FLORIDA OUTPOURING TIMELINE
1955 Stephen Strader was born.
1976 (January 10) Todd Bentley was born in Gibsons, British Columbia.
1977 Strader married his wife, Janice, and the couple subsequently bore four children.
1978 Strader entered the ministry.
1980 The First Assembly of God Church in Lakeland purchased the Carpenters and Joiners Retirement Home and renamed it the Carpenters and Joiners Church.
1993 Rodney Howard-Browne led a revival at Carpenters and Joiners for sixteen weeks, drawing several thousand visitors nightly.
1994 Strader took a leave from his pastoral duties to join Howard-Browne’s international revival mission.
1995 (May 22) Todd Bentley married his wife, Shonnah.
1998 Todd Bentley joined and became leader of Fresh Fire Ministries.
2005 (December) Stephen Strader formed the Ignited Church in Lakeland Florida.
2007 (October) Todd Bentley was invited to speak for one night at Ignited Church.
2008 (April 2) Bentley returned to Ignited for the Signs and Wonders Conference. The Florida Outpouring commenced.
2008 (August 11) Bentley severed his association with Ignited Church and retired from the ministry.
2008 Bentley established the Supernatural Training Center in Uganda.
2010 Bentley returned to his ministry.
The two men who most prominently involved in the events that became known as the Florida Outpouring (or the Lakeland Revival) were Stephen Strader and Todd Bentley. Each had developed religious careers independently, and both had been involved in previous religious revival events. Their religious careers converged at Strader’s Ignited Church where Bentley led what became the Florida Outpouring.
Stephen Strader was born in 1955 and reports having been “born-again” at age eight and called to the ministry at age twelve. He
earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible and Pastoral Theology from Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, engaged in graduate study briefly at Oral Roberts University in 1977-1978, and was ordained as a pastor in the Assemblies of God in 1978. Strader had just earlier married his wife, Janice, in 1977, and the couple subsequently bore four children.
At the time that Strader was completing his education, his father, Karl Strader, was Senior Pastor at the Carpenters and Joiners Church in Lakeland, which was affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Once ordained, Stephen Strader became an Associate Pastor of the church and served in that capacity between 1978 and 2005 (Poloma and Green 19xx:225). Carpenters and Joiners Church flourished as a megachurch for a number of years but began losing members in the late 1980s amid the waning of the Charismatic Movement and a financial scandal. The church lost one-third of its membership in 1989 alone (Strader 2008:28). In 1993, South African evangelist Rodney Howard-Brown led a revival at Carpenters and Joiners for sixteen weeks that featured the kind of “holy laughter” that had characterized the earlier Toronto Blessing and drew several thousand visitors nightly (Hunt 2009a).
The following year Strader and his family took a leave of absence from the church to join Rodney Howard-Browne’s national and international tour as his assistant in over three hundred revival events. Strader’s self-assigned mission was to spread revival globally. He identified with “signs and wonders” and unusual manifestations of the Holy Spirit that were believed to confirm the preached Word of God. He held many extended revivals across the U.S. as well as ‘miracle crusades’ in Cuba, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guyana, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, Nigeria, the Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the Ukraine, Virgin Islands and Zimbabwe.
The Carpenters and Joiners Church continue to experience membership decline and finally closed in 2005. That same year Strader established and assumed leadership of the Ignited Church in Lakeland in 2005. The church initially drew membership from the then defunct Carpenters and Joiners Church. Other members of the Carpenters and Joiners Church joined Lakeland’s Auburndale Life Church.
Todd Bentley was born in 1976 in Sechelt, British Columbia. He experienced a highly dysfunctional childhood and adolescence. His parents separated, and for a time he lived in a foster home. Beginning at age eleven, he had a series of illicit sexual encounters, heavy involvement in alcohol use and experimentation with a range of illegal drugs that led to several episodes of overdosing, shoplifting, breaking into cars, and arson. When he was fifteen, he was convicted and sentenced for committing sexual assault on a minor. At 17, he was hospitalized after an overdose of amphetamines and hallucinogenic drugs.
During Bentley’s youth he also reports having numerous spiritual and demonic encounters. There were several occasions, sometimes in what might have appeared to be accidents, in which he believes that Satan tried to kill him because “The enemy knew that God had a plan and purpose for me, even when I was a newborn” (Bentley 2008:40). He also was attracted to the occult through heavy metal music and underwent deliverance sessions on several occasions. Bentley subsequently had a transformative “born-again” experience that he claimed “immediately delivered me from drugs and alcohol” (Bentley 2008:76). Sometime later he recalls experiencing a visitation from the Holy Spirit in which he received spiritual powers. He recollects that “the heavens opened with a bright flash and a white dove materialized out of thin air and flew across the lake to a nearby tree. Although it was a single dove, it sounded as the flapping wings of ten thousand doves….I had received not only tongues, but also an enduement of power from on high for miracles, signs, and wonders” (Bentley 2008:83). Just prior to his entry into the ministry he claims to have received further spiritual legitimation for his ministry when the Holy Spirit took him in a vision to Mount Zion and then up the mountain where he encountered Jesus. He was told that “This is the council of the Lord. I have called you as one of many to be part of the last days’ army and a last days’ generation” (Bentley 2008:28).
Strader and Bentley first met personally in 2007 when Strader invited Bentley to speak at Ignited Church. Strader states that he was familiar with Bentley’s ministry (Strader 2008: 10):
I had heard the reports about this 32-year-old Todd – some good, some bad. Like John the Baptist, the wild man, this young evangelist faced accusers who claimed, “He has a demon.” He was quite the teenage sinner and openly admits a prison record. Like John the Baptist, Todd was in prison. He is also like Jesus in that he attracts the gluttons and drunkards, and is a friend of tax collectors, drug addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes and perverts, and all variety of “sinners.”
Bentley first affiliated with the Canadian Fresh Fire Ministry group in 1998 and soon became its leader. Fresh Fire increasingly became a revival movement, and Bentley led revivals and crusades on several continents. Leading up to the outbreak of revival in Lakeland, Bentley had initiated several healing and evangelizing campaigns throughout North America with an emphasis on generating revival fire, equipping the body of Christ in “power evangelism,” and a miraculous healing ministry. Many of these campaigns involved evangelizing meetings that were extended to last from one to two months, continuing on even after Bentley had left such events.
Bentley’s visit for evangelism and healing in Lakeland was initially scheduled for five days but due to his person charisma, claims of miraculous healing, and the unusual physical phenomena observed in the church he remained for over six months. Strader recalls “ That first Wednesday night was explosive….The second night we filled the building. The holy energy was unprecedented….Incredible miracles began to flow” (Strader 2008:32). Perceived as a significant move of the Holy Spirit, the revival claimed to have attracted an estimated 140,000 people from over 40 countries by the close of May and by the end of June 400,000 from some 100 nations (Lake 2008). This was in addition to around 1,200,000 that watched via the Internet as well as those who tuned into the broad coverage offered by GODTV. The revival was also streamed live via Ustream by the Ignited Church and received over one million “hits” in the first five weeks of transmissions.
The Florida Outpouring events changed venues on a number of occasions, starting at the Ignited Church and sister church in Auburndale, and moving to the $15,000 per night Lakeland Center and Marchant Stadium. After outgrowing its previous venues, the revival meetings moved to an air conditioned tent that seated 10,000. On August 3, the revival meetings returned to Ignited Church. The Lakeland revival did not charge for attendance, but attendees were able to contribute voluntary offerings that funded both building and staff expenses.
Following the Toronto and Brownsville revivals, further revivals were expected by those involved and prophesised to be accompanied by an increase of esoteric and ecstatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Minor revivals in fact broke out across churches in various cities of northern United State s (Poloma 2003). One prophecy appeared to have particular validity for the Florida Outpouring and was attributed to the renowned Korean Pentecostal leader, Yonggi Cho, the senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church, believed to be, with a membership of 750,000, the largest congregation in the world. He predicted in 1987 that “the last great move of the Spirit will originate in Canada.” Initially this “move of the Spirit” was believed to be the Toronto Blessing, but subsequently it was re-interpreted to refer to Todd Bentley’s ministry. Prophecy and expectation of further revivals was the context that helped forge a great significance to Bentley’s visit Lakeland .
In many respects, the Florida Outpouring was similar to the Pentecostal revivals that occurred in the 1990s, in particular the Toronto Blessing (Hunt 1995; Porter and Richter 1995) in Toronto and the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola , Florida (Wójcik 2000). In addition to claims of numerous miraculous healings, the Outpouring seemed to make more extraordinary assertions, including at least thirty resurrections of the dead (Hunt 2009a). However, the Lakeland Revival was shorter than these two earlier revivals and placed a greater emphasis on evangelism and healing. Moreover, it was associated particularly with a single charismatic figure, Todd Bentley. Bentley is a controversial and unorthodox figure with a biker-punk appearance. Short, balding, tattooed, he energetically stomps the stage during revival meetings in jeans, over-sized tee-shirts and military-style jackets, which often sport a provocative slogan such as “Jesus Loves My Tattoos” or “Holy Spirit Special Corps.”
Common to conventional Pentecostal/charismatic teaching, Bentley emphasized several core beliefs: salvation, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing, and belief in the second coming of Christ. After baptism in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit may be manifest through the believer in the form of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesy. While subscribing to these primary beliefs, Bentley strayed into doctrines and practices regarded as unorthodox or even heretical by most mainstream Pentecostal denomination. He was influenced by such figures as the evangelists William Branham and Bob Jones, and John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches and associated with “power evangelism.”
Todd Bentley subscribes to the doctrine of Joel’s Army, which is based on an esoteric reading of the second chapter of the Old
Testament Book of Joel). The doctrine prophesied an “End-Time army” that would prepare for and advanced the kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ. This amounts to a doctrine earlier advocated by William Branham who spearheaded a 1948 revival in which he claimed that his followers lived in a new biblical time of the “Latter Rain.” According to this teaching, the most sinless and ardent of Christ’s flock would be called “Manifest Sons of God.” In the 1980s, Branham’s teachings took on new life at the Kansas City Fellowship (KCF), a group of self-styled apostles and prophets who promoted Joel’s Army theology. John Wimber, before his death in 1997, proclaimed that Joel’s Army would not only conquer the earth but defeat death itself (Bentley 2008:22-25).
Joel’s Army followers, many of them teenagers and young adults, believe that they are members of the final generation to come of age before the end of the world. Joel’s Army amounts to a branch of the global, post-millenarian Dominionist movement whose followers assert that, once earthly governments are overthrown, a hierarchy of apostles and prophets will rule over the earth. The movement has several significant advocates including Rick Joyner, a pastor whose books, The Harvest (1993) and The Call (2010), helped popularize Joel’s Army theology by selling more than a million copies each. Another pastor, Lou Eagle, initiated “The Call,” a twelve-hour revival of up to 20,000 youths held every summer in a major American city. Engle founded The Call based on the Joel’s Army visions claimed by the prophet Bob Jones of the Kansas City Prophets.
Bentley added to these teaching and those propounded at the Toronto and Brownsville revivals but also furthered doctrines deliberately avoided by their leaders. Most important was that of the health and wealth gospel associated with, among others, and Kenneth Copeland and the late Kenneth Hagin. During the Outpouring Bentley unashamedly advocated the prosperity gospel and in his Lakeland meetings “commanded” “financial breakthroughs,” even dedicating particular evenings to the subject. This additional aspect of the Outpouring resulted from a supernatural revelation: that personal wealth for the born-again believer was divinely sanctioned and that the Church as a whole would come to partake of the riches of the world.
The typical format of meetings during the Florida Outpouring involved the backdrop of a “soft” rock worship team, brief sermons,
accounts of spiritual experiences, claims to healing, and personal testimonies. However, the meetings were often devoid of coherent structure and dominated by spontaneous activities. Furthermore, the Outpouring appeared to be a melting pot for the range of charismatic phenomena that had been observable during the Toronto , Brownsville and other revivals of the 1990s, taking them to a greater level of esoteric manifestations. “Soaking in the Spirit,” “holy laughter,” rigorous body convulsions, “blowing” the Holy Spirit over emotionally-charged audiences, deliverance of demonic spirits, altered states of consciousness, and angelical visitations were observed or claimed by Bentley in an “open heaven” when the Spirit descended.
There was a prevailing belief during the Lakeland Outpouring that such phenomena could be transmitted to believers through touch (“impartation”), especially by Bentley. Alternatively, Bentley would partake of “Wafting” the Holy Spirit over the assembled during revival meetings (a strategy earlier associated with Rodney Howard-Browne and the evangelist Benny Hinn). Bentley would typically loudly evoke an impartation of the “fire’ of the Spirit: “Reach out and grab it! Grab it, grab it! Kabang! Kaboom boom! More Lord, more! Fire! Fire!” Testimonies of miraculous healings were common at the Lakeland Outpouring and added to its appeal since there were many first-person accounts of miracles. Indeed, the main focus of the services was on what participants believed to be divine healing of conditions (which could also be “imparted” through television networks) such as cancer, deafness, diabetes, and paralysis.
Of all the claims to supernatural experiences it was Bentley’s reference to angelic visitations that attracted the greatest attention. Angelic manifestations were also associated with the Toronto Blessing (Hunt 1995). Featuring prominently has been one particular angel named “Emma” a supernatural figure as recounted by Bentley:
I was in a service in Beulah, North Dakota. In the middle of the service I was in conversation…. when in walks Emma. As I stared at the angel with open eyes, the Lord said, ‘Here’s Emma’. I’m not kidding. She floated a couple of inches off the floor….Emma appeared beautiful and young – about 22 years old – but she was old at the same time….She glided into the room, emitting brilliant light and colors. Emma carried these bags and began pulling gold out of them. Then, as she walked up and down the aisles of the church, she began putting gold dust on people…..
The miraculous sprinkling of gold dust was earlier connected with the so-called “Gold Dust Revival,” which immediately followed the Toronto Blessing and usually associated with the late evangelist Ruth Ward Heflin (Sheflett 2000).
Following his reported “Road to Damascus” Spirit-filled conversion experience, Bentley traveled internationally holding church services and crusades in over 55 nations including Ethiopia, Malaysia, Peru and South Africa. In Uganda he established a children’s home for orphans called the Uganda Jesus Village. The endeavour to train local pastors led to the establishment of the Supernatural Training Centre in Kampala in January, 2008. In addition to these activities, Fresh Fire Ministries, which Bentley has headed up since 1998 (his home church is Global Harvest Centre), oversaw the creation of an earlier Supernatural Training Center in Abbotsford, British Columbia (Hunt 2009b).
Bentley severed his association with Ignited Church and departed the revival under controversial circumstances on August 11. He admitted to his staff in August that he and his wife were separating and resigned from Fresh Fire Ministries. The revival continued with visiting speakers at Ignited Church until October 12, 2008. Fresh Fire Ministries released a statement announcing that Bentley was taking time off “to refresh and to rest,” and their Lakeland broadcasts on GOD TV were put on hold. One week later, GOD TV announced Bentley would resume the Lakeland meetings, and the broadcasts continued. More revelations followed and were published on the Fresh Fires web-site: that Todd Bentley had entered into an “unhealthy relationship” on an emotional level with a female member of his staff, agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors, and to refrain from all public ministry for a period to receive counsel in his personal life. As a result of this disclosure Bentley’s international itinerary planned for such places as Kampala, Malibu, Istanbul and Jerusalem, was cancelled.
While Ignited Church continued to proclaim ongoing revival services after October 2008, the previous global interest had faded.
Stephen Strader stated that Ignited Church would launch an International Apostolic Center and Ignited Network of Ministries, designed to bring together Lakeland inspired revivals. Evangelist Hamilton Filmalter was commissioned by Todd Bentley. Within weeks Hamilton Filmalter gathered together a team that included Hearts of Fire International Ministries led by evangelist Reverend Aaron Winter who initiated the so-called Portland (Oregon) Outpouring in September, 2008, which witnessed many of the same manifestations of the Spirit that were taking place in Lakeland.
The Lakeland Outpouring, and the ministry of Todd Bentley in particular, were the subject of much controversy and ridicule. The revival generated a measure of criticism among members of the Christian community, as some leaders questioned or even outrightrejected its authenticity. Besides condemnation of his extra-marital relationship, many critiques of Bentley emanated from conservative wings of evangelism. Internet postings abounded in great measure insisting that Bentley was a fraud and his movement was a “counterfeit revival” instigated by the “enemy,” Satan, to mislead the Church. In response to concerns raised over the revival, George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, of which Ignited Church is a member, issued a statement on revival in June, 2008 (McMullen 2008). While not specifically mentioning Lakeland , the statement cautioned against over emphasis on charismatic manifestations and miracles, stating that “Miraculous manifestations are never the test of a true revival. Fidelity to God’s Word is the test” (Assemblies of God 2008).
There were also claims of financial irregularities, or at least exploitation. A newspaper in Vancouver reported that Bentley owned a 2007 GMC Sierra and a 2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Bentley stated that he would disclose his financial accounts for independent auditors (Rhee 2008). However, requests for financial disclosure from World Magazine were countered with a comment from his ministry organization that Bentley was “too busy keeping up with what God is doing” to provide financial information (Rusty and Warren 2008). During the revival, Bentley’s spokesperson stated that Bentley continued “to draw his standard salary, set by his board, from his office in Canada. It is a modest salary and is in the five-figure range” and that Fresh Fire Ministries is audited annually (Rhee 2008). In response to questions about finances, Stephen Strader and Todd Bentley stated in interviews that the Lakeland Revival had been funded entirely from voluntary donations.
Some skeptics challenged the revival on the basis of the evidence put forward for the healing testimonies and sermon content (Rhee 2008). Furthermore, criticism stemmed from some of Todd Bentley’s unorthodox practices, which included shouting “Bam, Bam!” while praying for the sick and testifying to experiencing angelic visitations. However, Bentley’s most controversial claim was that of raising the dead (Reed 2008). The lack of medical corroboration of the healings was also questioned by the mainstream media. An ABC Report concluded “not a single miracle could be verified” (Lake 2008). In an effort to confirm reported healings, Bentley’s staff said they welcomed as much documentation as people were prepared to offer, including verification from doctors (Rhee 2008).
At times, the healing services of the Lakeland Revival were criticized in mainstream media and on internet blogs for the occasional violence inflicted on the participants, in the tradition of Smith Wigglesworth, a healing evangelist and early pioneer of the Pentecostal movement. Todd Bentley was known to forcefully kick, hit, smack or knock over participants. In one incident, a man was allegedly knocked over and lost a tooth. In another, an elderly woman was intentionally kicked in the face. Bentley held that the Holy Spirit led him to such actions ( Lake 208), saying that those incidents were taken out of context and adding that miracles were happening simultaneously. Bentley claimed to have once choked a man to health and that he banged a woman’s legs “up and down on the platform like a baseball bat” until she was miraculously healed. In one typical claim, he is filmed telling an audience: “And the Holy Spirit spoke to me, the gift of faith came on me. He said, ‘kick her in the face with your biker boot’. I inched closer and I went like this – bam! And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God” (Davies 2012). For such activities Bentley was banned from entering the UK by the Home Office via an exclusion order in 2012.
A committee made up of leading Pentecostal figures Rick Joyner, Jack Deere and Bill Johnson was formed to oversee the process of spiritually restoring Bentley’s family. In November, 2008, the Board of Fresh Fire announced that Bentley was not submitting to his counselling (Revival Alliance). On March 9, 2009, Rick Joyner announced that Bentley had remarried (Grady 2009). In 2010, Rick Joyner declared that Bentley was finally “restored” and he returned to preaching and leading crusades. In April, 2013, Bentley was at the forefront of a revival in Durban, South Africa. Within the first week of this revival, 3000 people were allegedly converted, and numerous healings and miracles were reported.
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Davies, Lizzy. 2012. “Revivalist preacher Todd Bentley Refused Entry to UK.” The Guardian, August 21. Accessed from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/21/todd-bentley-refused-entry-to-uk on 23 August 2012.
Grady, J. Lee. 2009. “The Tragic Scandal of Greasy Grace.”Charisma Magazine. Accessed from http://www.charismamag.com/blogs/fire-in-my-bones/3975-the-tragic-scandal-of-greasy-grace on 23 March 2013.
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