The 'Holy Spirit' Movement and
the 'Toronto Blessing'
Q. What is the New Covenant Church's view of the various Holy Spirit Movement groups like, for example, the 'Toronto Blessing'? Do you endorse this movement?
A. No, we do not endorse this movement even though we are ourselves charismatic and believe that mystical Christianity is a vital part of Church life. And the main reason we do not is that they disregard biblical authority and lack a systematic approach to Scripture.
To begin with we affirm, along with many conservative evangelicals, that the Spirit's work in the New Testament does not mark a radical departure from the Old Testament dispensations but rather ushers in a new phase of fullness of blessing and activity. In the same way that the Old Covenant law was "brought to completion" or "filled up" (as opposed to "discarded") in Jesus Christ, so also has the Spirit in the New Testament dispensation brought the spiritual activity of God in the Old to "completion" or "fulfilment".
As new Covenant Christians we are not intimidated by some in the so-called "Holy Spirit Movement" who accuse us and others -- who reject much of the modern excessive "charismata" -- of "quenching", "grieving" or "blaspheming" against the Spirit when we refuse to imitate their tongue-babbling, laughing, weeping, collapsing onto the floor, and insist that people are not truly "born again" until they start spluttering mumbo-jumbo, etc..
We have constantly asserted that whilst the Holy Spirit does indeed lead certain individuals to sometimes speak in tongues, give prophecies, visions, and revelations (for which New Covenant Christians are well-known) that primarily the fruits of the Holy Spirit are such qualities as patience, long-suffering, gentleness, humility, meekness, warmth of heart, generosity, and so on, and that it is these fruits which constitute true Christian discipleship.
I recently attended a Baptist Church in Sussex, England, where there was much emphasis on praise. It was almost "Pentecostal", but not quite. A Christian artist was singing beautiful praise songs on the stage up front, but as I listened I could not join in. I felt uncomfortable. Suddenly, his wife, who was on the piano, played a wrong note; the flash of anger over his face put me into momentary shock as I saw the insincerity of his praise which was not Spirit-filled.
I relate this only because I have experienced the same lack of spiritual fruits in many charismatics. It is very often just an act -- a performance. The worship is "soulish" rather than spiritual. I have often told the story of a pastor from a Pentecostal Church whom I engaged in conversation after a worship service. There had been lots of praising and babbling in "tongues". There were lots of smiles and beaming faces. When I expressed disagreement over a particular practice this man, who had earlier been hopping around, singing praise, and babbling mumbo-jumbo, suddenly lost his temper. He was quite literally filled with uncontrollable rage even though I had asked my question humbly and inoffensively.
I have heard other charismatic leaders revile their congregations for being "unanointed" with the Spirit because they weren't hopping up and down, rolling on the floor, or babbling in "tongues" even when the Spirit was strongly present.
I must say that I find little, if any, evidence in the New Testament for the kind of "charismata" claimed by the so-called "Holy Spirit Churches". And yet, it is argued, that young people are flocking to them, and therefore it must be the work of God. I strongly disagree for the following reasons.
Firstly, the "gospel" in which many young people have become involved has failed to change their basic mindset. This is not necessarily their fault -- rather, it is the fault of the "Holy Spirit Movement" evangelists who are far more concerned to be popular with young people than they are to giving a faithful presentation of the biblical gospel.
Many youngsters have been attracted to church on the basis of a message which is little different from a drug-pusher -- "Take this, it will make you feel good." In a recent BBC TV Songs of Praise from Leicester, England, one young person had a testimony based simply in terms of God giving him the greatest "buzz". This kind of message, which finds its roots in the "Toronto Blessing" is at best only a part of the true Gospel and at worst a total lie.
Such a "gospel" fails to call people, whether young or old", to true repentance. The world still revolves around them. Jesus is there for them, rather than their now being there for Jesus. The "Toronto blessing" and other charismatic movements is a false gospel because it is, at heart, selfish. It sacrifices the communal aspect of the Gospel in favour of a personal "buzz", "trip", or "experience".
The packaging of many youth events today proclaims that the greatest "sin" is to be boring. This plays into the hands of the self-centred mindset. Bible teaching today must not be "heavy"; excitement must reign. The result: shallow, superficial self-centred Christianity (read, "no Christianity at all").
Genuine Christianity involves denying self, taking up the cross and following Jesus. Unless that message is preached to young people, they will be misled and be lost from Christ completely.
The true Church is a radical one. It is not the smugness of many conservative evangelicals who think they "have it all" or the avarice of the "health and wealth" groups. Most of what I see around does not truly grab the imagination of young Christians; it merely swallows them up into a pseudo-spiritual drug scene.
Those, like us, who have gained a reputation for being radical Christians have usually gained that reputation by moving towards the Bible's agenda and faithful discipleship, and away from the world's agenda. That true discipleship requires the establishment of a truly counter-culture. Most "charismatic" Christianity is simply a diluted and distorted Bible message implanted into the world's false, destructive drug-culture. And what does this that culture ask? It asks: "What have you got to turn me on?" And so the "Holy Spirit Movement" has jumped in and said: "We have Jesus to turn you on!", failing to realise that Jesus Christ never taught an entertainment-gospel but a sacrificial one. That is why the "Holy Spirit Movement" is fundamentally false, and why the "Toronto Blessing" is a cheap demonic pop-culture imitation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
[For a more thorough theological critique of the "Holy Spirit Movement", see our article Prosperity Theology: A Dangerous Heresy.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 26 February 1998
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