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ss nucleus - winter 1994,  The 'Toronto Blessing'

The 'Toronto Blessing'

Over the past few months, several hundred churches throughout the United Kingdom have witnessed strange phenomena. Christians from Aberdeen to Brighton have fallen to the floor, begun shaking, wept tears or laughed with joy. Most observers trace the origin of these occurrences to the Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Canada, earlier this year.

Reaction has been mixed. Many, having travelled to foci of activity in London, (such as Holy Trinity, Brompton and Queen's Road, Wimbledon), have claimed to have a new sense of God's love and power. Others, despite also having been present, have expressed caution.

The following article, by Dr Derek Munday of 'Christians in Caring Professions' (CiCP), has been reprinted from CiCP's September Newsletter by kind permission. The Bible references have been added by us for your benefit, again with the consent of the author.

In recent weeks a number of Churches in this country, including Anglican, Baptist and newer Charismatic Churches, have been experiencing what has been described by some as the 'Toronto Blessing', where people have been brought into deep joy and laughter; some into tears and repentance; some into times of ministry.

A doctor speaking to me a few days ago made the comment that, even though a Christian, it is a problem to be a doctor because we always carry a burden of scepticism and questioning. Many in the professions are used to not accepting things at face value. Instead we dig to search for truth, recognising that things are not always what they seem. Some of us have had to deal with Christians who have claimed healing when it has not occurred or have been living in unreality claiming some spiritual revelation, experience or call from God which does not seem to match up with reality. It is easy to become sceptical.

At a time like this when things are happening in the Churches (some of which are rather bizarre), it is easy to become cynical. We do well to remember that God has always broken out of traditions. He will not be confined to a set of rules or polite western behaviour patterns. He certainly does not conform to our western obsession with time and punctuality. Jesus, for example, was late arriving at Lazarus' bedside. Lazarus resultant death drew a rebuke from Martha.[1] Today we would consider such failure in timing actionable. However, Jesus was master of the situation as he moved in the will and power of God knowing that God's timing was perfect, knowing what God wanted to do and seeing, in Lazarus' raising from the dead, great glory to God and blessing to all those around.

When one of the most significant events of the Christian Church occurred, (ie the Day of Pentecost), it was marked by such bizarre behaviour that some eye-witnessess thought that the Christians were drunk.[2] To our western minds that seems an extraordinary way to launch such an overwhelmingly important event as the founding of the Church. However, God's thinking is different. The Bible says that 'the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men'.[3] Throughout the Acts of the Apostles and throughout the history of the Church ever since, God, it seems, is delighted in confounding the wise, working with those who are willing to stand in faith and not be thrown by whatever seemingly bizarre manifestations occur as the Holy Spirit moves. Round our dinner table recently, one member of the family said that God is not a conformer. That is so true - God does not conform to our western standards of behaviour.

Whilst saying all this and exhorting us to be careful about inbred scepticism we must be careful about going to the opposite extreme as well - that of credulity. Satan has a very simple scheme for deceiving men and women. He tries with all his power to stop them coming to a knowledge of the truth. If, however, he fails and they do come to know God then he will try with all his power to distort truth or overemphasise one aspect and turn it into a parody of what it should be. Wherever there is a move of the Holy Spirit, Satan will seek to move as well. There will also be fleshly imitations. A reading of the Acts of the Apostles will make this quite evident - those seeking to imitate[4] and those wanting the gifts of the Spirit for their own ends.[5] We may be people to whom others will look for a lead, as a result of our position in society. We need to be willing to be open to embrace all that the Holy Spirit brings. We need to seek the wisdom of God to know what is of God and what is not.

Although what is happening at the present time could not be called a revival (as far as I know very few people have been converted through it - it seems to be more an episode of refreshing for Christians), there are certain lessons that revivals can teach us. If there is new wine there must be a new wine skin.[6] Yet a wine skin made of leather will still retain the properties of the old wine skin (ie leather remains leather whether new or old). The new wine skin will have the same properties the old wine skin had when that, in turn, was new. It strikes me that there are two major properties that need to be present in any wine skin to contain what God may do amongst us in the coming months.

The first is a total and utter devotion to God, a love relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and a knowledge of the cross bringing the grace of God to our lives, bringing forgiveness of sins, restoration and redemption. The command that we should remember the Lord Jesus in the bread and wine whenever we share it[7] remains until Jesus returns. That alone plants devotion centrally in our Christian experience.

The second fundamental is the Word of God. We must be those who have the Bible at the very centre of our lives. We must understand it. We must live by its teaching. We must measure everything - every experience, every prophecy, every new movement - by what we see written there. God's truth is God's truth. It will not change or stretch or alter to fit in with the prevailing pattern and thoughts of society. Rather, the opposite should happen. Society must take its foundation and basis from the Word of God.

If we do not have these two things incorporated into whatever is happening amongst Christians today, we are in danger of drifting into Christian existentialism and seeking to gratify our feelings and live by whatever makes us feel good and be defeated by whatever makes us feel bad. Such a drift is unfortunately seen amongst many Christians today. If, on the other hand, our commitment is devotion to God and the Lord Jesus Christ above everything, and a total dependency on the Word of God to measure and to judge all that takes place, then we will be able to embrace and enjoy all that God brings because we will see it leading the Church to gloriously honour and glorify whilst looking towards bringing many others into the Kingdom. We will be able to measure it against the Word of God and discern error and uphold truth.

I pray for all of us that we may be men and women of the Book, the Bible, devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and be so secure in this that we are willing and ready for anything that God may give us or lead us into the glory of his name and the blessing of many others.

References
  1. Jn 11:21
  2. Acts 2:13
  3. 1 Cor 1:25
  4. Acts 19:13-16
  5. Acts 8:18,19
  6. Mt 9:17
  7. 1 Cor 11:23-26
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