THE RAGING RIVER
OF BROWNSVILLE
PFO Responds to Michael L. Brown’s
Attack of the Critics of the Pensacola Revival

by M. Kurt Goedelman with G. Richard Fisher

 

Dr. Michael L. Brown rightly could be called the critic of the critics. His nickname of “knock ‘em down Brown” (acquired a number of years ago by his ability to “slay in the Spirit”) could easily be retooled to describe his response to the critics of the Pensacola-based church where he is resident theologian. He is super-critical of anyone who expresses more fault than flattery of the purported revival and its manifestations occurring at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Florida.1

Brown’s book, Let No One Deceive You,2 is just one of the many items being promoted and marketed as a result of this “latter-day revival.” In it he suggests that the doctrine and practice of the “Pensacola Outpouring” is biblical and of God. However, some of the troublesome things, like the false declarations of Pastor John Kilpatrick and Evangelist Stephen Hill and the bizarre manifestations, are conveniently passed or glossed over.

Brown is harsh and combative, to say the least, and is a mirror image of Brownsville’s harsher critics. In reality, his tone far exceeds that of most of the critics of the alleged “outpouring.” Name-calling and damnation, absent from the vast majority of revival evaluations, are readily present in Brown’s writing. For example, so condemning is Brown that he asks, “Are you totally and absolutely sure that you are right in attacking the current revival? Are you willing to wager your salvation on the fact that you are correct?”3

Even the normally amiable reviews found in the Christian Bookseller Association’s magazine, Marketplace, noted that “Brown’s extensive defense of Brownsville is marred by sarcastic asides directed toward the revival’s critics.”4 Yet Brown himself says: “So, this book is not defensive.”5 But, in fact, the tone is defensive, strident and at times vindictive. It conveys a spirit that would not be expected by one who claims to be revived.

His loud rhetoric and constant ad hominem arguments foment even more division and polarization. In many ways this is a harmful book. There is no bridge-building here but simply a battering ram of misleading arguments. His is a book illustrated with numerous sad and untrue characterizations such as:

• “[Critics] will watch a video of a powerful meeting attended by thousands of people and go ballistic because one person at the altar suddenly falls to the floor, totally ignoring the fact that Jesus is being preached in clarity.”6

• “After digesting some of the critics’ teachings, you feel afraid even to visit a church or listen to a minister who doesn’t bear their highly selective seal of approval. ‘Watch out! You may get demonized if that person who just attended the revival meeting so much as brushes up against you, and you may get influenced by an alien spirit if that preacher even shakes your hand. Careful! There are dark spirits lurking everywhere, ready to pounce on you the moment you put down your cult-watch manual.’”7

and

• “The critics diligently look for demons lurking in every nook and cranny of any spiritual move in the Church, holding high the banner of ‘Don’t be deceived!’ almost the way an exorcist would make the sign of the cross before a vampire in an old movie.”8

Brown’s tone in writing is much like his preaching style: sarcastic. During a spring 1997 meeting in southern New Jersey, the Brownsville theologian ridiculed and belittled PFO’s 1997 Journal article on the “Pensacola outpouring.” However, later in a phone conversation he admitted that had he known a PFO director was present at the session, he would have been less sarcastic and biting. Yet PFO’s anonymous presence enabled us to witness and experience firsthand the unvarnished truth of Brown’s response to evaluation and criticism.

SPENCER AND DeARTEAGA ALL OVER AGAIN

Brown’s publication is a near dejŠ vu read of James R. Spencer’s Heresy Hunters volume of a few years back. He even paints nearly the same disparaging picture of “critics” — or “heresy hunters” as Spencer labeled them. Brown calls them “destructive critics” and describes them as being “proud, self-righteous, negative, picky, faultfinding, unthankful, unhappy, often stiff” with a “never-satisfied attitude.”9 He labels them as “mavericks” because they frequently “fail to respect other leaders because they are fully convinced that they alone are right” and they are “unaccountable and unsubmissive to authority.”10

Brown also mirrors William DeArteaga’s book, Quenching The Spirit.11 As new and more outlandish spiritual superstars surface and while the names and practices of those being evaluated change, the arguments used to respond to the criticism are unaltered. In all, there is nothing new here. Tired old canards are pulled out and paraded around.

In many other ways Brown’s book is simply and equally dishonest. It is misleading historical revisionism. He sanitizes and then re-creates Brownsville in a more palatable form. Brown even quotes the likes of Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and other avowed cessationists (those that taught the sign gifts ended with the completion of the canon of Scripture). If these men were alive today, they would brand the hysteria, chaos, and false prophecies of Brownsville at best as fleshly emotionalism. Brown, by his own criteria, would have to label them as “mavericks” who are “unaccountable and unsubmissive to authority.”

AMBIVALENT GUIDELINES

Brown sets an early standard for himself and seeks to silence skeptics by announcing that the “refutation of the erroneous positions” of the critics has to be “clear and emphatic, always going back to the Word” and promises a “serious treatment of key Scriptures.”12 This would prove to be a task which Brown could not fulfill. He later admits, “It is one thing to back up every point of doctrine and faith with specific chapters and verses from the Word. This is essential. It is another thing to try to validate every practice or manifestation with specific Scripture citation. This is not only unnecessary, it is virtually impossible.”13

This admission simply means you’ll never find some of the things occurring in Pensacola in Scripture. It is a very telling statement and should alarm those that revere Scripture and hold to it as the standard of doctrine and practice. It is a direct contradiction of his initial statement that he will “always go back to the Word.” Throughout the book there is a permeation of this kind of cognitive dissonance. This means that Brown presents and believes absolutely contradictory statements.

Perhaps Brown should have taken more seriously the advice of his own colleagues at the Brownsville church before writing his book. In a Sunday morning message, youth minister Richard Crisco used a rubber mallet to nail himself to an imaginary cross. The point of his illustration was:

“... that we are not supposed to defend ourselves from the critics of the revival and that we have to allow others to crucify us daily without defense. ... and how the resurrection power becomes powerless when Christians seek to defend themselves from the critics. ... to defend yourself from the critics was a waste of time. ... ‘My friend, when they come with their hammers and they come with their nails just say, “Jesus forgive them, they know not what they do.” Many of them are not your enemies, friend, many of them are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. When things happen just cry out inside yourself and say, “God forgive them, don’t allow any feelings to rise up inside of me — let me die, just let me die.”’”14

Perhaps Michael Brown was not in attendance that morning.

The Pensacola mind-set produces an elitist and a siege mentality, as evidenced by the tone of Brown’s book and actual occurrences at Brownsville and its “cloned” churches.

In a visit to Brownsville, PFO witnessed church security guards herding would-be “revival” seekers with bullhorns into single file lines.15 There seems to be a mania for crowd control outside the church building, only to allow just the opposite inside.

One guard even reported the near instantaneous cessation of “line ticket distribution” inaugurated in the early months of 1997 when devotees reportedly were scalping them and fighting over them. Those are things not reported in the Brownsville statistics, nor are they in Brown’s book. He has written the doctored-up and sanitized version.

Brown’s book and approach can be faulted at several key issues. As this article examines these, it is important to place the book alongside the realities at Pensacola. The book must be set against its actual context and read in the light of that context. Five crucial problems we see with the book are:

DISRESPECT FOR THOSE WITH WHOM HE DISAGREES

As noted above, Let No One Deceive You is saturated with insulting language. Critics are referred to in the Preface as “critical, religious, fault-finding, ministry nobodies.” Yes, there have been critics of Brownsville who are, at times, very hard, but Brown lapses into “tit for tat.” The Brownsville leadership should realize they are being held to a high standard since they are the ones claiming this is the end-time move of God. They, not the critics, are the ones making the extravagant claims of Holy Ghost power and the anointing.

Brown lampoons critics by describing them as “the enlightened leaders of the Critical Intelligentsia Association (CIA), [and] the elite members of the Faultfinding Brotherhood International (FBI).”16 In other places they are labeled as “frequently self-anointed, generally self-appointed, and virtually always right;”17 “small-minded;”18 and as “Destructive critics ... often guilty of gossip and slander.”19 PFO, in particular, gets the dubious honor of being a “hairsplitter and nitpicker.”20 Like boxer Mike Tyson, Brown attempts to pummel and bite his opponents. However, we think that the Christian world will, in the end, disqualify him for tactics beyond his worst critics.

In the face of all the criticism and negativity of his book, Brown further alleges, “A destructive critic feeds on negativity and fosters unbelief, suspicion and fear.”21 Yet the reader is asked to believe in the midst of all the name calling, threats and negativity pumped out by the Brownsville leadership22 that, “This is the day of visitation for our nation.”23 God save us from such visitations.

Skeptics, according to Brown, are liars and slanderers who are in:

“... a cozy cocoon of criticism that feeds on itself and draws strength from its rumormongering. May God’s light penetrate this darkness, and His truth pierce these lies! This kind of junk — repeating libelous falsehoods about our brothers and maligning faithful servants of the Lord — is as far from constructive correction and godly rebuke as Death Valley is from the Arctic Circle. It not only misses the mark, but instead of shooting at the enemy’s target, it fires at its own side.”24

Critics are likewise labeled as “negative brethren”25 and Brown pulls out the old, well-worn and overworked threat that those who “scorn the sacred” may be bordering on “Blasphemy of the [Holy] Spirit.”26 However, his “blasphemy” warning is yet another example of cognitive dissonance. Early in the chapter Brown writes:

“But first I want to make something perfectly clear: I am not saying for a moment that the Christian brothers and sisters who attack the current outpouring are guilty of blaspheming the Spirit. I am not saying that those believers who attribute the whole revival to the devil are guilty of this sin.”27

If not, then why even bring it up? Why spend an entire chapter devoted to the theme and issue such “urgent and intense” threats as:

• “you had better tread carefully with your criticism,”28

• the detractors “continue to oppose Jesus Himself.”29

• “Are you willing to wager your salvation on the fact that you are correct?”30

and even the prophetic declaration that:

• “Soon the Lord may say to some who erroneously claim to speak for Him, ‘Silence! ... I rebuke you for speaking falsely in My name. Repent while there is still time. My kindness toward you is running thin.’”31

All in all, the Brownsville leadership certainly have a very high opinion of themselves when they link questioning them with so serious an issue as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. One would expect more humility coming out of genuine revival.

Nearly a half century ago, Charles Vander Ploeg, an Assemblies of God minister, carefully and thoroughly studied the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The conclusion of his thesis was that the “ignorant theories advanced as the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost, are entirely inconsistent and incongruous with a proper understanding of the subject.”32 His conclusion that “This subject has to do with Israel only and never mentioned outside of the Lord’s ministry to Israel and never mentioned in Paul’s epistles”33 is an observation that Brown and others quick to label critics as committing the unpardonable sin should seriously consider.

One term constantly overused by Brown (as well as all the other Brownsville leadership) is the word “friend.” Everybody is a “friend.” A friend is defined as “a person whom one knows and is fond of.” The way in which Brown threatens and castigates the opposition, they are hardly “friends.” The word is hollow and patronizing coming from them.

The suggestion, however veiled, that critics are guilty of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a straw man on Brown’s part. Reports and evaluations by PFO and others contend that the dominant force of the manifestations are dependent upon the work of the flesh, not a by-product of occultic activity. The true context of the Mark 3 passage is attributing to the devil the works of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, scriptural context is not always a top priority with Brown as will be demonstrated.

DISREGARD FOR THE CONTEXT OF SCRIPTURE

Brown has a way of turning Scripture on its head. He takes a perspective and then makes the Bible conform to it. A few examples will suffice.

The first example is his appeal to a passage in Ezekiel, which he rips out of its clear context. Ezekiel 47:9 is clearly a millennial/Kingdom passage having to do with the twelve tribes of Israel (see vv. 13, 21-22). Surely, Brown believes in a future Kingdom restoration for Israel. Or does he? The passage, “where the river flows everything will live,” is applied by Brown to “this river of revival” in Pensacola. He says the critic “refuses to get in.”34

For a serious student of the Word of God, this is Scripture-twisting. Many of the historic landmarks in Israel are there in Ezekiel 47. There is En Gedi (v. 10), and specific geographical landmarks like the Dead Sea (vv. 15-20). This definitely is not Pensacola, Fla. It is misleading allegory imposed on the Scriptures.

Perhaps Brown holds to a Triumphalistic or Dominionistic theology and has allowed it to show through here. Just maybe, the Joel’s Army postmillenialism persuasion, prevalent within hyper-Pentecostal camps, has trickled through. Brown should clarify that.

Brown’s selective use of the passage also causes other questions to arise. What is one to do with the swamps and marshes not healed in verse 11? Possibly, they could be interpreted to be the ones scalping revival line tickets in the church parking lot or they could even be anyone who does not agree with him? How about the beached fish in verse 10? Could they be the individuals writhing on the floor at a Brownsville service? One can readily see how allegorizing the Scripture, as Brown does, can lead to a subjective morass of silliness.

Then there is his obvious mishandling of Acts 17:11, the passage regarding the Bereans. The text reads, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Brown tries to make this say the opposite of what is intended.

This passage is clearly about the Apostle Paul’s preaching and the touchstone of the Scripture as the final authority. In myopic fashion Brown has this refer to the Brownsville happenings and suggests this passage is teaching that we should be giving him all the benefit of the doubt. His slant is as follows:

“Do the critics receive the contemporary reports of revival with openness and excitement, hoping that this might possibly be the real thing, that perhaps at last, their prayers for revival are being answered (if they’re even praying for revival), that the Lord is truly visiting His people; or do they receive such reports with suspicion and skepticism, if not deep-seated cynicism and hostility?”35

Brown’s statement is a near encouragement to simply suspend judgment. Why should believers receive reports of revival with openness and excitement when Brown himself admits from the start it is virtually impossible to “validate every practice or manifestation with specific Scripture.” What did the Bereans do? They brought Paul’s message to the Scripture and found it all there.

The word “searched” in Acts 17:11 is anakrino, and means to investigate, to judge, to examine, to discern, to search, to lay up evidence by investigation.36 Moreover, Brown and his colleagues are not the Apostle Paul, which is far more reason to examine and test their message and claims with Scripture.

In context, Paul brought to the Bereans the message of the Gospel (vv. 2-3), the Bereans scrutinized it against the prophetic Scripture and it all checked out. Where do we go to check out Brownsville’s messages and claims since we already know they are impossible to validate by Scripture. Do we just take their word for it all? That seems to be the real bottom line.

Brown is even able to paraphrase the words of Christ and to bring them into an up-to-date condemnation of critics:

“To put this in terms that many believers could relate to today, Jesus could have said something like, ‘Many will say to Me on that day, “But Lord, we were baptized in Your name, and in Your name became faithful members of the local church, and in Your name prayed and saw many special things take place.”’ And yet these people never truly knew Him or served Him. That’s where the deception is found.”37

A careful study of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23, reveals the extent of His warning more closely parallels the occurrences in Pensacola, rather than the activity of their critics.

DELUSION AND DISSEMBLING ABOUT THE EXTENT OF THE REVIVAL

Brown alleges that the “outpouring” happening in Pensacola is not just localized, but is “sweeping the land.”38 Recall his claim, “This is the day of visitation for our nation” and add to that his declaration that “A national awakening of monumental proportions is at hand. Whatever you do, don’t be left out.”39 Is this really an awakening of national proportions? Is it sweeping the land when it is obvious that the area around the church itself has not been touched and cleaned up in any significant way?

Al Dager, of Media Spotlight, in a firsthand report from contacts in Pensacola and the area, says that after his two years of trying to obtain documentation, the Brownsville team is unable to provide doctor-confirmed healing testimonies and that there is little or no spiritual or moral impact on the immediate community.40

Brown makes other exalted, but unsubstantiated, claims. He asserts “thousands ... are being saved every month” and “in only six months, one particular high school with 2,100 students has seen 300 converts.”41 He further boasts:

“I can fill a football field with men and women who were hardened adulterers before the current revival but are now serving God with unadulterated hearts. I can present you with a mile-long line of freed fornicators, delivered drunkards, sanctified Satanists, purified perverts, converted criminals, liberated lesbians, and homosexuals who have been made holy. I can introduce you to thousands of transformed teens and countless committed kids.”42

Such claims are made throughout the book, but the facts do not match the hype or rhetoric. For the most part Brownsville Assembly of God is an in-house and parochial phenomenon drawing Pentecostals and Charismatics on repeat visits. Those predisposed to such things return frequently and as such get counted into the total number repeatedly.

Time spent talking with people waiting in line confirms that many are drawn down for the show on return visits. This was borne out on our visit there recently. In other words they are preaching, for the most part, to the choir. In our initial report, PFO cited faith healer Benny Hinn’s comments that his wife, Suzanne, had made repeated visits to Pensacola and that his daughters made a profession of faith “just to be sure.”43 Secular newspaper reporters turn up no new converts, but only those who “rededicate their lives.” The Brownsville marquee now more honestly expresses the statistics, changing the number of “Souls Saved” to the number of “Decisions for Christ.”

Dager also points out the phenomenon of inflated tallies, both in attendance and decision response:

“Hill wants people to come to the meetings as often as they can. ... He chides those who make a negative judgment after having come only one time. ... He will often tell people to turn to the person next to them and ask, ‘Do you need forgiveness?’ If someone responds in the affirmative he wants both the person asking and the person responding to come forward. This usually brings a few hundred to the front.”44

Moreover, The Holland Sentinel reports that Pensacola is “known as the gay Riviera for its openness to homosexual tourists.”45 It goes on to report the findings of several inquiries:

“In random interviews over a three-day period, no one said they were born again. Yes they had rededicated their lives to Christ, they said — but they were people who had previously accepted Jesus as Savior. Studies indicate that many who promise to change their lives slide back into old habits once they are away from the highly charged revival. And whether it is possible to overcome problems like alcoholism and the effects of sexual abuse in a single experience is open to question.”46

Up close and personal, the stark reality does not live up to the hyped-up version in Brown’s book.

One must remember that the Pentecostal Evangel has been advertising the Pensacola Outpouring and has been a conduit for marketing Brownsville wares and products among Assembly of God churches and individuals, nationally and internationally. This endorsement has guaranteed Kilpatrick and Hill an instant constituency of millions. Likewise, no doubt, it has fed and fueled the meetings at Pensacola.

In fact, “revival” may even hinder and cripple a church. One such church (cited in PFO’s spring 1997 report), the First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, jumped into “the river” a number of months ago and has done all it can to be a Brownsville transplant. For a number of years before the “river flowing,” First Assembly had the second-largest attendance of Grand Rapids’ churches. However, following the “revival” it has slipped to third.47

For many years, a Michigan couple attended this Assembly of God church. As the church endeavored to become a Brownsville clone and advertised “the river is flowing,” this couple employed caution. They were quickly recognized as “critics.” They were asked to leave, ushered out, and even harassed. So much for freedom of religion and freedom in the Spirit. The fruit of the “river” revival is spoiled fruit. Paranoia reigns.

DIVERSION IN TERMS OF BIZARRE MANIFESTATIONS

Are bizarre manifestations showcased at Pensacola? As much as the Brownsville leaders may try to distance themselves from the unorthodox, the response is an unequivocal, “Yes!” At times, the envelope is pushed beyond bizarre. For example, consider the “fetal birthing” practice at Brownsville. Women go into squatting or fetal positions claiming to birth revival.48 Fetal birthing is practiced in New Age cults and the hyper-ventilating and grunting brings excess oxygen to the brain giving sensations that are labeled as spiritual experiences. It is all physiological.

In Brown’s book there seems to be a concerted attempt to hide or deny the more bizarre manifestations at Pensacola. Yet this is not altogether possible because of the abundance of such activity. While The Orlando Sentinel reported, “Though Brownsville services are televised, the broadcasts are cut off before carpet time,”49 when it comes to video sales, however, they let it all hang out.

One can easily witness the uncontrollable shaking of young Alison Ward by purchasing the brief video found in Brownsville’s Revival Product Catalog.50 Shaking, convulsing, and hysteria are showcased in many of the video presentations. Just watch them and see.

Brown alludes that this “revival” is not about manifestations, that the experiences or superficial sensationalism are not paramount and are eclipsed by the preaching of the Word:

“I can show you videos stacked as high as a New York City apartment building chronicling every service of the revival, letting you hear the simple, biblical, Christ-exalting, sin-exposing message that is preached night after night.”51

That claim is false. Many of the videos sold focus on the manifestations as in the Alison Ward testimony video. In fact, this short video demonstrates just how the preaching of the Word takes a back seat to “signs and wonders.” Following the jerking and shaking spectacle exhibited by Miss Ward, Evangelist Stephen Hill announces to the congregation,

“This is the message tonight. This preacher’s not going to preach. This was the message tonight. This rarely happens and we’re obeying God. We’re obeying God tonight. ... It’s never going to get any heavier than this. Trust me.”

The manifestations are so much a part of the spiritual climate at Brownsville, that Hill further says, “If you can’t feel what’s going on in this place, you’re dead. You’re dead. You are a dead man if you can’t feel this. You’re a reprobate, friend, if you can’t feel God moving right now.”52

As much as Miss Ward is exploited, she seems to want to be and is now making appearances around the country with other members of Brownsville’s leadership team. Yet the Ward testimony video is not just the exception, but more the rule. In a June 1996 service (also available on video), Pastor John Kilpatrick calls his wife Brenda to the stage and asks her to describe what the revival means to her. Is her response one of deepening holiness or deepening in the Word of God or even a manifested repentance? Brenda begins:

“But anyway, it’s just really unique some of the things God’s doing. And some of the manifestations that you see in people are—are—is intercession. A lot of times when the altar call is given you’ll see people stand with their arms out like Moses did when the battle was on. And then you’ll see children start shaking — grown adults — different people start shaking. And uh, they—it will be violently and some are like bending over, bowing like this. And it’s like they’re birthing something in the Spirit. And I do that — [I’m] part of that too.”53

She goes on to tell how the “river” pushed her back and knocked her over. She recounts she fell back and took another woman down with her. And then further reveals:

“And I started making these noises that I do — and it was kinda hollering out. ... I would scream out. ... But anyway, I was in this stranger’s lap — and I mean, I’m doing this hollering in her lap. And then I go to this deep intercession; crying and wailing in her lap; crying and I can feel the tears in her lap. And I’m saying, ‘Dear God,’ you know, I don’t know what this is, but I know this is You.’ And I knew it was something to do with the lady. I was taking on her pain and her burden.”

Mrs. Kilpatrick next tells how she was knocked down and came up doing sit-ups and explains how hard that is for an overweight person.

Pastor Kilpatrick announces that “the river of God” is on the platform and has people rise to their feet. There is a loud cacophony of voices as Kilpatrick begins to speak in tongues through the microphone. He then sings in tongues, interspersing it with singing: “He’s here, folks — He’s here, folks — get in — get in — get in.” Evangelist Stephen Hill then “gets in” to the act by charging to the platform. The congregation is near frenzy.

Hill tells the ushers to carry all the convulsing “intercessors” up to the front to be deposited on the platform for all to see. Various shaking children are paraded on stage to give “words of knowledge” about sinners in the audience only to collapse after their utterances. This certainly is a demonstration as to the nightly reality of what the revival means. It is also the service Brown describes in his book as “a sacred night of intercession and repentance in the revival.”54

But the emotionalism does not stop with this one service. The very next week produced a great favorite found in the Revival Products catalog entitled, Honey, Where Are We From?55 However, it is the least favorite video of at least one on staff at Brownsville we know. The service features several manifestations and derives its title from a pastor’s wife, who at times acts drunk and cannot recall words or even the city she came from. Both the pastor and his wife become the center of attention and the crowd howls with delight and laughter. The dumber they get, the funnier it seems to the crowd. At one point the pastor’s wife goes into what can only be described as a drunken chicken walk with her arms dangling above her head. When she collapses on stage the crowd goes wild.

On this same video is an interview with five people, each one becoming sillier and crazier than the one before in a “can you top this?” sequence. In one scene, a young man describes how his foot would not move and as he clumps around on stage the audience howls with glee.56 In the “intercessors” video (recorded the previous week), shaking spastic bodies are lugged through the church and into the balcony to bring conviction of sin on others.57

Videos of the revival services circulate with stories of people so “drunk” they could not drive and of others having to be taken home and put to bed because they were unable to function. Kilpatrick himself confesses of having to take long periods of time just to put his socks on. Are these things being held up to model and emulate?

A point totally missed by Brown and others is that not every phenomenon mentioned in the Bible is to be construed as a worship tool. Herein is the crux of the matter and the fallacy in Brown’s thinking. Anything that goes on at Brownsville will be justified with an oblique or strained reference to some text of Scripture or by Brown’s admission, with no Scripture at all.

It goes without saying that a Scriptural word or event cannot be taken as an element of worship. Scripture must dictate what elements are in our worship. For the Pentecostal believer, 1 Corinthians 14 should loom large and bold as a referencing structure. In Brownsville it does not.

In a worship context, Paul demands certain things and says, “If anyone thinks himself to be spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write to you are the commandments of God. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant” (vv. 37-38). Paul also reminds us that “God is not the author of confusion” (v. 33), that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (v. 32), and that if there is chaos (as in Brownsville) the uninformed and unbelievers will say “you are out of your mind” (v. 23). Therefore “let all things be done decently and in order” (v. 40). Biblically, the Brownsville leadership is keeping people “ignorant” regarding the proper order of worship.

The point must be made again: Not every biblical occurrence, event or phenomenon is to be taken in as a worship element. The boundaries of worship are defined in 1 Corinthians 14, as well as in other passages. Not every event or occurrence in the Bible is an accouterment to worship. If so, we could insist that manna fall from heaven at worship services and water come out of rocks at worship since God does not change.

Do we just make up things to do in worship because they sound like a good idea or because we feel like it or others feel like it? Dr. Michael S. Horton notes “the human temptation is to invent new forms of worship, as Israel has done at Mt. Sinai with the golden calf.”58

Following the apostolic pattern the early Church had simple, sublime, orderly and biblical worship services. Justin Martyr described in detail the services about the year 140 A.D. No one was saying, “Honey, where are we from?” or walking around in a mindless state. Scripture reading and clear exposition were the focal point. Along with the sermon there was prayer, a collection, song and communion. The decorum is evident throughout Justin Martyr’s description: No one left “drunk in the Spirit” with designated chariot drivers, but were sent out to visit the sick, poor and needy.59

There is no report by Justin Martyr of “ministry time” so that the faithful could be anointed, “slain in the Spirit” or do “carpet time.” Cast against these sober accounts of first-century worship, the Brownsville antics appear even more ludicrous. Brown’s hermeneutic is that if anyone can be found on the ground anywhere in the Bible it must be acceptable.60 But is it acceptable for worship?

And yet even if it is not in the Bible, Brown’s logic is that there is a first time for everything. Jesus did many things for the first time and, just as the Apostles performed various miracles for the first time, so too in Brownsville. The fallacy is that Jesus and the Apostles were giving direct, divine and progressive revelation and confirming it with signs and wonders. It is a far cry from the practices of Pensacola. Brown may accuse his critics of “gall and egomania,”61 but these critics are not suggesting that they are on an apostolic or divine level.

Moreover, this is not just a little falling out. In meetings attended personally by PFO and in the numerous videotapes viewed, “ministry time” (the code word for physical and spiritual chaos), is promised and held out all through the meetings. It becomes all too obvious that this is what it is all about and is what people come for and wait for. They are there obviously for the “main event” and the leaders will not disappoint. As well the followers are never disappointed. The expectation is palpable.

In some of the meetings we attended, Kilpatrick and Hill charged through the congregation like bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. It is the opinion of these writers that were it not for “ministry time,” there would be no “revival.” But is feel-good, get-high, really lasting revival? What about the physical consequences of head-snapping and head-jerking? Some have suggested possible future liability for physical damage,62 a fact of which the leadership at Brownsville seems unaware.

Real revival, as demonstrated in Psalm 85, is not man-centered, emotion-centered or manifestation-centered, but God-centered (v. 6). It is also centered completely on God’s Word and obedience (vv. 8-11). It is also about truth and being honest, not misleading by overstating the facts.

Brown even goes so far as to support shaking uncontrollably from passages in Isaiah 21, Jeremiah 4 and 23, and Ezekiel 12.63 By use of these verses, Brown again shows his disregard for the context of Scripture. It is clear that these passages have to do with God’s catastrophic judgments on the wicked. So much for discernment and proper exegesis. Scripture is wrenched to justify holy spasms and sanctified epilepsy in worship services.

In the now infamous, “Hanegraaff Downfall Prophecy” service,64 Kilpatrick all but invites someone to come to Brownsville to try to bomb the church. He intones that he is speaking into “the ears of God” and that if anyone shows up with a bomb it will not go off. Kilpatrick is a bomb going off or maybe more like a loose cannon. The above behavior is immature and uncalled for.

Children are having “visions” on a regular basis and their apparitions are being passed off as a normal part of worship and a sure word from the Lord. The Orlando Sentinel reports further:

“Bill Bush, the Coast Guard officer, is the head usher. Elmer Melton, the former drill sergeant, is one of his assistants. How weird can a church be, after all, if the Marines and Coast Guard are on duty? The answer is pretty weird. Once a nine-year-old girl fell to the carpet during one of the Brownsville services and began making dreamy, repetitive motions, like a lazy gardener weeding a flower patch. Later the girl was brought in front of the congregation to explain what she had been doing. ‘I was pulling lost souls out of hell’ she said. ‘Then I was sending them to heaven.’ And not a moment too soon. The Spirit that rules over Brownsville is in a hurry.”65

This “hurry” idea that God is in a rush is also repeated by teenager Alison Ward in her testimony video. Both these beg a number of questions to be answered:

• Should a nine-year-old girl be leading a worship service or any part of it? Isn’t this the Elders’ calling?

• Can a nine-year-old pull lost souls out of hell and put them in heaven? Can anyone?

and

• Is God really in a hurry?

In reading Isaiah 3, the Prophet denounces trends as people move away from God’s Word into subjectivism. God warns them that when children rule them they can fall into oppression and error (v. 12). If anything goes in worship — look out.

Dager reports: “We found that women and even children are taking prominent leadership roles in many of the churches involved in both the Toronto and the Pensacola Revival movements.”66

What about Brownsville’s doctrine of eternal punishment? At the very least it is a muddy mix of confusion. It can be safely said that this child was not taking people out of hell. This is something not even our Savior does. Hell is eternal.

As far as God being in a hurry — this is not a biblical perspective. Our lives and the society we live in may be in a “hurry,” but Peter reminds us that “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day” (2 Peter 3:7). God is not bound by our time frame and is not in a hurry. To suggest this is to be ignorant of who God is. We may miss current opportunities but there is no sense in which God is in a hurry. Isaiah warns:

“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, ‘Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it’” (Isaiah 5:18-19).

Trying to rush God is sinful and has the creature trying to usurp the role of the Creator. It is very clear and amply demonstrated that Brownsville is primarily about manifestations in spite of Brown’s words to the contrary. It does not take a prophet to know that when the manifestations stop, the “revival” stops.

Brown tries to tone down the impact of so much being caught on tape by saying the critic:

“...views tiny excerpts of videos or disjointed snippets of teachings ... and then uses these biased, unexplained, and unrepresentative segments to form his entire view of the movement he questions. How would the critic like to be judged in this way?”67

Brown tries to evade the fact that whole video presentations are given over to manifestations. Moreover, it is clear from the above samplings in this article that these are not tiny excerpts and disjointed snippets and that they are representative of the movement. They are even more lengthy than could be presented here. Some are almost entire services.

Further, the critic could not be judged this way since the critic is not claiming divine origin for everything he does. The videos represent that which we are to believe is God-sent, spirit-born activity and part of a nation-shaking revival. We are right in holding these things up to the highest standard. How can they be God-sent and Spirit-engendered when we want them to be and unrepresentative snippets when we want them to be something else? Again cognitive dissonance.

A final point that needs to be addressed is the source of the videos. These tapes are photographed and then marketed by the Brownsville church. The footage is a product of their own hands. The questionable and embarrassing conduct depicted on them was not obtained through some covert operation with hidden cameras. They are the very materials used to evidence the Holy Ghost “outpouring.” It seems the Brownsville leadership wants it both ways.

DISPENSING OF MISLEADING STATEMENTS

Brown repeats the misstatement that there are “dropping crime rates” in Pensacola because of Brownsville Assembly.68 Maybe he thinks that just repeating an untruth will somehow make it come true. Again and again this has been shown to be patently false and he knows it. In fact, key aspects of the Pensacola’s crime rate have escalated, according to police statistics given to PFO.69

In reality, crime was decreasing before the revival and then began to increase through 1996 and into 1997. This was verified by Escambia County Sheriff Jim Lowman and his assistant Michael Morris. So, why does Brown try to keep the fabrication going? Why not just honestly admit that the “revival” is making no substantial impact on the realities of their community?

Dager further reports that when he personally questioned Stephen Hill to confirm his public claim that he was going into the public schools to preach the Gospel and asked Hill for names and addresses, Hill admitted he had not spoken in a school in three years.70

During one phone conversation with Brown, PFO was told that Reformer Michael S. Horton was providing counsel to the Brownsville team and was supportive of their work and ministry. Subsequent to that claim, Horton appeared on Lutheran pastor Don Matzat’s daily radio broadcast Issues, Etc. Matzat inquired about what PFO had been told to which Horton responded:

“I was at the Pensacola Theological Institute ... And while I was there, a Southern Baptist minister, who has been in dialogue with some of those guys at the Pensacola Revival was asked by them, if while I was in town, I could come and observe and then meet with them. And so I did. ... But when I met with them, I told them that the main issue for me wasn’t the phenomena. I said, ‘It’s like two different religions for me. For us to even talk about the phenomena would get us off track.’ The key thing for me was the message and the message was holiness Pentecostal: ‘I have arrived at the place where I live above all known sin.’ ... That it was really not much Gospel there to speak of.”71

When Matzat sought to clarify Horton’s purported counsel, he replied that the Brownsville team has “got to understand the Gospel. And the Law. The Law and the Gospel.”72 He further commented that:

“I don’t know how they could have come out of that meeting with [a feeling of endorsement on my part]. For one thing, it was certainly a congenial meeting. ... but clearly the outcome of the conversation was I don’t think that the movement understands the Gospel. In fact, I told them, I said, that the greatest danger here is creating another burned-over district just as Finney did. Because there will be a lot of people who after this movement will be ripe for walking out on the faith entirely.”73

Horton concluded his remarks by saying the deeper issue at hand with Brownsville is “a false gospel.” In all, Horton’s statements hardly seem to have come from one supportive of the movement as claimed.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, but it seems that the Brownsville leadership have difficulty with that and are really creating a massive credibility problem for themselves with their overstatements, fabrications and embellishments.

Brown characterizes Hank Hanegraaff’s volume Counterfeit Revival as an “ugly blemish” and then says “The revival is real.” What is real is that there is “a whole lot of shaking going on” at Brownsville. But what is really real will be judged in the court of time, by truth, reality, and the Word of God. These will expose the real blemish. In the meanwhile Brown will not silence the critics with his intemperate and harsh attacks.

Endnotes:

1. See, for example, “The Murky River of Brownsville — The Strange Doctrine and Practice of the Pensacola Revival,” The Quarterly Journal, April-June 1997, pp. 1, 12-22.
2. Michael L. Brown, Let No One Deceive You — Confronting the Critics of Revival. Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image, 1997.
3. Ibid., pp. 19-20, emphasis added.
4. CBA Marketplace, October 1997, pg. 57.
5. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., preface.
6. Ibid., pg. 54.
7. Ibid., pg. 56.
8. Ibid., pg. 64.
9. Ibid., pg. 46.
10. Ibid., pg. 48.
11. See further, Stephen F. Cannon, “Quenching the Spirit — Does Exercising Spiritual Discernment Oppose the Moving of the Holy Spirit?” and “The Erroneous Scholarship of DeArteaga,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 1, 10-13.
12. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., preface.
13. Ibid., pg. 81.
14. Richard Crisco, The Remnant, July 1997, Vol. 5, Section 6, pg. 5.
15. Visit to Brownsville Assembly of God by M. Kurt Goedelman, August 6, 1997. The crowd control exercised by Brownsville’s security guards was also briefly shown on the October 9, 1997 installment ABC’s 20/20.
16. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 5.
17. Ibid., pg. 6.
18. Ibid., pg. 37.
19. Ibid., pg. 51.
20. Ibid., pg. 52.
21. Ibid., pg. 55.
22. In addition to Brown’s volume, see books like Stephen Hill’s White Cane Religion and The God Mockers.
23. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 233.
24. Ibid., pg. 9.
25. Ibid., Chapter 3.
26. Ibid., Chapter 2.
27. Ibid., pg. 14, italic in original.
28. Ibid., pg. 17.
29. Ibid., pg. 19.
30. Ibid., pp. 19-20.
31. Ibid., pg. 19.
32. Charles Vander Ploeg, The Blasphemy of the Holy Ghost and Other Unpardonable Sins. Los Angeles: self-published, 1951, pg. 47.
33. Ibid., pg. 48.
34. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 38.
35. Ibid., pg. 26.
36. See further, H.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pp. 280-281.
37. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 70.
38. Ibid., pg. 31.
39. Ibid., pg. 74.
40. Al Dager, “Pensacola: Revival or Reveling?”, Media Spotlight, copyright 1997, no date or volume number, pp. 9-10.
41. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 19.
42. Ibid., pg. 20.
43. “The Murky River of Brownsville,” op. cit., pp. 12-13.
44. “Pensacola: Revival or Reveling?”, op. cit., pg. 5.
45. David Briggs, “A New Awakening,” The Holland Sentinel, March 2, 1997, pg. A9.
46. Ibid., pg. A13.
47. Charles Honey, “Where We Live: Religion,” (Sidebar: “What Are The Largest Area Churches?”), Grand Rapids Press, May 21, 1997, pg. 33.
48. This episode is depicted on a video Pensacola: Impartations and Apparitions by Pentecostal minister Joseph Chambers. Available from Paw Creek Ministries, 5110 Tuckaseegee Road, Charlotte, NC 28202-2516.
49. Michael McLeod, “A Panhandle Lourdes,” The Orlando Sentinel, Florida magazine, May 11, 1997, pg. 12.
50. “In Times Like These,” Testimony of Alison Ward, August 18, 1995, Brownsville Assembly of God, video tape on file.
51. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 20.
52. Testimony of Alison Ward, op. cit.
53. Intercessor’s Service, June 1, 1996, Brownsville Assembly of God, video tape on file.
54. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 52.
55. Honey, Where Are We From?, June 8, 1996, Brownsville Assembly of God, video tape on file.
56. Ibid.
57. Intercessor’s Service, op. cit.
58. Michael S. Horton, “Mysteries of God and Means of Grace,” Modern Reformation magazine, May/June 1997, pg. 5.
59. See further, Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1910, Vol. 2, pp. 222-241.
60. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., see Chapter 12, “A Lot Of Fall Out Over A Little Falling Out.”
61. Ibid., pg. 7.
62. Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival, audio cassettes. Dallas: Word Audio, 1997, tape #1, side #1.
63. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pp. 156-157.
64. Brownsville Assembly of God service, April 6, 1997, video tape on file. Also see, “Brownsville Pastor Confirms Non-Prophet Status,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 2, 18-19.
65. “A Panhandle Lourdes,” op. cit., pg. 14.
66. “Pensacola: Revival or Reveling?”, op. cit., pg. 23.
67. Let No One Deceive You, op. cit., pg. 89.
68. Ibid., pg. 29.
69. “Six Year Crime Comparison” from the City of Pensacola, Office of the Chief of Police, January 30, 1997.
70. “Pensacola: Revival or Reveling?”, op. cit., pg. 7.
71. Don Matzat, host, Issues, Etc. KFUO radio, Saint Louis, August 28, 1997, tape on file.
72. Ibid.
73. Ibid.

 

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