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an online resource for Reformed Charismatics, Pentecostal Calvinists, & Empowered Evangelicals

Holy Laughter: blessing, curse, or something else?

This discussion originally arose very shortly after starting this blog when I posted “What is a Reformed Charismatic?”, which sparked not only a number of responses, but also a friendly email dialogue which I have referred to often since.

In that original post I stated Most Reformed Charismatic churches – but not all – are wary of the excesses of so-called ‘revivals’ like what took place in Toronto and Brownsville, and see true revival not as an event that results in wild shows of spiritual gifts – or laughter and such – but as a move of God, where-in the lost come to Christ, and the Church shows much deeper signs of God’s Holy Spirit: His FRUIT.”

For some time I’ve considered re-approaching this issue, but was wary of touching a nerve, as these sorts of ‘spiritual experiences’ are very personal for many, and can be a source of pain or joy that can spark great conflict, which is NOT the intent of this blog. A few days ago, however, I stumbled across a friendly acquaintance’s (actually, a family friend) radio show – Sid Roth was interviewing Rodney Howard-Brown. Rodney came across as a gentle, God-loving, and sincere, and I felt compassion for him and regretted how harshly I had criticized him and his ministry in the past, during my more ‘cessationist-leaning’ days, particularly. This interview triggered in me the desire to initiate this conversation.

It is very clear from the Scripture that the primary sign of the Holy Spirit’s work are His fruit, and those fruit are how we are called to judge – or to discern – a true move of God. I have many very near to me that have experienced aspects of the ‘Holy Laughter/Toronto Blessing/Pensacola Outpouring/Brownsville Revival’ movements, and some were blessed and are convinced it is a true move of God, and some were horrified and think it nothing short of demonic. I tend to stand somewhere in-between.

My view, somewhat shaped by Grudem’s influence on my understanding of modern-day prophecy, and my reading of Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affections, is that in every genuine move of God, the flesh can respond inappropriately, creating uneccessary chaos and disorder, sometimes even inspiring emotional fleshly responses from individuals who’ve experienced no such touch from God’s Holy Spirit whatsoever, but who are merely ‘riding the wave’ of emotionalism. Quite possibly, the environment in those churches that received ‘Holy Laughter’ both led people to be open to receive from God in a special way, but other false teachings (or possibly areas that simply haven’t been taught on? Lack of Biblical teaching?) also created the potential for overwhelming emotional excess, and great disorder – a modern picture of Corinth in Paul’s day. It happened in Jonathan Edward’s day as well – individuals falling on the floor, moaning, openly weeping, and other such outward gestures, yet he was wise to point out that such expressions didn’t really point to genuine conversion: one had to look at the long-term fruit in their lives. Maybe God poured out joy – a true time of refreshing – on a people who simply hadn’t learned what it meant to Biblically be ‘self-controlled’ and ‘in order’, so that much (or at least some) of the revival was genuine, though many individual’s immediate emotional/physical responses to it were inappropriate? That’s my current impression, but I’m still willing to change my mind, as long as the interpretation fits with the Scripture – remember: God doesn’t contradict God.

So, I want to hear from you, particularly if you were there, or someone close to you were part of one of these ‘moves of God‘. What are the long-term fruit from your attendance of these revivals (i.e. – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control)? Do you now, looking back, have any sense that you were in any way acting in the flesh, or even out of ignorance (that doesn’t mean you were ‘dumb’, but simply ‘uninformed’), or do you feel that your actions during the revivals were entirely Holy Spirit directed and inspired? For some of you, was it in any way a negative experience, and how so? I’d like to see a full discussion – it would definitely help me clarify my thoughts.

Note: This is NOT an opportunity to ‘Charismatic-Bash’, and any responses that lean that way will NOT be published. Otherwise, your opinions are WELCOME – no, STRONGLY ENCOURAGED. Please?

p.s. – this is a later update, but I found this excellent commentary over at Adrian Warnock’s blog.

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Filed under: Charismatic, Contraversy, Emotionalism, Flesh, Holy Laughter, Holy Spirit, Miracles, Mystery, Revival, Theology, Unity

23 Responses

  1. River-dweller says:

    I understand the caution that people have toward the Toronto revival movement. I have also been blessed by it. I tend to lie somewhere in between a conservative reformed perspective and a very open Charismatic perspective. When I say open I mean to say understanding certain subjective experiences which are more magnicificent in nature to be from the Holy Spirit. Personally I lean more toward Jonathan Edwards interpretation of manifestations that they are neither a sign that God is at work one way or the other. I do believe that God works in strange ways at times. For instance, many are familiar with the account in the second chapter of Acts where the fire of the Holy Spirit descends on the 120 believers in the upper room and this movement of God’s Spirit shortly spills into the streets. All sorts of people observing their behavior thought that they were drunk. Peter stood up and told the crowd that the believers were not drunk as they supposed but that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of Joel chapter 2. Now some would argue that this was only for their day for the time of the apostles. As a Charismatic, I believe that there are no convincing arguments against the current operation of spiritual gifts as well as a lack of a reasonable argument against the 2nd chapter of Acts outpouring being only for the first century. I still believe that we are living in the last days. The return of Jesus hasn’t come and until then, we are still living in the last days at least in so much as I can tell. I realize that there are abuses among some Charismatics. However, it seems to me that so long as our experience fits the grid of scripture, there really are no limits to what sorts of manifestations might occur.

  2. River-dweller says:

    I know no one else has commented, but I just wanted to say one more thing. I don’t think it’s uncommon for reformed people to have this experience. Rodeny HOward-Browne preached at Westminster Chapel a few years ago at the invitation of R T Kendall and quite a few people experienced holy laughter. Also, Terry Virgo and New Frontiers have some connections to the Toronto Revival. Sam Storms was on staff at the Metro Christian Fellowship and says that Mike Bickle is one of the people that has impacted his Christian life. There is also David Ruis who is a worship artist and church planter with the Vineyard Association of churches. He has written songs like You’re Worthy Of My Praise, Sweet Mercies, Every Move I Make, and Lily Of The Valley. He is unashamedly reformed and he leads worship from time to time at the Toronto revival.

  3. Robert says:

    Well, I am reformed, five point calvinist, and I have experienced this before, either where someone layed hands on me and I recieved it, or I prayed for someone else and they started laughing, usually at a time when some heavy burden either emotional or spirtual was broken off of me. Frankly, Paul doesnt go into detail about what is and is not a genuine operation of the Holy Spirit by the outward apearance. You have to judge it by the fruit it produces. Ive even had someone pray for me and I started shaking, and I was totally against that, Ive been electricuted before, and thats the best way I can describe it, like getting zapped with electricity, it just didnt hurt, it was like Gods purging fire going through me. If Jesus is being glorified and lifted up in it who am I to knock it.

  4. River-dweller says:

    Luke 6:21

    Blessed are you who hunger now,
          for you will be satisfied.
       Blessed are you who weep now,
          for you will laugh.

    Job 8:20-21

    Surely God does not reject a blameless man
           or strengthen the hands of evildoers.
     He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
           and your lips with shouts of joy.

    Psalm 126 1-2

    When the LORD brought back the
    captives to Zion,
           we were like men who dreamed.
     Our mouths were filled with laughter,
           our tongues with songs of joy.
           Then it was said among the nations,
           “The LORD has done great things for them.

  5. River-dweller says:

    I have been in services with Rodney Howard-Browne a number of times, and though I wouldn’t agree with his word of faith emphasis even though his message is MUCH more balanced than many teachers in that movement, I believe that God uses some people who don’t have the best theology. Look at William Seymour in the Azusa Street revival. He was uneducated but God used him to start a movement that has taken many nations of the world by storm. I’m not saying that’s the best way, but somtimes maybe the people who have a great knowledge of the Bible aren’t really open to the Holy Spirit. God, don’t leave us behind.

  6. pauline bidmead says:

    I was a member of new frontiers for a few years it was a middle class church whom have since left. New frontiers is a money making rackertier for middle class people. fourtuanatly for me god saw right to show me the way, during services there was not much mention off jesus and his saving grace more holy spirit orientated, I would never blaspheme against the holy spirit and his workings but we need a discernment within the church within the last days satan will decieve check out timonthy: god will send a strong delusion and people will believe the delusion the choice is yours make it. God says test the spirits use diserement if in your spirit,ask jesus, if it doesnt feel right back off, rebuke, and choose you will know because god will guide you god bless in jesus holy name and saviour xxxx

  7. heatlight says:

    I must say that I think we are talking of a very different ‘New Frontiers’ church as NONE that I have visited, and none who’s members and/or leadership I have e-contact with, seem to share the characteristics which you speak of. I do agree – test the spirits, but do be careful: using our ‘feelings’ to discern whether something is true is a dangerous thing, as the Bible is clear that “our Heart is deceptive above all things” – leads me to look for other means of confirmation other than how I feel. Thanks for your note, however, and I pray God blesses and grows you in your new fellowship!

  8. don says:

    My experience with the ’90s renewal began at Covenant Life Church in Maryland – Mahaney/Harris’s church. From summer ’94 through ’95, there was holy laughter, holy weeping, holy falling down – you name it. CJ did a great job of teaching from J. Edwards and other historical figures the reality of what was happening, as well as the need to focus on the fruit of experiences, rather than manifestations themselves. Why he stopped pressing in to what God was doing then in power and increasing intimacy, and turned (by the late ’90s) to emphasizing the cross alone, is a great mystery to me.

    I was in a time of great spiritual hunger then, and besides getting “filled” at CLC also visited Toronto and conferences in Philly, Baltimore and DC with Randy Clark, Mahesh Chavda, Tommy Tenney and/or the Arnotts. I received wonderful ministry in the Spirit, drew close to God in wonderful worship sessions, and heard some excellent teaching as well as some weak teaching.

    God did deep works in me and totally transformed me spiritually, from an “orphan” to one who could experience and take joy in His Father’s Heart and my fellowship with Jesus as both Lord and Friend (things I could never do before). This was the key to the Toronto Blessing: not primarily a revival, but a “hospital” for weak, performance-oriented and burned-out Christians. I was a very shy Christian, but my boldness has been increasing over the years and I attribute it all to the Spirit’s work that started in ’94.

    The “poster children” for the legitimacy of the Toronto Blessing are 1) Randy Clark, still going around the world doing healing-evangelistic conferences in India, Brazil, Mozambique, etc (I just returned from one of his Healing School workshops, for further training in praying for healing and deliverance); 2) Heidi and Rolland Baker, who after being transformed by God-encounters in Toronto, returned to missions in Mozambique and are now leading 8,000 small churches, raising orphaned children, and doing signs and wonders everywhere they preach (over 80 raised from the dead through their ministry!); 3) Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, who partners with Randy and the Bakers in ministering healing-evangelism and preparing the next generation to regard the Spirit’s powerful presence as normal Christianity; 4) Che Ahn and Lou Engle, who created “Toronto West” at Mott Auditorium in Pasadena in the ’90s, and now are on the cutting edge of training the next generation for radical, prophetic and Spirit-filled witnessing to the world (The Call, The Cause, JHOP). Another important figure was Jack Frost, who passed away recently but was significant for his spreading the fire of the Father’s Heart experience.

    What’s great is that, though the huge daily crowds at Toronto and Brownsville are gone, the anointing of the Holy Spirit has not left those who were not offended at Jesus’ appearing in unusual ways. I’m among many who believe that we’re just between waves of God’s outpourings that began at Azusa Street and Wales in 1905-06, and have continued every 20-30 years ever since.

    The important thing (when experiencing dramatic renewal) is to use the anointing to burrow deep into intimacy with God, let the Spirit continue to transform us from glory to glory as we behold the face of Christ in worship, learn to recognize his sweet quiet voice, and then go out daily and “do the stuff” with the love and power we receive in secret. All the falling, shaking, laughing, weeping, groaning and crunching I’ve experienced since 1994 have only sharpened my desire to know and obey Jesus more. But I can never turn away from what I’ve learned and experienced – I’ve become used to experiencing the Glory of God’s presence, and can never settle for regular churchianity again. I pray I live to participate in the next great wave of His presence and power – how the Church and the world need Jesus’ awesome Glory and mercy revealed!

  9. heatlight says:

    Don – thank you so much for sharing. Your response was helpful, and insightful. Please drop in here regularly – I’d love to get your perspective more often on some of the other issues I write about here. Blessings!

  10. Deborah says:

    Hi, please see this link: http://endtimespropheticwords.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/on-false-prophets-strange-fire-wolves-in-sheeps-clothing/

    It’s an historical account based on the ‘French Prophets’ who brought strange manifesations to Europe in the 1700′s.
    It’s a long read, but your eyes will be opened to some very intersting matters concerning todays manifesations.

  11. Deborah says:

    Another article about Holy Laughter is here: http://discerningtheworld.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/laughter-manifesations-are-neat/

    It tells of an account of holy laughter by an unfamiliar spirit and it tells of an account of holy laughter by the Holy spirit.

    You will notice there is a distinct difference between the two:

    1) The one story tells of holy laughing that appears for
    no reason but gives immense amount of joy at time of
    said manifesation.

    2) The other story tells about a deliverence that took
    place in which Gods victory was evident over someones
    life. This person laughs a laugh of victory, joy
    and praise.

  12. blessed says:

    I was blessed by holy laughter in the early 90′s at a Vineyard church. When I arrived at the meeting, my back was in pain. Sometimes my back would hurt for several days. During this meeting, holy laughter broke out among the people, and I received it. The laughing was not forced or contrived. It genuinely came over me. After the laughing, my back pain was completely gone. Since that time, I’ve had a joy that had not been with me before, and it’s stayed all these years. I really believe that God wanted to give me joy as I really needed it. I think something very deep in me was healed.

  13. blessed says:

    Don [i.e. #10], thank you so much. Your description parallels my experience also. What God did in me during that time has never left me. I can’t say that I’ve done great ministry things since then, but I am open to God’s leading in whatever direction He takes me. Again, it was encouraging to read someone else’s story who was there at the time. It was a good thing, and not a curse.

  14. blessed says:

    Ps 7:9 (NAS) states: “…the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.”

    I mention this because we heard from one person on this blog that “the heart is deceptive above all things.” True. And, the mind can also lead us astray. And God placed both in us for a reason.

    If we are mightily touched by the Holy Spirit, it just makes sense that we are going to respond in a very human, feeling way.

  15. heatlight says:

    True, we can be led astray by either, HOWEVER it is clear from the Scripture that though the mind can be in error, it is the heart which is actually deceptive – it intentionally misleads and is particularly not to be trusted. The “above all things” part of that verse lends me to believe that the heart is quite a bit less trustworthy that ANYTHING else.

  16. blessed says:

    Heatlight, you are absolutely correct: the Bible is clear that we are to look for means of confirmation other than our “feelings”. We are to see if our experience lines up with the Word, we are to seek Godly counsel re the experience, we are to see confirmation in other mature Godly Christians (I always want at least 3). It makes sense that when it is the Holy Spirit, our feelings will be in line with that and can register mightily that experience. That’s not to say that strong feeling is the measure of the spiritual. It is not. I have brought up this topic in response to past experience I’ve had with my well-intentioned “thinking”-based friends who seem to always suspect their “feeling”-based friends, and don’t know when to acknowledge that the “feeling”-based friends (I am one) can get it right some time without using the same processes the “thinking”-based person may use. I’ve seem them both get it wrong when relying solely on their primary mode of thinking or feeling. To borrow a phrase, we need to think about what we feel ~ and feel about what we think. :)

  17. heatlight says:

    Wow…THAT is a blog in and of itself! I can’t argue with a word of it. Good stuff – THANK YOU for responding!

  18. [...] the real deal that will become readily clear (it always does), even if it takes some time. In fact, it’s probably a mix of divinely revealed truth, and human error, which I’ve dealt with b…. However, I’d hate to see believers whom I love go the route that emphasizes flash & bang [...]

  19. Cheri says:

    Regarding Sid Roth’s interview with Rodney Howard Brown…..it was somewhat comforting to find this post. I weekly watch the interviews that Sid Roth gives…and have enjoyed it very much over time. When I saw he had interviewed Brown, I admit my heart sank a little. I have yet to listen to the interview, but instead went straight to an online search to see if anyone had anything to say about it.

    On a side note, I have struggled in my heart with his choice to interview certain others as well. For example, some of those he interviews seem to strongly advocate “partnership”…and charging for ministry under the guise of asking for a “donation”. In my heart…I could never insist on charging someone for something…and calling it a “donation”. I would simply say there is a charge to cover costs. However,I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit should never be given for a fee. One women he interviewed had an incredible story…..but when going to her website i discovered that she actually charged over $200.00 for her particular ministry. Probably some readers think it is not that black and white…there are many things to consider…but really it is…in my opinion. There is a definite line that is crossed all too often…and it’s not hard to see it.
    Anyway, I believe it is probably true that God is using people with flawed theology. He is merciful. He looks at the heart. But what about true integrity? Why is it so seldom seen in these circles? I seldom meet Christians where I get a sense that they really know Jesus (in these circles)…I mean really know Him. They are more in acquaintance with Him it seems. If they really knew Him they would think twice about some of this stuff.

    I will continue watching Sid Roth….he as a wonderful ministry. I will also watch his interview with Rodney Howard Brown.

    Finally, I recently went to charismatic conference and during a praise session some in attendance were throwing beach balls around. The ball landed at my feet and I refused to pick it up. A women out in the aisle looked at me rather puzzled. I told her beach balls were for the beach. My point is this…not everyone reacts or experiences the Holy Spirit in the same way. There is a big world out there with a lot of mystery….and unfortunately the “cult” of charismania leaves so much of that out. In claiming to be open to God’s Spirit, actually their God can become quite small. I have seen this in the Catholic as well as Protestant denominations.

    I must say I have noticed with Sid Roth as well…that he does include people from many different walks of life…and it seems he is doing this more so recently.

  20. [...] the real deal that will become readily clear (it always does), even if it takes some time. In fact, it’s probably a mix of divinely revealed truth, and human error, which I’ve dealt with before on…. However, I’d hate to see believers whom I love go the route that emphasizes flash & bang [...]

  21. Tyler says:

    Been there done that. Tested it. Was it all bad? No. But I would rather have the Holy Spirit than some “other” spirit that Jesus never demonstrated while He was on earth. Jesus set the “bar”, the standard, for ministry and He NEVER caused anyone to fall down, laugh uncontrolably or shake violently. God did creat emotions and for us to enjoy Him and glorify Him forever. I have NO problems with shouting, dancing, lifting of the hands in prayer and the like because those ARE biblical responses but when our experiences trumps the Word, we need to go back and dig for truth and reread what we thought we read. I did, and yes I got extreme on the other side of being anti-charismatic but I realize that God is Sovereign and He was guiding me that whole time through all that chaos but used it for His glory.

    I spoke with a minister named Ted Brooks from Canada and he wrote a book called “I Was A Flakey Preacher” and I thought that this would give me much “amo” against charismatics (being one myself, ha ha, we tend to hurt our own, eh?) and pentecostals or the Word of Faith movement. He had such patience, love, mercy and grace in that book. Yes, he refuted a lot of the manifestations but it was not an attacking book by any means. That book opened my heart and my eyes to seeing that my pride would NOT get me anywhere but it wasn’t until just a year ago or so (2007)that I started to back-off being so “anti” and just seeing Jesus glorified even in the differing doctrinal dilemmas that I faced in the hyper-charismatic/Word of Faith movement.

    All that matters to me is Jesus and Him crucified, preaching the uncompromised Gospel of Jesus Christ and rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

    Was it fun to fall down and laugh…yeah. Was it exactly scriptural, no. Would I do it again? No. When I was a child I spoke as a child and I reasoned as a child, but God has grown me up in some areas (and believe me, I am NOT perfect in scripture or in spirit or in any area, I rely solely on His grace to see me through everyday)and this is one of them, but I can’t say that those who have experienced these things are babies because they regard them as “okay” or whatever. I would say, and say again NEVER put your experience above the Word because it’s probably going to turn out to be a squirley and flakey. I will admit that is exactly what I did…I sought experiences like candy in a candy shop. I wanted the next and best thing and they were like spiritual notches on my belt.

    One thing I was broken of was pride (and I’m still continually broken of this, it’s an ongoing process of humbling myself before the Lord when I miss it big time) and all the doctrinal stuff I thought I knew from a well known school in Broken Arrow OK. I had it all and I was right, then the Holy Spirit rocked my cage and rattled my brain (gently with grace and mercy) and showed me where I was missing it. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and having Him lead us into all truth, showing us things to come, teaching us all things and bringing to our memory those things that Jesus said.

    The Holy Spirit won’t ask us to do something that Jesus never did, nor the Word doesn’t say. Believe me, I have heard people try to make doctrinal out of what the bible doesn’t not say, specifically what is said in John about the things NOT written about Jesus and that is where we get these extra-biblical doctrines. Well, if that is true I guess Mormonism is correct (yikes!). I know that is not the thoughts of most on this blog but those are the types of things I have heard from WOF/hyper-charismaic/hyper-pentecostal.

    Let me also say that I choose to say “hyper” before charismatic or pentecostal because it’s not usually the standard, everyday, non-flakey, balanced and Christ-centered folks that do very strange, weird and extra-biblical things. I know we all have error somewhere in our thinking as do I but I would rather have solid teaching than extra-biblical experiences that never change my character. You can never go wrong with the Word of God.

    (It’s really hard to convey tone and such in email and the like, so please don’t take this as me coming down on anyone personally, thanks).

    By His grace and for His glory alone,

    Tyler
    http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

  22. I left the charismatic church because of the lakeland revival. Our church welcomed it with open arms and lost total control that it became embarrasing to invite friends and family to church. The pastor’s wife laughed throughout the one service which was very distracting. I am now really re-evaluating things and reading my bible! I am now looking for a biblical church.

    The book of corinthians is very clear on what should take place in a church.

    Experience isn’t necessarily truth. many other non christian religions have manifestations of disorder and it just doesn’t fit right with me.. bizarre behavior is not biblical!

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