This article was first printed in the January 08 issue of Spread the Fire magazine on the fourteenth year anniversary of the revival in Toronto popularly known as the Toronto Blessing
I first heard of the Toronto Blessing in 1994-95 through write-ups in Christianity Today and Charisma magazine. Being a student of church history, I was impressed by similarities of what I read with spiritual awakenings that had reoccurred throughout Christian history. I heard John and Carol speak for the first time at a conference in Tulsa, OK in 1997. I was captured by their simple trust in Jesus and their down-to-earth approach to ministry. At a time when a show-biz approach to ministry seemed so prevalent in charismatic circles, their approach was a breath of fresh, heavenly air for me. Around this same time, I attended a Partners in Harvest conference and was so aware of an unusual sense of God’s presence and goodness that seemed to permeate the TACF campus. For the first time I understood the longing of Old Testament saints to go up to Zion, the place of David’s Tabernacle and the place where God was manifesting His presence. I had hardly left the conference and already I felt a drawing to go back, which is why thousands kept returning again and again. On this fourteenth anniversary of this revival, we can all look back with thankfulness for what God has done.
How Are We Doing After Fourteen Years?
But how are we doing today after fourteen years? In the natural, the older we get the more important it is to have a physical check up to see how well the body is functioning. The same is true in the spiritual. One of the simplest and most important parts of a physical check up is taking the temperature of the patient. A normal temperature of 98.6║ is an important sign of good health. Here are three questions that, asked in the light of Scripture and past revivals, can help us take our spiritual temperature to see how we are doing fourteen years later. (1) Are we Lying Low at the Feet of Jesus? (2) Is Scripture Still Our Guide and Primary Source of Truth? (3) Are We Keeping Our Eyes Fixed on Jesus?
Are We Lying Low at the Feet of Jesus?
"As one rises higher and higher in spiritual power and blessing, he must ever seek to become lower and lower and lower and lower," declared Gordon Lindsay, one of the most prominent leaders of the healing revivals of the 1940s-50s. He made this statement after observing the tragic collapse of the lives and ministries of several men who had been powerfully used of God in healing and prophetic type ministries. In each case, Satan’s door of entry had been an inflated idea of their own importance because of God’s blessing and power in their lives. Instead of humbling themselves, they became enamored with their own success and pride opened the door to demonic deception.
The most startling example of this is William Branham, the most prominent healing evangelist of the 1940s-50s. For several years, beginning in 1947, Lindsay managed the ministry of Branham, setting up citywide crusades and giving him special promotion in the magazine he (Lindsay) founded called The Voice of Healing. Lindsay would emcee the meetings, attended by thousands, and teach in the morning sessions.
Lindsay would introduce Branham in low-key manner while acknowledging that God was using him in a remarkable way. Once, when Lindsay was away, a ”Brother Baxter” replaced him in emceeing the services. Baxter would give Branham a flowery introduction and refer to him as a special end-time prophet of God. When Lindsay returned, Branham said to him, “Brother Lindsay, I would like for Brother Baxter to introduce me from now on.”
Branham began to surround himself with people who pumped his ego, telling him that he was a special end-time prophet. Branham eventually began to believe that he was Elijah, the fulfillment of God’s promise in Malachi 4:5 which says, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also identified himself with angel of the seventh church in Rev. 3:14. Lindsay tried to reason with Branham, but he would not listen and Lindsay decided to go his own separate way.
Branham went on to embrace and teach other bizarre doctrines. His “serpent seed” doctrine said that Eve’s sin involved sexual relations with the serpent with people descended from this event and, therefore, destined for hell. Those who would receive his teachings were the seed of God and destined to become the bride of Christ. Christians who did not receive his teachings may still be saved but would not be a part of Christ’s bride and would go through the Great Tribulation. He also taught that denominationalism was the mark of the beast and he denied the Trinity, insisting that baptism must be in the name of Jesus only. In spite of his bizarre self-concept and erroneous teachings, miracles continued to occur in his meetings.
In 1963 Kenneth Hagin walked into the Voice of Healing offices in Dallas, TX and handed Lindsay a prophecy he said God had given him. After he left, Lindsay read the prophecy aloud in the presence of his wife, Freda. The prophecy stated that the leader of the healing/deliverance revival had gotten off track and would shortly be removed off the scene. Freda asked her husband, “Who is he talking about?” Lindsay was very somber and replied, “He is talking about Branham. He has gotten off track and thinks he is Elijah.” About two years later, in December of 1965, Lindsay received a call from Branham’s family in another state asking him to come and pray for Branham as he was hospitalized and in intensive care after a head-on auto collision. Lindsay seriously considered the request but decided to commit the situation into God’s hands and not go. About two weeks later he received word that Branham had died.
Branham’s story is not unique in the annals of revival history. Again and again individuals and movements have become inflated with pride because of God’s hand of blessing on their lives. Their pride, however, opened the door to Satan and led to tragic endings. Their examples are reminders that we must lie low at the feet of Jesus.
Is Scripture Still Our Guide and Primary Source of Truth?
Martin Luther said, “We ought to see that every article of faith of which we boast is certain, pure and based on clear passages of Scripture.” This is especially true during times of revival when it is easy to make our experiences the basis of our faith. The only solid foundation for faith and doctrine is the Word of God. In fact, the most enduring revivals of church history have begun in a milieu of serious Bible study.
For example, before the Methodist revival erupted in England, John and Charles Wesley and others began meeting together for three hours each evening to study the New Testament, not in English, but in Greek. Out of their diligent pursuit of truth emerged a revival that transformed the British Isles and, through George Whitfield, fanned the flames of the Great Awakening in America. Their commitment to Biblical thinking also enabled them to deal wisely with the revival and with the unusual manifestations that occurred. In 1739 Whitfield wrote a letter to Wesley expressing his concern that they not over-emphasize the manifestations because, he said, “I think it will take people away from the written word, and make them depend on visions, convulsions, etc., more than on the promises and precepts of the gospel.”
In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul exhorts his readers to rightly divide the word of truth. One area where we have been guilty of mishandling the word of God is in our attempts to make the unusual the norm. For example, when my father was baptized in the Holy Spirit during a time of revival in 1942, he was so overwhelmed with God’s presence that he could not speak in English for some time. Even after leaving the meeting, he would speak to my mother and it would come out in tongues. In my Dad’s later years, I asked him if he ever had that sort of experience again. He replied, “No, that was the only time.” Even though my Dad’s experience was genuine, it would have been wrong for him to try and make that experience the norm for himself and others.
When unusual manifestations occur we should be open without being na´ve. We should ask, “Are there clear examples of this in Scripture.” If there are clear examples in Scripture, we should then inquire whether such manifestations were isolated or were they the norm. In the early Pentecostal revival writing in tongues became quite widespread. Some of the more perceptive leaders realized that such a manifestation, although exciting, had no precedence in Scripture. They did not oppose it but stopped encouraging and advertising it and it eventually disappeared.
A contemporary example of this misguided approach encourages believers that they can visit the third heaven, based on Paul’s third heaven experience that he relates in 2 Cor. 12:2. Paul, however, only mentions such an experience once and, at the time of mention, it had happened fourteen years before (2 Cor. 12:2). It is, therefore, wrong and dangerous to try and make Paul’s one time experience the norm for believers today. It was not even the norm for Paul.
Our attitude should be that of Bereans who, in Acts 17:11, were commended by the Holy Spirit because, instead of naively accepting what Paul and Silas preached, they searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether those things were so.
Are We Keeping Our Eyes Fixed on Jesus?
2006 marked the 100-year anniversary of the famous Azusa Street Revival that occurred in Los Angeles. I had the privilege of writing the official book, Fire on the Earth, for the centennial celebrations held in Los Angeles. While reading again the original documents of this revival, I was intrigued by the fact that they were not praying for revival when it came. They were seeking to know Christ more intimately and to be more yielded to Him.
After the revival erupted the leaders became concerned that people were becoming too preoccupied with the manifestations and losing their focus on Jesus. Frank Bartleman wrote, “I became very much exercised in the Spirit that Jesus should not be slighted, ‘lost in the temple,’ by the exaltation of the Holy Ghost and of the gifts of the Spirit.” A commitment was made to keep Jesus front and center in all their preaching and activities. During this time a woman came to William Seymour imploring him to, “Pray for me that I will get the tongues.” In his kind, congenial manner, Seymour replied, “Now, see here Sister Sadie, don’t you go seeking tongues. You seek Jesus. He’s the One.”
During times of revival we are most easily distracted from Jesus by our own spirituality; by how many visions we have seen, how many prophetic words we have been given, or how big were the goose bumps in the last meeting. This very thing happened to a church in the New Testament, the church at Colosse. Paul wrote a letter to this church in which he addressed this problem, which New Testament scholars have dubbed The Colossian Heresy.
The Colossians had lost their focus on Christ, becoming preoccupied with their own spirituality and enamored with supernatural phenomena such as visions and angelic visitations. This is clear from Paul’s exhortations to them. In Col. 2:18, for example, Paul refers to the worship of angels and the dwelling on visions by the Colossians (NRSV). The word “worship” in this passage is not the normal New Testament word for “worship.” It is a translation of the Greek word threskia and, besides this passage, is found in only three other places in the New Testament, Acts 26:3 and James 1:26, 27, where it is translated as “religion.” The point is that the Colossians had developed a “religious” fascination with angels and it had caused them to lose their focus on Christ.
Paul’s answer was to direct their attention back to Christ, which he does throughout Colossians. Let us beware that we do not repeat the Colossian Heresy by losing our focus on Christ. Let’s remember the words of Heb. 12:1b-2, Let us run with endurance the race that is before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.