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
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.)