Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cult of Charismatic Personality

This article in Christianity Today by Collin Hansen details yet another integrity problem within the larger Charismatic movement. The Lakeland, Florida revival lead by Todd Bentley had credibility problems from the beginning, yet it attracted tens of thousands of people and took on a life of its own over TV and the web. The article comes on the tail of quite a bit of outspoken frustration on both sides. From the beginning of the revival, a lot of people questioned Bentley, his personal integrity, and his tendency to hit and kick people when praying for them (no kidding!). In the article, one of the standard defenses of Bentley and Pentecostal revival is given by the pastor currently mentoring him and encouraging his return to the ministry after his divorce and marriage to his former assistant:

"If you are such [a] judge of this what gives you the credentials?" Joyner asked Grady on March 12. "What moves of God have you led? What have you built?" He went so far as to allege that Grady's judgment matched Bentley's infidelity in the economy of sin. [Joyner is the pastor defending Bentley and Grady is the journalist for Charisma who has questioned Bentley’s capability]

This kind of reasoning and deliberate manipulation of the situation infuriates me. What Joyner (and so many like him) said was grossly irresponsible and a naked power-play using God as his personal sledge-hammer.

To me, this raises much larger issues. Though all of us from any denomination are human and fallible, why is the Pentecostal movement so prone to following people whose only credentials are their eccentricity and ability to use the right vocabulary and inflection? The Pentecostal movement (and I speak as a Pentecostal pastor) needs some serious reflection and reform. For what it is worth, here are some things I think need to change on the grand scale for us.

We need to redefine “revival.”
Whether Pentecostal pastors admit it or not they tend to equate revival with emotionalism. And emotionalism is a horrible place to put your faith in God. Revival is not measured by the number of bodies that hit the floor; by the number of unsubstantiated miracle reports; by the amount of media buzz generated; by the number of international attendees. It is measured, pure and simple, by the fruit of the Spirit.

Revival happens when lives are genuinely, and in a lasting and growing way, changed by God. It is measured by the furtherance of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of this world in families and social structures.

We need to wean ourselves from the milk of “ends justify the means” ministry.
This is clearly the defense used to justify the ministry of dozens of heretics and spiritually abusive ministries. If it “works,” obviously God is blessing. The number of “humanist churches” is growing across the country, obviously God is blessing. Thousands of people flock to the pagan Burning Man festival every year, obviously God is blessing.

If the fallacy is not clear to you, you may be beyond hope.

We need to reestablish orthodoxy as the litmus test of revival and ministry success.
Instead of being tempted to cast a blind eye to obvious problems with spiritual power-plays the way Joyner did, we should learn to value fidelity to Christ and His Word over personality. The current culture of Pentecostalism has become idolatrous in the way it holds men up over doctrine.

Our denominations need to make doctrine more of a priority than charisma or “leadership.” After all, we are called to preserve the faith once and for all handed to the saints, not to make effective CEOs out of our pastors.

We need to stop hiding behind the canard, “you can’t touch the Lord’s anointed.”
In case you don’t know, that phrase was used to describe Saul at the pinnacle of his sinful behavior. In deference to God, not to Saul, David did not kill him. David was honoring God, not Saul, when he spoke those words. So, it is a biblical fallacy to use that phrase to defend people who are making clear mistakes. God was on His way to destroying Saul when David spoke those words—is that how we want to use that phrase?

We need to reevaluate who we consider ministry “heroes.”
For all of its influence in the Pentecostal movement, the Azuza Street Revival is deeply misunderstood. The man at the middle of it all, William J. Seymour, was a little unorthodox in his methodology to say the least, but his writings after the revival reveal a deep commitment to the core ethic of Christian orthodoxy – love. Seymour watched the power of God transform lives and tear down the economic and racial barriers the structures of the world erected with such ease. Ironically, his influence was overshadowed by more charismatic and influential white men who tended to be racists, and we have suffered from a cult of personality ever since.

Our heroes are not the most popular, the ones with the largest churches, book sales, or their own TV shows. Our heroes are the faithful preachers of the Gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. They toil week in and week out to be faithful to God’s Word and the congregation they oversee. Some of them have answered God’s call to the corners of the earth and we will not know anything about them until we learn of them in God’s glory.


Suzanne said...

Very powerful words, my neighbor. Thanks for your boldness in sharing them.

Praying for the fruits

Rusty said...

"We need to redefine “revival.”"

Yes, it amazes me that we seem to think that we can bring on a revival. Weren't the revivals of the past brought on by God, at His timing?