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My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard
A personal view by Rick Friedrich of Michigan

This letter was sent to my [e-mail] list in July 2003 as a member asked a question about the Toronto Vineyard Movement and the witness of the Spirit. Much more detail could be added. But I think this gives a fair picture of my thoughts about them.

Please feel free to correct me if I have said something incorrect. I never took it upon myself to keep track of names, dates, and unessential things.

I lived most of my life in Toronto Canada on the West side very near the airport (and the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship -- formerly Toronto Vineyard). I grew up with all the pollution and noise of the airport (planes flying over every two minutes, and over the last few years with their chemtrails). I also grew up in the Evangelical church--a Fellowship Baptist church.

But I did everything I could to stay away from my church, because I was a wicked sinner and they were all hypocrites. But I was familiar with the religious people in the city.

Later on, when I came to the end of my rope at 16, I started going to a Presbyterian church that had a really ‘happening’ youth group. I was lured there for carnal reasons, and despite the unholy entertainments and worldly dating, etc., I did see a little truth here and there which lead to some ‘alter calls’. I remember one YWAMer (Youth Within A Mission person) was a speaker at a youth retreat. He said some convicting things and lead many of us through an emotional call. There were a few other times that year where I went forward to ‘accept Jesus’ so to speak.

One other time was when the supposed ministry, I forget the names of the people, but those who presented the video: Hell’s Bells, The Dangers of Rock and Roll Music, came to our church. After that I also went forward after deciding to forsake all my evil secular music. I went forward but did not know Jesus. I was very ignorant of the real Person of Christ our Lord, even though there was so much talk about having Christ Jesus as our intimate friend, etc.

There were other similar experiences which I have previously shared but do not pertain to this subject. But I share all this because this church was the most happening Presbyterian youth group in all of Toronto. They had over 150 youth from many other churches come to their weekly events and even Sunday evening services. They had quite a program and would do many creative things to entertain the youth. Supposedly there was much ministry.

Youth Group

Many of the teens went off to Teen missions--all the ‘most spiritual’ went--I never cared for it. Others got involved in YWAM.

This youth group also was active in local ministry. We went to the Mission houses on the streets of Toronto and gave testimony. We preached there and on the street. They (and myself, which I now regret) did mime and acting both on the streets and in churches (we were very similar to the Vineyard, and thus fit in). Also this church youth group became more and more charismatic in its form of worship. This was much in contrast with many of the old people in the church. The church at that time also had two services, one of which was in a hotel which attempted to reach non-church people in a more contemporary style. All this is pertinent to the Toronto Vineyard church.

This same youth group sometimes attended the Toronto Vineyard (this was the early 1990’s). It was at THAT time downtown and renting out a Catholic school I believe. It was a typical pentecostal service in worship style, where people would sing for a very long time. (I later felt that the music had a sort of hypnotic effect upon the people.)

I will never forget what happened one time. I went with much enthusiasm and full of faith. There was something major on my heart and I was wondering if I would be called forward by the minister to get a word from God. You see that often happened where he would call people forward to give them a special message ‘from the Lord.’

I was seated between two of my friends who were very into this church and worship. They were very expressive in worship with their hands, and ended up being called forward as I mentioned. Later they told me of their interviews with these ‘prophets’ of the Lord. I knew these friends fairly well, one of them who was around that time a girl friend. But the message I felt the Lord wanted both of them to have was to become sounder in the word, which was the opposite of what was said to them. I told them that.

I was very young in the examination of truth and discernment of spiritual matters and was very enthusiastic. Thus I was not a critic and tended to go along with that which seemed to be the of the deepest devotion. I believe people looked upon my friends, who were leading the youth in worship (one of them still is this day!), as the most spiritual of the youth. We were all consumed with worship and ministry. I had the reputation of being the first to get to church and the last to leave.

At least these two friends, and I believe others, started getting more involved in the Toronto Vineyard in its early days. They took music lessons from them and attended more times than the rest of the youth group did. So I did learn from them what was happening in more details then simply by going to their services.

Then they told me of a NEW branch opening up on the other side of the Pieson International airport in Missisauga. They had been there and told me of what was going on. I believe the Vineyard I first saw was much the same that Keith Green attended. There was not much of the strange phenomena that the Toronto movement was later known for (but the foundations were there for them to foster). But then things started happening. I never did trace out all the origin and causes that lead to the barking and falling and what have you. I had friends later on who did look into such matters.

I say all this to say that I was not someone hostile to the Vineyard denomination but was very much open to it. I had been influenced positively by Keith Green’s ministry before I was converted. I embraced his music after I gave up my secular music. And I knew he had attended the Vineyard. It was Green’s influence that introduced me to Finney which later lead to my conversion to Christ. So I was by no means prejudiced against it. And I was by no means biased against ‘the gifts of the spirit’ either.

So I knew a good deal about what was going on. And I had much experience about what was happening in my city as the Toronto Vineyard--which later separated FROM THE VINEYARD and became the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship.

What happened in the city was similar to what first happened in our church. The movement tended to appeal to the colder or stiffer or formal churches and people rather than the charismatic. Not that it was colder and stiffer, but that it attracted such to become freer and expressive, etc.

Counter-Cult Ministry

Eventually I was involved in a counter-cult discernment ministry in Missisauga (same city on the west side of Toronto). The leaders had been former JW’s and recently formerly part of Martin/Hank’s CRI (Christian Research Institute).

We spent most of the time reaching out to the cults. But there were so many concerns about this Toronto Vineyard that we were forced to look into it further and give a statement to those apparently harmed and troubled by it. So we visited it with an objective eye and reported what we saw. I believe our testimony was used by CRI in their critique of the movement. I personally had no contact with CRI. And I am glad as it was and is a sinful organization [in my opinion] (I am not aware of what it was like under its founder Walter Martin though).

But [I believe that] Hank is a sinful man whom I cannot trust. I believe Martin's wife and many formerly part of the organization thinks he is a greedy man who turned the organization into a money making scheme more than a ministry. There is so much more that could be said about the man and that ministry. All this said to say that I think his opinions are worthless.

Toronto Airport

Anyway I visited this TACF while it was with the Vineyard and after it was disfellowshiped from them. I still had no prejudice against them. But here are some things I can tell you:

I remember many details about this group because I have often told people down here in the States when they have learned where I am from and asked me what was happening with that movement.

The first thing I should say is that their sermons were typically Evangelical in the modern sense of the term. There were some parts of their message that differed, which I will mention shortly. But the essence of the message was what you would find in many Evangelical churches today. That is, a typical sermon. A form of godliness which denies the power of God.

I mean a message that should have led to a different conclusion and result than what it resulted in. I mean further that they would preach a form of holiness and freedom form sin, and deny it on the other hand. ... The few other differences in the message pertained to the boasting of their success. They repeatedly attempted to deny this fact in their sermons and statements. However, it had become a tradition every night to have everyone stand up from the different parts of the world to say where they were from and count such figures.

While that may appear to be harmless it was clearly inappropriate in observing how it was conducted. I was amazed to see sometimes that only 10% were from Toronto! People were flying in from all over the world to ‘Catch the Wave.’ I even heard they had deals with the airport and hotels. It was a plague that infested the world.

Toronto is one of, if not the most multicultural city in the world. Whatever happens in Toronto rapidly spreads through the entire world because its members are related to every nation under the sun. Thus the SARS [virus] happenings in Toronto recently got people paranoid.

Anyway, there was excessive boasting of numbers by the Airport Vineyard leaders. And there was a very superstitious drive to get people to make their pilgrimages to Toronto. Eventually the leaders were sent out to spread this wave of hype and folly.

But the message, or rather fanaticism spread mostly by people who had come and fallen on the ground and brought back their experiences and excitement to their dead churches. I believe those most affected by it were the British. Now I am not against excitement and revivals. But what were people excited about? And what was the mode of their receiving it? I never forget the first time I visited their church after these things were in full swing. They had much time for people to testify of how their former visit had changed their lives and their churches back home.

I remember being shocked to hear this older couple share about how they met ON THE GROUND! Yes they were slain in the spirit and rolled on top of each other! Thus they began a relationship that lead to marriage! And this was no accidental testimony. The leadership knew their story and asked them to tell it!

Details of the Service:

The service began with their rock bands playing their music for what seemed like hours--and perhaps was. After some time I could no longer endure their music as it seemed hypnotic and shallow. That is another subject.

So I would enter near the end of that session. Then there were the testimonies and preaching, etc. Finally there was the grand finale which was what most people were waiting for.

As time went one from the beginning of the service onward people gradually displayed the disfigured gestures and jerks and expressions. And as time progressed these would increase. Here an hysterical laughter for no apparent reason (perhaps in the middle of a serious statement in the sermon), there a great moan. Here a bark, there a jump and a dance. I can hardly refrain from saying what it looked like. I had worked with the mentally, emotionally, and physically disabled people for 3 years full time. I could understand such things happening with them, but not supposedly sound people.

In fact in one group home I worked in I believe all the other staff were either leaders or attendees of this very airport church. And the following was very troubling. We had clients that were very violent who were on very powerful drugs to suppress their ragings. These poor souls were now drugged up so much that they were spaced out and could hardly walk. One of them even had to have a helmet on all the time because of his frequent falls because of the drugs. These poor souls with all of their aggravated temptations to violence and perversions were allowed to sit in from of the TV and watch worldly movies with violence and immorality. Yes these Vineyard Christian leaders and attendees sat right there with them and watched.

Eventually I had to leave the organization because I could not put a stop to this and other unholy things being done to these poor people. But they also took these poor souls to the Toronto Airport church. And while they went forward and got slain in the unholy spirit they allowed these clients to wander around by THEMSELVES! At least one of them even came back speaking in tongues in the same way everyone else spoke it.

These poor people were abandoned while their counselors were supposed to be working. Vineyard people constantly acknowledged that the Devil was prowling around and displaying himself also at their meetings (when I confronted them about evil things happening), but it was no problem to let such helpless souls wonder around by themselves!

These people could have also either hurt people or fondled them sexually. But this was not a problem for these spiritual folks. Because if God was in control of their almost-out-of-body-experience then he would take care of the oppressed. Yes that was supposed to be all of God so don’t you dare speak against it!

Well as I said, the service progressed in weird phenomena manifesting more and more until the end (that could last all night I was told). The last stage of the service was the worst, and what it was known for. In the earlier years they did not have the space that they later did. But they would mostly all end up going to the back of the huge warehouse ‘church’ behind the chairs where they sat, and gather to wait for the great magicians to touch them with their magic wands. I say that in all sincerity. That is the best way I can objectively remember what I saw.

I believe at first the power was just in the main leader(s), and then later others bought the supposed gift of the holy spirit just as Simon once coveted in Acts 8.

I never forget standing there as the multitude waited for John Arnott to come around. He walked around as if he had a wand. He would supposedly bless people like a priest sprinkingly ‘holy water’. Their bodies would shake and convulse, not in repentance but by some trance supposedly communicated. “More” “More” “More” they would chant. This would happen until they fell--and hopefully there was someone behind to catch these poor deluded souls.

But I believe sometimes they would not fall to the ground (some people hurt themselves, others got married!). I believe as months progressed they fell much faster. I remember standing there and sensing in my soul that this was a very evil man. Not just a false deluded prophet who was ignorant, but someone who seemed very evil. Perhaps I am mistaken but I remember that he never came near me where I stood. I never remember him coming my way all the times I went. I believe we looked at each other and that was when I noticed him heading the other way. I believe there was something especially evil about that man, but that was not just a deduction because he was the great leader of the movement and the one responsible for everything happening. Anyway I cannot get into that here.

The kinds of things that happened are whatever you can imagine. Some former CRI critic once joked about it that if any animal was found in the bible that someone would try and act like it there. And he spoke truth in what he said. That was the rational. If it was in the bible it was worthy of imitation!

Mind you not everyone would have gone to that extreme. But just about anything was PERMISSIBLE.

And it was worse than a lame excuse to say that where God was, the devil was also moving, and therefore allow all manner of demonic manifestations. Yes there were people convulsing so violently I could not account of it as I did for most of the others--I mean as self-induced. It was either the result of drug activity or demonic possession. Yes people would later claim that some of those people were demonic, and say some smart remark that this was a place for them to be delivered.

But the fact was that people watching and passing such people doing such things treated it as if it was of God, and not something to be saved from.

A common particular was the very rapid shaking of hands, arms, head, etc. How any could suppose this was something holy defies my imagination. The people would continue doing such sometimes over a half an hour. Again these were not the result of truth being presented to persons under conviction of sin. It was the result of people expecting something to happen, and for the most part probably, self-inducing some venting of the body. I remember standing there for hours observing this bedlam of insanity.

What stands out as my most distinct thought was that this was as extreme as people could get in fulfilling the desires of the flesh. This was not conviction of sin, even though some people may have mended some ways afterwards. I had first hand knowledge of people and how they lived after they were so slain in the unholy spirit. I even knew some of the leaders.

I do not think anyone would need to say a word of critique about the movement if only they visited it. It was so obviously unholy that it needed no singling out of particular evils. But what a horrible thing to see at such a place, that they were promoting historical revivals and revivalists, and trying to justify their experiences by quoting some instances where people came under conviction and trembled under the fear of God. Yes they had the fear of God back then. The Toronto Vineyard had no idea what the fear of God was.

Here is another example:

On some occasions I saw what was most blasphemous of all. People standing in a circle and motioning in such a way to each other as if they were bouncing a beach ball from one to another. They claimed that they would tossing the HOLY SPIRIT to and from each other!!!

So many things happening in that place were so obviously new age, but this was even worse! This they did not think was a demonic manifestation. But certainly it was as bad as one could imagine.

To quote the revivalists for them was utterly false and misleading. I have many accounts and teachings from the same revivalists that show they did everything they could to quiet people and keep the emotions from taking over. They said emotionalism and following impulse ruined revivals and displaced the truth. They could have hardly imagined such a perverse movement as this one.

And they must roll over in their graves to learn of such people using them for such carnal justification. I stand appalled at the whole thing. I am not afraid to rebuke the entire thing. I realize that many people do not know much about it and do not have an honest opinion about it. But I have seen enough.

I had no personal conflict or anything that could have made me prejudiced against it. Nor have I made it any special priority as to have been taken up by it and thus gone around speaking evil about it needlessly. But as one who lived about 5 minutes drive, and as one who has seen it cause numerous evils in churches and in families (and much could be added here about the encouragement of divorce and remarriage by such leaders, even while families were still married!), I am compelled to give my objective observations to those seeking spiritual direction in regard to them.

I know nothing about Brownville other than what people have told me. I therefore have no opinion that anyone should consider about that. I do not even know what has happened with the Toronto group for the last five years or so. All I know is that the whole thing was a sick mess that I could no longer visit.

I realize that this will be offensive to many people. Some may even take the foolish attitude of saying we should not judge--judging you all the while for judging--basically saying ‘never say never’ when they just did. Some people have even said, that was not what I saw. Well, I think people are so enthusiastic that they are blind to so many obvious things. I know what that is like. Some may say it is better now and less extreme.

Well others told me that it had actually stooped so low that some churches in that movement were actually VOMITING IN THE unholy SPIRIT!!! as part of their worship! I never saw it as far as I remember, but do not think it would have been out of the ordinary in the places I stood.

For those who could care less about all the manifestations, and could swallow their modern gospel, I will add one more thing I just remembered (it has been a while since I have thought of this movement). I remember that there was a spontaneous cheering whenever people would testify of division happening in their churches whenever this fanaticism was spreading like gangrene in their churches.

This was not a holy response in these people. They were delighting in division for its own sake, this was clear by the speed and manner of their response. If they were delighting in the division for truth sake it would have been much different.

Whatever the case, this movement had just about every indication of being a false and even blasphemous movement of God. It is a sign of the ignorance and sinfulness of our times. That people flock to such places AND REMAIN, indicates that we have sunk lower than the dark ages.

I am glad the Vineyard excommunicated the Toronto movement. But I am unaware if they have been welcomed back in the last so many years. I have not concerned myself with denominational politics for many years (it seems all the denominations are in many ways joined in a monstrous web allowing sinners in their fellowship). However, as I said in the beginning, the Vineyard certainly was fair grounds for such a movement to grow out of.

Whenever a group allows sin in its fellowship in any degree, and/or allows for mysticism to displace sound reason and faithful research and application of the bible, anything may result. We are living in a day where eastern mysticism has been brought in to destroy western science, religion, and holy society. The irrational is exalted as spiritual; the more irrational one’s approach to spirituality the more they are deemed spiritual. This is exactly what the eastern guru and religions suppose. The quest is to contradict reality and manipulate it.

Need I tell anyone that this is what is also happening in the sciences? The absurd is the real. Feeling is better than fact and proposition. Getting is better than giving. From the cradle to the grave all areas of society are being influenced by this satanic delusion. Even our language is trapping us into this philosophy. Our only hope is the past. We need a foundation, and that is Christ the Lord. No, not the Jesus Christ of the Hindo or Muslim or modern Evangelical. But the historical Jesus who really suffered as a man, and who is the very Creator of the world. Who is Jesus Christ? Your answer depends on your philosophy of examining truth, feelings, the world, and the bible. Simply adopt a false philosophy and your Jesus will be someone else. One has even said that ‘what you think with is more important that what you think about.’ It determines what you will think about.

The witness of the spirit is something few people can even know properly, because they have been hypnotized by the tv, schools, churches, etc., to think absurdly, irreverently, shallowly, and selfishly. Every impulse is supposedly the Spirit leading them this and that carnal way. Oh how many have misplaced the devil for the Holy Spirit and vice versa! God told me this and god lead me there. But it is just not so. God really told these people to give up ALL their sins and ALL their sinful entanglements and ALL their sinful relationships and dependencies upon sinful churches and friends, and follow Him with ALL of their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies (not leaving out any part of the person). Just as a man who is frozen cannot tell when harm is done to his body, so we cannot discern all the evils we allow when our hearts are embedded in this world’s ungodly systems.

How can such a man feel the gentle voice of the Spirit speaking as in the summer breeze? Indeed, it is all opposition and the devil to him. Most people stomp out the voice of the Spirit because He speaks only the truth. AND WHO WANTS 100% TODAY? Most can only go so far, they cannot endure the hardship of persecution for standing against the worldliness in the professing church.

The Spirit indeed speaks to our innermost souls the truth. It is not sophisticated or flashy or fleshly in manner. He tells us what we need to do to follow God in truth. No He does not direct every decision we make like a robot, but allows us to make mistakes and improve and learn. He is there to make and keep us holy, not infallible.

There is a particular set of denominations that have utterly grieved the Holy Spirit by their excessive focus upon Him and their continual allowance of false prophesies to be made. Such people are largely beyond reach and so deceived because they suppose God is directing their every decision, all the while they fellowship with people who, and also make their own prophesies that turn out to be their own imagination. But in truth the Holy Spirit is sent to teach us about the holy character of Jesus Christ, to exalt Him (not the prosperity people I need not mention), and to show us how to abide in Him as holy people. The witness of the spirit is not merely knowing there is another spirit guiding your soul. It is a holy spirit guiding us as a holy father would his tender children.

Of course there is almost no example of a holy father for people to compare this with here in America. The witness of the Spirit is not without the fruit of the Spirit. No man has the Holy Spirit without being holy. That should be obvious. Yes the Spirit convicts people of sin and does relate to the ungodly. But what I am getting at is that there is no Christian witness of the Spirit without us having the fear of God, an unselfish heart, and thus we will manifest a childlike faith in God as well as a passionate zeal for truth and justice, etc. Not that we make ourselves such. We must be born of God.

There are so many things that could be said about this subject. As time goes on more and more delusions pile upon this generation that make it harder to hear the voice of God. For the more attached we are to the world, the duller we are to God. It is not that we seek to escape the physical elements of the physical earth as the eastern mysticism tends towards. But we need to see that the spiritual worldliness of humanity has ensnared us with so many vain physical pursuits and unholy relations that we are dull to the righteous direction of the Spirit.

There is so much more that could be said but this is now the eighth page and I fear that I have gone on too long.

Much could be said about direction to real Christians in regard to the witness of the Spirit, and many of the works I have attempted to produce cover that subject. But we are in a day where most of the people who are even conscientious and concerned (most are not) in the church don’t even know the Way of Salvation.

And until this changes and the fear and law of God come back to the professing church, we need to focus on such things.

God bless everyone in the Truth,
Rick (Alethea In Heart, Fenwick, MI)

For more historical information about the Toronto Vineyard roots see: The "Toronto Blessing": A Renewal from God?

Cross+Word Articles on the Toronto Blessing