The Toronto Blessing has been a bit of a ‘Marmite’ experience for Christians. The Methodist Church made a statement:
The ‘Toronto Blessing’ has not been without controversy. Although its leaders have been at pains to point out that it is the resulting fruit of the Holy Spirit that is of prime importance it is the manifestations that have caused concern.1995 Methodist Conference Statement [iii]
As might be expected there has been trenchant criticism from those who have never been able to accept the claims and teachings of Pentecostals and charismatics.
However concern has also been expressed by a number of senior figures from within Pentecostal and charismatic circles who have sought to adopt a Gamaliel-style approach (Acts 5:34-39), waiting and seeing ‘if this is of God’.
It is apparent that to some extent, the manifestations are, with time, becoming less frequent and less pronounced than at first.
In December 1995 the Toronto Airport Fellowship agreed to part
company with the Association of Vineyard Churches which had felt it necessary to question the teaching and administration of the ‘Blessing’ in Toronto and stating that it could not accept attempts to give ‘theological justification or biblical proof-texting for . . . exotic practices that are extra-biblical.’… ”
Here are my thoughts and experiences of this phenomenon…
Table of Contents for: Toronto Blessing review: laughing shrieking shaking falling over
- Table of Contents for: Toronto Blessing review: laughing shrieking shaking falling over
A brief background to my experience prior to the ‘Toronto Blessing’
Here is my own personal experience leading up to the Toronto Blessing which manifested itself at the church I attended .
I was converted at the age of 20 (1976) through the zeal of a fellow student who attended the local Assembly of God, Pentecostal Church.
After a year I became well established in a Charismatic House Church and we attended large Christian meetings such as John Wimber’s ‘Signs and Wonders Conference’.
I was really wanting God to move in me and this country and I felt that God was the closest when we were being real and in an area of reality.
At the conference I was sceptical because there appeared to be a lot coercion and suggestion.
He (John Wimber) formed a house church that would eventually grow into the Vineyard Christian Fellowship (VCF) of Anaheim in 1977…‘John Wimber’ Wikipedia [ii]
Wimber pastored the VCF until 1994.
Eventually, it outgrew his house and began to meet elsewhere, including the Canyon High School gym in Anaheim.
After initially joining Calvary Chapel, the church had some differences with the Calvary Chapel leadership, relating mainly to the practice of spiritual gifts, Wimber’s rejection of traditional Dispensationalism, and his embrace of Kingdom theology…
As a result of the differences over spiritual gifts, Wimber and his followers left Calvary Chapel, and joined a small group of churches started by Kenn Gulliksen, known as Vineyard Christian Fellowships, which became an international Vineyard Movement.”
John Wimber promoted a close walk with God, which is good, and he wanted to see God doing signs and wonders, that is also good wanting God to break through now, but I believe that he was pushing that too hard.
God is able to do miracles but it is totally on His terms of when and where and we can’t force the situation.
Pre Toronto Blessing guidelines and habits (1980’s)
On returning to the local House Church, certain practices became unwritten rules:
- After every service or meeting invite people to the front for prayer
- People had to stand with arms and hands half raised
- A person praying for that person would stand at their side and had to put a hand on their shoulder or back
- There was a strong (unspoken) suggestion that the one being prayed for started rocking
- Someone had to stand behind them ready to ‘catch them’ and lay them on the floor
- The main leader would walk the line of people and stand in front of one, putting a hand, or both hands, on or near them and then pushing their hands forward, to either give the visual stimulus of falling back or in some cases pushing them back
- If anyone still remained standing they would be encouraged not to resist God’s Spirit
There was a time period of several weeks where most people got asked to sit in a wooden chair with their legs horizontally stretched out and if their heels were not identically together then that meant one leg was longer than the other.
Surprisingly many in this ‘test’ showed that one leg was ‘longer’, so it was promptly prayed for with great enthusiasm and seemingly the ‘shorter’ leg would ‘grow’ (or the person would change their position slightly and both legs would end up being the same length).
I know that I sound judgemental and sceptical, but the atmosphere in the meetings was ideal for producing fantasies and imagining things that just weren’t there.
I believe that God created this universe just by speaking things into existence and he is well able to work miracles now.
I just think this behaviour was man led and was elevating certain leaders in a proud way.
Toronto Blessing review when it started to be manifested in the local church (early 1990’s)
When the ‘Toronto Blessing’ hit the scene, I had moved area and was involved in a House Church of a hundred or so members.
The loose term ‘House Churches’ was used for all the new churches who met independently from established denominations, even when they met in schools, Town Halls, etc.
The worship, prayer meetings and home groups were already God centred and lively.
The Toronto Blessing, a term coined by British newspapers, refers to the Christian revival and associated phenomena that began in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church (TAV), which was renamed in 1996 to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) and then later in 2010 renamed to Catch the Fire Toronto.”‘Toronto Blessing’ Wikipedia [i]
The main part of the Sunday Services remained similar in style but would go into a time of praying for people to receive the blessing.
This would result in such things as people falling over, laughing uncontrollably, crying, shrieking, shaking, crawling or lying on the floor, peculiar movements, crying out, animal noises – barking, chicken noises, roaring, crowing, etc.
The prayer meetings would go straight into this phenomenon.
I was open to a true work of the Holy Spirit, but I just didn’t want to conform to the peer pressure.
If anyone was not showing any signs of being ‘touched’ they were encouraged to ‘surrender, don’t resist’.
As I’ve said, I was open to God for him to move, but I was really feeling confused as to why the Lord would want to make anyone bark like a dog, etc, and the meetings did not seem to have any direction.
Also other church services descended into chaos because the preacher couldn’t stop laughing and therefore there was no Bible teaching.
To me that was a real alarm bell – why would the Lord want to stop the preaching?
And after the ‘Toronto Blessing’ (mid 1990’s):
At that time I was working in a high pressure job with long hours and my personal life was facing a crisis, and spiritually I was unable to examine the whole episode and check it out with the Bible.
I think it is fair to say, that the fruit of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ upon our church was questionable.
Even though people would say that they had had an experience, the effect would be very short lived.
Also, I was aware of no increase in the number of conversions.
After several years, I left that church and started to attend a more local one.
In all my years in Charismatic circles I had experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, fillings, and being touched by God, but the whole ‘Toronto Blessing’ left me feeling confused and uncomfortable.
Robin McAlpine has written an excellent book on this subject called: ‘Post Charismatic: Where Are We Now? Where Have We Come From? Where Are We Going?’ [iv]
I am not saying that the Lord can’t perform miracles, or that He doesn’t pour out His Spirit upon people, or that His Presence won’t cause weeping or joy, because the disciples prayed:
.. enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”Acts 4:29-30
It is only now that I feel it is right to revisit and to investigate this phenomenon, so please join me in exploring the next article …
[i] ‘Toronto Blessing’ Wikipedia
[ii] ‘John Wimber’ Wikipedia
[iii] 1995 Methodist Conference Statement
[iv] ‘Post Charismatic: Where Are We Now? Where Have We Come From? Where Are We Going?’ by Robin McAlpine
I started on my Faith Journey in 1976 whilst on my sandwich year from college.
Since then I’ve not been restrained to any one denomination – believing that local Church is always important. Through career moves and life changes this has enabled me to play a part in the Assembly of God Church, Elim, various New Church Groupings, Brethren, Anglican and Baptist Churches.
I am married to Jackie and we live in Cambridgeshire in the UK.