No 12 on the list of most-read posts on this blog appeared on May 15, 2005, and examined the events surrounding and subsequent to what came to be known as “The Toronto Blessing.”
I published this post from an article I had written many years prior to May of 2005. In some ways it was this article that first stirred the “writing bug” in me. I surveyed the historical events associated with “The Toronto Blessing,” and also looked at some biblical and church history data. Some of my reformed friends may be uncomfortable with the fact that I am willing to see good in what happened. No doubt some of my charismatic friends will be unhappy with the fact that I also accept that unhelpful excesses occurred in some places.
In addition to the sections I have republished here (“An Outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What On Earth is Going On?” and the “Origins of the Movement”), I also trace its spread to the UK, similar phenomena in history, what our response should be to these phenomena, and how to test similar movements. You can read my thoughts on those issues by clicking here or on the link provided at the bottom of this post.
I thought I would share with you—for history’s sake and in its entirety—an article I wrote almost eleven years ago about the so-called “Toronto Blessing.”
An Outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What on Earth is Going On?
In the months following May 1994, there was a sudden wave of bizarre phenomena in many churches in the UK, USA, and elsewhere in the world from a wide variety of backgrounds. Since then, the city of Toronto, Canada, has become closely associated with these events. Much attention has been drawn to all of this in both the secular and Christian press.
Phenomena widely reported with these events included falling over, laughing, crying, shaking, peculiar movements, cries, roars, intoxicating joy, and incoordination. While a dramatic transformation in the life of many of the people affected by these phenomena was observed, a large number of conversions was not reported and most people did not call this a revival.
The falling may, on occasion, have been sudden and violent. I am unaware of any cases of injury resulting. Giddiness was sometimes reported prior to the fall. There usually was not a total loss of consciousness, and most were able to hear, although they might not respond. A feeling of detachment was common—hours could go by and seem like minutes. An apparent spastic or flaccid paralysis was often present in individuals affected. Many reported impressions and visions imparted to them while on the floor. Some felt as if they were physically pinned to the floor and felt quite unable to move.
Likewise, shaking and other apparently involuntary movements took a wide variety of forms. These had to be seen to be believed, but included repetitive leaping to a great height, a heightened physiological tremor, twitching, and being thrown as though hit by an electric charge.
All of the above phenomena occurred in combination with the same individual. They sometimes followed prayer, with laying on of hands, or began spontaneously during worship, preaching, or alone at home. People became so intoxicated with joy that they had to be carried to their cars. Some were carried out rigid, others staggered as though drunk. It was very difficult to observe all of this without wondering, “What on earth is going on?”
A pattern emerged from study of the spread of the these phenomena. People, and especially church leaders, flocked to the affected churches to investigate. Even the skeptical found themselves being affected, much to their surprise. Upon their return home, often before assimilating what had happened, they found similar events breaking out in their own churches. The briefest of statements about God doing strange new things might be followed by a request for any who would like a fresh touch from God to stand. Often at this point an entire congregation would stand to its feet, and following a short prayer, a sudden outbreak of the above phenomena occurred. Those affected might not have even heard of the specific phenomena that had occurred elsewhere!
Origins of the Movement
The center of much of this attention, with 20,000 to 30,000 visitors from around the world in the first six months of 1994, was a tiny building at the end of a runway in Canada where the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (now Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) was meeting. John Wimber was the unofficial leader of the Vineyard Movement, of which this church was a member. This was one of several groups of charismatic or “new” churches worldwide. The Vineyard Movement was strongest in the USA, but certainly had churches elsewhere, including London.
Although the controversial John Wimber had seen many of these reported phenomena on a smaller scale in his conferences, he seemed to have had little to do directly with the birth of this movement. Indeed, Mr. Wimber subsequently died.
The first place where these phenomena occurred in the intensity and extent now so well known was actually not Toronto, but in the USA. In 1989, South African evangelist, Rodney Howard-Browne, complained that his meeting was being ruined when many people fell off their seats and began laughing. He soon became convinced that God was to blame. These events followed Howard-Browne and persisted after he had left, spreading rapidly. In April 1993, during meetings in Florida which were attended by 10,000 people, waves of laughter affected the congregation. Subsequently, widespread attention was drawn to these events. Approximately 2,200 people were baptized in water, and 800 new members were added to the host church by the middle of 1994. Another church in the area, whose initially reluctant pastor was suddenly struck to the floor with laughter, reported that by the middle of 1994 the church had grown from 800 to 1,500.
As a result of this meeting, Howard-Browne was invited to preach to 4,000 students later that year. He reported, “One night I was preaching on hell … [laughter] just hit the whole place. The more I told the people what hell was like, the more they laughed. When I gave an altar call, they came forward by the hundreds to be saved.”
The interesting thing has been that far from dying down after this evangelist left town, the phenomena continued and spread. The movement did not appear to be centered in a man, and in terms of its spread to the UK, Howard-Browne played a very limited role.
Since 1991, there has also been a separate outbreak in Argentina, where the phenomena seemed to be associated with a full-scale revival. In November 1993, John Arnott, the pastor of the Toronto Vineyard Church, traveled to Argentina and the United States to see what was happening. He met with another Vineyard pastor, Randy Clark of St. Louis, who had been prayed for by Rodney Howard-Browne and subsequently experienced similar effects in his own church.
On the 20th of January 1994, a meeting with Randy Clark took place in the Toronto Vineyard and the phenomena broke out. Very soon, news spread and the people started coming to investigate. From this church, other Vineyard churches and many other groups were affected.
Read more . . . “The Toronto Blessing” – When The Church Seemed To Be Going Mad