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The TORONTO PHENOMENON

LAUGHING IN THE SPIRIT
Is it of God? How can Christians decide?

By Tricia Tillin (1994)

With all the media and Church interest in the UK in what is being called "revival", and "refreshing" or "The Toronto Blessing", Christians urgently need to consider their response. While some are waiting for the genuine hallmarks of revival to develop, and others are simply undecided, many have accepted the manifestations as totally of God. But is this right? How can we judge these things?

From reports coming in, and also from the study of the Word, and of previous genuine revivals, we can make several observations that may be helpful:


1. IDENTIFIED PREVIOUSLY AS DEMONIC

The more disruptive and outrageous manifestations present in the meetings, such as hysterical laughter, growling, roaring, over-heating of the body and paralysis have never been signs of a genuine revival. They have, however, occurred elsewhere (new-age therapies/drug-abuse, for example), and been identified as fleshy or demonic manifestations during earlier revivals. Pot-smokers report they developed hysterical laughter in which everything appears to be funny. One Christian who had worked in a lunatic asylum reports having heard the same laughter there!

This quote from "War On The Saints" (Jessie Penn-Lewis, Publisher: Thomas Lowe, NY, first published 1912, reprinted 1973 onwards)tells of an earlier occasion during the Welsh Revival (1904) in which laughter was identified as a work of the devil in a Christian meeting:

"A strange element comes in, possibly only recognisable to some with keen spiritual vision, or else plainly obvious to all. Perhaps the speaker begins to pray quietly and calmly, with a pure spirit, but suddenly the voice is raised, it sound "hollow", or has a metallic tone; the tension of the meeting increases and overwhelming over-mastering "power" falls upon it; and no one thinks of "resisting" what appears to be such a "manifestation of God"!

The majority of those present may have no idea of the mixture which has crept in. Some fall on the ground, unable to bear the strained emotion, or effect upon the mind; and some are thrown down by some supernatural power; others cry out in ecstasy; the speaker leaves the platform, passes by a young man, who becomes conscious of a feeling of intoxication upon him, which does not leave his senses for some time. Other laugh with the exuberance of the intoxicating joy. Some have had real spiritual help and blessing through the Word of God being expounded ere this climax came, and during the pure outflow of the Holy Spirit consequently they accept these strange outworkings as from God, because in the first stage of the meetings, their needs have been truly met of Him, and they cannot discern between the two separate "manifestations" coming through the same channel."

In a passage headed "How Demons Attack Advanced Christians" Jessie Penn-Lewis describes religious demons who offer a counterfeit of true, deep spirituality. (page 324) She cites the example of one man who:

"... felt like rolling on the floor, 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 meeting he was in..."

To understand how this sort of thing was discerned as demonic, you need to read the comments in context and see the teaching of the book as a whole. "War On The Saints" (unabridged version, by Jessie Penn-Lewis, Publisher: Thomas Lowe, NY, first published 1912, reprinted 1973 onwards) is invaluable at this time, as it so mirrors the present-day events.

Laughter therapy is also currently in use as a new-age therapy. Norman Cousins, globalist, new-age occultist and leader of the infamous human potential movement is famous for his metaphysical laughter teachings; "laughter therapy workshops are an integral part of the human potential movement here in Australia", reports the Christian newsletter "Despatch" March 1994, Vol 6:1


2. STRIKING DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PREVIOUS REVIVALS AND TODAY

A study of revivals in the past reveals major inconsistencies:  Firstly, revival is primarily for the unsaved, to bring them to Jesus. True revival has always been the powerful preaching of the Word of God, leading to a conviction of sin and a strong desire to repent, and to seek God for salvation. If and when physical manifestations occurred, (falling down, moaning, crying aloud) they happened as a result of conviction - and they ceased once the person found relief in the Lord Jesus.

Secondly, these things were the exception rather than the rule. There was NEVER a time in previous genuine revivals when Christians lined up en masse to receive holy-laughter, or came over and over again to meetings to get slain in the spirit.

Thirdly, the attitude of the elders to physical manifestations was very cautious, in genuine revivals. They were aware of the danger of letting satan get a foothold in God's work, and they tested and limited the manifestations. This is not happening today!

"Oftentimes, excitement spreads rapidly through a congregation under the influence of sympathy, and it not unfrequently becomes necessary in powerful revivals to proceed with great discretion for this reason. Where one person becomes overwhelmed with excitement, and breaks out into loud crying and tears, where he cannot contain himself but has to wail out with excitement, it requires much judgement to dispose of such a case without injury on the one side or the other. If the thing be severely rebuked, it will almost invariably beget such a feeling among Christians as to quench the Spirit. On the other hand, if it be openly encouraged and the flame fanned, it will often produce an overwhelming amount of excitement throughout the congregation. Many will perhaps be overcome, and multitudes profess to submit to God; whereas scarcely one of them has acted intelligently or will in the end be found to have been truly converted...(Finney, "Reflections On Revival" P.42)


3. WHERE IS THE REPENTANCE? WHERE ARE THE UNBELIEVERS?

This is a "revival" that so far has affected only Christians. There is no such thing, in reality. In fact, even the leaders of the new move are wary of calling it "revival" for this very reason. They know that God's revivals reach out to the unsaved, to convict them and convert them. God's Holy Spirit, when He comes in power, calls sinners to repentance. He convicts of sin, he reminds of judgement, and he gives assurance of righteousness only to be found in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus. (John 16:8)

That being the case, a move that involves no evangelism, has no foundation of repentance, and consists mainly of Christians being slain in the spirit for no apparent reason, cannot be called a revival.


4. A REVIVAL THAT IS SPREAD FROM PERSON TO PERSON?

One major feature of this current move is that it is being spread by the use of testimonies, audio tapes, laying-on-of-hands, and so on (rather than the preaching of the Word!). There is also a scramble to travel to a place where the manifestations are occurring, in order to "get" it.

However, a genuine revival is the work of God alone, a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, in response to believing prayer over a period of time. It cannot be pinned down to a place or a person, and cannot be passed from one to another like an infection, for God deals with each person in a special and unique way.


5. THE MANIFESTATIONS CAN BE HALTED IN THE NAME OF JESUS

If this outpouring were truly of God, it would spread solely under His guidance and power, and no man could halt it. Instead, several Christians report that they have rebuked the manifestations and caused them to stop. Others say, after asking the Lord for protection during the meetings, anyone who tried to lay hands on them swerved away. Is the Holy Spirit divided, or is He praying against Himself?


6. MOCKING THE WORD OF GOD AND INTERRUPTING PREACHING

The manifestations, in particular the laughter, are not happening in response to the ministry of the Word of God. Indeed, they often interrupt the reading of the Word, and make preaching impossible. The UK Christian magazine "Renewal" reports:

"As he read his opening remarks, the power of God swept through the building totally unrelated to the words that he had said, which actually were rather serious and solemn. His opening remarks were, "The story of Solomon is one of the most tragic in the whole Bible". This sober comment was greeted by sudden outburst of hilarious laughter....there was no way we could stop this spontaneous, uninvited laughter...the meeting continued until 11.30 at night with no opportunity for the speaker to preach" (Terry Virgo, "Fresh Outpourings of the Holy Spirit, Renewal Magazine August 1994)

Another quote from the American Christian magazine "Charisma" says much the same thing. Hugh Williams, an Episcopalian priest fell down and started laughing when prayed for by Rodney Howard-Browne ("Be filled" was his prayer!). Afterwards, manifestations broke out in this priest's home church:

Worship became longer and more intense. Sunday services began to last up to three hours and more healing and laughter occurred. Recently, laughter broke out during the consecratory prayer for the Eucharist, normally the most solemn part of the service. "It IS distracting", says Hugh Williams, "but I've come to feel it is God who is distracting us from our routine ways and concentrating our attention on Him". (Julia Duin, Charisma, August 1994)

When God sends miracles, it is in confirmation of HIS WORD. (Mark 16:20) Today, however, the reading of the Word is being drowned out by irrational laughter, shouting and raving. (It is demons who love to mock the Word of God). This quote is from a meeting led by Rodney Howard-Browne:

"One night I was preaching on hell, and laughter just hit the whole place. The more I told people what hell was like, the more they laughed." (Julia Duin, Charisma, August 1994)


7. RECEIVED AS SENSUAL EXPERIENCE/RESULTS IN SUBJECTIVE FEELINGS:

Although God is interested in our bodies as well our souls, His sphere of involvement with a Christian is primarily "in the spirit" . God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. On the other hand, demons interact with people in the flesh - that is, in the physical body, and in the mental realm (emotions, desires, feelings).

They give bodily sensations (shivers, shakes, heat, tingles, weakness, energy, etc.) and mental feelings (overwhelming burdens, or intoxicating sensations of joy, revelations, strong desires, impulses to do irrational things, etc.).

The majority of people who experience "holy laughter" say the result is a feeling of intense love. Because they are Christians, their love is directed at Jesus. However, this does not prove that the feelings of love are sent from God.

Having experienced a time of demonic deception in my own life, this writer can testify that feelings of intense love and ecstasy can be demonically induced, even though you think you are worshipping God and praying to God. If, at the time I experienced those things, you had asked me to stake my life on the fact that it was from God, I would have done it. I was utterly convinced. It was only the challenge of judging my experiences objectively by the Word of God, and testing them by the power and the Name of Jesus, that opened my eyes to the truth. I was not possessed, nor was I a backslidden Christian, yet I was truly deceived.

Some Christians believe they are safe from deception as long as their intentions are right. But the sad fact is, that if you unwittingly fulfil the conditions for demonic activity, you WILL nevertheless experience demonic interference of some sort. We must learn to tell the difference between demonic and godly experiences, not just subjectively, but by knowing the scriptures.

Also, because the results of the "holy laughter" and so on are subjective experiences, we are left to decide on the basis of peoples' experiences and their impressions of the meetings.

This is not good enough! THERE MUST BE AN OBJECTIVE BASIS ON WHICH TO JUDGE THE EXPERIENCES.

The only objective, rock-solid foundation we have is the Word of God and the Truth of God. Thus, however overwhelming, convincing and acceptable people's experiences are, if they do not line up with the Word of God, they are not to be trusted as genuine!

We need fear no kind or degree of excitement which is produced simply by perceived truth, and is consistent with the healthful operation of the intellectual powers. Whatever exceeds this must be disastrous. In general, those cases of bodily prostration of which I have spoken occur without the apparent intervention of any external means adapted to produce such a result...the excitement produced when the Holy Ghost reveals God to the soul...is not only consistent with the clearest and most enlarged perceptions of the intelligence, but directly promotes and produces such perceptions. Indeed, it promotes the free and unembarrassed action of both the intelligence and the will.

Now it appears to me of great importance to distinguish in these cases between things that differ. When I see cases of extraordinary excitement, I have learned to enquire as calmly and affectionately as I can into the views of truth taken by the mind at the time. If the individual readily and spontaneously gives such reasons as naturally account for this excitement, I can then judge of its character. If it really originates in clear views by the Holy Ghost, of the character of God and of the great truths of his government, the mind will be full of these truths and will spontaneously give them off whenever there is ability to utter them....But where the attention seems to be occupied with one's own feelings, and when they can give no intelligible reason for feeling as they do, very little confidence can be placed in their state. (Pp49-51 Finney, "Reflections On Revival")


8. THE RESTORATION FACTOR:

What is happening at this point, to the Church, must be understood in its proper eschatological framework - that is, we have to look to the prophecies about the endtimes to see if we can identify what is happening at this present time. The truth is that the scriptures do not predict a widespread revival, but they DO predict a great falling away from the truth. There will be false teachers, false prophets and lying signs and wonders taking place. The greatest concern of Jesus and the apostles, when considering the endtimes, was that Christians might get deceived.


9. RECEIVED MAINLY BY THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN MENTALLY PREPARED

Since God is no regarder of persons, any genuine outpouring of the Spirit should have affected all churches alike. But this is not so. The manifestations are occurring in charismatic churches that had previously accepted unbiblical teachings, such as kingdom-now, word-of-faith, and replacement theology. The Toronto church that has been a focus of this phenomenon is part of the Vineyard Fellowship, which promoted the infamous Kansas City Prophets a few years ago. Vineyard prophets, like Rick Joyner, have been building up expectancy for worldwide revival for some years now. The churches that accepted the Kansas City Prophets and others like them will have been mentally prepared for this outbreak of power. They are therefore much less likely to be critical or objective about it.


10. NO FEAR OF GOD

Revivals in the past were conducted in an atmosphere of great reverence and awe of God. When the presence of God came, it was to bring a holy awe, and those who cried out did so in deep conviction of their sinfulness. However, today many have been disgusted at the irreverence, hilarity, lack of control and downright silliness of what is going on. Supporters speak in terms of "fun" and "partying", and sneer at sobriety. Charisma magazine, in its futile attempts to support holy laughter, cites one case in the revival at Cane Ridge in 1801. But this only serves to emphasise the differences. Out of a reported ten to twenty thousand people attending the meetings, one or two laughed out loud.

"it was a loud hearty laughter...the subject appeared rapturously SOLEMN, and his laughter excited SOLEMNITY in saints and sinners." (Charisma, August 1994)

How different it is today! The tone of today's laughter is mocking and manaical, and excites nothing but amusement or disgust in others.


11. STARTED BY RODNEY HOWARD-BROWNE

This phenomenon did not start spontaneously, but was promoted by Rodney Howard-Browne, a South African who at one time worked as associate Pastor with the Rhema Word-of-Faith Ministries (Ray McCauley). He can be seen on videos and heard on audio tapes commanding people to laugh by repeatedly invoking "Ho-ho! Ha-ha!" over them, and saying things like "Be filled! We loose the power! Have another drink!". Browne likes to call himself "The Holy Ghost Bartender".


12. WHAT DOES THE WORD SAY?

Scripture references to laughter are nearly all adverse, to do with mocking and derision. There is no biblical "gift" of a spirit of laughter. Christian joy is an inward peace and assurance, not an hysterical outburst of laughter. The Bible tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is "self-control" and commands: "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Cor 14:40).

Some of the wilder manifestations, such as roaring and growling are linked in scripture with the Babylonian religious festivals, which were abandoned orgies of drunkenness and immorality. God says He will make the feasters drunk so that they "shout with laughter", then judge them with a perpetual sleep out of which they will never awake. (Jer 51:37-40 NIV)

Also, there is no biblical warrant for calling upon the Holy Spirit, or praying to Him - as happens in connection with this "outpouring". Leaders are inviting spirits to enter into the meeting room by invoking "Come, Holy Spirit" and similar prayers. But this is not biblical. Our relationship is with the Father, in Christ Jesus.


CONCLUSION:

Wherever Christians are, there God will be at work - and in the midst of the bedlam no doubt some are being truly healed or converted. But these isolated incidents in no way explain or excuse the current manifestations.

If the root be bad, then the fruit will be rotten - for no bad tree can bring forth good fruit. If we look at the roots, at Rodney Howard-Browne's ministry, at the theology behind the "revival", at the legacy of the Word-of-Faith preachers and the Kansas City Prophets, and at the headlong downward spiral into apostasy in certain parts of the Church, we cannot conclude that this present move reverses the trend and anoints with God's blessing things that have been so abhorrent and deceptive before.

There seems to be a bland assumption that Christians cannot be deceived, and that rituals like "claiming the Blood" make one immune from demonic attack. On the contrary, Jesus warned: "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand". (Matt 24:24-25 NKJ)

Good intentions are not enough! Not only a thorough knowledge of the Word of God, but other precautions are required, such as keeping conscious control of our minds and bodies; guarding against the flesh; dying to self (emotions, desires, etc); and testing the spirits to see "if they be of God". (1Jo 4:1)

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