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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 6
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The "Toronto Blessing"

A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church

By Stephen Sizer


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What is the nature of the "war" in which we as Christians are engaged, against the world, the flesh and the devil? What does the Bible say about this vital aspect of Christian discipleship?

6.1 Ghost Busters and Prayer Walking

How should we respond to invitations to join in local initiatives such as "prayer walking" or attend conferences on spiritual warfare? Let me ask you a question. Would you take a medication without reading the label? Would you take it just because someone said that it helped them and worked? The wisest thing is to read the label, and check the origin.

I want to share with you several examples of current approaches to "spiritual warfare" that trouble me. This is because the question people seem to be asking is a pragmatic one, "does it work?" rather than more fundamental theological questions like "is it true?" and "where does it come from?"

I was asked recently to endorse a local project called "Watchmen Awake" involving prayer walking - a seemingly innocuous activity - walking around local streets praying. So what is wrong with that? The question is, "praying to whom?" and, "praying for what?" The objective it seems has more to do with "binding demons" than with praying that people hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The section of the "Watchmen Awake" manual dealing with "personal preparation" clearly assumes this, and includes the following passage which participants are encouraged to pray.

    "The Lord Jesus Christ has given me power over all the enemy. And so, I take authority over and tread down completely every serpent, every scorpion and every wicked device of Satan. Nothing shall by any means harm me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. No weapon formed against me shall prevail." (p.5)

Such a declaration is actually quite dangerous. It has the appearance of biblical authority, but in fact far exceeds the language and promises given by God in Scripture. Instead it reflects a view of faith similar to that taught by "Faith Movement" teachers such as David Yonggi Cho, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.

Advocates of "Positive Faith" try to convince themselves that they have attained such a state of heightened spiritual sensitivity that they are invincible, immune to spiritual deception or physical harm, and because of such an affirmation God must act, and demons must flee.

The declaration goes far beyond what the Scripture teaches about our role in relation to Satan, and has more in common with films like "Ghost Busters". It creates a false sense of self confidence which denies the possibility of deception, something the Lord warns can and will happen, where people depart from the teaching of Scripture.

For example, the apostle Paul warns, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." (1 Timothy 4:1)

6.2 Spiritual Warfare and Prophetic Revelation

Not surprisingly, this approach to spiritual warfare relies heavily on supposed "prophetic revelation" to supplement the Scriptures and justify such an understanding of ministry. In the "Watchmen Awake" manual under the heading "Prophetic Revelation", we are told,

    "There is no other way for the work of God to go forward. We must hear and obey what the Spirit is saying to us. Thank God for the level of prophetic release that is already present, but we need to be sure we are hearing from Him constantly and that we are not following our own plans or schedules." (p.28)

No criteria are offered to verify that they are actually "hearing from Him". Nor is there any recognition that God has already spoken definitively in Scripture, and that this is our only objective, infallible and authoritative reference point in applying God's truth to our contemporary situation. The impression given is that we are in a continuum of divine revelation where what is "received" now is of equal or superior value and validity to the Bible. Instead of praying for wisdom to interpret the Scriptures we are urged to pray "for an increase of spiritual revelation" (p.28). This contradicts what the Lord says in Paul's letter to Timothy, that the Scriptures are completely sufficient, enabling us to be "thoroughly equipped" for "every good work".

    "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Clearly those advocating the "Watchmen Awake" programme do not appear to believe so. Sadly such an unbiblical approach to "spiritual warfare" is becoming increasingly common.

6.3 Dawn 2000 and David Yonggi Cho

At the "Dawn 2000" conference held in Nottingham 7-9th March 1995, David (formerly Paul - but that's another story) Yonggi Cho spoke on "The Leader's Prayer Life". In the West we are mesmerised by numbers, and sometimes confuse size and success with spiritual truth. Apparently, according to Hank Hanegraaff, David Yonggi Cho's church in South Korea, at 750,000 members the largest in the world, is nevertheless small in comparison with the Buddhist cult of Saki Gakkai, (a Buddhist version of "Health and Wealth" or "name it and claim it"), on which it appears to be modelled. (Christianity in Crisis, p.352)

The following report by Malcolm Jones, of that "Dawn 2000" talk, is taken from Evangelicals Now, April 1995, p.9 (Cho's words are in italic)

    "One almost stood in awe at the amount of time this man spends in prayer each day, and yet one felt grave concern at his philosophy of prayer.

    He gave us two reasons why we should pray. Firstly, "God has a tremendous need, and we minister to his need of fellowship". If Cho is right, one wonders how the Godhead survived before we were created. Surely Scripture presents us with a self-sufficient God!

    Apparently, God ministers to our need as we minister to his. And he does this by giving us visions. He speaks to us through visions. "Visions are the language of the Holy Spirit. It is visions which change you." Church planters were told, that "the church you see is the church God will give you." For visions and dreams are the mother of faith. It is claimed that this idea is rooted in God's promise to Abraham that he would be given all he saw. Cho seems to have overlooked the fact that Abraham was neither seeing visions or dreaming dreams at the time, but simply looking over some real estate.

    Secondly, prayer is important because, "only through prayer can the powers of darkness be broken." No, he was not talking about prayers for the success of the gospel, but prayers that will bind or drive out demons. "If you don't bind Satan, you can't free people", he claims. The gospel seems not to be the power of God to deliver lost people. It needs to be preceded by binding the demons that hold such people in their grip.

    So, on Sundays, Cho does not preach from the written Word. He doesn't talk about the gospel, but only about God. (One shudders to think what god that might be, if he is not the God revealed in the Gospels.)

    The Scriptures are God's Word for all in general, but Cho wants to speak to people's felt needs, and only the Holy Spirit knows what they are at any given time. So Dr. Cho claims to listen to God's word coming directly from the Spirit - without reference to Scripture - and give that to his congregation.

    He is committed to the idea of territorial spirits. For example, Cho claims he had to fly Japanese pastors to Korea, because they could not understand his teaching in Japan. It seems that South Korea is a relatively demon-free zone now, compared to Japan - which is tough luck if you can't afford to fly out of Japan to receive enlightenment.

    What a relief it must have been for the people of the New Testament that they didn't have to fly from their demon-ridden society to be delivered by the gospel or taught the truth in Jesus!" (Evangelicals Now, April 1995, p.9)

That David Yonggi Cho's "faith incubation" teaching has been warmly embraced by many London church leaders associated with the Vineyard Church and their "Toronto Blessing" is very worrying, but perhaps not surprising given their predilection for ministry of the "Word of Faith" variety.

In January I received a letter from Gerald Coates on behalf of several London Church leaders hosting the visit of David Yonggi Cho, inviting me to promote this event. The following explains my reasons for not doing so.

It is sad that, on what was the first day of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I felt constrained to write to Gerald Coates and Sandy Millar to urge them to cancel this event at Wembley and disassociate themselves from the ministry of David Yonggi Cho. I did so because I was convinced that he was teaching heresy, and to identify with him was to participate not only in that error, but also contributes to the destruction of the unity we have shared in Christ Jesus. Having now read a report of what David Yonggi Cho taught at the "Dawn 2000" conference, I believe my fears, and those of others, were justified.

A leading evangelical Anglican minister wrote to me about his concerns,

    I have been privileged to minister twice in Korea and some years ago my evangelical friends in Korea were very suspicious of Yonggi Cho's teaching and attitude. They were surprised that he was accepted by evangelicals in Britain, since they felt he was very definitely heretical. They were so antagonistic they were almost unwilling to let me see his church. I almost felt they feared I might be contaminated by it....We have a responsibility to warn our folk about this false teaching and people like Gerald Coates and Sandy Millar do seem to be moving towards areas of teaching that can only be called heretical. It would be tragic if some of our best known evangelical leadership continue in that direction."

In Gerald Coates' letter he stated that they had asked David Yonggi Cho to "impart a massive wave of faith" through his ministry. I do not find Christian ministry of any sort described in these terms in the Scriptures. It is however standard fare of the heretical "Faith Movement" teachers for whom "faith" is seen as a powerful force that controls God.

There is well attested documentary evidence that David Yonggi Cho's teaching is heretical. Hank Hanegraaff, in Christianity in Crisis, claims Cho's teaching "is nothing short of occultism..." and "a departure from historic Christian theology..." (p.353) Yonggi Cho's most famous book is entitled The Fourth Dimension. In it he dares to assert that we can control the Lord Jesus with our words.

    "You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth. If you speak about salvation, the saving Jesus appears. If you speak about divine healing, then you will have the healing Christ in your congregation. If you speak the miracle performing Jesus, then the presence of the miracle performing Jesus is released. He is bound by your lips and by your words. He is depending on you." Fourth Dimension, (page 83)

This is not the Lord Jesus Christ of the Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures, but a "Jesus" of his own imagination or worse.

In the February 1995 edition of Alpha, in an article entitled, "God as servant, Man as God", Charles Strohmer criticised David Yonggi Cho's "faith incubation" process, along with similar techniques of other "Faith Movement" proponents such as Kenneth Hagin, Agnes Sanford, Kenneth Copeland and Maurice Cerullo, as a clear departure from the true gospel.

Michael Horton, writing in Power Religion, castigates Robert Schuller's forward to Yonggi Cho's Fourth Dimension arguing that it is a blend of "psychology, magic and religion" (p.327). John MacArthur, is equally forthright. In Charismatic Chaos, he asserts that Cho's ideas are "rooted in Buddhist and occult teachings" (p.149). These are all well-informed criticisms of David Yonggi Cho's teaching, that cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet.

I believe that it is no coincidence that this latest attempt to produce a "massive anointing of God's Spirit", as their promotional literature described it, followed so soon after the "Toronto Blessing" which was introduced to Britain through two other heretical "Faith Movement" teachers, Rodney Howard-Browne and Benny Hinn, via the Vineyard churches.

These tensions over conflicting views on "spiritual warfare" are not merely due to a disagreement between Conservative Evangelicals and Charismatics over a minor point of doctrine. The "Faith Movement" represents a major paradigm shift away from a belief in the supreme authority of the Bible as the definitive revelation of God, to an acceptance of new teachings based on spurious revelations contrary to the Scriptures, which are in reality promoting occult beliefs and practices.

That these errors and their proponents are being welcomed and embraced by professing evangelical Christian leaders is grievous and inexcusable. God's Word is quite emphatic about how we should respond to theological error and false teachers.

    I urge you, brothers, to 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. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. (Romans 16:17-18)

    Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. (Titus 3:10)

    If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (2 John 1:10-11)

Although the command to stone false prophets in places like Deuteronomy 13, no longer applies, the principle reflects the seriousness with which God deals, and expects us to deal with false teaching.

6.4 The Bible and Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is very real but, as has been shown, it is greatly misunderstood by many Christians today. Ephesians chapter 6 is virtually the only passage in the Epistles to teach us about how to engage in spiritual warfare.

    "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:10-18)

The fundamental principle contained in this passage, which is constantly overlooked, thereby undermining the power of the gospel is this: "spiritual warfare" essentially concerns the proclamation and defence of the gospel of Christ crucified. It is the gospel itself which is "the power of God" for salvation (Romans 1:16). As the gospel is communicated, so the power of God is demonstrated. Salvation is found nowhere else apart from in Jesus, since there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).

The weapon and armour described all relate to the gospel - the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet prepared "with the readiness that comes from the gospel of grace", the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation - all these relate to the gospel and rely on the Scriptures for their meaning and intrinsic value. Indeed the only offensive "weapon" we are provided with is the Scriptures, the Word of God itself. Prayer, that is communicating with God, is vital in all of this, as the apostle Paul stresses, for we cannot serve Him independently or by taking the initiative.

It is imperative that we understand that this "warfare" is not vague, but focuses on matters of truth and error, rather than "power encounters" with demons or evil spirits. There is no basis here, or elsewhere in the New Testament to justify the preoccupation prevalent today with binding a localised evil spirit of pride or a demon of lust, etc. Demonic possession is, of course, another matter.

Frank Peretti's book, This Present Darkness, a work of fiction, was a best-seller in Britain and the US. and has helped many Christians appreciate the reality of spiritual warfare. However, his graphic and imaginative descriptions go well beyond what the Scriptures teach, yet have, I suspect, coloured, and even distorted, many Christian's view of God and the spirit realm. Oliver Barclay, writing a review of David Well's God in the Wasteland, says,

    "He shrewdly observes that in the novels of Frank Peretti....there is hardly a mention of God. It is all devils and angels with no concept of God's providence." (Evangelicals Now, April 1995, p.21)

Such "high tech" mysticism appears to borrow more from popular science fiction than from the Scriptures. The apostle Paul here is merely using a metaphor of an earthly battle to describe the unseen spiritual battle which revolves around the proclamation of the gospel.

As Satan is "the father of lies" (John 8:44), we are to arm ourselves with truth, not experience. As marvellous and assuring as Christian experience often is, it can be easily duplicated by the devil, and its subjectivity renders it vulnerable in battle. We are to take up our defence with righteousness, presumably in terms of justification and sanctification. In other words, if we offer our own righteousness as a defence against Satan's accusations, we stand condemned already. We are further commanded to take "the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17); again, these weapons are objective and external, not subjective and internal. Salvation, not mere signs of spiritual power, sends the demonic community into confusion and disarray." (Horton, in Power Religion, p16-17)

6.5 Conclusions

The "war" in which Christians are engaged then, is to be viewed in terms of a battle for the truth and proclamation of the gospel. Certainly there are real, evil spiritual beings arrayed against God and His Church, and we are commanded to pray for the saints, but the battle is not some kind of dualistic cosmic struggle between good and evil. Such an understanding has more in common with pagan mysticism and films such as "Star Wars", than any genuine spiritual reality described in Scripture. The Bible tells us that, first and foremost, it is a battle for truth, and the battlefield is the minds of people.

    "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness", made his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

It is when the Gospel is proclaimed, the power of God is demonstrated, and people are brought from darkness to light. The primacy of the proclamation of the gospel, as opposed to a deliverance ministry is clear from events such as Lydia's conversion in Philippi.

    Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:16-18)

It is important to observe Paul's approach to ministry. He did not initiate a deliverance ministry, nor consider it necessary to bind the demons in Philippi before commencing his evangelistic work. Luke says that this slave girl harassed Paul and the disciples shouting, "for many days".

Paul's priority was the proclamation of the gospel. He clearly did not feel this was hindered by the presence of, nor even by the noise and distraction caused by, this demon possessed women. Eventually Paul did cast out the demon, but far from making their evangelism more fruitful, the incident actually led to them being thrown into prison and out of the city. Incidentally, it is also worth noting that the demon he cast out had been proclaiming the truth!

The danger of the particular interpretation of "spiritual warfare" advocated by people like David Yonggi Cho, appears to be its low view of God's sovereignty, its unhealthy preoccupation with demons and its reliance on pagan concepts of the spiritual dimension.

Instead of obeying the Great Commission mandate given by the Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations, Christians are being enticed and distracted into a "Ghost Busters" view of ministry. Instead of praying for and talking to people about the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over Satan through His death on the cross in our place, they are being enticed into a fantasy game, wandering the streets hunting down demons. And all the time, Satan mocks a Church suffering from amnesia.

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