Site of Toronto Blessing
|Date||January 20, 1994|
|Location||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
The Toronto Blessing, a term coined by British newspapers, describes the Christian revival and associated phenomena that began in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church (TAV), which was renamed in 1995 to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) and then later in 2010, renamed to Catch the Fire Toronto. It is categorized as a neo-charismatic evangelical Christian church and is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The events that occurred at the Toronto Blessing yielded both positive and negative criticism about charismatic doctrine, the latter rain movement, and the types of physical responses that should be expected within a charismatic service. The Toronto Blessing also may have influenced other revivals, such as the Brownsville Revival and the Lakeland Revival where similar manifestations occurred.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Reaction and criticism
- 3 Timeline of Immediate and Subsequent Impacted Events
- 4 Impact on Christian Culture
- 5 Ministers in Attendance
- 6 Popular culture
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The Toronto Blessing has become known for an increased awareness of the Father's love, religious ecstasy, external observances of ecstatic worship, what is termed as being slain in the Spirit, laughter, emotional and/or physical euphoria, crying, healing from emotional wounds, healing of damaged relationships, and electric waves of the spirit. "Holy laughter" as a result of overwhelming joy was a hallmark manifestation, and there were also minor instances of participants roaring like lions. Leaders and participants claim that these are physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence and power, while a few Pentecostal leaders believe these were the counterfeits of the Spirit mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
This was also not the first time in history these types events occurred; some were evident in the Azusa Street revival of the early 1900s. The Bible also records supernatural events when people encountered God such as lightning coming from the top of Mount Sinai when the 10 Commandments were given, Roman soldiers falling down in the Garden of Gethsemane when encountering Jesus, Moses' face shining when coming off Mount Sinai, and the cloud of glory that appeared over the tent of meeting. Proponents of the Toronto Blessing point to these Biblical examples as evidence of these activities being legitimate.
The speaker at these meetings was Randy Clark, a former Baptist pastor who left his denomination and joined the Association of Vineyard Churches after a team from the Vineyard denomination ministered in his church in 1984. Randy Clark, himself, testifies of being miraculously healed after a bad car accident as a teenager many years earlier and this event marked his life in believing for supernatural healing even though he was part of a denomination that believed the gifts of the Spirit were no longer part of the way God operates in the lives of people.
Salvation's, Miracles & Manifestations
- More than 300 of the visitors testified that they supernaturally received gold or silver fillings in their teeth during the meetings
- Jerking Head Movements and prophecy while people were "under the spirit".
- A study was conducted in 1995 that surveyed 1,000 people who visited the Toronto church and approximately half of them reported that they felt spiritually refreshed after the meetings, close to 90% said they were more in love with Jesus than they had been in any other point in their lives, and 88% of married respondents stated that they were also more in love with their spouse. A followup study conducted in 1997 also yielded similar figures from the original survey respondents.
Similarities to Other Revival Movements
The Toronto Blessing shares similarities with other past events where historical records report similar activities of laughter, crying, falling down, shaking and miraculous healings:
- Lakeland Revival
- Brownsville Revival
- Holiness Pentecostal Revivals in 1875-1907
- Welsh Revival
- Jotebeche Methodist Church Revival
- Azusa Street Revival
Other revival movements where the gifts of the Spirit were prominent without these other manifestations include:
Reaction and criticism
Some Christian leaders were enthusiastic about what they saw as a renewal in North American Christianity, while many others saw it as hysterical and spiritually dangerous. The laughter portion of these meetings was endorsed by Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson, who said in one interview that "The Bible says in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy." Critics referred to it as "self-centred and evil" and cited the strange manifestations as warning signs. Others defended the blessing as historically rooted in earlier revivals, such as those seen by pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, and as having positive effects in the lives of participants. In his book, Counterfeit Revival, Hank Hanegraaff claims that the revival has done more damage than good, and that the Toronto blessing was a matter of people being enslaved into altered states of consciousness where they obscure reality and enshrine absurdity. Hank Hanegraaf also stated in a 1996 Washington Post interview that "It's nice to feel all these things, but the fact is, these feelings will wear off, and then disappointment steps in. I call it post-Holy Laughter depression syndrome. Contrastingly, Pew research has shown that these feelings seem to continue as the Charismatic category of Christians continues to grow with more than 300 million people in 2011. At the time of the revival, Dr. James Beverley, a critic of the Toronto Blessing and a professor at Toronto-based Tyndale Seminary, stated that these events were a "mixed blessing" but was later quoted in 2014 as saying "Whatever the weaknesses are, they are more than compensated for by thousands and thousands of people having had tremendous encounters with God, receiving inner healings, and being renewed." He also stated "My concerns have changed a bit. I regret saying that they did not give enough attention to Jesus. I think that was too hard. The leaders and the people—they love Jesus. We all do not give enough attention to Jesus." It's also important to note that other Vineyard churches, such as Harvest Rock in Pasadena, Calif. experienced the same manifestations as those that occurred at TAV at the same time as events of 1994.
Timeline of Immediate and Subsequent Impacted Events
Feb, 1994 - Initial Services
The Toronto blessing began at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church, now called Catch the Fire Toronto, when pastors John and Carol Arnott were inspired by revivals in Argentina led by Claudio Freidzon, and in South Africa. They invited Randy Clark, a Vineyard pastor from St. Louis, Missouri to minister at the church from January 20–23, 1994. Randy Clark had been influenced by his own personal life experiences of miracles happening in his church as well as the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne, a South African preacher, and founder of the Rodney Howard-Browne Evangelistic Association in Louisville, Kentucky. Clark preached at the Airport church for two months starting January 20 and the meetings continued for 6 days each week for the next 12 1/2 years.
In that first revival service, there were about 120 people in attendance, and Arnott recalled that most members fell on the floor "laughing, rolling, and carrying on". During that first year, the church's size tripled to 1,000 members and meetings were held every night except on Mondays as the revival's influence spread. Reports of similar revivals emerged from Atlanta, Anaheim, Saint Louis, several Canadian sites, Cambodia, and Albania. It was common for visitors to carry the influence of the revival back to their home congregations – two notable British cases in point being Holy Trinity, Brompton and Holy Trinity, Cheltenham. Areas that have become known for Toronto Blessing type revivals worldwide include Pensacola, Florida, home of the Brownsville Revival, Bath, England, and Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.
The peak of the Toronto blessing's prominence in the Christian community occurred in the mid- to late-1990s. Since that time it has faded from public view, although the proponents of Discernment Ministries would suggest that these kinds of events are simply part of a wider theological cycle that has existed continually throughout modern era Charismatic Movements. Manifestations of the kind associated with the Toronto Blessing are in fact recorded in Colin Urquhart's early book "When The Spirit Comes", which appeared during the 1970s and chronicled the renewals which occurred at the church in Luton, England where Urquhart was for a time incumbent. The phenomena associated with charismatic renewal have been championed by such clergy as Urquhart and David Watson in Britain and by countless preachers worldwide, but have also been criticized as dehumanizing and as being rooted either in extreme aesthetic reactions to religious stimuli.
Eleanor Mumford, the wife of a Vineyard pastor who herself had attended the services at TAV, traveled to Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in London, England where manifestations and activities similar to those that occurred at TAV began to also occur at HTB.
Steve Hill, an Assemblies of God evangelist was also impacted when he attended HTB and carried what he received to Florida and, as an indirect result, the Brownsville Revival started where almost a quarter of a million people converted to Christianity.
2000 - 250,000 Agnostics "Converted"
In the year 2000, The Guardian newspaper reported that 250,000 agnostics in the United Kingdom turned to a belief in Jesus through Nicky Gumbel's Alpha course and also quoted Nicky Gumbel, the current Vicar of HTB, as saying that the Toronto Blessing was "the kick start that the Alpha course needed." Nicky Gumbel was in attendance at some point during those meetings and the impact led to the conversion of a quarter million people.
2014 - Anniversary Conference
A special conference was held at Catch the Fire in January, 2014 to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the original Toronto Blessing. These event also brought apologies, forgiveness, and a healing of the rift that formed between the Vineyard and Toronto churches.
Regular services continue to be held at Catch the Fire and attendees continue to travel from around the world to visit the church.
Impact on Christian Culture
The events that started in 1994 spurred many Christians hungry for deeper encounters with God to visit the church in Toronto or attend other events around the world that were also impacted by what occurred in Toronto. Several highly successful missionaries, pastors, and itinerant ministers today attribute the growth of their organizations and their increased hunger for more of God's presence to the Toronto Blessing. These include Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Heidi and Rolland Baker, Missionaries to Mozambique, Africa, and Che Ahn, Senior Pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California. These are leaders that have been impacting the 21st Century Charismatic Movement through massive conferences and revival meetings, including Azusa Now, JesusCulture Conferences, and The Call.
Impact through Missions Organizations
Heidi Baker, after attending the meetings in Toronto, went back to Mozambique and in the years since, along with her husband, Rolland Baker, has planted more than 10,000 churches throughout Africa and Asia. Their organization, Iris Global, provides food for 10,000 children each day, and operates three primary schools and five Bible schools.
Andrew Strom claimed that the Toronto Blessing had originated from Indian practices, also known as Kunadalini and he documented a series of books and videos regarding some of the strange manifestations that had occurred during the revival meetings.
Theological Disagreement and Reputation
Some organizations and writers have painted the Toronto Blessing in a negative light which has created a negative stigma or reputation regarding charismatic style services among other Christian denominations. Other theologians have singled out Toronto Airport (and it's associated leaders such as John & Caroll Arnott) as part of a bigger criticism of the Charismatic Movement, arguing from a cessationist position. These include John F. MacArthur who in 2014 led the "Strange Fire" Conference which was aimed at speaking out against the Charismatic Church as a whole.
In Dec 1995, the Toronto Airport Vineyard church was released from affiliation with the Vineyard movement. The reasons for the disaffiliation were for growing tension over the church's emphasis on extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Spirit and the Vineyard leadership's inability to exercise oversight over the revival. Bethel and other organizations had later detached themselves, as well, from the Assemblies of God to support their own spiritual practices and movements that had occurred during the revival meetings.
Ministers in Attendance
A wide array of notable ministers traveled to TACF to experience for themselves what was happening during the initial meetings and in the years that followed. These ministers have stated in various books and public teachings that they were present in the meetings and had differing positive encounters:
- Bill Johnson, Bethel Church, Redding, California
- Heidi Baker, IRIS Global, Mozambique, Africa
- John Scotland, Itinerate prophetic minister, Liverpool, England
- Che Ahn, Founder of HRock Church
- Joseph Garlington, Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Nicky Gumbel, AlphaJon Ronson
The Toronto blessing was referenced in the 2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Careless" and was painted in a negative light about attendees being seduced by the charismatic style of worship.
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- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Careless, 08:28, 2004