Beware of Strange Fire

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Todd Bentley, Lakeland Revival
Todd Bentley at a Lakeland Revival service

We all want the genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power. But we must be careful not to allow counterfeits.

Almost as soon as I heard about the revival manifestations occurring in Lakeland, Fla., people began asking me questions. “What is it all about?” “Is this really revival?” Rather than answering these questions directly, I want to provide some guidelines for weighing and testing such things in the body of Christ.

In response to previous “revival” outbreaks in North America, many respected leaders took the stand that there was a mixture: God was at work, but so were the flesh and the enemy. However, instead of exercising discernment and godly authority to deal immediately with the things that were not of God, most of the proponents of the revivals embraced an attitude of tolerance toward what was happening. Some claimed scriptural support for this approach from the parable of the wheat and the tares recounted in Matthew 13:24-43.

Jesus used the parable to teach His disciples to allow the wheat and the tares in a field to grow together until the time of harvest. But His comment was taken as support for a policy of allowing the good and the bad in revival meetings to occur simultaneously—in spite of the obvious danger that people could be deceived into thinking the Holy Spirit was behind all the manifestations, some of which were clearly not of God.

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Jesus, however, explicitly stated that the field in which the two crops are growing is the world, not the church. Here, the wheat and the tares must be allowed to grow together until the final end-time harvesting. Otherwise many potential members of the body of Christ will be robbed of the opportunity to choose salvation.

Applying this parable out of context to the church implies that the principle of letting the good and the bad grow together is equally appropriate inside the body of Christ. Nowhere in Scripture is such a view substantiated. As Derek Prince said, “The Bible gives us no liberty to tolerate the incursion of evil into the church.”

If you want to know how to handle things in the church, you have to look at the Pastoral Epistles, in which discipleship and a journey toward holiness are described as the norm. Unrestricted freedom for demons to produce manifestations, which are then labeled as the work of the Holy Spirit, will always result in the possibility that even the elect will be deceived (see Matt. 24).

The fact that God may be doing good things in some people’s lives is not a valid reason for allowing the bad to prosper alongside the good. The counterfeit must always be discerned, exposed and dealt with.

Here’s a scriptural example. On one occasion when Jesus was on earth, Simon Peter spoke out an amazing,

God-inspired truth about the identity of the Messiah. But when, a few minutes later, the same man spoke deceptive words, Jesus did not validate the error by allowing it to stand unchecked alongside the truth. He immediately took authority over the enemy working through Peter and said: “‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Matt. 16:23, NKJV).

Jesus was quick to discern the mixture and did not mince words in addressing the problem. In doing this He was teaching us an important lesson about dealing with deception.

Mixture in the Church

If Jesus was not willing to tolerate mixture in the life of one of His disciples, why should we allow it to go unchecked inside the church? Surely we, too, should not only bless and commend whatever God may be doing but also deal firmly with anything that is from the enemy.

Isn’t that the heart of discipleship as expressed by the apostle Paul to Timothy? Paul warned Timothy that “in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

Then he said, “Reject profane and old wives’ fables” (v. 7) and “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (v. 16). Paul then says that this will “save both yourself and those who hear you” (v. 16, emphasis added). Paul knew that the sheep would also be affected if deception were tolerated in the shepherd of the church.

The gifts of the Spirit include the gift of discernment, and this is perhaps the most needed gift of all in the body of Christ today. Myriads of people have written and spoken on the prophetic and healing, but where are the complimentary voices teaching about how to apply Paul’s guidance to Timothy and how to discern the true from the false?

Perhaps an equally important question is, where does mixture in the church come from? If we are familiar with the sources, we will more likely be able to discern what is not of God. The primary sources of mixture in the body of Christ are: the world in the church, undiscerning and unhealed leaders, false prophecies, ignorance of the enemy’s devices, and lying signs and wonders (supernatural occurrences that have their source in the power of Satan and not the power of God).

The world in the church. The Lord’s Prayer encourages us to pray that the kingdom of heaven will come on earth. This is not a prayer for the Second Coming but a prayer that kingdom principles will be the determining factor for followers of Jesus. But there is another ruler who reigns over the kingdom of darkness and, because of man’s choice at the fall, he is also the ruler of this world’s systems (see 1 John 5:19).

Satan’s principles and practices are always at variance with those of God’s kingdom. Paul challenged believers not to “give place to the devil” in their lives (Eph. 4:27) and stressed that the battle we are all involved in is not against physical entities but against “the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

He also warned that tolerance of all forms of immorality, occult practices, selfishness, idolatry, drunkenness, greed and so on will disqualify people from inheriting the kingdom of God (see Gal. 5:21). When the world is given license in the church, the spiritual powers of the god of this world are also given license to operate there.

Undiscerning and unhealed leaders. All leaders have a responsibility to discern and deal with the work of the enemy both in their own lives and within the body of Christ. When people operate out of an unhealed past (caused by such things as rejection, ungodly sexual relationships, trauma, abuse, drugs, New Age experiences, witchcraft or even satanism) they are open to deception. Leaders are not exempt.

They can become an unwitting channel for the enemy’s influence and may find themselves battling with secret issues such as immorality, inner compulsions or addictions. And because they are the shepherds, whatever spiritual powers may still be operating in their lives can then, also, influence the sheep.

On conversion people are forgiven, no matter what sins they have committed, but forgiveness and healing are neither the same nor are they usually simultaneous experiences. Salvation is received in a moment, but the process of discipleship, healing and deliverance has to be worked out with “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

We live in a fast-paced world (and church) in which instant results and solutions are expected. This contrasts sharply with the path of discipleship—especially of leaders. It is a costly, time-consuming but essential process.

If the discipling, healing and delivering process does not take place, untrained character and inner brokenness can remain a hidden source of demonic power in a person’s life, causing everything from ungodly behavior and relationships to bizarre manifestations and off-the-page supernatural experiences. Deep damage requires deep healing as well as major deliverance, and it is unwise to allow people with a damaged but unhealed past to exercise any form of leadership until it is abundantly clear that they are mature and are operating under secure and discerning spiritual cover.

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