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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 10
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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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What are we to make of the "Toronto Blessing"? Some people say they have a greater love for God as a consequence of this "blessing". My conclusions do not nullify experiences people may have had, but they are sufficient to warn us not to accept, uncritically, every wind of doctrine blowing across the Atlantic, any more than we would from the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England! It must also be said that many of so called "testimonies" I have listened to in person or on tape or video focus on the phenomena, the "experience" and are highly subjective, speaking of a resultant "greater love" or "greater zeal" for God, something which it is impossible to assess objectively.

We need to ask in conclusion not whether the Toronto Blessing might be something God is doing nor whether it is changing peoples' lives, but whether it is consistent with the biblical theology of the blessing of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The essence of the work of the Holy Spirit will be the Holy life, and for this we do not have to pass through the Toronto Blessing. Rather we need to immerse ourselves more and more in the whole counsel of the gospel which is sufficient for our relationship with God. This is the teaching of the rest of Galatians, and I would suggest it is the consistent teaching of the whole of Scripture. And if the preaching of the whole of Scripture on the basis that Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age is not adequate to bring the Toronto Blessing to those who hear with faith, then whatever does bring the Toronto Blessing is another gospel and whatever it brings is not the blessing promised Abraham, nor a result of receiving the Holy Spirit. (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)

It seems very easy to spot a "Gospel minus" heresy and we love to condemn Bishops who deny fundamental Christian doctrines. It is not so easy, and I fear Evangelicals and Charismatics are not so willing, to contest teaching which in effect is a "Gospel plus" heresy, especially when uttered by those who claim "Jesus is Lord". That is what we are offered in the "Toronto Blessing", more than God has promised. The Gospel has been likened to a canoe perfectly capable of carrying us through life to heaven. But if we try and add baggage we will sink the canoe just as quickly as by punching holes in it. The effect of adding to the Gospel is the same as taking away from it.

But could it not be claimed that the Toronto Blessing is a blessing beyond the simple blessings of the gospel? Could it not be, as Michael Green has also suggested, God's way of by-passing our rationalism and reaching the parts other approaches - such as gospel preaching - haven't reached?

This is perhaps the hardest claim to answer in support of the Toronto Blessing. To deny it seems to deny either the power or the sovereignty of God. And yet, as we said at the outset, one vital function of systematic theology is to insist that, whilst God can do anything he doesn't do everything.

The blessing of which Paul speaks in Galatians 3, the blessing which may be summed up as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit even on the Gentiles, is the blessing God promised to Abraham and it is received through hearing the gospel with faith. So we must say that any blessing which goes beyond the blessing promised to Abraham, and any blessing which comes by some other means than hearing the gospel with faith, is a blessing too far because, as Paul points out in Galatians 1, it must come from "a different gospel". (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)

I rejoice when I see the gentle work of the Holy Spirit occurring all around, yes, sometimes in dramatic ways but more usually in the unspectacular, and not least among godly people as yet untouched by this current phenomena, or even opposed to it.

It does seem most unfortunate, even embarrassing, that media reports of "a Time of Refreshment" have coincided with a period of almost apocalyptic suffering in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Bosnia. This is no time for the Church to get distracted from its evangelistic mandate and compassionate service, by egocentric and introverted ecstatic experiences of laughter, animal noises, shaking and falling to the floor.

J.I Packer, in Laid-Back Religion, criticises what he terms "Hot Tub Religion".

    "Hot tub religion....attempts to harness the power of God to the priorities of self-centredness. Feelings of pleasure and comfort, springing from pleasant circumstances and soothing experiences, are prime goals these days, and much popular Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic tries to oblige us by manufacturing them for us.... Now we can see hot tub religion for what it is - Christianity corrupted by the passion for pleasure....Symptoms of hot tub religion today include...an overheated supernaturalism that seeks signs, wonders, visions, prophecies, and miracles; constant soothing syrup from electronic preachers and the liberal pulpit; anti-intellectual sentimentalism and emotional "highs" deliberately cultivated, the Christian equivalent of cannabis and coca." ( 1989: p.53,58)

The Toronto Blessing is representative of a sub-Christian movement in which the basis of faith has shifted from the historic Jesus of the cross to the present "spirit" of personal experience. This is existential Gnostic heresy. Subjective experience must never take precedence over objective fact. Faith means "I trust", not "I feel".

It is no coincidence that the "Toronto Blessing" has emanated from and been promoted by the Vineyard Churches, who, through John Wimber have, because of their distinctive emphasis on "Signs and Wonders", been gullible about the penetration of heretical teaching from the Word of Faith teachers and spurious prophecies of the Latter Rains Movement.

In this and in every generation what is at stake is the truth of the Gospel and the unity of the Body of Christ. This unity can only be maintained, not created. It is maintained as we remain faithful to the faith once received, according to the Scriptures.

Dr Francis Schaeffer wrote an emotive book shortly before his death, entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster. In it he speaks of a "watershed" dividing evangelicals. On the one side are those who hold "to a strong uncompromising view of Scripture" (1985: p.46), and those who hold what he terms a "Neo-orthodox existential theology.....The heart of neo-orthodox existential theology is that the Bible gives us a quarry out of which to have religious experience.." (p.49). The watershed, for Schaeffer, is between a theology based on "an inner feeling" and one based on "objective truth".

    "It is surprising to see how clearly the liberal, neo-orthodox way of thinking is reflected in the new weakened evangelical view...By placing a radical emphasis on subjective human experience, existentialism undercuts the objective side of experience. For the existentialist it is an illusion to think that we can know anything truly....all we have is subjective experience, with no final basis for right or wrong or truth or beauty." (p.51,53)

In an article published in United Evangelical Action (Fall, 1976), Schaeffer went on to challenge Evangelicals to take a stand on this watershed issue.

    "You cannot wait for others to draw the line. You must draw the line. Will it be with tears? I hope it will be with tears. I remember as a young man in the 1930's when harshness and un-love reigned, but harshness and un-love do not need to reign when the line is drawn. It can be with tears and it can be with love. But unless those who have responsibility of leadership are willing to draw the line, they cut the ground from under the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1976, p.4)

In drawing the line there are three specific things we must do.

10.1 Understand Christian Doctrine

The chief single reason for the success of the cults in general, and the Toronto Blessing in particular, is the spiritual naivet and ignorance of the Word of God among Christians. Too many are content with a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures, the means by which God has revealed Himself. This is made worse by the prevalence of an arrogant and over confident reliance on spiritual discernment which allegedly keeps one impervious to deception. More common still is the unspoken and naive belief that only other people are deceived by cults.

We must instead give ourselves to a life-long and detailed study of Scriptures and the doctrines they contain. Theology is simply right thinking about God, something we should approach reverently and systematically. In this regard I warmly commend Bruce Milne's book Know the Truth (IVP, 1992), and the older classic work by T.C. Hammond, In Understanding be Men (IVP).

We live at a time when doctrine is seen as a dirty word and down played in favour of ecstatic religious experiences of dubious origin. This is utter foolishness and plays into the hands of cultic wolves who prowl the edges of the flock. Are you daily spending unhurried time in the Word of God? You can't be physically healthy on one meal a week, nor can you be spiritually healthy on one sermon a week. Grow up into maturity by becoming familiar with the Maker's Instructions, as one who feeds on and applies the very Word of God (Matthew 4:4).

10.2 Separate from Spiritual Error

The Apostle Paul was most emphatic when he warned the Ephesians, and Timothy, to have nothing to do with "godless myths".

    Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. (1 Timothy 4:7)

Advocates of the Toronto Blessing have said to me, "But you make it sound so black and white.......but many Christians seem to have been helped by this movement." I agree that it is not all "black and white". My argument is that a little cancer is too much, a little adultery is still adultery, a little AIDS infection is enough to infect the whole body. The apostle Paul knew the devastating influence of just a little error.

    Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6)

    He defines the bread without yeast as that of "sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8)

Sincerity is never enough. That is surely why Jesus warned so strongly against the subtle but pervading influence of false teaching.

Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees...12. Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6-12)

Ultimately we may disagree as to the extent of error in the roots, teaching and manifestations associated with the Toronto Blessing, but error there clearly is, and that is sufficient reason for disassociating from it, no matter how tantalising the apparent fruit.

Nor is true that we cannot speak critically of false doctrine unless we have read everything offered by particular heretics or cults. We need only become familiar with the truth of God's Word and error becomes plain. The argument that, "You cannot know it until you have tried it" is a satanic doctrine, and the very one used to subvert Eve and bring the terrible cancer of sin into the world. We must watch out for heretical teaching not just outside the Church from well defined cult organisations, but also within the Church. God has forbidden contact with those who teach error.

Spiritual exhibitionists abound, touting new revelations and the Christian media seem only too willing to play along with their charades and make a fat profit in the process. We are commanded not to give ourselves to these things but rather "to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). Furthermore we are called upon to, Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:15).

We cannot float through life on a permanent spiritual high, or on a wave of existential euphoria. Rather we are commanded again and again to be careful, take heed, watch out, remember. We are to be wise and sober, and at all times to,

    Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)

10.3 Contend For The Truth

The Lord calls upon us to earnestly contend for the faith, in the face of satanic adversaries (Jude 3). Sometimes, as happened between Paul and Peter, this may even mean coming to a point of contention with friends and associates where the truth of the gospel is at stake (Galatians 2:11).

Indeed Jesus Christ Himself had on one occasion to turn to His beloved friend and say "Get behind me, Satan" (Matthew 16:23). The true servant of Jesus Christ must be careful that his allegiance is absolute. By comparison, all human relationships are relative.

I believe the Lord is testing the Western Church at this time, for its infatuation with "health and wealth", and titillation by "signs and wonders". The extent to which this book is taken seriously, and the truth which it reveals is heeded, will be a good indication of how the wider Church will fare in these trying times. We would do well to heed the Scriptural warning.

    "If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

The first principle of the universe is truth and this must be defended even at the cost of our lives. The Apostle Paul was very serious when he described us as soldiers of the cross, describing in detail the armour we must wear in order to contend for the truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). We live in a relativist culture which values tolerance and mutual respect more highly than truth. Our spiritual sentiments, and this is probably the most sentimental age in the history of the Church, would therefore lead us many times to feel that to contend for the faith of the gospel is somehow eccentric, unspiritual or undignified. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are soldiers of Christ. The world is a battleground. The struggle is between truth and error. Our only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. May God enable you to handle it more accurately as a workman who need never be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). Become a person who knows well and lives by the Word of God. Know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).

Martin Luther once said,

    "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point." (Schaeffer, 1985:51)

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