes and not figure out he's demonic. But Brownsville also produced a cavalcade of people who were obsessed with signs and wonders, cared nothing for sound doctrine, buried the gospel, preached messages that left their hearers damned, and preached themselves instead of Christ. If that isn't demonic, what is?

After all that, we can answer the original question - after two huge miraculous revivals, why isn't Florida overwhelmingly full of Spirit-empowered apostolically-gifted Christians who can command Hurricane Irma to stop? Because Scripture does not promise us that kind of power, so these people wouldn't have that power even if they were Christians, which they're not.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A word about Antifa

I would like to say a quick word about the growing "anti-fascist" movement that calls itself Antifa. But first, a story.

My freshman year of college, I lived in a dorm on campus. One of the dorm rules was that you were not allowed to build certain things in your room, including lofts. A loft provides precious storage space to a cramped dorm room, so everyone would want one, if only they could get around the problem of lofts being specifically forbidden.

Some friends of mine decided to take a creative stab at getting around the "no lofts" rule. They went ahead and built a loft in their room, then carved the words "NOT A LOFT" into the side. One day when an RA happened to see the not-a-loft and pointed out that lofts were not allowed, someone responded, "True, lofts are not allowed. But (pointing to the words), as you can clearly see, this is NOT A LOFT."

Maybe the RA appreciated the sense of humor and decided to reward them. Maybe he was stunned at the sheer audacity of calling the loft "not-a-loft" and expecting it to matter. Whatever the case, it was allowed to remain, and went unchallenged the rest of the year.

Now I share that story with you because it's completely ridiculous (but true!). They built something that looked like a loft, functioned like a loft, was actually a loft, but slapped the word "not" on it. Does anyone actually think using the word "not" in the name negated what it clearly was? Call it not-a-loft, call it the anti-loft, call it whatever you want, by design, appearance, and function, it was most definitely a loft.

And that's all I have to say about Antifa.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Deceivers and their Deceived

Within the past few days, I've seen three news stories about deceptive false teachers that had eye-popping numbers. Much could be said about these wolves, but here I want to consider the deceived, those who pack stadiums and cut the checks to support these charlatan ministries.

First: yesterday the offices of uber-heretic Benny Hinn were raided by the IRS (makes sense, long time coming) and USPS (suspected mail fraud perhaps?). When the IRS is through, we may get a peek into just how much money pours in for Hinn every year. Conservative estimates have been in the $100 million range, though it is likely significantly higher. Whatever the actual number turns out to be, it's a gargantuan amount of revenue flowing from deceived to deceiver.

Second: Robert Morris, famous for his "blessed life" version of the damnable prosperity gospel, appears to be encountering significant shortfalls, which would be absolutely hilarious when you consider what he teaches. But forget about the possible losses for a second and look at how much revenue this den of robbers takes in annually - about $147 million. That's... a lot. A thousand times more than my church's annual budget.

Third: Kong Hee, the self-appointed apostle of City Harvest Church of Singapore, had his sentence reduced from 8 years to 3.5 years, and his co-conspirators received similar reductions. Their crime? They had diverted at least $50 million Singapore (~$35 million US) to promote the music career of Kong Hee's wife in an attempt to conquer the media/entertainment mountains of the Seven Mountain Mandate. To have $35 million to use on a side project (largely consisting of the pastor's wife living extravagantly in LA and making awful music videos), you can imagine how much they must be raking in.

Three staggering examples of the extreme amounts of money these wolves have amassed. That cash comes from somewhere - despite the ludicrous miracle-working claims of Hinn and Hee, they can't make money materialize out of nothing. No, there are millions of people willingly forking over their hard-earned money to these charlatans. Why? Why would someone write check after check after check to these grifters? How can they be so deceived?

The unpleasant answer: they give them so much money because they want to. They are deceived because they want to be. They look at what these charlatans promise, and in their hearts they think, "I want that." Whether they are promising God as a means to superpowers and health and wealth like Hinn, or God as the Blessed Life Vending Machine where you put in your dollar and get back a hundred like Morris, or promising God will make you the miracle-working super-soldier who will conquer the world and gather the wealth of nations like Kong Hee, they are promising what the unregenerate, sinful heart wants.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
The vast majority of people giving to these wolves are not Christians being duped, but the unregenerate pursuing what the unregenerate heart craves. These wolves, and many others like them, promise all the pleasure and riches and fame the sinful heart desires, with just enough of a God talk veneer to make it look respectable. And the masses go after it, because it is ultimately what they want. They are not the duped innocent but willing participants.

What do we do about it? Keep reading in 2 Timothy and the answer is clear - know, believe, and proclaim the scriptures. In the face of such ungodliness, especially that claiming to be part of the church, we have this charge: Preach the word. In the gospel alone is the power of salvation.

Examples like these show us the depth of our sinful human depravity. Only the word of God can overcome our sinfulness, open our eyes from willful blindness, and bring us to life.