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Airport Blessing

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

On a cold evening January 20, 1994, a small Vineyard church of 120 members pastored by John Arnott met in a building near the International Pearson Airport for a four­day campaign. They had come to hear a St. Louis Vineyard pastor by the name of Randy Clark. He had previously attended a Tulsa leadership conference conducted by the South African Pentecostal minister Rodney Howard­Browne.

The Genesis of the Toronto Airport Blessing

During the first evening of the Toronto Vineyard campaign and without warning, waves of "holy laughter" erupted and swept through the congregation. Many worshipers swooned in the spirit. The laughter and swooning continued nightly, making the church the "in" place, in charismatic evangelical circles. Everything after this is history.

It would be difficult to calculate how many people came to experience, or witness this phenomenon. In Toronto alone, 200,000 in the first year from various countries and denominations stepped through the doors of the airport church. And over the next two years, this Pentecostal renewal marked by unholy laughter has become the most "talked about" matter in Pentecostal circles.

The Toronto Blessing exercises have moved to Hong Kong and London and around the world. The worshippers are fainting in the Lord and laughing their heads off. What a sight it is-laughing, crying, moaning, fainting, convulsing, jerking, running (Jesus laps), falling (slain in the Spirit), staggering (getting drunk in the Spirit), swaggering, and roaring like lions.

Randy Clark, the visiting Vineyard preacher, said that this the most powerful revival to hit this country since the 1906 Azusa Street revival. He said it would be the greatest revival ever seen and could last twenty years.

Pilgrims who come from all over the world seem to agree that the Holy Spirit has landed at the International Pearson Airport. Clark says that he believes this is the last great work of the Spirit before the Second Coming.

Holy laughter traces its roots to two Pentecostal ministries, one is from South Africa and the other from Argentina identified respectively with Rodney Howard­Browne and Claudio Freidzen. Howard­Browne is considered the catalyst for the Toronto Blessing. He prayed for and anointed Randy Clark during a Tulsa conference, and told him to lay hands on everything that moved. Some holiness­pentecostal types believe that Howard­Browne empowered Clark with the Pentecostal zeal that ignited the Toronto Airport Blessing!

Howard­Browne was born June 12, 1961, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He was reared in a Pentecostal church. He said that as a five­year­old boy, he would give his life every week to Jesus. He said that at the age of eight he was filled with the Holy Spirit at which time he was born again.

Lessons for the Change Agents in Churches of Christ

The Toronto Airport Blessing can be described, but it is too new to be defined. There is no way of knowing what meaning the TAB will have in the larger Pentecostal world. Two facts stand out: It is a "spin off" of Peter Wagner's Third Wave teaching. The second fact, which must be excruciatingly painful to John Wimber is that there is a new "charismatic kid on the block" who challenges his "Signs and Wonders" spectaculars.

It has to be far more exciting to see all the weird gyrations and hear all the strange sounds coming from two hours of a nonstop session of the TAB than watching Wimber ostensibly healing a hysterical woman suffering with a migraine headache.

Twin Offsprings of the Third Wave

We have in mind the Signs and Wonders theology, and the TAB. Gary Holloway and Michael Weed read a paper in May 1995 before the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville five months after the outbreak of the Toronto Blessing. They introduced the Third Wave Pentecostal model that they reported as already adopted in some large urban churches. In spite of the great harm being inflicted on churches of Christ from the Third Wave theology, Holloway and Weed do not express either approval or disapproval of the Third Wave paradigm.

What lies Behind the Third Wave Pentecostal Movement

It will be recalled from previous Firm Foundation articles that C. Peter Wagner developed the thesis in his book, Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, that there have been three major alleged advents of the Holy Spirit in this century-the 1906 Azusa revival (1960), and the charismatic movement of the 1960s.

The Third Wave is an entirely different story. One of the most dramatic new developments in the 1980s has been the development of the "Signs and Wonders"

Pentecostal movement. John Wimber came into prominence through the "Signs and Wonders" course (MC 510) which he taught in the Fuller Theological Seminary with the assistance of Peter Wagner.

The contentions of the Third Wave advocates is that the age of miracles never ceased, and that the miracles of Jesus and his apostles can be and must be performed today. The blind will see, and the lame will leap from their wheel chairs. Demons will be exorcised. The dead will climb out of their coffins.

Strange New Mixed Exotic Wines from the Vineyard Wineries

Toronto Blessing has its own critics from inside the Pentecostal churches. G. Campbell Morgan called it the "last vomit of Satan." Another critic suggested that the Toronto Blessing is possibly paving the way for the rule of the Anti­Christ.

Howard­Browne has nothing good to say about the TAB. He said about the holy laughter and the other exercises that: "We don't have any barking or roaring in our meetings. If you bark, we'll give you dog food. If you roar like a lion, we'll put you in the zoo."

The Toronto Airport Blessing phenomenon has spread throughout the world the past two years. A house can not have two masters-power healing, or the holy laughter gig. Wimber opted for power evangelism. Wimber and the Vineyard leadership reacted by ousting the Toronto church from the Association of Vineyard churches.

Church of Christ Connections with the Toronto Blessing

Some provocative statements about the Toronto Blessing came off the ACU internet server resulting in an exchange between Hans Rollman and Susan Gamble. Dr. Rollman, a native Canadian and a resident of New Foundland, was a member of Don Finto's Belmont Church of Christ in the 1970s while he was a student in the Vanderbilt School of Religion.

Dr. Rollman does not have any problems with the experiential charismatics past or present by his own admission, nor does he express any disapproval. Dr. Rollman, who identifies with the liberal element in the church of Christ, spoke on the Christian Scholars Conference program in 1996 on the DLU campus.

Susan Gamble, remembered for her recent defense of Mike Cope and Wineskins, made a visit with her preacher husband, Rick, to a Toronto Blessing service. She put on the ACU Bible server a description of the service by request of Hans Rollman. She provided a detailed account of what went on in the service, which is of no particular interest here.

But the reaction of Rick and wife Susan to the Toronto Blessing service does take on significance because of their qualified responses to the proceedings. Susan described worship in Churches of Christ as "stilted, empty, and lifeless" in comparison with the frenzied outpouring of emotion in a Vineyard service.

Rick responded that he is not convinced that these things come from God. In addition to the skeptical observations of Susan Gamble of the proceedings, she still manages to say, "There was also a great deal of spirituality evident." Susan Gamble obviously will not endorse the Toronto Blessing, nor does she condemn the Toronto Blessing.

More Than Academics

Hans Rollman tells what some know that the Mission Church in Abilene has links with the Vineyard Fellowship. Many ACU students attend the services. Dr. Rollman also interjects the fact that a Church of Christ mission group in Abilene with Vineyard connections is planning a mission effort for British Columbia. He called upon Susan Gamble for information on this project.

It is a cause for both lamentation and righteous indignation that our liberal brethren fall for every "screw ball theology" which comes down the pike while attacking the lovely bride of Christ. They do so with the harshest verbal abuse in open declarative statements, and with scurrilous sublimated innuendoes. And all of this is done with the most pious demeanor.

(Editor's comment: The Mission Church in Abilene has as its senior minister Leonard Allen, ACU professor, and enjoys the evident endorsement of both the administration and the board. Allen is the author or co-author of several false and faith­destroying books, including but not limited to, The Worldly Church, Discovering Our Roots, and Distant Voices. The board at ACU should be called to account ­ H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)


Published August 1997