The Toronto Blessing Examined



TORONTO BLESSING. What has become known as the Toronto Blessing or Laughing Revival is a "spiritual" phenomenon that may have begun in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The "revival" appeared at that church in 1994, through Randy Clark by way of Rodney Howard-Browne, a healer-evangelist from South Africa. It is characterized by laughing, being drunk in the spirit, being slain in the spirit, the imitation of animals particularly barking like dogs, roaring like lions, etc., shouting like warriors, prophecy, and other experiences.

KANSAS CITY PROPHETS. These are persons whose theology is akin to the concepts of the restoration movement called the Manifested Sons of God. They have located in Kansas City, Missouri, and are building a "center" they have named Shiloh. Paul Cain, Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, Jack Deere, David Saunders, and others, are the leading prophets. They tend to see themselves as "super" prophets who have leadership roles in the last days, powerful manifested sons of God (though they do not necessarily use these terms to describe themselves) who are mightily being used of God in this "last revival." The Kansas City Prophets see the great and last move of God in the Toronto Blessing and others like it (for example, the Brownsville, Florida "revival").


No one wants to miss out on what God is doing, especially in the "last days." Persuasive Christian pastors and leaders strongly state that if someone opposes the revival he/she is opposing the move of God. A number of doctrines that continually come and go in the history of Christianity like Dominion Theology, Manifested Sons of God, and Latter Rain Doctrine, have made a reappearance. This is particularly seen in what is called the "Kansas City Prophets." The general notion is that in the last days God will do new things, bring new revelations, and new powerful prophets will be lifted up-all to usher in the last days. A simple idea and a powerful one. Based on what I have read and personally observed it is taught that God is now anointing special people as apostles and prophets (prophets like in the Old Testament who called fire down from heaven, not like prophets in the New Testament whose ministry centered on exhortation and admonishment). These "super" prophets are calling out a great army to be "sovereign vessels," people to be mightily used of God in last-day ministries. It is said that the men who identify themselves as Promise Keepers are part of this army (This comes as a surprise to me and no doubt to the very people who identify with Promise Keepers). People who "love the anointing" are part of this army. People who believe the most important thing in life is "end-time ministries" are part of the army. It is interdenominational, it is non-denominational. It involves Pentecostals, Charismatics, people from the main-line denominations, and even people from what have traditionally been identified as cults. Some people whose philosophical base might be termed "new age" are also jumping on-board. They do not want to miss out on what they perceive God is doing in the last days. The prophets and leaders of the "movement" have godly reputations, are persuasive people, have great Bible knowledge, speak authoritatively, and have large followings. When hundreds of people show up for a prophecy conference, praise and worship service, etc., and one of these super prophets speaks after and hour or so of powerfully good music, it is a strong person indeed who will not buy into the program. After all, they have been told to check in their minds at the door and be ready to receive with their hearts. In an environment where other Christians are criticizing the movement, there is a strong desire on the part of the adherents of the Toronto Blessing style revival to affirm the prophet and his message. The audience does not want the prophet or his prophecy to fail. The prophet in his visions, impartations, dreams, etc., is confident his audience will authenticate him.


This is a day when many Christians devalue the place and importance of the Bible. Experiencing God and "operating" in the gifts of the Holy Spirit seem to take precedence over communing with God through His Word. Those who take great delight in the Bible are often spoken of by the promoters of the revival to believe in the "Father, Son, and Holy Book." In the film, "LA Story" starring Steve Martin, a great deal was made of the cliché, "Let your mind go and your body will follow." This reflects the broad-based interest in eastern religion in which the mind and thinking are seen to be obstacles to spirituality. Ignoring or bypassing the mind, whether in a Buddhist or Christian meeting can result in the very dangerous "passive mind," which is an altered state of consciousness that can lead to deception and even demonization. Nowhere in Scripture are believers encouraged to block out the mind and stop thinking, in fact, the very reverse is true. This is characteristic, however, of Zen Buddhism, Hindu yoga and all forms of spirit channeling and mediumship. Also, it seems that some Christians do not know that we are not to "invite" the Holy Spirit to be present with us because Jesus has already said: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (see Matthew 18:20) Mediums, channellers, and witches invite the gods and the spirits, yes, Christians do not do so. We do not "woo" the presence of God, either, by singing and praising and worshipping. This is simply magic. However, this is not an uncommon practice in the Toronto Blessing. When I have been in meetings that were styled after the Toronto Blessing meetings, it seemed it was the volume of noise that mattered; loud clapping and shouting, apparently, was required to assure that the Holy Spirit would "show up." The Holy Spirit is not a toy to be played with, controlled, or manipulated. However, some of the leaders of the Toronto Blessing and Kansas City Prophets are said to be able to knock people over, even at considerable distances, by a flick of their hands. The distance over which someone has "anointing" or "hit" power is supposed to be evidence of the power of that prophet. The fact that this is foreign to the Scripture is ignored. After all, God is portrayed by promoters of the "revival" as doing whatever He wants in the last days even though it is not biblical.


To miss out on the great, last "move of God" is unthinkable for many Christians, then to be standing against such a move of God would be far worse, even impossible. Out of fear then of either missing out on or opposing what God is supposedly doing, many will go along and accept uncritically what is becoming a real steam roller in many places in the world. The very popularity of the movement grips people and like any fad it compels people to become involved. The fears of missing out and opposing God (even committing the unforgivable sin) combined with a desire to be in on the fun work together to produce an environment where deception can easily take place. People let down their guard, forget to test the spirits, affirm their leaders unquestionably, and thereby open themselves up to deception. Behavior such as barking, roaring, hysterical laughing, etc. have typically been considered either fleshly or demonic in all the great revivals in the Western World from the First Great Awakening (1735-1745) to the Welch Revival in 1905. In every case the strange "spiritual" phenomenon were very popularly received by many but condemned by the pastors and ministers whose responsibility it was to exercise discernment. Even Jonathan Edwards, who is often falsely held up as one who accepted the strange phenomenon as being of God, firmly held that the strange "spiritual" behavior such as barking, roaring, and laughing-was not from God. He held that the strange behavior discredited and shortened the awakening. The deception runs so deep in those who embrace the Toronto Blessing that the wildest of imaginings are accepted. For instance, people are talking directly to the Holy Spirit and claim that the Holy Spirit is lonely without Jesus (Jesus being in heaven and the Holy Spirit being on earth) and so the revival is simply the Holy Spirit "lovin' up" on the church since the church is the Body of Christ. Also, some claim to be able to enter the very body of Jesus and look out through His eyes. Others feel their bodies being heated up as an indication of the presence of the power of the Spirit (a characteristic typical of mediums and clairvoyants). It is not acceptable to question what happens in the "revival" meetings since such questioning would be viewed as being against the move of God and maybe even blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Fear and deception-the demonic twins.


Promoters of the Toronto Blessing commonly make fun of other Christians, in their bland and dull churches, as not having a good time in church. The inference is that everyone should be having a grand old time in church. Their notion is that the Spirit's presence is fun and exciting. There is no question that the Toronto Blessing style meetings are lively and entertaining. The music is quite good if you like fairly mellow rock and roll music. The musicians are good and the bands are generally complete with all the amperage. Large crowds, people jumping up and down (pogoing), shouting, dancing, "praising,"-great stuff. The meetings are not your basic one-hour and out mainline service. These meetings can last for hours, even days. Dollar for dollar it is not a bad entertainment investment. More than that, there is every possibility that a prophet might come out with a new revelation (I've been privileged to hear a couple myself). It is a brand new world with a brand new future-the last days are upon us, God is raising up His super, anointed prophets, He is drafting His great army, "Joel's Army", and an even greater wave of revival is just around the corner. The prophets are touring the world bringing prophecy conferences with them and calling out those who are "sovereign vessels" for the end-time ministries. Forget what the Scripture says about the end of the age and the Day of Judgment, we now have new revelation. The Toronto Blessing style meetings are sometimes likened to a party presided over or hosted by a "Holy Ghost Bartender," that is, the preacher or prophet. The "bartender" or "Holy Ghost Hit-man" dispenses the "spirit" like so much alcohol and the people get drunk in the spirit or so it is said. I have seen it several times and the people do act like they are drunk. It is a lot of fun-the preachers can't preach (too drunk), the singers can't sing (too drunk), the prophets can't prophesy (too drunk), and everyone laughs about it, laugh long and hard. It is party time all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite right, the normal church will not be like this, especially in "normal" as opposed to revival or awakened, times. There the old and new songs and hymns will be sung, the Scripture will be read, and there will be petitions, supplications and prayers made to God. The Bible will be expounded, and the Gospel of Jesus and His cross will be preached. And it will all be done in about an hour to an hour and a half. Right, it can not compete. Indeed, it should not nor need not. Genuine Christianity has never been a mass movement nor has it been popular. It does not depend on emotions, excitement, or entertainment. The mature Christian looks to Jesus as the author and finisher of his/her faith and does not need more than that.


The Toronto Blessing and its traveling companions focus on blessing, comforting, filling and "lovin' on" the people. Why? Because people need it. They are desperate, stress filled, spiritually starved and hungry for more of God. The "revival" promoters, it appears, have taken on the general orientation of the culture. The Toronto Blessing has adopted a kind of "victim" mentality. And this mentality has certainly been popular in the American culture evidenced by the very large self-help movement and tabloid type television programming. What the people need is constantly "more," and "more," and "more." People are there to get. They want the anointing. They are constantly warned to "love the anointing." They want to be touched, to be healed, to be comforted, to be blessed, to be loved, to know that God knows and cares. Who could argue against such needs? The Toronto Blessing is creating a large group of needy people. The fact that the preceding is not the biblical agenda is hardly noticed by the leaders of the movement. The Scripture knows nothing of a "bless me" meeting. Again, all that the leaders of the movement need to do is simply counter with; "God is doing a new thing." However, where will it end? After a while the meetings become quite ordinary and boring. People laugh, fall down, act drunk and stagger around, bark, roar, shout, and babble on-night after night after night. Addicts need more always, and what will it be? What strange twist might this all take? It can become even stranger and it is likely to. It will likely become so strange that many people outside of the movement, Christian and non-Christian, will instantly see it. However, those who are bound in deception will have to go right on with it because they will need it.


An awakening is a wonderful time of refreshing and renewal. A reviving of the church is badly needed and most Christians know it. Not knowing what an awakening or a revival looks like since we have not seen one in quite a long while, coupled with the general deterioration of the visible church, people hunger for a world set right. Then here it is on our doorstep-a revival called the Toronto Blessing. Hope's up, expectations are kindled, and this is the "Let's do it," generation. Maybe there is an instant fix for our many woes, perhaps there is a heroic leader out there who can care for us, there might even be a quick end to the world system and a soon coming of the heavenly kingdom. Could we ask for more? The Toronto Blessing has been called a "counterfeit revival." I agree, and furthermore, it is my belief that many people may be experiencing counterfeit conversion. An electrifying experience is not conversion. Being knocked off your feet, rendered immobile, barking like a dog, roaring like a lion, and shouting like a warrior-are not a testimony to conversion. It is my contention that this is the heart of it-people are having religious and spiritual experiences but are not being genuinely born again. I call it "christianization."


There is rapidly developing among people committed to the Toronto Blessing and the super, end-time ministry, prophets a sense that they can not go back. It would just be too hard to admit that they had made a mistake. This is almost always the case for someone who gets mixed up with a cultic movement. It often takes years for healing to occur. People in the movement become involved and committed a little at a time. The heat is turned up so slowly that a person is cooked before they realize it. And then what? Admit to having been fooled? Not very likely! However, we should not be surprised to think that a cultic movement could fool someone. Most of us have been deceived at one time or another, whether by a religious, political, commercial, or psychological/educational cultic movement. Hardly anyone escapes-I certainly have not. Those who persist when they suspect they are being mislead tend to become very evangelistic for the cause, all the while trying to block-out misgivings. It can be a desperate affair. The Toronto Blessing and the rest of it will all come to an end even though a separate group may arise out of its adherents. It is probable that we are seeing a new Christian-based cult in embryo. However, prophecies will go unfulfilled, foretold dates of great events will pass without significance, leaders will disgrace the movement, yet for many it will go on and on. Families will be split, churches will too (they already have been), friendships will be broken, ministries ended, and many lives shattered. At this point we are seeing the rapid growth of a "new thing" God is doing, or, so it is thought. The Christian church at large can pray for, and be open and accepting to those who may decide to get out. We are called to bear one another's burden. Our responsibility is to love. The idea that "I would never become involved in a cultic group" is dangerous. It has been observed by many that the person who thinks that due to his/her cleverness, biblical orientation, and/or ability to discern false doctrine, they are not vulnerable to becoming entrapped by a cult, is the very person who gets scooped up. The facts seem to suggest that everyone is vulnerable. Let him/her who is without sin cast the first stone.

Kent Philpott
November, 1997

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