"Slain in the Spirit" and
the "Toronto Blessing"
NCW 15, January 1995
Q. What is your opinion of the "Toronto Blessing" in which Christians who are prayed for start falling on the floor ("slain in the Spirit") and then burst out into laughter? It started in the Vineyard Church in Toronto and seems to be spreading around the world. One Sunday I sensed my wife was no longer sitting next to me. I was engaged in prayer at the time -- and I looked around the room. There she was lying on the floor with a number of other people. I decided to go forward for prayer myself and find out what this was about. I had always thought that people faked it -- deliberately fell over to look good or were gently pushed over while in a relaxed state by the person praying for them -- but now my wife had done it and she doesn't fake things! I went down on the floor in about 20 seconds flat. Something really happened -- I was not pushed. I did not deliberately fall. As I was about to fall this intense tingling came into my hands -- like pins and needles but even more intense and my hands started to shake. While on the floor I started to laugh loudly. I have been on the floor quite a few times since. Each time it's something different -- once I had a tingling in my face, once when my eyes were closed I could see a light-blue swirling light. Whether this is the work of the Holy Spirit is open to debate but to me there is no doubt that something happens -- it's not just pretend.
Yes, we are aware of this phenomenon. Being so-called "slain in the Spirit" has been around for a long time -- I first saw it in South Africa -- but the phenomenon of laughing loudly is relatively new. Now this phenomenon has come to Norway where the New Covenant Church is based.
Now let me read you what the nature of the Holy Spirit is really like. The apostle James says: "Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, AND HE WILL LIFT YOU UP" (Jas.4:9-10, NIV).
- (1) My first observation is quite simply scriptural -- there is no precedent for being "slain" in the Spirit or laughing loudly anywhere in the New Testament. Quite simply, it was not a part of the experience of the first Christian Church. That alone is sufficient to make me pause and wonder.
- (2) Secondly, being "slain" in the "Spirit" suggests that the one being "slain" loses control over what he or she is doing. Once "slain" the person no longer has any volition or free agency. Paul says: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of prophets" (1 Cor.14:32, NIV). In other words, a man is free at all times to either receive or reject the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God never forces itself on anyone.
- (3) Thirdly, "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (v.33). The whole tenor of Paul's writings about gifts, whether they be tongues, prophecy, or whatever, is that there should only ever be one person expressing the gift at a time. The picture of a church full of people falling on the floor and roraing with laughter stands in sharp contrast to the peacableness and orderliness of the New Testament Church.
- (4) Fourthly, what is the purpose of "being slain" and "laughing loudly"? Is one personally edified? Is the Church edified by watching such behaviour? In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul is most concerened that the believers are not deceived by false gifts. He was particularly concerned with tongue-speaking which had got out of hand which is a problem today with the Pentecostal Movement whose churches in most cases do not follow the scriptural pattern. The "Toronto Blessing" is a product of the Pentecostal Movement.
Clearly, one who "laughs loudly" is "edifying himself" but not the Church (see 1 Cor.14:4). It is clear from scripture the tongues (speaking in a foreign language) is permisible so long as there is a translator/interpreter, yet Paul consistently says that prophesying is a superior gift. If we compare "loud laughter" with "speaking in tongues", which do you think is the superior (assuming that both are valid)? The one which imparts a spiritually-uplifting message from God (once correctly interpreted) or just wild laughter? Assuming that this "loud laughter" is from God (which I do not believe), then clearly: (a) Tongue-speaking is greater than "loud laughter", and (b) Prophecy is greater than tongue-speaking. If this is true, then it seems to be that the Pentecostal Churches (and others manifesting this "gift") are taking one giant step BACKWARDS.
- (5) Fifthly, what I have heard reminds me so much of some of the fruits of the New Age Movement whose chief temptation is to offer people mystical experience whilst at the same time taking them away from a knowledge of God.
What I would like to know is: What is the long-term effect of being "slain in the spirit" on those people who have experienced it? Does it increase their love of God and their fellow man? Does it give them a greater knowledge of God? Or do they come out of this experience with an impression that God, and the Spirit, is just having a good laugh?
God is not against laughter which is a great tonic to depression and distress. But is it a fruit of deep communion in the Spirit? As far as I know, only the Gnostic Christians claim that Jesus laughed alot. The Bible, and the secular eye-witness accounts of the life of Jesus, all agree that Jesus was a most sober man not given to much laughter. Salvation was simply too serious a matter. Yet Jesus also said: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:21, NIV) and "Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep" (v.25).
God wants us to be happy and He wants His servants to be happy (1 Tim.1:11). However, the Scriptures show that laughter is fitting only at certain times (Ecc.3:1,4; 9:7). Solomon discovered that mirth and laughter in themselves are not truly satisfying, for they fail to produce real and lasting happiness. There must be a true foundation for enduring, upbuilding joy (see Eccl.2:1-3).
One thing that impresses me about the "Toronto Movement" is that when they people laugh they don't know WHY they are laughing. To me this suggests a measure of brainwashing. When I laugh I know exactly what I am laughing about -- about a good (clean) joke , for example. Only once can I recall laughing in a meaningless way, when a friend of mine died. I did not know what I was doing -- it was a psychological release from something that was, in fact, terribly distressing.
Much of what I hear in Pentecostal Churches -- the babble of so-called "tongues" reminds me of this -- it is the release of tension, a way of "letting go" of life's responsibilities. It is no accident that at its beginnings the Pentecostal movement mostly attracted the very poor, those for whom life seemed to to give a harsh deal. The laughter of the "Toronto phenomenon" reminds me of just that. I am also reminded of psychologist Arthur Janov's work and how he leads patients to let out what he calls a "primal scream" to relieve themselves of pain and frustration.
It is possible that being "slain in the spirit" and "laughing loudly" is little more than a psychological phenomenon. At worse, it could very well be demon possession. Certainly I do not believe it is the Holy Spirit at work. The fact that people are "knocked down" suggests, I am afraid to say, demon manipulation, and therefore I would strongly warn against it.
At the same time I have to admit that neither I nor our members of the New Covenant Church have ever experienced this phenomenon. Certainly I have no desire to because I am already experiencing the Holy Spirit in what I believe to be a far grander and more scripturally sound manner. It is good to celebrate God's love by sharing meals communally together, laughing and singing, but I do not believe that laughing is part of the worship experience. I have experienced the inflooding of the Holy Spirit many times in prayer and worship and never has it inspired me to laugh. I have occasionally chuckled (a soft, gentle short laugh) at my own foolishness whilst praying but never felt to laugh loudly in prayer. I have desired to sing with my heart bursting with joy yet at the same time I have felt the emotions of solemnity and peace.
Let us remember that in the last day Satan intends to deceive as many as he can, with spectacular displays sometimes. Paul says: "..watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them" (Rom.16:17, NIV). "Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction" (2 Thess.2:3, NIV). Jesus warns: "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the very elect -- if that were possible" (Matt.24:24, NIV).
Finally, this should be a sober warning to us that simply using the Name of "Jesus" means nothing unless we are living the Commandments. For those who do not live the commandments by denying the written Word, open themselves up for deception. Let there be no misunderstanding about that. Dosobedient Christians are not immune from being led astray, but quite the contrary. Since I have not personally been in the vicinity when people have come under the "Toronto phenomenon" I cannot make an absolute judgment, but my experience with similar phenomena over the years, coupled with my knowledge of the Word of God, gives me a gut feeling that this whole matter is not of God and is DANGEROUS.
For more material on the Toronto phenomenon, see the following:
(1) Is the "Toronto Thing" of the Holy Spirit?
(2) Charismata: Distinguishing Between True and False Spiritual Gifts
(3) A Laughing Revival Service: Exposing the Fraudulent Toronto Blessing
(4) The "Holy Spirit Movement" and the "Toronto Blessing"
This page was created on 24 April 1998
Last updated on 24 April 1998
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