TORONTO BLESSING: CHRISTIAN-BASED MAGIC?
DEFINITION OF MAGIC
WHAT IS MAGIC?
Magic is, in fact, a type of religious practice, and I would guess that more people engage in magic than practice any of the major world religions.
HOW EASY IT IS TO CROSS THE LINE
How easy it is to cross the line from biblical Christianity to magical practices! This statement is the result of my experience as a pastor and minister over thirty years. My ThM thesis was titled, A Manual of Demonology and the Occult. Zondervan Publishing House published a revision of the thesis in 1975. Miller Avenue Church, of which I am pastor, is located in Mill Valley and some refer to our quaint little town as "The New Age Capital of the World." Whether it is or not, I don't know, but I have made the occult (of which magic is a major element) and new age thought a study for the past decade and one half.
Magic focuses on POWER. The magician believes that he/she either has the power or controls the power. The source of the power may be described as emanating from a divine source, or from natural forces, or from evil forces-in order of progression then we refer to white, neutral, or, black magic.
So-called white magic typically uses Christian and biblical symbols and themes. The Lord's Prayer is used often in magical incantations and standard hymns may be incorporated. Ordinary Christian-based creeds, confessions, and biblical passages may be used in the thought that magical powers may be controlled as a result. Trinitarian formulas and various names for God may be part of the magician's repertoire. The Shaman or magician is believed to be able to direct the power, even command it. Frequently, angels or "good" spirits are said to assist the magician.
The confusing element in all this is that magic deals with supernatural power, and many people think that anything supernatural must be godly in origin, or, at minimum, neutral. The possibility that the source of anything supernatural might be evil or demonic is downplayed or rejected all together.
Let me say now that although I am the pastor of an American Baptist Church, I did begin and pastor a charismatic church (in the 1970's). I received what I call the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" in 1964 and the gift of speaking in tongues in 1968. I do believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that they are valid in our own day.
My observation has been, however, that many Christians in Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity have uncritically assumed that anything supernatural must be from the Holy Spirit especially if it is experienced in a church or other Christian setting with the meeting being conducted by Christian leaders. For instance, if someone is knocked backward 30 feet and is slammed (unhurt) against a wall, it must be from the Holy Spirit. Similarly, if someone lays on the floor and roars like a lion for hours, it must be from the Holy Spirit. Or, if someone remains in a statue-like pose for an hour, it must be from the Holy Spirit. PLEASE REASON WITH ME-COULD THIS BE IN ERROR?
The kind of phenomenon often associated
with the Toronto Blessing is not unlike what goes on with eastern mystics
and gurus. For instance, here is a description of what occurred at meetings
with Swami Baba Muktananda:
* (Danny Aguirre, "Some Examples of
Holy laughter in Other Religions," quoted in Spiritual Counterfeit Project
Newsletter (Berkeley, CA) Fall 1994, vol. 19:2, p. 14.) Kundalini, a Hindu
concept, is a spiritual power, usually considered a divine (demonic) force
said to be located at the base of the spine and liberated or released through
proper technique so it can travel up the spine to the mind by way of meridians
flowing between chakras.
EXAMPLES OF CHRISTIAN-BASED
MAGIC IN THE TORONTO BLESSING
The concept of anointing has a biblical base; we see it in both testaments. In the Toronto Blessing, the anointing is passed magic-like from one anointed person to another. People travel great distances at considerable expense to "get it" or "catch the fire." Some leaders are said to be especially anointed and have more "power" than do others. Some have traveled to Toronto and did not get any power; some had to come back many times before they really got a strong anointing (of the Holy Spirit). I submit this is more occult magic than Christian.
BODILY SENSATIONS AND "SOAKING PRAYER"
Some leaders get tingling in their hands, some have their hands get warm when healing is about to occur, some feel "power surges" going through their bodies.
Some claim that they see a person's "aura" when soaking a person in prayer. Soaking means pouring out lots of prayer over a person, often with laying on of hands and/or passing the hands over a person. It is reminiscent of what is called "Therapeutic Touch" practiced by new age and alternative medicine enthusiasts. People who believe in soaking prayer get the sense that power is passing through their bodies and actually helping to bring healing, comfort and love. And those who are soaking someone testify that they feel waves coming from the person or going toward the person being prayed for. Certainly something may be felt or experienced, however, is it the Holy Spirit?
It is my belief that this is much closer to magic than Christianity despite the fact that people love to both pray for and be prayed for, despite the testimonies of healing, despite the report of visions and visitations.
Nothing remotely akin to soaking prayer is found in the Bible. Even people who support the Toronto Blessing realize this truth, but it is justified by the statement, "God is doing a new work." These words have long been the claim of founders of cults. Will the supporters of the Toronto Blessing eventually form a new Christian-based cult? It would not be the first time something similar happened.
Control commands are frequently employed to direct spirit power, words like "fill," "more," "Git'm Jesus," and others. These words are foreign to the Bible and mainline Christian history. But this is typical of magic.
Holy Ghost hit men may use the familiar phrase, "In the name of Jesus" or variations thereof when praying for people or laying their hands upon their foreheads. This use of the Lord's name is closer to magic than biblical Christianity. Saying certain words does not assure that the God of Scripture will act, but this is commonplace with magic. The idea of praying in the name of Jesus simply means that Jesus' shed blood is powerful to cleanse away our sin so that we may come before a holy and righteous God in prayer. If a person believes he/she must say "in the name of Jesus" for the prayer to be heard then this is a case of magic (or at least the carrying on of a tradition that has not been carefully thought through).
Psychics, fortune tellers and clairvoyants gain converts when they are able to disclose a person's past life to them and accurately forecast events to come. A person is so impressed and awed at such an exhibition of obviously supernatural power that they become putty in the hands of the foreteller. This same phenomenon also occurs in the ministry of some of the "prophets" of the movement. A "prophet" may accurately reveal a person' s past or present sins to them. And, of course, it is assumed it all must be from God.
A "prophet" may announce that God had given him a vision that 30 people are present who have a fear of, let's say, dying. He may then proceed to give some comforting words, talk about the problem of fear, then ask for a showing of hands as to how many in the audience did, in fact, have a fear of death. He will always count out 30 give or take one or two. People are so willing to please such a prophet! This type of charade gives the prophet instant credibility and lays the groundwork for more that will surely come later.
ABSENCE OF CRITICAL OR EVALUATIVE THINKING
For those in the movement sometimes called the Toronto Blessing or Laughing Revival it has often been difficult for them to engage in critical or evaluative thinking about their experiences. This is characteristic of movements in the history of the Church that have ended up becoming cults (like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses). What are the forces that prevent critical and evaluative thinking?
FEAR OF BLASPHEMING THE HOLY SPIRIT
This fear is a powerful one and keeps people from normal caution. It is often proclaimed by leaders of the Toronto Blessing that speaking against the "movement" is akin to being against the "move of God" and thus one who does so is in danger of committing the unpardonable sin. A "bloody civil war" has even been prophesied to be fought between those who support the revival and those who do not (like myself). This is mind bending at its worst. This reminds me of the Jehovah's Witnesses ruse that their "apostates" will be slain by Jehovah at Armageddon.
ADDICTION TO BEING DRUNK IN THE SPIRIT
Leaders in the Toronto Blessing are sometimes called "Holy Spirit Bartenders." This means they "magically" pass out or dispense the Spirit in such large amounts that the "drinker' gets spiritually drunk. Alcohol is addictive to many, and the Toronto Blessing has become addictive to many. Addictions are hard to break. Some people never do get free. Some people "need" the Holy Ghost bartender to the point that they can't get enough. They love to get high in the spirit, fall out, and have a good time. Regular church with its praise, worship, hymns, prayers, and sermon are absolutely boring and unacceptable to those who like to "belly up" to "Joel's bar" and get a hit of the spirit.
THE PROBLEM OF PRIDE
Some Christians have opposed the Toronto Blessing from its very inception. It is a movement that has stirred great emotions. Its many leaders strongly and aggressively defend it. How hard it would be to back down from something one might even suspect is dangerous when so much of oneself has gone into its promotion. There will eventually be lawsuits brought by people who have been damaged by the movement, reputations will be on the line, careers and employment will be in jeopardy-many people will dig in their heels.
There have been many prophecies from Toronto Blessing leaders and from others identified as "Kansas City Prophets" to say that what is now being experienced is only the beginning. The "out -pouring" today is only "the spray from the top of the wave," we are told, and that angels are holding back the mighty wave until the right time. If pastors, ministers, and others have bought into such prophecies, they are certainly entrapped. To renounce the "blessing" would be perceived by others as a betrayal and a joining of the camp of those who "oppose the move of God."
A FALSE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN THE HEAD AND THE HEART
The Holy Spirit, though described in Scripture as being the "Spirit of Truth" ( see John 4:23 and 14:27) is said to be hindered when we think too much. Thinking is even presented as being a hindrance to "receiving." Simple, straightforward prayer, is sometimes disparaged as it might interfere with "being open." This view is more like eastern meditation practices such as yoga and Zen. A biblical view of humanity sees us as whole beings and the "parts" are integrated into that whole: one cannot be separated from another. We are to love and worship the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (see Matthew 22:37). To by-pass the mind can be very serious and expose one to demonic influence and deception. When we violate stated Scripture we can end up worshipping a false God.
THE TORONTO BLESSING-WHICH GOD IS INVOLVED?
The God of Scripture is a holy, righteous and just God. He is the maker of heaven and earth. He will judge the living and the dead on the basis of His eternal Son, Jesus Christ. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Jesus, and He loves us in Jesus. He does not "tickle" us, roll us around on the ground, leave us frozen like statutes, make us emit animal sounds and copy animal behavior, or laugh hysterically for hours on end in order to "love" us. He has and does love us in and through Jesus Christ. He has loved us in carrying our sin away through Jesus and inscribing our names in the Lamb's Book of Life. He loves us to the point He has determined that all those who are safe in Jesus and His salvation will enjoy Him forever. This is the love of God.
The God of the Toronto Blessing often seems to be another god all together. There are gods aplenty who will respond and show miraculous signs and wonders. There are gods for sure who would like to "love-up" on people all the time deceiving and perverting. There can be no genuine revival unless people are seeking the God of the Bible. Could this be why there is so little Gospel preaching in Toronto Blessing meetings? Jesus will be mentioned, certainly, in word and in song, but little real awakening preaching that emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the utter hopelessness and miserable condition of humanity, the absolute need for the Savior to cleanse and save, and the inner sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The deities of the of the gurus do almost the same things as the ministers of the Toronto Blessing-and they do not worship the God and Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.
A QUESTIONABLE APPEAL TO JONATHAN EDWARDS
Supporters of the Toronto Blessing frequently refer to phenomenon that occurred in the First Great Awakening in America (1735-1745) to legitimize their "revival." They equate what is going on in the Toronto Blessing with what happened during the Great Awakening. And, in fact, there were similarities, and Jonathan Edwards did write extensively about strange spiritual events such as laughing, barking like dogs and being slain in the "spirit." Certain unusual bodily movements would take place when the Puritan preachers would thunder against sin and warn of judgment and hell. People reported that it would seem to them that they were slipping into the abyss of hell. Supporters of the Toronto Blessing consistently miss the point, however, and intimate (declare actually) that Edwards himself approved of the laughing, barking, etc. Such is far from the truth. Edwards observed the phenomena and, for the most part, spoke against it. Indeed, Edwards believed that the strange behavior which did occur toward the end of the awakening and was not a response to conviction of sin and judgment served to kill the awakening. This rewriting of history does not speak well of the Toronto Blessing.
A FAULTY VIEW OF CONVERSION
Conversions to Christ and revivals are supposed to go together; this is generally understood. The defenders of the Toronto Blessing (Laughing Revival) contend that many people are converted in their meetings thus earning the right to claim that what is going on is a genuine revival and a "work of God."
However, as I study the literature written by proponents and critics of the "movement" and talk with pastors and others who vigorously support the Toronto Blessing, the conversion stories and testimonies are sadly lacking. It is generally assumed that if a person is "slain in the Spirit," speaks in tongues, laughs in the Spirit, roars like a lion or barks like a dog, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is assumed then that the person who engages is such spiritual exercises must be a born again Christian.
Could it be that spiritual behavior such as seen in the Toronto Blessing is copied or mimicked by some? Could it be that our enemy, Satan, is busy counterfeiting spiritual manifestations? The latter is commonly seen is many religious practices around the world.
Biblical conversion is centered in the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing a person's lost and hopeless condition and their absolute need of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. I have yet to hear or read of such preaching in the Toronto Blessing. I would ask: where is the proclamation of the Sovereign God of Scripture who hates sin and has judged it? Where is the message of the love of God resulting in the sending of His only Son to take our sins upon Himself on the cross? Where is an emphasis on the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus? Where is the preaching of the sinner's condemnation and judgment that must result in his/her being cast into hell? If it is there, I have not heard or seen it.
Admitting I am wrong is so very hard for me. I have had to do it a number of times. I have made significant errors as a pastor and have caused many to be damaged in one way or another. I would have preferred to run and hide.
There need not be a "bloody civil war" among Christians. We pray for one another, accept each other as Jesus has accepted us, we love each other and carry one another's burden. It is not a question of one side getting some kind of neurotic glory from a "victory" over a Christian brother or sister. If such a thing did occur it would not be between genuine born again believers. Indeed, it would be between those who supposed themselves to be born again believers but in reality were simply falsely converted religionists.
The non-believers for whom Jesus died do not need another crazy debacle in the Christian community to confirm them in their sin. Nor do the weak and immature among us need to be stumbled in our Christian growth. Rather, let us pray, search the Scriptures, and be humble before our God, being quick to forgive and seek forgiveness.
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