Rodney Howard-Browne and the Toronto Blessing*
There are few within the evangelical Christian churches today
have not heard of the phenomenon known as "holy laughter."
It has been increasingly manifesting in charismatic churches
in the United States, Canada and Great Britain for over two years,
and its reach into new churches continues at a rapid pace.
WHAT IS HOLY LAUGHTER?
Many churches are reporting spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter
erupting from their congregations, even during times of solemn
ceremony or messages from the pulpit. Some report uncontrollable
weeping, falling to the floor in ecstatic trances, and animal
noises such as barking like dogs and roaring like lions. Some
stagger and reel like drunken people, unable to walk a straight
line. For simplicity's sake, all these have come to be called
"holy laughter," since laughter is the preeminent phenomenon
displayed. In simple terms, it is physical manifestations in
the form of virtually any expression attributed to absolute control
by the Holy Spirit.
Proponents of these phenomena say they are evidence of a fresh
outpouring of the Holy Spirit in response to the people's desire
to see a new sign from God -- the latest in manifestations of
Holy Ghost power, such as took place at Azusa Street in Los Angeles
at the turn of the century. They point to the Welsh Revival,
the Cane Ridge Revival in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1801, and
to [Arminian] preachers like Charles Finney, to validate today's
holy laughter experience.
Opponents say it is either a manifestation of the flesh, at best,
or of demonic spirits at worst. Those who believe it is of God
point to changed lives, deeper commitment to faith in Jesus,
huge responses to the salvation message, a renewed strength and
purpose for ministry, and all sorts of positive results. On the
other hand, there are also reports of demonic oppression, suicidal
feelings, and loss of faith after the holy laughter experience.
Whatever one thinks of holy laughter, it has certainly impressed
a number of well-known personalities within the Christian media
circuit. There seems to be a strong manifestation especially
in word-faith churches, and within the Vineyard movement, as
well as charismatic mainline churches such as Episcopalian and
Anglican. Individuals who have flocked to holy laughter meetings
span every denomination from Baptist to Roman Catholic.
Holy laughter has also received the endorsements of Oral and
Richard Roberts, Marilyn Hickey, Paul and Jan Crouch, Karl Strader,
Larry Tomszak, Kenneth
Wimber, and many other hyper-charismatic luminaries.
While the claim of spontaneity is heard from all sources, the
current popularity of the phenomenon can be traced to one man,
Rodney Howard-Browne, formerly a Pentecostal South African evangelist.
The major impetus for the worldwide spread of the movement has
come through one church in particular -- the Toronto Airport
Vineyard, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, famous for "the Toronto
THE TORONTO BLESSING
People have flocked from all over the globe to attend services
at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, hoping to experience holy laughter.
So impacting has been the influence of this church on the holy
laughter phenomenon that Charisma magazine devoted
considerable space to the Toronto Blessing in its February, 1995,
HOW DID IT START?
On January 20, 1994, what was intended to be the start of several
"revival" meetings was held at a small church located
in an industrial complex near Pearson International Airport in
Toronto. Within one year, it had become what Diana Doucet, writing
for Charisma, calls, "a mecca of sorts."
Because of the huge crowds seeking a sign from God, the church
continues to conduct meetings every night except Mondays. Even
the secular media have focused reports on the phenomenon with
articles and television documentaries. The focus of all reports
is upon the physical manifestations displayed at these meetings.
Says Diana Doucet in the 2/95 Charisma (pp. 20,
"... Worshipers are overcome by laughing, weeping, groaning,
shaking, falling and, to the chagrin of some, noise-making that
has been described as 'a cross between a jungle and a farmyard.'
But of greater significance are the reports of changed lives:
healings, restored relationships and increased fervor for God."
Doucet attributes the origins of the Toronto Blessing to Vineyard
pastor Randy Clark of St. Louis, Missouri, who had been influenced
by Rodney Howard-Browne in late 1993:
"... What was intended to be a four-day series of meetings
with Clark expanded into months of nightly services that sometimes
lasted until 3 a.m."
News of the movement spread, and by April, 1994, curious international
visitors were arriving in Toronto. By December, 75,000 people
from almost every country of the world had crossed the Airport
Vineyard's threshold. Cumulative attendance has been more than
200,000, some 10,000 of them clergy [as of mid-1995].
It can be honestly stated that, until Clark took what he had
received from Howard-Browne to the Toronto Vineyard, Howard-Browne
and holy laughter were virtually unheard of. This, in spite of
the fact that Howard-Browne claims he first experienced holy
laughter in his meetings over thirteen years ago . Although
Howard-Browne is now the most visible spokesman for the phenomenon,
it has virtually become a Vineyard
movement within its own right, spreading to Europe, Asia,
Africa, and other parts of the world.
The impact of the Toronto Blessing has been especially felt in
Great Britain, where it is reported that it has touched every
denomination in some way, with estimates that from 2,500 to 4,000
churches have had meetings similar to those of the Airport Vineyard.
Is this hyperbole, or are such tremendous figures for real? Knowing
the penchant toward "evangelistic speaking" that is
prevalent among charismatics, it is doubtful. But numbers aren't
as important as the phenomenon's true spiritual origins and its
true spiritual origins and its true spiritual consequences.
Rodney Morgan Howard-Browne, a burly, 6-foot charismatic preacher
from South Africa, was born June 12, 1961, in Port Elizabeth,
South Africa. He says he committed his life to Christ at age
5, and was filled with the Holy Spirit at age 8. In 1979, while
praying for hours seeking a deeper spiritual experience, he challenged
"'Either You come down here and touch me, or I will come
up there and touch You,' he prayed in desperation. Suddenly,
his whole body felt like it was on fire. He began to laugh uncontrollably.
Then he wept and began to speak in tongues. 'I was plugged into
heaven's electrical supply,' he later wrote in his book, The
Touch of God. 'And since then my desire has been to go
and plug other people in'" (Julia Dulin, "Praise the
Lord and Pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma,
For the next ten years, Howard-Browne moved about, pastoring
for two years at Rhema Church in Johannesburg, South Africa,
prior to moving to the United States in 1987. He became an itinerant
preacher, with small engagements, throughout the country. It
was in April, 1989, while Howard-Browne was preaching in a church
near Albany, New York, that the holy laughter outbreak began.
Browne claims that he felt a sensation like a heavy blanket coming
over him. Soon he began falling out of their seats, some laughing,
others crying. From that point on, his reputation began to grow.
He established the Rodney Howard-Browne Evangelistic Association
in Louisville, Kentucky. In the spring of 1993, Karl Strader,
pastor of Carpenter's Church in Lakeland, Florida, invited him
to preach. Scheduled for a one-week appearance, he was carried
over for three more weeks.
Since the services were broadcast on radio, many people began
showing up at Carpenter's Church to experience what they heard
on the air. It wasn't long before Howard-Browne was appearing
on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). It was only shortly
afterward that Howard-Browne's influence began to envelope the
Toronto Airport Vineyard through the visit by Randy Clark. From
that point, it was spread from the Toronto Airport Vineyard to
churches throughout the world, primarily through the Vineyard
In the final analysis, then, the present popularity of the holy
laughter phenomenon can be traced to this one man, Rodney Howard-Browne,
and his influence through radio and television, and his impact
upon Randy Clark.
Or can it? Not to be outdone by Rodney Howard-Browne of the Vineyard
movement, suddenly we learn from Charles and Frances Hunter (a.k.a.
"the Happy Hunters") that they were experiencing this
phenomenon many, many years ago. It's only in 1994 that they
decided to let us know about it in their book, Holy Laughter.
Frances Hunter states that she fell under the power of the Holy
Spirit at a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship banquet in Houston.
She neglects to mention the year, but they were new to the charismatic
experience at the time, so it must have been sometime in the
1960s or '70s at the latest. After falling down with Charles,
she found herself glued to the floor, unable to move. Then she
began to erupt into uncontrolled laughter for about one-half
hour. After which the Holy Spirit allegedly released her from
This was just the beginning of holy laughter for the Hunters.
Thereafter, it seems that holy laughter manifested itself at
their meetings, almost always accompanied by claims of physical
healings. New to the charismatic experience at the time, the
Hunters wanted to know what the phenomenon was. They asked their
good friend Lester Sumrall what he though of it:
"Dr. Sumrall said, 'What you experienced in your service
is holy laughter.' Then he continued, 'Anything that is of God
is holy and anything that is holy has power connected to it.'
Now we began to understand why the unusual healings took place
because it was a supernatural move of God and it brought supernatural
healing power with it. Hallelujah!" (Holy Laughter,
One may wonder why holy laughter was never promoted by the
Hunters until after it became popular through Howard-Browne and
the Vineyard. The Hunters do mention Howard-Browne, however,
and give him credit for imparting to them the gift of holy laughter
on a greater scale by the laying on of his hands. But apparently
they are the originators and the experts on the phenomenon.
But wait! We have another person whose claim to holy laughter
precedes that of the Hunters. Derek Prince, writing in the 2/95
Charisma , states:
"I believe the Holy Spirit at times produces in people
prolonged, exuberant and apparently causeless laughter. I have
to believe it, because that is how I was saved more than 50 years
ago" (p. 52).
AN EARLIER PRECEDENT?
The holy laughter purveyors tell us that this is really nothing
new, but has always been a part of revival. For example, Charisma
magazine quotes Jonathan Edwards, "pioneer of the First
Great Awakening in the 1730s," whose revivals led to tears
One who is convicted of sin might well laugh or cry after
he has felt release from the condemnation and control of sin,
which comes with confession and repentance. But there is no evidence
he will bark like a dog or make other animal noises. The manifestation
have historically been attributed to demonic spirits, not to
the Holy Spirit.
Although today's holy laughter proponents like to point to Jonathan
Edwards as validation for their practices, history doesn't line
up with their claims. The fact of the matter is, there is no
true historical precedent for what is occurring today with Rodney
Howard-Browne, or at the Vineyard and other holy laughter meetings.
And even if there were a true historical precedent, it would
mean, at best, that whatever is motivating today's holy laughter
participants motivated someone before. So what? There is no Biblical
But there is, the holy laughter proponents would say. It was
the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at "Pentecost" as
recorded in the Book of Acts. That outpouring resulted in the
Lord's disciples preaching the Gospel unto repentance, with the
Holy Spirit giving them utterance in specific languages that
the visitors from other nations could hear and understand. This
is a far cry from what is occurring under the alleged ministry
of the holy laughter preachers.
IS IT OF GOD?
By what standard do the proponents of holy laughter judge whether
the phenomenon is of God or not? Do they cite Scripture properly?
Do they minister with unfailing signs and wonders as did Jesus'
apostles? No. Rather, they base their judgment upon perceived
results, and whether or not it catches on. Says Howard-Browne:
"The proof that this is a move of God is that when I
leave, it doesn't stop" (Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord
and pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma, p.22).
Howard-Browne disparages those who try to apply a theological
test to his methods. Why? Because they cannot stand a theological
test. Any valid theological test must be based on the clear teaching
of Scripture, and holy laughter doesn't measure up.
The only measure the holy laughter people want to apply is that
which is based on outward results to their liking:
"Since last March , Howard-Browne has been back
to Carpenter's Church three times. The church has added 800 new
members, and its income is up 30 percent, according to [pastor
Karl] Strader. 'I've been here 28 years, and there's never been
anything like this,' he adds. 'We've had 2,200 people baptized.
We'd go until almost 2 a.m., Rodney baptizing them six at a time
in our pool. That's why we think we've had revival.' Strader
invited Ron Clarke, pastor of Living Water Church in Tampa, Florida,
to one of the meetings. He was reluctant at first, but then he
found himself lying on the floor, laughing uncontrollably ...
Clarke is still laughing today. In one year, membership at his
church has grown from 800 to 1,500, and the congregation recently
bought a new building. Clarke says conversions, baptisms in the
Holy Spirit, and healings have soared" (Julia Duin, "Praise
the Lord and pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma,
So, this so-called revival has come not through the preaching
of the Gospel, but through allegedly uncontrollable laughter.
Strange that Scripture doesn't record any such event. The apostles
did perform signs and wonders, but the Gospel was always clearly
delineated and repentance was called for. Seldom if ever is this
the case with holy laughter.
VALIDATION BY RESULTS
The Hunters claim that the purpose of holy laughter is to effect
healing. They offer testimony after testimony of people healed
at their services after experiencing holy laughter. They also
point to changed lives as do those in the Toronto Blessing and
the Rodney Howard-Browne camps:
"People began to testify of wonderful changed in their
lives. Many displayed a new hunger for God and a new zeal to
see Him glorified. Bad relationships were healed, and weak marriages
were wonderfully strengthened. Formerly depressed people were
changed beyond recognition" (Terry Virgo, "Interrupted
by the Spirit," 2/95, Charisma, p.29).
"Church leaders also point to the spiritual fruit produced
in people's lives. Overall, they report, participants are experiencing
a deeper relationship with God. Repentance is often manifested
on both a personal and a congregational level. People yield to
forgiveness, relationships are healed, and families are restored
... Their initial experiences often led to other results: the
healing of long-standing emotional hurts, a growing love for
the Lord and an increased desire to read His Word and to pray.
Reports abound with testimonies of physical healings and stories
of non-believers being overcome by the power of God" (Diana
Doucet, "What is God doing in Toronto, 2/95, Charisma,
God may indeed be at work in individual lives. But results
are subjective. Will they last? Are they emotionally based or
a true work of the Holy Spirit? Cults point to results of changed
lives for the better to validate their beliefs and practices.
Should we not be critical of those beliefs and practices?
For that matter, the same results claimed by the holy laughter
people can be found among non-Charismatics without benefit of
the experiences. It may be asked, "Who is the more spiritually
mature -- those whose lives are changed by willful obedience
to God's Word, or those who cannot or will not change unless
they experience what they believe is a supernatural manifestation
in their lives?" Scripture would point to the former.
Are the conversions genuine? Is God using holy laughter? Let's
not confuse God's grace with man's foolishness. Nor should we
justify man's foolishness because of God's grace. And let's not
confuse results with truth.
Yet, regardless of whether or not healings and changed lives
accompany holy laughter, people are feeling something; they are
experiencing something that convinces they that God is manifesting
Himself to them in a unique way. But is it of God? Or is it demonic?
Or is it merely the flesh? Can it possibly be that all three
sources are being manifested at the same time?
Even the proponents of holy laughter believe that not all manifestations
are of God. While falling short of attributing them to demons,
they do acknowledge that sometimes the flesh gets involved:
"For Pentecostals or charismatics, such manifestations
as fainting, weeping or laughing aren't completely foreign. More
problematic, however, are the animal sounds -- particularly the
barking or roaring that has been reported in meetings in Toronto,
London and elsewhere. Opinions vary widely on the origin of these
animal sounds. Many reject them as demonic. Others counted that
they are simply a fleshly response to the Holy Spirit. In the
British magazine Alpha, Toronto Vineyard pastor
Marc Dupont suggests that the noises could be from God. He tells
of praying for Gideon Chui, a Vancouver-based Chinese Pentecostal
pastor. 'He began to roar like a lion,' Dupont relates, noting
that normally he would have assumed Chui needed deliverance from
a demon spirit. But he believed Chui's unusual vocal expression
heralded a sign from God. 'This symbolic, prophetic act signifies
that the Lion of Judah will triumph,' Dupont explains" (Diana
Doucet, "What is God doing in Toronto, 2/95, Charisma,
Are we to assume that those who bark like dogs are heralding
the triumph of Christ in some other form? Dogs are unclean animals
(as are lions). Can we imagine Jesus or any of the apostles barking
like dogs or roaring like lions? Yet who was more filled with
the Holy Spirit than they?
How can these facts be overlooked? Vineyard movement founder
Wimber offers a clue:
"John Wimber takes a rather neutral approach to the more
bizarre manifestations. 'There's nothing in Scripture that supports
these kinds of phenomena that I can see, and I can't think of
anything throughout the church age that would,' Wimber writes.
'So I feel no obligation to try to explain it. It's just phenomena.
It's just people responding to God'" (Diana Doucet, "What
is God doing in Toronto, 2/95, Charisma, p. 26).
What an amazing statement! His Vineyard movement has virtually
exploded with this thing; he has exported it to the ends of the
earth; and he feels no obligation to try to explain it, even
though, by his own admission, it has no precedent in Scripture
or in Church history. How does this measure up to Scripture's
exhortation that we must test the spirits to see if they are
of God or not (1 John 4:1)?
It will be argued that the test is whether or not one confesses
that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (verses 2-3). And this, certainly,
the proponents of holy laughter would lay claim to. In the light
of history, we must understand that at the time John wrote those
words, there was no one who would claim that Jesus Christ had
come in the flesh other than those who were His true disciples.
By the same token, no one could say "Jesus is Lord,"
except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3).
No one can deny that, today, many deceivers claim that Jesus
has come in the flesh; they even use the expression "Jesus
is Lord." The Mormons, the pope, the Jehovah's Witnesses,
virtually all pseudo-Christian cults and false teachers who come
in the name of Christ will testify to these truths. This is evidence
that we are in the last days (Matt. 24). While there have been
false prophets through the ages, the last days are seeing a proliferation
of false prophets coming with lying signs and wonders. Therefore,
the test today is whether or not something is in mere agreement
with God's Word.
The operative words in 1 John 4:1-3, then, are, "believe
not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God."
Today especially -- regardless of one's confession of faith --
it is imperative that we always try (test) the spirits. And how
do we try the spirits? Luke gives us an example in Acts 17:11,
in speaking of the Jews at Berea:
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in
that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched
the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
The Bereans did not merely accept what the apostles told them,
even though their words were anointed by the Holy Spirit. They
searched the Scriptures to see if what they were told was true.
If a teaching or a manifestation cannot bear the scrutiny of
Scripture, then it must be rejected.
Proper exegesis does not permit the misapplying of God's Word
in attempts to bolster acceptance of any teaching or phenomenon.
The Scriptures must be applied properly and in context in order
to justify acceptance by believers.
Since, by John Wimber's own admission, "there's nothing
in Scripture that supports these kinds of phenomena," they
must be classified as unbiblical or, at best, extra-biblical.
Let us assume the best -- that they are extra-biblical. That
being the case, the proponents should take care not to insist
that those who do not enter into them or accept them as genuine
manifestations of the Holy Spirit are missing out on God's move,
or are unspiritual, or are "closed to the Holy Spirit."
At least they should be willing to give people time to test this
thing. But are these phenomena being presented in this manner?
GET OUT OF YOUR MIND
To the contrary, Charles and Frances Hunter tell us not to test
it, but to go whole-hog:
"Could this be the way God is bringing us into the final
great revival before the return of Jesus? Whether it is or not,
we can feel the Holy Spirit moving -- and we're going right along
with Him! Don't stick your toe in to test the water! Don't wait!
Jump all the way into this flowing river" (Holy Laughter,
Really? Just jump in? Don't test it? Don't wait? This is contrary
to Scripture; it is the same tactic used by cultists to intimidate
candidates to follow their way. Don't use your mind:
"We always need to be completely open to the move of
the Holy Spirit and never be so closed that we cannot see that
God might be doing something so fresh and new today that there
is not way our finite minds can understand it! Let's just enjoy
it an not try to figure out God" (Holy Laughter,
The Hunter's language indicated that they themselves aren't
all that positive about this thing. They use the phrases, "whether
or not," and "God might be doing something."
Yet they insist that we not test what they are promoting. This
is characteristic of most of the major proponents of holy laughter,
including Rodney Howard-Browne:
"Howard-Browne disparages those who try to apply a theological
test to his methods. 'You can't understand what God is doing
in these meetings with an analytical mind,' he says. 'The only
way you're going to understand what God is doing is with your
heart'" (Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord and pass the
New Wine," 8/94, Charisma, p.26).
But the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately
wicked (Jer. 17:9) -- even the heart of the born again believer
in Jesus. This is why Scripture exhorts us to examine ourselves
and to judge ourselves. Our self-life is still part of the unredeemed
Scripture warns us repeatedly not only not to trust our hearts,
but to keep a sound mind and to test everything that comes in
the name of Christ. When lauding the Bereans for searching after
truth, Luke tells us that they "received the word with all
readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily,
whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11).
Readiness of mind is important to discerning truth from error.
Those who tell us not to trust our minds are not to be trusted.
No true minister of God would tell us such a thing.
Something doesn't add up here. Nor does it add up that Terry
Virgo, a Columbia, Missouri, pastor, would heartily endorse this
movement on one hand, and on the other say that it must be proven
true from Scripture:
"Moving into the supernatural does not mean you kiss
your brain goodbye. What we experience may be amazing -- outside
our normal realm -- but we should be able to articulate from
Scripture the precedent and the purpose for what is happening"
(2/95, Charisma, p. 25).
But there is no precedent or purpose found in Scripture for
what is happening in the holy laughter movement.
We find many similar mixed signals from the holy laughter proponents,
even within the same forum of discussion. For example, Mona Johnian,
writing in the February, 1995, Charisma, implies
dire consequences for those who do not enter into the flow of
this new thing:
"The question we as believers must answer is this: Will
we flow with the plans and purposes of God for this hour or will
we hinder revival? I'm concerned that many are in danger of creating
a false comfort zone for themselves. By the position they're
taking, they are saying: 'I'm not sure about this present move.
I'm just going to wait and see what happens.' But Jesus said,
'He who is not with Me is against Me' (Matt. 12:30, NKJV). Pentecost
was not -- and is not -- an option. God considers us to be either
for or against what He is doing at any given time" ("Flowing
With Revival," p. 14).
Because someone doesn't blindly accept an extra-biblical teaching
or practice doesn't place him in the camp of Christ's enemies.
We can still be for Him. It is presumption to say that we will
be against Him just because we don't go with the flow.
Some have said that we cannot judge these phenomena without being
there with an open spirit. But if truth or error can only be
judged by experience, what purpose do the Spirit of God and the
Word of God serve? To observe any religious thing with an open
spirit precludes judgment. We would do better to observe everything
with a spirit attuned to the Holy Spirit, testing everything
by God's Word. In fact, Derek Prince, while endorsing this movement
"It is appropriate to approach unusual manifestations
with caution, but not with blank, negative skepticism. After
all, the fact that an experience is unconventional -- or even
extraordinary -- does not necessarily mean that it is not from
God" ("Uproar in the Church," 2/95, Charisma,
Testing by God's Word, of course, is not blind skepticism.
Nor is coming to the conclusion to reject extra-biblical phenomena.
Charisma publisher Steven Strang goes even further
in urging caution. After experiencing being "slain in the
Spirit" at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, he would still
not endorse the holy laughter phenomenon personally, even though
he has published several glowing accounts of it by others:
"Am I endorsing what I saw and experienced in Toronto?
No, because I still don't understand much of it. Similar manifestations
have occurred in past revivals; but I believe an experience should
also be established in the Word of God. Furthermore, I'm concerned.
First, I'm concerned that such a move of God has the potential
to create a new group of 'spiritual elite' -- with those who
have experienced strange manifestations wearing them like a badge
of spirituality. Second, I'm concerned that the manifestations
themselves could become so important that people who don't receive
them through the power of the Holy Spirit will fake them -- as
Simon the magician wanted to do in Acts 8. Finally, I'm concerned
that a new denomination of shriekers, twitchers and laughter
could spring up. Impossible, you say? Well, remember the Shakers
and Quakers -- religious sects named after the phenomenon for
which they were known" ("Floored in Toronto,"
2/95, Charisma, p. 106).
Strang's perceptions are valid. He went to Toronto; he experienced
something there himself; yet he is reticent to endorse it because
it cannot be validated by God's Word. And no one who knows anything
about Charisma would doubt Strang's charismatic
fervor. He does say that he senses that what is happening is
a part of what God is doing because it's happening worldwide.
But so is Islam happening worldwide.
BLASPHEMING THE HOLY SPIRIT?
No doubt those who reject phenomena like this as being of God
will be accused of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. The experience-oriented
religionists point to Matthew 12:31-32 to claim that those who
attribute to Satan or to the flesh what they believe
is the work of the Holy Spirit, have blasphemed against the Holy
This is a serious accusation. Those who blaspheme against the
Holy Spirit are eternally condemned; according to Jesus' own
words, they will not be forgiven in this world or in the next.
This should cause us to be careful in making any assessment of
supernatural (or seemingly supernatural) phenomena. Certainly
we must guard our hearts to be sure we are not resisting the
grace of God from impure motives.
The fear that comes upon many who are uncomfortable with these
things, yet who lack understanding or discernment to be able
to make a judgment, causes them to freeze at the thought of challenging
the proponents. This has been the problem in the churches these
days; many pastors are too cowardly to speak against something
so bizarre, from fear that they may be blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Others become prideful in their acceptance of anything -- their
non-judgmentalism -- which keeps them in touch with everything
Lester Sumrall says it this way:
"The reason I have been in every move of God is because
I have never criticized any ministry or work of God!" (Holy
Laughter, p. 103)
Well, of course! Someone who will not criticize even the most
blatantly unscriptural claims to truth and to God's hand at work
will find himself involved in every alleged "move
of God." This is the true ecumenical spirit that pervades
the alleged supernatural manifestations at work today.
If we are confident in our relationship with the Lord based upon
unreserved trust in His written Word. We need not fear blaspheming
the Holy Spirit. The Lord will keep us in check or will reveal
to us what is of Himself. There are many in the churches whose
testimonies are pure -- whose walks are pure -- whose hearts
are right before the Lord -- who do not accept holy laughter
being of God. They are not fighting the Holy Spirit out of spite,
as did the religionists of Jesus' day who accused Him of casting
out devils by the prince of devils. There is not jealousy toward
these people and their alleged Holy Spirit ministry. But there
is concern that what is transpiring finds no genuine fertile
field among gullible professing Christians whose discernment
is woefully lacking.
Truth does not produce guilt except guilt of sin. It is not a
sin to test the claims of these people; it is not a sin not to
laugh when they prompt us to laugh; it is not a sin to reject
any subjective, extra-biblical or unbiblical work. Therefore,
we should have no guilt for rejecting any of these phenomena.
Those who are in faith will not be brought under condemnation
by anything or anyone except those things that are clearly delineated
in God's Word. Everything else is subject to acceptance or rejection.
JOY! JOY! JOY!
What is it that these holy laughter proponents want us to enter
into without reservation? Obviously it entails laughter, but
not always. Nor is laughter the end in itself. It is the joy
of the Lord, they claim, that the laughter testifies to. As the
"There is a powerful new wind of the Holy Spirit blowing,
but it's lots more than a rushing mighty wind! There's an energizing,
forceful sound that's coming with this new wind of the Spirit
and it is the exciting sound of joy, joy, joy, joy! Not only
an inward joy, but it's bringing a vocal joy, a holy laughter,
right along with it. It's energetically stirring us to higher
levels with God!" (Holy Laughter, p. 5)
We're told by the holy laughter purveyors that God wants to
bless his people because He loves us so much. No matter that
the churches are in a chaotic mess of unbelief, false doctrine,
self-pride, broken marriages, adultery, ecumenical fervor, and
toleration of sin and of different gospels. God just wants to
bless us; He wants us to be happy.
While Scripture warns us that the last days would see a great
falling away from the purity of the Faith, the holy laughter
crowd is telling us that the last days are seeing a revival.
While Scripture warns us that there would be false teachers abounding
in great numbers in the last days, the charismatics and others
tell us that the false teachers are those who are against false
teachers. While Scripture warns us that judgment must come upon
the house of God before it comes upon the world, the happy crowd
tells us that there is no judgment coming upon the Church --
only blessings; we should be filled with joy, not sorrow, at
the prospect of the Church's condition today.
Certainly we can understand how such a deception can come about.
Recall how Howard-Browne sought a special touch from God:
"'Either You come down here and touch me, or I will come
up there and touch You,' he prayed in desperation" (The
Touch of God, p. 73).
The arrogance to demand anything from God reveals and attitude
This is common among charismatics who place more stock in alleged
signs and wonders than they do in God's written Word. This is
reflected in Howard-Browne's demand that if God didn't do something
for him he would ascend into heaven and touch God. Sound familiar?
Few believe Howard-Browne believed he could actually ascend into
heaven and touch God, even at 18-years-of-age. He was merely
challenging God with extreme language. Yet even this is effrontery
against the holiness of our mighty, sovereign God. Such an attitude
may well prompt God to send something -- but it won't be something
a true believer would want. And while we may all on occasion
be guilty of challenging God, it isn't something we should broadcast
as an acceptable practice.
Because men do not love the truth (God's Word) -- because they
use unbiblical means to approach Him -- He will send a strong
delusion so that they would believe a lie (2 Thes. 2:11). By
every test based on God's Word, holy laughter is outwardly a
blessing to those who follow after the flesh -- but it is a strong
Not only do the major proponents of holy laughter tell us not
to use our minds -- not to bother testing these things -- some
denigrate those who do not readily fall under their spell. Howard-Browne
calls those who do not enter into this move "ugly,"
"sad," and other choice words that do not reflect the
humility and kind spirit of a true minister of God. This is intimidation
at the basic level. While everyone around you is losing their
minds, you feel out of place -- conspicuous, unholy, unrighteous,
guilty -- because you don't feel the bubbling up of holy laughter.
Claims of his wide-eyed fans to the contrary, Howard-Browne does
intimidate verbally. On several occasions he would "slay
people in the Spirit," and if they didn't begin to laugh
he would place his foot on their stomach and tell them to laugh.
Some he would kick as they lay there, and accuse them of not
yielding to the Holy Spirit. He would keep at it until they would
obviously begin to force some kind of laugh out of themselves.
Since Rodney Howard-Browne is the catalyst for the holy laughter
phenomenon's popularity today (most purveyors tracing their "anointing"
either directly or indirectly to him), it would be expedient
to concentrate on his methodology. From the root springs the
tree. Rodney Howard-Browne is the root of the holy laughter movement.
Howard-Browne's primary focus in his book, The Touch of
God , as well as in his preaching, is on the anointing
of God -- what the anointing is, the responsibilities that come
with it, as well as the dangers and pitfalls. His call is for
holiness of life and seeking after God with all one's heart.
On the subject of God's anointing, Howard-Browne states that
the anointing is not a formula but a relationship with Jesus.
The problem, Howard-Browne says, is that the early church had
the substance and the modern church has the formula. God's power,
he says, should be tangible and evident in our lives. This, one
must agree, is a problem in today's churches. For the most part,
either they are chasing after signs and wonders for their own
sake, or they are chasing after human potential schemes (such
programs and four
temperament personality testing) for spiritual giftedness.
This is all confusion.
Howard-Browne takes a dim view of the extreme deliverance methods
that incorporate railing against the devil rather than prayer.
He likens it to a spiritual Nintendo game, accusing many of living
in a fantasy world of spiritual warfare. One statement alludes
warfare novels that have set the tone for their readers'
Interestingly, Howard-Browne has many indicting things to say
about certain self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. He calls
them "charismatic gurus," who always give vague prophecies,
or apostles who want to rule over others no matter how few. His
solution is to be led by the Spirit of God -- to be like Jesus
who said that He could do nothing except what He saw the Father
In this process of teaching some valid truths, Howard-Browne
reveals inside knowledge of how some alleged men of God operate.
Without offering names, he lets us know that things are not always
as they seem on the outside.
He states that some ministers actually buy large crusades in
third-world countries, offering one dollar per head, because
it looks good on television (and in their full-color brochures).
It can move people in affluent countries to contribute to their
cause if they can offer visual evidence that they can assemble
a quarter of a million people to hear them preach. $250,000 invested
can result in millions in return. This is quite a revelation.
Howard-Browne has harsh words for mail-order ministries that
send trinkets in the mail promising God's anointing for those
who use them as a point of contact. This is interesting in view
of Oral Robert's fund-raising methods and the fact that Howard-Browne
unashamedly states that Roberts laid hands on him. The point-of-contact
and "seed faith" methods are Oral Roberts traditions.
It's in the area of accountability that one must disagree with
Howard-Browne -- particularly when it comes to exposing those
who teach error. He believes that it is wrong to criticize anyone
who claims to be a man of God. He has harsh words for those who
call these men to accountability:
"It's amazing how it's always the ones who are doing
nothing for God who know how it should be done. There are ministries
that start off exposing the cults but then turn on the Body of
Christ like cannibals. They build their ministries off the fallings
of God's servants" (The Touch of God, p. 107).
The important thing in exposing error is to not judge the
motives of those teaching error. But we must, in a spirit of
humility -- yet with all boldness -- deal with the issues they
bring up. In doing so, it is necessary to exercise the one gift
of the Spirit few in the churches care to concern themselves
with today: the gift of discernment.
Discernment is more often recognizing error based upon knowledge
and understanding of God's Word. It is not merely some mystical
sensory perception of demonic spirits. In any case, one's discernment
must be based upon rightly dividing the Word of Truth. God's
Word is still the bottom line for judging all beliefs and practices.
Amazingly, Howard-Browne is full of criticism of others who take
advantage of the Body of Christ. He just doesn't name them. But
he must have them in mind when he writes about them. So what's
the difference? Is he not judging them in his heart? His indictment
is that they have no integrity.
While Howard-Browne laments the lack of integrity in the ministry,
he can be found sharing the platform with such men. How can a
true man of God share the platform with a teacher who insists
that we should think of ourselves as equal to God, and teaches
that it wasn't Jesus' death on the cross that saves us, but his
suffering in hell [Kenneth
Copeland]. This is a denial of the blood of Christ. It lacks
integrity not in the realm of money, but in the realm of Biblical
How can a true man of God share the platform with men who pronounce
curses upon people that don't give financially to their cause,
telling them God will abandon them; they will suffer divorce;
they will suffer financial hardship. Yet that is the message
of the word-faith
people with whom Howard-Browne associates.
How can a true man of God have hands laid on him by someone who
consistently says that the Lord told him to do something and
it will be blessed, when time after time it doesn't come to pass
and God's blessing is not evident. In the process, millions of
dollars of the faithful are squandered on the promise of God's
He goes against his own words. Howard-Browne insists that men
of God must have integrity. He claims, "I don't do anything
in my meetings other than allow the Holy Spirit to come and have
free reign." Yet this will also be proven false as we observe
how he conducts his meetings.
Even if one were to suspend judgment on whether or not God wants
to fill us with joy in the manner that the holy laughter teachers
say, how is that joy being manifested in the meetings?
A HOWARD-BROWNE SERVICE
The following is a description taken from a video tape of a meeting
held at Carpenter's Home Church and aired on TBN. Rodney Howard-Browne
begins by exhorting the audience not to accept just anything
that comes along in the name of the Lord. He ridicules those
who have fallen into ritualistic formalism, and gives examples
of people operating in the flesh.
"Whatever is done as mere symbolism and out of mere ritual
and tradition is nothing more than a religious noose that's going
to choke you and rob you of the joy of serving Jesus."
He cautions people about laying hands on others if they don't
have the anointing, and about having hands laid on them by those
who don't have the anointing:
"I encourage people to lay hands on. But some churches
go overboard and just have it as a free-for-all, and you've got
empty hands being laid on empty heads, and that's why -- you
can't just call any donkey out that's not anointed of God to
come and put his hand on somebody's head to encourage that person.
If they've got no anointing, they've got no business putting
their hands on somebody's head."
He continues that there's no reason to have empty hands laid
on you because you're not going to get anything. Then he goes
on to say that whenever he has had hands laid on him, he didn't
care who the person was; he just expected God to do something
and he's never been disappointed.
Well, which is it? Can expectancy on the part of a recipient
force God's hand to move through the hands of one who is not
anointed? Where is chapter and verse for this? And why would
he not take his own advice? This is just one example of the illogical
mentality behind much of the charismatic fervor today.
When it comes to free-for-all laying on of hands, that's just
what the Vineyard
churches practice. Everybody is encouraged to lay hands on
the person next to them. Yet Howard-Browne endorses the Vineyard
movement while ridiculing the very thing they practice. Again,
which is it? He also ridicules those who advertise their school
of the prophets. He rightly states that one cannot go to school
to learn to be a prophet.
Overall, there wasn't much to find fault with in his preaching
time, although, again, Scripture was seldom cited. It was more
of a time for establishing that he could be trusted because he
tore down the false assumptions of other unnamed teachers.
During this time, a few hoots and laughs can be heard emanating
from the audience, but there is still relative order. After preaching,
Howard-Browne calls a pastor forward who, the night before, had
said he was ready to check himself into a mental clinic. Promising
a double dose of the Holy Spirit this night, Howard-Browne lays
his hand on the man, who promptly falls to the floor.
Howard-Browne then puts one foot on the man's stomach and pronounces
that he will go forth forever changed. This sets the stage for
working his audience into laughter, and disproves the claims
that he does not provoke laughing responses:
"Someone said, 'Why'd you put your foot on him?' Because
I didn't feel like bending down and putting my hand on him."
The audience erupts in laughter; from this point on things
begin to roll. He then does similarly with the man's wife. Having
fallen, she prays somewhat quietly. Howard-Browne tells her not
to pray. He exhorts her with the words, "Joy! joy! joy!"
One person after another is called out to receive his anointing.
Those who do not laugh, he prompts to do so. Most take quite
a bit of prompting. One man lies there, also praying quietly.
This is how Howard-Browne addresses him:
"Stop praying now and let the joy bubble out your belly.
Joy. Joy. Joy. Don't pray! Laugh!"
The audience laughs all the more as he goes from person to
person prodding them to laugh. If it seems to be belaboring the
point it's to demonstrate that, contrary to claims that holy
laughter is spontaneous and uncontrollable, it is more often
induced through coercion. Going back to a man he had kicked in
the foot, Howard-Browne chides him:
"Why didn't you listen to the preacher? Why didn't you
listen to the preacher? I said laugh!"
The man is coerced. He erupts into an obviously strained attempt
to laugh under this intimidation. So much for the claims that
the laughter is uncontrollable and spontaneous.
Then comes Howard-Browne's ridicule of those who do not wish
to enter into his laugh parade. Making a dour face he continues:
"Some people say, 'I don't want that joy brother Rodney.
[His face becomes even more dour.] I'm happy just like I am.
My great grandfather was sad. My grandfather was sad. And when
he died -- just before he died -- he looked at me and said, 'Son,
will you carry on the family tradition?' And I said, 'Yes, dad.'"
Hoots and hollering erupt from the audience as they join in
laughing to derision those who don't enter in.
After some more banter calling people "ugly things"
who aren't open to the Holy Spirit (read "open to falling
down and laughing"), Howard-Browne slaps on the side of
the head a man sitting on the front pew. The man falls over onto
the pew, shaking his legs and hands in the air. The audience
continues to roll with laughter.
Another man comes forward, goes down under Howard-Browne's touch
and begins to pray. Says Howard-Browne:
"Get out of the praying mode and get into the rejoicing
mode! Pray when you go home! Lord, have mercy! I mean, if their
prayers had been working they wouldn't have had to come up here
in the first place."
He begins a dissertation on the laying on of hands, pointing
out that you can bless people by laying on of hands, you can
heal them, and you can pass on the anointing and people fall
over. He begins to quote Peter in Acts 2: "These are not
drunk as you suppose ..." He lays his hand on a lady in
the front pew, causing her to shriek repeatedly, shaking her
hands as if she had palsy. He points out that she is a pastor's
wife. In fact, most of the front-row pews are filled with pastors
and their wives.
As he repeats, "These are not drunk as you suppose,"
"the drunkard" begins his routine. While sitting in
his pew, a man throws his head back and laughs heartily, kicking
one leg up in the air. Suddenly, he bolts from his seat and does
a locomotive-action shuffle in a tight circle. Then he faces
Howard-Browne, kicks one leg out in front and does a pratfall.
Another man jumps out of his seat, does the same sort of locomotion
shuffle, arms flailing wildly, and falls on the floor. Shortly
afterward, the first man gets up and staggers around with a mock
drunken smile on his face, salutes Howard-Browne, and plops down
in the pew again. It is obviously contrived, but
Howard-Browne and the audience eat it up.
Things continue in the same vein for the rest of the evening.
DRUNK IN THE SPIRITS
Rodney Howard-Browne likes to call himself a "Holy Ghost
bartender" who dispenses the "new wine" of charismatic
fervor. In an earlier meeting than the one described above, he
teaches that, if there is drunkenness in the physical realm,
there must be drunkenness in the spiritual realm, also. To prove
this illogical assumption, he quotes Acts 2 to suggest that the
disciples at Pentecost were acting like drunkards.
Suddenly, a man from the second row stands up. He's wearing slacks
and a sport coat opened to reveal suspenders, throws his head
back, and in stereotypical pantomime of a comedic drunk (a la
Foster Brooks or Jackie Gleason), adopts a smirk. Peering down
his nose, he looks with half-closed eyes at the audience as he
sways back and forth. He then plops himself in his pew and nods
as if he's drunk, smiling at Howard-Browne, who enjoys it tremendously.
Loud guffaws abound.
Cannot Howard-Browne discern that this man is merely seeking
attention -- that he is not truly "drunk in the Spirit,"
as Howard-Browne claims? And what is being "drunk in the
Spirit"? Scripture makes no mention of this. The proponents
of holy laughter cite Acts 2 to suggest that acting drunk by
the Holy Spirit is valid. But does Acts 2 really imply that such
a thing is of God?
Versus 1-12 clearly teach that the disciples came forth from
the upper room under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and began
to preach the Gospel in the languages of those present
from various nations. Although the hearers discerned their own
language, they also heard all the other languages being spoken
at the same time. The mockers (verse 13) did not listen to the
message, but heard what seemed to them like a lot of babbling.
Thus, they accused the disciples of being drunk.
Verses 14-34 record Peter's dissertation to the crowd, exhorting
them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to repent of their
sins. Verses 35-47 record the results of that plea.
While the disciples were accused of being drunk, they were not
staggering about in the manner characteristic of those "intoxicated"
by holy laughter; they were accused of being drunk because, while
some heard their own languages, they also heard other languages.
Nor did all the people accuse them, but only the mockers. It
was a phenomenon they did not understand, and to them it seemed
for the most part like babbling. Peter set them straight and
many of them repented of their sins and were born again by the
Spirit of God.
Furthermore, Acts 3 and 4 record that the disciples' activities
after Pentecost resulted in persecution by the religious establishment.
Today's religious establishment isn't beating up on the holy
laughter people -- it is embracing them. In no way can Acts 2
be constructed to mean that the disciples were acting like drunkards
-- certainly not like the stereotypical comedic drunkard at the
Howard-Browne meeting. Nor can it or Ephesians 5:18 be construed
to mean that the Holy Spirit would cause us to lose our sensibilities.
The misapplication of Scripture by the holy laughter people is
not limited to Acts 2. In listening to Howard-Browne and others,
there is hardly a Scripture citation that isn't twisted to mean
what they want it mean in order to validate their peculiar experience.
This, if nothing else, should be ample warning for caution if
not down-right rejection of these experiences.
As with Acts 2, the holy laughter people like to quote Ephesians
5:18 to prove their claim that being filled with the Holy Spirit
may result in one acting like a drunkard. This misapplication
is evident to anyone who takes the time to read Ephesians 5:18
in context. The meaning of being filled with the Spirit within
the context of the body is demonstrated in verses 19-21. These
activities do not reflect a mindless stupor; rather they reflect
a holy attitude of worship and edification.
What is taking place in these Howard-Browne meetings is pure
exhibitionism played out for a group of spiritual voyeurs. One
could liken it to spiritual pornography; it titillates in an
ungodly manner. People who go for it can't get enough. Eventually
their hunger grows for more bizarre stuff.
It wasn't enough to believe that they spoke in tongues; now they
have to bark like dogs in the Spirit, roar like lions in the
Spirit, cackle like chickens in the Spirit, and stagger like
drunks in the Spirit. What will be the next "move of the
This exhibitionism may also be classified as pure experientialism
-- a group therapy session engaging laughter as a catharsis in
place of the primal scream. Does it work? Outwardly, yes. People
feel better. They feel happier. Anyone who's had a good laugh
feels better afterward. As one man at the meeting said, as he
lay on the floor laughing, "Laughing doeth good like a medicine."
(This was a misquote of Proverbs 17:22.)
There is a difference between a merry heart and laughter. Laughter
can be good or bad, depending upon the circumstances. A merry
heart reflects the joy of the Lord in all circumstances that
are appropriate. Just as there are proper times to laugh, there
are proper times to weep (Eccl. 3:1-4).What transpires at these
meetings is not proper laughter. It is coerced in the name of
the Holy Spirit.
Scripture warns against improper laughter (see Eccl. 7:3-4; 6)
Proper laughter and rejoicing in the Lord is certainly acceptable
to the believer in Christ. But laughing to derision those who
do not agree with you; coercing people to laugh; claiming an
anointing from the Holy Spirit on such laughter -- this is sin.
It is evidence that one is in the house of fools.
In spite of the obvious coercion involved, we are told that this
laughter is "uncontrollable" and "spontaneous."
It is true that Howard-Browne rarely cracks a smile. Yes, he
holds a straight face. He rarely tells jokes -- if we're talking
about jokes that include a setup, a plot, and a punch line. But
he does utilize witticisms in his preaching, designed to invoke
laughter. This, often at the expense of those who do not enter
into the "flow" of what he's doing. A good actor can
easily keep a straight face while going through a comedy routine.
And in spite of glowing reports of masses falling down in fits
of uncontrollable laughter, many faces can be seen with no merriment
on them, or with mere smiles. The scenario we've described hardly
suggests that much of the laughter is uncontrollable when Howard-Browne
has to prompt one after another to "let the joy bubble out
A clue as to why so many fall under the spell may be found in
this statement from one of the Charisma reports
"But his appeal is evident. It lies in his utter lack
of slick evangelism. His simple style and genuine desire to unleash
spiritual revival in America have caught the attention of charismatics
who are eager to see signs and wonders" (Julia Duin, "Praise
the Lord and pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma,
It becomes obvious that many of the people who attend these
meetings are predisposed to laugh. They already know the reputation
of the holy laughter preacher and that's what they're seeking
when they arrive. They are "eager to see signs and wonders."
They have come from miles around and they are not going to be
Yet not all the laughter is contrived. Some of it is very genuine.
People do laugh at others who laugh. Laughter is contagious.
If someone begins to laugh uncontrollably in our presence, our
natural tendency is to laugh also.
In view of Howard-Browne's methods of inducing laughter, it's
obvious that much of the laughter is not from contagion but from
coercion; it is contrived. If such an obvious contrivance is
lost upon Howard-Browne, who is supposed to be ministering this
thing, how are others to know what is of God and what is of the
flesh? If it is acceptable to Howard-Browne or other proponents
of holy laughter, even when it is obviously of the flesh, should
we not at least be suspicious of these proponents' motives? If
not of their motives, certainly their discernment. In either
case, their credibility as ministers of the true spiritual gifts
is in question. If they are operating with wrong motives or if
they are unable to discern the flesh at work, they are unqualified
to lead God's people.
Their followers may leave feeling better about themselves; they
may even have experienced a change in their attitude toward God,
or toward their mate, or toward their enemies. But, again, one
cannot confuse God's grace in using error with the validation
of the error.
Much of the holy laughter delusion smacks of show biz. It's played
out like a circus act with the lead characters vying for starring
roles. Even the language used to record Howard-Browne's rise
to fame reveals a show business mentality:
"Howard-Browne's reputation grew during the next four
years, and he established the Rodney Howard-Browne Evangelistic
Association in Louisville, Kentucky. In the spring of 1993 his
big break came when Assemblies of God pastor Karl Strader invited
him to preach in Lakeland, Florida, at Carpenter's Home Church"
(Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord and pass the New Wine,"
8/94, Charisma, p.23).
His "big break"? This suggests that the ministry
is for the benefit of the minister. God's servants don't get
"big breaks." They get big trouble! Their reputations
are not enhanced unless they are tickling people's ears. The
vast majority of those who follow after signs and wonders are
not disposed to hear the hard Word of God. They want feel-good
religion. And that's what they get with the holy laughter teaching,
as attested to by this statement in Charisma:
"The difference was the laughter. No matter what Howard-Browne
did or said, hundreds who attended the daily sessions always
ended up on the sanctuary floor in helpless laughter. When the
services were broadcast on radio, more curious seekers showed
up to join the fun" (Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord and
pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma, p.24).
"Curious seekers?" "Fun?" Since when does
our holy God play to the benefit of curiosity seekers' amusement?
Since when has the holy Faith been turned into an occasion for
"fun?" Jesus was a man of sorrows. He sorrowed over
the sins of the world. He would sorrow over "curious seekers"
today; He would sorrow over the spectacle that has been made
of His Church to the derision of those outside.
There are those in the Body of Christ who are sorrowing over
these things. While so many who hear of this experience called
holy laughter flock to receive gratification of their flesh,
there is a small number who are genuinely sorrowing over those
people's captivity to this latest fad. They have fallen prey
to a delusion that causes them to think that, because they fall
down and laugh, they have gotten a dose of holiness.
There is seldom any true teaching from God's Word in these meetings.
And when there is, it is interrupted by laughter. It makes God's
Word of no effect. As a writer for Charisma says:
"No one doubts that having vast numbers of listeners
convulsed in laughter can make whatever is being said from the
pulpit irrelevant" (Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord and
pass the New Wine," 8/94, Charisma, p.24).
What an indictment from one who lauds this side show! "Irrelevant"
is an apt word to demonstrate how God's Word has little place
among the holy laughter crowd. But since when did God ordain
that His Word should ever become irrelevant? In essence, it is
making the Word of no effect, which is what Jesus accused the
religious leaders of doing through their tradition and other
such things (Mk. 7:13).
Interruptions of God's Word, even if taught by false teachers,
is not a sign of the Holy Spirit at work. At worst, it is a sign
of demonic spirits at work. At best, it is a sign of irreverence
on the part of those who do the interrupting. Rather than accept
such interruptions as a sign from God, a true minister of the
Word would rebuke those who would do such a thing. A true disciple
of the Lord Jesus would continue in His Word (Jn. 8:31-32).
The truth -- God's Word -- is what makes us free, not experiences
(especially extra-biblical experiences like holy laughter as
claimed by its proponents). In fact, the holy laughter proponents
demonstrate a rather low view of Scripture.
A LOW VIEW OF SCRIPTURE
Hugh E. "Bud" Williams, rector of an Episcopal church
in Lakeland, Florida, received the "anointing" from
Howard-Browne in a meeting held at Carpenter's Home Church:
"... After two meetings he was not impressed; during
the third, Howard-Browne called him and three others out into
the aisle and simply said, 'Be filled!' 'Boom! Down I went in
the Spirit,' Williams says, 'and I started laughing, I laughed
so hard for 20 minutes, my throat was sore the next day. I've
been charismatic for 14 years, but I had dried out and grown
tired. This refreshed me personally and changed my marriage.'
So why would God use laughter to bring spiritual renewal? Williams
says many people today need more than words -- they need a demonstration
of God's power. 'Words have become meaningless in our society,'
he says. 'Signs and wonders are what must recapture our attention'"
(Julia Duin, "Praise the Lord and pass the New Wine,"
8/94, Charisma, p.28).
Does faith come from signs and wonders? Not according to God's
Word (Rom. 10:17). Man's words may be meaningless, but God's
Word is never meaningless. Was Williams speaking about man's
words or God's Word? If man's words, we must agree with him.
But then why extol experience over man's words? Why not extol
Scripture instead? It seems apparent that he was speaking of
Scripture as mere "words."
Scripture records that those who seek signs from God are not
content with His Word. Multitudes flocked to Jesus for miracles,
and in spite of his demonstrations of God's power, they crucified
Him when His words became too difficult for them to hear (Mt.
The Good News of the resurrection should be sufficient to minister
joy to the hearts of those truly surrendered to God. But just
as the resurrection did not satisfy the Jews of Jesus' day, it
doesn't satisfy many professing Christians today. To get joy
(read "fun"), they must turn to extra-Biblical activities.
Those who know anything about brainwashing techniques and the
ability to induce altered states of consciousness in mass meetings
will recognize that, often, these techniques are utilized in
Dick Sutphen, a professional hypnotist,
conducts seminars on persuasion and brainwashing techniques.
His purpose is not to teach his listeners how to subvert other's
minds, but to educate on how government, the military, cults,
and religious groups utilize certain techniques to induce control
and gain converts to their particular causes.
He points out that many who use these techniques are not necessarily
aware that they are using them. They may well have learned them
from watching others use them successfully. In any case, the
bottom line is control; the intent may be perfectly altruistic,
it may be beneficial in the mind of the controller. But the fact
remains that people are being controlled, often with the belief
that the Holy Spirit is doing a work in them.
Sutphen is not a believer in Christ. In fact, he is anti-Christ
and a New Ager. But his logic and knowledge cannot be argued
with. This is because he is not addressing the Faith or holy
laughter; he is addressing a subject that he knows: brainwashing.
Sutphen believe that religion is valid, but that manipulation
in the name of God is not:
"So, to begin, I want to state the most basic of all
facts about brainwashing: IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF MAN, NO ONE
HAS EVER BEEN BRAINWASHED AND REALIZED, OR BELIEVED, THAT HE
HAD BEEN BRAINWASHED. Those who have been brainwashed will usually
passionately defend their manipulators, claiming they have simply
been 'shown the light,' or have been transformed in miraculous
ways" (Sutphen undated transcript, 'The Battle for Your
Mind: Persuasion and Brainwashing Techniques Being Used on the
Public Today," p. 1). (Emphasis Sutphen's.)
Sutphen gives an example of how manipulators set their marks
up. The first step is to give information that the listeners
will agree with. This gets them in the frame of mind to trust
the speaker. Once trust has been instilled, they are open to
"... Assume for a moment that you are watching a politician
give a speech. First, he might generate what is called a 'YES
SET.' These are statements that will cause listeners to agree;
they might even unknowingly nod their heads in agreement. Next
come the TRUISMS. These are usually facts that could be debated
but, once the politician has his audience agree, the odds are
in the politician's favor that the audience wont stop to think
for themselves, thus continuing to agree. Last comes the SUGGESTION.
This is what the politician wants you to do and, since you have
been agreeing all along, you could be persuaded to accept the
suggestion" (Sutphen, p. 10). (Emphasis Sutphen's.)
In the same manner, false teachers will preach from God's
Word, sharing obvious truths. That's phase one -- the "yes
set." As well they will share what may be considered deep
insights -- ideas that are debatable but not necessarily untrue.
These are the "truisms." Then comes the suggestion.
It is generally toward the end of the evening -- sometimes after
two or three hours or more -- that the false teaching or inducement
toward activity will be implemented. This is exactly what one
witnesses in the holy laughter movement, not to mention the charismatic
movement (particularly the word-faith movement) in general.
Sutphen points out that different entities may use different
techniques -- the military may use some techniques that the government,
dealing with civilians, may not use. Religionists and cultists
will use still other techniques. Most techniques involve taking
the subjects through stages or phases of conversion. Says Sutphen:
"With the progression through each phase, the degree
of conversion becomes more effective and complete. The ways to
achieve conversion are many and varied, but the usual first step
in religious or political brainwashing is to work on the emotions
of an individual or group until they reach an abnormal level
of anger, fear, excitement, or nervous tension. The progressive
result of this mental condition is to impair judgment and increase
suggestibility. The more this condition can be maintained or
intensified, the more it compounds. Once catharsis, or the first
brain phase, is reached, the complete mental takeover becomes
easier. Existing mental programming can be replaced with new
patterns of thinking and behavior" (Sutphen, p. 3).
Most people who attend the hyper-charismatic meetings that
result in pandemonium and out-of-order behavior are normal, everyday
folks. They may be professional people and hold responsible jobs.
Many are normally "dignified" or "reserved."
But they come with a sense of expectancy to receive something
from the touch of the preacher -- something they are inclined
to believe they can't receive from God on their own. They believe
that God has placed a special anointing on the preacher, probably
because they have been induced with a clergy-laity mentality
that is the norm for most churches. Because they are so normal
-- even possessing a reserved personality -- they can't believe
that they can be brainwashed or manipulated. But the manner in
which excitement and fervor builds in some meetings catches them
off guard. They are susceptible to suggestion -- even the suggestion
that they have been healed. To not be healed often generates
feelings of guilt, an emotion that is easily exploited by the
preacher. About alleged spiritual healing, Sutphen states:
"For some, the healing may be permanent. For many, it
will last four days to a week, which is, incidentally, how long
a hypnotic suggestion given to a somnambulistic subject will
usually last. Even if the healing doesn't last, if they come
back every week, the power of suggestion may continually override
the problem -- or sometimes, sadly, it can mask a physical problem
which could prove to be very detrimental to the individual in
the long run. I'm not saying that legitimate healings do not
take place. They do. Maybe the individual was ready to let go
of the negativity that caused the problem in the first place;
maybe it was the work of God. Yet I contend that it can be explained
with existing knowledge of brain/mind function" (Sutphen,
Sorry to say, Sutphen is correct in his assessment. New Agers
testify of healings by laying on of hands, too. And the scenarios
are all to common among those who claim to have healing ministries
in the Church: Short-term healings; people neglecting proper
health care because they believe they've been healed when they
haven't been; even death from diseases whose symptoms disappeared.
The preacher will tell those whose healings didn't last that
it was because they "let go" of the healing. They didn't
have enough faith to maintain it.
The difference between God's work and the work of the flesh is
that God's work will always be validated by His written Word.
And God doesn't play games with us. If He heals us by His sovereign
will, we will be healed, period.
TOWARD THE NEW AGE?
What we are witnessing in new evangelicalism and the charismatic
movement is a subjective approach to God's Word. If something
seems to work, it is accepted even if it cannot be validated
by Scripture. Since it cannot be validated, it is assumed to
be a new work of God. Those who reject it on the basis of its
unbiblical or extra-Biblical character are regarded as faithless
when, in fact, they are faithless toward the subjective religious
philosophy of the "new thing" -- not toward God.
This subjectivity is necessary if Satan is going to meld humanity
into a one-world religion. As the masses open themselves up to
beliefs and practices that are not validated by Scripture, they
leave themselves open to deception of the highest order, often
presented in the name of Jesus.
The first step toward melding Christians into the New Age religion
is not dissimilar to brianwashing techniques. The "yes set"
is to get us to agree that all denominations share a common belief
system. This is the motivating force behind the ecumenical movement
sponsored by the Vatican and the major players in new
evangelicalism and the charismatic movement.
The "truisms" will be that we also share common beliefs
and values with aberrant Christian cults and monotheistic religions
such as cabalistic Judaism and Islam.
The "suggestion" will be that we have a common spiritual
bond with all of mankind. This suggestion will be implemented
through the observation of signs and wonders construed to be
of God. And if God can honor the faith of non-Christians, who
are we to dissent from unity with them?
Anyone who thinks he is above falling into this snare is hopelessly
naive. In fact, he is an excellent candidate for deception.
It is not merely coincidental that holy laughter has found its
place among the mystically inclined whose beliefs lean toward
Age philosophy. Leanne Payne, a disciple of inner healing
guru, the late Agnes Sanford, has also indulged in holy laughter.
(Her experience is recorded in Karen
Mains's book Lonely No More.) Payne blends New
Age mysticism, Jungian
psychology, and Christian philosophy. Her ministry team is
headed primarily by women who share this integrationist methodology.
To Payne, all sin is linked to lack of self-acceptance and failure
to recognize God's affirmation of oneself. Of course, this is
a simple explanation of her more involved theology.
Is it merely coincidental that her disciple, Karen Mains, wrote
of this holy laughter experience in 1993, essentially the same
time Rodney Howard-Browne's notoriety and the Toronto blessing
began? And is it merely coincidental that a phenomenon similar
to holy laughter is found in the New Age movement is exactly
at the same time?
Barbara Marx Hubbard is the founder of the Foundation for Conscious
Evolution, and a leader at the frontier of social and spiritual
change for the New Age. At the same time holy laughter began
to ripple through the churches, she wrote as one channeling the
thoughts of God. The instruction given was to expect planetary
transformation and a quantum leap in evolutionary personal transformation
through uncontrollable joy. This uncontrollable joy of which
Hubbard speaks will transcend all barriers to unity. False signs
and wonders will likewise break down those barriers to unity
We can expect the holy laughter people to defend their practices
as being of God, while these other practices are counterfeits.
But holy laughter as we know it today came lately. All attempts
to link it to Scripture or early revival history are without
merit. Its real precedent is coincidental to New Age philosophy.
Does God mimic something Satan originates? Or is He taken off
guard by Satan? I think not. Else He would be guilty of causing
confusion among His people. And God is not the author of confusion.
(1 Cor. 14:33).
What is transpiring in the Church is similar to what is transpiring
in the world. In conditioning men's minds to accept a globalist
mentality, the New Age change agents call for unity in diversity
with no judgment -- no concern for what others believe or practice.
If it doesn't fit for us, well, we just have a different truth.
Let's just focus on our common objectives.
But we're not dealing with one human philosophy vs. another human
philosophy. We're dealing with all of man's philosophies vs.
God's Word. The world's rules don't apply here. This worldly
assessment of truth is behind criticism of those who expose error
in the Body of Christ; just because we don't understand it, we
shouldn't be critical of it; it doesn't matter if it cannot be
supported by Scripture; God may be doing a new thing we don't
understand; we just don't have the same truth that the popular
This can be intimidating to those who don't know Scripture. But
those who do know Scripture have a responsibility to expose those
who are in error. And it doesn't matter if they are 99.99% correct
in their teachings. If the .01% error is sufficient to lead someone
astray, it must be challenged.
To demonstrate how the professing church's thinking is parallel
to the world's thinking in subjective terms, we might look at
the current government education system and how it breaks down
objective values in order to substitute new, subjective values.
This is done in order to create a globalist population that is
easily controlled. If someone doesn't have an absolute set of
values, he can be exploited for the benefit of the hierarchy,
whether political or religious.
The breakdown in absolutes is accomplished through the reordering
of thinking skills. Modern education relies heavily on Benjamin
Bloom's taxonomy which places knowledge of facts and comprehension
on the bottom of the order in thinking skills.
Bloom is considered by the education elite to be the foremost
expert on change agent strategy. The object of Bloom's reordering
of thinking skills is to replace the Biblical model for thinking
objectively with a new model rooted in subjective intuitive thought.
This is the basis of witchcraft.The following demonstrates that
objective understanding is considered to be lower on the scale
than subjective and intuitive reasoning:
Higher Order Thinkng Skills
Lower Order Thinking Skills
Kjos, an expert on the education system and New Age philosophy,
points out that one of the methods for bringing in the new global
values is the removal of facts -- the removal of logical thinking
-- so that people can't argue back from a basis of understanding.
They will not have an objective framework from which to draw
conclusions. Therefore, the education system is free to bring
in all kinds of models for the new global spirituality from earth-centered
cultures around the world. Those cultures are basically pantheistic
and polytheistic. What we are seeing is a rise in animistic religions
because the Biblical ethic and value system has been not only
discarded, but forbidden to be discussed.
Is this not similar to what is happening in the churches today?
Attempts to hold teachers accountable to God's Word are met with
derision, even by those who insist that they believe that God's
Word must form the basis for judging all things. We learn quickly
that their exhortation to Biblical integrity is merely a ploy
to disarm their critics and deceive their listeners. God's Word
is valued, yes; but it is placed on the lower order of thinking
skills. What is more important is intuitive "Holy Spirit"
Bloom's "higher order" thinking skills do have value;
but they have no genuine value unless they are held accountable
to the objective truths and facts that reside in knowledge and
comprehension. By the same token, what is said to be of the Holy
Spirit has value only if it is held accountable to, and is validated
by, the objective truths that reside in God's Word.
Modern education places a lower value on objective conclusions;
everything becomes relative. Appeals to emotion replace clear,
concise teaching and instruction from facts. By the same token,
the trend in the modern Church is to disregard objective assessment
of alleged signs and wonders; everything becomes relative. Appeals
to emotion replaces clear, concise teaching and instruction from
People can only react against these deceptions if they have a
solid Biblical basis upon which to judge, and which motivates
them to react against those deceptions. Most Christians lack
a solid Biblical basis upon which to judge. And they are fearful
of reacting. Under the rules established by the religious hierarchy,
you cannot judge or challenge these subjective teachings and
practices. To do so brings the religious leaders' judgment that
you have "touched God's anointed," or have blasphemed
the Holy Spirit, thus risking God's wrath.
Thus, too, you cannot judge anyone else's belief system, whether
apostate Judaism, or anything that produces palpable spiritual
benefit or satisfaction.To the subjective religionists, objective
assessment of their teachings equals judgmentalism. And judgmentalism
stirs God's anger. Fear and intimidation is very much a part
of this subjective religion.
What is ridiculed most is any suggestion that the subjective
religion is leading its adherents toward induction into the coming
one-world New Age religious system. How dare anyone suggest that
the major players within modern "Christianity" could
fall into that trap and lead others as well. Yet the major move
today among virtually all the well-known professing Christian
leaders is toward ecumenism. They have already stated their disdain
for those who warn against unity with the papacy.
They have chosen to overlook serious Biblical error in order
to forge a united front against certain evils such as abortion,
crime, pornography, and such. It's because they do not perceive
heresy as any big deal that they can overlook much of the same
error in the Protestant churches. And where there can be found
agreement with New Age philosophy which works for a world wherein
love and peace abide, one soon finds more "Christian"
leaders joining hands with New Age prophets.
The only defenses we have against spiritual deceptions arising
today are a holy life, a solid grounding in God's Word, and a
refusal to accept anything as being from Him that is not validated
in His Word. We should heed John 4:23:
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers
shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father
seeketh such to worship him.
Many wish to worship God in the Spirit, and this is fine;
but they neglect the second requirement: that we worship Him
in truth. His Word is truth (John 17:17). The two cannot be separated,
for God's work is by His Word.
His Word says that all things in the Church must be done decently
and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Women (let alone men) flopping on
the floor and hooting or making animal sounds is not decent.
Holy laughter is not orderly.
It doesn't matter how unspiritual we are perceived to be by those
who go whole-log after alleged supernatural phenomena. We must
stand firmly for the integrity of God's Word, even when they
cast us out of the synagogues and put us to death, believing
they are doing God a service.
The day is coming and is now here when we will have to count
the true cost of following Jesus.
* This material has been excerpted and/or adapted from
a 4/95 Special Report by the same name from Media Spotlight
(Albert James Dager).
Biblical Discernment Ministries - 3/96
For updates to this article, go to: http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/holylaugh.htm