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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 8
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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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On several occasions, the story of Gamaliel found in the Acts of the Apostles, has been advocated by some Christian leaders as a precedent for how we should respond to theological controversy. "Wait and see the fruit" we are told.

    "Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."

    When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. (Acts 5:29-40)

Superficially, Gamaliel's advice appears both wise and respectful. In fact there are two fundamental reasons quite evident from the text why we should draw the opposite conclusion. Gamaliel is not a model of godly wisdom, but to the contrary, he and the Sanhedrin were deceived. This is evident from what he instructed the Sanhedrin to do with the Apostles and what to believe about the Gospel.

8.1 What should they do with the Apostles

What did Gamaliel tell his fellow Pharisees to do? "I advise you: Leave these men alone!" (Acts 5:38). In its immediate context Gamaliel was counselling caution against making a hasty decision. He appears tolerant for he recognises the possibility that the Apostles might be divinely inspired. However, ask yourself, would the Holy Spirit tell someone to "leave the Apostles alone"? No, the Spirit of God convicts of sin, righteous and judgement. He points people to Jesus. He challenges people to follow Jesus. He commands people to repent and believe the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles.

Gamaliel had sufficient knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures to know what they taught about the Messiah.

He very likely had personal experience of Jesus life, teaching and miracles; he would have participated in the decision to crucify Christ; he had just heard the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles, men he knew were simple fishermen, yet powerfully anointed by God's Spirit. Gamaliel had sufficient information to make a decision to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ his Messiah, but he refused. The stand he took and the position he advocated was therefore not neutral. This becomes patently obvious from the way they treated the Apostles.

    "His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go." (Acts 5:40)

Yes, the Sanhedrin did let the Apostles go, but they had them flogged (because they were regarded as guilty of a crime?) and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus (because they recognised the Apostles believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God).

Would the Holy Spirit forbid the Apostles from speaking in the name of Jesus? The actions of the Sanhedrin, and Gamaliel in particular, were inspired not by the Holy Spirit but Satan. Their actions are not a model of godly wisdom. And neither was their logic.

8.2 What they should believe about the Gospel

"I advise you: Leave these men alone!" (Acts 5:38). Gamaliel came to this conclusion on the basis of previous encounters with Messianic cult leaders. His deductions from the demise of Thudas and Judas appear to demonstrate great wisdom.

"For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39)

He concludes that a genuine work of God will succeed, but a religion of human origin will fail. Gamaliel's logic is seriously flawed because he allows for only two possible sources or explanations for these religious movements. Human or Divine. But there is a third source of which he is ignorant precisely because it had most likely inspired him to make this very deduction. The Scriptures warn of a demonic or Satanic origin to much counterfeit religious belief and even miraculous phenomena.

Using Gamaliel's logic we would have to conclude that religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and modern cults such as the Mormons, Bahai and the Jehovah Witnesses are all inspired by God because they have not "failed". Communist persecution of Jehovah Witnesses and Islamic intolerance of the Bahai faith did not crush them. Indeed many cults are growing at frightening rates. According to Newsweek there are now over 600 cults in Britain, 350 of which actively proselytise. The criteria for spiritual authenticity and Divine inspiration is not therefore whether something fails or survives over time, nor even the character of their advocates, but how these claims match up to the revealed Word of God.

Does it pass the truth test? It is truth not experience which must be the criteria for discerning a work of God.

Gamaliel therefore is not a model of godly wisdom which Christians should emulate. His counsel, both in terms of what he advised the Sanhedrin to do and to believe was seriously flawed and most likely inspired by Satan. As in the case of Job, God in his mercy and sovereign purposes would not allow the Apostles to suffer martyrdom on this occasion because their mission was not yet finished.

    "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:41-42)

May God give us the grace to witness with a similar boldness in the face of opposition.

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