THE BROWNSVILLE REVIVAL: 
Toronto Link Grows Stronger 

By Larry Thomas, The Inkhorn

If you mention the Pensacola Revival you better be ready to duck or pucker because people will either want to hit you or kiss you. There is no middle ground when it comes to this reported move of God in the Florida panhandle. Nothing has caused as much consternation and confusion in the church world since ... uh ... the Toronto Blessing.

But this is not Toronto, we're told. But more on that later.

While some say this is the greatest thing since Azusa Street or maybe even since Pentecost itself, others are saying this is more deadly to Christianity than communism was in its hey-dey. One thing is obvious: everyone must decide whether they're "for it or agin it." Even the leadership of the Brownsville Assembly of God church in Pensacola says the division is necessary.

At a November meeting of the Peninsula Florida District of the Assemblies of God, Pensacola Pastor John Kilpatrick told the gathering of ministers that God asked him if He could "bring a sword into the church." Kilpatrick told the group that God wanted to separate those who were against the flow of the Spirit from those who wanted it. Those that God removed, Kilpatrick said, were "too religious." He concluded these remarks by noting that those who are standing against this revival are the religious.

JUDGING THE JUDGES

While the leaders of the revival call their opposition judgmental, they are just as judgmental. The difference is the standard by which judgments are made. Proponents of Pensacola determine who is religious and who is spiritual by whether or not they accept the manifestations accompanying the "revival." Critics of the current move, for the most part, are judging the manifestations by the Word of God and finding no biblical support whatsoever. 

Art Katz, in an article titled "Some Cautionary Thoughts on the Present Revival," expresses very well some of our concerns:

"Perhaps one of the most ominous features of the hour is the note of warning sounded about those who have some reserve as being 'obstructions,' 'enemies,' or 'threats' to this outpouring of God. The invitation seems to be to abandon all restraint ('The bar is open') ­ leap in, or get out of the way of others if you cannot! ... I cannot help but wonder if it is man's interests that are being so vehemently defended and that we are at the inception of what could ultimately be finalized by the warning that 'they will kill you and claim that they are doing God a service"' (John 16:2). [1]
Katz went on to quote T. Austin Sparks, who compared the Corinthian church's propensity for sensational evidences to its modern counterpart: 
"We are in that kind of age today. It is becoming more and more a psychic age. It is an age of the soul just spilling over, asserting itself, taking control of everything Christian as well as outside of it ­ a soulish age.... Be careful that you are not hankering for this realm again. Are you after the evidence? My, how I have seen dear Christian people just prostrating themselves, with groaning and crying, almost screaming for evidence--these 'sign' things ... Christians and dear men of God, who have been greatly used, are creating an emotional, psychic situation that is involving simple Christians in things which are, sooner or later, going to be a great disillusionment and an offense. It will bring 'offendedness' with the Lord, and that is just what the devil is after." [2]
SOMETHING IS DEFINITELY HAPPENING

That something big is happening goes without saying. The real question is what is behind the spiritual excitement. Proponents obviously claim this is a sovereign move of God's Holy Spirit. Some critics claim the spirit operating in the church is demonic, while others are blaming the bizarre behavior on suggestible followers who are easily manipulated by the leaders. The Bible tells us to test the spirits to see if they be of God. But when the cautious suggest such a plan, they are called narrow­minded, pride-filled Spirit quenchers. This attack is designed, we believe, to keep the "faithful" following their leaders, and to keep them from hearing reasonable questions and biblical responses. 

Before we discuss our testing of the spirits, let me share something with you. I had mentioned in our last issue of The Inkhorn that I hoped to attend a service or two at the Brownsville church during a recent trip to Florida. My schedule and the service schedule at the church did not match up, so I was unable to attend any services. I know some will quickly pounce on that and say, "You can't judge or write about something you've not experienced." We heard the same criticism when we spoke out against Toronto. 

First, let me say that we have done considerable research through the writings of the revival leaders and have seen numerous video tapes of the manifestations. We have interviewed dozens of people who have been to Brownsville or to one of its clones. From our knowledge of what is happening, what is being promoted and what God's Word says about such things (and doesn't say), I believe we have sufficient evidence to draw our conclusions.

To attend a service at Brownsville just to rebuff our critics would be costly and, I believe, unnecessary. It might also be putting God to a foolish test. Many solid Bible preachers have reported that they were skeptical of Brownsville, but attended at the urging of others and came back transformed. (Not for the better, I might add.) It seems obvious that these men, and women, have been seduced by the spirit of Brownsville.

But enough about that.

TORONTO CONNECTION BECOMES CLEARER

Anyone who claims that Pensacola is not merely Toronto recycled is not being totally honest. Revival historian Andrew Strom of New Zealand makes that clear:

"... the links between Toronto and Pensacola are so strong that I am surprised that they are not more widely known." [3]
Evangelist Steve Hill has acknowledged that he had spent considerable time with a leader of the Toronto movement at the Holy Trinity Bromptom church in London. Pastor John Kilpatrick defended in his book the same manifestations that were prevalent at Toronto. (These things were covered in our October article.)

Charisma magazine has endorsed the Brownsville revival and made no bones about linking it with Toronto. Under the headline "Toronto Blessing Spreads Worldwide," the magazine made this observation: 

"Springfield, Missouri ­ home to the Assemblies of God headquarters ­ was considered resistant to the Toronto Blessing. That began to change in June when Brownsville pastor John Kilpatrick held special services at Central Assembly of God next to AG headquarters." [4]
Pro-Pensacola writer, Beth McDuffie, made the connection quickly. She wrote,
"As people went forward, they began to fall down shaking and crying, etc., just like 'Toronto' meetings everywhere." [5]
As we noted in the Issues and Insights column of our October issue, the new head of the AG Men's Ministries sees Toronto, Brownsville, Hill and Rodney-Howard Browne as all part of the same move. Only a few die-hards are trying to create a gulf between Toronto and Pensacola that just does not exist.

WHOLE LOTA SHAKIN' GOIN' ON

That old Jerry Lee Lewis song title seems to fit the Pensacola phenomena better than its declared anthem, "The Mercy Seat." While uncontrollable laughter was the primary manifestation at Toronto (at least at the beginning), uncontrollable shaking is the most prevalent in Pensacola. There is laughter and other Toronto-style manifestations, but the most popular is shaking. Sometimes it is more like jerking; other times it is deep bowing. The most widely seen video of this manifestation is being distributed by AG headquarters. We'll let pro-Pensacola, Charisma staff writer Lee Grady describe it for us. This is Grady's description of Alison Ward's testimony.

"As she spoke, Alison shook in a manner so awkward that a casual observer might think she suffered from cerebral palsy. Then, while trembling violently, she issued a plea so heartfelt that those in the room say they heard God speaking through her. Choking back tears she said intently: 'God is in a hurry. There's not much more time. He aches and He grieves for your spirit.' At that moment Alison fell to the floor. A deafening chorus of moaning and wailing filled the room as people were moved by an almost eerie sense of God's love for lost souls ... Alison's eight-minute testimony, which was captured on video tape, represents the defining moment of this revival. [6]
1 have seen this particular video. My heart went out to the young woman -- first, because I thought she suffered from a physical affliction; then because I realized the terrible delusion to which she had succumbed, and finally because she was being shamelessly used by her spiritual leaders. The lack of self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) makes it obvious that the manifestations of poor Alison are not Spirit endowed.

Strom observes:

"I'm sorry, but I just cannot go along with the idea that God wants to distort the limbs and the bodies of his children so that they look like sufferers of Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and Parkinson's Disease. I cannot go along with a 'revival' that makes God's children 'jerk' for hours at a time, just like the mental patients seen in our psychiatric wards every day. And I cannot go along with a shrieking, hyena-like laughter being described as 'holy.' I have to be frank and say, it all sound too much like the devil to me. [7]
JERKING DISRUPTS CLASSES

Several students in Brooksville, Florida, who had attended the Pensacola revival with their youth pastor were reprimanded by high school officials after they continued to manifest the jerking and deep bowing in their classes. The manifestation was picked up at the 'revival' and the teens claimed they could not control it. This kind of behavior brings reproach rather than honor to the name of Jesus.

But the teens are merely mimicking the uncontrollable actions of their adult leaders.

At the district conference referred to earlier, Kilpatrick admitted to the assembled pastors that he has been so "drunk in the spirit" that he actually struck his youth pastor's car with his own. He said that while driving he had hit many garbage cans sitting at the curb on several occasions because he was so "drunk." He added that his wife (a visitor to Toronto, by the way) has been so drunk she couldn't cook. Sometimes, his drunken stupors are so severe that he has to be taken from the service in a wheel chair, Kilpatrick said.

In our book, No Laughing Matter, we discussed Toronto-style churches that had 'designated drivers' for their too-drunk-to-drive parishioners. We also noted that many students from these churches missed classes because of "Holy Ghost hangovers" or disrupted classes with their laughter and other erratic behaviors. I see a strong link here. Don't you?

BIZARRE BEHAVIOR JUSTIFIED

These unbiblical manifestations are justified by the Pensacola leaders and their followers, either by wrenching Scripture out of context, reading between the lines of Scripture or, best of all, saying that if the Bible doesn't clearly prohibit an activity, then it is okay with God. (Again, these are the same tactics used by the Toronto leadership.)

One classic example of this is found in the winter edition of Enrichment magazine, an AG publication for ministers. Kilpatrick is being interviewed by the author about the Brownsville "outpouring." Under the subhead of "Surprises of the Spirit" Kilpatrick says:

"God is taking us from glory to glory, and this glory won't seem like the last glory. For most of what we experience I can take you to Scripture. 

"On the Day of Pentecost the believers were staggering as if drunk. Peter stood up and said this was foretold by the prophet Joel. Much of what they were doing had come out of Joel's prophecy, but the one major exception -- they were speaking in other tongues. Joel never mentioned it, but they were doing it even though Peter could not give chapter and verse for it. It was a surprise." [8]

Well, I'm certainly surprised. Kilpatrick, without any fear, made unwarranted additions to Joel's prophecy. He made the book of Acts say something that it clearly does not say. His is speculative theology at best and blatant misrepresentation at worst. No one to my knowledge ever interpreted that passage in Acts to mean that those who came down from the upper room were staggering around like drunken sailors on leave. The first time I ever heard that was from the "apologists" of Toronto.

First, let me say the context makes it clear that the mockers accused them of being drunk because they could not understand the unknown tongues in which they spoke. The unfamiliar languages, no doubt, sounded like the slurred gibberish associated with those who have had a little too much to drink. But it is a far and dangerous stretch of the facts to say those empowered by the Holy Ghost were staggering around.

Pentecostal believers traditionally have held that speaking in tongues is the first sign of believers being filled with the Holy Ghost. With that in mind, most Pentecostal scholars hold that the speaking in tongues at Pentecost was the confirmation that the Spirit had been poured out. True, Joel did not specifically say the believers would speak in tongues, but neither did he even hint that they would act like drunks at a party. Kilpatrick threw out the clear inference and interjected his own self-serving interpretation. 

THE SET UP

Kilpatrick's error was intentional, I believe. His whole purpose was to send out the message that the church doesn't need chapter and verse for manifestations of the Spirit, That speaks volumes. It is obvious that most of the manifestations at Pensacola cannot be given a biblical precedent. So, Kilpatrick says that it's not essential to have one.

This reminds me of Rodney Howard-Browne's remark that you "can't put this move of God to a theological test." The message of Pensacola is nothing more than regurgitated Toronto philosophy: "Don't think. Don't question. Just jump in. Just experience. Just believe your leadership." That whole attitude is cultic and dangerous.

I agree with A. W. Tozer who said,

"I am a Bible Christian and if an archangel with a wingspread as broad as a constellation shining like the sun were to come and offer me some new truth, I'd ask him for a reference. If he could not show me where it is found in the Bible, I would bow him out and say, 'I'm awfully sorry, you don't bring any references with you.'" [9]
This is not the attitude at Pensacola. There, the preaching of the Word is minimized, trivialized and criticized. Any spiritual movement that is not based on the truth of the Word and the honest preaching of that Word must be rejected.

The Pensacola revival has created in the Pentecostal church a paradigm shift in its understand of the authority of Scripture, the work of Christ, the character of the Holy Spirit and His work in the church and the plan of God. This shift is a major one. It is laying the ground work for the next "move of God" that will make the Pensacola fiasco pale.

There is much more to say about this. But it will have to wait until the next issue.

Larry


Endnotes

1 Katz, Art, "Some Cautionary Thoughts on The Present Revival," unpublished manuscript, October, 1996.

2 Sparks, T. Austin, Called Unto the Fellowship of His Son, published by Emmanuel Church, Tulsa, OK, page 46.

3 Strom, Andrew, "Brownsville, Pensacola: 'Toronto' or Not?" Unpublished manuscript, October, 1996, page 1.

4 Toronto Blessing Spreads Worldwide, Charisma, November, 1996, pg. 15.

5 Strom. op. cit., page 1.

6 Ibid., page 2.

7 Ibid., page 3.

8 Womack, David, "The Pensacola Revival -- Today's Azusa Street," Enrichment, Winter, 1997, page 59.

9 Tozer, A. W., Success and the Christian, Christian Publications, Camp Hill, PA, 1994, pages 65-66.


Reprinted with permission from The Inkhorn
This article was originally published in:

The Inkhorn
Vol. 8 No. 1
January 1997, pages 13-22
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