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Apostles, Alignment, and that other “A” word (Part 4 of 5)

Click here to read part 1: How apostolic alignment relates to accountability
Click here to read part 2: Accountability in the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL)
Click here to read part 3: The role of prophets in apostolic alignment

Part 4: Apostolic-prophetic accountability for the Lakeland alignment

The alignment ceremony was conducted on June 23, 2008 with support from NAR’s leading lights. Many believers watched it live on God-TV. An eyewitness account of that broadcast described portions that were not viewable afterwards, which included Bentley applying Psalm 2 to himself, and asking people to prove their love for him by giving money.

Wagner then took the stage, declaring that he had brought together “three apostolic streams”: his own ICA (see Part 2), Revival Alliance (under Ché Ahn) and MorningStar (led by Rick Joyner). Wagner “decreed” to Bentley that his anointing, discernment, funding and influence “will increase.” He then turned the proceedings over to “three apostolic pillars of today’s church:” Ché Ahn, John Arnott and Bill Johnson. Ahn pronounced this ceremony a fulfillment of a prophecy by Bob Jones,[8] who said that Todd’s anointing would “go to a whole new level” on June 22. Ahn also affirmed that Bentley “walked in a manner worthy of the Lord”. Arnott called him “a man of God,” and Johnson expressed a desire to “learn from” Bentley and to “give honor where honor is due.”

The honor bestowed on Bentley was part of the controversy. The previous week (June 17), Ahn joined Bentley on the Lakeland stage and declared that he discerned the “anointing” of William Branham (which Bentley had previously claimed to receive by going “back in time to 1955”). Ahn then adopted John the Baptist’s words about Yeshua: “I must decrease, you must increase.” He also relayed a prophecy from God-TV producer Wendy Alec, that Bentley would spread revival across the USA as far as California.

After the ceremony, the apostles publicized their actions. Wagner lauded Jones for the same prediction mentioned by Ahn, and he reprinted his own apostolic decrees spoken over Bentley. Apostle Chuck Pierce, who wasn’t there, heartily endorsed Bentley’s alignment in the name of his organization. Bill Hamon, also unable to attend, had registered his approval beforehand, declaring that Lakeland was “just the beginning” of “the Final Apostolic Reformation.”

As late as August 1, John Arnott was still extolling the Lakeland meetings. He acknowledged that “some [were] asking about accountability, and wonder[ing] who speaks into this for input and correction if need be.” Instead of addressing that concern, he asked and answered a different question: “Are we going to embrace revival? I say yes, with all of its issues and unanswered questions; with all the loose ends, various personalities and personal agendas; with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications. (And believe me, I know…)”

By mid-August, the revival screeched to a halt. Bentley had announced that he was leaving his wife Shonnah for his ministry intern Jessa. Almost immediately his overseeing apostles expressed “shock” and “surprise” to Charisma Magazine. Other leaders began calling them to account for their ill-advised endorsements and wildly inaccurate prophecies.

Bentley’s aligners responded with a counter-offensive against the wider Body. The unity displayed at Lakeland evaporated as each apostle justified his own actions in separate – and sometimes contradictory – statements.

Peter Wagner’s public comment on Aug. 13 redefined his decrees as an attempt “to bring some kind of apostolic order” to the “confusion” plaguing Lakeland. He admitted that unnamed ICA peers had advised against the ceremony, but his own conviction had overruled them. Still, Wagner denied commissioning or endorsing the evangelist, because unlike the “three apostolic pillars,” he had not physically touched Todd.

Wagner’s less-known update 12 days later revealed stunning details: Todd’s “periodic drunkenness”, his disinterest in saving his marriage which had been troubled “for years,” physical intimacy with “at least one other female,” pressuring his associates to keep quiet about his conduct, and lying to others. Forgetting the discarded warnings from his fellow apostles, Wagner now “felt personally deceived.”

Rick Joyner and Bill Johnson didn’t defend their endorsements; they focused on defending Bentley and rebuking uncharitable comments about him. In a separate statement, Johnson blamed Bentley’s marital unfaithfulness on Lakeland’s “grueling schedule” and “the relentless criticism” from “his enemies” in the Body.  

Joyner circulated a statement from God-TV, which had supported Bentley with global coverage and predictions of a coast-to-coast revival. Rory and Wendy Alec blamed Bentley’s fall on two simultaneous attacks: one from Christians and the other from “[witchcraft] covens” and “warlocks”. Lashing out at the first group, they suggested equivalent guilt: “Who is to judge that the Lord does not hold the violent unleashing of criticism and faultfinding and tearing down and divisiveness of the heresy hunters as severe a sin as separation in a marriage [sic]?”

Ché Ahn wrote that he was “saddened” by Bentley’s separation from his wife. Like the Alecs, he didn’t mention the other woman in Bentley’s life, or his own praise of Bentley’s moral character. Instead, he emphasized “the stress of the outpouring meetings at Lakeland.”

As for John Arnott, he claimed group ignorance of Bentley’s “minimal” misbehavior. “Had any of us known what was just ahead, perhaps we would have been able to intervene before things went into crisis.” Regardless, he himself was motivated by sympathy for a colleague under public scrutiny: “I went to Lakeland… because I believed God was moving powerfully in the lives of thousands. I also knew Todd would have many critics, just as I had had with the revival in Toronto.”

Ahn’s statements the week before the ceremony (see above) had already identified this commonality: there he told Bentley how he had been “kicked out of two movements,” and he mentioned Arnott’s ejection from Vineyard Church. In a 2011 update, Bill Johnson belatedly admitted to acting from the same motive. In his words, Bentley deserved support because “he was taking a lot of hits from highly respected leaders pertaining to that outpouring [and] we have all been on the receiving end of similar accusations.”

Johnson also revealed here – three years after the fact – that the apostles knew of Bentley’s moral stumbling before the ceremony. Oddly, he retroactively credited an unnamed prophet with warning them that those sins could cause the Lakeland revival to “collapse”. Yet the only potential threat Johnson had mentioned during the alignment was “jealousy” of Todd Bentley’s anointing.

In short, the denial by these high-profile apostles that Todd was in spiritual trouble could not be attributed merely to zero spiritual discernment. At least some of them knew that Bentley did not meet the integrity standards professed by the NAR movement, but they decided to testify otherwise. Their perception of other believers as “enemies” for criticizing Bentley’s admittedly controversial ministry was fueled by controversies in their own ministries that provoked similar criticism.

The passing of time only intensified both the apostolic missteps and the justifications for them. Jones, whose predicted date for Lakeland’s quantum leap (almost) exactly coincided with the apostolic alignment, but whose “whole new direction” was 180 degrees off-course, continued to play a key role. Revival Alliance (Ahn, Johnson, Arnott) expressed “great confidence” in MorningStar’s apostle-prophet team under Rick Joyner to handle the task of restoring Todd Bentley’s marriage. Within seven months Bentley was divorced and remarried, with the MorningStar team’s blessing.

Further updating the Body on Feb. 17, 2010, Joyner credited Bob Jones with the prophetic “confirmation” of Bentley’s readiness to resume ministry after a time-out of barely 18 months. Joyner also glorified Jones as a catalyst for a revival of the revival: “It seems like it is the beginning of something remarkable, and the beginning of it all was Bob’s visitation [from God] and [his] prayer for us.”

Joyner then predicted more backlash: “If we are about to see a major revival break out, the persecution will also break out on a correspondingly high level.” He compared “the negative spoken words against us from other Christians” with the plot hatched by “the Lord’s enemies” to kill Him. This was possibly a reaction to pastors who had visited MorningStar a week earlier while Bentley was speaking and publicly rebuked him for violating Scripture. Bentley called it “persecution”.

Prophet Jones had charted this course a month earlier, with a special “deliverance” session to break the “Christian curse” that he said was “holding back” God’s power in Todd Bentley, his second wife, Rick Joyner personally and Joyner’s ministry. As Todd retold it years later, the curse was similar to spiritual opposition from African witch-doctors. It caused a blockage of his “power” and especially his cash flow: “The finances started to come, and I realized it was from the moment the curse was broken.”

That same year MorningStar revealed their apostolic policy about returning fallen leaders to ministry: full repentance is not required. Joyner’s Nov. 2010 update on Bentley asserted (time-mark 14:25) that “God’s grace” means helping to restore leaders who have openly sinned, “whether they’ve repented perfectly or not; that doesn’t matter.”

This attitude was amplified with Paul Cain, an early prophetic partner with Mike Bickle and Bob Jones. In 2004 Cain was exposed and removed for sexual sin and alcoholism. He initially submitted to Joyner, Bickle and Jack Deere for restoration but he didn’t stay. After months of denial, Cain published a confession and apology – as did Bickle and Joyner for their “lack of discernment in promoting Paul’s ministry while he had these significant strongholds in his life.” A group led by David Andrade took over, and in 2007 they announced that Cain had fully repented and could return to ministry. However, in May 2008 Cain stood with Bentley and denied the entire history by pointedly stating, “I’ve been celibate all my life.”

Joyner responded that despite Cain’s integrity failure, “Todd Bentley was right to honor Paul by bringing him to that meeting…. I never ceased to consider Paul Cain a hero of the faith, and one who possessed one of the greatest prophetic gifts.” He was unaware that Cain’s “prophetic gifts” also failed that night: he proclaimed that Bentley and his staff radiated a spirit of moral purity, totally missing the immoral history that surfaced just three months later.

All this was inevitable, given the fact that Paul Cain’s spiritual roots are revered by NAR. Cain’s mentor William Branham (1909-1965) is celebrated by apostolic mega-teams like Ahn’s HIM and Johnson’s Bethel Church. Because of Branham’s alleged supernatural exploits, they overlook his heretical doctrines and his false messiah (Indian miracle-worker Paulaseer Lawrie Muthukrishna). When Bentley asked for more “Branham anointing”, and Cain complied by laying hands on him, they knew that NAR apostles would forgive Cain’s other lapses.

Who is mandated to rebuke these leaders of leaders when they go off-track? Supposedly other senior apostles. But only two such individuals[9] publicly confronted Bentley’s apostolic enablers.

ICA member Robert Ricciardelli sounded multiple warnings, citing Bentley as “a product of the Charismatic/apostolic/ prophetic trending away from Plumb line truth.” Eventually Ricciardelli left ICA. He alluded to others doing likewise because of accountability issues that went “beyond Lakeland.”

ICA apostle Dutch Sheets also spoke out, but with more ambiguity. He published a rebuke, asserting that “leaders handling the Lakeland situation [made] huge mistakes…. It really doesn’t matter who laid their hands on Todd Bentley—all share responsibility.” He revealed severe accountability problems: “Did I voice my concerns to the appropriate people? Yes, including stating my concerns for Todd’s marriage to the Lakeland Outpouring Apostolic Team. Did they listen? Some did, some didn’t…. Should they have been more discerning and have listened to the warnings they received? Obviously.”

But Sheets did not withdraw his support. Because “those involved honestly felt they were doing the right things” at Lakeland, he decided to “identificationally [sic] repent” for his colleagues’ refusal to repent. Tellingly, the apostles for whom he spoke never published a response to his substitutionary confession, let alone agreement.

Sheets admitted that “our procedures and standards of accountability are incredibly inadequate,” and acknowledged that “regaining credibility is much more difficult than attaining credibility.” He concluded that the apostles “must repent if we are to be trusted in the future.” 

Bentley’s commissioners apparently decided that Sheets’ counsel was (again) wrong. None withdrew from ministry, even temporarily, in order to analyze their “huge mistakes.” It appears none of them expressed regret over lost credibility. Indeed, their peers gave them no reason to worry. No NAR groups took steps to discipline their flagship leaders with a relational time-out, in order to provoke repentance. Sheets himself considered it “an honor” to continue working with them.

Thus, the multi-stream apostolic alliance at Lakeland failed to produce accountability. If anything, the streams united to protect one another from accountability.

We must conclude that loyalty in NAR meant preserving the hierarchy of individual authority. That’s why in response to Charisma editor Lee Grady’s “Greasy Grace” rebuke citing “glaring omissions” in Bentley’s restoration, Joyner refused to address those omissions and instead attacked Grady for having “not earned the credentials” to criticize him.

The same loyalty still holds sway. That’s why the “incredibly inadequate” apostolic accountability system has remained unchanged. Ten years later, all the apostles who were involved with Lakeland are honored in NAR as leaders in good standing. Joyner’s MorningStar projects include apostolic-prophetic councils attended by “high-impact ministries” from other streams. Wagner kept his reputation as an authoritative NAR teacher and church-growth expert until his death in 2016. Ché Ahn, John Arnott and Bill Johnson each lead international networks of churches and attract thousands to their conferences, where other NAR leaders gladly share the stage.

But for many other saints, the above names represent their worst fears about the pitfalls of restoring apostolic authority.

Ironically, it was none other than Rick Joyner who published this warning back in 2000 (emphasis added):

“Just as there was a horde of pseudo-prophets released to create confusion in the church when the Lord began a focus on restoring that ministry, there will likewise be a horde of false apostles released. Our team received two very specific dreams warning about false ‘apostolic movements’ that were built more on organization than relationship. The dreams indicated that these were trying to bring forth apostles that were really more like corporate CEOs, and the movement that they led had the potential to do great damage to the church. The enemy’s intent with this false apostolic movement was to have the church develop a deep revulsion to anything that was called apostolic.”

Nothing describes the fruit of these apostles, or their qualifications for recognition, better than their success at building organizations “like corporate CEOs.” Moreover, no competition has arisen during the intervening 18 years to challenge the supremacy of NAR’s interlocked mega-network of “apostolic streams.” And no movement has done more than NAR to provoke “revulsion to anything called apostolic” in the wider Body.

Obviously, there’s a problem. And if we are in the Body, it’s our problem. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” (1 Cor.12:26) I’m not qualified to build a solution. But Part 5 suggests steps toward laying a new foundation.

NOTES:

[8] The prophetic influence of Bob Jones on NAR apostles is documented in Part 3.

[9] Juster testified that like Sheets, he had rebuked Lakeland’s apostolic failures in writing; but he provided no details, quotes or online links. He also named Charisma Magazine CEO Stephen Strang as another apostle who had publicly confronted the Bentley endorsers. However, Strang’s observations refrained from calling his peers to repent. Unfortunately, his excellent question (“Why, with so many mature leaders present at Bentley’s endorsement, was the gift [of discernment] not used or, given what we now know, why was there not a word of knowledge?”) was directed at the “crowds” following Bentley, not at the leaders flanking him.

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Hannah Weiss
Hannah Weiss lives in Israel with her husband Hillel, their three children and two grandchildren. Besides writing on issues relevant for followers of Yeshua, she also works as an English writer, editor and translator for Israeli exporters and academics. Hannah is part of a small home fellowship, Restorers of Zion, which serves the Body of Messiah by focusing on neglected or dysfunctional areas of Scriptural teaching and practice.

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