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NO LAUGHING MATTER?

by Jacques More

NO LAUGHING MATTER is the title of a booklet written by Stanley Jebb and published by Day One Publications. According to Brian H. Edwards, President of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches writing in the foreword, it was composed by Mr Jebb following a request by the Theological Committee of the F.I.E.C to give a paper at their Caister Conference in April 1995. It is a critique of what has been termed 'the Toronto experience' and I endeavour in this present document to give a response to this work.

Where does one begin?

It is like being in a garden with so many weeds in view, that I look at this document and wonder where to commence. A context needs to be established, a zooming back. Nevertheless, though a good look at the bigger setting out of which this booklet has emerged would be advantageous space forbids it. Mr Jebb is a strong advocate of the Sovereignty of God, Reformed in mindset and in practise Cessationist (if the lack of encouragement to use prophecy is anything to go by). Now, for the sake of a great many I will need to unpack these terms simply, but it needs to be declared from the outset that the booklet was not written out of a vacuum.

The publication claims to be 'a biblical and honest appraisal' of the Toronto experience, but in reality I could not help but find it biased in the use of Bible quotes out of context and inaccurate in assumptions based on poor research. I will attempt in this document to explain terms which have been condemned. In all it gives the appearance of having been written out of a genuine concern, but, just as Peter Meney, editor of The Evangelical Times once said of himself in a letter to me, 'I am not deceived', one must be mindful that such belief is always held by someone who is as well as those who are not.

BACKDROP UNDERSTANDINGS
Would it be unfair to say that the subjective remarks made throughout betray signs of a cessationist practise in the life of the writer? (even if a previous advocate). A cessationist believes the 'gifts of the Spirit' [should have?] ceased with the first apostles, and that they were then only active to give the Church a kick start (hence the word cessation). As we shall see below cessationist practise is sufficiently seen by the overlooking of clear reference to the use of the 'gifts' when quoting a passage mentioning them.

The other mindset which needs addressing and which shows up as a predominant factor in the thinking of the author of the booklet involves the extreme view of the Sovereignty of God within the framework of Reformed thinking: that is to say the kind that leaves little room, if any, for the biblical and clear reality of the Self-control of God. The Reformed position is that there are those who are part of a small group, the 'few' who are chosen by God 'out of the many' for individual salvation; 'elect' from a position in time before the world began; they alone receive salvation, cannot refuse it and cannot lose it; from beginning to end it is all of God in his sovereignty(1).

(1)For the interested reader as regards all my comments concerning Reformed Thinking I recommend my book So you think you're chosen?

More importantly for life and practise of the church there seems to be little understanding of distinguishing features between the enemy's work compared to that of the Spirit of God when it comes to manifestations. I aim to give some guidelines which I trust will help to redress the balance.

However, in this booklet there are a few things said which deserve looking at and not to be put under the carpet. In particular the mention of certain doctrines, even though I will explain they have in themselves no real link to the 'experience'.

QUOTED TERMS USED AGAINST THE EXPERIENCE
The words and phrases: ''Don't try to use your mind to understand this'', ''Don't pray'', ''Receive!'', ''Drink!'', ''Have some more!'' spoken against, are understandably anathema to the mind unaware of the reasoning behind those words. If I was overheard saying 'I need to have a ''look under the skirt'' to tell the quality of material...' whilst in the midst of beautiful ladies, it could be misconstrued I was advocating something crude. Whilst as an ex-car mechanic I could have been talking about the piston of an engine. The issue here is language according to a usage, a setting requiring different meanings to words. The advent of the Toronto experience, but more accurately the understandings gained out of practise of the Gifts of the Spirit over time, has caused a number of different meanings to words. When these are then heard by those unfamiliar with the reasoning behind those words, it is understandable that they will be misunderstood. What is not so wise is to then publish such misunderstandings without attempts at communication, as is the command of our Lord when disagreements occur, or apparent wrongdoing causing offence (Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1 et al). If such talking had transpired, would there not exist an appreciation of terms used, and no need for such accusations against them? Of course, if talks had been requested and they were turned down, there are possible problems on both sides and the only 'winner' is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).

Those familiar with deliverance ministry, the casting out of demons, would understand the language of 'don't pray'. Praying, speaking, exclaiming things, involves an outward activity which does not allow for reception. Have you ever tried to speak to someone who, as a chatterbox, does not allow space for anything in reply? Similarly when praying it is unwise just to make a continuous list of demands upon God; listening is also required. This should not be equated with passivity or blankness of mind, but receptivity and openness to receive. Once and after something has been allowed to occur it is then to be tested. Not forgetting that any contact with the enemy or fighting with him, were that to occur, is covered by Jesus' words ''nothing shall by any means hurt you'' (Luke 10:19).

Much is made in the second half of the booklet regarding the use of the mind. Sadly, I believe at the expense of the needs of the spirit of the individual. This is important since the intellectual, the academic and doctrine, significant as they are, do not provide in themselves the regular comfort of the Spirit of God to a needy soul. The spirit of man cannot live on just the cognition of facts, but requires the breath of the spirit, for it is the spirit who gives life and the letter which kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). When used together there is no dryness or coldness but growth and edification.

When Paul advocated not to be drunk with wine he did not give the exercise of the mind as the alternative. He recommended the edification of the spirit by going on to be filled with God's Spirit by means of "speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:18-19 AV). I have often found when this is done outside of a pre-arranged 'order of service', whether alone or in a group, that whilst singing the tunes which come to mind, it is the very words of these then sung which 'speak into' the exact needs of the moment and thus release faith, let alone the infilling of the Spirit, as Paul mentions. Hardly a direct activity of the mind, but a speaking to the mind by allowing to receive by means of the Spirit's activity 'uncontrolled' by that mind. Indeed Paul's "proving all things" and "the others judge" and John's "test the spirits" require first of all for the activity not just to be permitted but active. The very context of these texts require first for the use of prophecy and associated activity to be present: "Do not quench the Spirit", "despise not prophecy", etc are all part of that context. Unlike the scripture there were no such recommendations or encouragements in the booklet. Hence the apparent cessationist practise given by the booklet.

What about the words "Receive", "Drink!", "Have some more"?

These are basically in a category similar to the words of Jesus "Receive your sight" (Luke18:42); "be not afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36 [reminiscent of don't use your mind...]); of Ananias "Receive your sight" (Acts 22:13); of "Rise up" (Luke 6:8), etc. The purpose is to engender faith in the hearer and release acceptance. If such commands of faith like "be healed" were known in practise by Mr Jebb, would such criticism have arisen?

RODNEY HOWARD-BROWNE AND BENNY HINN
The mention of Rodney Howard-Browne early on in the booklet (pages 6 and 8) serves to link the Toronto happenings to his teachings. In particular any association with Word-Faith teaching. One has only to listen to Randy Clark the Vineyard Pastor in St. Louis, Missouri and the original invited preacher to Toronto Vineyard at the 'beginnings', to realise that this link is wholly tenuous if at all existent. Clark's personal belief in the sovereignty of God shows in his sermons and he is known for his distance from this Faith teaching even if his attitude to holders of this belief received corrective attention. Could it be that the Lord used Randy Clark for this very purpose? The writer's heart is therefore revealed in attempting to discredit 'Toronto' by association with no basis in fact, easily revealed by context and thorough research. Does this not serve to show that the booklet is not exactly an 'honest appraisal'? I could equally link the writer to the errors of Reformed thinking and extremes of the Sovereignty of God.

Here follows a number of quotes from Randy Clark to show the veracity of the above. He said these things at a Sunderland conference I attended at the end of May 1995 (Session/Tape 3): "One group I theologically disagreed with and still have some differences of opinion with . . . name it and claim it, blab it and grab it, claim it and possess it [group] . . . the Faith Camp Movement . . . Now you need to listen carefully to what I say - at this point - I don't want to be misunderstood . . . I still don't agree theologically with everything the Faith Camp teaches . . ." he then went on to say how he asked to be forgiven for his attitude and words spoken against these fellow believers, and how he was touched by God in a manner which transformed his ministry in a number of meetings, he goes on "we went [on] to a [Vineyard] meeting - all heaven broke loose - John Arnott in Toronto, heard about that meeting, and called me, 'Randy, I'd like for you to come to Canada' I said, What for? 'Oh', he said, 'I heard about the meeting.' I said, It may not happen again! Now, you can understand why I had a problem about the faith Camp!" Randy Clark then explains how they started to pray for the coming meetings in Toronto due for January 1994 and, "people said, 'Randy, what do you think's going to happen when you go to Toronto; Do you think God's going to come? I said, I hope so." These are not exactly the words of a believer in Word-Faith Teaching.

The reality of this tenuous link can easily be seen by the lack of knowledge in proponents of 'the Blessing' to Rodney Howard Browne's, let alone Benny Hinn's writings. I compliment the writings of Reachout Trust for bringing to light deviations which need addressing. These must not be swept under the carpet, but dealt with seriously and carefully even though it is a separate matter. Personally, I believe in Jesus' encouragement to ask in faith (indeed to: literal Greek "Have God's Faith" Mark 11:22), but also aware of his practise on occasion to use the social security of his day by reaping from the edges of fields for food, as instituted in Moses law for the poor and the stranger (Matthew 12:1; Leviticus 19:9-10).

OTHER REVIVALS, WRITERS AND SCRIPTURE
It is always possible to quote events from one revival or another for the purpose of one's own ends. If we are not careful we will begin to elevate these on a par with scripture. Let us read for encouragement and to be envisioned; as aids not unlike apocryphal books, but not for doctrine.

Even quoting writers of 'influence' I do not see as necessarily helpful: John Calvin is quoted on page 8 (notice that it is immediately prior to the comments on Rodney Howard-Browne's 'teaching') ''...whenever our fancies are so fidgety, it is certain that an opening is made to blot out the remembrance of all that we had learned before and to take in many follies, yes, and erroneous doctrines, which serve to corrupt and perverse the purity of faith.'' I would be interested to know what Mr Jebb thinks of Calvin's own words. He said that the depravity of man is a result of God's creation and that God had expressly approved what preceded from himself. Further he says 'the first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should fall'. (Calvin's Institutes III xxiii 7,8). In the light of 1 John 1:5 and James 1:16-17 I would call that a clear defamation of God's character.

In pages 18 and 19 an argument from silence is brought into play both out of the Old Testament and the New: passages referring to individuals incapable of action, falling down, into a 'trance', etc, like Genesis 15:12; 1 Samuel 10; 2 Chronicles 5:13,14; Acts 9:4, 10:10; Revelation 1:17 et al. are all 'explained away' as not having occurred in worship services or with human intervention. Suffice to say I am sure that in the light of a lack of any mention of musical instruments used in places of worship in the New Testament, will Mr Jebb now recommend his church to stop all such practise?

In the section entitled The danger of deception (I wrote next to it: The danger of incredulity) a number of authors are 'quoted'. I could not help but tick the whole quote of Richard Owen Roberts eg. ''It must not be supposed even for a single moment, that all that occurs in the name of revival is automatically of God...''. In the light of the above, I think Dave Roberts quote itself is not inaccurate ''legalism'' (the only word quoted), and in context 'Legalism destroys, as does the preaching of God's justice to the detriment of an equal emphasis on his grace' (The Toronto Blessing published by Kingsway page 176). And Os Guinness's quote I found interesting: ''Reality is not to be taken for legitimacy. In a day of contentless religious experiences, the appeal of powerful spiritual phenomena is far wider than their legitimacy''. I would add that the fear of phenomena is far wider than its legitimacy. It is always true that Christians should not go around 'following' signs, but it is signs that should be following Christians.

COMPARISONS TO HYPNOTISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS
John Arnott, senior pastor of Toronto Vineyard, mentions that about 1/3rd of people in gatherings where 'the experience' is 'practised' do not receive/respond to the Spirit's activity(2). This helps to show us that the 'phenomenon' cannot be mass hysteria, or mass hypnotism, or it would be wholly different proportions. Can it be perceived that such significant proportions miss out in 'normal tranced gatherings' of a cult or other such assembly?

(2)John Arnott said this at a South West London Vineyard event in Putney on the 22nd October 1994.

A friend in Sunderland told me, however often he was inebriated by (the) Holy Spirit [Acts 2:13; Eph. 5:18: When was the last time you left a meeting feeling inebriated by the Spirit of God?], this friend of mine said, he was always in full control of his faculties when the need or time arose for him to drive home. Indeed the Word tells us that ''the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets'' (1 Corinthians 14:32).

Now, this is not the case for those under hypnotism, trances, mass hysteria, etc.

In those cases some other personality than the individual can exercise control upon that individual. Not with God. God has self-control for it is part of the nature of true love not to impose your will upon another (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8). This in part is foreign to the mindset of Reformed thinkers since in their perception God's will is always done. What about all the sin in the world? Does God desire/will/purpose any? This is a tangential topic however and only relevant here due to the misconceptions in that mindset of how God works in practise.

So what can be said to help distinguish between the false from the real?

Receivers of God's touch are:

1. Always conscious.

2. Able to resist.

3. Often never touched (there is no particular need to be).

4. Can stop and go (leave) when they like or need to.

This is not the case for any hypnotism or trance where someone else has to wake them up or tell them what has happened. This is not like mass induced situations where ability to resist is severally diminished.

Jesus leads his sheep, he does not drive them (John 10:10-11); he requires a partnership (Matthew11:28-30); unlike the enemy who corners, pressurises, terrorises, etc. Is it any wonder that Jesus is knocking outside the door of Christians lives and hearts (Revelation 3:20)? Is it any surprise that he is unable to work miracles in the midst of many 'believers' gatherings due to unbelief (Matthew 13:58)?

It is of note that whilst highlighting differences between the 'fruit' and the 'phenomena' of Matthew 7:15-23, Mr Jebb does not state his support for the practise of these spiritual activities. Jesus practised them himself, enjoined his disciples to do so in Matthew 10 and, it must not be forgotten, he went on to tell these apostles to teach the ongoing new disciples to observe what he had previously taught (Matthew 28:20).

TWO EXTREMES
There are two extremes that need to be avoided. One is non-use of the 'gifts', non encouragement for the function of these in believers gatherings such that God's Spirit is quenched; the other is undisciplined use of these, such that everything is happening all the time to the detriment of order and edification, let alone with room for discernment and explanation. The first is the problem of the Thessalonian church to whom Paul wrote "Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesy " (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20); the other was the challenge of the Corinthian church to whom Paul said not to loosely do everything the Spirit gives you as you use to when led by the demons behind the idols you use to worship (1 Corinthians 12:2), but now use these manifestations of the Spirit in an order befitting edification of the whole body. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" "speak 2 or 3 and then let the others discern" (1 Corinthians 14:12, 40, 32, 29).

If as mentioned above the Spirit of God is not permitted to be involved in the direction of which songs are sung in a gathering, the involvement of others receiving messages or particular words is not allowed for, or room for physical manifestations is not given than one extreme is in vogue; If there are no explanations 'from the front' as to what the manifestations are, let alone appropriate action when 'fleshly' or other expression occurs, and the encouraging practise of wise weighing up than the other extreme is evident.

This all come down to teaching and practise. Basic explanations for various exhibitions and phrases used would be in order on the one hand during a meeting, and the encouragement to be involved and used by the Spirit of God, not quenching His work, on the other. A ready made pamphlet available to visitors would be helpful explaining why people lift hands or clap (as in the Psalms), what 'tongues' are about, etc. Let alone the misunderstood phrases mentioned earlier. Team running of believers gatherings is the way forward as was advocated by Paul for the basic running of churches anyway: he said to "appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5), at a time when there was only one church per city. Training up of counsellors, general instruction and the basic way meetings are run all need attention to deal with the challenges these extremes set.

FINAL WORDS
Mr Jebb ends the booklet with 'an assessment' basing 3 criterias: ''First, there is the doctrine, the foundation or basis of the movement''; we saw above the total lack of substance to this remark. ''second, there is the practise, the techniques or procedures that are employed and advocated'' I have discussed how these differ significantly from the non-Christian practises to which the 'phenomenon' has been compared. ''third, there is the fruit or end result in people's lives'' this I now touch upon: by quoting possible experiences of individuals having ''gone down'' and spent ''carpet time'' but 'with little change in character or spirituality' in the lives touched, it is claimed therefore that 'the fruit, is not uniformly good or positive'. It appears to be forgotten that of the ten healed lepers only one returned (Luke 17:12-17). Did that stop ten being healed, touched by the power of God. It is a serious misunderstanding of the nature of God to suggest that his work is not his when even a majority don't finally respond fully to his touch which met a need for a time.

However, irrespective of these assesments being found wanting over the overall 'Toronto Blessing', the criticism of misuse of passages of scripture, accepting all the manifestations as of God all the time, any manipulation and control by leaders, let alone the doctrines alluded to above, all these, need to be faced and dealt with.

IN CONCLUSION
Experience of the Holy Spirit leads to discernment, just as with the Word, 'who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil' (Hebrews 5:14). By reason of non use there is mistrust with what is 'foreign', so it is therefore evident the warnings and admonition of NO LAUGHING MATTER appear to be based on subjective personal experience, not on biblical exegesis.

Now, if 'the Toronto experience' were a counterfeit of some kind, and in recognition that in its nature a counterfeit will always appear very similar to the genuine article, my question is:

Where is the real thing?


Ref. M.005

Unless otherwise stated Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

© copyright Thomas Nelson Inc. 1979,1980,1982.

© copyright Jacques More 1995. All Rights Reserved.

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