CHAPTER 4 "HOLY LAUGHTER" AND THE THEOLOGY OF
Given his status as the "Controversial figure behind the Toronto
Blessing" (Alpha, December 1994, p.3), it is important to
examine his approach to ministry and theological understanding
of this phenomena. There we find many disturbing parallels with
other heretical "word-faith" teachers.
The following is an assessment of Rodney Howard-Browne's
ministry based on an interview with him contained in Charisma
Magazine in August 1994. The conclusions drawn are substantiated
from material taken from videos of his ministry at Woodgate
Church in Birmingham in June 1994, and Kenneth Copeland's church
in August 1994.
Rodney Howard-Browne claims to be the "Holy Ghost bar-tender",
the man through whom God has been bringing an end-time revival
to many parts of the world since 1989. He is also attributed to
be the source of what has come to be known as the "Toronto
4.1 A Denial of the Sovereignty of God
Howard-Browne clearly assumes he has the kind of relationship
with God which enables him to order God about. Describing his
"spiritual crisis" in 1979 he prayed, "Either You come down here
or I will come up there and touch you." Suddenly he claims "his
whole body felt like it was on fire. He began to laugh
uncontrollably...I was plugged into heaven's electric supply, and
since then my desire has been to go and plug other people in."
"Either you come down here or..." is certainly not the way the
Bible instructs us to speak to the Lord God Almighty. In 1989
when he began his ministry in America, people began to fall out
of their seats, laughing and crying. "The noise got so loud that
Howard-Browne had to interrupt his sermon. "Lord, You're ruining
my meeting," the evangelist complained. He says God replied:
"The way your meetings have been going lately, they deserve to
be ruined. I will move all the time if you allow Me to move."
So Howard-Browne believes his god is not only subservient but
also dependent on him "if you allow me to move." This is not
the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible.
4.2 A Denigration of the Person and Work of the Holy
Howard-Browne claims to have tapped into "heaven's electric
supply" and has apparently "amazed long-time renewal leaders
with his knack for dispensing the Spirit's power." He
understands his ministry as that of a "bartender" who acts as a
"spiritual conduit" in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is
defined in terms of a "high-voltage" power current. Such
irreverent language is distinctly contrary to the way Scripture
speaks of the Holy Spirit working through someone.
The article further claims that Howard-Browne's view of
spiritual power is similar to certain 1940's preachers such as
Norman Vincent Peale and Peter Marshall, who taught that
Christians can tap into the Holy Spirit's anointing like a divine
current." This view of the Holy Spirit as a "great power" appears
remarkably similar to that of Simon Magus the sorcerer (Acts
These "power encounters" of Howard-Browne cause people to shake,
fall at his feet and convulse in uncontrollable laughter. "Many
people lie on the floor giggling, sometimes for hours after he
has touched them on the forehead. Some of them stumble out of
their church hours later, as if intoxicated."
In contrast the Scriptures teach that one of the fruit of the
Holy Spirit's presence is self-control (Galatians 5:22-23),
something distinctly lacking in Howard-Browne's ministry.
4.3 A Disregard for the Person of Jesus Christ
In what is a lengthy and detailed six page assessment of
Howard-Browne's ministry there is only one reference to the Lord
Jesus Christ, and that is in the context of the claim that "He
committed his life to Christ at age 5". In contrast there are
eleven references to the Holy Spirit, and frequent mention of
"revival" and "healing" .
For someone who claims to be an evangelist (that is who
proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ), such an imbalance is
disturbing when the express purpose of the coming of the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost was to "glorify Christ" and make him known.
(John 16:14; Acts 1:8). This however does not appear to be the
emphasis of Howard-Browne's "evangelistic" ministry.
4.4 Lack of Spiritual Discernment
Howard-Browne claims that "the proof that this is a move of God
is that when I leave, it doesn't stop". He is merely the "Holy
Ghost bartender. I just serve the new wine and invite them to
drink." In fact all it "proves" is that there are spiritual
forces at work.
Howard-Browne describes, for example, what happened at the Oral
Roberts University. "One night I was preaching on hell and
laughter just hit the whole place."
"The more I told people what hell was like, the more they
laughed...." Satan may laugh about hell, but not Jesus. The way
Jesus spoke about hell was no laughing matter. There are several
other references in the article to solemn liturgies and even
sermons being "drowned out" by laughter, making "whatever is
being said from the pulpit irrelevant." One advocate admitted
that "laughter broke out during the consecratory prayer for the
Eucharist (when we remember the body of Christ broken, and his
blood shed), normally the most solemn part of the service." Are
these the kind of things we should expect from a man who is full
of the Holy Spirit, or an evil spirit?
4.5 The Disparagement of the Mind and Critical Faculties
He is also prone to criticise those who question his ministry.
"Howard-Browne disparages those who try and apply a theological
test to his methods." "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." Following this line of reasoning, no one would be able
to criticise drugs or glue sniffing until they had first
"Words have become meaningless in our society," he says,
"Signs and wonders are what must capture our attention."
This is in direct contradiction to what the Scriptures teach.
"He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a
miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of
the prophet Jonah. (Matthew 12:39)
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous
sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he
comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the
Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from
the dead.' " (Luke 16:31)
"The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the
work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles,
signs and wonders," (2 Thes. 2:9)
This uncritical attitude of Rodney Howard-Browne is very
dangerous and opens believers to demonic deception. God tells us
in the Scriptures very specifically to "test the spirits" (1 John
4:1), to "accurately handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15),
to understand the will of God through the renewing of our minds
(Romans 12:1-2) and "refute" error (Titus 1:9).
4.6 The Espousal of the "Health and Wealth" Error
In 1987, when Howard-Browne went to America to continue his
ministry he ran out of money and was confronted by a hotel
manager who wanted payment for his room. Just in time a friend
came to the rescue with an American Express card (the one with
no limit). "From then on," Howard-Brown claims, "we've never
known want." His over-confident attitude towards prosperity is
right in line with the false "Health and Wealth" prosperity
4.7 Identification with False Teachers
Howard-Browne was an associate pastor of Rhema church in
Johannesburg, before moving to the United States in 1987,
identifying with fellow Rhema Church leader, Kenneth Hagin, a
person whose teaching has also been shown very clearly to be
heretical (Hanegraaff :1993; Crenshaw: 1994). Oral Roberts is
another "Word-Faith" teacher who espouses similar erroneous
Howard-Browne is happy however to identify with these people who
rely on extra-biblical revelations, and distort the plain
teaching of Scripture. For example, Oral Roberts has, according
to Duin's article, "proclaimed that Howard-Browne's ministry
signalled the arrival of "another level in the Holy Spirit."
(p.24). One has to ask where in Scripture are we taught that
there are "levels" in the Holy Spirit?
4.8 Comparisons with Voodoo Activity
A number of video recordings of Rodney Howard-Browne's ministry
have been circulating in Britain. These have caused a good deal
of controversy and serious accusations have been made comparing
his ministry with voodoo.
"Howard-Browne then began to work on the whole audience,
rhythmically pacing up and down in front of the stage, using a
strange tongue which was never interpreted. This gradually
became a mantra which climaxed in a piercing high-pitched sound
which he held for a long time. Watching the video with me was an
African pastor and a former missionary. Both immediately said
they recognised this as identical with the voodoo call used by
witch doctors in summoning up the demons." (Clifford Hill PWM
Team Ministries Newsletter, 28 November 1994)
Danny Aguirre, and Warren Smith, writing in the Spiritual
Counterfeits Project journal, SCP Newsletter (Fall 1994, Volume
19:2, p.14), make similar comparisons with phenomena associated
with Ramakrishna, Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh, African Kung Bushmen
of the Kalahari and Qigong - ancient Chinese practices.
"Indian Guru Bhagvhan Shree Rajneesh was affectionately known
by his followers as the "divine drunkard" because he was reputed to
have drunk so deeply from the well of the "Divine". As a former
follower of Rajneesh I met hundreds of Sannyasins who had flown
to India "to drink" from "Bhagwan's wine." When followers were
physically touched by Rajneesh, or even if they were merely in
his presence, they would often experience feelings of great
exhilaration and joy. Disciples of Swami Baba Muktanada would
often manifest uncontrollable laughter after receiving Shaktipat
(physical contact) from the guru. (p.13)
4.9 Evidence of Psychological Manipulation
Dr Gaius Davies is a Christian and consultant psychiatrist at
King's College Hospital, London. He was interviewed at the Carey
Minister's Conference in January 1995, following the showing of
part of a video of Rodney Howard-Browne's ministry. The substance
of his clinical assessment of the video and of the "Toronto
Blessing" were published in Reformation Today, (March/April
1995). In that interview, Dr Davies claimed,
"The video shows classic manipulation of the audience, just as
at Nuremberg....The audience is repeatedly urged to suspend
critical faculties and be open and receptive to a "blessing" .
Meanwhile the audience itself is shouting and laughing and
crying out for more. This is epidemic hysteria....This can be
explained in purely psychological terms.
There is no need to invoke the supernatural....The leaders are
wicked men to abuse power in this way. The clearest signs of
drunkenness in these meetings are that the leaders are drunk
with power. There is no sign or care or concern for the
people.....At HTB (Holy Trinity, Brompton) I saw individuals
with a "pill rolling" action of their hands and others with
serious psychological problems. These people were not being
helped...They had come with real needs, but were just being
Howard-Browne through his teaching, brazenly denies the
sovereignty of God, denigrates the Holy Spirit, disregards the
centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ, despises the use of
the mind, and identifies with false teachers. This convinces me
that the source of his ministry and the manifestations
associated with it are not the work of the Holy Spirit, but some
Why then do such people as Rodney Howard-Browne gain such a
following? John F. MacArthur has said, in the forward to
Crenshaw's, Man as God: The Word of Faith Movement.
"They do it by intimidation, trickery, lies and most
powerfully of all, teaching that appeals to the common lusts of humanity.
After all, who would not like to believe that health, money,
affluence, and success are ours for the claiming? In a culture
that is selfish, materialistic, and proud, the Health and Wealth
message is bound to be popular. People with itching ears heap to
themselves teachers who make the promises they want to hear.
Meanwhile, the tolerance for sound doctrine is dangerously low."
What are the "signs" of the authentic ministry of the Holy
Spirit which should guide us in interpreting the "Toronto
"When the Holy Spirit comes to sinful men, he initially brings
sorrow. ...There is much more to spirituality than a lifting of
the spirits, an entering into the exuberant life, and in
extending one's succession of thrilling experiences. Yet in many
of the popular neo-Pentecostal societies you will look in vain
for anything else. No one who has God's Spirit can walk through
our world without deep groanings of sorrow and distress. When
the stench of immorality fills his nostrils, the Spirit-filled
man cannot be happy, happy, all the day....If the Spirit were to
come powerfully [today] it would not be to make men clap their
hands for joy but to make them smite their breasts in
sorrow....He is not the "Jolly Spirit" but the Holy Spirit."