April 21, 2011

x This one is hard to figure out...

A couple years ago, I attended the Lakeland Revival. Also known as the Florida Outpouring, this movement rocketed old fashioned tent revivals into the 21st century. (You might say, "Something like Oral Roberts on steroids.")  Utilizing every available technology - including simulcasts on the internet, giant flat screens, rock musicians, and swooping boom cameras - the organizers had generated international excitement out of a global audience. The claimed miracles were numerous and many of the witnesses I heard sounded very credible.

The person who really launched the movement into the stratosphere was an extremely unusual and controversial young man named Todd Bentley. (I traveled a few hours to check it all out and was even spending the night at their camp ground. But, unfortunately, Todd was not there the night I attended.) Todd was (and is) a Canadian with a highly troubled past. He has many tattoos, piercings and even a very disturbing criminal record. But he claimed to have experienced a Spiritual transformation that brought him to Jesus. 

Still, it was not only his unusual appearance that had some questioning his ministry. His flamboyant, over-the-top practices included an unsettling habit of "laying on hands" by violently hitting or kicking, occasionally. The night I was there, however, his substitutes filled in. During the lengthy service, I witnessed a good many things that might freak out a non-believer but, to me, appeared like possible and even likely manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

But - as has happened far too often in modern times - at the peak of his ministry, Todd's fall from grace occurred when allegations surfaced of an improper relationship with a staff member. Perhaps, when so much ego and fame are involved, temptation is inevitable.

The reason I bring this up, here, is that it may illustrate a difference in the beliefs of Catholics and many Protestants. 

Some believe "Once saved, always saved," and that if we simply accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are "Born again" and headed for heaven. Catholics, on the other hand, focus on verses like Philippians 2:12: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." For Catholics, we believe we are engaged in a life-long refining - like gold in the fire - to prove ourselves worthy of eternity with God. Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior does not negate our free will and, sometimes, we may freely choose to go against God's wishes. After all, why would Jesus Christ ask us to pray "and lead us not into temptation" if we were not meant to be tested even after accepting him as our Lord and Savior. 

Anyway, I do not attempt to judge Todd Bentley. That is God's business. But even though he brought many people to Christ, and professed the Gospel to a global audience, his ministry's spectacular rise was followed by a spectacular fall. 

With all due respect to my Protestant friends, the "Born again" message, like Todd preached, makes me uncomfortable that we sometimes might become too "chummy" in our perceived relationship with God. Yes He is a God of love and mercy. But Scripture also has taught us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. (See Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10.)

God knows that we will fall, from time to time. After all, even among the apostles there was a denier and a betrayer. But that is why Jesus established the Catholic Tradition of the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he told the disciples: "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23) This instruction was the first thing the Resurrected Jesus taught his disciples, and this apostolic tradition has been passed down in an unbroken line of succession for 2000 years.   

I don't doubt that we all can go straight to God to confess our sins. I just don't believe that Jesus said - and Scripture recorded - pointless words. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not sufficiently appreciated, even by Catholics. Confession can be an embarrassing experience that we would rather avoid, if not for our humble obedience to God. Perhaps a lesson in humility is what God wanted for us.