An Age of Hunger - lessons from recent events
by Rev. Dr. Clifford Hill
Lessons from Lakeland
Half the world's population goes to bed hungry each night while in the rich nations we struggle with obesity - just one of the strange anomalies of the 21st century world. But even more strange is the spiritual hunger among millions of people in the Western nations despite the fact that we have had Christianity for 2000 years and the whole of our civilisation, social organisation, culture and moral precepts are based upon biblical principles. Spiritual hunger is a good thing, but also dangerous, because people who are desperately hungry will eat anything. According to the editor of Charisma magazine in the USA this is the major lesson to be learned from the collapse of the Lakeland Florida revival. Spiritual hunger that is not tempered with discernment is dangerous.
My first reaction upon reading the statement issued by Fresh Fire Ministries Board of Directors that they had discovered that Todd Bentley had 'entered into an unhealthy relationship with a female member of staff' and was therefore ceasing ministry, was one of relief. I was glad that what I considered to be a false revival only lasted four months. But when I took the situation before the Lord I rapidly repented of such an attitude as I thought of the personal tragedy this was for Bentley and his wife and children, and I also thought of the vast number of people who have been flocking to Lakeland Florida to seek a special blessing from God and the multitudes who have watched on television. Millions of dollars have been self sacrificially given to this Ministry to help spread its influence around the world. I sensed the immense compassion of the Lord for those who have been disillusioned and maybe even lost their faith in God as a result of this fiasco.
I read Matthew 9. 35; "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." There were plenty of rabbis in Jesus' day and plenty of scholars who studied the books of Moses and the Prophets but the people were 'harassed and helpless' because the shepherds of Israel were not feeding them with the bread of life or teaching them the truth about the nature and purposes of God. Long before the time of Jesus, Ezekiel reported God saying to the priests "They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and clean" (Ez 44.23).
It was the uncritical hype coming from 'God TV' that has been largely responsible for the build-up of great expectations that has unravelled as dramatically as it all began. There can surely be no excuse for the 'God TV' network denouncing any criticism of Todd Bentley as 'demonic' and warning people that if they listened to criticism of Bentley they could lose their healings. This is the exact opposite of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus warned, "Watch out for false prophets," and "Watch out that no one deceives you." Paul urged believers to, "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" and John warned, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God." This is the healthy reaction to any new spiritual phenomena. This does not make us permanent sceptics so that we are unable to enter into a new move of God. But it guards us against deception as we search the Bible to check what we are hearing and seeing against the plumb line of the Word of God.
J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, wrote, 'A prominent Pentecostal Evangelist called me this week after Bentley's news hit the fan. He said to me: "I'm now convinced that a large segment of the charismatic church will follow the Antichrist when he shows up because they have no discernment." This is the core problem with Christians in all branches of the church today. We are so taken up with the problems of modern living and the pace of life that we have little time to spare for studying the Bible and making ourselves thoroughly familiar with the word of God.
Many preachers are so busy dealing with the pastoral problems of the flock and trying to stem the flood-tide of immorality and marriage breakdown that has invaded the church that they have little time to study the word of God themselves. Consequently the teaching ministry suffers and a lukewarm diet of shallow platitudes is fed to the people rather than the meat of the word of God. "If the trumpet does not sound a clear note, who will prepare for the battle?" asks the Apostle Paul. But if the preachers themselves are uncertain of the message how can they declare it with clarity and conviction?
Great preachers like Wesley and Whitfield and leaders of the 18th and 19th-century revivals had no such uncertainties. But today we are the inheritors of a century of sterile biblical criticism that has robbed preachers of the dynamic power of the gospel - the 'dunamis' that powered the Church through the first three centuries of fierce persecution when believers faced martyrdom rather than deny the Name of Jesus.
The great danger facing us today is that we are about to be plunged into a situation not unlike that of the Early Church fighting for survival in a hostile political and multi-religious environment. God has been warning us of this for the past 25 years. An increasing number of discerning believers have perceived this, but the message has not got through to the whole church because so many leaders are still mesmerised by signs and wonders of the kind that came out of the short-lived 'Lakeland Revival'.
It is now urgent that Christian leaders learn to be 'watchmen' for the nation; to observe what is happening around us and on the international scene; to learn how to spread these matters before the Lord in prayer; to listen to him and faithfully to declare his word so that the church becomes the prophet to the nation in the testing times that lie ahead.
This is why I and a small Core Group of leaders have called a meeting to spread the current situation before the Lord and to hear what he is saying. [See footnotes for details.]
What we expect to hear is not a message of judgment, although that is the context of the present situation that is going to intensify. But God has been warning us of judgment for many years and we have not listened or paid attention. The judgment is now upon us and we are in a similar situation to that of Jeremiah in chapter 32 when his cousin came to him telling him that it was his family obligation to purchase a field in Anathoth on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. The prophet was reluctant to do this because up to now the message he had been instructed to deliver was all about judgment and that disaster would come upon Jerusalem unless there was repentance and turning to the Lord.
The new situation was that the Babylonians were already encamped around the City, their siege ramps were being built up against the walls of Jerusalem. The fall of the City could not be long delayed. Anathoth was already in enemy hands. No one was buying and selling property, but Jeremiah saw his cousin's request as a direct word from God. "For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land." This was the turning point in Jeremiah's Ministry. The City of Jerusalem was about to be handed over to the Babylonians. But God had a greater purpose. He was already looking to the fruit of the judgment that he was bringing upon his people. By the end of the day Jeremiah heard, "This is what the Lord says: as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I promised them. Once more fields will be bought in this land .... and I will restore their fortunes declares the Lord".
Prophet to the Nation
God is saying a similar message to Christians in Britain today. We have brought upon ourselves the times of hardship that are now hitting us and are set to intensify. But the judgment, although severe for a period, will actually be used to serve the purposes of God if we will listen and be obedient. It will give the opportunity for the church to be the prophet to the nation, for Christians to explain to their friends and neighbours why these hard times have come upon us and to show what each of us must do. There is already a great spiritual hunger right across the nation which is set to increase as hardship and suffering intensify. This will open the way for the gospel.
God is longing to equip and empower his church to reach the nation with the message of the Kingdom which will bring the times of spiritual refreshment that we all along to see. If we are faithful we will undoubtedly see lives changed in the Name of Jesus and the signs and wonders that follow the preaching of the gospel. If we are not faithful, Islam is crouching at the door and we will find ourselves ruled by those we have allowed to enter and establish a stronghold in the land of our forefathers.
These are momentous times when the future of the nation is largely in the hands of the people of God. It is time to blow the trumpet in the nation. It is already being put to our lips. But will we have the courage to blow it? In our own strength it is not possible. But the wind of the Spirit is already blowing across the land. If we will but be attentive to what the Lord is saying to his people we will surely see the banner of the Lord unfurled and the forces of darkness being rolled back. The choice is ours. Whom will we serve? The world? Or The Lord?
We have hired a hall in the Emmanuel Centre, Marsham Street, Westminster London, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday 4 October 2008 and we are inviting all who have Christian leadership responsibilities to join us. If you think you should be there please ring the C and M Ministry office for an invitation on 01767 641 005 or CCM on 006.
Reproduced by permission as part of CCM Ministries Autumn 2008 mailing.
© Dr. Clifford Hill
The Rev Dr Clifford Hill MA BD PhD is a sociologist and theologian. His pastoral ministry has been in inner-city areas of London including a long ministry in the East End during which he also held a Senior Lectureship in the Sociology of Religion in London University.
He was the founder of the Newham Community Renewal Programme, one of the largest urban mission organisations in Britain. He also founded Prophetic Word Ministries which had an extensive international ministry from 1982 to 2005 with its flagship magazine, Prophecy Today. [The magazine continues now under a new title 'Sword', a new editor and the focus is on declaring God's Word into the church in the belief that the judgements which Dr. Hill warned of are now self-evident.]
Clifford is the author of more than 30 books, covering a range of subjects including race and community relations, socio-political studies, biblical commentaries and research studies on the family, as well as many journal papers, tapes, CDs and other resources, including some written jointly with his wife Monica. Their latest joint venture is a study guide of the Seven Churches of Revelation - Ephesus to Laodicea.
A recent book entitled The Wilberforce Connection (with a Foreword by Dr Rowan Williams) was published to coincide with the celebration of the spiritual heritage of Moggerhanger House led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, following a ten-year restoration programme.
[See also CH statement regarding Dr. Williams views on Sharia law.]
Day of Prayer
Dr. Hill advises: "We have hired a hall in the Emmanuel Centre, Marsham Street, Westminster London, from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Saturday, 4 October 2008, and we are inviting all who have Christian leadership responsibilities to join us.
If you think you should be there please ring the C and M Ministry office for an invitation.
Tel. 01767 641 005 or Centre for Contemporary Ministry on 01767 641 006."