In this article, a Revival historian, closely aligned with the Charismatic and prophetic movements, raises the following questions: Why do the Toronto manifestations seem literally identical to many counterfeit movements which have destroyed genuine Revivals down through history? And why are they seemingly identical to the Chinese occultic ‘Qigong’ movement, as well as Franz Mesmer’s occultic healing practice and the manifestations found throughout the “Kundalini” cults of Rajneesh, Ramakrishna, etc? Why are such manifestations found throughout the New Age movement worldwide, and yet nowhere in the Bible? If these are the days of “great deception” amongst Christians spoken of in the Bible, then shouldn’t we be a little more careful about what we allow into God’s church?
Over the past few years, the movement known as the “Toronto Blessing” has swept through many churches worldwide, particularly in the Western nations. This movement has brought with it some rather ‘strange’ spiritual manifestations, which have caused quite a bit of controversy in the church. The purpose of this article is to examine the FACTS and the historical data related to this iss-ue, in as straight-forward a way as possible. I have been studying Revival and Reformation history now for over twelve years, and I hope that this will help me to provide an informed and factual perspective.
As is now well-known, the Toronto Airport Vineyard church (home of the ‘Toronto Blessing’) was finally expelled from the international Vineyard movement in December 1995. This expulsion came after what had apparently been twelve months of repeated warnings given to the Toronto church by John Wimber and the Vineyard Association.
I have to say on a personal level, before going any further, that having witnessed the ‘Toronto’ phenomena for myself, and having spoken to many people who have experienced it,- right from the outset I have personally been deeply disturbed by much of what I have seen and heard. However, it is time now to take a look at what history has to say about such phenomena.
As many who have studied Revivals will know, it is important to remember that not only have there been many genuine Revivals down through history, but also many “counterfeit” movements as well (a number of which have resulted in quasi-`Christian’ sects that are still with us today). Even some of the most powerful true Revivals have eventually been infiltrated (or in some cases, “hi- jacked”), through the devil managing to flood them with excesses and demonic manifestations, etc. Many of the great Revivalists came across such counterfeits on a regular basis, and wrote warnings against them. As John Wesley said: “At the first, revival is true and pure, but after a few weeks watch for counterfeits.” These false or demonic manifestations have often followed a very distinctive pattern. And alarmingly, I have to say that they have often resembled ‘Toronto’ very closely indeed (as we shall see).
The following is an extract from a century-old book by T.W. Caskey, in which he recalls many of the religious happenings in the Southern states of America in the early 1800’s. This was the period when many huge `Camp Meetings’ were held in the South, accompanied by unusual religious phenomena (which they called `revival’): “Some would fall prostrate and lie helpless for hours at a time… The whole congregation by some inexplicable nervous action would sometimes be thrown into side-splitting convulsions of laughter and when it started, no power could check or control it until it ran its course. At other times the nervous excitement set the muscles to twitching and jerking at a fearful rate and finally settle down to regular, straight-forward dancing. Like the ‘Holy Laugh’ it was simply ungovernable until it ran its course. When a man started laughing, dancing, shouting or jerking, it was impossible for him to stop until exhausted nature broke down in a death-like swoon…” The same writer goes on to tell how eventually a few preachers began to question whether such manifestations really were the work of the Holy Spirit.
Gradually, people began to `search the Scriptures’ and `test the spirits’ a lot more than they had been, and these rather `bizarre’ manifestations began to die out.
Another historian has written of the great Camp Meetings of the eighteenth century (particularly in Kentucky) that crowds would often “go into trances, writhe on the ground and even bark like dogs”. As is well-known to many who have studied Revivals, such excesses and counterfeit manifestations have often flooded in particularly towards the end of a true Revival, when the devil has been trying to get in and completely destroy or discredit it.
This is precisely what happened with the 1904 Welsh Revival (as you will see if you read “War on the Saints” by Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts – a disturbing book which probably places too much emphasis on the devil, but vividly describes many counterfeit manifestations very similar to what we are seeing today. Such counterfeits are also examined in Watchman Nee’s “The Spiritual Man”).
A number of `Toronto’ writers have implied that many old-time Revivalists such as John Wesley, Charles Finney and Jonathan Edwards would be quite happy with such manifestations. This is far from the truth. I have studied the lives of these men, and all of them were strong “REPENTANCE” preachers who were very suspicious of any `bizarre’ goings-on. When people fell down in their meetings, it was almost always under tremendous distress and CONVICTION OF SIN. This is very different from Toronto.
The great Revivalist John Wesley, who came across many examples of counterfeit manifestations in his years of Revival ministry, wrote of one particular occasion: “God suffered Satan to teach them better. Both of them were suddenly seized in the same manner as the rest, and laughed whether they would or no, almost without ceasing. This they continued for two days, a spectacle to all; and were then, upon prayer made for them, delivered in a moment.”
Charles Finney wrote, warning of the dangers of simply `yielding’ to strange impulses or impressions: “God’s Spirit leads men by the intelligence, and not through mere impressions… I have known some cases where persons have rendered themselves highly ridiculous, have greatly injured their own souls, and the cause of God, by giving themselves up to an enthusiastic and fanatical following of impressions.”
And Jonathan Edwards wrote, concerning the supposedly `heavenly’ trances that members of his congregation were entering into under the ministry of Samuel Buelle (a visiting preacher): “But when the people were raised to this height, Satan took the advantage, and his interposition in many instances soon became very apparent; and a great deal of caution and pains were found necessary to keep the people, many of them from running wild.” As Frank Bartleman (of the 1906 `Azusa Street’ Revival) said: “Many are willing to seek `power’ from every battery they can lay their hands on, in order to perform miracles… A true `Pentecost’ will produce a mighty conviction for sin, a turning to God. False manifestations produce only excitement and wonder… Any work that exalts the Holy Ghost or the `gifts’ above Jesus will finally land up in fanaticism.” Does it sound like these men welcomed `bizarre’ manifestations to you? Certainly not! They knew how to discern what was of God and what was not.
In mid-1995, respected international Bible teacher Derek Prince put out a tape in which he made some very strong statements about certain aspects of the Toronto movement. Like him, I would like to state categorically that I believe that humans manifesting animal noises or animal movements is not of God, but rather of the devil. (In fact, he described on the tape how he had seen many such animal manifestations during demonic rituals he had wit- nessed in Africa). And what about the bodily distortions and the `jerking’ that have also become associated with today’s Toronto movement? Is it God who desires to distort the bodies of His people so that they look like sufferers of Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, etc? (Repetitive `jerking’ is also seen regularly in many mental hospitals – ask any psychiatric nurse). I have to ask the question here: Whose work does all this sound like to you?
Alarmingly, there are also many exact similarities between the `Toronto’ experience and the demonic manifestations found throughout the New Age movement and also in many pagan religions. A number of Indian gurus, such as Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh and Ramakrishna, have had the power to transfer a state of rapturous bliss to their followers merely by touching them. In the case of Ramakrishna, these states were often accompanied by uncontrol- lable laughter or weeping. Swami Baba Muktananda also had this power, according to a former devotee, and the resulting `Kundalini’ manifestations included uncontrollable laughing, roaring, barking, crying, shaking, etc. Some of his followers also became mute or unconscious, while many felt themselves infused with feelings of tremendous joy, peace and love.
All such experiences have been based on “yielding” oneself to the power working through these gurus. Is it any coincidence that the manifestations associated with these demonic `Kundalini’ cults are almost identical to those of Toronto? Could it be that the same `spirits’ are at work? When Yan Xin, a Chinese `Qigong’ spiritual Master, gave a talk to a crowd in San Francisco in 1991, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that many in the crowd began to experience what Yan called “spontaneous movements”. He told his audience, “Those who are sensitive might start having some strong physical sensations – or start laughing or crying. Don’t worry. This is quite normal.” Likewise, the demonic “ministry” of renowned eighteenth-century occultic healer Franz Mesmer, was also known to produce many similar manifestations (falling down, jerking, convulsions, strange grunts and cries, hysterical laughter, etc).
To me it seems beyond dispute that there has been a powerful alien spirit let loose in many churches for some considerable time. Just because the Toronto manifestations have been cloaked in “Christian” terminology does not mean that they are from God. The fact is that such manifestations are found nowhere in the Bible, but rather right through the New Age movement. Surely this fact alone should have rung alarm bells? If these are the `last days’ – the days of “great deception” and `lying signs and wonders’, then surely we ought to be a little more careful about what we introduce into God’s church?
Many Christians who have become involved with Toronto have assumed that it “must be of God” because it often results in `inner healing’ or other spiritual experiences. However, such occurrences are certainly not proof that this movement is of God. In fact, the devil specializes in providing virtually identical experiences in occult and New Age groups right around the world. And as is well-known, “inner healing” has always been one of the very major emphases of today’s New Age movement (while it cannot be found in the Bible). Such experiences are obviously something that Satan finds it very easy to manufacture, especially when he is given the opportunity on such a grand scale. As the Bible clearly states, the devil will gladly disguise himself as an “angel of light” in order to deceive Christians (2 Cor 11:14). However, in saying all of this, I do want to make it clear also that I believe that God has DELIBERATELY ALLOWED this deception to sweep through at this time, to “test” His church.
One of the most obviously “New Age” aspects of Toronto has been the emphasis on `switching off your mind’, getting your mind “out of the way”, yielding yourself unthinkingly to the spirit that is operating, etc. I tell you, this exact practise is used all over the world to open up New Age devotees to demonic influence. It is dangerous in the extreme. The Bible makes it clear that demonic spirits are well capable of masquerading as the “Holy Spirit”. This is why the apostle John wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God” (1 Jn 4:1). I am afraid I cannot agree with the idea of `directing’ the Holy Spirit or proclaiming “Come, Holy Spirit!” To me, such unscriptural practises are bound to lead to deception sooner or later. But the concept of just `switching off your mind’ and yielding to whatever spiritual impulses come upon you, surely has to be the most deadly practise of all.
As Jessie Penn-Lewis wrote (in conjunction with Welsh Revival leader Evan Roberts): “… these demons hover round the soul, and make strange suggestions to the mind of something odd, or outlandish, or contrary to common sense or decent taste. They make these suggestions under the profession of being the Holy Ghost. They fan the emotions, and produce a strange, fictitious exhilaration, which is simply their bait to get into some faculty of the soul… another person said he felt like rolling on the floor, and groaning and pulling the chairs around, but he distinctly perceived that the impulse to do so had something wild in it; and a touch of self display contrary to the gentleness and sweetness of Jesus; and, as quick as he saw it was an attack of a false spirit, he was delivered. But another man had the same impulse, and fell down groaning and roaring, beating the floor with his hands and feet, and the demon entered into him as an angel of light, and got him to think that his conduct was of the Holy Ghost, and it became a regular habit in the meetings he attended, until he would ruin every religious meeting he was in… The effects of being influenced by this sort of demon is manifold, and plainly legible to a well-poised mind. They cause people to run off into things that are odd and foolish, unreasonable and indecent…”
The above authors also make the following very crucial statement in the same book: “The false conception of `surrender’ as yielding the body to supernatural power, with the mind ceasing to act, is the HIGHEST SUBTLETY OF THE ENEMY.” Surely no-one who is reading this can still be in any doubt as to what spiritual `source’ the `Toronto’ movement comes from?
It is well-known throughout Christendom that the Bible speaks of the `last days’ as being a time of great deception and apostasy, and it is obvious from the Scriptures that much of this will arise from WITHIN THE CHURCH, so as to deceive the Christians. (See Mt 24, etc). The Apostle Paul wrote that, “in the last days PERILOUS TIMES WILL COME. For men shall be lovers of their own selves… lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:1-4). And, “the Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to SEDUCING SPIRITS, and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim 4:1). Surely, as we have seen, we are indeed living today in such `perilous times’.
There have been several dreams and visions given to NZ prophets and intercessors about the Toronto movement. In one particularly powerful dream given to an Auckland man many months before the term “Toronto Blessing” was even heard of here, he was shown that there would be TWO revivals. (This was the same man who was also given the open vision of the Bride of Christ described in a previous article). In this dream of the “TWO REVIVALS”, he found himself in a large auditorium full of people. He noticed that many of those down the front of the meeting were FALLING DOWN LAUGHING AND CRYING, etc, and the words that were clearly spoken to him to describe what he was seeing were: “LAODICEAN REVIVAL”. He was then seated with the `little’ people in the auditorium, who had not become really “caught up” in this falling and laughing, etc. And as he sat there, these `little’ people were steadily drawn away from this `Laodicean’ scenario, until there was a yawning gulf between them and those who were still “partying on” at the front of the hall. Suddenly, thousands of young people burst out all around these little people, and they began to minister to them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet knew that this was the beginning of the true Revival. Glory to God!
It is my belief that in many ways the Toronto experience has been the perfect deception for today’s Laodicean church: It cost nothing, it was “instant” and convenient, it conferred spiritual blessings, `touches’ and experiences without any need for conviction of sin, deep repentance or `taking up the cross’, and best-of-all it gave a flagging, powerless church some new “signs” to prove that `all was well’ after all. The real issue that lies at the heart of this whole controversy is one that revolves around the very character of God Himself. For it is obvious that we are being asked to choose between at least two “Gods” here.
On the one hand we have Toronto’s version of “God” – a being who lives to bring `touches’ and bodily sensations upon his people, who loves to “party” with them – to `loosen them up’ so that they cast off all restraint and do foolish things that they would never normally do. Many of these touches may appear to outside observers to be `ugly’ or even revolting and frightening (similar to asylum-type mental or drug disorders, etc), but, hey, let’s just get our mind out of the way, relax and enjoy it all! Who cares if it looks or sounds completely `demonic’ (animal noises, hysterical laughter, bizarre jerking, etc), so long as it feels good and seems to heal all those past `hurts’? To me, this is the very essence of the touchy-feely “Laodicean” view of God – a `God’ made entirely in their own image, and for their own convenience. Love without responsibility. Mercy without judgement. A permissive, “Santa Claus” God – perfect for the shallow, pleasure-loving age in which we live.
On the other hand, there is the God of the Bible: Yes, He is a God of love, but also of justice and of judgement. Yes, He is a God of mercy, but also of war and of vengeance,- waiting patiently for the hour when His enemies will be delivered into His hand, so that He can cast them forever into a living hell. Yes, He is a God of liberty, but He is also a jealous God, who visits the sins of the fathers onto the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. Yes, He is a God of compassion, but He is also a God of glorious majesty, might and power. And above all, He is a God of HOLINESS, who HATES SIN so much that He created a lake of fire in which to imprison all who have given themselves over to it. And I tell you now, He is not a God who could in any way be represented by a movement involving animal noises, drunken foolishness, hyena-like laughter, or ugly epileptic-type `jerking’ amongst His people.
This is why Toronto was such a good `test’ for the Laodicean church. And frankly, it is my belief that this Laodicean revival has exposed today’s lukewarm church for what she really is – a sitting duck, completely prone to the most obvious deception from the enemy – a “happiness club”, still desperate for feel-good touches and blessings after all these years.
Obviously, one aspect that has been particularly alarming about the Toronto movement has been the tendency to simply abandon the practise of `testing’ spiritual experiences and new teachings against the Scriptures. The Bible tells us to “test all things”, and of course there is the well-known verse: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, FOR CORRECTION, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). But how can the Scriptures be used for `correction’ if we choose to “explain away” the need for Scriptural proof of our experiences and teachings, etc? If we don’t use the Scriptures to `test’ things any more, aren’t we opening the door to every heresy, false doctrine or demonic experience in existence? (As history clearly demonstrates). This “casting off” of the authority of Scripture, and even of good, old-fashioned common sense, I have personally found to be amongst the most disturbing aspects of the whole `Toronto’ affair.
In saying all of this about Toronto, however, I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to every kind of `unusual’ spiritual occurrence. God Himself often does unusual things in times of Revival. But there is a certain `character’ about them that stamp them as being from Him. For instance, tremendous conviction (which is very common in true Revivals) will often bring extreme distress over sin (wailing, weeping, etc), `trembling’ with Godly fear, people falling face-down before God, etc. At the same time, the awesome presence of God will often cause those who have experienced His cleansing and forgiveness to be filled with indescribable joy and thanksgiving to God, resulting in demonstrative, unrestrained worship and adoration of Him.
However, I believe that it will be very important in the coming Revival for the leaders to stress that true worship involves “GIVING OUT” to God, not expecting `touches’ or blessings “FROM” Him all the time. True worship is an act of pure and holy `sacrifice’ to God. This is a very important principle. It is usually when people begin to seek after `touches’ or experiences from God, rather than seeking Him for His own sake, that counterfeit manifestations or soulish excesses begin to enter in.
Obviously, as well as Godly sorrow, holy fear and great joy, we can also expect a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit to bring all of the `gifts’ of the Spirit into everyday Christian life: Powerful healings and miracles, deliverance, word of knowledge, tongues, interpretation, prophecy, etc. It is also probable that there will be people genuinely “falling down under the power of God” (not that we should ever `seek’ such experiences), visions, dreams, angelic visitations, “signs in the heavens”, etc. Of course, a large number of these things can be easily counterfeited by the devil, so it will be important to have godly leaders around, who will know how to step in (without being too `heavy’ about it) if things start to get out of hand. The emphasis of the coming Revival will be on purity, holiness and evangelism, not the seeking after of `experiences’. And of course, everything will be centred around Christ. But it is very important that we do not allow the devil’s counterfeits to “scare us off” every kind of unusual spiritual occurrence, otherwise we could miss out on what God is doing also.
As I said at the beginning, in forming my opinions about `Toronto’ I have not just stood afar off, making judgments about this movement from a distance. Rather, I have personally witnessed these manifestations for myself, as well as speaking with many people who have seen and experienced them also. But none of this has changed my mind. In fact, every ounce of discernment within me has been crying out right from the start that what I was seeing was not of God. I have also read much that is ‘pro-Toronto’, but have found myself singularly unconvinced – particularly when the Scriptural and historical arguments used have been so patently poor. As we have seen, history clearly shows that such manifestations should be regarded as demonic counterfeits. Having studied Revival history now for many years, I simply do not believe that such a conclusion can be denied.