What is One to Think of the Lakeland Revival

by Francis MacNutt
Oct/Nov 2008

As you can imagine, the last weeks have been filled with phone calls and e-mails asking us what we think about what’s been going on in Lakeland, Florida. Until last month (when personal problems required the main evangelist to drop out), the meetings in Lakeland were a major international attraction, with thousands of visitors from many countries – an extraordinary phenomenon. Many of our friends traveled to Lakeland, and their reaction was varied, all the way from being impressed and amazed by the life-changing spiritual phenomena, while others were being turned off by what they saw (mostly by what seemed to them to be exhibitionism).  I decided not to go down to Lakeland, because it’s hard to make any reasonable in-depth evaluation as just a visitor.

So I simply say that, like most spiritual outpourings historically, the Lakeland Revival seems to be a mixture of wonderful divine blessings combined with obvious human failings. Since so many have asked us what’s going on, I decided to call someone who is very close to the pastoral leadership in Lakeland to ask for his understanding of what’s going on. Here is what he had to say.

First, he said that he believes the happenings are extraordinary and genuine, in spite of any human failings mixed in. The church background of the leaders is Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) which means that the dramatic style of ministry undoubtedly turns off some traditional charismatic Christians. He said that this outpouring powerfully touched young people–just the kind of people that the church is trying to reach today—and the music ministry leaders were dedicated, holy and enthusiastic. He was pained to read and hear all the criticisms, because at its heart, the Lakeland Revival has led to many conversions. Thousands were attracted from all around the world by the “signs and wonders.” (He told me that a parking attendant he knows received a gold tooth through prayer.)

He also told me that although the numbers have now gone down, the revival is still continuing. About 150 come every night from an average of six nations and another 4000 take part in internet meetings. They experience the same manifestations as took place in the famous “Cane Ridge Revival” (in Tennessee around 1800).

He mentioned, too, what we are so aware of, that most of the great outpourings of the Spirit historically were dimmed by the human flaws of the leaders, and that he personally knew (or had seen) many of them, such as William Branham and Jim Bakker. He decried the fact that people are so judgmental about the flaws of our gifted leaders, that they destroy the body of Christ by their excessive criticism.

I certainly sympathize with his view, but what can we do about the history of revival in which we see, over and over again, that a “revival” typically lasts only two years and is gone. The famous “Azusa Street” revival, whose centennial we celebrated two years ago in Los Angeles, only lasted about three years. In this case, the pastor’s secretary stole the mailing list to start her own ministry, and the church floundered financially.

A Partial Solution

One remedy that I think would help is if everybody became aware of an ancient church teaching that emphasizes that there are two categories of gifts given by the Holy Spirit and not just one.

In the first category are the charisms mentioned by Paul in I Cor. 12. As you know, the gifts of healing (as well as prophecy, and preaching, and tongues) are included in this famous list which is at the heart of the Pentecostal revival. This category contains gifts that are all meant to help other people. Healing, for example is a gift to help the sick. The sad fact (and this has been recognized in the ancient Christian tradition) is that the person who is gifted with these charisms may also display huge character flaws. Jesus himself called attention to this when he said that some Christians will be condemned even though they have cast out demons in his name! “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: ‘I have never known you; away from me, you evil men’” (Mt. 7:22-23). Presumably, these were all real signs and wonders, but God used unworthy ministers to help God’s suffering people.

Since these ministry gifts can be showy; we can easily seek them for unworthy motives: such as to make a profit or to become famous. Our motivation is all-important. Even before the Lakeland Revival, many people have come to us and asked us to pray for them to receive the gift of healing. On a large scale, this was happening in Lakeland when large numbers of people were prayed for to receive “the impartation of gifts.”

The ancient Christian tradition is that supernatural gifts are built on nature (grace builds on nature). In other words, God gifts everyone in the order of nature, and then these natural gifts can be strengthened and used by Jesus in a higher way. For example, a naturally compassionate Christian is often given a gift of successfully praying for inner healing. Or a naturally gifted speaker can develop into an inspired teacher or preacher.

Things go wrong when a person says to his pastor, “Kathryn Kulmann prayed for me to receive the gift of healing, and so I want you to make me the head of the healing ministry in our church.” Usually there is much more than a desire to be a healer joined to one prayer, to make a Christian into a gifted healer.  When a leader prays for 200 people to receive an “impartation of the gift of healing”, we do not expect that all 200 are then equipped to lead healing services in their churches.  Instead, we as leaders should be spotting people who have already been called by God with the beginnings of a healing ministry; then build on what God has already given them and pray that it will increase: “More, Lord, more.”

Fruits of the Spirit

The second category of gifts given us by the Spirit includes the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 6:22). (Read also Col. 3:12-15). This second category, fruits of the Spirit, are meant to help you become holy and to become like Jesus himself so that eventually you can say, “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me.”

They are called “fruits” because they are not like the blossoms of spring, but they appear in the fall after a season of growth. They are not ordinarily instant, nor do we expect young people to immediately manifest them (“patience,” for instance). A life of perseverance leads eventually to these strong, steady gifts.

Notice also that these are not showy gifts that you stand up and give a testimony to: “I am loving” or “I am patient.” It’s much more like “I’m more patient than I used to be.” I’m always aware of how much further along the road I need to be. It’s sobering to read what Jesus says to Peter, whose great gift in early life was being bold:

I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.
John 21:18

And yet when he was young, Peter ran to the tomb first and jumped into the sea to be the first to get ashore to greet the Lord.

These fruits of the Spirit bear a cost to achieve, and it’s hard to give a testimony about them because we cannot judge really how loving we are, especially in relation to others. If I am imprisoned, or even tortured for doing what’s right, how do I endure joyfully? And yet these virtues are far more valuable than healing the sick –as wonderful as the gift of healing is. Our desire should be to have St. Paul’s attitude: I just want to be like Jesus – not just in the things I do, but in who I am.

We should desire both kinds of gifts: the charisms that help others, but most especially the gifts that help us become holy. If more Christians prayed to grow in the fruits of the Spirit, then perhaps we might see a day when revivals would last for more than two years.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Oct/Nov 2008 Issue