The 'Toronto Blessing'

(or the so-called 'new wave of holy laughter')

 by Fred Grigg

Rodney Howard Browne (RHB) is the name synonymous with the current  so-called `new wave of holy laughter' which is sweeping through the church around the world. In your region the phenomenon may be called `The Toronto Blessing'. I would ask you, if you are familiar with it, has it truly been a blessing? With the passage of time I think not. Why? Because from all reports, wherever this claimed `blessing' occurs, only strife and division results!

The writer has received many letters, videos, and numerous phone-calls, from troubled folk around this country and from overseas. Over many years, I have visited hundreds of churches to teach and preach the Word of God. I have met and helped hundreds of people and I have made many friends. It has been absolutely amazing that not one contact has been to inform me about the `blessing' that the person has received, or to try to tell me of something that is available from God that I might share in. Isn't that strange? Let me say at this stage that I really do have a good sense of humour [although some say it's a little wry at times!] and enjoy nothing better than a good laugh. All who have contacted me, have done so to ask me to do something that would warn the church of a practice that they see as being of great danger, and not of , or from God.

This is my response. No, I have not rushed in where angels fear to tread. I have read widely on the matter, sought the counsel of my peers, watched and listened to tapes, observed the laughing for myself, and reflected on the past excesses that have `drifted' through the church. My conclusion? I also do not believe that the Toronto Blessing is of God! Yes, I know all the arguments that my critics will level against for me having said it. They will say things like, `You're being too legalistic; too critical; not open to the Lord; my pastor accepts it; Big Chief Pastor So-and-So has given it his nod of approval', and etc!

I believe that we've heard it all before. For the Word of God says, `There is nothing new under the sun'. Yes, this aforementioned type of response is no more than the same rhetoric (talk that pretends to be significant but lacks meaning and any real substance) that we hear repeatedly whenever people, who are sincerely wrong, try to persuade others that something, which is not of God, is! One of the oldest tricks in the world is to malign (that is to make malicious defaming remarks) the character of a truth-bringer in order to discredit what he has to say. In other words, if you can't find fault with the message - then SHOOT THE MESSENGER!

This is similar to what happened to Stephen, the first Christian martyr (one who suffers death rather than renounce his faith). Please read Acts 6:8-14. Notice that the critics of Stephen's preaching could not `withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke'. They could not honestly refute his message. So, because they did not want to heed his words, what did they do? They set up false witnesses to tell lies about the things that Stephen was saying (v11-14) in an attempt to bring him into disrepute. They hoped that he would then be looked down on by the people, and they would then reject his message.

Because of this article, I fully expect to be labelled by those who want to believe that the `Toronto Blessing' is of God, as RHB himself says of anyone who would criticise his practice and teachings, "...a Pharisee who wouldn't `see' and couldn't `see'!" In other words what they infer is, "...don't listen to him, he's just like the religious hypocrits who criticised the Lord Jesus Christ for what He had to say".

Worth noting is how one pastor, currently promoting `holy laughter' throughout Australia, in a recent two-page magazine article described the experience, he said, ` minister, after shaking for about 45 minutes, screamed at the top of his voice, `Don't touch me, you'll get electrocuted!' Others were on the floor rolling or laughing or shaking under the power of God.' (emphasis mine). !' Of another pastor's experience, with whom this pastor said he had prayed for one morning, without any `powerful manifestations' at that time, he said, `...When he tried to tart the meeting (in his own church) that night he was struck dumb and, then, all he could do was laugh!' The response of this same pastor, in answering the question, `How is it possible that people can be changed by lying on the floor, rolling, or laughing or shaking,' is very intriguing. He responds, `Well, if the power of God touches you, it's like 20,000 volts (of electricity) trying to go through a piece of fuse wire - something has to give!' (emphasis mine-Ed.)

Well, I have to agree that God could cause all of the foregoing, if He actually wanted to! However, what I do not have is any Scriptural basis for what this man has been describing! God's Word has been preserved down to our day so that Christians may qualify and measure all of their experiences by the principles and precepts it contains. I am not alone in expressing my concerns on this subject.

MacGregor Ministries: Keith and Lorri (in their magazine News & Views - October 1995, from Canada) under the heading, `"Holy Laughter" in the Vineyard' state, and I quote, `Rodney Howard-Browne, an evangelist out of the "Rhema Word of Faith Movement", introduced "holy laughter" into the Vineyard meetings. Upon examining his ideas other than laughter, we find some very telling revelations of who he really is. He has as his hero, the late William Branham, a teacher with aberrant (anything that is aberrant, is a departure from truth) doctrines (teachings), including denial of the Trinity and denial of the Deity of Jesus Christ. Branham also prophesied falsely the end of the world. Hardly a candidate for a Christian to want to emulate (to emulate someone is to attempt to become equal to, or to copy that person).

Equally disturbing are RHB's own statements from "The Coming Revival" on page 6 where he states, `...I'd rather be in a church where the devil and the flesh are manifesting than in a church where nothing is happening...Every time there is a move of God, a few people will get excited, go overboard, and get in the flesh. Other believers will get upset, saying that couldn't be from God. Don't worry about it either. Rejoice because at least something is happening...'. No doubt about it, RHB makes things happen in his meetings, mainly "holy laughter". You may be interested to know that getting people to laugh is also a medical therapy used with no connection to God. It is a known fact that people do feel better when they laugh. The non-Christian group therapist uses the same methods as RHB, forcing the laughter at first, and then, as others join in, it becomes infectius and hearty.

Even the Buddhists are Laughing!

In an excerpt from "Meditation, the First and Last Freedom: 'Osho'" under the heading `The Laughing Buddha' we find the following: "There is a story in Japan of the laughing Buddha Hotei. His whole teaching was just laughter. He would move from one place to another, from one marketplace to another. He would stand in the middle of the market and start laughing—that was his sermon. His laughter was catching, infectious, a real laughter, his whole belly pulsating with laughter...the whole village would be overwhelmed with laughter...You asked about Buddha and he would laugh; you asked about enlightenment and he would laugh; you asked about truth and he would laugh..." (Kindred Spirit, V2, #7, p.44-45). "Joy" and "laughter" are not interchangeable terms in the Bible. It is possible to experience biblical "joy" in the midst of trying circumstances. Laughter is not necessarily involved with biblical joy. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the type of laughter introduced by RHB. It could turn out to be no laughing matter for the Christian. Why not get your Bible concordance and look up all the scriptures on laughter, and then decide for yourself whether or not you will join in? (End quote). Very good advice from the MacGregors! Here's one reference to think about - wise King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 2:2, "I said of laughter, `It is mad..." Jesus said that God is spirit, and those that worship him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24). For our worship to be wholly acceptable to God, it must be balanced with knowledge of, and the practice of truth.

Is it 'a New Wave'?

One thing we have learnt over the years is to investigate the roots' of anything new' that sweeps through the church. Anything that does not sit comfortably, or line-up with Scripture, is usually worth looking into. Well, as you read in our last issue of The Gospel Truth we said that the Toronto Blessing' was NOT of God. Now we are even more sure. Looking back I have found evidence of holy laughter' in the church earlier this century!

In 1928 (almost 70 years ago!) well-known Christian author, Watchman Nee, wrote a series of articles that were eventually published in 1934 as the book, The Latent Power of the Soul' (Christian Fellowship Publishing. Reprint 1972). On page 71, under the sub-heading Joy' he states, "A great number of people desire to have joy in their feeling. The so-called holy laugh is an extreme case in point. It is taught that if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit he invariably will have this holy laugh. He who claims to have this kind of laughing cannot control himself. Without any reason he will laugh and laugh and laugh as if infected by a certain disease, and will appear to be partially insane".

He continues (slightly abridged), "... in a certain meeting, after the sermon, it was announced that everybody should seek for this holy laugh. All began to beat tables or chairs, jumping and leaping all around, until not long afterwards this so-called holy laughing came. People would merely look at one another and break out laughing. The more they thought about it the funnier it became. They could not contain themselves and kept on laughing. What is this? Can this be the fullness of the Holy Spirit? Can this be His work? No, this is plainly one of the works of the soul".

Then further on page 73, after discussing at length 'error' and then 'missing the mark', he continues, "How do people get this laugh? What procedure do they follow, or what condition must they fulfill? It is nothing but simply the asking to laugh. Are they seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Their lips utter such words as O God, fill me with Your Spirit'. Nevertheless, that is merely a procedure; the aim of asking to be filled with the Spirit is something else than to be so filled. Though they may say so with their mouths, their heart desire is elsewhere. What is the aim? They want to laugh, they want to be joyful. They do not pray, O God, I ask you to fill me with Your Spirit. I do not care for external sensation. If you fill me with Your Spirit, I am satisfied with or without feeling'. Whoever wishes to be filled with God's Spirit ought to assume such an attitude".

So, dear friends (and this is my final word on the subject), beware of the so-called 'new wave of holy laughter', and remember, it's definitely not new!    (Sydney, January 1996)

(The following article is abridged from New Life Christian Newspaper, Vol 58 No 29, December 21, 1995,  Melbourne, Australia)

Vineyard Movement Ousts Toronto... by Dan Wooding

The Church whose ecstatic worship style became known worldwide as the `Toronto Blessing' has been ousted by its parent denomination in Anaheim, California (USA), in a split that is certain to send shock waves throughout many Churches in the UK and around the world. Pastor John Arnott, pastor of the Airport Vineyard Fellowship in Toronto, Canada, told Larry B. Stammer, Religion Writer of the "Los Angeles Times", that he had been told earlier this month by the Association of Vineyard Fellowships that his 1000-member congregation had gone "over the edge" by encouraging worshippers to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that they would bark like dogs, swoon on the floor and laugh uncontrollably during services.

Arnott said in an interview with the "LA Times". "We were told we were out". Stammer said, "The major disagreement, the denomination said, is over Arnott's emphasis on Christians being dramatically filled by the Holy Spirit before they are adequately equipped to evangelise, start new congregations and minister to the poor and others". Apparently, as long as a year ago, John Wimber, leader and founder of the Association of Vineyard Fellowships, called a special board meeting in Anaheim to review Arnott's ministry. The Vineyard group of Churches sprang out of the Calvary Chapel movement that was led by Chuck Smith, and based in Costa Mesa, California. This church was the birthplace of the "Jesus People" movement in the 70s and the Church that started Maranatha Music and modern praise music.

John Wimber was initially a Calvary Chapel pastor but he and Chuck Smith parted ways on the public manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The name Vineyard was already the name of one of the Calvary Chapel affiliated churches - the one that Bob Dylan had once attended - and when that pastor, Ken Gulliksen, went with Wimber, he allowed that name to be used for this new group. Gulliksen has since parted ways with Wimber and started his own church in Los Angles.                               (End quote-emphasis mine, Ed.)

Please note that there are more exhaustive sites on this subject if you need to go more deeply - use your search engines and input 'Religion Holy Laughter' or 'Religion Totonto Blessing'

Be prepared to come across sites that promote it - if you do then take note of the poor Scriptural usage to justify same.