[December '97] It has now been well over a year that my testimony, "How I Changed My Mind On The Toronto Blessing," has been online. Thus, for quite some time now, I have considered doing an update, so that I can share what I have learned. After all, the testimony of a growing Christian should not be static. As Peter points out, the Christian life is one of growth, and thus of change for the better:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
2 Peter 1:3-9 NIV)
In my testimony, I shared how I, while still living in California, used to very critical of the Toronto Blessing - critical in a very unbalanced manner. Prior to the start of the Toronto Blessing Movement I had for many years been involved in the leadership of a Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I preached, taught, counseled, led a kinship group, and was part of ministry teams that were sent out to various Vineyard conferences. One such conference was held in Kansas City, in 1985. After the conference, small teams spent a week ministering at various churches in the area. The team I was part of stayed at what was then the Kansas City Fellowship. Though the people were wonderful, our team members soon realized something wasn't quite right. We couldn't quite put a finger on it, but as it turned out, their "prophets" had been speaking to the church about an "army of young people" - "a chosen generation" - that was to come... We were seen and welcomed as being part of that army. At the time, few of us had ever heard of the Latter Rain Movement, but we did find many of the things we heard peculiar, to say the least. Shortly after our stay at the Kansas City Fellowship, KCF joined the Vineyard movement. To many, this seemed to be a natural step in the road the Vineyard had taken. When I first joined the Vineyard, the church was known for its emphasis on the teaching of the Word, worship, and fellowship (kinship groups). Then we started learning about the spiritual gifts... Now, I believe that the gifts are still in operation today, and that the Holy Spirit can give them to any Christian, at any time, for any purpose. However, the gifts are not to become more important than the Giver. That, though, is exactly what happened in the Vineyard. In our particular Vineyard (as in others), we saw that many people pursued the gifts so vigorously that the study of the Word became less important. At about the same time, another teaching also was given much attention within the Vineyard: the practice of "Inner Healing." This teaching holds that current problems in a person's life can usually be traced back to a hurtful experience in the past. Though this teaching was not unique to the Vineyard, it got an added dimension in that movement because many "Vineyardites" - learning to practice the spiritual gifts - started to diagnose each other with "words of knowledge". Several of us pointed out the problem with this approach: when people who are not well grounded in the Word are practicing spiritual gifts, they have no sound way of testing spirits, prophecies, and words of knowledge. Thus they operate primarily by feelings and impressions, which are then either confirmed or denied by the person being ministered to. Though on the surface this may seem innocuous, it is not - for this means that feelings and experiences have become more important than Scripture. And that fact lies at the root of the problems and issues within many of the current renewal and revival movements. The emphasis on the gifts became much more pronounced after the Vineyard got involved with the Kansas City Fellowship. The latter's "prophets" upped the ante, so to speak. Not only had we been learning about spiritual gifts, but we now also saw them in operation at a much higher level - or so many people thought. So, over the course of just a few years, it appeared that the Vineyard movement's emphasis had changed from its basic values of teaching the word, worship of God, and fellowship (kinship) with other believers, to an over-emphasis on spiritual gifts. In Kansas City, Bob Jones - one of the "Kansas City Prophets" - had prophesied over our team, praying with each of us individually. I can not speak for all the others on our team, but the prophecies he spoke regarding me turned out to be false. So did the prophecies he gave our pastor. At the time, though, our pastor accepted his words, and started to lead the church according to the directions given him in the prophecy. When people recognized the problems - the increasing emphasis on experience over Scripture - and realized that the pastor, though confronted, refused to change this course, many left. Over the years, our church dwindled from about 400 people to fewer than 50. During this process, I became more and more disillusioned with the church, as well as with my own Christian life. Eventually my (now ex-) wife and I both opted out of leadership. Not much later I stopped going to church altogether. This began a period of many personal hardships. Looking back, I can say that God does indeed caused all things to work for the good, but at the time the circumstances severely tested my faith. (I should mention that God used the circumstances to cause me to deal with unresolved issues from the past.) However, during this time I remained actively involved in several things I was interested in, such as the field of apologetics - an intelligent defense of the Christian faith. This, to me, became all that more important as what I had seen taking place in our church could really be classified as the "dumbing-down of Christianity." Thus, when the "Holy Laughter Movement" and what became known as the "Toronto Blessing Movement" came on the scene, I spoke up. At the time, Christian BBS Abba II, of which I was the co-Sysop, became a clearing house for information on the Toronto Blessing/Holy Laughter movement. I spoke out against the movement and its leaders in the "Christian Press Report," Abba II's electronic, Christian newspaper. I actively debated the issues on AOL's (America Online's) message boards, at one point engaging Rick Joyner in a no-holds barred discussion. I included that particular discussion in my electronic publication, "Laugh or Cry?" which was a collection of articles criticizing the TB/HL movement.
Some of the Concerns Then...
Some of the concerns the articles in "Laugh or Cry?" addressed included these issues:
In my testimony, I described how God taught me a balanced approach. Upon moving back to Holland He led me to join up with a church that considered itself to be part of a revival movement. I did not want to attend a church like that, and almost turned right around when during the very first meeting I saw people manifest in a variety of ways... What struck me, though, was the love expressed within that small church. It was just what I needed, and was a welcome change from the troublesome time I'd been through. Best of all, the most important thing I learned during my time with that church is to put my focus back on Jesus - where it belongs. Look at what David says:
My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.
Psalms 25:15 NIV)
Now, when your feet are caught in a trap, the natural thing is to look down. The spiritual thing to do is look up and focus on Jesus. I love the words of that old song:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
The more I focused on Jesus, the more things started to come into perspective - and the easier it became to evaluate teachings and practices in a balanced fashion. My concerns about certain teachings and practices within various renewal and revival movements remained the same as outlined above. But instead of judging these movements by their worst excesses, I learned to use Paul's approach:
Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.
Simple, right? Paul wrote these instructions to the Thessalonicans - the same people about whom Luke made the following comment:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11 NIV)
The Bereans tested Paul's message in a balanced fashion: on the one hand they received what he said with great eagerness (the Greek literally says "with a ready mind"), and on the other hand they verified the message to see if it measured up to Scripture. The primary way to test everything is to apply the standard of Scripture. All prophecy, all teaching, all revelation, all dreams - everything that is presented as a communication of God's truth - is to be tested by Scripture. Once tested, hold on to the good, and stay away from the bad. That is just what I did. During my time at that small church I received healing, encouragement and refreshment from the Lord. I laughed. I "rested" in the Spirit. I received healing for deep-seated wounds.
Dealing With Errors And Excesses
At the same time, though, some teachings and practices in that church confirmed every one of the concerns I mentioned earlier. In addition, the leaders of this church turned out to be manipulative, abusive, immature and unwilling to be held accountable. Their teachings and practices caused many people to leave. Others, including an assistant pastor and myself, were told to leave as our questions and concerns were said to be disruptive. As in most abusive churches, questioning teachings, practices, and even ethical issues was not tolerated. Instead, a great show was made of alleged spiritual gifts and manifestations - the very gifts and manifestations that, to others, made these leaders look so spiritual. And question I did. One advantage of a balanced approach is that it allows you to take a stronger, more secure stand. Acknowledging that there is much that is good within the renewal and revival movements does not weaken your assessment of that which is bad. If anything, people are bound to pay more attention to someone who demonstrates he can separate the wheat form the chaff. Excesses and errors, whether in practice or in teaching, reflect poorly on the church and on the Good News it is called to bring. Unfortunately, though, many critics of renewal and revival movements criticize in an unbalanced fashion - rejecting a whole bushel of apples just because they found a few apples with worms in them. Entire movements are thus labeled as "counterfeit" and find themselves under attack from people unwilling to take a balanced, Scriptural approach. Likewise, many within these movements respond to such critics in an unbalanced fashion - closing their eyes and ears to those issues in which the critics are, indeed, correct. Critics ought to be fair and acknowledge the fact that there are a variety of renewal and revival movements. Some of those movements promote teachings and practices that are cause for concern. Others don't. Supporters of the various renewal and revival movement should also be fair. Pretending there are no major problems within some of these movements is the spiritual equivalent of sticking your head in the sand.
Addressing The Issues
In, Common Stumbling Stones, an editorial I placed online in the Summer of '97, I addressed a number of troublesome issues. The response to that editorial eventually led to the creation of AI's Renewal mailing list where we discuss those - and other issues:
The issues include:
As Paul says, do not quench the Spirit. Don't despise prophetic words. But by all means, do test everything. Hold on to the good, and stay away from the bad. (1 Thess. 5:19-22) Doing this promotes the kind of renewal the Bible talks about. Like Timothy:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:16 NIV)
That's what true renewal and revival is all about.
Love in Jesus,
P.S. If you'd like to discuss these issues, please join AI's Renewal Mailing List