“Miracle man” Muamba dead then alive – Doctors amazed

Fabrice MuambaFootballer Fabrice Muamba now seems to be recovering slowly, although he is still in intensive care. See this video for the latest report. Along with most of the nation, I thank God for this remarkable answer to prayer.

The amazing thing in this case is that, after collapsing during an FA Cup tie, he is said to have been dead for as long as 78 minutes, with his heart not beating. Even doctors have used the word “dead”. For all of that time people were giving him a variety of medical treatments – and others, even players on the pitch, were praying for him. But it was only after well over an hour that the medical team was able to restart his heart.

The BBC Health Correspondent, Nick Triggle, asks, Can you be dead for 78 minutes? He writes:

The more details that emerge about Fabrice Muamba, the more amazing his story becomes.

The latest has seen the Bolton footballer labelled the “miracle man”.

Nevertheless, he explains, it is possible, though rare, for someone to live again after being dead for this long, with paramedics unable to find any signs of life. Of course one might say that Triggle has to say it is possible because it has happened, in at least this one case.

In this case Muamba was receiving the best possible medical treatment and was also being prayed for. So it is impossible to say whether the prayer played any part in his return from the dead, or in his subsequent recovery.

But this does raise the question of what happens in cases where apparently dead people are raised by the power of prayer alone, when no medical treatment is available, or when doctors have stopped treating the patient as dead. In recent years there have been many reports of such healings, most controversially in connection with the ministry of Todd Bentley. Now I accept that there are serious issues here in that there is no independent verification of many of the reports coming out of the Lakeland events. But there does seem to be a common pattern among most of the reported raisings of the dead by prayer: that they usually happen within an hour or two of death.

So could it be that all or many of the genuine cases (and I assume here that at least a few are genuine) of people being raised from the dead through prayer are similar to that of Muamba? A person’s heart has stopped, probably for some medical reason. There may have been repeated attempts to start it again, but these have failed. As the BBC suggests in Muamba’s case, there may have been some residual activity in the heart, but no regular beat. Then, after an hour or two and in response to prayer, the heart has started to beat again, and the person has come back to life. Well, something like this happened in Muamba’s case, although we don’t know what if any different treatment he received when he arrived at the hospital.

So, am I suggesting a naturalistic explanation of reanimation by prayer, that people spontaneously rise from the dead, and there is only a coincidental link with prayer? Not really – although maybe the dead wake up more often than is realised, only to freeze to death again on a mortuary slab. But I am suggesting that the power of God can touch a heart which is still, but maybe not completely dead, and start it beating again. Yes, a miracle, but perhaps one which does not go as completely against the scientific worldview as some might think when they hear talk about the dead being raised.

God Heals Today through Prayer – Scientific Paper

I am grateful to Healing on the Streets (HOTS) Bath for linking from their home page to my earlier post God can heal, but not to meet advertising standards, which they describe as “some good Christian wisdom”. That post was a response to the Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling that HOTS Bath must not claim publicly that God heals today, physically and not only spiritually.

I was interested to look at some of the other material currently linked to from the same HOTS Bath home page, in a section also responding to the ASA ruling. In particular, they link to a proper scientific paper providing evidence that God heals today, physically, in response to Christian prayer. The paper is entitled Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique, by “Brown, Candy Gunther PhD; Mory, Stephen C. MD; Williams, Rebecca MB BChir, DTM&H; McClymond, Michael J. PhD”, and is published in Southern Medical Journal: September 2010 – Volume 103 – Issue 9 – pp 864-869.

The research for this paper was done in Mozambique, at mass meetings sponsored by Iris Ministries (founded by Rolland and Heidi Baker) and Global Awakening. The authors tested the hearing or eyesight of people coming forward for healing and tested them again after prayer. They found statistically significant improvements in both hearing and eyesight. There is an extremely small probability that these were merely chance improvements or measurement errors. A suggestion or placebo effect cannot be ruled out, but the improvements are much better than have elsewhere been recorded for suggestion and hypnosis.

Heidi Baker with a baby who "was blind with white eyes just minutes before!"

Heidi Baker with a baby who "was blind with white eyes just minutes before!"

It is interesting that the authors write:

Conducting similar studies under controlled clinical conditions in North America would be desirable, yet neither Iris nor Global Awakening claims comparable results in industrialized countries (arguing that “anointing” and “faith” are lower where medical therapies are available) …

I can’t help wondering what results would be obtained if similar measurements were made in industrialized countries at, for example, Todd Bentley or Benny Hinn meetings. These two have also claimed spectacular results in third world countries but would additionally claim comparable results in the USA, and in Benny Hinn’s case other western countries. But, as far as I know, no similar studies have been attempted at their meetings.

Nevertheless, the scientifically demonstrated result that God heals today in Mozambique shows that he is able to do so also in a tent in Florida or on the streets of Bath. This also suggests the veracity of reports that he has actually done so, even if the frequency of such occurrences is less than in Africa.

HOTS Bath also links to the newly formed Global Medical Research Institute, which

seeks to apply the rigorous methods of evidence-based medicine to the study of Christian spiritual healing practices, including the widespread practice of proximal intercessory prayer (PIP).

There is also a link to a book to be published shortly by Harvard University Press, Testing Prayer (my link is an affiliate one to your local Amazon store) by Candy Gunther Brown who is also the lead author of the Mozambique paper. From the publisher’s material:

In Candy Gunther Brown’s view, science cannot prove prayer’s healing power, but what scientists can and should do is study prayer’s measurable effects on health. If prayer produces benefits, even indirectly (and findings suggest that it does), then more careful attention to prayer practices could impact global health, particularly in places without access to conventional medicine.

The clear implication of all this is that there is real scientific evidence that healing prayer is effective and a respectable scholarly opinion that it is beneficial. I am sure HOTS Bath are pointing this out in their appeal to the Advertising Standards Authority. Hopefully this will lead them to reconsider their apparent blanket ban on claims that God heals physically today.

God can heal, but not to meet advertising standards

As a charismatic Christian, I believe that God can and does heal today. I believe this because I have seen it in others, and experienced it in small ways in my own life. I have also read convincing testimonies, from trustworthy sources, of major miraculous healings. Some of these are accompanied by medical testimony, that the improvement in health cannot be accounted for by any normal medical processes – but of course it is not for doctors to say what did cause the healing. So it is not blind faith but rational conviction for me to state that God heals today.

Healing on the Streets outside Bath AbbeyBut my right even to write this now seems to be under threat. As the BBC and several bloggers, including Adrian Warnock and Gillan Scott, have already reported, the Advertising Standards Authority here in the UK has banned the Bath section of the Christian group Healing on the Streets from advertising that “God can heal today!” This was in response to a complaint made by a certain Hayley. You can read the ASA adjudication and the response from HOTS Bath.

This is by no means the first time this issue has come up. In 2008 I commented on a similar ruling by the ASA about advertising by a church in Shrewsbury. But on this latest occasion there has been far more publicity, including on a Daily Telegraph blog.

Now I accept that it is right that there are controls on people making unverifiable claims for healing remedies or powers, especially for financial gain. Christian groups presumably don’t charge for healing, but may be perceived as in it for gain it they take offerings or encourage those healed to join their church. Perhaps it was unwise for HOTS Bath to name specific illnesses which could be healed. But the ASA doesn’t seem to have been willing to reach any compromise.

On that basis these rulings raise serious issues of freedom of religious expression. There is room for negotiation on the exact wording. But if the ASA is trying to stop any expression of the belief that God can heal today, then it is overreaching itself and infringing internationally agreed basic human rights.

I don’t usually read political blogs, especially those supporting the Conservative Party. But I was alerted to the following by a tweet retweeted by Gillan Scott. It comes from a post at Conservative Home, Andrew Lilico: Should Christians be able to claim that “God heals”?:

God is not a magic stone to be rubbed with healing flowing.  He is a person who does what He wills.  The function of prayer is to align our will with God’s and to offer our supplications to him, not to force His will to ours.  So when God heals miraculously (as, with mainstream Anglicans, I believe he does still today) he does so on His terms and for His purposes.

One implication of this is that God’s healing is intrinsically non-replicable.  The claim is not that performing such-and-such a ritual in such-and-such a way raises the probability of recovering from this ailment by that percentage.  God’s miraculous healing is not induced by any act of ours, and thus is intrinsically not something to be subject to scientific standards of controlled replicability (indeed, the very attempt to test it for replicability is literally and specifically blasphemous).  So it can never qualify as a medical claim under normal advertising rules – and I avow that non-replicability as a theological claim, not an empirical one.

So if my understanding (which, as far as I am aware, is entirely orthodox) is correct, then if Christianity is true, no Christian claim that “God heals” or “God can heal diseases” could ever have an evidential basis to satisfy the ASA.  Note: that’s if Christianity is true!  So the ASA ruling says, in effect, “If Christianity is true, no Christian church can ever be permitted to claim that God heals.”  How could that be other than an attack on Christian liberty?

Indeed. And this brings the matter back to broader issues. In the past, on this blog and elsewhere, I have been involved in wide ranging and sometimes acrimonious debates about the lack of evidence for healings claimed by for example Todd Bentley and Benny Hinn. But, as Andrew Lilico clearly understands, one can never expect evidence of God’s work in the world which meets “scientific standards of controlled replicability”. The ASA, as well as certain bloggers, ought to recognise this and stop trying to apply these standards to religious claims.

Proud to be a Montanist and a Jim West heretic

TertullianJim West writes about me:

he loves being a Montanist, a heretic.

Yes, I am proud to identify myself with the Montanists, a much maligned prophetic movement in the early church, but one which was never formally declared heretical. The great Church Father Tertullian joined this movement, while remaining a member of the Catholic church.

I am also proud to join such luminaries as Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Joyce Meyer and, yes, Todd Bentley in the admittedly not very select band of those Jim has publicly called heretics.

But I am confused. Not so long ago (well, it is three years) I wrote that Jim West endorses Todd Bentley, in the following words (but the quote is from Jim’s now deleted old blog):

I had intended to take a break from blogging about Todd Bentley. But I can’t resist this quote, which appears to be genuine, from Jim West:

you can learn as much from benny hinn and todd bentley as you can the ‘fathers’ (with the singular exception of Jerome …)

So Todd’s and Benny’s teaching is as valuable as that of the “Fathers” of the church? Why, I thought I was praising Todd rather highly in comparing him with Jesus and Paul, but I was only saying that he was trying to follow their example. I would never have dared to compare Todd’s teaching with that of any of the respected theologians of the church. But Jim West seems to value Todd and Benny above such towering figures as Tertullian, Origen and Chrysostom. High praise indeed!

Surely Jim can’t have changed his mind about Todd?

But since Jim also calls me “a dilettante of the first order”, why hasn’t he given me a Dilly award?Dilly the Dilettante

Todd Bentley postpones UK trip

Todd BentleyTodd Bentley has postponed his July visit to Dudley, England, which I wrote about first in this post and then in more detail in this one. Trevor Baker has arranged an alternative conference for the same venue and dates.

There is now the following message on the Revival Fires conferences page:

Letter from Trevor Baker

Todd Bentley informed me on 13 June that he was cancelling coming to Dudley for the “Restoration and Resurrection” meetings.

I know that many of you have made arrangements to be here in Dudley for this weekend. Rather than cancel the event, we invited Bill Prankard to speak over this time. Please do accept my apologies for any inconvenience and disappointment due to Todd’s change of schedule. I am still believing for a mighty time in God’s Presence this July as He releases His resurrection power.

Below is the email I received:
“Dear Partners and friends of the UK and Europe. We here at Fresh Fire Ministries have always valued the presence of God above any conference or outpouring. Recently during our Greater Glory Gathering in Virginia Beach the Lord spoke to Todd about contending for healing, breakthrough and his presence for 30 straight days there beginning June 27, 2011. In obedience to the Lord in doing 30 days straight we have had to cancel our trip to England to make room for what the Lord is doing”

Once again, I do apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Blessings,
Trevor

Todd’s page about this event now includes the same words as in the email he sent to Trevor quoted above.

After this second postponement, I wonder if Todd will ever make it to England!

Todd Bentley: From Restoration to Resurrection Power

In March I reported that Todd Bentley is coming to Dudley, England in July, to minister at Trevor Baker’s Revival Fires venue – which is very much smaller than the NEC to which Revival Fires invited Todd in 2008, before his marriage breakup. But when I wrote in March, and indeed until quite recently, this year’s visit had been announced on Todd’s website but not at the Revival Fires one. There was also no mention of it in the Revival Fires magazine Summer 2011 issue. I can’t help wondering if this was because Trevor is no longer as enthusiastic about Todd as he was in 2008.

But now, I see, this visit has been put on the Revival Fires conferences page, indeed at the top of the page as it is now their next conference. And apparently Trevor and his Revival Fires team will be ministering together with Todd, so they are not just letting him use their venue. More details are given on the page, including the conference title:

From Restoration to Resurrection Power 2011 with Todd Bentley

21 – 23 July 2011, £10 registration per person. Session times are Thu & Fri at 7.30pm and Sat at 10.30am, 2pm, 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Evening meetings are open to all. Held at the ARC.

Todd BentleyCome join with us as Todd shares his process of restoration, which will be followed by resurrection power! Do you want to see the curse of sin, sickness, disease, death and poverty broken? Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1) and you can know resurrection power in every area of your life. …

This looks like being an interesting conference. I would like to hear Todd sharing about his process of restoration. It’s not far from our home, but I’m not sure if my wife and I will be free to go.

Touch not the Lord’s anointed

In the comments on my post In memory of David Wilkerson Mark D struck what I considered a rather discordant note, and an inappropriate one concerning someone dead but not yet buried, when he wrote:

Ive always liked David Wilkerson but could his speaking against Benny Hinn have something to do with his violent death? God said touch not my anointed! King David understood this truth and would not touch Saul even though he was trying to kill him!

However, there is an important point here. I don’t know exactly what David Wilkerson said about Benny Hinn. And I don’t think God would have struck him dead for it whatever it was – that isn’t how God works. Anyway, the breach between the two cannot have been too serious, for Hinn released a tribute to Wilkerson quickly after his death.

But it is indeed a wrong and dangerous thing to speak against those whom God has anointed for ministry. At least in some Pentecostal and charismatic Christian circles this wrongness and danger is often expressed in the sentence “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”.

This sentence has its origin as “Touch not mine anointed”, spoken by God, in Psalm 105:15 KJV. It is important to note that here “mine anointed” is plural, hence the NIV 2011 rendering of the verse:

Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.

Psalm 105:15 (NIV 2011)

The poetic parallel suggests that “my anointed ones” here refers to prophets.

The same principle was laid down several times by David when he had the chance to kill King Saul, who was hunting him down:

The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.

1 Samuel 24:6 (NIV 2011);
see also 24:10, 26:9-11,16,23, 2 Samuel 1:14-16

1 Samuel 26:7-11: David spares Saul's lifeHere the anointed one, singular, is the king of Israel, Saul. But by this time he was a disobedient and apostate king whom God has rejected (1 Samuel 15:11,26). The Holy Spirit had left him and he was under the influence of evil spirits (16:14). And David had been anointed king in his place (16:12-13). Nevertheless that same David continued to respect Saul as the Lord’s anointed. He fled from him for his own safety (19:10), but refused to take any action against him.

Contrast what happened to the person who dared to finish off the dying Saul: David showed no hesitation in killing him (2 Samuel 1:14-16).

What applicability does this have to Christians today? Who is, or are, the Lord’s anointed who should not be touched? Commenter here Andrew Price pointed out correctly that the role of the Old Testament kings was fulfilled in Jesus, whose title “Christ” or “Messiah” means “Anointed One”. The same could be said of the role of the Old Testament anointed prophets. However, the New Testament teaches that every Christian believer, everyone in Christ, has an anointing from the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20), is a potential prophet (1 Corinthians 14:31), and is even now reigning with Christ (Revelation 20:4 and Ephesians 2:6, as I explained these verses in a previous post).

So, I would argue, every true Christian is the Lord’s anointed, and so, according to David’s principle, others should not lay their hands on them. This doesn’t just mean not kill them: David would not even say anything negative about Saul. The Bible warns us against slander, gossip (2 Corinthians 12:20) and backbiting (Galatians 5:15), and this is the same principle in practical application.

Now there is a place for Christians to discern false teaching. If they do discern it, they should avoid listening to it. It might sometimes be appropriate to confront the false teacher personally, or to make a report to someone in authority over them. But, according to the principle which David set out, it is wrong to criticise them publicly – even if, like Saul, they have turned completely away from God’s path. If, on the other hand, they are truly ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak against their ministry is to risk the unforgiveable blasphemy against that Holy Spirit.

Thus, I would agree with Mark that it is wrong to make negative public statements about Benny Hinn and his ministry. It is equally wrong to make such statements about David Wilkerson or Todd Bentley, as Mark was quick to do, or about Rob Bell, as Adrian Warnock among others has done, or indeed about anyone who professes to be a Christian teacher. Each of these people is the Lord’s anointed. They would remain so even if they were to turn away from God to the extent that the Holy Spirit departed from them and they were under the control of evil spirits, as happened to Saul. I am not suggesting that this has happened in any of these cases. But if someone believes that this has happened to any teacher or preacher, the right response is that of David: distancing himself from the danger, and silence – and decisive action against those who do touch the Lord’s anointed.

On the other hand, David’s example shows that it is also wrong for Christians to invoke “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” to stop others criticising them. David could have claimed his own rights as the Lord’s anointed, and denounced Saul and others for “touching” him. But he never did so. While believers should not criticise their leaders, it is wrong for leaders to put themselves above criticism.

Whatever happened to Todd Bentley?

Todd Bentley at LakelandWhatever happened to the enfant terrible of North American revival evangelism, Todd Bentley? He rose to international prominence with the Lakeland outpouring starting in April 2008. By August that year he had resigned from his ministry over an inappropriate relationship. By March 2009 he and his wife had divorced, and within days he had remarried. And then he gradually disappeared from public view.

On this blog I posted no less than 73 times in the category Todd Bentley, before my latest post and this one. Some of these posts quickly received thousands of views and hundreds of comments. But it is nearly two years since the most recent of these, with one exception which mentioned Todd only in passing. Yet there are still, over the last year, hundreds of people searching the Internet for his name and finding posts on this blog. So what has happened to him since he went out of the spotlight, at least for me, two years ago?

Early in 2009 Todd started a process of restoration led by Rick Joyner. I reported on the early stages of this, to the extent that it was made public. But then for a time, probably wisely, the process seems to have been taken out of public view. But more was revealed in 2010: Rick Joyner wrote a Special Bulletin in February about Revival and the Todd Bentley Restoration, with a follow-up in March and another in June. There is detailed material here about how Todd was gradually being restored, including biblical justification for the process. Rick promised many other bulletins on this matter, but these are all I can find on the MorningStar website.

The most recent information from Rick Joyner seems to be in a video from 8th November 2010. In this video Rick explained that Todd had been ministering effectively and powerfully in the local church, and that he considered it to be the right time to release him into a broader ministry. This 15 minute video is well worth watching, especially concerning the lies that have been told about Todd and the spirit behind them.

So it was to be expected that Todd would quickly return to public ministry. Nevertheless I was rather surprised to find that this is already the focus of the Canadian website of Fresh Fire (with the original Canadian domain name), as well as of their apparently identical US website. Fresh Fire is now based in Pineville near Charlotte, North Carolina, which is less than four miles from Rick Joyner’s MorningStar church just across the state line in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

It is good to see that Todd and his team have been involved in relief efforts as well as evangelism in Haiti. Over the next month or so Todd is taking his “Healing & Kingdom Tour” to Texas, Puerto Rico and Michigan. In May he will be in Alberta, Canada. And in July, 21st to 24th, he will be in Dudley, England, as I mentioned in my previous post.

I am pleased that Todd has been restored to a fruitful ministry, after Rick Joyner’s long and painstaking efforts. I hope and pray that this will continue to be successful. I am a little concerned that Todd has rushed so quickly into such a heavy schedule. I hope he now has the wisdom to pace himself and avoid another burnout. If so, we can look forward to the fulfilment of Rick’s prophetic word, on the video, that millions in the USA will come to Jesus through Todd’s ministry – and, we can hope, millions more around the world.

Todd Bentley is coming to Dudley, England in July

Todd Bentley at LakelandI was interested to find, when researching for my post Whatever happened to Todd Bentley?, that not only has Todd resumed an international public ministry under the Fresh Fire name, but he has also announced a visit to Dudley here in England, on 21st to 24th July 2011. Fresh Fire writes:

This is not a conference. It’s a gathering of the Hungry & Thirsty from across the United States to see the OUTPOURING of the Holy Spirit and the Glory of God burning over our entire state. Bring the lost, bring the sick, bring those who are hungry and thirsty. Sound the Alarm, it’s time!

I guess this has been copied from the publicity for Todd’s US tour without being edited to be appropriate for England.

The venue announced is the home of Revival Fires, whose leader Trevor Baker invited Todd to England in 2008, but as yet there is nothing about this at their website. My wife and I recently attended a conference at Revival Fires, led by Lance Wallnau – audio recording of at least a part of this available.

There are of course a number of issues related to Todd Bentley’s return to public ministry, which I look at in my other post.

Should errant Christian leaders be restored?

While I am taking a break from my series on Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, my near neighbour (at least from a global perspective, but we have never met) Sam Norton has started a series on a related topic: Does the priest have to be pure? In this he talks about the Donatists, whom I discussed here nearly two years ago. Sam gives an excellent explanation of why they were wrong to teach that the ministry of a Christian leader is invalidated by their personal sin.

This doesn’t mean that the sins of Christian leaders should simply be ignored. Unrepentant sinners like Michael Reid certainly should not be allowed to continue in ministry. But it does mean that those who fall should be allowed to repent and be restored, the process which was at least starting with Todd Bentley (but I haven’t kept up with that story) – and which the Donatists did not allow with the original traditores in late Roman times.

But this argument against the Donatists has its limitations in that it is not really applicable when a Christian leader not only falls into sin but also teaches that that sin is in fact right. This, arguably, is what many of the practising homosexuals in Anglican and other churches are doing: they are not only sinning (at least according to traditional biblical standards) but also teaching that what they are doing is right. But the argument against Donatism doesn’t mean that these people should be accepted, because unlike the traditores they are unrepentant.

Indeed the same can be said corporately of The Episcopal Church, which has this week demonstrated its lack of repentance over the Gene Robinson affair, as well as its contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, by approving the consecration of another practising homosexual bishop. This is a direct challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which will renew the tensions which have brought it close to falling apart. But this teaching in effect approved by TEC is also rife in the Church of England.

I am now looking forward to the continuation of Sam Norton’s series. He promises to answer the question “what do we do when the priest isn’t pure?” In a comment I challenged him also to consider what happens when the priest is not “holding fast to the truth of the faith”. I hope he also applies these principles to the current situation in the church and the Communion in which he is a priest.

PS: I will not allow any comments here concerning Todd Bentley, unless they include significant and verifiable new information about him.