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A Tale Of Two Cities -TORONTO

[ Part 2 ] ... [ Part 1 ]

Nicky Gumbel is the man responsible for the phenomenal impact of the Word of Faith-rooted 'Toronto Blessing' in England.  He introduced it to his church Holy Trinity Brompton (hereafter HTB), and HTB's central London status ensured maximum publicity, such that the English press were the first to dub the movement the 'Toronto Blessing'.  Ken Gott of Sunderland Christian Centre and Terry Virgo of New Frontiers, among many others, are also attributable to a lesser extent.  The massive deviation from Scripture that is the Toronto Experience (hereafter TE) merits a full article and the damage it has caused over the whole world is hard to fathom.  Benny Hinn (see Vanguard no. 1 for full length article), was stirring up Toronto-style behaviour as early as 1991, when he commissioned Rodney to dispense 'holy laughter' to the people... 

Inextricable from TE are the health-and-wealth heresies of the Word of Faith movement, and Rodney Howard-Browne is the kingpin of the movement.  He (and therefore his antibiblical teachings) is fully endorsed as 'a slightly controversial man of God' by many British leaders, including Clive Calver, R T Kendall (Westminster Chapel), Gerald Coates (Pioneer), Bryn Jones (New Covenant) and of course Nicky Gumbel (HTB).  Nicky Gumbel's backing of Rodney Howard-Browne is enough to cast serious doubts over his spiritual discernment, as hopefully will be demonstrated by the table below.  First, Nicky Gumbel's testimony on how he received the Toronto Experience: 

"We went to their house...where a group of leaders of their church was meeting...Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in was obvious that Ellie was just dying to pray for all of us...then she said, "Now we'll invite the Holy Spirit to come," and the moment she said that, one of the people was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing...making the most incredible noise...I experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn't experienced for years, like massive electricity going through my body...One of the guys was prophesying.  He was just lying there prophesying...[Gumbel returns to HTB, closes the meeting there in prayer]...I prayed "Lord, thank you so much for all you are doing and we pray you'll send your Spirit" and I was just about to say "in Jesus' name, Amen" and go out the door when the Spirit came on the people who were in the room.  One of them starting laughing like a hyena."  [video 3, talk 9, Alpha course.] 

Elizabeth McDonald points out the unquestioning acceptance of unusual manifestations (1 John 4, etc.), and the fact that the prophesies were laughed at rather than listened to.  (1 Cor. 14:29-33).  The remoteness of this from that laid down as normative by the New Testament, is enormous. 
The above quote shows how the Experience came to Mr Gumbel.  We shall now try to show how this connects with the Alpha course, as many argue that Alpha and Toronto are exclusive operations.  We suggest that where many elements of the Alpha course are undoubtedly Bible-based, the final foundation is a belief in the phenomenon - and - sensation - centred religion of TE.  This conclusive proof below comes from The Impact of Toronto edited by Wallace Boulton (1995, Monarch) [My brackets]: 

Nicky Gumbel believes it is no coincidence that the present movement of the 'Holy Spirit' [Toronto Experience] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha courses... 

'I think the two go together.  If you run an Alpha course - certainly the way we run it here [HTB] and encourage other churches to run it - there will be an opportunity for people to experience the Holy Spirit [TE] during the course, in whatever way is applicable to that particular church [including Catholic Holy Spirit theology, see previous Vanguard].  That inevitably leads to renewal [?]... 

'We are now [1995] nearly a year on from when the Holy Spirit fell with power on our staff meeting at Holy Trinity, Brompton.  The power that we saw on that first occasion has in no way lessened.  Indeed, if anything it has increased... [The reality is that now in April 1997 the TE phenomena at HTB have drastically diminished. 

After John Wimbers implicit rejection of TE in his removal of the Toronto Airport Church from Vineyard Ministries, HTB and other churches in England quietly began to 'phase out' the more bizarre happenings.  All the talk of coming revival has died down, but there has been absolutely no refutation, apology, climbdown or any other such recognition of error by HTB.  The church has become dependent on the short memory and desire for new experiences that it finds in its congregation.  Toronto is becoming just a distant impression of excitement to those who indulged in it.  For those who were indelibly scarred, thrown out of churches for daring to question TE's biblical validity, called 'Pharisaical' and accused of 'the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit' simply by trying to read His Holy Scriptures and "search them daily to find if these things were so" (Acts 17:11) - for these, TE remains as a horrific precedent set which confirms that the most salient characteristic of the visible church is no longer a submission to biblical authority and a love for the Lord Jesus that the Bible proclaims.  It is a wide-eyed and forgetful gullibility]. 

'God is just pouring out his love on people of all ages, from children to the very elderly.  The children respond very naturally.  They are not fazed by it, nor frightened at all. 

This is misleading for two reasons - 

1. Although Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves like children (Matthew 18:4), He also insisted that we "take heed that we be not deceived" (Luke 21:8).  Because children may accept TE, this is in no way a biblical endorsement of the experience.  Children cannot be expected to have a mature biblical discernment, insightful as they can be. 

2. In actual fact, many children have been terrified by the TE: 

"We had a visit from the pastor of Loughborough.  His arm shook all the while he preached, really irritating me.  He related all his experiences to us, then prayed for us all.  Again, people were on the floor, laughing, crying, shaking violently.  He then prayed for our son, David, who was five.  David started to stagger backwards.  He walked over to me looking like he was drunk , saying that he felt funny.  That night in bed he started sobbing and getting distressed.  I ran into his room.  He was sitting up, his eyes wide open.  He said, 'Mummy, there's a lion roaring in my room'.  It felt like a cold knife go through me.  I thought, 'What does he know about lions roaring?'  This seemed to be one of the themes of this blessing.  I asked him if he was really sure.  Could it have been a car going by that sounded like a roar?  This upset him even more and he insisted there was a lion roaring.  I called Sebastian and together we prayed.  Before we said 'Amen' he looked up and smiled.  'It's gone now mummy,' he said, and went back to sleep instantly! 

We decided then not to allow the children to be prayed for"  (from a remarkable and chilling testimony of a family afflicted by TE, and finally ejected from their church.  Accessible on Internet at] 

'...We need to unite.  We need to encourage one another, encourage whatever God is doing in different places, not try to put our experience onto any other church.  Let us be thrilled by what God is doing, wherever he is doing it.  There has been some comment which is not altogether helpful to unity.  Let us drop that and get on.  It is wonderful that the movement of the Spirit will always bring churches together.  He is doing that right across the denominations and within the traditions.  Locally we have always worked with all the denominations, and all the Alpha conferences go right across the board.  We are seeing Roman Catholics now, as well as Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, United Reformed, Pentecostals and members of new churches.  Nobody is suspicious of anyone else.  Everybody is working together and I believe that is what the Spirit achieves.  The Spirit brings unity to the church.  People are no longer labelling themselves or others.  I long for that day when we drop all these labels and just regard ourselves as christians with a commission from Jesus Christ.  A disunited church, squabbling and criticising, makes it very hard for the world to believe.' 

[This is an astonishingly clever half-truth.  Yes, we must encourage one another (e.g. 1 Cor.14:3).  Yes, unity is imperative (Eph.4:3).  But there is a subtle pressure in this paragraph.  A pressure to accept that 'God is doing something' even when that 'something' is more akin to New Age mysticism, Catholic idolatry or High Anglican syncretism.  Nicky Gumbel's lawyer skills cause him to style it in such a way that anyone who disagrees appears churlish and hypercritical.  'Why not be thrilled?  Don't be so negative.'  We should be shuffling our feet and looking at the floor now.  But this simply is not the right question.  The question is one of TRUTH.  Is this TRULY God's Spirit?  Is this TRULY the proclamation of His Son, as revealed in the written Word?  Negative and positive are neither here nor there.  What is important is truth - right or wrong.  Sometimes 'right' can be very negative - see all OT prophets!  Sometimes 'wrong' can be very positive - "They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace"  (Jeremiah 6:14). 

Unity is useless without truth.  This is not a concern to the empire-builders of HTB.  They do not worry about flies in the ointment like 'truth' and 'biblical discernment'.  It does not bother them that millions have died over the centuries at the hands of a Catholic church which, far from becoming more biblical over the years, has deviated more and more from anything resembling true christianity.  The Spirit does bring unity, but He also convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement, and leads us into all truth (John 16). 

Nicky Gumbel concludes that finding out the origins of a religious movement is pointless, and trots out that all-covering mantra - 'do not judge'.  On the contrary, the true kind of discerning judgement which is required here we are commanded to exercise - "But he that is spiritual judgeth all things"  (1 Cor.2:15)...] 

'People have been trying to trace human roots for it, but Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them".  I think we should look at the fruit.  The fruit is the test, but there are people wanting to make the roots the test.  I have not had the opportunity of meeting any of the people who are supposed to be the roots.  We are praying not for the spirit of 'X' to fill people but for the Holy Spirit to fill them.  I think it is irrelevant that so-and-so is linked with so-and-so, who once met so-and-so, who was into something that wasn't very good.  Actually we must stop judging one another. 

'We are not doing anything differently from the way we have done it before [!!].  The only difference is that we are seeing people having more powerful experiences of God.  God is sovereignly choosing to pour out his love on the church and on individuals.  We are simply praying for God's Spirit to come.  Jesus said, "How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to all who ask it?"  That is all we are doing.  We are asking him to give the Holy Spirit: more of his Spirit to people.  And we are seeing him do it.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!'" 

Rodney Howard-Browne is the universally acknowledged lynch-pin of TE.  There will hopefully be an article on his teaching in a forthcoming Vanguard, so watch this space.  Some important facts about him which cast a shadow over the whole Toronto business: 

  • He has actively dissuaded people from praying in his meetings. 
  • He has warned people not to discern with their minds, just to 'yield'. 
  • He preaches 'health and wealth', that Jesus was a rich man.  RHB has fast cars and expensive jewellery, as well as a mob of minders. 
  • He is proud to declare that 'the less I preach, the more people got blessed'.  He is instrumental in the discrediting and destruction of sound gospel preaching. 
  • He has struck preachers dumb, claiming it to be 'a work as great as raising Lazarus from the dead'. 
  • He terms himself the 'Holy Spirit bartender', and thinks he is a dispenser of the Spirit as if He were a fluid, not the Third Person of the Godhead. 
  • He is the key figure in the 'holy laughter' phenomenon. 
  • His sermons on hell have elicited manic cackling from several congregations. 
  • He has conversions in tongues with other 'preachers' during meetings, which remain untranslated. 

Some Characteristics of TE

  • Wild, uncontrollable laughter
  • Impromptu, vague and unbiblical prophecies
  • Lack of Bible preaching
  • Total absence of the Cross, sin, repentance or faith in Christ crucified 
  • Utter disregard for truth or biblical discernment
  • Untranslated tongues
  • Animal noises
  • Flippancy about hell and sin
  • Interruptions and anarchy ("pandemonium" as it has been described by those in favour ironically!)
  • 'Name it and claim it' word-of-faith demands on God
  • 'Health and wealth' prosperity teaching
  • Jerking, slaying in the spirit, 'carpet time', roaring, pogoing, drunkenness
  • Curses on those opposed to TE; death threats; ejection from churches
  • Self-centred, gimme-gimme attitude; lack of reverence or Christ-centred worship
  • False link between phenomena and inner spirituality
  • 'Bandwagon' merchandise and marketing
  • Prelude to revival that did not come
  • Fundamental origin in heretical Word-of-Faith movement (Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Kathryn Kuhlman)
  • Restorationism, End-time global revivalism, post-millenial fervour
  • Receiving the Holy Spirit like 'plugging into an electric light socket'
  • Transmission of 'anointing' through touch on forehead (cf. Guru's Shakti pat)
  • New race of miracle-working supermen, Manifest Sons of God

This is an extract from a letter written to Pentecostal ministers, which lists eminent Pentecostal ministers who have denounced the Toronto Experience

David Wilkerson, probably the most respected Pentecostal preacher in the world, seen by many world wide as a true Prophet of God (and who is experiencing a genuine move of God with many Drug Addicts, homosexuals, and prostitutes being saved in Times Square Church in New York which has grown to astronomical proportions to the point that no theatre or church building in Manhatten can accommodate the crowds any more) - denounced the laughing revival as a deception and a false revival, and warned no Great Awakening would come from it.

Augustus Topi, General Superintendent of the largest, most successful, and fastest growing Assemblies of God in the EEC in Italy banned Toronto as a spiritual counterfeit and also barred any Assemblies of God cooperation with Benny Hinn.

Chuck Smith, founding Pastor of Calvary in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles - the largest Pentecostal church in the developed world, rejected Toronto, and Calvary Chapel radio stations warned against it.

Jacob Prasch, the Pentecostal Evangelist to the Jews and Messianic Bible Teacher documented how Guy Chevreau intentionally misquoted Jonathan Edwards, Daniel Rowland and others, demonstrating that contrary to popular myth, the excesses of Toronto manifestations were preached against by the leaders of past revivals, and by convincing exegesis demonstrated Toronto as the Churches equivalent of Israel's Golden Calf.

Dr George Wood, the General Superintendent of The Assemblies of God in the USA (the largest in the world with 2.5 million adult members) published a nine page report denouncing Toronto as carnal, pseudo Pentecostal, and warning of the Gnostic theological orientation of its leading proponents. Dr Barry Chant, the leading Pentecostal academic scholar in Austral Asia warned how Toronto advocates were falsely claiming that figures of church claiming endorsed Toronto style manifestations, when even a cursory reading of their writings shows the opposite.

Thomas Chakko, Pentecostal evangelist to the Hindus warned that many Toronto manifestations are simply the Kutelini Yoga manifestations that many former Hindu believers were converted out of and stated categorically that Toronto was Eastern Religion and New Age infiltrating the western church.

Philip Powell, former General Secretary of the Assemblies of God in Australia demonstrated how verses being used to justify Toronto manifestation were being distorted out of all exegetical context.  Elim minister, Dr James McConnell (whose Whitewell Tabernacle in Belfast is considerably larger that Kensington Temple minus it satellites) after seeing the videos of Rodney Howard Brown and Kenneth Copeland taught his congregation that these men were going to hell and denounced Toronto as Satanic. 
We now look at Nicky Gumbel's faulty understanding of the Holy Spirit and the gospel. The following are quotes either from new christians or from those who have had some sort of spiritual experience on the Alpha course.

Whilst the ignorance of these people may be excusable, for Nicky Gumbel to advocate these testimonies as sound is certainly not.

Teaching on the Spirit Nicky Gumbel/Alpha converts Word of God (and some comments)
Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 1. "For a long time in the church the person and work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored - a greater concentration on the Father and Son" (White Alpha training manual, p26).

1. This assertion would suggest that by 'concentrating on the Father and Son', the church is unbalanced. Would that it were so concentrated! The problem in the church today is that they don't focus on God enough. Instead, 'church life', 'Christian ethics', 'the social gospel and liberation theology', 'gender concerns' and other subsidiary issues have dominated our thinking so we have lost sight of our Almighty God. If we fixed our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), THEN we would begin to appreciate the work of the Holy Spirit a whole lot more. It is a false dichotomy again. What makes us ignore the Holy Spirit is not too much Jesus or too much Father, but our liberalism, our closed bibles, our sensationalism, our diluted gospel, our darkened minds and our stubborn hearts.

Indeed, would the Holy Spirit Himself be reprimanded for 'ignoring' Himself - "for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come" (John 16:13)?!

Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 2. "For many the decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend" (Telling Others, p12) when Nicky Gumbel invokes the Holy Spirit.

2. We see that the decisive moment (i.e. the moment of conversion) is not at the preaching of Christ and Him crucified, but when the Holy Spirit is invoked. Jesus said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). We are assured that we, as believers in Christ, have "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places with Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). The Comforter comes to us at conversion, "to abide with us forever" (John 14:16).

The so-called "decisive moment" should be when the sinner bows before the Almighty God, trembling and asking for mercy because of his sins.

Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 3. "The one thing that stuck in my mind was how the work of the Holy Spirit was described as of paramount importance. I knew in my heart I had to have his power in my life at any cost so I found out where the church was, enrolled on the course and focused on the weekend. I felt like a dying man waiting for the life-saving operation. Never mind the weeks of pre-med, I just had to get into the operating theatre...I looked at the order of play, saw that the third session (which I had identified as the main one) was at 4.30pm and simply hung on like a marathon runner weaving his way up the final straight with nothing but the finishing tape as the focus of his attention...I'll never forget that final session. I felt as though I was being torn in two. Halfway through I just couldn't stand it any more. The prize was so near but we were getting there so slowly! I literally wanted to scream out, 'Do it now! Do it now! I can't hold out any longer.' I'm not exaggerating when I say I was in agony. Then God came, and oh, the relief" (First of 5 main Alpha testimonies in Telling Others).

3. This bit of testimony can only be described as tragic.
. The one thing that sticks in his mind is the powerful experience to come.
. He regards the talks on 'who is Jesus' and 'why did Jesus die?' as peripheral pre-med!
. His focus of attention is specifically identified as being not the Lord Jesus, not the Cross, not even the Holy Spirit, but the third session - 'how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit'. We should do well to remember Simon the sorcerer, whose attitude this person mirrors:
"But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God... But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done...And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:9ff).

Note that Peter addresses Simon's greatest need - not for power but for repentance and forgiveness. If only the one thing he focused on was his sin and the need to repent, or the love of Christ and Him crucified, or of the holiness of God and our just condemnation without Jesus.

Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 4. "After the talk about 'how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?' we all stood up and the Holy Spirit came into the room. I knew that God was real so I asked Jesus into my heart and he's been there ever since...I have suddenly got a whole new outlook on life..." (120) 4. What are lacking in this sorry tale are the words "conviction" and "repentance". This person's basis for belief is nothing more than a feeling! It is perhaps significant that their "conversion" experience came during the "how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit" (answer should have been repent and believe in the Lord Jesus) session and not during the 'why did Jesus die' type sessions.
Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 5. "The change had occurred during the Saturday evening talks/services. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I felt a white sheet wipe me clean then a strong rush of light came through me from my waist and up out of my head - the feeling made me lift my arms in the air" (120/1) 5. We notice the faulty doctrine endorsed by Mr. Gumbel again in that there is no mention of the blood of Jesus cleaning us. Instead, the white sheet described as the 'Holy Spirit' does the job. This is not true.
Pneumacentric vs. Christocentric 6. "Someone who had been involved in the New Age movement at the start of the course said that the change occurred on the Saturday evening when 'the Spirit shook me from head to foot'" (TE, 121). 6. Talks one and two are the nub of the gospel - 'Who is Jesus?' and 'Why did Jesus die?' The Holy Spirit of God speaking through Paul confirms - "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Yet, as we are observing, that CRUCIAL MOMENT (ironic as 'crucial' stems from the Cross which is never mentioned in the testimonies) is almost without exception on the Saturday of the "Holy Spirit" weekend, with the talk, 'how can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?'. Every appearance is that people are being converted in large numbers to the gospel of the "Spirit". But "when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself...HE SHALL GLORIFY ME!" (John 16:13-14). If the spirit at the weekends is speaking of itself and not glorifying Jesus by prompting repentance and faith in Him, then IT CANNOT BE THE HOLY SPIRIT.

The experiences discussed are inextricably linked with the TE. At HTB, during a meeting where the TE was manifesting, I remember watching Sandy invoke the Spirit after a service where Christ had been distinctly unpreached. 'More power, more power, more Lord, more of your Spirit,' he intones. What does he mean? Where in the bible are we commanded to do this? 'It's coming, it's coming, it's coming', he continues, his eyes roaming the ranks of eager recipients. Then someone in the corner starts to 'manifest', shaking and shrieking. 'It's here!' exclaims Sandy.

Although TE devotees are fond of repeating that 'the manifestations aren't important, it's what goes on behind them', the reality is that they identify the spirit's 'arrival' with the physical phenomena. I politely asked Sandy how he thought the Holy Spirit had arrived. He said that people were experiencing phenomena. But if we want to look at physical phenomena being a gauge of spiritual reality, then all the Toronto antics can only lead us to think of demonic activity, when we remember the shaking and shrieking of the New Testament demoniacs. For them (though they will protest otherwise), the fruit of the Spirit is not practical, sacrificial, Agape love but warm feelings of acceptance and happiness; not joy but uncontrollable ecstasy and laughter; not patience but massive hunger; not kindness but dissociation; not goodness but incapacitation; not faithfulness, for they know no Christ to have faith in; not humility, but a craving for more and a self-centredness; not self-control but wild abandonment.


The teachings of Mr. Nicky Gumbel must be viewed with utmost caution, testing everything from the Word of God. Alpha's associations with Rome and Toronto mean it must be avoided at all costs, and not recommended as a genuinely evangelical course.

What must we do?

a) Pray for Mr. Gumbel and all those involved with Alpha, Rome and the Toronto deception

b) Exhort from the Scriptures the above, persuading them to return to Jesus and His written Word, thereby to experience the fullness of the Holy Ghost

c) Warn any interested in Alpha, Rome and Toronto as to how they misrepresent our Lord, and provide biblical alternatives.

"But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." Jude 17:25

God bless and keep you, Neil Richardson

The author recommends to the reader the following two books;

Alpha: New Life or New Lifestyle? by Elizabeth McDonald. A biblical assessment of the Alpha Course.
WEIGHED and found WANTING by Bill Randles. The Toronto experience examined in the light of the Bible.
Contact CWM for both or either of these books.

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Appeared in Issue2 -- January 1998
"...contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" -- Jude v3

Christian Witness Ministries

-Last revised-Saturday, September 14, 2002