|The Toronto Blessing - The Marketing of God|
|Written by Dr Rowland S. Ward|
|Thursday, 13 December 2007 00:00|
THE TORONTO BLESSING: THE MARKETING OF GOD
Some reflections on the
Rodney Howard-Browne crusade. Is he Cultic Mesmerist
A LAUGHING REVIVAL?
The story of the rise and spread of this teaching is found in several recent books, the following being the ones I have read: Dave Roberts, The Toronto Blessing (Kingsway, 189 pages), Guy Chevreau, Catch the Fire (Marshall Pickering, xii + 228 pages), Patrick Dixon, Signs of Revival, Kingsway 349 pages) Mike Fearon, A Breath of Fresh Air (Eagle, viii + 258 pages).
Roberts and Fearon are British Christian journalists in sympathy with the movement. The books by them show a measure of concern about aspects of the movement and Howard-Browne in particular, but do not delve deeply nor follow through the logic of some of their concerns. Chevreau is a Baptist pastor from Toronto who has accepted the movement as from God. He has expertise in church history and one third of his book traces experiences in the times of revival associated with the name of Jonathan Edwards with a view to showing that what is now happening is parallel. Dixon is a well regarded medical doctor who spends a quarter of his book giving a history of 'emotional faith'. Interestingly, he refers to the 'big revival' in the Scottish Hebrides in 1949 led by Duncan Campbell (p.185) which would be far differently assessed by the evangelical preachers of the Free Church of Scotland. He also discusses medical perspectives and includes a useful 35 page appendix written by Bill Jackson of the Vineyard in mid 1994.
While proponents think Holy Ghost fire, joy and power is being poured afresh on God's people, the meeting was a disappointment and a cause of distress to us. It was evident that many longed to see the power of God released in their lives. Pentecostals are encouraged to see this evidenced in physical manifestations and the people were ready to accept what occurred, the more especially after the hype associated with the anecdotal account of her work given by Mrs White: it must have made most pastors feel pretty powerless and it was not surprising that so many came forward.
Howard-Browne has a background in the Faith Movement associated with Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, and was assistant pastor in a vast Rhema Church in Johannesburg belonging to this stream before moving to the USA. These men are much closer to New Age concepts than to Christianity and are in fact quite positively heretical on such fundamental teaching as the Trinity, the person of Christ and the nature of faith. Howard-Browne did not say anything out of the way in Pentecostal circles on Monday and, while he may or may not agree with the Hagin/Copeland concepts that charismatic writer D. R. McConnell has ably documented in A Different Gospel (Hendrickson 1988, xix + 195 pages), he has not criticised his friend either. In May 1993 Howard-Browne engaged in what can only be described as a slapstick comedy routine with Copeland which was climaxed by Howard-Browne being rendered prostrate by Copeland. If it wasn't so blasphemous it would be a simply ludicrous performance. I have seen the video myself and Fearon refers to it in his book (p.122). Fearon thinks the association with Copeland 'unwise' but does not doubt that he was seeing 'genuine spiritual activity at work' - a lack of discernment common in the literature.
Howard-Browne has written several books although they are not very substantial in size or content. Flowing in the Holy Ghost (1991, vii + 109 pages) and The Touch of God (ix + 169 pages) are the main ones. There is nothing the average Pentecostal would balk at in them although one wonders about the following incident: "When I went to pray for a dear brother sitting to the left of me, he stood up and hugged me. Then he told me that he had died several years ago and had left his body for a time and was caught up into glory. He said he knew what was happening [in the meeting] was real because he had witnessed that same presence of the Holy Ghost - the glory of God - when he crossed over to the other side" - The Touch of God, page 101.
The same credulity applies widely. The Morwell AOG Church bulletin (2 April 1995) reports that a man and his dog fell to the footpath under the power of God when walking past Northside AOG. But is this really of the Holy Spirit? The Melbourne Herald-Sun for 21 May 1995 (p.8 of Encore Supplement) has a brief article about Sir William Keys' treatment for cancer at the hands of a Buddhist healer in Beijing, and you would think he was describing the symptoms typical at Howard-Brown meetings (including the desire to laugh). As Don Prout has said, 'This is a solemn reminder that there are other explanations beside the touch of God for the unusual manifestations.'
Howard-Browne, as I heard him, is a simple and quite slow speaker who paces up and down as he talks. He is a master of one-liners that get cheers but they do not always work well on reflection. Some pastors are 'not fishers of men but keepers of the aquarium' he said to applause, yet pastors are to feed and care for the people. He can be very critical of people in charismatic churches who fake or misuse the supernatural gifts. He can also be very critical of more traditional Christians, the word 'hate' being used in reference to them at the Sunday meeting, to applause. He didn't raise his voice all that much, but he used it to great effect.
Howard-Browne does not represent anything particularly new. The message I heard was classic Pentecostalism with less Scripture than most. The reading and the text was Acts 1:8 (one verse) and the argument was that power was promised, that tongues was not the be all and end all some thought, great revival was near at hand, the little lady from America had believed God and found it come to pass, we needed rebuke for our lack of success - 'some of you need to give up your theology because it doesn't work' - and so, after the hype from Mrs White, it was not surprising that large numbers came forward to receive the anointing evidenced by prostration.
One must thank Howard-Browne for highlighting the failure of Pentecostalism to deliver, and the consequent need to be repeatedly hyped up but his leading of the churches even further down the path of subjectivism is a most disturbing trend for the future of vital godliness. Assuredly the Spirit is being grieved.
A BRIEF ASSESSMENT
a. the claimed spiritual gifts
Rather than a crisis second stage, every believer needs to go on being filled with the Spirit, that is, he needs to grow in grace and in knowledge, and this is to be reflected in growing maturity, particularly in relationships (Eph 5:19ff). The hunger for God is met not by the promise of a second empowering stage in Christian experience but by exposure to the word of God and growing discovery of the riches that every believer, even the simplest, has in Christ. The Spirit does not lead us beyond Christ but to Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. When we find the Pearl of Great Price we are not called to lay it aside because there is something bigger and better.
c. attention on self
d. natural not spiritual
These models of 'anointed' preachers become a measure of one's own inadequacy. Like some at Corinth in Paul's day, they are so rich and so full (even though they assure you they are humble) that one can only imagine their devotees often feel crushed and failures. The desire for empowerment increases, the hope of some undeniable demonstration rises, yet it is a treadmill one can never safely get off - unless one falls back into the arms of Christ. As the energy drains away, as the hype wears off, what did the prostration achieve, what did the laughter amount to? Some believers will press on encouraged in witness because of what they consider to be a sign of God's presence; others will end up disillusioned. Assuredly Protestantism, so called, needs a Reformation for it is fast reverting to paganism.e. the witness of history
In undoubted movements of the Spirit in earlier times the physical manifestations occurred as people experienced conviction of sin and/or religious emotion, and this is perfectly natural. The wise preachers downplayed the significance of these things and put all the emphasis on the spiritual conviction issuing in a changed life. Today there is not much emphasis on repentance in the Biblical sense, while the physical manifestations are actually encouraged and regarded as likely proofs of God's presence in blessing. In short, Iain Murray is right to state in his generous review of Chevreau's book in The Banner of Truth, March 1995: "When weighed in the balance of history, and still more important in the balance of Scripture, there is too much in Pentecostalism which positively encourages the temporary and illusory."
|Last Updated on Sunday, 15 June 2008 17:14|