Unholy Laughter

Dr. Cathy Burns

Part I

In a previous article we looked at the origins of the March for Jesus. In this paper we are going to examine one particular phenomenon which some of the founders of this march are involved in. The founders were Graham Kendrick, Lynn Green, Roger Forster, and Gerald Coates, and the phenomenon to which I am referring is the so-called "holy" laughter.

Roger Forster, who also heads Ichthus Fellowships, and Gerald Coates, who also leads the Pioneer network of charismatic churches in England, are two among many who have endorsed this movement.(1) Coates "noticed limited incidents of people laughing and crying uncontrollably, or falling on the floor as if overcome by God's power."(2) He also learned of other churches in which people were laughing and collapsing to the floor."(3) Charisma magazine reports:

"Without him referring to the phenomenon from the pulpit, the laughter broke out at his own church, Pioneer People, in southwest London. 'We saw it happening throughout the month of May,' said Coates, who also is a leader in the March for Jesus organization.
"According to Coates, congregations have been transformed since the movement began. In his own church there has been 'a new spirit' and a fresh generosity among members. Stories of changed lives pour into his office daily. 'It's a different church,' he said."(4) Coates adds: "This could be the biggest thing to hit the church in my lifetime."(5)
Such a report of "changed lives" may sound wonderful but we need to know more of the background of this phenomenon before we jump on the bandwagon.

Holy laughter, also known as the "Toronto Blessing," "a time of refreshing," "another Pentecost,"(6) and "laughing in the spirit"(7) is encircling the globe including places such as Argentina, Cambodia, China, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, Britain, Canada, Ireland, United States, and South Africa.(8) The person who is most responsible for this phenomenon is Rodney Howard-Browne, a South African evangelist who was born in 1961.

In his book, The Touch of God, Howard-Browne describes an experience he had in 1979:

"Suddenly the fire of God fell on me. It started on my head and went right down to my feet. His power burned in my body and stayed like that for three whole days....
"My whole body was on fire from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Out of my belly began to flow a river of living water. I began to laugh uncontrollably and then I began to weep and then speak with other tongues.
"I was so intoxicated on the wine of the Holy Ghost that I was literally beside myself. The fire of God was coursing through my whole being and it didn't quit....Because of that encounter with the Lord, my life was radically changed from that day on."(9)
In 1987, Howard-Browne "prophesied that God would send missionaries to America for revival, which he has defined as manifestations of 'supernatural signs and wonders.' "(10) In April 1989, while he was preaching, some unusual manifestations began to take place: "People began falling out of their seats; some were laughing and others were crying."(11)

Uncontrollable Laughter

By the Spring of 1993 Howard-Browne was attracting large crowds of people including individuals from Africa, Argentina, and Great Britain who were drawn to his meetings because of the unusual phenomenon of laughter taking place. Charisma magazine revealed: "No matter what Howard-Browne did or said, hundreds who attended the daily sessions always ended up on the sanctuary floor in helpless laughter. When the services were broadcast on the radio, more curious seekers showed up to join the fun."(12)

This laughter can break out during a communion service or even when serious sermons are preached. Rodney Howard-Browne reported: "One night I was preaching on hell, and laughter just hit the whole place. The more I told the people what hell was like, the more they laughed." "The Holy Ghost...might have you do something that no one's ever done before, and he might have you do something that's totally unique. But don't question, and don't argue, and don't ask, and don't try to devise and to plan it out but just follow the prompting of the leading of the Spirit of God and, oh, great and wonderful things shall be done, for God will move in diverse ways and with diverse anointings in these last days."

Obviously, laughing during a communion service or during a sermon on hell can hardly be called the "leading of the Spirit of God," yet we are being told that this movement is of God. For example, Charles and Frances Hunter, proponents of "holy laughter," relate: "There is a powerful new wind of the Holy Spirit blowing, but it's lots more than a rushing mighty wind! There's an energizing, forceful sound that's coming with this new wind of the Spirit and it is the exciting sound of joy, joy, joy, joy! Not only an inward joy, but it's bringing a vocal joy, a holy laughter, right along with it. It's energetically stirring us to higher levels with God!"(13)

The Hunters also brag: "The Spirit of God is swiftly moving in breathtaking and sometimes startling new ways, and people of every tongue and every nation are letting out what is on the inside of them....they are running at a fast pace to 'Joel's Bar' where the drinks are free and there is no hangover!...one of today's signs 'in the earth beneath' is the 'holy laughter' which is supernaturally overcoming people in services all over the world!"(14)

Jill Austin exclaims: "The joy of the Lord started with bubbling and ended with a flood of laughter in Toledo, Ohio, as the refreshing move of the Holy Spirit touched the people. We had never seen such a wide-spread outbreak of hilarious laughter hit a group for almost an hour. Adults and children acted like there was one big 'swimming party' and they enjoyed themselves to the fullest!"(15)

Unsaved Hippies Zapped

Can anyone be filled with this "holy" laughter? Apparently so! Howard-Browne enjoys "zapping" people with this anointing by commanding them to laugh. Of course, they don't have to be saved before receiving this "infilling." Howard-Browne "proudly says that he lines up on the stage a row of unbelieving hippies with their mohican haircuts and earrings, and then goes down the line laying hands on them and making them fall over, again and again, until they 'accept the Lord.' "(16)

Tricia Tillin reports that in one video of Howard-Browne's meetings, she "saw little talk of repentance or holiness and there was no reverence of God. People were 'zapped' no matter what their lifestyles or circumstances, no matter if they were saved or not. The Spirit of God is not indiscriminate. Satan is!"(17)

The Bible clearly tells us that the Holy Ghost is only given to them that obey God (Acts 5:32). John 14:17 states that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth. Ephesians 1:13 reveals that it was only after an individual believed that he was sealed with the Holy Spirit. Since "holy" laughter can be received by those who are unsaved, we can plainly see that this phenomenon is not of God.

Also, under the so-called "anointing" of "holy" laughter, some people even start to rip their clothes off.(18) There's one place in the Bible which tells us about a person taking his clothes off. This individual, however, was not a Christian. Luke 8:27 tells us that this man "had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs." In other words, he was demon possessed. After Jesus cast out the demons, the Bible reveals that this man was found "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind" (Luke 8:35; Mark 5:15). People in heathen lands who get saved also have a tendency to put clothes on, but in the meetings where so-called "holy" laughter is taking over, people are taking their clothes off. Isn't this fact alone enough to reveal to us that this movement is not of the Holy Spirit but is of the spirit of Satan?

Laugh Or Suffer The Consequences

Not only is this move not of God but people who attend these meetings are actually coerced into experiencing the laughter. Howard-Browne intimidates and humiliates people by calling them "ugly," "sad," etc., if they don't laugh.(19) Al Dager even reports: "On several occasions I've witnessed him 'slay people in the Spirit,' and if they didn't begin to laugh he would place his foot on their stomach and tell them to laugh. Some he would kick as they lay there, and accuse them of not yielding to the Holy Spirit. He would keep at it until they would obviously begin to force some kind of laugh out of themselves."(20)

With such tactics, it's no wonder that even Howard-Browne has described one of his services as "total pandemonium." In fact, here are his own words: "I remember one service where I just went and sat down for an hour and a half. I just went and sat down. Well, there was nothing else I could do. Total pandemonium--people falling off of their chairs, people crying, people laughing and some were wailing--some were shaking. So, I just said to the people, I said, 'Look, just come up when you're ready and lift your hands and God will touch you.' I was sitting on the platform--just sat there and watched them for about an hour and a half. People came right up, got to the front, lifted their hands--BAM!--on the floor. I just sat there. I didn't even pray. You say, 'What'd you do?' I just sat there and twiddled my thumbs. I thought, 'Lord, I wish every meeting was as easy as this.' Now I had preached the word already and taught the word of God, and then I went and sat down. And they came walking up, got to the front, lifted their hands--BAM!--under the power of God."(21)

Who Is In Control?

Some other phenomena that take place at these laughing revivals include: "shaking, jerking, loss of bodily strength, heavy breathing, eyes fluttering, lips trembling, oil on the body, changes in skin color, weeping, laughing, 'drunkenness,' staggering, travailing, dancing, falling, visions, hearing audibly into the spirit realm, inspired utterances--i.e. prophecy, tongues, interpretation, angelic visitations and manifestations, jumping, violent rolling, screaming, wind, heat, electricity, coldness, nausea as discernment of evil, smelling or tasting good or evil presences, tingling, pain in body as discernment of illness, feeling heavy weight or lightness, trances--altered physical state while seeing and hearing into the spiritual world, inability to speak normally, disruption of natural realm--i.e. electrical circuits blown, the 'fire of God' burning you that you have to remove some clothing, pawing people and roaring like a lion, walking like a chicken, howling like a wolf, digging the ground with hoofs like a bull while prophesying, flying like an eagle, throwing communion bread around to show your joy in the Lord, screaming AHHHHH as a mighty warrior to stop the preaching of the word of God during a service, incoherent babbling, pounding the floor with your arms while holding a conversation in tongues with the minister in charge of the service, feeling electricity shoot through your body, affecting electronic scanning devices in airports, etc."(22)

Do the above disturbances and commotions sound like something that is Scriptural? Hardly! I Corinthians 14:40 clearly states: "Let all things be done decently and in order." Think of the sacredness of a communion service and then envision having this bread which represents the body of our Savior, Jesus Christ, being thrown around and desecrated. Not only is something of this nature not "done decently and in order" but is it extremely disrespectful and blasphemous. Blasphemy and irreverence, however, seem to proliferate during these laughing meetings. For example, Rodney Howard-Browne calls himself the "Holy Ghost bartender."(23) He claims he is serving "new wine"(24) and Charles and Frances Hunter refer to this as " 'Joel's Bar' where the drinks are free and there is no hangover!"(25) Howard-Browne encourages people to: "Take another drink...the bar is open....Be filled! We loose the power! Have another drink!"(26) Romans 14:17 tells us: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Also, we cannot loose the power. Only God can do this.

As can be seen, the Holy Ghost is taken lightly. Not only is Howard Browne supposedly a "Holy Ghost bartender" but Frances Hunter makes mention of "Holy Ghost glue." Describing her laughing experience, she relates: "We went to a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship banquet in Houston....The man [the speaker] said, 'Well, Jesus, bless Frances!' Down I went faster than you could blink an eye, followed one second later by my precious husband!...I tried to get my hands off of the floor, but nothing happened. I couldn't believe what had happened to me, because it was physically impossible for me to move....I felt as though someone had given me a divine alka seltzer because way down deep in the very center of my being I began to feel a most peculiar type of `bubbling.'...then it abruptly came out of my mouth in the form of the loudest laugh I have ever heard....no pressure on my mouth could keep the laughing back. I laughed, laughed, laughed and laughed....I stopped laughing just as quickly as I started, and suddenly I was released from the bed of Holy Ghost glue in which I had been resting!"(27)

Laughter Brings Demon Oppression

We opened this article with Gerald Coates (a co-founder of the March for Jesus) claiming there were changed lives from this laughing phenomenon. Proponents do point to changed lives and other seemingly positive results. However, Al Dager reveals that "there are also reports of demonic oppression, suicidal feelings, and loss of faith after the holy laughter experience."(28) Obviously, such results would not take place if this phenomenon were of God. In fact, Galatians 5:22-23 points out that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

Actually, the spectacle of uncontrollable laughter and animal noises may be new to the church world but the occult has known such phenomena for a long time. Joy Smith, an ex-follower of Swami Baba Muktananda discloses that the Swami "would transfer what was called 'guru's grace' to his followers through Shaktipat (physical touch). This 'grace' triggered the gradual awakening of the Kundalini which in turn produced various physical and emotional manifestations. Manifestations included uncontrollable laughing, roaring, barking, hissing, crying, shaking, etc. Some devotees became mute or unconscious. Many felt themselves being infused with feelings of great joy and peace and love. At other times the 'fire' of Kundalini was so overpowering they would find themselves involuntarily hyperventilating to cool themselves down."(29)

We also find that Anton Mesmer, a Mason and the founder of "animal magnetism" or "mesmerism," which was the forerunner of hypnosis, and who called his sessions "seances," was able to cause uncontrollable laughter. One occult book gives this description of his sessions: " 'His patients sat round a large oak tub which was filled with water, iron filings and powdered glass, and from which iron rods protruded. The patients applied these rods to the afflicted parts of their bodies while Mesmer marched about majestically in a pale lilac robe, passing his hands over the patients' bodies or touching them with a long iron wand. The results varied. Some patients felt nothing at all, some felt as if insects were crawling over them, others were seized with hysterical laughter, convulsions or fits of hiccups. Some went into raving delirium, which was called "The Crisis" and was considered extremely healthful.' "(30)

Another report of his sessions reveals the following: " 'Some are calm, tranquil and experience no effect. Others cough, spit, feel slight pains, local or general heat, and have sweatings. Others, again, are agitated and tormented with convulsions. These convulsions are remarkable in regard to the number affected with them, to their duration and force. They are preceded and followed by a state of languor or reverie...Patients experienced more or less violent perspiration, palpitations, hysterics, catalepsy, and sometimes a condition resembling epilepsy.' "(31)

Yet another interesting factor is that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was called the "divine drunkard" by his followers.(32) Hundreds of people flew to India to "drink" from Rajneesh's "wine."(33) "Often referred to as being 'drunk on the divine,' Rajneesh encouraged his followers to come and 'drink' from him. Bhagvhan's (sic) spiritual 'wine' was often passed along with a single touch to the head. Many of his Sannyasins [disciples] would fall to the floor in ecstasy after their encounters with Rajneesh."(34) (Does this sound strangely familiar?! Something is wrong with the church when it starts to experience the same phenomena as the occultists.)

In an additional article we will look at several more individuals who have endorsed the laughing revival, but in the meantime, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).

--Dr. Cathy Burns

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1 Tricia Tillin, "Is It Revival?," Mainstream (Summer 1994), p.3.
2 Christian News (November 7, 1994, Vol. 32, No. 41), p.3.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ed Tarkowski, "The Laughing Phenomena: From South Africa to St. Louis to Toronto to Your Church" (Part I), The Christian Conscience (February 1995,
Vol. 1, No. 2), p.21.
7 Ed Spurlin, "Unholy Laughter," Voice in the Wilderness (February 1995, Vol. 2, Issue 2), p.1.
8 Tarkowski, "The Laughing Phenomena" (Part I), op. cit., p.23.
9 Ibid, quoting Bill Randles, p.22.
10 Ibid, quoting from "The Good Life" program which was broadcasted April 20, 1994.
11 Ibid, quoting Bill Randles; Albert James Dager, "Holy Laughter: Rodney
Howard-Browne and the Toronto Blessing," Media Spotlight, (1995), p.2.
12 Tarkowski, "The Laughing Phenomena" (Part I), op. cit., quoting Bill
Randles; Albert James Dager, "Holy Laughter: Rodney Howard-Browne and the Toronto Blessing," Media Spotlight, (1995), p.11.
13 Albert James Dager, "Holy Laughter: Rodney Howard-Browne and the Toronto Blessing," Media Spotlight, (1995), p.6.
14 Ed Tarkowski quoting David W. Cloud from O Timothy magazine Volume 11, Issue 9-10, 1994.
15 Jill Austin, Passion & Fire Conferences.
16 Tillin, op. cit., p.5-6.
17 Ibid., p.6.
18 Ibid., p.5.
19 Dager, op. cit., p.7.
20 Ibid., p.7, 9.
21 Tarkowski, "The Laughing Phenomena" (Part I), op. cit., quoting from a TBN video-taped service which was broadcasted on May 1994, p.23-24.
22 Ed Tarkowski.
23 Joel C. Gerlach, "Holy Laughter Is No Laughing Matter," Christian News
(April 17, 1994, Vol. 33, No. 16), p.4; Dager, op. cit., p.10.
24 Ibid.
25 Tarkowski quoting David W. Cloud, op. cit., p.22.
26 Ed Tarkowski.
27 Tarkowski, "The Laughing Phenomena" (Part I), op. cit., quoting from David Cloud, p.25.
28 Dager, op. cit., p.1.
29 Warren Smith, "Holy Laughter or Strong Delusion?," SCP Newsletter, (Fall
1994, Vol. 19:2), p.14.
30 Alan Morrison quoting Richard Cavendish, The Serpent and the Cross:
Religious Corruption in an Evil Age (Birmingham, England: K & M Books, 1994), p.249, 473-474.
31 Ibid, quoting R. B. Ince, p.249.
32 Joseph R. Chambers, " 'Holy' Laughter" (Part II), The End Times and
Victorious Living, (January/February 1995, Vol. 9, No. 1), p.1; Smith, op.
cit., p.1.
33 Smith, op. cit., p.1.
34 Ibid, p.14.
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