Toronto Blessing

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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.[1]

Characteristics[edit]

The Toronto Blessing has become known for an increased awareness of the Father's love, external observances of ecstatic worship, what is termed as being slain in the Spirit, laughter, shaking, and crying.[1] "Holy laughter" as a result of overwhelming joy was a hallmark manifestation,[2] and there were also minor instances of participants roaring like lions.[3] Leaders and participants claim that these are physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. 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.[4] 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,[5] Roman soldiers falling down in the Garden of Gethsemane when encountering Jesus,[6] Moses' face shining when coming off Mount Sinai,[7] and the cloud of glory that appeared over the tent of meeting.[8] Proponents of the Toronto Blessing point to these Biblical examples as evidence of these activities being legitimate.[1]

Similarities to Other Revival Movements[edit]

The Toronto Blessing shares similarities with other past events where historical records report similar activities:

Reaction and criticism[edit]

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.[3] 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.[9]" 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.[3] 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.[9]" 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.[10]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."[11] 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."[11]

History and Timeline[edit]

1994 - Initial Services[edit]

The Toronto blessing began at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship church, now called Catch the Fire, when pastors John and Carol Arnott were inspired by revivals in Argentina led by Claudnio Freidzon, and in South Africa.[3] They invited Randy Clark of St. Louis, Missouri to minister at the church in January 1994.[12] Randy Clark had been influenced by 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 introduced some of Howard-Browne's approach into TACF practice.[12]

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".[3] 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[2] 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 Charismatism.[13] 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[14] or as a form of hysteric paralysis based on the hypnotic manipulation of feelings of dread and guilt.[15]

2000 - 250,000 Agnostics Converted[edit]

The Guardian reported that 250,000 agnostics in the United Kingdom turned to a belief in Jesus through Nicky Gumbel's Alpha course and also stated that Nicky Gumbel was in attendance at the original Toronto Blessing meetings.[16]

Continual Services[edit]

Regular services continue to be held at Catch the Fire and attendees continue to travel from around the world to visit the church.

2014 - Anniversary Conference[edit]

A special conference was held at Catch the Fire in January, 2014 to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the original Toronto Blessing.[11] These event also brought apologies, forgiveness, and a healing of the rift that formed between the Vineyard and Toronto churches.[11]

Background[edit]

Randy Clark was previously a Baptist pastor who, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, transitioned away from his Baptist credentials and joined the Vineyard denomination.

Impact on Christian Culture[edit]

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.[12] 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.[17] These include Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California,[18] Heidi and Rolland Baker, Missionaries to Mozambique, Africa,[19] and Che Ahn, Senior Pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California.[20]

Positive Impact[edit]

Impact through Missions Organizations[edit]

IRIS Global[edit]

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.[21][22][23]

Negative Impact[edit]

Reputation[edit]

Some organizations and writers[24] 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.

Denominational Splits[edit]

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.[1]

Ministers in Attendance[edit]

A wide array of notable ministers traveled to TACF during the 40 day revival to experience for themselves what was happening. These ministers have stated in their own books 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
  • Joseph Garlington, Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Nicky Gumbel, Alpha[25]

Popular culture[edit]

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.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Bowker, John (1997). "Toronto Blessing". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  2. ^ a b Ostling, Richard (15 August 1994). "Laughing for the Lord: Revivalist fervor has invaded the Church of England". TIME. London, Ottawa. p. 38. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Maxwell, Joe (October 24, 1994). "Laughter Draws Toronto Charismatic Crowds". Christianity Today. 38 (12). 
  4. ^ Tommy Welchel, True Stories of the Miracles of Azusa Street and Beyond: Re-live One of The Greastest Outpourings in History that is Breaking Loose Once Again, Destiny Image, 2013
  5. ^ Exodus 20:18, NIV
  6. ^ John 18:6, NIV
  7. ^ Exodus 34:35, NIV
  8. ^ Exodus 40:34, NIV
  9. ^ a b Sharon Waxman, Filled with Ho Ho Holy Spirit, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1996/01/02/filled-with-ho-ho-holy-spirit/aeb5dced-7018-4e70-90b3-6d407885552f/, Washington Post, 1996
  10. ^ Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/, Pew Research Center, 2011
  11. ^ a b c d Lorna Duek, The Enduring Revival, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/enduring-revival.html?start=1, Christianity Today, 2014
  12. ^ a b c Stanley Burgess, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Zondervan, 2002
  13. ^ Buttner, Charleen (2001-07-19). "Latter Rain". University of Virginia. 
  14. ^ Cupitt, D, 1980, Taking Leave of God, London, SCM
  15. ^ Williams, H.A. 1982, Some Day I'll Find You, London, Fount.
  16. ^ Jon Ronson, Catch Me If You Can, https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2000/oct/21/weekend7.weekend, The Guardian, 2000
  17. ^ Allen Heaton Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity 2nd Edition, Cambridge University, 2013
  18. ^ Bill Johnson and Heidi Baker, Hosting the Presence: Unveiling Heaven's Agenda, Destiny Image, 2012
  19. ^ Heidi Baker, Compelled by Love: How to change the world through the simple power of love in action, Charisma House, 2008
  20. ^ Che Ahn, Into the Fire, Renew, 1998
  21. ^ Hope Flinchbaugh, Miracles in Mozambique, Ministry Today, 2002
  22. ^ Darren Wilson, The Finger of God, Wanderlust Productions, 2006
  23. ^ Heidi Baker and Shara Pradhan, Compelled by Love: How to change the world through the simple power of love in action, Charisma House, 2008
  24. ^ Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival, Thomas Nelson, 2001
  25. ^ Jon Ronson, Catch Me If You Can, https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2000/oct/21/weekend7.weekend, The Guardian, 2000
  26. ^ Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Careless, 08:28, 2004

External links[edit]