I can think of nothing worse than for God to be powerfully at work and I miss it – all because I was biased and devoid of discernment. All my life I have waited for an authentic work of God that was not unlike the Great Awakening in Jonathan Edwards’ day. In more recent years I have hoped to see the beginning of ‘last day ministries’ – when Isaac succeeds Ishmael – which would precede the Second Coming. God owes me nothing and it may please him to by-pass me entirely in what he chooses to do.
I wondered if passing me by might be happening with regard to Lakeland. I say this because I have become more and more uneasy with what was going on there. It happens that I watched the Lakeland meetings virtually every night for the last three months. I prayed for the evangelist and for the people there. I would stand before the TV screen and pray for my own healing. I tried very, very hard to support this strange move, especially when some of my closest friends were endorsing it and urging me to do the same. Furthermore, knowing that God loves to do what makes some of us say ‘yuk’, I was prepared all over again for this to happen.
What complicated things most of all was that people were apparently being healed. At last count there were 37 resurrections from the dead. If only one of them had a coroner’s death certificate it would be a very serious matter to say that what was going on there was not of God. The fact that ABC news could find no documentary evidence of a miracle was not enough to sway me one way or the other. I was even prepared – for a while – to overlook the claim that the angel Emma is the secret explanation for the special revelations and miracles. I believe in angels. What if Emma were a part of the ‘yuk’ factor?
It took a little bit of courage for me to endorse the Toronto Blessing in 1994. I have never regretted this. I was going to need courage again – to endorse Lakeland.
But a funny thing kept gripping me. It would take even more courage to say that the Lakeland phenomenon is not of God. Did I have the courage to say this? After all, I was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that it was not of God, but would I say it?
Yes. It comes to one thing at the end of the day: is the Bible true or not? If the happenings of Lakeland are of God, then what I have preached for the last 50 years is nonsense. Lakeland was making me say ‘yuk’, yes, but not all that makes us say ‘yuk’ is of God.
First, never once have I heard a clear message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Lakeland platform – except when a guest speaker did it. Second, when people were being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and ‘Bam – bam’, it both trivialized the Trinity and baptism itself. This is serious, serious trivializing. Third, if you were to ask how much a fear of God and conviction of sin emanated from these services – on a scale of 1 to 100 – I would say zero.
In 1994 I addressed a group of prominent evangelical leaders in London, having been given the subject ‘The Biblical Features of Revival’. I looked at my notes to see how Lakeland measured up. Not even close. A great awakening would, among several other things I do not have the space to go into here, demonstrate the centrality of biblical preaching. Preaching itself in Lakeland has been minimal, and what preaching there has been calls more attention to angels, miracles and manifestations than to Jesus who died on the cross. I’m sorry, but my heart is sick that these meetings have excited so many good people. They are indeed good people, very sincere; many of them have been a part of previous moves of the Spirit. And since church history has taught us that those who were in the middle of a move of the Spirit often lead the way in opposing the next work of the Spirit, some did not want to be seen doing this. I can understand that.
When one is reported to have been to the Third Heaven (as the main evangelist of Lakeland has stated) and told not to preach Jesus (because everybody knows about him) but rather angels (which people know little about), I can only call this ‘another gospel’ as in Galatians 1. I would go to the stake for the Gospel of salvation which Paul preached – that emphasizes reliance solely in the precious blood of Christ. I would certainly not go to the stake for the Lakeland message – and would be afraid to face God if I did.
It comes to this: is the Bible true? Because I believe the Bible I can testify: the jury of my mind on Lakeland is in. Leave Lakeland alone.