Faith healer Todd Bentley called a fraud, false teacher
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--A new faith healer is making headlines for his claims of supernatural powers, but conservative evangelical leaders warn that Todd Bentley is a fraud and a false teacher.
Bentley, leader of a revival that began in Lakeland, Fla., this spring, is known for his multiple body piercings and tattoos, his violent healing techniques, his claims of angelic visions and "holy" laughter and "holy" vibrating shakes. He even claims to have raised dozens of people from the dead.
In one YouTube video, Bentley, who is Canadian, can be seen kneeing in the stomach a man with stage 4 colon cancer. When the man bent over in obvious pain from the blow, Bentley said, "I had to be obedient to the Lord, sir, but I believe that colon cancer is coming right out of your body now." In other videos, Bentley explains how he kicked an elderly lady in the face, banged a crippled woman's legs on a platform "like a baseball bat," choked a man, "leg-dropped" a pastor, and hit a man so hard it dislodged a tooth -- all because God supposedly told him to do so.
The Associated Press said it could not confirm any of a dozen cases in which Bentley's ministry claimed medical verification for his miracles.
Bentley claims to be visited regularly by angels, including a 20-foot-tall angel in his apartment on one occasion and on another occasion an angel that knocked him out of his body. One angel's name supposedly is Emma. Bentley also says that Jesus Himself appears to him.
On June 7 in Lakeland, Bentley read a prophecy from Wendy Alec of the GOD TV network claiming Jesus would personally visit the stage the following night. (GOD TV broadcasts the services.)
"The 8th of June the anointing of the King of Glory falls. Jesus said, 'I am coming in person,'" Bentley read. He added, "Tomorrow the King of Glory sets foot upon the stage in divine personal one-to-one visitation."
After reading the prophecy -- which sounded like the second coming of Christ -- Bentley appeared to back down from the claims of personal appearance, explaining that Christ's appearance may be an "atmosphere" or "spiritual experience" rather than a bodily appearance.
Bentley claimed on another occasion to have been transported four to five hours into the future to see what would occur at a revival meeting he was scheduled to lead.
During services, members of the audience who claim they have been healed or who are requesting healing walk on stage, where Bentley touches their head, yells "Bam!" and watches as the person falls back, "slain in the Spirit." Among his more dramatic claims of healing, he says one particular man can now see out of a glass eye and that another person grew an eyeball. He also claims to have seen a woman's tumor exploding out of her leg and sliding down to the floor.
Sometimes, portions of his service are spent with him lying on the stage laughing, with the audience -- all supposedly caught up in the Spirit -- laughing, too. Other times, people lay on the stage jerking violently and appearing as if they're experiencing a seizure; supposedly they are simply full of the Spirit.
Bentley recently announced that he will be leaving the Lakeland meetings in order to conduct meetings overseas. His last day at Lakeland is scheduled for Aug. 23.
Hank Hanegraaff, author and host of the popular "Bible Answer Man" radio program, called Bentley "an absolute false prophet." He calls what's going on in Lakeland a "counterfeit revival."
"Unfortunately today people are looking for God in all the wrong places," Hanegraaff wrote on his website. "They're going to hear in Lakeland all kinds of things, from people being resurrected from the dead -- not true, no details, no descriptions -- to supposedly people being pickled and marinated in the Spirit.... In fact, they're going to hear about vibrating in the Spirit now. This guy is an absolute phony. Unfortunately people are falling for his ruse."
Hanegraaff added, "When you say God did something He didn't do or the Holy Spirit told you something He didn't tell you, that's blasphemous."
Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, bemoaned the fact that people believe Bentley's claims.
"Every few years here comes another fraudulent, scandal-riddled 'faith healer,'" Moore said. "That's, sadly, no surprise. I am not dubious about healing. I believe that God heals today.... We all know, however, that there are those who will use the power of God to peddle a product.
"What's most tragic about this cycle, though, is the fact that there's always a constituency for guys like this. I fear that it's more than just P.T. Barnum's famous old maxim about the gullibility of the American public. I fear that there's something missing in our churches that drives even some of our people to charlatans. Might there be less of a demand for these traveling health-and-wealth revivalists if our churches spent more time on our knees in prayer for sick and hurting people?"
Moore encouraged believers to pray for the sick according to the commands of James 5:13-15 instead of looking to faith healers like Bentley.
"Perhaps if we gave more attention to prayer in our own churches, the most desperate among us -- in our neighborhoods and in our pews -- would have less reason to search out a self-appointed carnival-tent apostle," he said.
Bentley claims he has the anointing of the mid-20th-century preacher William Branham, a faith healer who denied the Trinity and "prophesied that by 1977 all denominations would be consumed by the World Council of Churches under the control of the Roman Catholics, the rapture would take place, and the world would be destroyed," Hanegraaff's website states.
At a recent Bentley healing service in Louisville, Ky., attended by Baptist Press, claims of the blind being healed, the dead being raised and visitations from Jesus were all on display.
In an evening service July 17 at Evangel World Prayer Center, Bentley claimed that several dramatic healings had taken place earlier that day.
"There was a boy born blind in one eye healed today," Bentley said. "A woman that was deaf in an ear took her hearing aid out, a man who was crippled in a wheelchair 41 years. We've had testimonies of drug addicts that have been set free and testimonies with chronic pain."
Bentley and officials from Evangel church estimated that 8,000 people attended the day's events, which involved a healing service at noon and an evening service broadcast simultaneously to three venues in two locations. While giving his testimony to the crowd, Bentley, 32, claimed to have raised 32 people from the dead and led 1 million people to faith in Jesus Christ before he turned 30.
Baptist Press noted at least five people in wheelchairs in the meeting who appeared to remain uncured throughout the service.
During the healing portions of the evening, Bentley called out conditions he claimed God was healing for people attending or watching the service. After calling out the conditions, he encouraged people who were healed to come forward. Dozens came claiming healing from conditions ranging from arthritis to stomach disorders, liver failure, diabetes, jaw problems and torn shoulders.
"In the name of Jesus Christ I take authority over every spirit of infirmity tonight," Bentley said. "Cancer is going to be defeated. Spirit of cancer, come out of your body. I rebuke every cancerous tumor. I rebuke terminal cancer. I command every cancer to come out of your body."
He added that AIDS, Parkinson's disease, kidney failure and other conditions were also being healed.
"I want to hear you contend for your miracle because the power of God, that healing anointing is here right now, and God is beginning to move and we're releasing that river of healing right now," he said.
At the time of the offering, Bentley suggested attendees would not receive a blessing unless they gave generously.
"People get stingy when they give, but they want a generous blessing," he said. "I'm telling you, there's something about you reap what you sow. So you think about that as I sow. You think about what God wants you to plant as a revival seed."
Bentley claimed biblical warrant for his activities.
"There's nothing fancy about Todd Bentley," he said. "I just love God and show up and God shows up. We pray for the sick, and people get healed and set free because I believe the Bible. I believe the Word of God."
But while giving his testimony later in the evening, Bentley said he heard the Gospel from the Bible many times as a teenager but could not believe without a supernatural experience. He was saved only when God spoke audibly to him in his drug dealer's trailer and told him that was his last chance to make a decision for Christ, Bentley said.
He invited listeners to be saved and told them that Jesus could forgive all their sins and make then a new creation.
Bentley was called to ministry, he said, in 1998 when a "glory liquid honey cloud" came through the kitchen of his apartment and into the living room. It rested over his head, and the "manifest tangible presence of God" did not leave his life for three months. During that time Bentley was "slain in the Spirit" from four to 12 hours per day and saw many visions, he said.
After the three months were complete, Bentley said Jesus appeared to him on Mother's Day and told him he would never return to secular work again.
"[Jesus] said, 'I have a ministry for you, and it begins today, Mothers Day 1998.' He said, 'You will go all over the world, and you're going to bring a healing revival,'" Bentley said.
God has fulfilled that prophecy in part in the past 100 days in Lakeland where "untold thousands" have come to Christ and 3,000 people were baptized in one service, he said. He added that Benny Hinn and other faith healers influenced him in ministry.
Bentley knew to bring the revival to Louisville when he received a vision, he said. While slain in the Spirit in Lakeland, an angel appeared to him and told him someone named Bob Rodgers would receive an anointing, Bentley said. No one in the crowd that night was named Bob Rodgers, but one person identified the pastor at Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville as a man named Bob Rodgers. Bentley knew that meant revival was coming to Louisville, he said.
"We're after an atmosphere," Bentley said. "Come on people of God, we're after a revival atmosphere."
Hanegraaff, the host of the "Bible Answer Man" radio program, said he often gets criticized for "judging" Bentley. Hanegraaff said such criticism is not biblical.
"Not only is judging permissible -- it is a responsibility. Nobody's teachings are above sound judgment. Especially those who have influence and power," he wrote on his website, adding that people are leaving the meetings shipwrecked in their faith. "… While our Lord cautioned followers not to judge self-righteously, He also counseled them to make judgments based on right standards, and in the context of oft-quoted commands by Jesus such as 'Judge not or you too will be judged,' Jesus also exhorted us to judge false prophets whose teachings and whose behavior lead people to abject misery. Thus, while we're commanded not to judge hypocritically, we are, nevertheless, called to judge."
David Roach is a writer based in Louisville, Ky.