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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CHAPTER 3: THE PHENOMENA ASSOCIATED WITH TORONTO
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?
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,
"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
Patrick Dixon, "Revival: the Church's secret service" Church of
England Newspaper 11 November, 1994: p.7; Signs of Revival,
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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,
It is most unwise therefore to by-pass Jesus in prayer directed
to God. Clifford Hill, himself a Charismatic, is even more
"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
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
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
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
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