a significant work of God
is sweeping the church today
Many Christians are talking about a significant work of God that is sweeping the church today which has become known as the Toronto Blessing.
Hundreds of churches around Australia have already been touched, blessed and changed. Christians are testifying to significant life change, wonderful fruit and a new zeal for God. People are laughing, crying, falling down, experiencing strange body movements. Many who have exhibited these phenomena have never had such experiences before nor, by their own testimony, did they expect to. Services are lasting for hours longer than usual. Many pastors are rejoicing as they observe the spiritual fruit.
At Randwick Baptist Church (hereafter R.B.C.), some of these phenomena have been present in lesser degrees for about nine years. They occurred spontaneously and without prompting or discussion.
At the same time the critics have been quick to respond. Several have published claims that what they believe is the Toronto Blessing is in fact demonic. Another church has arrived at the conclusion that this is a work of hypnotism. Yet others claim it is just a passing fad for the deluded.
The secular media have been intrigued. Newspaper, radio and T.V. have all visited church services to see for themselves. The response of the secular media has been mainly positive. We need to be aware however that the media often seeks sensationalism rather than an accurate portrayal of what is happening.
What are we to make of this extraordinary outpouring? What place should the phenomena have in ourchurch? How can we test it to ensure that it is a true work of God? How should meetings be administered where such phenomena occur? Furthermore, what is the fruit of all these things? It is important that we follow the biblical injunction to test all things, and seek to establish biblical foundations for what we see happening.
The current refreshing is not some kind of new ‘latest and greatest’ programme which has been introduced to revitalize church services. The ‘refreshing’ is not something that pastors introduce to see if new life can be breathed into their church. We believe what we are witnessing is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It was with considerable amazement that we stood back and watched God pour out His Spirit in November 1994 at R.B.C. We found it difficult to come to terms with the sheer power and intensity of God’s work.
For over a year we have pastored this movement, prayed for discernment, discussed, theologized, debated with our critics, searched the Scriptures, and carefully watched and examined the fruit. We are convinced this is a true work of God. However, we acknowledge that any work of God which involves a human element, will encounter sinful tendencies, perhaps demonic attack, and therefore must be carefully dealt with.
There are a number of ‘streams’ of refreshment and renewal that God is using around the world. For example, God is using the Toronto Airport Vineyard to refresh his church. We have been greatly blessed by them although we ask that people assess R.B.C. based on what we teach and practice, not on what another church does. Each stream of the movement needs to be assessed on its own merits. The conclusions and positions we have reached, both in theology and practice, may well be rejected by other churches. We do not believe that ours is the only orthodox position.
The aim of this article is to explain and define what we see God doing in our own experience and to provide a framework to assess other movements worldwide.
Some of the material has been drawn from, expanded and redrafted from an earlier work by Bill Jackson (‘What in the World is Happening to us?’ A biblical perspective by Bill Jackson).
The outpouring at R.B.C.
Late 1993 and the first seven or eight months of 1994 had been a considerable time of change for R.B.C. involving difficult decisions, change of staff, relational tensions, loss of some members, and a rethink of the church’s vision. The ‘ship’ of the church had slowed and was making a careful, yet sure change, in direction.
Throughout the year there was much soul searching and grappling with tough questions. Old foundations were reaffirmed while new foundations were carefully put in place. In what was often a painful process the church sought to come to grips with developing its relational life. An adjoining property was sold, a fresh vision statement adopted and contracts were signed for the completion of building extensions. It involved considerable flux. Churches need to go through times when they carefully evaluate what they are doing.
The outcome of this process was a greater sense of unity in the church, a growing commitment to corporate prayer, and a desire to get on with the work of the Kingdom.
In hindsight, we realise that some of the things we went through were necessary for God to be able to come and move freely among us. Change is never easy and refining is often painful at the time. We are filled with gratitude as we reflect upon how God was working during this time.
By November an examination of our leadership structure had begun and many questions still needed to be answered. Considerable discussion took place on what we would do with our evening service. How could we best reach our community? Yet we were experiencing considerable faith that God was establishing his plans and purposes in our midst. The Leadership were confident that we were tracking in the right direction.
Factors leading up to the outpouring at R.B.C. include :
* A gradual renewal of the church’s prayer life with new prayer meetings and a number of people joining the ‘prayer watch’.
* A four month teaching series on the Holy Spirit was undertaken on Sunday evenings.
* A stronger sense of ‘grace’ in the church.
* A sense of expectation. We had been feeling spiritually dry for sometime. We believed in the work of the Spirit but were not seeing much power. A sense of a new day dawning.
* A couple in the church visited Toronto and were dramatically touched by the Holy Spirit. Upon arriving home on 1st November they prayed for some of us. We were powerfully ministered to. They also brought back from Toronto some resources, in particular three videos. Watching one of these I was touched with joy by the Holy Spirit.
* Sunday, 6th November, was a remarkable day for a number of reasons. In the early morning prayer meeting there was a sense of expectation. At the worship service an American Pastor, Roy Kendall and his family, (who pastor a church in Jerusalem) led a wonderful time of praise. Roy spoke on the subject of praise including a word about spiritual dryness, and thirst for God. He gave me a dry Jericho Lily which while totally dry (and it can stay that way for decades), when touched by a shower of rain releases its seed that germinates in desert conditions in as little as an hour. For some reason he felt this was an important symbol for R.B.C. A number of people received ministry after that service but it wasn’t until the evening service that we saw power being poured out. Chris Acland preached on Isaiah 55, Steve and Cathy testified on their experience in Toronto, and afterwards we saw some of the signs that have since increased in intensity and breadth.
* We recognise and wish to emphasise that the outpouring was not so much a result of anything we did but was a sovereign movement of God. The outpouring seems to have transferred from the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and is being transferred to churches around the world. We have been thrilled to learn of other churches in Sydney also being touched.
* While we had prayed for the outpouring of the Spirit, it still caught us by surprise! The sheer intensity and broad sweep of the Spirit’s work has been staggering.
* Once the outpouring had begun we were reminded of several prophetic words given to us. Brent Rue had prophesied in October 1990 that a large wave of the Holy Spirit would crash over us. This wave would be following by waves of converts.
* Glen Sheppard prophesied on 6th October, 1985 at R.B.C. He believed God spoke to him: ‘You are sitting in the midst of a people who can shake a nation.’ Glenn prayed: ‘I thank you Lord that these young folk are standing on the brink of moving into something that is beyond anything they can conceive of. I see the breath of holy revival for a nation.’ Glenn saw a fountainhead in the church that would flow out and touch the nations.
* Karen Richardson from the Vineyard-Birmingham, Alabama, wrote to us in February 1993:
“IT’S HARVEST TIME! I see big combines, many big combines out in the field, gathering in. The Lord says, ‘It is harvest time. Go out and gather that which has been prepared. The crop is ready. The fruit is ripe and ready for picking.’ I see a huge barrel of water, fresh, clean, pure water being poured over that field, the Holy Spirit, cleansing, purifying and perfecting. In the past you’ve laboured, and you’ve thought, ‘We have laboured in vain.’ The Lord says, ‘No, your labour was not in vain. And soon, yes very soon, you shall see the reward being manifested. It shall come forth. For truly I, your Lord, am the Lord of the harvest. And this harvest will be different for you, different from the past. For this harvest is in season. And there shall be joy – great joy in the Lord. And songs to the Lord will break forth in this church in a new way. My Spirit is moving upon this people, this place. And you are going to be surprised, pleasantly surprised at the new giftings, the new talents, that I am bringing to this place. A fresh anointing. A sweet anointing. You’ll even see some dear faces returning back to you. They will be there to help with the new harvest!@
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Testimonies by others
Leaders around the world now report on fresh touched from God.
Ellie Mumford (South West London Vineyard)
I have a greater love for Jesus than I have ever known; a greater excitement about the Kingdom than I had ever thought possible; a greater sense that these are glorious, glorious days to be alive. I’m thrilled about the Scriptures ….. I haven’t had this appetite for ministry for years. Jesus is restoring his joy, and his laughter is medicine to the soul.@
John Mosier (Pastor of Christ the King Church in Brighton, UK)
We know that there is always flesh and spirit in these things and for some suggestible people there will be an experience but little change. We are hearing many testimonies however of a sense of an encounter with God, an increase in prayer and Bible reading, a boldness in witnessing. We’ve seen our Sunday evening congregation double@ (Alpha, May, 1995).
Phil Rees (South Street Baptist Church, Greenwich, UK)
The Lord takes over – you can hardly believe it. There have been tears of repentance and a release of tension. There’s a growth of holiness and dwelling close to God. The last seven weeks have been the best in my Christian life.@
Dave Holden (Pastor of Sidcup Community Church)
When we pray for them they laugh or weep. In the following days they talk of a sense of God’s presence, their marriages being different, ethical changes in their lives. We have discovered a new lease of life. Our prayer meetings have quadrupled.@
Peter Grearley (Covenant Ministries, UK)
People have been falling over, laughing uncontrollably, rolling around drunk, and crying deeply. We have been unable to end some meetings because the people don’t want to stop praising God or leave his presence. As we worshipped last Sunday, Agnes Morris was instantly healed of a twenty-year back problem. She had been unable to bend properly and is now a living testimony to God’s healing power.@
Glimpses of revival
It is important to remember what God has done in the past. We don’t want to live in the past, or be so consumed by the past that we are no use in the present. We do, however, want to draw inspiration from what God has done time and time again in different ways, in the past. The current outpouring is not revival although some of the manifestations and testimonies are typical of what occurs in revivals.
Jonathan Edwards – 1737
‘As I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner has for commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that was for me extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The Person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thoughts and conceptions, which continued as near as I can judge, about one hour; such as to keep me a greater part of the time in a flood tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust and to be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust in Him; to live upon Him; to serve Him and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a Divine and Heavenly purity.’
‘I can see him in my mind’s eye in his pulpit, reading his sermon shortsightedly as he peered at the manuscript by candle light. He must have been charged with passion. But his reedy, high-pitched voice would hardly qualify him as a dynamic preacher. It was the power of God, not erudition or eloquence, that gripped church members that night. The building rang with echoing cries of terrified listeners, men and women clutching the pillars of the building with all their strength, terrified that the floors would split and their feet go slipping and sliding into hell.’
John Wesley – 1st January, 1739
‘Mr. Hall, Hinching, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutching and my brother Charles were present at our love feast in Fetter Lane with about 60 of our brethren. About 3 in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, in so much that many cried out for exulting joy and felt to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from the awe and amazement of the presence his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’
George Whitefield, 5th November, 1740
‘Mr. Gilbert Tennant preached first and I then began to pray and to give an exhortation. In about sixminutes one person cried out, ‘He’s come! He’s come!’ and could scarcely sustain the manifestation of Jesus to his soul. But having heard the crying of others for the like favour I was obliged to stop and I prayed over them as I saw the agonies and the distress increase. At length we sang a hymn and then retired to the house, where the man that received Christ continued praising and speaking of Him until near midnight. My own soul was so full that I retired and wept before the Lord, and had a deep sense of my own vileness; and the sovereignty and greatness of God’s everlasting love. Most of the people spent the remainder of the night in prayer and praising God. It was a night much to be remembered.’
Daniel Rowland – Wales, March 1743
The preaching of Daniel Rowland in Wales in 1743 is described by Howel Harris; ‘They fall almost as dead by the power of the Word and continue weeping for joy, having found the Messiah; some mourning under a sense of their vileness, and some in the pangs of new birth!…….The power at the conclusion of his sermon was such that multitudes continued weeping and crying out for the Saviour and could not possibly forebear.’
Christmas Evans – Wales, early 19th Century
In every place he preached, multitudes would weep as he proclaimed the power of the cross of Jesus, and would be converted to Christ. Under Evan’s preaching the cross of the Lord Jesus took on incredible power and importance, which is its rightful place.
Ulster, Ireland – 1859
One of the chief characteristics of this revival was the ‘slaying’ of people. People would fall to the ground on the streets or in the fields and would lie there motionless for hours. When they recovered, they sensed that God had visited them, and they would worship him and praise him with great fervour and excitement. Crowds were attracted to observe this incredible phenomenon. Many people were won to Christ as they believed that this was the work of God. God doesn’t always work in the ways we expect, and very often works contrary to accepted scientific practice!
Charleston – 1858
In 1858, John Girardeau was leading his normal evening church service in Charleston, North Carolina, when, ‘He received the sensation as if a bolt of electricity had struck his head and diffused itself through his whole body. For a little while he stood speechless under the strange physical feeling. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit has come; we will begin preaching tomorrow evening.’ He closed the service with a hymn, dismissed the congregation, and came down from the pulpit; but no one left the house. The whole congregation had quietly resumed their seats. The Holy Spirit did not only come to him, he had also taken possession of the hearts of the people. Immediately he began exhorting them to accept the Gospel. They began to sob softly, like the falling of rain, then, with deeper emotion, to weep bitterly, or to rejoice loudly, accordingly to their circumstances. It was midnight before he could dismiss his congregation. The meeting went on night and day for eight weeks.
Charles Finney – mid 19th Century
Finney described his overwhelming experience of God as ‘waves of liquid love’. In once service in Northampton Massachusetts, such was the anointing on Finney’s message that the whole congregation of about 500 people rose up and cried out ‘Oh God we are not worthy to stand in your presence. Save us or destroy us’ Many Christians feared to enter a church with unconfessed sin in their hearts unless, in front of the congregation their sin would be revealed.
D. L. Moody – late 19th Century
‘I began to cry as never before for a greater blessing from God. The hunger increased. I really thought that I did not want to live any longer. I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day in the city of New York – Oh! what a day, I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had experience of which he never spoke for 14 years. I can only say God revealed himself to me and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.’
Evan Roberts – Leader of the Welsh Revival, 1904-5
In 1904 Roberts wrote, ‘After many had prayed, I felt some living energy or force entering my bosom, restraining my breath, my legs trembling terribly; this living energy increased and increased as one after another prayed. Feeling strongly and deeply warmed, I burst forth in prayer.
David Davies – Wales, 1904
David Davies, a minister in the town of Swansea, South Wales was a very poor speaker. When revival hit Swansea, David Davies became a transformed preacher. Gone was the hesitancy and stuttering, instead he spoke with the most amazing authority and power. Following his messages, hundreds of men and women were converted to Christ. Davies exercised an incredible ministry in the power and demonstration of the Spirit. When the revival simmered down the following year, the strange thing was that David Davies reverted to his previous hesitant style of preaching.
The Welsh Revival – 1904-5
When the fire of God fell on the people one of the first evidences that God was at work was a new desire for people to pray. Prayer meetings lasted from ten in the morning until midnight. There was preaching, singing, testimony, prayer and reading the Bible aloud. Coal miners, thousands of feet below the earth, would gather together during their food breaks, not to eat, but to pray and read the Scriptures aloud. Some would even gather at the pinhead an hour before work in order to sing and pray. Often the revived Christians had fallen in love afresh with their Saviour. They delighted to talk with him, to spend time with the Lord, to listen to His voice and to speak of His glory.
Edinburgh – 1905
In 1905, the pastor of the Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh visited Wales and told the story of God’s great work in Wales to his own congregation. An incredible movement of the Spirit erupted. ‘It was at a late prayer meeting, held in the evening at 9.30, that the fire of God fell. There was nothing, humanly speaking, to account for what happened. Suddenly, upon one and another came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of his presence and of eternal things. Life, death, and eternity suddenly seemed laid bare. Prayer and weeping began, and gained in intensity every moment. As on the day of the laying the foundation of the second temple, ‘The people could not discern the noise of the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people’ (Ezra 3:13). One was overwhelmed before the sudden bursting of the bounds. Could it be real? We looked up and asked for clear direction, and all we knew of God was, ‘Do nothing’. Friends who were gathered sang on their knees. Each seemed to sing, each seemed to pray, oblivious of one another. Then the prayer broke out again, waves and waves of prayer; and the mid-night hour was reached. The hours had passed like minutes. It is useless being a spectator looking on, or praying for it, in order to catch its spirit and breath. It is necessary to be in it, praying in it, part of it, caught by the same power, swept by the same wind. One who was present says; ‘I cannot tell you what Christ was to me last night. My heart was full to overflowing. If ever my Lord was near to me, it was last night.’
Malawi – 1910
We find a similar description of a church meeting in Malawi in 1910. ‘An elder began to pray confessing before all the sin of having cherished the spirit of revenge for an evil done him. Then another began to pray, and another and another, till two or three were praying together in a quiet voice, weeping and confessing, each one unconscious of the other. Suddenly there came a sound of ‘a rushing wind’. It was the thrilling sound of 2500 people praying audibly, no one apparently conscious of the other. I could think of no better image to describe the noise than the rushing of wind through the trees. We were listening to the same sound as filled that upper room at Pentecost. Not noisy or discordant, it filled us with a great awe.’
Scotland – 1949
The famous Duncan Campbell described a meeting on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland during 1949. ‘The lad rose to his feet and in his prayer made reference to the fourth chapter of Revelation, which he had been reading that morning; ‘O God, I seem to be gazing through the open door. I see the Lamb in the midst of the Throne, with the keys of death and of hell at his girdle.’ He began to sob, then lifting his eyes toward heaven, cried: ‘Oh God, there is power there, let it loose!’ With the force of a hurricane the Spirit of God swept into the building and the flood gates of heaven opened. The church resembled a battle field. On one side many were prostrated over the seats weeping and sighing; on the other side some were affected by throwing their arms in the air in a rigid posture. God had come.’
Phenomena accompanying revival
While the current outpouring is not revival, we are seeing things that often accompany revival. Consider what God has done in the past.
1. Dislike of enthusiasm is to quench the Spirit. Those familiar with the history of the church, and in particular the history of revivals, will know this charge of enthusiasm is one always brought against people most active in a period of revival@ (Martin Lloyd Jones).
2. Lady Huntington wrote to Whitefield regarding the cases of crying out and falling down at the meetings,and advised him not to remove them, as had been done, for it seemed to bring a damper on the meeting. She wrote, >You are making a mistake. Don’t be wiser than God. Let them cry out; it will do a great deal more good than your preaching@ (Wallis 1956:75).
This is not to say that we do not insist on the regular exposition of Scripture but make the point that the evidences of God’s power among us are also instructive.
3. Wesley’s Journal, July 1739, commenting on developments in Whitefield’s meetings: Afor no sooner had he begun … to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall allallow God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him@ (Wallis 1956:75).
4. Barton Stone in 1801 on the Kentucky revival: AThere on the edge of the prairie … multitudes came together … The scene was new and passing strange. It baffled description. Many, very many, fell down as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state, sometimes for a few moments receiving and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan or piercing shriek, or a prayer for mercy fervently uttered@ (Pratney 1994:103).
5. Sober professors who had been communicants for many years now were lying prostrate on the ground crying out in such language as this: >Oh how I would have despised any person a few days ago who would have acted as I am doing now’@ (James McGready).
6. “At one time I saw at least five hundred swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens@ – James Finley, a convert who became a Methodist minister, on the Cane Ridge Revival, Kentucky in 1800 (Pratney 1994:104).
7. As though hit by a bolt of lightning, the entire company was knocked from their chairs to the floor. Seven began to speak in diverse kinds of tongues and to magnify God. The shouts were so fervent and so loud that a crowd gathered outside wondering ‘what meaneth this?’ Soon it was noised over the city that God was pouring out His Spirit” – Carl Brumback, on the 1905 Azusa Street revival (Riss 1988:53).
8. There is a dimension of openness to the Holy Spirit which allows Him the sovereign right to intervene and override the rational guidance system, to go beyond the written revelation (by prophecy) if He chooses, which must be preserved or else we will fail to do justice both to Scripture and to our common experience (Lovelace p 269).
May God keep us open to the surprising impact of the Holy Spirit in our time in history.
Pratney, Winkie (1994) Revival. Lafayette: Huntington House.
Riss, Richard (1988) A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America. Peabody: Hendrickson.
Wallis, Arthur. (1956) In the Day of Thy Power. London: Christian Literature Crusade.
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