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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 3
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The "Toronto Blessing"

A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church

By Stephen Sizer


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There are several key concepts or phrases used to describe aspects of this phenomena. Each is considered briefly along with proof texts taken from Scripture. (The worrying "roaring" and animal noises will be handled in a separate chapter).

3.1 The Three R's : Revival, Renewal or Refreshment?

3.1.1 Revival

Advocates of the Toronto Blessing have made contradictory claims as to whether this phenomena is evidence of revival or not. Several writers have implied or explicitly stated that they believe this is evidence of revival. The following are a selection of sources making this claim:

  • "A Mighty wind from Toronto - The word "revival" is on everyone's lips" HTB Focus, June 12, 1994, p3.
  • Dave Roberts, "Rumours of Revival", Alpha Magazine, July 1994, p.25:
  • "Revival Fire" & "Revival Call", Alpha Magazine, August 1994, pp.14-17; 32-34;
  • "Rodney Howard-Browne - the man behind global revival" & "Signs of revival?", Alpha Magazine, December 1994, pp5-7
  • Patrick Dixon, "Revival: the Church's secret service" Church of England Newspaper 11 November, 1994: p.7; Signs of Revival, Kingsway, 1994.
  • Jill Austin, "Revival Fire" (undated) The whole paper equates the contemporary phenomena with revival.
  • Marc Dupont, "1994 The Year of the Lion", Mantle of Praise (undated) "What is happening is definitely part of the preparation for major revival."
  • Julia Duin, "Rodney Howard-Browne" Charisma August 1994: p.21. "His followers have labelled him the harbinger of revival".
  • Guy Chevreau, The Toronto Blessing - An Experience of Renewal and Revival, Marshall Pickering, 1994

    Speaking at the Wembley meeting with Rodney Howard-Browne on 13th December 1994, Gerald Coates testified,

      "Describing these "Toronto" events as "revival"....He said, "This is perhaps the greatest outpouring of God in our land ever." Evangelicals Now, February 1995, p.9

    Despite such a preoccupation with revival it is important to note that the noun "revival" does not actually appear in the Bible. The verbs "revive" and "reviving" are used, in the Old Testament, to describe the action of God following his punishment, and His people's repentance (Psalm 80:18; 85:6, Isaiah 57:15; Hosea 6:2). In Psalm 19:7 it is associated with the Law of God and in many verses in Psalm 119 with meditating on the Word of God. There are no references in the New Testament. A fact we would do well to note.

  • 3.1.2 Renewal

    Probably the most common interpretation is that this is "renewal". This term is, however, not without its problems in contemporary usage. The term "renewal" appears four times in the Bible, in each case in very specific ways. In Job 14:14 it relates to the day of resurrection; in Isaiah 57:10 from gaining strength from pagan worship rather than trusting in God; In Matthew 19:28 Jesus uses the word to describe what will happen when He returns to sit in judgement. The word "renewal" is used once to describe the Christian, in Titus 3:5, and there very clearly it has to do with regeneration, and "rebirth", not a subsequent event. "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

    The concept of "being renewed" as a present tense experience is found in Romans 12:2, but refers not to our spirits or our bodies, but to our minds. Similarly, 2 Corinthians 4:16 describes "renewing" as a continual daily process by which we are becoming more like Christ. While our physical bodies are "decaying", or wearing out, our inner nature is being "renewed". There is no sense therefore in which the word here could be taken to refer to physical healing.

    Some Christians equate the word "renewal" with "receiving" the Spirit subsequent to conversion, evidenced by unintelligible sounds or "tongues". Mike Fearon for instance, refers to churches holding "receiving meetings" when the "Toronto Blessing" is apparently bestowed (Fearon, 1994: 248). To believe or teach that Christians need to pray to receive the Spirit is, however, fallacious. The Scriptures clearly teach that a person cannot be a Christian without the presence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). This "receiving" of the Holy Spirit is also sometimes equated with "baptism" in, or by, or with, the Holy Spirit. This idea is also unbiblical. The theological interpretation of Pentecost, as a unique historical event, is explained in 1 Corinthians 12:13. "For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.". Notice that Paul describes a corporate, past tense event, not something to be sought.

    Sometimes the concept "being filled" with the Spirit is also taught as a definite experience associated with manifestations. "Filling" may indeed be associated with certain feelings but equally, and more usually, it is not. In the context of Ephesians 5:18, the "filling" is shown to be a passive, universal and continuous present tense experience, compared, in a parallel passage, with allowing the Word of God to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). It is by confessing our sins, moment by moment, which ensures a continual experience of forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10), and the peace of mind, that we are filled with the Holy Spirit as we consciously allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives.

    3.1.3 Refreshment

    More commonly however, perhaps in an attempt to stress the special or unique nature of this phenomena, the term used to describe the Toronto Blessing is "refreshment" which, it is claimed, may lead to revival.

    Acts 3:19 is quoted to justify this as "a time of refreshment". A careful reading of the text shows, however, that this verse is part of an evangelistic sermon promising Jewish unbelievers salvation. The verse does not actually say, "a time of refreshment" but "times". Further more these "times" are associated with the Jews having their sins "wiped out". Howard Marshall, in his Tyndale commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, gives the following interpretation,

      "This is a unique phrase which commentators generally take to be the final era of salvation. If so, the plural times may perhaps indicate the length of the period in question (cf. perhaps the "times of the Gentiles", Luke 21:24). There may be a link with the "times" of 1:7 associated with the restoration of the rule of God for Israel." Acts of the Apostles (1980:93)

    If it is a "unique" expression, and relates to the entire period until the restoration of Israel, it is surely straining the text to understand Peter to mean a religious phenomena "for the benefit of believers...", at a particular time and localised place, 2000 years later.

    3.2 Drunk in the Spirit

    It is repeatedly claimed that the current phenomena parallels events witnessed on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. The biblical text, however, shows that the only sign which could have given rise to this accusation was an eagerness and boldness on the part of the Apostles to publicly proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. This was preached in clearly understood languages. Those who ridiculed the Apostles with the accusation that they were drunk, were hearing the Gospel and presumably rejecting it. Their criticism was the excuse of a guilty conscience and unfounded.

    It is surely significant that I can find no biblical commentator who has reached the conclusion that the Apostles actually displayed drunken behaviour, that is, prior to the wishful eisegesis of the advocates of the Toronto Blessing. Logically, on the same basis, they must also presumably believe that the Lord Jesus spoke with slurred speech, staggered about or rolled on the floor, since He too was criticised for drunkenness.

      "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say "He has a demon." The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners"" (Matthew 11:18-19).

    Jesus' rebuke is clear, "Wisdom is proved right by her actions". Undeterred, there have been numerous, well publicised reports, of people supposedly being "intoxicated" in the Spirit, unable to walk or drive a car as a result of this so called "blessing".

    Fearon, for example, refers to Christians being "legless", and "merrily sozzled" and of "having a skinful of the Holy Spirit" (p.26), and the "undiluted 100 percent proof Spirit" (p.27). It is surely grievous to hear that "The Holy Spirit doesn't simply come so that people can become "pissed as newts", (p.28). Does He ever? What remains unanswered is the question as to how all this is compatible with "self control", one of the fruit of the Spirit. There is plainly a contradiction between the teaching of Scripture and these experiences.

    Merely calling them "altered states of consciousness", as Patrick Dixon does to justify them, will not do (Church Times, 2 June 1995, p.7) . Without self control we have no defence against the Devil. The Apostle Peter warns, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8). Indeed, Peter says if we are not self controlled and clear headed we cannot be in communion with God. "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." (1 Peter 4:7).

    3.3 Laughter in the Spirit

    Joy is indeed a fruit of the Spirit, and there is no excuse for glum Christians. However, throughout the Bible, the great majority of references to laughter are associated with scorn, derision or evil. Of 40 references in the Bible, (34 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New testament), 22 of them refer to scornful laughter. Of the other 18, seven refer exclusively to Abraham and Sarah's initial disbelief and astonishment that God would give them a child in old age. Only three refer to authentic laughter in the New Testament and all three warn against laughter (Luke 6:21; 6:25 and James 4:9, where we are told specifically not to laugh!)

      "Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter into mourning and your joy into gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will life you up". (James 4:9-10)

    A number of observations can be made, based on the Scriptural record and the practice of advocates of what has been termed "Holy" laughter". These are taken from an article entitled, "Holy Laughter or Strong Delusion?" by Warren Smith, SCP Newsletter (Fall 1994, Volume 19:2, pp1-13)

    There is no biblical precedent for "holy" laughter....Substituting the word joy for laughter is a non sequitur. It is inaccurate and misleading. "Holy" laughter advocates rarely, if ever, discuss the need to "test the spirits"....or the dangers of demonic deception. "Many laughter advocates condescendingly discourage and even openly intimidate sincere Christians who question the "laughing revival"...The Hunter's book "Holy Laughter" refers to sceptics as "God's frozen chosen." Mona Johnian writes, "sceptics, hesitators and procrastinators do not get anointed." She warns "that any person or church that wavered could be eliminated."...."Holy" laughter advocates blatantly disregard the biblical admonition that things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40) (Smith, 1994, 1-13)

    Jo Gardner finds a similar observation in the writings of Watchman Nee, to the presence of laughter in the church in China,

      They could not contain themselves and kept on laughing. What is this? Can this possibly be the fullness of the Spirit? No, this is plainly one of the works of the soul. (The Latent Power of the Soul p.71 by Watchman Nee quoted in The Churchman Vol.109, no.1, 1995)

    3.4 Praying in the Spirit

    Christians will probably never agree on what Paul precisely meant by that expression, "pray in the Spirit," found in Ephesians 6:18. I confess, however, to a sense of unease over the increasing practice of praying or singing directly to the Holy Spirit. Whatever Paul had in mind, I do not believe he meant we should call upon the Holy Spirit to come down upon a congregation or meeting. In the prayers of the New Testament, and the pattern given by Jesus, we are taught to address God the Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In his book, Life in Christ, John Stott makes this point very forcefully,

      "It has been a fundamental conviction of Christians of every church in every generation that we can know and approach God only "through Jesus Christ his Son our Saviour....it indicates the only bridge over an otherwise unbridgeable chasm." (Stott, 1991:10)

    It is most unwise therefore to by-pass Jesus in prayer directed to God. Clifford Hill, himself a Charismatic, is even more emphatic,

      "So long as the worshipper's eyes are focused on Jesus and his whole attention is upon the Lord he is safe. But if worshippers call out for the Spirit to descend upon them the response may come from anywhere in the spirit world and the manifestations may well be highly spectacular but counterfeit. That is the substance of Jesus' warnings in Matthew 7:15-23 and in Matthew 24." (PWM Team Ministries letter November 1994)

    3.5 Slain in the Spirit

    This is an unbiblical expression. The word "slain" is used reverently to describe the Lord Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, "who was slain" (in Revelation 5:6,12) and also of the martyrs "slain" because of the word of God (6:9). Since "slain" is synonymous with death rather than an ecstatic encounter with God, the sobering story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, perhaps comes closest to a biblical example of someone being "slain in the spirit."

    Yet this so called "slaying" is supposedly evidence of the "weight of the hand of the Lord" falling on people as apparently happened to prophets like Ezekiel. Unfortunately the text of Ezekiel refers to the "hand of the Lord" lifting Ezekiel up, not pushing him down (Ezekiel 3:14) and of Ezekiel being told to "get up and go" (Ezekiel 3:22).

    It is very worrying when casual comparisons are made between these unusual manifestations and the unique experiences of the apostles, Paul and John, who fell to the ground in the presence of Jesus. In Acts 9, Paul's encounter with the risen Lord Jesus resulted in his conversion and was associated with a voice from heaven, a bright light and blindness. In Revelation 1, John's personal encounter with the Lord Jesus was given in order to communicate unique apostolic revelation. If comparison is being made with the latter, how are we to interpret Revelation 22:18-19?

      I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Rev. 22:18-19)

    Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to believe or expect that what happened to the apostles Paul and John is normative for the Christian. It is very significant, however, that Kenneth Hagin and Benny Hinn, and their disciples claim that, like the apostles Paul and John, they have had personal encounters with Jesus, who has taken them to heaven and hell and revealed to them what they now teach. As I look carefully at the content of their new revelations, I can only assume that it was not the Jesus of the Bible they encountered, but Satan appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

    3.6 Shaking in the Spirit

    Toronto enthusiasts justify the "shaking" phenomenon by reference to passages such as Acts 4:31. This verse actually says no such thing. It was the "place" that was shaken not the Christians. The Greek word implies something like an earthquake.

    Reference is also made to the experiences of the Quakers and the "Shakers". This too is an unfortunate comparison, for the Quakers eventually preferred their experiences of the Spirit to the teaching of the Word of God, and, officially, no longer hold to a Trinitarian formula or the historic creeds, and have therefore, as a movement, ceased to be part of the Christian Church, although individual Quakers may be.

    Similarly the challenge to assess the Toronto Blessing by its fruits can be met. We need to take seriously Jesus' warning about the plausibility of false versions of Christianity: "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matt 24:24)...... it is difficult to assess a movement by its fruits when the fruit is still green. How difficult can be seen in the case of the Quakers, who were people of strong Christian conviction and powerful social witness in their day. Today, however, Quakerism is the refuge of those who want not merely a religionless but a doctrine-less Christianity. And yet it could be argued that the long-term decline of Quakerism was inherent in its early doctrine. We must recognise from history that a movement may have a powerful - even beneficial - impact in the short term and yet be disastrous in the long term because of its fundamental theological weaknesses. (John Richardson. From a talk given at a conference "Toronto Blessing? It's OK to ask Questions" at St Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, 16th September 1995)

    3.7 Anointed by the Spirit

    In the Old Testament the word is used in a limited, technical sense to describe the appointing of Priests and of the King. The King of Israel, as the ruler of God's people, was a functional pre-figurement of the true Messiah. At the baptism of Jesus, God the Father, revealed that Jesus was the true Messiah, the perfect and everlasting King, by anointing Him with the Holy Spirit. The NT does not teach that we should seek a similar "anointing". In 1 John 2:20,27, the word is used three times, reverently, as a synonym for receiving the Holy Spirit Himself. John is clearly speaking, past tense, of the point of their conversion.

    This concurs with 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 where the same word is equated with coming to know the truth of God. In a secondary sense the word is used once by James to explain what to do with oil when someone is sick.

    It is therefore quite erroneous to use biblical phrases like "anointing", "renewal", or "baptism" to referring to any specific work of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. They are not to be taught or sought. Nor are they synonymous with "filling". We do need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to serve God, but should remember that when we "feel" weak and powerless, that this is precisely when God can use us if we trust and obey Him. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9).

    The hallmark of the genuine work of the Holy Spirit are evidenced by the "fruit" of the Spirit, one of which is self control. Anything that displays a lack of self control cannot therefore, normally, be a consequence of the work of the Holy Spirit. We must think biblically and interpret and shape our experiences by what is plainly taught and expressly commanded. The Scriptures are "God breathed" and a sufficient source of spiritual truth to thoroughly equip us for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We need look no further.

    It is a plain fact that we are not specifically taught about these phenomena in Scripture, still less are we instructed to expect or seek them. It is therefore most unwise to place significance in them, as in any sense at all, proof of the Holy Spirit's work. It is perhaps not surprising in the light of the biblical silence on these matters that the last resort of the advocates of the Toronto Blessing, apart from condemning their critics (the subject of a later chapter), is to urge people to disengage their critical faculties and "just receive it".

    3.8 "Don't try and analyse this, just receive it"

    A notorious example of this uncritical approach is revealed in an article extolling the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne.

      "Howard-Browne disparages those who try and apply a theological test to his methods.", writes Julia Duin, in Charisma, (August 1994, p.26), "You can't understand what God is doing in these meetings with an analytical mind," he says. "The only way you're going to understand what God is doing is with your heart."

    While it is true that the genuine work of God affects our heart as well as our mind, it is worrying that like the "Faith Teaching" cultists, some Christians appear to downgrade the mind as the primary means of discerning truth from error. It is as unwarranted to caricature doubters as "Cerebral Christians" as it is to label advocates as "Happy Clappy Christians." The Scriptures repeatedly warn us to "be on your guard", and to use our minds to understand God's will. (see Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:17-24; 5:17-18; Col 1:21-22; 3:10; 1 Tim 6:3-4; 2 Tim 2:15; 4:1-4; 2 Pet 2:1-3).

    Dave Roberts in The Toronto Blessing, disparages the example of the noble Bereans in Acts 17:11 who, "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" . Under the title "Explain, explain, explain", Roberts tells us that "It is vital we help our congregational Bereans and those simply shocked by the new and different and that we seek to remind people of appropriate scriptures" (1994:138). Roberts is clearly criticising those who want to justify everything from the Scriptures. But the Berean Christians are praised not pitied by Luke. They are held up as the norm, as a universal model, not a weak or narrow group of biblicists to be found in most congregations, as Roberts implies.

    At best the hermeneutic used by advocates of Toronto is unconvincing, at worst it is appalling. It is frankly an "Alice in Wonderland" hermeneutic - words can mean what ever they want them to because they have had an experience. Spiritual experiences have a vital place in the Christian life but must always be weighed and tested according to the Scriptures, not other extra-biblical revelations. This is precisely what Mike Fearon does in A Breath of Fresh Air .

    Ironically, he quotes extensively from my own criticisms of the Toronto Movement and apparently concedes the wisdom of caution where "the church appears to be experiencing phenomena which goes beyond the parameters set down in Scripture". Fearon then, however, completely ignores such authoritative Biblical teaching by saying, "Yet if it is the Spirit himself who is transcending these barriers, what can the church do?" (1994:157).

    But in so reasoning, Fearon assumes to be true (on the basis of experience or extra-biblical revelation), the very point in question. Surely such "logic" sets in contradiction the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures which He inspired. Such reasoning destroys any basis for rational discussion on the meaning and interpretation of God's Word, for at any point where the basis for unusual phenomena is questioned, appeal can be made to "discernment" or experience to justify it. This is in reality merely a modern and more insidious incarnation of the "higher knowledge" of the 3rd century Gnostic heresy.

    According to Eleanor Mumford, on her now infamous tape, the Vineyard leaders at Toronto told her "not to analyse or question this, but just receive it...or you will lose it". Precisely, because in the light of Scripture it is exposed for what it is. There we are specifically commanded to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and refute error and uncritical thinking such as advocated here.

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