Testing the Spirits: Discernment, Deception and the Care of Souls -- By: L. Joseph Letendre

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 13:2 (Spring 2004)
Article: Testing the Spirits: Discernment, Deception and the Care of Souls
Author: L. Joseph Letendre

Testing the Spirits:
Discernment, Deception and the Care of Souls

L. Joseph Letendre

Ten years ago the news media began reporting a remarkable phenomenon occurring at a Pentecostal church near the Toronto airport. Instead of the expected sign: of spiritual anointing, speaking in tongues or being “slain by the Spirit,” church members were manifesting a behavior called “holy laughter.” Leaders of the Vineyard church where this was happening were quick to link this behavior with the behavior which led to the apostles being accused of “drunkenness” after the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2). It was, they claimed, a manifestation of the joy which St. Paul lists as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

The phenomenon was not confined to laughter. Other observed behavior included barking like dogs, clucking like chickens, spasmodic body movements, vomiting, and even sexual orgasms. Not surprisingly, the phenomenon was controversial. Some hailed it as a new manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and the “anointing” appeared in other congregations, notably in Pensacola, Florida. Others were not so sure. One of my friends, a pastor, dismissed it as a case of mass hysteria: “Any shaman can produce the same results.” Another pastor I know was even more blunt. “It’s demonic!” he said.

My concern is not to reopen the debate about the “Toronto Blessing,” as the phenomenon came to be known, but to

cite it as one example of a problem that has challenged the Church throughout its history. From the earliest days Christian pastors and congregations have had to determine the authenticity of experiences, visions, messages, and missions which individuals and groups claim to have received from God. Such discernment was, and is, complicated by the fact that the individuals making such claims were often sincere and dedicated Christians, and sometimes “signs and wonders” would accompany them.

At issue is the risk of deception, a hazard that should come as no surprise: the Word of God provides explicit warning of the dangers of deception. We are told that “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24). The devil, whom Jesus denounces as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), is striving “to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). It is a concern St. Paul expresses when he writes the Christians in Corinth that “...

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