Last year, Crich Baptist Church held a conference, called ‘The Toronto Blessing 20 years on: learning lessons from the recent past’.
The conference publicity stated, ‘It is 20 years since many churches in the UK experienced a phenomenon that came to be known as “The Toronto Blessing”.
‘Thought by some to be a work of the Holy Spirit, people experienced strange and bizarre manifestations such as shaking, uncontrollable laughter and being “slain in the Spirit”.
‘What was it? What difference did it make? What legacy has it left behind? These are some of the questions we will be addressing’.
Pastor Chris Hand began proceedings by explaining what the Toronto Blessing was and why it happened. Brief video footage showing a seemingly drunk minister about to read from the Word of God, but unable, must have scandalised any true believer in attendance, and in one fell swoop illustrated what the so-called blessing was all about.
We heard how various streams of influence, including faith healing, the Vineyard Movement, the Third Wave of Pentecostalism and Latter Rain teaching, contributed to the Toronto Blessing.
UK pastors, notably from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), Queen’s Road Wimbledon and Sunderland Christian Centre, went to Toronto to have this ‘blessing’ imparted.
Pastor Hand also noted the ‘thin blue line’ of leading critics at the time, such as Peter Masters, Alan Morrison (former pastor at Crich) and David Pawson, despite being a Charismatic himself.
After lunch, Pastor Hand described how the impact on the church has been little short of tragic. The Lakeland ‘revival’ — a more recent offshoot — only fizzled out when its leader, a convicted child abuser and former drug addict, left his wife for a member of his ministry team.
In the UK, the Toronto Blessing helped launch HTB’s ‘Alpha Course’ with its triumph of style over substance; its softening of judgement and God’s holiness; and its legions of ‘converts’, of whom many have dropped away or remain unconverted within churches.
Some within Reformed churches have failed to grasp the seriousness of the error that the Toronto Blessing constituted. Charismatic reasoning has led many to feel confident about their theology and practice, because God has ‘blessed’ them this way.
They remain wedded to a false view of spiritual experience and the work of the Holy Spirit. We were reminded that experience should be interpreted by the Bible and not the other way round.
We also heard that some parts of the Reformed church have allowed Charismatic influences to enter our churches through certain aspects of the ‘New Calvinism’.
The ‘5 points’ of Calvinism sit incongruously alongside some modern worship, where music becomes a ‘battering ram to knock the mind out of the way and open the door to Charismaticism’.
Pastor Mike Judge from Chorlton Evangelical Church illustrated how little impact the Toronto Blessing has had on wider society. Back in 1994, the leaders of the movement enthused about the positive coverage it was receiving in the secular media, but media coverage over the past 20 years reveals how few mentions there have been of the phenomena in the secular press. Moreover, few of those were favourable, contrary to the upbeat assessment offered by John Arnott, one of the movement’s key leaders.
Walter Johnson, Pastor Emeritus from Chorlton, concluded proceedings by preaching wonderfully on ‘Living the Spirit-filled life’ from Romans 8:1-17.
Having come into the church through an ‘Alpha Course’, and having attended a Baptist Union church for more than a dozen years, where most young people attend ‘Soul Survivor’ — a fate my own children escaped when in God’s providence I attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle’s School of Theology in 2008 — the whole topic was very real to me. The talks are available at www.crichbaptist.org