The Toronto Phenomenon (Part 2 of 2)
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ph.D.
In Part 1 of this two part series, Dr. Fruchtenbaum pointed out that he is not dealing with a Pentecostal/Charismatic vs. Non-Pentecostal/non-Charismatic issue because the so-called Toronto Phenomenon causes division even within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles.
He then revealed two of the chief characteristics of the Toronto Phenomenon: uncontrollable laughter and animal noises. With that background, Arnold turned to Scripture. The heart of his discussion is The Holy Scriptures: The Only Authority to Validate Biblical and Spiritual Truth. Part one concluded with insightful passages from the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah, that show how far the Toronto experience departs from Gods Word. He now turns to the New Testament.
The Book of Acts
The thing you find Scripture emphasizing is that the final authority must be the Scriptures, the written Word of God, and not anyones experience. Certainly, the Apostles could have related many of their experiences with Jesus in trying to defend their preaching about Jesus. One thing the Book of Acts keeps re-emphasizing is that Paul, Silas and the others always made their final authority the Word of God and not their own experiences, as incredible as those experiences were by Gods grace.
By and large, one does not find Paul using his personal experiences, especially his key experience on Damascus Road, as a tool for evangelizing. For Paul, the final authority had to be the Scriptures and not his own experience or testimony and, therefore, that was the focus of his evidence and that is what convinced so many. Those who came to believe (17:4) did not do so because of any signs and wonders they saw Paul perform, but rather because of how he expounded the written Scriptures and showed how Jesus fulfilled the necessary Scriptures.
The two times recorded where Paul does give his personal account as to how he became a believer on the road to Damascus is used as part of his defense when he is on trial. You do not find him using it in a situation in which his goal was evangelism. I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to personal testimonies and I do share my own testimony quite frequently. What I am saying is that my testimony can never be a final authority, nor can anyone elses. Furthermore, people who have converted to other religions -- be it Mormonism, Jehovahs Witnesses or Christian Science -- may also give powerful testimonies of how their lives have changed. That is why, here again, the final authority and criteria has to be the written Word of God. Testimonies, I believe, are primarily valuable for encouragement and edification of fellow believers, but they can never be the final evidence of the authenticity of ones claims or beliefs.
Another example is Acts 18:28:
This speaks of Apollos and all that he had to say was also based on that which was written. The refutation of the unbelievers was not based upon signs and wonders, but on Scripture.
One more example may be found in Acts 28:23-24:
Here, again, what Paul used was not experience or signs and wonders. What he used was Scripture. His whole focus was on the Law and the Prophets, the written Scriptures of that day, to authenticate what he was teaching and preaching. The response was that some believed and some disbelieved, but those who did believe came to believe on the basis of the exposition of the written Word of God.
The Apostle Peter
Besides what we see in the Book of Acts, a good example where the focus was on the Scriptures and not on experience is what Peter says:
Peter describes his experience at the Transfiguration when he saw the brightness of the Shechinah Glory manifested through Christ and heard the voice out of heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (1:16-18). Indeed, Peters experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was one of the highlights in that period of his life when he was with Jesus as a disciple. As convincing as the Transfiguration experience might have been to Peter, he points out that a far more authoritative base for believing that Jesus was the Messiah (and that this was not cunningly devised fables) is the Scriptures (1:19-21). Therefore, the written Scripture itself is what really made Peters faith more sure.
Peter does not encourage his readers to focus on Peters experience on the Transfiguration, but rather on the Word of God. And it is the Scriptures, he says, that ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place. What makes the Scriptures truly the final authority and the basis for more sure doctrine than experience is the fact that the Scriptures were not produced by the will of man, but are the product of the Holy Spirit who moved the writers to write exactly what he wanted them to record. Because the written Word of God is the ultimate product of the Holy Spirit the word of prophecy [is] made more sure.
Neither Peters great experience at the Mount of Transfiguration, nor Pauls great experience on the Damascus Road, ever became the final authority for the faith of either. The final issue for both men was the written Word of God.
What about Signs and Wonders?
The response of some is: Isnt the manifestation of the supernatural the evidence that this is a work of God, even if it is not found in Scripture? And are not signs and wonders the evidence of the work of God, even if the specific signs and wonders are not found in Scripture? Here, again, the answer is a decisive no, as the following two Scriptures again show. The first is Matthew 7:22-23:
One should notice what these false teachers were able to do in the name of a counterfeit Jesus. Obviously, when they say they did it in your name, it means that they did use the name of Jesus and probably used it quite frequently. No doubt, it was their so frequent use of Jesus name that deceived a great many. Furthermore, they were able to do three specific things: prophesy events which did come to pass; cast out demons; and, do many mighty works, such as miracles of healing and other signs and wonders. Yet, in that day, Jesus said to them: I never knew you. Here, you have all the ingredients of some of the things that are happening in Toronto, Kansas City, and elsewhere. The name of Jesus is heavily used in almost ritual-mantra style, all kinds of signs and wonders are claimed to occur, and yet, by themselves, these things do not prove anything because Satan can duplicate these. Here, again, it is important to get back to the written Word of God as the final criteria, the final source of authority, and the final foundation for all matters of faith and practice.
The Beguiling Serpent
Another example of this same area is 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 and 13-15:
Paul emphasizes the fact that just as Satan was able to deceive Eve, even the believers of the Corinthian Church can also be deceived by Satan, perhaps not directly by Satan as Eve was, but certainly by Satans ministers (11:3). It should be kept in mind that the Corinthian Church was a church highly involved in sensationalism, signs and wonders, and the experiential. Because the Corinthian Church based so much about their lives on experience and the supernatural, that is what opened them up for deception by false teachers.
Paul labels three things by the word another (11:4): another Jesus; another gospel; another spirit. The Greek, however, has two different words involved here, both of which mean another, but they carry a slightly different shade of meaning. The first term means, another of the same kind; and, the second term means, another of a different kind. If we are to render verse four a bit more literally from the Greek, it would read as follows:
What Paul says is that the gospel being presented is another gospel of a different kind, and the source is another spirit of a different kind. However, the Jesus being presented is another Jesus of the same kind; a Jesus that sounds like and seems like the Jesus of the New Testament, but is a carefully-disguised counterfeit.
It should be noted that the name being used to foster the work of deception is the name of Jesus. It is a counterfeit Jesus, but it is a carefully-disguised counterfeit so that one who does not judge by the Word of God is very easily deceived. Paul makes it clear that those who are propagating another Jesus are false apostles (11:13); however, that is not the way they appear because they fashion themselves to sound like, seem like, and act like real ministers of Christ. By so doing, they are reflecting their true lord, Satan, who is the angel of this darkness (Ephesians 6:12) by fashioning himself to appear as an angel of light (11:14). Paul says that this should not be surprising for if Satan will fashion himself to appear as an angel of light, certainly his own ministers will fashion themselves to appear as ministers of righteousness; but, in the end, they will receive their judgment (11:15).
Again, Satan would not be very successful in his work of deception, especially with believers, if his ministers were clearly and without question out in far left field. And to carry out the work of deception, they must certainly focus on the name of Jesus and not on some other name. Yet the mere usage of the name Jesus, even in the context of words like praise, glory, etc., does not and should not authenticate anyones ministry. Here, again, our final authority must be the Scriptures and not experience, signs and wonders, unusual activities, or strange noises.
The strange phenomenon going on today, such as the Toronto Phenomenon, should not have surprised people who are truly into the Word, for in 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul declared:
There is, of course, biblical doctrine, but, here, Paul talks about the fact that Satan has his own system of doctrine -- referred to as doctrines of demons. Those who become enamored with doctrines of demons end up giving heed to seducing spirits. What are these doctrines of demons? They are such doctrines that are coming out of Toronto and elsewhere, which find no basis in the written Word of God. They are based on teachers claiming to have received special, divine revelation from God that, therefore, must be accepted as new truth.
Those who involve themselves in such doctrines of demons end up being seduced by demonic spirits. Again, there are those who will come and defend these actions based upon how happy, good, or joyful they feel, assuming that such good feelings must be of the Lord. But all this shows is that they have, indeed, been seduced by demons. Again, Satan would not be very successful in his program of deception if his strategy was to make people feel bad. That is not going to attract much of an audience. What will attract an audience is people who can do things to make you feel good, even if the feeling is nothing more than an emotional release. Yet if the feeling can be ascribed to a supernatural work of God, the recipient has been deceived.
The Bible itself gives us a major admonition by which we must judge all that claims to be of the Lord: the written Word of God. In concluding this study, we will look at two key passages. The first is 1 Corinthians 4:6:
Again, it should be emphasized that Paul says this to a church that had a strong tendency to move towards the sensational and the experiential. Chapters 12-14 make it clear that the Corinthian Church was by far the most Pentecostal/Charismatic of any church we have in the New Testament. They certainly emphasized the gifts of the Spirit in a way we do not read about in the other epistles to other churches. The focus on the experiential showed that they were not spiritual but carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul must especially admonish a church of this nature not to go beyond the things which are written. That which is written, of course, is the Holy Scriptures. For any new manifestation or phenomenon, they must go back and test it by the Word of God. The fact is that the laughing and animal noise phenomena are found nowhere in Scripture. It is something that goes beyond that which is written and must be rejected out of hand.
One does not need to take a plane trip to Toronto to experience whether or not something is of God. It is sufficient to know that it is not in Scripture; they have gone beyond that which is written and, therefore, it is already evident that these things are not of God. And what happens to those who go beyond that which is written? Paul declares that they become puffed up for the one against the other. They develop a spiritual pride that is evident when they go around claiming to have a greater measure of the Holy Spirit than other believers. As a result, they divide all believers into two categories: those who have it, and those who do not. I guess I am one who does not have it. For that, I am glad, because the it is not found in Scripture. After observing and talking with so many who claim to have it, I have not been provoked to jealousy to desire it in any way. I am quite content with the spirituality described in Scripture -- striving to attain it, using the Word and nothing else.
There is one more Scripture that must be dealt with in this discussion, and that is 2 Timothy 3:12-4:4:
Paul gives a simple message that is largely ignored by much of the modern movements today: that those who seek to live godly in this life will suffer persecution (3:12). In todays prevalent preaching of name it and claim it and a health and wealth gospel, you do not find the preachers warning that those who really want to live spiritual, godly lives in accordance with Scripture will endure persecution. The truth is that it is not health and wealth that are a sign of divine favor or spirituality. Rather, it is being persecuted for the faith that is a sign of a truly godly person.
Paul, then, issues a warning that as time goes on there will be more and more false teachers, who are truly impostors and will go around deceiving others, many of whom will be deceived themselves (3:13). They may well believe that they are Gods anointed and keep repeating it to their critics, but the fact remains that they have become deceived themselves and, therefore, proceed to deceive others as well.
So what is it that will protect Timothy from being deceived by false teachers? Paul answers that question in 3:14-17. He encourages Timothy to continue in what he has learned (3:14) and he has been trained from childhood in the sacred writings (3:15). Notice that we see the same emphasis found in 1 Corinthians 4:6 here: the written Word of God, the sacred writings.
There will be two things that will keep Timothy from being deceived: his knowledge of the sacred writings, and his continuing to abide in the sacred writings. The word abide has the basic meaning, to make your home. He is to make his home in the sacred writings. His focus is not to be on personal experiences, no matter how supernatural they may be. As already seen in Matthew 7:22-23, his focus should not be on signs and wonders that can lead to deception as well, but he must abide in the written Word of God. What Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21, Paul says in 3:16: that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God and, therefore, are profitable in all areas of life. And just how profitable are the written Scriptures? Paul answers that question, saying that the Scriptures make the man of God to be complete himself, while also making him furnished completely unto every good work (3:17).
What this verse teaches we must not miss. The Scriptures are sufficient to make one thoroughly complete. There is no need to try to receive some supernatural zapping from some spirit world. There is no need to spend money to travel to Toronto for someone to lay hands on you until you either fall into uncontrollable, unstoppable laughter or make animal sounds. The written Scriptures are able thoroughly to complete you and furnish you for every work that you need to do. You can become spiritual and mature in the faith through the Scriptures alone. However, this will take the discipline of studying the Word of God, spending hours, days, weeks, years of a lifetime to comprehend more and more of the Word of God. But in this technological age, people have become lazy and, therefore, seek the instant breakfast approach to spirituality, trying to find a zapping experience to get it, and sometimes even feeling they have become a god themselves. By the authority of this passage, I can declare that such experiences will not lead to spirituality, but instead will lead them to being deceived and then continuing to deceive others as well.
Because Timothy is knowledgeable of the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are able thoroughly to furnish him for every good work, Paul then admonishes Timothy to go ahead and do the work of the ministry -- reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and teaching (4:1-2). But this teaching is not done by any word of knowledge, or divine revelation outside of Scripture; rather, this is done by the written Word of God as Paul already stated in 3:16.
Then, Paul again declares what will happen in the latter days and, unfortunately, what Paul described has, indeed, finally happened (4:3-4). Paul states that a day will come when believers will no longer be able to endure the sound doctrine (4:3). And what is sound doctrine? In contrast to the doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1), which are doctrines based upon the experiential and the supernatural that go beyond that which is written, sound doctrine is that which is based upon and comes from the sacred writings. Indeed, we are living in a day when the majority of believers in our churches simply cannot endure sound doctrine.
Television, having helped render the unbelieving worlds minds mushy, has done the same thing for believers, as Christian television only imitates its secular counterpart. In place of expository teaching of the Word, there is Christian amusement and Christian talk shows that carry little if any doctrinal substance. A Charismatic speaker who causes people to become hysterical, or to act like animals, or to fall down, can fill up whole stadiums with thousands upon thousands of people, whom he eventually asks to empty their pockets for the offering. But one who comes to expound the Word of God to impart an understanding of the Scriptures and sound doctrine will draw a relatively tiny audience. Indeed, the time and day has arrived when men cannot endure sound doctrine.
So how will they try to meet their spiritual needs? Paul goes on to explain that they will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts. In other words, they will pursue teachers who will tell them what they really want to hear (and being persecuted for godly living is not something believers want to hear). They will pursue teachers who will promise them supernatural experiences. They will pursue teachers who will promise them health and wealth by merely using a formula of naming-and-claiming it; teachers who promise materialism in a spiritually -- wrapped package are the ones they will pursue. But they will strangely avoid having to sit through in-depth teaching of the Word of God. Indeed, that day has finally arrived.
Paul tells us the result of not enduring sound doctrine and pursuing false teachers (4:4): first, they will turn away their ears from the truth, and, second, they will turn aside unto fables. What are fables? Fables are, again, teachings and doctrines outside of Scripture. As we saw earlier, Peter said he did not follow cunningly devised fables, because what he was teaching and preaching was based upon the written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The reason Timothy will not be swept aside to follow fables is because he bases his entire life, teaching and ministry on the sacred writings. Those who go beyond the things that are written will end up following after fables. Again, fables are teachings that we do not find in Scripture and, therefore, they either originate with man or with the demonic world and, thereby, become doctrines of demons. Fables are the false postulations of experiences and actions that are found nowhere in Scripture.
The Toronto Phenomenon is a fable because it goes beyond the things that are written. We must reject it because it is not based upon the sacred writings and, therefore, cannot pass the test of sound doctrine.
On the basis of the written Word of God, I call upon all those who have been caught up in this phenomenon to let 2 Timothy 4:4 be rephrased in your life as follows: Turn away from the fables, and turn aside to the truth.
Article from CTS Journal, Volume 2, Number 2 (Fall 1996), a publication of Chafer Theological Seminary, Orange, CA.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum received a B.A. degree from Cedarville College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from New York University. He is the founder and co-director of Ariel Ministries, Tustin, CA, a ministry to Jewish people around the world. Arnold is also an adjunct professor at Chafer Theological Seminary. He holds Bible conferences around the globe. Dr. Fruchtenbaums bi-annual five-week study of Israel is accepted for credit at CTS.