Is the 'Toronto Thing'
of the Holy Spirit?
The "Toronto Blessing" Exposed
by an Unknown Pentecostal Writer
"British Airways flight 092 took off from Toronto Airport on Thursday evening just as the Holy Spirit was landing on a small building 100 yards from the end of the runway." Such was the announcement given to millions worldwide by London's Sunday Telegraph on June 19, 1994. And so began a wave of unprecedented world attention on what is now known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF).
The Source of all the Attention
What is all the fuss about? Not a sermon. Not a revival. Not a city turned upside down for Jesus Christ. In fact, although local businesses are grateful for the latest tourist-attraction-called-a-church, the spiritual effect of the movement on Toronto itself has been modest. The message of the Toronto church to its world audience cannot be nor should it be divorced from the strange manifestations going on there, but it is not the church's message that is attracting the attention. The attraction is the manifestations. Many are claiming that the manifestations are the signs and wonders accompanying a latter day dousing of the Holy Spirit.
The manifestations include: falling down, uncontrolled shaking, hysterical laughter, an assortment of antics from breast-stroking on the floor to lying with the legs pointed upwards, tai-chi-like motions, pretended flying, and animal noises of remarkable variety from barking to roaring and oinking. Over the last two years church leaders from all over the world have visited Toronto to "catch the craze" and bring it back to their congregations. We can now add to the list of antics seen 'round the world: Orgasmic groanings, mock-births complete with "coaches," disrobing, and vomiting have been reported many times in many locations. A "Toronto of the U.S." has risen in Pensacola, Florida. Churches right here in Central New York are actively promoting the "Toronto thing".
Today Christians must face the challenge of figuring out whether or not the strange antics of people in the TACF and similar churches are signs and wonders which prove that the Lord is at work. Many people, including church leaders and Christian celebrities, are claiming that the strange events are evidence of an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. Certainly the Lord can do many things beyond the understanding of human beings. The Bible records many people being confused over different things that the Lord did at one time or another. Jesus Christ Himself was almost totally misunderstood in His time. Could the manifestations be signs and wonders from the Holy Spirit? Does the Lord want us to remain in the dark about it?
Answers in the Book of Acts
Fortunately for us, there were several times when the First Century churches faced decisions over whether certain manifestations proved that the Lord was at work. Their methods of evaluation and conclusions are recorded for us in the book of Acts. We need help, and as always, the Word of God has the answers! Acts chapter 15 contains the account of an incident in which Paul and Barnabas came before the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Church and told of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit witnessed among the Gentiles who believed the Gospel. The testimony was given as evidence that non-Jewish people were, in fact, experiencing salvation. Until the ministry of Paul, the churches had focused almost exclusively on Jews. The evidence being put forth was "miracles and wonders." (Acts 15:12) After all, how were Paul and Barnabas to know that the Holy Spirit was at work in the Gentiles if there was not some manifestation of the gift, some "wonder"? Peter also stood up and proclaimed how the Lord had confirmed His work: "...giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them." (vs. 8-9, emphasis added) The reasoning of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter could be paraphrased: "They are exhibiting the same manifestations that we have experienced." Promoters of the Toronto craze are trying to do the same thing. However, one critical thing in the account in Acts was that the "wonders" were the same wonders that had already been seen among the Jewish Christians.
This publication will refer to those wonders which prove the genuine working of the Holy Spirit as like-manifestations because they are the same wonders experienced by the First Century Church.
Also at the council at Jerusalem, the apostle James referred to what Peter had testified in Acts 15:7-11 and at an earlier occasion in Acts chapter 11. James used Peter's testimony as reasonable evidence in support of Paul's and Barnabas's testimony. Peter had testified specifically of the conversion of Cornelius which was accompanied by Gentiles speaking in tongues, something the Jewish Christians had until then witnessed only among themselves. The Cornelius account is found in Acts chapter 10. Acts 10:45-46 says the Jewish believers "were astonished... because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God." In this case, the manifestation of the Spirit was specifically identified as the gift of tongues. It was the same manifestation that was evident amongst the Jews who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It was the same manifestation for which Peter gave evidence from the book of Joel in Acts 2:16-21. In agreement with Paul and Barnabas, Peter had cited the like-manifestations of the Gentiles as evidence of the Spirit's work.
It will help us to look more closely at the first time Peter gave his testimony about the work of the Holy Spirit. Acts 11:16-17 tells of Peter's words: "Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, 'John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?"
Peter's conduct in Acts 11 is exemplary. He not only testifies of his vision and his experience, he also measures his experience against one of the established precedents of Christianity as demonstrated on the day of Pentecost. He counted on the fact that the Holy Spirit was granting to Cornelius and his family a like-gift or a like-manifestation, in this case, speaking in tongues. One cannot imagine Peter endorsing any gift that was not a like-manifestation. Most important of all, he leaned on the Word of the Lord, in this case, the words of Christ Himself, as the ultimate validation of the Spirit's work.
So, in the Jerusalem councils as described in Acts 11 and 15, the Bible puts forth the precedent that speaking in tongues, though not conclusive by itself, can be offered as evidence that the Spirit of the Lord is at work. Since the gift of tongues was used as evidence of a move of the Spirit because it was a like-manifestation, we should conclude that the manifestations that do not match the manifestations already seen in the Word of God, cannot be used as evidence of the Spirit's work.
Still, even a like-manifestation, by itself, is not to be considered irrefutable proof that the Spirit of the Lord was at work. Looking again at Acts 15:15, the Jerusalem the apostle James settled the issue by pointing to the Script- ures as the ultimate authority, and announced his official judgment that the events in question were the work of the Spirit and that the testimonies of the men were indeed correct. Jesus Christ was indeed reaching out to the Gentiles. He was giving non-Jews the opportunity for salvation with all the benefits. James, as Peter had done on the earlier occasion, conducted himself in an exemplary manner. The gauge by which we can discern whether the Holy Spirit is at work was laid out perfectly. James recognized that Paul's and Barnabas's and Peter's testimonies were not simply of any manifestation, but were of like-manifestations. Even more importantly, he recognized that no testimony of men could be accepted as being of the Lord until the Word of God clearly confirmed it. We Christians in Central New York ought to conduct ourselves with the same wisdom and maturity.
The nine gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in I Corinthians 12:7-11. Most of the manifestations in the Toronto craze, certainly those attracting the people to these churches, are not recorded in these Scriptures or elsewhere in the Bible as valid manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, those who are promoting the Toronto craze are not behaving themselves as responsible leaders of the body of Christ. Perhaps, being unfamiliar with the precedents in the book of Acts, they are satisfied with something less than like- manifestations. They are not authenticating with the written Word of God the testimonies of people that are claiming a move of the Holy Spirit. Responsible Christians will refuse to accept the Toronto thing as being a move of the Holy Spirit.
The Azusa Street Revival
Promoters of the Toronto thing say it is a "third wave" of the Spirit following historically The Great Awakening and the Azusa Street Revival. We won't deal with The Great Awakening in this publication, but anyone who has read Stanley H. Frodsham's With Signs Following knows what happened during the Azusa Street Revival. The baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues had been a nearly forgotten part of the Christian experience in the early part of the Twentieth Century. But a handful of Christians in California were filled with faith in the Word of the Lord. In 1906, they gathered in a home at 214 N. Bonnie Brae St. in Los Angeles, and began to pray for the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. They wanted what the one hundred twenty Christians received on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem almost 1900 years prior. They believed that if Christ had commanded His dear followers to wait in Jerusalem until they would receive dynamic power from the Holy Spirit, then the command was for them, too. They believed the Lord for the experience of Mark 16:17-18: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
The Lord honored the group's faith with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. One by one the group was swept up in the grace of the Lord and seven of them began speaking with tongues as the Bible describes:
"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4)
"For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, 'This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing...' " (Isaiah 28:11-12) "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:28-29)
As the revival meeting continued day and night, people, many of whom were not Christians, began to gather in and around the house. Non-Christians heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and were amazed at the evidence of spiritual power they saw. As Christians became filled and non-Christians made commitments to Christ, the meeting was moved to a nearby vacant church on Azusa Street. Many times immigrants who did not know a word of English heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their native languages, spoken by those who had never spoken those languages before! These were indeed wonders, like-manifestations, as those recorded in the Bible in Acts 2:7-8.
The news of the Azusa Street Revival spread across the country and around the world. People received faith from the testimonies of the group in Los Angeles, and they, too, began to believe the Word of God for an endowment of grace. In one way or another, most of us who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit today, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, owe some measure of thanks to the faith of the Azusa Street Christians. In fact, the Assemblies of God denomination owes its start to Azusa Street.
Although both movements have gained world-wide recognition as moves of the Holy Spirit, the Azusa Street Revival and the Toronto thing are worlds apart. Following the examples in the book of Acts we can judge the Azusa revival was true because (1) the manifestation were like-manifestations, (2) the testimonies were confirmed by the written Word of God. The most important thing for us to recognize is that the emphasis of the movement was in turning people's attention, not to the Holy Spirit, but to the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be more on this distinction in the following section.
The Azusa Street Revival's Biblical foundation
Not only can we judge in hindsight that the Azusa Street Revival was a work of the Holy Spirit, the participants themselves insisted upon a Scriptural basis for their experience. In With Signs Following there is a chapter entitled "Is This a Scriptural Revival?" The chapter puts forth twelve clear and weighty Scriptural reasons that it was. It is worth summarizing them:
The best proof of all that the Azusa Street Revival was a true move of the Holy Spirit came after the twelve points. Here the defenders of the movement base their judgment on true and Biblical footing:
(1)God Himself foretold the outpouring in Isaiah 28:11; (2)The outpouring matched the outpouring foretold in Joel 2:28 and referred to in Acts 2:16-20; (3) The Lord Jesus Christ promised the experiences in Mark 16:16-18; (4) The outpouring exhibited like-manifestations as did the early church in Acts 2:4 as promised by Christ in Acts 1:5,8; (5) Gentiles in both Caesarea and Ephesus exhibited like-manifestations as recorded in Acts 10:46 and Acts 19:6; (6) The manifestation is described in I Corinthians as given by the Spirit for benefit of the church; (7) Speaking in tongues is defined in I Corinthians 14:2 as speaking to the Lord in a way that no man can understand; (8) He who speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself. I Corinthians 14:4; (9) At the command of Christ, the apostle Paul declared, "I would that ye all spake with tongues." I Corinthians 14:5,37; (10) Apostle Paul thanked God for his speaking in tongues. I Corinthians 14:18; (11) God uses the gift of tongues as a sign to those who do not believe. I Corinthians 14:21-22; (12) Speaking in the gift of tongues is not to be forbidden. I Corinthians 14:39.
The Case of Mrs. Hebden
"But the speaking of tongues has not been the principal feature of this revival. By no means. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been exalted as the One altogether lovely and as the chiefest among ten thousand, yea, as all in all. The first and foremost thing in this outpouring has been the magnifying of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Frodsham, p.272).
Interestingly, With Signs Following does mention Toronto. There is a testimony of a Mrs. Hebden who, with her husband, was used to encourage the revival at an independent mission at 651 Queen St. E. in Toronto. In 1906, Mrs. Hebden prayed to the Lord for greater power. She related that the Lord spoke to her heart about speaking in tongues. She answered the Lord, "No, Lord, not tongues, but power, power!" When she realized that the Holy Spirit was grieved she relented. Then the power of the Lord did come upon her, and she began to speak in an unknown tongue. As He was with Mrs. Hebden, the Lord is surely concerned that our desire for power be in control, within the boundaries of His Word. Thankfully, Mrs. Hebden had enough grounding in the written Word of God to have her soulish, prideful desire put in its place that night.
One of the most troubling things about the current Toronto movement is that it often seems like an obsession with power beyond the boundaries of God's Word. Biblical like-manifestations are not the standard. The Toronto story of the 1990's is like Mrs. Hebden's with a different ending. In fact TACF Pastor John Arnott is often recorded as discouraging like-manifestations. For instance:
The Case of Mick Brown
"Another thing that hinders is people pray all the time. Praying in English or even praying in tongues. Mention the Holy Spirit and they start praying in tongues, you know. Our experience is that you will hinder substantially your ability to receive. And so I say to people, 'Look, don't pray...' " (February 14, 1995)
The testimony of Mick Brown can shed more light on what is going on in Toronto and similar churches. His testimony is covered in his own article "Unzipper Heaven, Lord / Ha-ha, Ho-ho, He-he" in the Telegraph magazine and in an extensive interview with him in Evangelicals Now. Brown is not a Christian, but he was "zapped" by a touch from TACF pastor John Arnott. In his own words, Brown remembers, "I hit the floor -- I swear this is the truth -- laughing like a drain." After the experience, Brown was no more interested in belief in or consecration to the Lord Jesus Christ than he was before the experience. In fact, he claimed the experience was very similar to one he had in India at the hand of a religious leader Mother Meera. The Evangelicals Now article concluded that the Toronto experience is a non-Christian experience.
The Toronto Craze's Manifestations Do Have a Match
The testimony of Mick Brown leads us to search for Toronto-type manifestations elsewhere. Indeed, there are many! The word 'lunatic' comes from the Latin word for moon, and was used to describe mystics who would howl at the moon. A medieval mystic named Margery Kempe would kneel at the bodily remains of a dead saint and when a religious mood would overcome her, she would utter a combination roar and scream. Islamic mystics, called dervishes, practice ecstatic and hypnotic trances and howling. In India there is a another guru besides Mick Brown's Mother Meera. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who advocates total sexual license, demands absolute obedience from his followers:
"Sure! I am the greatest egoist you can ever find. My ego is so vast that you are all included in it...trees and animals and rocks are included...stars and the moon and the sun...past, present, and future are included in it. Hence I say to you, 'Surrender to me' " (Hunt. The Cult Explosion, p. 60-61).
Rajneesh would daily go into trances, falling down and entering into super-conscious bliss, having visions, and "out-of-body" experiences. Rajneesh would transfer his "guru's grace" to his followers by a touch or sometimes by a wave of the hand. The transfer would be accompanied by uncontrolled laughter or weeping, convulsions, roaring, barking, hissing and the like. His followers would find themselves involuntarily hyper-ventilating to cool off.
What are we left to conclude? The Toronto-type manifestations are not like those in the Bible. They don't have support in the written Word of God. The manifestations are not pointing people to Jesus Christ. They can be matched to the manifestations of pagan religion. Are they of the devil? Do not give the devil so much credit, yet. Soul-power, not Holy Spirit-power accounts for a lot of what's going on. Much is mass hysteria. Much is desperation.
Self-gratification is the Name of the Game
Think of this: Someone goes to a church service excited and in anticipation about a supplement to his waning Christian experience. He has heard this is the place where the Spirit is moving. While he is there, he hears testimonies of people who say they were touched by the Lord during weird physical manifestations. The crowd accepts it. In fact, they love it. People laugh and applaud. Some start to "manifest" during the testimonies.
No one is really thinking about whether the antics are Biblical. After all, the man promoting the thing is a pastor, and he ought to know. Then people clear away the chairs so our visitor and the rest of the crowd can have just such an experience, called "soaking in the Spirit" or "carpet time". Now the man does not feel free to resist. He believes that if he does not exhibit the manifestations, he will not get his blessing. Church staff are saying not to worry about the manifestations, but it is far too late for that. So what comes first, the manifestation or the blessing? He does not care. He wants the manifestation. Caught up in the moment, he falls to the floor, rolls around, laughs with the rest. Maybe he is zealous, and he roars or barks or gets crazier yet. He stopped thinking about the Bible long ago. He wanted the manifestations.
Someone asks him the next day how it was. He has to say it was great. He cannot say, after acting insane, that it was terrible, unfulfilling, stupid, a waste of time. He cannot even say that to himself. If he can get someone else's approval, or better yet, if he can get someone else to join in, he feels justified.
No thought for the Biblical. Nothing Christ-like or spiritual about it. Never anything even approaching the denial of self that Christ requires of all His followers. A thoroughly self-centered experience. Are the manifestations in and of themselves demonic? Most assuredly sometimes. Is the flesh manifesting? Sometimes. What is most of it? Soul. Self. Pride. Emotion. Ego. Thrill-seeking. And it is enormously dangerous because it pushes Jesus Christ and the Word of God out of the way.
It would be much easier to resist this scene if it all happened just the way described. In reality, the name of the Lord is woven through the experience. People do say "Hallelujah!" or "Praise the Lord!" Scriptures may be read. There may be an invitation for salvation. But that does not change the essential nature of the experience. The center of it all is not Christ. Rather, it is essentially selfish. The Christian terminology or images or ceremonies that are invoked throughout the emphasis on the un-Biblical manifestations are only a thin skin of "Christianity" over an essentially selfish experience. So then we are talking about the demonic after all, for who would love better than to get Christ and His Word out of the way than the devil himself? The manifestations are largely soulish, but the plan behind it is demonic. But, beloved, we should not despair and be left to wonder what in this life is not essentially selfish and in the sway of the wicked one. The answer is all we will ever need: only Christ.
The Work of the Holy Spirit According to the Bible
The trouble with a disturbing testimony like Mick Brown's, but more so, the major emphasis of the Toronto craze, is that it does not exhibit the "Spirit of the Holy Spirit." In other words, the movement does not respect the Bible's description of the Holy Spirit's work. Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke at length about the Holy Spirit:
John 15:26-27... "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning."
John 16:8-9... "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me."
John 16:13-14... "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you."
In the above Scriptures, Jesus Christ summarizes the work of the Holy Spirit as having three missions in this world:
(1) Convicting people of their sin.
This is the blessing in disguise. Conviction of our sin is never delightful, but it's like the old proverb, "Seeing the problem is half-way to fixing it." The Holy Spirit is the penetrating light of truth, like a mirror, which shows us how we look in our sinful state.
(2) Pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
After showing us our sin, the Holy Spirit does not leave us hopeless. He points us to the Saviour. In this regard, the Holy Spirit is selfless. John 16:13 even goes so far as to say He will not speak of Himself. The Greek word for "not" is ou meaning "absolute negation". The Holy Spirit absolutely refuses to turn the attention upon Himself. It's not His job. He puts all the attention on Jesus Christ. The spirit that puts attention on the spirit is not the Holy Spirit.
(3) Guiding people into the truth.
The Holy Spirit is not done when we come to Christ for the first time. He works with our minds, enlightening us, helping us to see and understand the world around us from a Biblical perspective. The Word of God and the Spirit of God will always agree. The Holy Spirit will help us to see the application of the Bible to our own personal circumstances, giving us wisdom and ability to obey. Many a Christian will testify that hearing from the Lord through the quickening of His Word by the Spirit can be one of the most thrilling experiences in life on this earth. However, the Holy Spirit's job is not to zap us, gratify us or give us pleasure. The thought that the Holy Spirit exists to gratify us cheapens our whole sense of the Godhead. It elevates us in our own minds to a self-centered and heretical supremacy over the Godhead.
The church leaders of the First Century Church, as recorded in the book of Acts, gave great respect to the goals of the Holy Spirit as described by the Lord Jesus Christ. They would be entirely uncomfortable and remiss if people were not being convicted of their sin and pointed to the Saviour. Likewise, the leaders of the Azusa Street Revival stressed that the major focus of the movement was on the simple truths of the Bible, salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and a holy life. Such is not the case in the Toronto movement. In fact, even the TACF's mother organization, the Vineyard movement, though rather liberal itself in its interpretation of the Bible, has severed its ties with the TACF because of TACF's lack of sound Scriptural emphasis. Others have commented on the lack of Biblical and Christological emphasis in the movement. One is the computer analysis of Bob Hunter on three months of preaching at TACF: he discovered 383 references to the Spirit but only 143 references to Jesus Christ. Do the numbers suggest the work of a Spirit who refuses to speak of Himself?
To conclude, it is certainly not our desire to be the spoilers when it comes to people who are filled with excitement and anticipation towards serving our Lord Jesus Christ. We whole-heartedly embrace the apostle's injunction: "Quench not the Spirit." (I Thessalonians 5:19) However, we also realize there is a need for us all to serve the Lord within the boundaries of well-established Biblical doctrine. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (self- control). Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. On the other hand, all who claim to minister for Christ must take care how they do it. According to Philippians 2:12, every Christian must "work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling." Not only is taking an un-Biblical direction a waste of energy, it is also dangerous. We are very concerned that people not be torn, disillusioned or discouraged through misleading. We cannot sit by when we foresee people being repulsed from the kingdom of the Lord or quitting the faith because of un-Biblical manifestations in our community.
by the Webmaster
This article is not a product of the New Covenant Church of God and does not reflect the Church's position as far as tongue-speaking and the Azuza revival are concerned. Whilst we accept parts of the Azusa Street Revival as being a genuine revival of the Holy Spirit (viz. the supernatural ability of speak in foreign languages), New Covenant Christians reject the blabbering spoken generally by adherants of the charismatic movement.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 20 February 1998
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