Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Canuck runs amuck?

Way down south in Polk County, Florida leaders of the "Assemblies of God" have raised the alarm about a faith healing revival now about to enter into its fourth month.

While Democratic candidate Barrack Obama has repudiated his own controversial Illinois pastor, and his opponent John McCain has been criticized for being too cozy with the fundamentalist right, At the centre of this controversy is 32 year-old, Todd Bentley of Abbotsford, B.C.

The "Assemblies of God" is the largest predominantly white Pentecostal fellowship in the United States. Its general superintendent, Reverend George Wood, has expressed concern about claims Todd Bentley has made about encounters with angels named Emma and Wind of Change.

Bentley runs Fresh Fire Ministries in British-Columbia. He is flamboyant and controversial. He presents an unusual figure covered in tattoos and jewelled lip studs. He's an unabashed fan of professional wrestling. Since last April 2nd his giant tent revival which draws more than 30,000 people per week has been pitched next to Lakeland's Sun'n Fun Air Museum, thirty or so miles west of Disney World.

Across North and South America, in fact reaching all the way into Europe, the Lakeland revival has become an international internet phenomenon. Faith healing is a part of the Pentecostal tradition, and a major focus of Todd Bentley's evening services. What has church officials alarmed are the claims that because of prayers offered on their behalf; at least 25 people have been raised from the dead! The alleged resurrections haven't only raised the dead, but many sceptical eyebrows as well.

Mr. Bentley is non-plussed by the criticism he says he's just...."preaching and teaching the gospel and praying and healing the sick." In Florida, the Superintendent of the Peninsular Florida District of the Assemblies of God, Reverend Terry Rayburn, sounds a note of caution: "In a spiritually charged atmosphere, there is the possibility of excesses - astral travel, out-of-body experiences, healings that can't be verified." He told the Lakeland Ledger..."half the people calling our office want me to shut it down, which I would not be inclined to do even if I could. I have no authority over (Bentley)."

On the other hand those who participate in the meetings are convinced the revival is genuine. Last week a couple who travelled from Sheffield, England to attend affirmed the claims that people are saved, people are healed and Jesus is being glorified.

Beware; the signs and the warnings are posted. But if Reverend Bentley is as good as his claims maybe the healing is just what America needs.

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