I was once a member of a church where the pastor said that he was heavily influenced by the Vineyard Fellowship of John Wimber, and in turn the so-called Toronto Blessing.
The Toronto Blessing is “a religious phenomenon characterised by charismatic experiences such as uncontrollable laughing or crying, prophecy, shaking, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and fainting or falling in the Spirit.”
Some people say that it is genuinely a movement of the (Holy) Spirit; others attempt to explain it as a psychological phenomenon, brought about by (and maintained by) mass hysteria. The psychology of human groups is interesting. Within such a group individuals behave in a way that enables them to identify with the group. Their behaviour ensures the cohesiveness of the group. Such mass hysteria is a form of mass hypnosis, of mass delusion. People identify with the group for fear of appearing exceptional. Being part of a group paradoxically ensures identity and individuality.
Some people have said that such phenomena as the Toronto Blessing are explained away by those who are ‘uninitiated’ in such matters as interpreting such phenomena in a spiritual way. But isn’t this precisely what cults do? That only the initiated can (and do) interpret social phenomena in a certain way?
I have stood through two and a half hours of a church meeting at a well-known church in London, listening to glossolalia (speaking in tongues) all about me. I felt an urge to join in. Was I resisting the movement of the Holy Spirit? Or was I simply not allowing myself to enter into the mass hysteria I was surrounded by? The friend I was with, who was not an evangelical Protestant Christian as I was, was discomfited and embarrassed by the whole experience. I remember turning to him several times that evening to look at him, and seeing his skin flush, and the muscles of his face freeze self-consciously. I felt rooted to the spot, afraid to leave the building lest I be singled-out for prayer by those members of the throng who had become zealously enraptured by events. I remember that I and my friend were standing in one of the front rows of the crowd, so that my back was constantly turned to the festival behind me, for I dared not turn around to look.
This is all I remember from the night. I do not remember how I felt afterwards, and I do not remember the journey home.
I am tempted to think that I resisted the work of the Holy Spirit on that night. Perhaps I have regretted ever since not really letting go, and how close I came to doing so. I remember thinking how sad that in heaven everybody else is having a good time but not me.
I think sometimes that I must let go of belief and reality and the concerns of this world and ‘step into the cloud’ that is God. In one of my favourite worship songs, Show Me Your Glory, Stephanie Frizzel sings, “I want to walk in your presence like Jesus did.” This line never fails to move me. How amazing would that be.
If I ever let go.