What is going on in Florida?

It's a funny thing about the Christian community how whispers and rumours start of something exciting, and gradually more and more get to hear about it, and then everyone's talking about it. Over the past few weeks I've been witnessing this happen in regards to the move of God currently centred in Lakeland, Florida, through the ministry of a guy called Todd Bentley (pictured, and by the way doesn't he look awesome?!). It is perhaps an unique phenomena in the immediacy of its impact: it is being broadcast on God TV, you can watch clips of meetings on sites like YouTube, cheap airfares mean many people from the UK are actually flying out there to experience what God is doing...

So what do I think about it, as a Christian and as part of the leadership team of a local church? Leaders are called to shepherd their 'flock': direct them towards good pasture, keep them safe from wolves, etc. so I have to have an opinion! Leaders' decisions and opinions don't just affect them, they can affect hundreds and thousands of people, so I want to make sure I get it right! That's one of the real pressures of leadership, and it drives us to our knees.

What is clear is that God is doing some phenomenal things: His presence is touching many people and they are having fresh experiences of His love, His peace, His joy, and other fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is also healing people and saving people - hallelujah! I am absolutely convinced that healing and other miraculous signs are part of God's agenda for His church today, and what I find really exciting is that I'm hearing more and more stories of healing from all over the world, and the UK, not just from this one location in the USA. There are some aspects of what is being taught that I am not comfortable with however. Some of the things being said about about 'third heaven experiences' and angels seem to me to not match up with what God has told us through His Word, the Bible. I am not criticising Todd Bentley or anyone else involved because that's not my place, but I want to give leadership to those I do have responsibility for, so I feel I have to highlight this too.

Some people would challenge me for saying anything against what is happening in Lakeland, but I think there is a clear biblical mandate for us to test everything we see happening. Look at these verses from 1 Thessalonians 5: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good." I do not want to quench the Spirit (God forbid!) and I want to hold fast to what is good. So what does Paul say we should do? "Test everything". The test is this: is what is happening inline with what Scripture teaches? Much of what is happening at Lakeland is, some of it is not. So whilst I celebrate and hunger for the experiences of God's presence, healings and salvation, I don't accept all that is being taught.

The other troubling thing for me is that some people would now tell me that 'how Todd Bentley does things' is how we should now do things. I understand that this often comes from excited, enthusiastic people, and I can see how the argument goes: 'Well if doing things like that worked for him, if we do things the same way it will work for us.' But can you see the risk of legalism there? I am very wary of anything that treats God like a cash machine: do a certain action, get a certain response. God is personal, not automatic: He does what He wants. That's one of the most wonderful things about what's happening in Lakeland; I look at some of what is said and done and think, 'God, are you crazy?! Can't you hear what they're saying?!' But He does as He pleases, giving gifts as He sees fit: He's wonderful.

Without sounding irreverent, I have something of a pick'n'mix attitude towards the many things God is doing around the world. For example, I love the worship songs that come from the Hillsong churches, and enjoy singing them but their teaching leaves me cold. On the other hand, I love the teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, but really don't like their music! So with what is happening at Lakeland I want to embrace the wonderful encounters with God, but that doesn't mean I have to also embrace all that is said there.

Christians so often squabble about trivialities and end up losing our focus and our dignity; I don't want to do that. Equally I don't want to mindlessly accept as 'from God' everything that claims to be, because the risk then is that we go down wrong paths and end up in wrong places. This can feel like a balancing act, but it is one which God will give us the grace for.

The bottom line is this: Jesus must get the glory.

Finally, I'd like to direct you to some comments by Terry Virgo. Terry is the founder of Newfrontiers, the family of churches that my church is part of. Over the years as I have encountered Terry's ministry at conference and in his books, and met him personally, I've been incredibly blessed by the fruits of his passion for God and his godly wisdom. So Terry's comments have been really helpful for me in weighing up what I am seeing and hearing, and I think they will be for you too. His blog comments start here (it's a two-part blog), and the audio file of comments he made to a meeting of leaders I attended are here. If those links don't work, you can find Terry's site on my list of sites on the left hand side of this page.