Open Letter to the Leaders of the Alpha Course
From: Bayith Ministries (emailed to HTB on 12th November 2003)
 

Letter #2: [1] Your Understanding of ‘Toronto’ 

Dear Rev. Nicky Gumbel, 

As you know, January 2004 is exactly ten years since the ‘Toronto Experience’ (TE) appeared in Toronto.  Despite this elapsed time, some crucial questions on the subject still remain.  Because your church, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), was at the forefront of promoting the TE in Britain, we have sent this letter in the hope that you will be able to assist the many people who received the TE but who do not fully grasp what they were encouraged to involve themselves in.  (Your thoughts would also be of help should the TE recur.) 

Obviously you yourself are very busy, but would it be possible for someone on HTB’s leadership team to provide replies to our queries?  We will gladly place the full response onto our website (www.bayith.org) as soon as we receive it.  Many thanks in anticipation. 

CONFUSING CONCEPT?
1 – Hindered by prayer?

You rightly say that “The New Testament exhorts us to pray ‘always’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18)”,[2] and, as you will be aware, other passages which teach us to pray without ceasing include Luke 18:1 and Luke 21:36.  In light of these verses, can you explain why John Arnott – the head of the church that dispensed ‘Toronto’ – said the following words at HTB in 1995: “Another thing that hinders [the TE] is, people pray all the time… Our experience is, that will hinder substantially your ability to receive… Pray on the way out; you can pray later”?[3]  Do we not distance God from the proceedings when we stop praying? 

2 – TE understandable?
Could you help us to appreciate why an HTB book quotes John Arnott as saying “we read clearly that the natural mind does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”[4] – when the Bible verse he is quoting (1 Cor. 2:14) actually refers to “the natural man”?  Would you concede that this verse, especially when read in context, is demonstrably a reference to the natural (i.e. unsaved) man, as opposed to the spiritual (i.e. reborn) man?  Would you not further grant that, just two verses later, we are told Christians are given “the mind of Christ” (see also Rom. 12:2; Isa. 1:18a etc)?  Given this, and the fact that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), would you agree that believers are supposed to be able to understand God’s dealings with mankind?  If, as John Arnott also says in the same HTB book (and which is still on sale at HTB’s bookshop), the Toronto Experience “doesn’t need to make sense” as long as it “feels good”,[5] how can we ever know whether something is of God or not?  For example, hypnotherapy may feel good, but surely that does not make it of God?[6]  (Finally, what does all this indicate to you about John Arnott, and hence the church he leads?) 

3 – Was ‘it’ transferable or not?
HTB’s head man, Sandy Millar, appears to have denied that the ‘Toronto Blessing’ was transferable from person to person,[7] yet surely HTB’s actual experience,[8] along with that of other Fellowships, was that the TE could be transferred thus?  Sandy himself elsewhere admits that Toronto had human “origins”.[9]  Indeed, certain guidelines which HTB helped to draw up refer to people acting as “channels of this blessing”.[10]  Do not these facts imply that the TE was transferred from those origins, and through those channels?  Numerous other TE proponents taught that it was transferable,[11] or called it “contagious”.[12]  How do you reconcile these things?  And can you possibly explain how a mortal man can transfer the Holy Spirit to another – especially when, in your own words, “the Holy Spirit is … a Person”? [13] 

4 – Who were the origins?
As we have seen, HTB speaks of the human “origins” of the TE, yet HTB also claims that believers don’t need to know about these people who introduced the ‘Toronto Blessing’ to the world.[14]  Would you concede that the “origins” must be of some significance?  Who do you consider to be the TE’s human originators? 

5 – Origins okay or not?
Would you not agree that the Bible says we are to test “all things: [and to] hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21)?  Would you accept that two key originators of the TE were Kenneth Hagin Senior and E.W. Kenyon?[15]  One problem for those of us who were encouraged to partake of the TE was that some supporters of this outpouring were very much in favour of Hagin and Kenyon (e.g. William deArteaga[16]) whereas other supporters of the TE were opposed to them (e.g. Mike Fearon).  Fearon says that “Kenyon and Hagin’s work stems … nakedly from the occult[17] and that “Their theology is basically deist … This is the very basis of witchcraft”.[18]  What is HTB’s view of them?  Is HTB really ‘holding fast’ to that which is good in this matter?  And do you acknowledge that the Pensacola ‘anointing’ has been shown to have been transferred there from Toronto[19] (and via HTB[20])? 

HTB’s JUDGMENTS
6 – Snap judgments?

HTB criticized some of Toronto’s detractors for making “almost snap judgments” about it,[21] but would you not accept that HTB too made some fairly “snap” judgments regarding it?  Do you remember that, within just hours of first hearing about the TE, you encouraged Sandy to invite Eleanor Mumford to dispense ‘it’ among the congregation of HTB?[22]  Do you recall that he quickly agreed and promptly invited her to minister at HTB on the very next Sunday morning?  Do you further recall that he permitted her to repeat these activities at HTB’s evening service that same day?  Only a short time afterwards, Sandy was writing that “We have begun to see an astonishing outpouring of the Spirit of God”?[23]  In his substantial letter, Sandy makes no mention that ‘it’ needs to be tested, suggesting he has already made a final judgment that it must be of God.  Is not this at least a little hypocritical? 

7 – Quality over speed?
Surely the main issue is not how rapidly a judgment appears to be made, but the quality of the evidence offered in support of that judgment?  Is it not the case that many of the TE’s early detractors had a fine knowledge of Scripture – and of Church history – and had been investigating relevant individuals (i.e. those who ended up being the origins of the TE) for several years before ‘it’ broke out in Toronto?  Therefore, might not such detractors have been able to make well-informed decisions quite quickly once ‘Toronto’ itself arrived? 

8 – Judging God?
During a statement defending ‘Toronto’, HTB said “we shall continue to judge this move of God’s Spirit along recognized New Testament principles”.[24]  Presumably you would grant that this wording proves HTB had decided ‘it’ was a move of God’s Spirit?  If so, what was the point of “judging” something that HTB had already determined was of God?  How can anyone judge a work that they are convinced is from God

9 – Judging the fruit?
When people tried to test ‘Toronto’ by comparing the lifestyles and doctrines of its originators with the standards and judgments given in the Bible, you complained that these researchers were tracing the “roots for it, but Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you will know them’. I think we should look at the fruit [of the TE] … Actually we must stop judging one another”.[25]  Would you not agree that, when read in its context (see Matt. 7:15-23), the passage you cite regarding fruit is clearly about people, not an event?  After all, the quote you give is “By their fruits you will know them”.  Since this plainly refers to people rather than to an episode, would you agree that it is thus not directly applicable to the TE itself?  Further, would you accept that it would be wise to obey God’s word and to apply the test you cite to the people who originated the TE?  Finally, if (as you suggest, despite a variety of Bible passages to the contrary[26] such as 1 Cor. 5:11-13, John 7:24, and the whole of 1 John) Christians are not allowed to make judgments about others, then how can we ‘know them by their fruits’?  Wouldn’t that require us to make judgments? 

10 – Hurtful delay?
Is it not the case that HTB knew there was a chance the TE manifestations were from the enemy?  (Even some of the TE’s earliest and strongest proponents admitted there appeared to be a demonic element.[27]  In September 1994 John Wimber himself said “we can’t rule out the possibility of demonic activity”.[28]  Indeed, back in 1990, Vineyard’s Jack Deere “stressed the possibility” of experiences coming from the enemy.[29])  HTB has said
“We must … judge these events by their fruit”.[30]  Can you explain to us how this is supposed to work?  If someone is forced to wait months, or even years, to see the fruit before deciding if an episode was of God or not, were you planning (in the event that the TE was found to be from the wrong spiritual source) to contact every person who had ever been given the ‘Blessing’ via HTB and offer your heartfelt apologies and deliverance ministry?  Did HTB collect the names and addresses of all these people so that they could be followed up?  (And what about those folks who accepted the TE at HTB’s urging but who happened to receive it elsewhere?)  Surely you must judge such an event by its roots so that you don’t have to test it out on human guinea pigs? 

11 – Good shepherd?
HTB has stated that “Some of the manifestations … may be of the devil”.[31]  But which ones does HTB believe may have been of the devil?  During your early Bible studies on the subject, did you not notice that all the TE manifestations are listed in Scripture as being associated with apostasy?  See, for instance, Isaiah 29:9-10,13-14; 51:21-23; 56:9-11; 59:10-15; & 63:6.  (There are other examples in Isaiah alone, and many further ones in other books.[32])  Why would God be so confusing as to give a blessing which shared the very same signs as His judgment?  Some of HTB’s own colleagues implied that the TE could be a “demonic counterfeit”.[33]  Based on all this, the TE was potentially going to hurt recipients.  Is it being a good shepherd to expose sheep to something before it has been properly tested? 

12 – Safe judgment?
HTB has written that “just as you wouldn’t feel safe in founding a biblical doctrine only on one verse, so it is equally unsafe to express very settled views about manifestations based on only one visit to the church”.[34]  Firstly, these two concepts do not seem comparable to us, so could you tell us what reasons HTB has for saying they are akin?  Surely a single experience can often be sufficient to make a right judgment (e.g. you don’t need to drink bleach more than once to know it is bad for you)?  Might not one visit to a church elicit many dozens of evidences for a particular Biblical conclusion?  Did not Ezekiel need only one visit to the Temple court to discern what was happening there (Ezek. 8:7-12)?  Secondly, does HTB itself not base its view of what the TE was on a single verse (i.e. Acts 3:19)?[35]  Would you not further accept that even this verse is inappropriate, since it declares that refreshing follows repentance, which is not true of the TE?  Would you concede that many of HTB’s other doctrines surrounding the TE are also founded on only one verse each – and invariably ambiguous ones at that?  (See our book Alpha – the Unofficial Guide: Overview for more cases.[36])  Besides, you yourself must surely have expressed “very settled views” about the TE after only one visit with Eleanor Mumford, in order to convince Sandy to accept her new ministry? 

WHAT WAS ‘IT’?
13 – A ‘thing’?

Three years after the TE hit, you called it a “move”.[37]  Seven years after its arrival, you called Toronto a “thing”.[38]  Could you be more specific?  Proponents of the TE have now had ten years to work out what was going on.  They also enjoy access to the lessons from hundreds of years of Church history, plus hundreds of years worth of Bible commentary, in order to help them do so, but would you agree that they remain very confused – and very confusing – about it?
 

14 – Our dryness God’s problem?
You helpfully teach that “If we stay close to Jesus Christ through his word, we will not dry up or lose our spiritual vitality”,[39] yet many of the church leaders who traveled around the world to get ‘Toronto’ admit that they did so because they felt spiritually dry.[40]  Can you suggest why they did not simply deal with their ‘dryness’ by staying “close to Jesus Christ through his word” instead of trekking off to another geographic location?  Would you agree that they were trying to remove their ‘dryness’ in man’s way rather than God’s way – and that, since they were actually opposing God in this, it is unlikely that what they received was a blessing from Him?
 

15 – A refreshing?
HTB often claims that the TE was a ‘refreshing of the church’.  But if this is so, why did it also get poured out on the unsaved?[41]  And would you honestly say that the church has come out of it ‘refreshed’ (beyond the counterfeit refreshment that would have taken place if, instead, we had all taken a course in hypnotherapy)?  If Christians are refreshed and revitalized through God’s Word, why did we need the TE?  And how would you answer one of your own close associates regarding the TE who said “If these are meant to be times of refreshment, how come many of the leaders I have spoken to are already exhausted? Something must be wrong”.[42]
 

16 – Any precedent?
HTB regularly cites Charles Finney and his ministry as a favourite precedent for Toronto-type experiences.[43]  Are you not aware that, towards the end of his life, Finney said of his followers, “the great body of them are a disgrace”?[44]  Can you name any event in the Bible (or even any moment in the history of the true Church) which possessed the same attributes as the TE did?  In other words, do you know of a single precedent for a genuine outpouring which: (a) was hindered by prayer, (b) was transferable, (c) increased when the teaching decreased, (d) produced manifestations which are all associated with hypnotism and apostasy,[45] (e) was not a revival, (f) was Spirit-centred rather than Christ-centred, and (g) was rooted in doctrines and people who were plainly occultic?  (We come from a Pentecostal background, yet we know of none.) 

17 – Not hypnotism?
You have said “I’m not hypnotizing anybody … I don’t know anything about hypnosis”.[46]  But isn’t that a somewhat naïve position?  We hope this doesn’t sound ungracious, but does a person have to study electrical engineering before they can accidentally electrocute themselves?  Indeed, would it not be sensible to obtain some knowledge in order to help ensure this doesn’t happen?  Would you acknowledge that a number of people have pointed out that the manifestations and practices associated with the TE are effectively identical to hypnotism?[47]  Would not the wise response be to learn a little about hypnosis so as to ensure that your techniques haven’t inadvertently been drawn from a corrupt source?  Do you not recall Hosea 4:6a, where God warns “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”? 

18 To be expected?
HTB has “often” indicated that it believes the Church today is the “end-time church”.[48]  Would you not agree that the Bible repeatedly tells us that the ‘end-times’ before the return of the Lord will be characterized by grievous deception and apostasy among many believers (Matt. 24:3-5,9-13; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Luke 21:7-8,16-17), and that it will see “lying signs and wonders” from within the professing Church (Matt. 24:23-27; 2 Thess. 2:8-12)?  You called the TE “wonderful” in 1995,[49] and you were still describing it as a “wonderful thing” five years later.[50]  Likewise, Sandy has regularly referred to the TE as “wonderful[51] or “unusually wonderful”.[52]  Is not the frequent use of this particular word quite ironic, in view of the Lord’s sober caution to us that “Many will say to me in that [last] day, Lord, Lord, have we not … in Thy name done many wonderful works. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22-23)? 

CONCLUSION
19 – Helping the hurt?

Would you not accept that some recipients of the TE were unquestionably damaged by it?[53]  You have said, regarding ‘Toronto’, that you “don’t talk about it now”,[54] but isn’t that letting down those people who were affected and who need to know what happened to them?  A lot of people trusted the HTB leadership.  Do you not owe them more?  If the TE was of God, why not keep proclaiming and explaining this truth?  Is your silence not a tacit admission that the fruit of the TE, far from being true revival, has actually been greater confusion and hypocrisy, less obedience to God’s written Word, and increased immorality in the church (not to mention a growth in unrighteousness and pagan religions in the wider country)?[55] 

20 – Just more intense?
Would you agree with your close associate Michael Green that the TE was merely an “intensification”[56] of what had already been taking place in your circles for a long time?  After all, Sandy has claimed it was simply a “more vivid” version of something that had been going on for years,[57] and you yourself have said “the only difference is that we are seeing people having more powerful experiences”.[58]  If it was happening for years beforehand then surely it is continuing to happen, albeit in a less “vivid” way?  If the TE is effectively still going on, can we ask why you do not talk about it now?  Is it, perhaps, in order that people who doubt the TE will not be so suspicious of the ‘less powerful’ version being spread around today? 

21 – Alpha related?
If, as you imply, a ‘milder’ form of Toronto has been present at HTB since the eighties, would it not be fair to assume that the modern Alpha Course is at least partly a tool for bringing people into the TE?  Would you accept that numerous Alpha statements promote Toronto-type experiences and that many official testimonies reflect this?[59]  Can you tell us what the essential differences are between the manifestations on Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ and those from ‘Toronto’?  Even if the “more intense” experiences are not frequently seen on Alpha now, what fundamental difference does this represent?  Is it not simply a return to the subtler version from HTB’s past?  Would you not agree that they have been shown to have identical roots?[60]  Are they not from the same spiritual source? 

Thankyou very much for your time.  There are quite a number of other such questions on this subject, but we wanted to send a manageable letter to enable you to reply as soon as possible.  Please see our book[61] for further problems with the TE (and for our personal conclusions about them all, as well as our own current recommendations for folks who received it). 

Sincerely,
Bayith Ministries



[1] Our first open letter concerned Alpha’s ‘Holy Spirit Retreat’.  Electronic copies of both open letters can be freely obtained from the ‘Better Than Rubies’ section of our website (bayith.org).
[2]
Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life, (Kingsway, 2001), p96.  Please note that all emphases in this letter are our own.
[3]
Eric E. Wright, Strange Fire?, (Evangelical Press, 1996), p138.
[4]
Mark Elsdon-Dew, Ed., The Collection, (HTB Publications, 1996), p207.
[5]
Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., p207.
[6]
Besides, the TE did not always feel good for some recipients - again, just like hypnotherapy.
[7]
Ibid, p213.
[8]
For several clear examples of the TE’s transferability (and all of them in relation to HTB), see Wallace Boulton, Ed., The Impact of Toronto, (Monarch, 1995), pp20-1.
[9]
David Hilborn, A Chronicle of the Toronto Blessing and Related Events, as published by the Evangelical Alliance (UK), Part II of the PDF version, p136.
[10]
Boulton, op. cit., p113.

[11] For example, Randy Clark – whom Sandy defends.  Also, Guy Chevreau refers to the TE’s “Remarkable transferability” [Cecil Andrews, The Toronto ‘Blessing’ is no Laughing Matter, (A5 undated booklet, Take Heed Publications), p5].
[12]
For example, Eleanor Mumford, quoting a “Baptist pastor” [Boulton, op. cit., p18].
[13]
Questions of Life, p116.
[14]
Sandy: Hilborn, op. cit., p136; Nicky: Boulton, op. cit., p83.
[15]
Even supporters admit this (e.g., see Hilborn, op. cit., pp4, 16 & 88).
[16]
Wright, op. cit., p163.
[17]
Mike Fearon, A Breath of Fresh Air, (Eagle, 1994), p109.
[18]
Ibid.
[19]
See Al Dager’s Media Spotlight Special Report Pensacola: Revival or Revelling? (1997), pp1-2.
[20]
For proof, see the Father’s Day 1995 video from Brownsville AoG, Pensacola, as cited by Sandy Simpson, A Different Gospel?, (1997).

[21] Hilborn, op. cit., p86.
[22]
Ibid, p27.
[23]
HTB in Focus, 12th June 1994, p2.  HTB’s friend Clive Calver did the same – and HTB quoted him doing so!  He wrote, “Just after this move of God started … They [i.e. some Fellowships] said, ‘Is this a renewal?’ I said, ‘Yes, definitely…’” [HTB in Focus, 14th August 1994, p10].
[24]
Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., p213.
[25]
Boulton, op. cit., p83.  (The scripture being exploited here refers only to rash or hypocritical judgment – see Matt. 7:2-5.)
[26]
See Part 4 of our ‘Overview’ volume for more justification.
[27]
For instance, Gerald Coates wrote that “most if not all [Bible] references to do with convulsions have a demonic source” [Boulton, op. cit., p50].
[28]
Wright, op. cit., p34.  See also page 33 where Wimber says “I do not personally hold the opinion that this is ‘demonic’ and/or necessarily ‘divine’. I put this in the category of ‘pondering/I don’t know’”.
[29]
The Briefing, John Wimber: Friend or Foe?, (St. Matthias Press, light blue A5 undated booklet), p15.
[30]
Quoted in Patrick Dixon’s book Signs of Revival, (Kingsway, 1995), chapter 1.

[31] Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., p212.  Also, a document called Guidelines for Leaders which Sandy helped to draft, says that the TE’s “unusual activities … may be of … the devil” [Boulton, op. cit., p112].
[32]
One unavoidable case is Jer. 51:35-39, but see Part 5 of our ‘Overview’ volume for many more.
[33]
The Evangelical Alliance’s ‘Euston Statement’, published at the end of 1994.  (This Statement is quoted in full in Appendix 4 of Boulton, op. cit.)  It was commended by Sandy [Hilborn, op. cit., p77].
[34]
Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., p212.
[35]
Although four other verses were cited during Sandy’s defence of the TE (as recorded in Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., pp.211-4), Acts 3:19 was the sole verse he gave to explain what the TE actually was.  (See also Hilborn, op. cit., p44.)
[36]
See the ‘Better Than Rubies’ section of our website (bayith.org) for more details.
[37]
Nicky Gumbel, Heart of Revival, (Kingsway, 1997), p182.
[38]
Jon Ronson, ‘Catch Me if You Can’, The London Guardian, 21st October 2000, starting on p10.
[39]
Questions of Life, p82.
[40]
For several cases, see Andy and Jane Fitz-Gibbon, Something Extraordinary is Happening, (Monarch, 1995), pp9-15, 24-29 & 32.  This book continues to be stocked by HTB.

[41] See, for example, the experience of the unsaved journalist Nicholas Monson who started “giggling” as a result of being prayed for at HTB [Hilborn, op. cit., p34], or the unsaved journalist Mick Brown who began “laughing like a drain” in Toronto [Mark D.J. Smith, Testing the Fire, (St Matthew Publishing, 1996), p123].  (Both remained unsaved.)
[42]
Gerald Coates, quoted in Hilborn, op. cit., p54.
[43]
In, for example, Nicky Gumbel’s book Telling Others, (Kingsway, 2001), pp47-8; or in Hilborn, op. cit., p31.  Several books by Finney are available in HTB’s bookshop.
[44]
Joseph Foot, Literary and Theological Review, March 1883.
[45]
See Wright, op. cit., pp204-9.
[46]
Ronson, op. cit.
[47]
Alan Morrison was warning the Church of this very thing as early as 1st July 1994 [Hilborn, op. cit., p37].
[48]
Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., p39.
[49]
Boulton, op. cit., p81 (twice on the same page!).
[50]
Ronson, op. cit.

[51] Elsdon-Dew, op. cit., 214.
[52]
Hilborn, op. cit., p86.
[53]
See, for instance, Wright, op. cit., p145.
[54]
Ronson, op. cit.
[55]
See the eight-page, A5 ‘Open Letter to Sandy Millar and David Pytches ’ written by Moriel (UK) in 1997.
[56]
Boulton, op. cit., p14.
[57]
Hilborn, op. cit., p53.
[58]
Boulton, op. cit., p83.
[59]
See Part 5 of our book for proof of both.
[60]
See the chart The Powers Behind Alpha, Vineyard and the ‘TB’, supplied on our website (bayith.org).
[61]
Our book, Alpha – the Unofficial Guide: Overview, is available from SMP and elsewhere.  Please see the ‘Better than Rubies’ section of our website (bayith.org) for details of this and other outlets.

 

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