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The Toronto Blessing, a term coined by British newspapers, describes the revival and associated phenomena that began in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard church, known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) until 2010, now Catch the Fire Toronto, a neo-charismatic evangelical Christian church located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The blessing has become known for ecstatic worship, including what is known as being slain in the Spirit, laughter, shaking, and crying. "Holy laughter" was a hallmark manifestation, and there were also instances of participants roaring like lions. Leaders and participants claim that these are physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence and power.
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. 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.
The Toronto blessing began at the Airport church, now called Catch the Fire, when pastors John and Carol Arnott were inspired by revivals in Argentina led by Claudio Freidzon, and in South Africa. They invited Randy Clark of St. Louis, Missouri to minister at the church in January 1994. Randy Clark had been influenced by the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne, a South African preacher, founder of the Rodney Howard-Browne Evangelistic Association in Louisville, Kentucky, and the earliest known proponent of the "holy laughter" revival phenomenon. Clark preached at the Airport church for two months starting January 20 and introduced some of Howard-Browne's approach into TACF practice.
In that first revival service, there were about 120 people in attendance. 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.
In 1995, the Airport 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.
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 Charismatism. 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 or as a form of hysteric paralysis based on the hypnotic manipulation of feelings of dread and guilt.
The Toronto blessing was referenced in the 2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Careless".
- "Toronto Blessing" by M. M. Poloma, p1149–1152 in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements ed. Stanley M. Burgess, assoc. ed. Eduard M. van der Maas. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2002, Zondervan)
- Bowker, John (1997). "Toronto Blessing". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- Ostling, Richard (15 August 1994). "Laughing for the Lord: Revivalist fervor has invaded the Church of England". TIME (London, Ottawa). p. 38.
- Maxwell, Joe (October 24, 1994). "Laughter Draws Toronto Charismatic Crowds". Christianity Today 38 (12).
- Buttner, Charleen (2001-07-19). "Latter Rain". University of Virginia.
- Cupitt, D, 1980, Taking Leave of God, London, SCM
- Williams, H.A. 1982, Some Day I'll Find You, London, Fount.