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By Gino Geraci

Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel, South Denver


Christianity is no stranger to controversy. Christians do not always agree on all subjects. Issues of freedom, and personal preference in worship, style and order of church services are as varied as individual Christians. The issue of differences of opinion in matters of practice has provided much grist for the mill. What do we do when honest differences arise in the body of Christ? I think part of the beauty of God's design is unity in the midst of diversity. Unity in Christ is not always unity in opinion, rather it is unity in relationship (see Romans 15:5-7). Unity in the body is a fact. Christ's Body is not divided. All Christians are a part of the Body of Christ. That is the point Paul makes in Ephesians 4:3-4 when he says "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope--when you were called..", Differences of opinion should call us to the table of God's Word an! d the fellowship that is in Jesus Christ. Much controversy has ,,been generated of late by a Movement called "Holy Laughter/Toronto Blessing". Those differences should be evaluated in 'light' of God's Word.

"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers..." (2 Tim. 3:1-2). Paul warned his young companion in the faith to watch out! Not everyone and everything is as it seems. He warns that so-called believers would have" .a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Tim. 3:5). False teachers and false doctrine are nothing new to the Church of Jesus Christ. Are we to assume that every "new" wind that blows into the church is a fresh move of God? A number of recent newspaper articles, magazine articles and even television have drawn attention to a strange phenomena that has been called "Holy Laughter" or the "Toronto Blessing" by different people. Though separated by 1900 plus years, we still do well to heed the compassionate plea of the beloved Apostle John: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1 ).

The Revival of 1994?

The "Holy Laughter" Movement, and the seemingly related phenomenon known in some circles as the "Toronto Blessing", have raised a number of issues. Should we view this as a special blessing by the Holy Spirit to renew, revive and refresh the church of Jesus Christ? How are we to determine if it is a "move" of God? Should Christians seek out and give themselves to participation in this "movement"? What criteria are we to use to discern or determine its value? What Biblical or historical evidences can we examine to see if the current "Movement", the phenomena and the teachings line up with historical moves of the Spirit, revival or orthodoxy?

This report is intended to give a brief overview of Holy Laughter, The Toronto Blessing and explore whether there are dangers to those who participate in the Movement. We should all make decisions based on as much information as we can glean from credible sources. I challenge the reader to examine all the issues in light of God's Word, including all statements included in this report.

Some may be unfamiliar with Rodney Howard-Browne or the Toronto Airport Vineyard, or some of the other "key" players in the whole "Holy Laughter" or "Toronto Blessing" (BL or TB) phenomena. For another in- depth evaluation and discussion of the movement I suggest you read the article "Toronto Blessing" Stirs Worldwide Controversy, Rocks Vineyard Movement (News Watch page 5) in Christian Research Journal (Winter 1995).

A Brief History

Most people look to Rodney Howard-Browne as the catalyst of the burgeoning laughter movement. He came to the United States from South Africa, where he had been associated with a Rhema Church which is affiliated with Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. There is evidence that Howard-Browne has been influenced by the teachings of the Word-Faith Movement, of which Hagin and Copeland are prime exponents. His participation in the Word-Faith Movement in South Africa was pioneered by disciples of Hagin and Copeland. Both men have had Howard-Brown at their churches for "Holy Laughter meetings". In an article by Richard M. Riss (unpublished Internet) entitled "A History of the Revival of 1994", Mr. Riss documents a series of meetings and encounters between Rodney Howard-Browne and other so called "Word-Faith" teachers.

An article in Charisma magazine (August, 1994) traces Howard Browne's first major impact to Pastor Karl Strader and Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland, Florida. The article bills him as the "Holy Ghost bartender", and Howard-Browne says "I just serve the new wine and invite them to drink" (ibid. p.22).

According to Howard-Browne's own testimony he was saved at the age of five and filled with the Holy Ghost at the age of eight. Being "saved" and "filled with the Holy Spirit" would seem to indicate the normative experience of every Christian. But is there something that lies beyond salvation and sanctification for the believer? Does one need "new wine" served up by a "Holy Ghost bartender" for those periods of occasional dryness? The article credits Browne's current success with an encounter he had in 1979 when he spent hours praying for a deeper experience with God. Most people desire a deeper walk and fellowship with God. But does the Bible teach that beyond salvation and sanctification there is a deeper experience that Christians should strive for?

The apostles John and Paul both indicate experiences with God of surpassing depth and richness, from seeing the heavens opened to being 'caught up into the third heaven.' Paul urged all believers to "eagerly desire the greater gifts", especially that they might prophesy, or tell forth the truth of God. But neither Paul nor John held their own experience to be normative for the Church. Neither urged Christians to seek the personal, subjective experience that they had had. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul indicates that Tongues is a minor gift and a personal, rather than corporate, experience, and that we should seek rather to edify the Body by that which is intelligible. All such "experiences" are just that, "experiences", personal and subjective. Since there is no Biblical "experience" beyond salvation and sanctification which is normative for all believers, all other "spiritual experiences" are to be in the background of our corporate expression. The attitude we find expressed by the apostles concerning such experiences is one of humility and submission to the common good. The article, however, quotes Howard-Browne as saying, "either You come down here and touch me, or I will come up there and touch you

In all fairness to Howard-Browne, I believe he meant, "I'm going to die if I don't get a touch from God." Although I can sympathize with his desire to receive a touch from God, such an "unscriptural" prayer calls into question the subsequent experience as a work of the Holy Spirit of God. At the core of Howard-Browne's prayer is the selfish human declaration "not Thy will but my will be done". Why should we assume that the manifestation was from God? Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also received an "experience" from a supernatural source because, he felt, the denominations of his day were apostate. The prayer of Howard Browne seems to be consistent with the whole of the Word-Faith teaching, in which bossing God around is standard fare. Indeed, Kenneth Hagin has written a pamphlet entitled "You Can Write Your Own Ticket With God". Hank Hanegraaff, in his book "Christianity in Crises", documents the dangers, pitfalls and inconsistencies in the "Word-Faith" camp.

Howard-Browne claims that his "whole body felt like it was on fire. He began to laugh uncontrollably. Then he wept and began to speak in tongues, "1 was plugged into heaven's electric supply; he later wrote in his book The Touch of God.-"And since then my desire has been to go and plug other people in" ( Charisma, August 1994). None of these manifestations are either proof or fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22,23. In other words, the phenomena are not self-authenticating. In Rodney Howard-Browne's meetings many people are purported to be "slain in the Spirit" and many more heave in uncontrollable laughter. The reader should know that the widespread practice of "slaying in the spirit" is a recent Pentecostal phenomenon that was popularized by the ministry of Kathryn Kuhlman (see Dictionary of Pentecostal Movements in America). People who are "overcome" in some fashion, should not be taken as a "sign" that the Holy Spirit has shown up.

Some Vineyard Churches (Rick Olmstead, Fort Collins Vineyard on a local radio program) insist that Holy Laughter and the Toronto Blessing are not related to one another. Another Vineyard Pastor, James Ryle, has written; "I have never met, seen, nor heard Rodney and therefore have no comment concerning his standing with the Lord. The fact that he is associated with the Vineyard comes by way of a misunderstanding of what is taking place in the Vineyard church in Toronto. Uninformed people have decided that the Laughing Revival and the Toronto Blessing (as it is being called) are one and the same. Nothing could be further from the truth"("It's Enough to Make you Cry, received via fax, on file). Nothing could be further from the truth? Why do the Vineyard and the Howard-Browne camps not want to be confused with one another? Is the origin of the "Toronto Blessing" linked in any way to Rodney Howard-Browne?

According to John Wimber in Vineyard Reflections (May/June 1994), the Holy Spirit has "ebbed and flowed", suggesting periods of blessing and dryness. Characterizing the Holy Spirit as "ebbing and flowing" would seem to suggest that the Holy Spirit is some kind of "force". Those who treat the Holy Spirit like a "force" rather than the third Person of the Trinity run a great risk. The Holy Spirit is a Person we must submit to.

After a bout with cancer in 1993, Wimber said that in October (1993) the Lord had spoken to him 17 times that this would be a season of new beginnings" for the Vineyard churches. He brought this message of new beginnings to a Vineyard Board meeting in November of 1993 at Palm Springs. It was at this meeting that Happy Lehman, Midwest Regional Overseer, told John Arnott and others about Randy Clark (VCF St. Louis), and "how the Holy Spirit had recently, powerfully renewed and refreshed him in a meeting conducted by evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne in Tulsa Oklahoma" (Vineyard Reflections p. 3).

Against his better judgment (according to Randy Clark), he attended a meeting with Howard-Browne in Tulsa. He is alleged to have had some kind of experience in the course of the meeting that "refreshed" him. He took the "blessing" to his church. Clark related how similar things (laughing, falling etc.) were beginning to happen in his church and elsewhere, and how John Arnott invited him to Toronto (Mississauga, actually, just outside of Toronto) to minister in his church. These meetings began on January 20, 1994, and "four days of meetings turned into months of almost nightly meetings in numerous locations in Ontario.

It has since poured out through those who have visited there into similar renewal meetings all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and even Europe" (ibid. p. 3). The evidence would seem to indicate that Rodney Howard-Browne brought the phenomena to Randy Clark, who in turn "passed it on to the Vineyard". The means for 'passing it on' seems to the laying-on of hands, a practice in which the Vineyard and Word-Faith groups, though they may otherwise differ, are united. The biblical practice of "laying on of hands" is not here in dispute. However, the idea that the experience can be communicated, even in part, through the laying on of hands, is.

Why would the Vineyard and the Rodney Howard-Brown group want to differentiate between TB and HL? I believe each has its own distinctive errors in the manifestation of gifts and in theology, but both groups insist that this current phenomenon is a work of God. More cautious Vineyard leaders may say "the jury is out whether these are manifestations from God", yet they continue to allow the "manifestations" in their midst. In their Board Report (Sept./Oct. 1994) they highlight "Admitting '1 don't' know" about an occurrence of a phenomenon will promote more balance in the ongoing development of this renewal than focusing people on it by endorsing everything as a work of God." It is important for us to understand what that means. Does it mean, "we can't tell whether something is of God, so we will just let it happen, let the chips fall where they may, and sort out the theology later? Or does it mean that if it happens that it is not of God that will promote balance? Or ! does it mean that you can't really tell, so it just doesn't matter? The fact that the statement is unclear provides no real instruction on how to proceed with unbiblical manifestations.

The Vineyard Board Report also states "We do not necessarily equate an "experience" as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. For example, one person may have a genuine response to the presence of God which involves shaking and/or falling down. A person standing next to him or her, however, may do the same exact thing out of emotionalism or some other excess. "While there has been some excess in our meetings, questionable manifestations have not been the major part of the renewal, but have attracted a disproportionate amount of attention."

The Vineyard offers no explanation how the Holy Spirit can make you shake and fall, how your emotions can make you shake and fall or how you can tell whether it is the Holy Spirit or the flesh making you shake and fall. They admit to some excesses in their meetings, but again offer no explanation of what constitutes excess. They say that the major part of the renewal has not been the manifestations. Yet observers in Anaheim and Toronto have stated just the opposite. Hank Hanegraaff observed several meetings at the Anaheim Vineyard and reported unbelievable chaos in their special meetings. Dr. James Baverly attended numerous meetings in Toronto and wrote "The manifestations are the focus of much time in the nightly meetings." (Ten Myths About The Toronto Blessing).

In all fairness to the Vineyard, they claim to" ...want to focus on the main/plain issues of Scripture". They further state "This way, people will find their identity in doing Scriptural work, not in experiencing phenomena" (Board Report p.2). Why then don't they evaluate, and reject the phenomena on the basis of Scripture? Their explanation is "We are willing to allow "experiences" to happen without endorsing, encouraging or stimulating them; nor should we seek to "explain" them by inappropriate "proof-texting". Biblical metaphors (similar to those concerning a lion or dove, etc.) do not justify or provide a proof-text for animal behavior".

A "Movement" with no Biblical basis, with phenomena that has no Biblical support, with activities that are not decent or orderly should be dismissed. How can they be willing to "allow" experiences that are indecent, out of order, and possibly demonic? The shepherd has the responsibility to guide as well as guard the sheep. Some Vineyard Pastors have said there is no "theology of manifestations" Such a theology (there is no theology) would provide a frame-work to evaluate manifestations that are allowed or not allowed. Howling, weeping, barking, shaking, twitching, screaming, laughing, and karate-chopping the air seem to serve no rational, or spiritual purpose. By refusing to evaluate practice in light of God's Word does not explain the manifestations, but "decency and order" seem to provide at least a framework from which to work. "Let all things be done decently and in order"(I Corinthians 14:40) must have some real meaning and interpretation and application. To s! imply ignore the text does not further an appropriate position concerning a "theology of manifestations."

One unfortunate consequence of dismissing I Corinthians 14:40, the boundaries of decency and order are blurred, and finally disappear. In atmosphere "where anything goes", anything will go. The Vineyard has yet to address the issue of decency and order that speaks to both the spirit and content of I Corinthians 14:40. They have stated;

"There are some manifestations, that while socially uncomfortable (i.e., they wouldn't seem "decent and in order" in most church contexts today), have biblical precedent" (Vineyard Board Report). They go on and cite Daniel 8:16-18, 27; 10:8-10; Mt. 17:6-7: Rev. 1:17, etc.).

This points to a kind of "double-speak" that has no discernible meaning. On the one hand the Vineyard says there are no Biblical texts that validate the current phenomena, but we shouldn't dismiss the manifestations simply because they are weird. The total chaos that marks the screaming and howling in recent "meetings" is not only 'socially uncomfortable', but indecent and out of order.

Biblical precedent includes a reference to Daniel 8:16-18. In the passage Daniel was having a vision while he was at Shushan in the citadel (verse 2). The reference the Vineyard offers is the interpretation of a dream and vision, given by God to Daniel. He was in a deep sleep with his face to the ground (v.17). What this has to do with decency and order in the context of a church service is not clear. In verse 27 Daniel "fainted and was sick for days" but then he got up and went about the king's business. Again, this verse is not precedent for the more outlandish manifestations being reported in Vineyard meetings. Daniel chapter 10 (vv8-10) finds Daniel alone where an encounter with God results in fatigue and a loss of personal vitality.

Then they make reference to Matthew 17:6-7 where the disciples are witnessing Jesus Christ's transfiguration in a preview of the future kingdom. They "hear the voice of God (v.5) and when they do they fall on their face "greatly afraid" (v.6). Their references have nothing to do with outrageous manifestations, in a church setting, which would validate the manifestations.

In the same Board Report the Vineyard leadership claims; While we listen to our critics and learn from them, we do not want to be governed by them. If they can prove to us by sound exegesis and logic that we are wrong, we will change. By the nature of our movement (renewal of the things of the Spirit) we have always had and will always have critics; let's interact with them as godly men and women without becoming reactionary, bitter, unteachable, or controlled by them" (p.2).

Praise God! If that is true, we must encourage the Vineyard Leaders and Vineyard participants, through sound exegesis and logic that they are wrong! The "change" they speak of, hopefully is change in their activity. Brothers of good conscience can disagree on style and content in matters of worship. The real issue concerns unbiblical manifestations, practices and teachings which defy Biblical support. historical support, or rational support.

Marvellous Manifestations

I have not personally witnessed or participated in TB or HL. Without first hand experience am I qualified to write on the subject? Even though I have never witnessed or participated in the phenomena, I have read hundreds of pages from participants who both endorse and repudiate the manifestations. I have listened to audio tapes of the services. Vineyard Leaders accuse radio broadcasts of taking exerpts "out of context" that are not indicative of the service or ministry time. I would disagree. A typical description was recently found in CRI's latest journal (Winter 1995). "Some weep uncontrollably. Some laugh hysterically. Some topple over or crumple silently to the floor, while others jerk, twitch, kneel drunkenly, karate-chop the air, scream, sway, double over with abdominal spasms, roar or bark".

Even those who support the Movement, do not deny that the manifestations are "bizarre". One Vineyard Pastor told me, "There is no theology of manifestations". Does that mean anything goes? I would dispute that clucking like a chicken, barking like a dog, or howling like a wolf qualify as manifestations of a mighty move of the Holy Spirit. But are these signs and wonders from the Lord? Are they manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a new and exciting move of God? Are they the result of mass hysteria, autosuggestion (as Hank Hanegraaff suggests) or a genuine supernatural presence (like demons)? Tapes played on the Bible Answer Man Broadcast (popular CRI radio program) send chills up the spine. Instead of joyous celebration, one hears nightmarish screams of hundreds of people experiencing TB or HL. No wonder Vineyard proponents are concerned about their being aired on the radio. The average person, tuning in for the first time is "horrified". Decency a! nd order should not generate feelings of horror for the outsider looking in.

The Vineyard's official position states "It has also proven unhelpful to describe vocal sounds as 'animal noises' (lions, chickens, dogs, etc.). In most cases, the people making the sounds are, in fact, not intentionally imitating animals, and therefore, should not be labeled as such" (Board Report Sept./ Oct. 1994; p.2).

Let's examine that statement carefully. Does it make sense? Though they are making sounds that sound like animals, they "should not be labeled" as making animal sounds, because they don't really mean that?!!! Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:32-33 "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints". Are the spirits of the prophets subject to the prophets? Yes or No? If they are, then how are they "...(un)intentionally imitating animals? The Vineyard might state "but these are not prophets, these are people who are receiving a visit from the Holy Spirit." A visit from the Holy Spirit that results in howling, screaming, and roaring that is involuntary? How can that be, when the fruit of the Holy Spirit is "self-control"? Are they out of control? If they are out of control, how can it be the Holy Spirit? It walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, but please don't say it! sounds like a duck, because duck sounds are not being made on purpose! The Scriptures make it clear that the Vineyard is no exception to the rule. The rules apply to "all the churches of the saints". Just because they have an emphasis on "Holy Spirit" renewal does not exempt them from Biblical guidelines.

The fine scholar Gordon D. Fee writing in God's Empowering Presence makes reference to I Corinthians 14:32-33. He writes; "With these words Paul lifts Christian "inspired speech" out of the category of "ecstasy" as such and offers it as a radically different thing from the mania in the cults. There is no seizure here, no loss of control; the speaker is neither frenzied or a babbler."

Those who embrace TB or HL will tell you that the manifestations are secondary. What is really important is the fruit. There is no real harm in roaring, barking, laughing, being 'glued in the Spirit', or 'frozen in the Spirit'. Where do you draw the line? How about having 'out of the body' or 'levitating in the Spirit' experiences? When you remove the restraints, anything can happen, and in an atmosphere where anything can happen, anything will happen.

Dr. James Baverley, a Baptist minister and professor at Ontario Theological Seminary has been studying the Vineyard for more than four years. In a one page fact sheet entitled Ten Myths About The Toronto Blessing he draws special attention to this issue. Myth # 5 states "Manifestations are secondary; there is no harm in roaring, barking and falling down". He goes on to say; "Vineyard leaders say constantly that the manifestations are secondary, but the actual emphasis given to them suggests that leaders are mistaken. The manifestations are the focus of much time in the nightly meetings. They are the subject of endless debate and media attention. Vineyard apologists work overtime defending them. The possible harm in the manifestations are subtle ...... An anti-intellectual attitude permeates the promotion of the manifestations." People who do not bark, scream, yell, or have a special chill go up there spine, are they "receiving" the Spirit? Are you "in the move of th! e Spirit" if you don't "feel" different?

What is the harm? If something really is happening, if there is a "power" that is not the excess of over-zealous charismatics, but "real" power of a supernatural kind, is there danger? You bet your life (or, perhaps, better, 'don't bet your soul!'). Can the TB or HL phenomena be an invitation to occultic or demonic practices? The Vineyard response is "no way!" They would say, "If you ask for bread will your heavenly Father give you a stone?" John Sandford has written, "Be alert to the touch of God--and let go. One of the major things God is accomplishing is the breaking of our fleshly controls that block Him. Trust! Don't be afraid--He will not give you a scorpion for an egg or a stone rather than true bread. There will be enough time later for testing--fruits take a while to appear, and He can rescue us from sidetracks, as He has me so many times" (Elijah House News p. 2). Should we experience now and test later? I don't think so. The Bible says "test the spir! its", the implication is that you test before you taste. The fruit that the Vineyard, The Toronto Blessing and the Rodney Howard-Browne movements are claiming may be poisoned.

Their response is, "wait a minute, we are all Christians here! Why under the invitation to the Holy Spirit would a demonic spirit show up? These manifestations are the product of the Holy Spirit!" Are they really? Some would admit that certain charismatic groups and certain teachers (Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne) do have the ability to work the crowd. Perhaps some of the phenomena is due to suggestion. Shaking, barking, and laughing are not necessarily the result of the supernatural. However, losing control, being glued to the floor, crying and sobbing and screaming for hours on end. may indicate something demonic. Proponents and critics alike unite in asserting that "something" is happening that goes beyond suggestion. The real question we must ask is what is the "source" of the phenomena"? What spirit is bringing forth the "prophecies" and "words" and extra-biblical "revelations"?

When a person sings, laughs, prays, chants or cries for hours on end, there is the possibility of entering into an altered state of consciousness. What do I mean by altered state of consciousness? I mean a state in which your normal conscious faculties are subject to outside suggestion or where you may even be subject to demonic influence. Some people, like Tricia Tillin in Banner Ministries Newsletter, are suggesting that the "manifestations" are not limited to Christian people who attend the meetings but that unbelievers are "soaked" in the same spirit with the same manifestations. How is it that this "move" of God results in the same manifestations, to believers and unbelievers alike? The Holy Spirit "manifests" apart from the gospel, apart from repentance, apart from the accepting of Christ? Could it be that this is not the Holy Spirit, but a counterfeit spirit?

The Same Manifestations in the World of the Occult?

The SCP Newsletter has an excellent article by Warren Smith and a side bar article by Danny Aguirre, dealing with the subject of HL and TB. In Mr. Aguirre's side bar article he gives "Some examples of Holy Laughter in other religions" (S C P Newsletter, Vol. 19:2; Fall 1994). Examples include kundalini energy, described by New Agers as the coiled serpent in the base of the spine, linked to sexual energy and spiritual healings. Mr. Aguirre quotes Christina and Stanislav Groof's description of New Agers who experience Kundalini power. "(T)hey often emit various involuntary sounds (my emphasis see John Wimber's earlier comment in this article), and their bodies move in strange and unexpected patterns. Among the most common manifestations are unmotivated and unnatural laughter or crying, talking tongues and imitating a variety of animal sounds and movements" (page 14). He goes on and lists famous gurus and teachers who engage in the exact same manifestations described by T! B and HL victims. The list includes Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh who helped develop and spread the use of tantric (yoga) sex and even wrote a book entitled Dance Your Way to God: "....just be joyful. God is not serious. .this world cannot fit with a theological god. .so let this be your constant reminder---that you have to dance your way to God, to laugh your way to God" (p.229) (quoted from article ibid p.14).

Other luminaries include Ramakrishna, Swami Baba Muktananda, the African Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari, and Qigong (ancient Chinese practice). This is interesting because Yan Xin, a Chinese Qigong master, known to a billion people in China, gave a talk in San Francisco in 1991. 1700 devotees showed up and displayed the same "manifestations" typical in a Rodney Howard-Browne meeting (laughing/tongues) or the Toronto Vineyard (laughing, barking, roaring dancing etc).

"Not fair" you may say. "That is an unfair presentation. They preach the gospel. People are saved and healed. The gospel preached by Rodney Howard-Browne and the Vineyard churches are far different than the spooky services of Far eastern gurus and mystics." But what are they teaching? What prophecies have been spoken? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ being blended with a strange mixture of "Word Faith teaching (a la Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Marilyn Hickey), and the heresy that was rejected in the 1960's by the Pentecostal churches (the Assemblies of God) concerning "New Order of the Latter Rain"? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached? Is there a call to "repentance from sin" and of faith towards Jesus Christ? Or is there a combination of orthodox Christianity and "new revelation ... never heard anywhere else"?


The Vineyard's official position states "we want to avoid linking the present work of the Spirit to any precise eschatological scenario (e.g. Hal Lindsey or the Latter Rain Movement etc), It would probably be wiser to maintain the loose pre-millennial views held by the vast majority, but not all--namely, that we have been in the "last days" since Pentecost and we don't know when the precise last moments of time are. Consequently, we don't know if this current renewal is "the last big one" or not" (BOARD REPORT p,2).

They may not "want" to link the so called "work of the Spirit" with the Latter Rain Movement but much of the "teaching" from their pulpits and "prophecies" are Latter Rain. Ed Tarkowski has written an unpublished article in which he outlines some of the interesting and I think aberrant teachings and prophecies emerging from the TB. He quotes Tricia Tillin, of the United Kingdom's Banner Ministries; "Very little is being said about the doctrine, origins, purpose and goal of the 'new move"'. She goes on and states; "It is my belief that most churches and leaders do not know those things. Some leaders, however are promising an escalation into world revival, but are cagey about how the transition will take place. Others hint at 'something being birthed in the church' and 'God is raising up an Army'.

The Latter Rain

So what does the Latter Rain Teach? They were a group of radical Pentecostals who evolved a teaching of extreme congregationalism that included a "restoration" of the "apostles" and "prophets" in these latter days. Some of these "apostles" and "prophets" were alleged to have the ability to "impart" spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands. The restoration of the "prophetic" included hearing from God in ways that did not necessarily include the scripture. Self-styled prophets and apostles created an atmosphere of revival that was more in line with enthusiastic mysticism.

In 1949 the Assemblies of God church rejected the teachings of the Latter Rain movement as being heretical. Six errors were specified:

  1. The overemphasis relative to imparting, identifying, bestowing or confirming of gifts by the laying on of hands and prophecy.
  2. The erroneous teaching that the Church is built on the foundation of present-day apostles and prophets.
  3. The extreme teaching as advocated by the "New Order" regarding the confession of sin to man and deliverance as practised, which claims prerogatives to human agency which belong only to Christ.
  4. The erroneous teaching concerning the imputation of the gift of languages as special equipment for missionary service.
  5. The extreme and unscriptural practice of imparting or imposing personal leadings by the means of gifts of utterance.
  6. Such other wrestings and distortions of Scripture interpretations which are in opposition to teachings and practices generally accepted among us" (General Council minutes, 1949, pp.27-27 quoted in the article The Voices of Dissent p. 325).

Rejected fifty years ago as aberrational and heretical, many of the same manifestations have reemerged in Holy Laughter and The Toronto Blessing Movements.

The current teaching begins with a confusion over the role of Israel and the Church in the end times. The Vineyard board does not want any eschatological distinctive, but the Bible does speak to the issue of the return of Jesus Christ. The Vineyard may not like it, but people involved in the Toronto Blessing and the Holy Laughter movement are prophesying that the church must do certain things to usher in the Second Coming. One speaker in Toronto prophesied that "Like Jerusalem, Toronto will end up being a sending place". In another instance, Master Potter Ministries speaks of a worldwide revival of dry bones starting with the church, basing its prophecy on Ezekiel 37 (which speaks of Israel) and Acts 2 (which has nothing to do with dry bones). Out of the new revelations comes a kind of replacement theology where the church is Israel and Israel is the church. Do the promises of Israel belong to the church? Is the church Israel? Different people hold different positi! ons, but I think it clear that the church is not Israel.

Many of the current prophecies refer to "Sarah's child" According to Master Potter Ministries; "God is strategically stirring the nations and changing governments of the world and the church. .Just as My Finger is moving and redefining the Church to prepare you for My Bridegroom". What does that mean? Redefining the church? Does the Biblical revelation no longer fit? Has God changed the meaning of the church?

Problematic "Prophecies"

Morris Cerrullo (American evangelist), while speaking at the 1994 London School of Ministry, stated: " .God has revealed to me revelations. .of His Spirit, of His endtime, so sacred. .You never heard this word preached anywhere. It is Hot, it is sacred, it is Deep. Come away to this place where I poured out My Holy Spirit. I will make you pregnant with My reality. "

New revelations never preached before? There is an old saying. "If it's new, it's not true". Has God left something out of the Bible? Has there been some revelation left unattended?

In an interview with Pat Robertson (June 9, 1994) Judson Cornwall related that Glenn Foster had a night vision in January concerning himself and Cornwall. He saw them both pregnant. Foster said the LORD revealed: "I am now impregnating some of my mature, older ministers with truth. .I'm choosing my older men because I can trust them to carry that truth to full gestation and have the patience to raise it up once it is delivered. .I will bring forth truth that is not now being taught and YOU will be part of it."

A new revelation? Not taught anywhere else? It is not in the Bible? The church is getting ready to "manifest" something never seen? In a Rodney Howard-Browne telecast on TBN May 1994; Wallace Hickey (Marilyn Hickey's husband) said; "The Spirit in this very hour says, Don't think you've seen it all as you go in the Holy Ghost way. God is new and He's a growing person, as anything that is alive. So you don't have to work it up or try in our flesh to strive. Just let God be God in you as a child, as a child be. God would will that the whole of everyone in eternity would be like He is, never old, ever young, growing, a growing thing."

This is classic process theology where God is ever changing and growing. This is not the God of the Bible who is omnipotent, omnipresent and transcendent. This is not the immutable and incorrigible God who does not change. Are these "prophetic" words a departure from classic Christianity? Yes they are!

Another group, the "Endtime Handmaidens", prophesied in October 1994 that "Sarah is a type of the Church. The Church is 'withered', and its womb is dried up in many places, but God is sending revival of joy to awaken and renew the Church so that she can bring forth 'the man-child' of joy, even the army of overcomers who will go forth in the likeness and image of the Lord in these Last days" (taken from Ed Tarkowski, dated 2-9-95 Internet). Ed Tarkowski further states: "the stated purpose of the laughing revival is to bring forth the "man-child" of joy that will subdue the earth. National ministry leaders have now said that God would impregnate, has impregnated, has brought that impregnation to full gestation and has released the "child" into all the nations to bring about God's harvest of souls and His endtime army. But there is no mention in Scripture of such a prophetic utterance or release after the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, "God with us". Nor do! es Scripture speak of a release of any other spirit but the Holy Spirit, sent ONCE AND FOR ALL (emphasis in the original). This new movement is rounded on progressive revelation, "truths" never heard or seen before, a typical mark of the Latter Rain Movement. It's no wonder, then, that "Sarah's child" sounds exactly like the Manifest Sons of God of the Latter Rain doctrines" (quoted extensively from the 2-9-95 letter of Ed Tarkowski). People must not confuse enthusiastic mysticism with past revivals that were marked by the Word of God, repentance, salvation, and empowering by the Holy Spirit.

What Does The Bible Say?

Is this movement, are these manifestations from God? Any doctrine or practice in the Christian community should be marked by two things if they are to be considered 'Biblical".

(1) Is it in the Bible?

(2) Is it normative? What do I mean by 'normative'? Imagine someone came up to and told you that a donkey spoke to him and had a word from the Lord for you. You should be skeptical. You may even ask some serious questions about their mental health. Yet God did use a donkey to speak to someone in the Bible. Because donkey's speaking in the Bible did occur, you cannot automatically reject the possibility. If that same person says; "this is a new move of God! I am calling it the "Talking Donkey Renewal". People will come from all over to "Old Mac Donald's farm" and receive from God. Now God is speaking through the animals!" Then you must reject the statement because it is not normative. God does not speak through animals, his normal way of communicating is through his word. "God who spoke at different times and in different ways has in these last days spoken to us by His own dear Son" (Heb 1:1).

Is Holy Laughter in the Bible? No. No where, at any time, in any period of the church, did they worship in this way as the 'norm'. Has the church been guilty of unbiblical and socially uncomfortable things in the past? Yes. John Wesley had a fourfold test for doctrine and practice when the Scriptures did not plainly speak These four elements were Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

What does the Bible say about Holy Laughter? Nothing. Well meaning but errant apologists have tried to make bizarre correlation's between events in Scripture and the current phenomena, but there is no sound Biblical precedent. Attempts to link laughter (galeo) and Joy (charis) have proven futile. In the N.T. the word for "laughter" (galeo) occurs to describe times of joyous celebration or for scorn. In the N.T. people in Jairus' house laugh at him out of derision (Mt.9:24). Even so weighty a reference as Kittle's New Testament Dictionary places the emphasis on judgment when Jesus pronounces a woe on those who laugh (Luke 6:25) and is also equated with the wealthy who find satisfaction in this age, and when James (4:9) demands that laughter should give place to humility before God (Kittle p.113). Interestingly enough, Kittle relates that the Greeks characterized laughter with the scornful derision of the gods who mocked puny human beings.

Does this mean Christians have no right to laugh? Of course not. Is it possible not to laugh and still be happy? Of course. "Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy" (Ecc. 7:3). "Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief" (Prov.14:13 NIV).

Dave Hunt points out; "Nowhere does Scripture teach that laughter is a sign of a work of God in the heart; or of the infilling of the Holy Spirit; or that it is conducive to holy living. Nor is there any example of anyone producing laughter in others to a godly end" (Berean Call)

Some of the passages that deal with scorn and unbelief include, Gen. 17:17. 18:12-15; 2 Chr. 30:10; Neh. 2:19. The list of scriptures goes on and on, the bottom line being "there is no holy laughter" in the Bible.

What About Tradition, Reason and Experience?

Attempts at linking the phenomena to revivals in the past have also proven unsatisfactory. There are two issues that need to be considered. (1) What is Biblical Revival and (2) what historical revivals claimed the same phenomena?

Charisma magazine quotes Jonathan Edwards, church leader of the Great Awakening in the 1730's: "It was very wonderful to see how a person's affections were sometimes moved--when God did, as it were, suddenly open their eyes and let into their minds a sense of the greatness of His grace. Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter and tears, often at the same time, issuing like a flood, and intermingling a loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forbear crying out with a loud voice"

A1 Dager's Media Spotlight (March 1995--Special Report p.3) has an excellent analysis on the issue of precedent. "One who is convicted of sin may well laugh or cry after he has felt release from the condemnation and control of sin, which comes with confession and repentance. But there is no evidence he will bark like a dog or make other animal noises. These manifestations have historically been attributed to demonic spirits, not to the Holy Spirit".

The first Biblical revival takes place in Genesis 35. After a period of sin and gross conduct on the part of Jacob's family, God initiated a "revival" in chapter 35. God initiates the revival by telling Jacob to return to Betel (the place Jacob first met God). Real revival is often preceded by gross sin, disgrace and abundant fear. But even Vineyard leader John Wimber has publicly stated that he does not think what is taking place is revival. Rather he prefers to call it refreshing. How does one construe such manifestations as 'refreshing'? A simple study of Genesis 35 reveals that revival incorporates, (1) a Word from God (verse 1) a turning from idolatry (2) and a forsaking of all that is displeasing to God (3). There is also a corresponding return to the revealed will or word or promises of God.

In the Media Spotlight Special report, A1 Dager points out that from Rodney Howard-Browne's perspective, the issue of precedence doesn't matter. Quoting Charisma in his article "Finding this laughter in the Second Great Awakening is a non-issue to him. "Whether it was there or not, it's happening right now," he says.

If Howard-Browne doesn't wish to quibble over interpretations of revival history, then why does he bring it up by citing revival history? " .the evangelist cites certain instances of unrestrained hilarity in the history of American religion. The "indescribable joy" described by Charles Finney, he says, was actually laughter. Howard-Browne cites the famous 1801 Cane Ridge Revival in Bourbon County, Kentucky, as a foreshadowing of what he is seeing in 1994".

AI Dager goes on to say "if it's a non-issue, It should not be an issue in attempting to justify holy laughter. Yet it is an issue"

How true! Is there really historical precedent really? We do not have time to do a careful analysis, yet the weight seems to fall squarely on the shoulders of the Holy Laughter Camp to establish historical precedent.

So far so bad. No Biblical support for the phenomena, the teaching or the movement. There is no historical precedent to support the movement. There is no rational support. But there is an abundance of experiential support.

Is it happening across America, Europe and Asia. Are people experiencing something? Yes. But without Biblical, traditional, or historical support, supporters run the risk of inviting us to participate in something that is at best human, and at worse demonic.

Discernment and Correction

Pastor James Ryle (Boulder Valley Vineyard) has written; "There is today a group of people who promote themselves as Biblical purist (sic). (Sic) the faithful remnant who alone preach the Word and who evidently possess the power to judge and criticize anyone who is not like them (emphasis in the original). This is nothing new, as any student of Scripture can attest. It was, in fact, this very kind of people who crucified Jesus Christ. They are scribes and Pharisees, religious and angry, attacking and persecuting anyone who dares to differ from their exclusive views. Here is where the plot thickens. These watchdogs of doctrinal purity--who themselves ironically violate Scripture by their ungodly attitudes, their mean spirited commentary, and their deceitful reporting---have now turned their swords against the Vineyard and its leaders. Why? Since there is no truth to their accusations one must ask why do they accuse? What motivates them to tear down another church? Th! e answer is pride, jealousy, fear, hatred, or ignorance--take your pick. You can be sure one of these factors is at the heart of this present contention."

What does Pastor James Ryle's comments mean? Perhaps through sarcasm he is trying to make a point. Or Pastor James is being deadly serious. He refers to those who "turn their swords" on the Vineyard as liars ("their is no truth to their accusations") or ignorant and as scribes and Pharisees (perhaps because these people "write down" like scribes, and like Pharisees, investigate issues that do not line up with orthodoxy). Those who criticizes the Vineyard are "mean-spirited", and either guilty of "pride, jealousy, fear, hatred, or ignorance" and that we can be sure that "one of these factors is at the heart of the present contention". Pastor James rules out error, discernment, and correction as possible options. Even the mainstream Vineyard Leadership has publicly written that if it can be demonstrated through sound exegesis or logic they will change.

He also speaks to the hearts and motives of those who have written against the Holy Laughter and Toronto Blessing Movements as being "mean spirited". How he is able to "tell", the reader never knows. But he brings up a good point. Do we have the right to judge or criticize? On what basis can we judge? Is it always wrong to judge? Should we judge on the basis of fear of criticism?

Danger in Not Judging

Do Christians ever have the right to "judge"? Jesus said "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matt. 7:1-2).

Does this mean that Jesus is commanding us not to judge one another? The text seems to suggest that are forbidden to engage in unjust criticism. Does the evaluation of a phenomena with no Biblical support, no historical precedent, no rational explanation, occult origins and phenomena that is supported in non Christian religions unjust? You will note that whatever "measure" you use, that same measure will be used to judge you! Do you want to be evaluated Biblically? Those supporters insist that they would like to be dealt with in a way that is Biblical. I support them in their desire to be evaluated using Biblical criteria.

Elsewhere Jesus commands the people to judge righteously. In the gospel of John (7:24), Jesus told the religious leaders of his day to evaluate him on the source and substance of his words and deeds. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment'. You will note that Jesus did not exempt even himself from evaluation. Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees for their eagerness to evaluate him in light of God's Word. He told them "you search the scriptures because in them you think you have life, but they are those which testify of me"(John 5: 39).

What does it mean to "judge with righteous judgment"? Whatever it may mean, it must include what the Apostle later mentioned in IJohn3:7; "Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous". There must some objective standard, some objective measure whereby we can determine truth. The very fact that he commands "let no one deceive you" implies there is such a thing as deception, there is error, there are lies, and Christians are not exempt from being victims of deceit.

Lester Summerall says "The reason I have been in every move of God is because I have never criticized any ministry or work of God". (Charles and Frances Hunter, Holy Laughter p. 103). That is quite a statement. By never criticizing he has managed to be involved in every move of God? There has never been a "false" move which he was able to judge?

AI Dager in Media Spotlight argues that Christians are faced with accusations of Blaspheming The Holy Spirit, Those who criticize or resist the move of God are warned. Dager writes; "The experience- oriented relgionists point to Matthew 12:31-32 to claim that those who attribute to Satan or to the flesh what they believe is the work of the Holy Spirit, has blasphemed against the Holy Spirit.

This is a serious accusation. Those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit are eternally condemned; according to Jesus' own words, they will not be forgiven in this world or the next. This should cause us to be careful in making any assessment of the supernatural (or seemingly supernatural) phenomena. Certainly we must guard our hearts to be sure we are not resisting the grace of God from impure motives" (p.6).

Contrast that with Rodney Howard-Browne who does not care if it is the flesh, or the devil since at least something is happening!

Please consider this. If we are not to judge, then why are there repeated warnings in the scripture to avoid false teachers, false teaching, false signs and false wonders ( Matt.24:23-24; Jn. 5:43; I John 4:3; Rev. 13:6,11)? Why then would Paul command the Romans to "let love be without hypocrisy, Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9). How can we abhor what is evil if we do not reject false doctrine and evil? Doesn't a Christian need to reject what is evil in order to cling to what is good? Is it "evil" to judge when our brothers are engaged in practices that are neither biblical or in keeping with purity and gentleness? If we are not to judge how are we to "bring to light the hidden things of darkness" (I Cor. 4:5)?

What objective measure, what standard can we use? Should our ability to judge be based on the emotions of others? Should our ability to judge be based on the objections of those who wish to engage in practices that are unbiblical and unhealthy? Should their accusations of being mean-spirited, critical and judgmental dissuade our right and responsibility to evaluate practices within the Body of Christ?

Young Christians in the early church took their cue from the Word of God. The Bible provides tests to "test the spirits" to see whether they are from God (I John 4:1). The very command to test the spirits implies that there are spirits that are not of God. These spirits must have some sort of meaningful resemblance to the Holy Spirit to call for some evaluation. The measure or the standard to evaluate truth claims by spirits, prophets, teachers and self-styled evangelists has been and will always be the Word of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Could it be that simple? The Word of God provides the mechanism of correction even for behavior and practices within the church? The Greek word is epanorthosis which means either "restoration", "re-establishment", "correction" or "reformation". You will note in 2 Timothy 3:16 scripture is given for teaching, then reproof, and then epanorthosis, and then for instruction. When we are "off" Biblically we can be put back on course.

By refusing to "judge" we cripple and hinder the church in her growth in Christ. When you "judge" whether or not you will allow your children to drink poison, you are not limiting the child's growth potential, you are insuring there will be growth.

Judge the Fruit

Leaders and proponents are saying "judge the fruit". Jesus said in Matthew 7:18 "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth food fruit". Again the Word of God becomes the only reliable test of "good fruit". John Sandford in his newsletter Elijah House News says "But all things are to be tested by their fruits, and the fruits have been blessed renewal wherever the "Toronto experience" has become a genuine desire for Jesus' presence, rather than merely a seeking for power or the phenomena of manifestations. Healings, miracles and the best fruit of all, repentance--flow in abundance where whose who have attended continue to just seek him humbly."

Are healings miracles and repentance fruit? Yes. Howling, laughing, screaming, marching, crying and being frozen and glued in the "spirit" do not qualify as fruit. No one doubts God's ability to work in individual lives. No one doubts that repentance and a greater love for Jesus are great things. But do subjective experiences qualify as fruit? What indications are there that the experiences produce lasting fruit? What happens when the people leave the Holy Laughter meeting, or who stop going to Toronto and stop laughing? When the "experience" is over, what then? We have received reports of people who suffer from post laughter depression. Those who define their relationship to Jesus Christ, "by the last experience" rather than the Word of God run the risk of shipwrecking their faith! The search for greater and more glorious feelings will eventually leave a person emotionally spent and spiritually bankrupt.

What About All The Miracles?

Again the facts do not seem to match the rhetoric. Are there amazing physical healings, miracles and large scale repentance? Dr. James Baverley writes; "Unfortunately not. There are repeated testimonies of powerful spiritual and emotional healings. Most of the miracle claims are not that dramatic. I have investigated three of the more dramatic accounts with the help of two doctors. Our preliminary research is disappointing. In one case there is no medical proof at all. In another the cancer is back. In the third, the Vineyard reports have proven inaccurate in a significant way."

Most of what is being described as the fruit are the good feelings the "experience" seems to generate. In the Inkhorn(no 5vo16 1994) we read; "A British Colombia pastor was excited that one of his parishioners 'was dancing like Elvis'. Good fruit is lasting fruit. The fruit of the Spirit in a believer's life is much more than outward manifestations and experiences. Permanent, positive changes result from the Word of God being heard and obeyed."

The article goes on to mention input from a Vineyard pastor named Jerry Steingard who told INKHORN "The enemy can counterfeit any of the signs and wonders, but the enemy can't counterfeit--and would not want to counterfeit--the fruit. Satan has no desire to see people love Jesus more and witness to people more."

Steingard is right in saying Satan would not want people to love Jesus and witness, but he errs by not taking into account the possibility that Satan would be greatly pleased to lead unsuspecting and undiscerning people to a false Jesus."

Is it possible? Are the people involved in the Toronto Blessing and the Holy Laughter worshipping a different Jesus? Paul warned in Galatians that there were false Christs and even Jesus warned about false Christs.

Is this a work of the Spirit? Whether we like it or not. the Bible says "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies," (Galatians 5:19-20).

If it can be demonstrated that the results of "holy laughter" and the "Toronto Blessing" fit into several of the categories of works of the flesh, then it is in fact at best a work of the flesh.

Special attention should be brought to the word "heresies" or "haireisis" in the Greek text. The word would often designate a school or sect within a larger body. In I Corinthians 11:18-19 the word has a sifting connotation. In 2 Peter 2:1 it has an immediate effect on the church and creates a new society alongside of the church. Haireises divides the body. "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction" (2Peter 2:1 ).

A Word of Warning

If the Toronto Blessing and Holy Laughter Movements promote a false division in the Church, if they engage in false teaching, and if they present a false Jesus, then they are to be rejected.

There is sufficient question concerning the origin of the Movements (Rodney Howard-Browne/Word-Faith/Vineyard ) that Christians should approach the phenomenon with extreme caution. One discernment writer intimated that this should bring up more red flags than a Raiders-Broncos football game.

The manifestations, the teachings, and the way the "Blessing" is spread should raise suspicions. The lack of Biblical, and historical support should then cement the decision.

Discernment Ministries

In a recent interview on my radio program Light Conversation. Bill Alnor, President of Eastern Outreach Ministries, made the startling statement that "without exception" every major 'discernment ministry' in America has evaluated the Holy Laughter/Toronto Blessing Movements and found serious problems. Such ministries as Christian Research Institute, Spiritual Counterfeit Project in Berkeley, Eastern Outreach in Philadelphia, Dave Hunt in Oregon, Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, Discernment, Banner Ministries(UK) with Tricia Tillin, all have strong suspicions about the origins, purposes and biblical content of the movement.

When I spoke to John MacArthur about this subject, and made the comment that every discernment ministry in America has presented a united chorus of concern, he commented "That's why they are called discernment ministries". Good point.

AI Dager writes; "The only defense we have against spiritual deceptions arising today are a holy life, a solid grounding in God's Word and a refusal to accept anything as being from Him that is not validated in His Word. We should heed John 4:23: But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father such to worship him (Media Spotlight; special report).

Copyright 1995 "Look Before You Laugh" by Gino Geraci (used by permission).