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


While most reporters and proponents have emphasised the manifestations and stressed how wonderful God's blessing has been, it is essential to take a step back and examine the roots of this phenomena. Here many have found much that is worrying since the roots of the Toronto Blessing appear to run deep into heretical and occult teaching. These roots can be traced to at least three sources, the Word of Faith teachers, the Vineyard denomination and the Latter Rains movement.

2.1 The Word of Faith Movement - Health and Wealth

The Word of Faith movement, also known as the "Faith" movement, represents a group of powerful and influential neo-Pentecostal church leaders and televangelists who, through their broadcasts, reach several hundred million viewers world-wide every week (Ankerberg & Weldon, 1990, p.9). They include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Maurice Cerullo and David Yonggi Cho.

Central to their teaching is the concept that "faith" is a force that once appropriated, unlocks the universe, and God's blessing. These men and their disciples like Rodney Howard-Browne are influencing many church leaders in Britain who have embraced their heretical ideas.

The "Faith" Movement believes that the human mind and tongue contain a supernatural ability or power. When a person speaks expressing his faith in supposedly divine laws, his positive thoughts and positive verbal expression allegedly produce a "divine force" that will heal, produce wealth, bring success, and in other ways influence the environment....According to the "Faith" teachers, God automatically responds and accomplishes what we command when we positively confess our needs and desires in faith, (Ankerberg and Weldon, 1993, p.6)

Benny Hinn, infamous for his claim that God revealed to him that there are nine in the Trinity, is representative of the "Faith Movement", and coincidentally worked in Toronto for many years. He has had a profound influence on the Church through his flamboyant ministry, unorthodox theological speculations and extra-biblical revelations. In his book, Good Morning Holy Spirit, (Word, 1991) Hinn makes the following incredible statements,

Benny Hinn has made even more outrageous claims on Trinity Broadcast Network television programmes. These quotations are quoted from a critique of the Word of Faith Movement by John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Hinn teaches that Christians confessing they are "a sinner saved by grace" only insult God with such "garbage".

According to his November 6, 1990, TBN sermon and other lectures, Hinn teaches that poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous.

Hinn teaches that....Jesus temporarily lost His divinity after the crucifixion; and that using words as "if it be thy will," are destroyers of true faith. (The Facts of the Faith Movement, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, p.22-23)

According to Perucci Ferraiuolo and Paul Carden, Benny Hinn sought ordination by the Assemblies of God denomination in 1993 but his application was put on hold because Hinn made headlines in June when, at his Philadelphia crusade, he declared former heavy weight boxing champion Evander Holyfield healed of the heart problems that cost him the title.....According to a volunteer helping Hinn with security on-stage, Hinn asked crusade-goers for $1,000 to help with costs. When Holyfield raised his hand, Hinn reportedly asked him for $100,000 - and when the boxer agreed, Hinn pressed him further, asking him to underwrite the entire crusade to the tune of $250,000. Holyfield acquiesced, and Hinn reportedly prayed that God would enable the pugilist to earn $200 million because of his donation. ("Where are they now? A Televangelist Update: slick. hypocritical. greedy. power-hungry. flamboyant. sleazy" Christian Research Journal Fall, 1994, p.45)

Hank Hanegraaff, in his classic book, Christianity in Crisis, (1995, Nelson Word) shows conclusively that men like Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Morris Cerullo and Paul Yonggi Cho are denying fundamental Christian doctrines, and in particular how they are compromising the deity of Christ, deifying mankind and impugning the sufficiency of the atonement and the Scriptures.

Michael Horton, quoted by Ankerberg and Weldon, from his book, The Agony of Deceit (Moody Press, 1992), makes the following assessment,

In Chapter 4 there is a more detailed analysis of the teaching and ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne. The views of David Yonggi Cho another "Faith" teacher are examined in Chapter 6. A summary of heretical quotations from the leaders of the Word of Faith Movement, quoted from Hank Hanegraaff's Christianity in Crisis (1995), has been added as an Appendix.

2.2 The Vineyard Movement - Signs and Wonders

A number of important studies have been published recently on the ministry of John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement (notably Michael Horton (1992); Phillip Jensen (1990); Clifford Hill (1990); and most recently Gary McHale & Michael Haykin (1995) see bibliography).

John Wimber's Vineyard Movement shows similarities with the "faith" teachers. It has taught that the western church needs a major paradigm shift in world view from one that is rationalistic and "Book" centred, to a more supernatural and experience related stance. Thus Wimber's emphasis has shifted from proclamation of the Word of God to a demonstration of the Holy Spirit's power - hence his "power evangelism and "power healing". (Jo Gardner & Rachel Tingle, "Ticket to Toronto" The Churchman, vol. 109, no. 1, 1995)

Similarly, under the heading "Purple Haze: The Inducement of Mental Minimalism", Alan Morrison traces the Gnostic and anti-intellectualism of some elements of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, and in particular that of John Wimber.

For example, former Quaker and rock guitarist John Wimber.....openly advocates a "paradigm shift" away from thinking with Western logic into the exclusively experimental way of oriental thinking-a concept thoroughly in line with the mystical ideology of the New Gnosticism. He also claims that "first century Semites did not argue from a premise to a conclusion; they were not controlled by rationalism (Power Evangelism 1985, p.74) This is a highly erroneous and mischievous statement. Not only is it historically inaccurate but it also attempts to denigrate logic, as if this is something to be shunned. (The Serpent and the Cross, 1994)

Gary McHale, in an important five volume critique of the Vineyard Movement, traces for example, the revisionist tendencies to re-write Church history with a "signs and wonders" gloss, to suite their need of an historical precedent in the way that someone might try and create a fictitious and fraudulent family tree. McHale shows, for example, how Wimber distorts Augustine by using selective quotations to imply that he believed in the perpetuation of New Testament signs and wonders (p.54). Augustine most clearly did not. The stories of miracles which Augustine alludes to he attributed to the relics of dead martyrs and shrines not a ministry of signs and wonders, hardly something to strengthen the Vineyard case. (p.57)

Likewise, McHale shows that the teachings of Montanus and Tertullian, whom Wimber argues advocated the continuation of "signs and wonders" were both condemned as heretics (p.23) He shows that the early church grew through the proclamation of the Gospel, the holy lives of the Christians and their willingness to endure martyrdom in the face of persecution.

The second section, by Michael Haykin, provides some evangelical perspectives from the 18th Century and Revivals. He shows again, that by and large, Evangelicals of this era who witnessed revival, nevertheless believed the "extraordinary" gifts of the Spirit to have been for the Apostolic era (p.160). Jonathan Edwards was, for example, actually a Calvinist and cessationist. God's power was identified in the preaching of the Gospel and the renewed zeal for missionary work.

In the third section, McHale deals with the immediate context of the "Toronto Blessing" in the theology of the Vineyard Church, the alleged restoration of Apostles and Prophets, the Kansas City Prophets, John Wimber and Jack Deere. Here the astrological, occult and heretical roots of some Vineyard theology are traced back to the writings of Franklin Hall and William Branham perpetuated by men like Paul Cain and Bob Jones, drawing also from the Latter Rains Movement, the Manifest Sons of God and Restorationism. The catalogue of false doctrines and failed prophecies propounded by the Vineyard leadership is a lamentable, but self-imposed indictment on a movement that has clearly departed from the Scriptures for their spiritual authority.

During a Vineyard pastor's conference, Wimber apparently apologised to the Catholic Church on behalf of Protestants, and in a seminar on church planting states,

John Armstrong comments, Wayne Grudem, in trying to soften the damage of such statements, claims in Wimber's defence that, McHale also shows John Wimber to be something of a chameleon, modifying his theology and shifting his ground whenever challenged. The authors point to significant variations in his published testimonies (1995, p.221ff); they question the authorship of books bearing his name (p.222); note his attack on the need for a rational mind (p.235); and his unfulfilled prophecies (p.239ff). These include claims made in 1989 that a new strain of AIDS would be released which only the church would be able to heal (p.239), and that, J.I Packer, in Laid-Back Religion, criticises this kind of super-supernaturalism as "Hot Tub Religion". More recently, J.I. Packer, has apparently, engaged in "fair-minded dialogue with John Wimber and the Vineyard leaders." He summed up his assessment, rather charitably, in this way, McHale & Haykin also reveal some fascinating but less well known insights into the ministry of Jack Deere, heralded as the "theologian" of the Vineyard Movement. Furthermore, Deere is apparently no longer working with the Vineyard Church. In a sermon preached in November 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, Deere stated, Haykin asks why Deere would want to leave the Vineyard which at one time he believed was at the "cutting edge of what God is doing", supposedly, the greatest movement of God since the New Testament Apostles, to pastor a church in the most liberal Presbyterian denomination? (p.242)

2.3 The Latter Rain Movement

The claims made by John Wimber in 1989 (quoted on the previous page) to increasing angelic appearances and amazing healing miracles bear a remarkable similarity to some of the prophecies given by those associated with the Latter Rains Movement, whose teachings clearly influenced the Kansas City Prophets who, in turn, are now aligned with the Vineyard Movement.

Franklin Hall is commonly regarded as the "father" of the movement which he began in 1946 in San Diego with his "fasting and prayer daily revival centre." In that same year he published a book "Atomic Power with God through Fasting and Prayer" (Phoenix: Hall Deliverance Foundation) that had, according to Clifford Hill, an immense impact on the whole Pentecostal world, including the Kansas City Prophets. (They Shall Prophesy 1990, p.136)

One of the outstanding elements in Hall's teaching was his belief that Christians can actually become immortal through progressive stages of spiritual growth. His teachings on attaining immortality in this life through psycho-spiritual exercises and through "holiness" or righteous living, have provided the foundation upon which many subsequent teachings in the charismatic/restoration churches have been based. Hall believed that in the last days a generation would arise who will experience "real gushers and torrents of a long, past due RAIN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. A rain of IMMORTALITY UPON THE EARTH.....permanent, lasting freedoms from all sickness, harmful, accident things and defeat will come about. Freedom from the imprisonment of all gravitational forces....... (Hill, 1990. p.136)

The teaching given by the Kansas City Prophets on the subject of the special power that is going to be exercised by the last generation preceding the Second Coming of Christ, bears remarkable similarity to Hall's teaching. They believe the generation born since 1973 to be the "special generation" marked out by God for this anointing...(p.137)

They refer to the children as "an elected seed generation and an endtime. Omega generation who will possess the Spirit without measure as the manifested sons of God." They will do "ten thousand times the miracles in the Book of Acts.

John Armstrong traces another source of the Latter Rain Movement which has influenced the Kansas City Prophets through the relationship between William Branham and Paul Cain, the leading prophet at KCF.

Cain was also an associate of the healer-evangelist William Branham, who received revelations from an angel...Among those revelations were the following: the doctrine of the Trinity is "a doctrine of demons"; Eve's sin involved sexual relations with the serpent, but the "seed of God" were Branham's followers, otherwise known as "the Bride" or "the New Breed" (popular designations in the "Latter Rain" version of Pentecostalism).........Among those who acknowledge his influence on their ministries are Jack Coe, A.A. Allen, T.L.Osborne, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, and Benny Hinn; the latter two claim he was a prophet. So does Paul Cain....(who)...refuses to distance himself completely from Branham. In an interview conducted by Kevin Springer a question regarding this matter was asked of Cain.

You have been quoted from a taped talk as saying, "William Branham was the greatest prophet in the 20th century." How could this be true if he denied the historic, orthodox view of the Trinity....and if he taught the so-called "Serpent's Seed" theory of original sin?....How could he teach such error and have a genuine gift?

Cain responded that such errors were "such a small part of his presentation that it just swept by everyone, until it became his pet theology" and then turned attention to Branham's character, which was not the issue in question: "No one ever challenged {Branham's] Christ-like character." Affirming that he had indeed said that Branham was "the greatest prophet of the 20th century," Cain nevertheless insisted that that was due not to Branham's doctrines but to "his gifting in the word of knowledge." After all (and notice the pragmatism here that so often resists genuine criticism), during that time thousands came to a saving knowledge of Christ in his meetings." Armstrong in Michael Horton ed. Power Religion, 1992, p.67)

Armstrong asks how it is possible for anyone to come to "a saving knowledge of Christ" through the ministry of one whose theology is so distorted.

Responding to claims that the Kansas City Prophets, now under the authority of the Vineyard Church, have repented of some "Latter Rains" teaching, Clifford Hill writes,

2.4 The Word of Faith - Latter Rain - Vineyard Connection

But what have the teachings of men like Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn or the Latter Rains Movement got to do with the "Toronto Blessing"?

McHale & Haykin are not alone in showing that the influence of heretical "Word of Faith" teacher Benny Hinn over the Vineyard Movement has been deep, long standing and significant. John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Vineyard, admits to having been a friend of Benny Hinn for 20 years and that he has been a leading figure in shaping his view of divine healing and anointing (p.245). In January 1994, John Wimber also confessed the impact Benny Hinn has had upon him,

The indisputable link between the "Word of Faith" preacher Rodney Howard-Browne and Randy Clark, the other Vineyard leader to have introduced the "Blessing" in Toronto, is also reiterated by McHale & Haykin (p.249ff).

According to Alpha magazine (July 1994), the "authorised" account of the events leading to the "Toronto Blessing" are that John Arnott, the pastor of the Toronto Vineyard church, was searching for "a fresh spiritual anointing" and so attended a meeting led by Benny Hinn, a neo-Pentecostal "Faith teacher".

Benny Hinn's particular emphasis is upon a powerful "anointing" he is able to bestow simply by blowing on people and according to Guy Chevreau, by 1992, Arnott and Hinn had known each other for many years in Toronto and at that time Arnott had "longed for a similar kind of empowerment" as Hinn demonstrated. A year later, Arnott was also attracted to the "Holy laughter" ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne, although he was troubled by the fact that he had not been slain or received an anointing as others did. (Chevreau, 1994:22-23)

Randy Clark, another "key figure in the Airport Vineyard Renewal" received his anointing through Rodney Howard-Browne at Kenneth Hagin's "Rhema" church. In the Alpha article (July 1994), Clark admitted having had reservations over "theological differences" with Hagin. However, he believed the Holy Spirit rebuked him saying, "how badly do you want to be touched afresh?" So Clark and Arnott, leaders of the Toronto Vineyard Fellowship went in search of spiritual blessings from men whose teachings have been criticised as heretical and cultic.

According to the Church Times (23 September 1994), the "strange things" which occurred in Toronto, "happened after a visit by Rodney Howard-Browne." Subsequently, the manifestations of hysterical laughter, growling, shaking, and falling associated with Howard-Browne and Hinn's ministry were experienced not only at the Toronto Vineyard Church, but as Vineyard leaders and lay people visited the church from around the world, they too received an anointing, and the manifestations spread to their churches as well.

If Randy Clark's blessing had its origin in the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne at Hagin's church, and John Arnott's at the hands of Benny Hinn, another of Hagin's disciples and a close friend, the origin of this phenomena must seriously be questioned.

It is clear from the quoted testimony of Benny Hinn who claims "like a jolt of electricity, my whole body began to vibrate all over..." and of Rodney Howard-Browne who says he tapped "heaven's electric supply" (see Chapter 4), that these men perceive the "anointing" of the Holy Spirit which they received and which they in turn pass on to others has the characteristics of electricity.

Very worryingly, that is precisely how Randy Clark, describes his own understanding of God's "Blessing". The following is his testimony of what happened when he went to a meeting led by Rodney Howard-Browne.

In Randy Clark's own testimony he equated this "blessing" with a powerful force like electricity, associated with being thrown to the floor, a loss of control over the body, shaking, animal noises, drunkenness and hysterical laughter. Furthermore his testimony was very positive toward Howard-Browne whom he called "Rodney." He assumes that this "anointing" was divine in origin, and more powerful than those he had previously received "like electricity". There is no hint of the apparent theological reservations he had which were mentioned in the Alpha article (July 1994) .

What ever it was that Clark received from Howard-Browne, and Arnott from Hinn has come to be known as the "Toronto Blessing" as they in turn have laid hands on Vineyard Church leaders and those of other denominations sympathetic to their ministry. It is clearly that the phenomena which Randy Clark describes in his own testimony is identical to that associated with the "Faith" teachers, and have come to represent the hallmarks of the Toronto Blessing.

2.5 Biblical Injunctions Ignored

The leaders of the Vineyard Church in Toronto, by their actions and relationships were already seriously compromised by association with heretical "Faith teachers" long before the "Toronto Blessing" occurred. It is inconceivable that the Spirit of Truth would tell Randy Clark or anyone else to ignore theological error of this magnitude in order to receive a "blessing" reduced to the level of a "jolt of electricity" no matter how pleasant, from the hands of heretics.

Scripture specifically warns that false teachers will introduce destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1-22) and that deceiving spirits will entice people away from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1). It is sobering therefore that while in Toronto, Eleanor Mumford, the wife of the London Vineyard Church leader, claims she was told "don't question this, just receive it..." (from an audio tape of her testimony in Toronto used at Holy Trinity Brompton).

The apostle John is most emphatic in 2 John 10 "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him". How can the Holy Spirit guide someone to do that which He has plainly and explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures He inspired?

It must also be asked, why it is necessary for people to attend a "receiving meeting" to receive and pass on this so called "blessing"? Supporters of the "Toronto Blessing" frequently urge sceptics to attend a meeting "to experience it for yourself" not critically, but with an open mind asking God to bless if this is of Him.

The Bible in fact teaches us to do the very opposite.

However, it is far from an invariable biblical principle either that we should assess claims to God's activity personally and uncritically, or that we must look at the fruits to make an assessment. For example, claims that Christ has returned in secret are not to be assessed personally: "So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,' Do not go out". Nor are they to be assessed uncritically: "if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' Do not believe it" (Matt 24:26). If the claim had been made that Jesus was in Toronto we would be entitled not to go and not to believe. Why should we then go if the claim is that the Spirit is moving in Toronto? Unbelief can be a sign of faith! (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)

In the conversation, recorded in John 4, between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, to her question as to whether they should worship God in Jerusalem or Samaria, Jesus did not say, "Go to Toronto." The Holy Spirit is sovereign and omnipresent. Deceiving spirits are not.

The history of the Roman Catholic Church is replete with similar claims to extra-biblical revelations and heresies associated with visions of Mary at particular locations, where divine blessings and healings are reputedly attainable. This deception continues on a massive scale. According to Time magazine, annual attendance figures are: Lourdes (5.5 million); Knock (1.5 million); Fatima (4.5 million); Czestachowa (5 million); with Medjugorje catching up fast. In so far as they draw people toward Mary and new revelations, and away from the Lord Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures, pilgrims, however sincere, are being deceived.

This should also warn us not to be mesmerised by numbers, or confuse size and success with spiritual truth. Yonggi Cho's church in South Korea, for example, at 750,000 members and the largest in the world, is, nevertheless, small in comparison to the Buddhist cult of Saki Gakkai, (a Buddhist version of "Health and Wealth"), on which it appears to be modelled. (Hanegraaff, 1994:352)

It is unnecessary to visit a place to receive a blessing which the Lord is quite capable of giving where we already are. If you are tempted to visit a church where these phenomena have occurred, ask yourself why? Are you looking for a short cut to spiritual growth? Assurance of salvation? An awareness of the presence of God? These things and more, God offers now, right where you are, as you obey His Word and trust the Holy Spirit who inspired them, to continue His work in you.

How should we respond to the teachings of men like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn? (see appendix for a selection of quotations taken from their teaching). Gerald Coates offers what appears to be a charitable and tolerant approach. He is wary of judgement based on the spiritual roots of Hagin and Hinn.

Such uncritical reasoning is very dangerous. David and Peter did indeed sin, as we do, but they repented, as we must. That is the only reason God continued to use them. That is the difference. Jesus said that a bad tree will not bear good fruit (Matthew 7:18).

According to Philip Foster, vicar of St Matthew's Church, Cambridge, Gerald Coates, while speaking about the Toronto Blessing at Spring Harvest at Easter 1995 said,