This article has been provoked by a renewed promotion of involuntary physical manifestations in the churches, as epitomised in the so-called 'Toronto Blessing'. The difference in mode of experiencing the Spirit in the Old and New Testaments is considered, and the nature of 6FJ"F4H and its equivalents in the NT text discussed. The ecstatic nature of the charisms of the Spirit comes under discussion. Finally, the NT emphasis on self-control and clear-headedness is compared with the anti-intellectualism and emotionalism of the new movement. 

Mathew Spencer Clark is lecturer in New Testament at the Apostolic Faith Mission Theological College in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. This college offers the theology courses accredited by the RAU as major subjects for their degree BA (Theology), and the post-graduate courses based upon it. He holds the degrees BA (in Greek and Hebrew), BD and DTh from the University of South Africa, and is presently completing a second DTh (in NT hermeneutics) at the same University. He is part-time lecturer in Classical Culture at RAU.




The role of ecstatic experience in the church has once again become an issue. Where recent debate concerning this matter has been limited largely to the Pentecostal / charismatic community, the current impact of the so-called 'Toronto blessing' appears to have exceeded these boundaries, and many mainstream historical churches are now being faced with the theological challenge posed by this phenomenon. The secular media have taken note of the events at the Toronto Airport Vineyard, which has become the centre of international dissemination of the experience (eg. Time Magazine, Aug. 15th, 1994). It has become one of the most discussed subjects among churches and churchmen of all denominations.

Characteristic of the Toronto movement is the insistence that normal Christian experience can include physical manifestations which are uncontrollable: groups of people participate in uncontrollable laughter; some appear to be 'stuck to the floor'; others make animal noises. Shaking, screaming, laughing, 'pogo-ing' (jumping up and down on the same spot) - all of these not only occur, but those who experience them are apparently unable to control the effects. They claim to be 'overwhelmed' by the Spirit, to 'lose control'. Some who were initially sceptical of the manifestations even testify to having been 'hi-jacked' by the Spirit into these effects. A truly ecstatic movement has burst upon the scene.

The following research into ecstatic elements in New Testament Christianity has been done made by a Pentecostal New Testament scholar. The Pentecostal movement, like many revival movements before it, is a conscious attempt to identify with the Spirit and experience of the early church community. For the Pentecostal movement the findings of New Testament theology often operate normatively (Hollenweger 1972:427-429). This article is thus an attempt to contribute to Pentecostal and charismatic self-understanding, as well as to share with the wider church the importance of the New Testament community's understanding in this area. This in the light of the challenges posed by the Toronto movement. The research is concerned primarily with the witness of the New Testament text, although non-canonical historical perspectives upon the earliest Christian communities has not been ignored. Of particular concern is not the trance-and-revelation aspect of ecstacy, but the associated physical mainifestations which may appear hysterical and frenzied, and which the subjects claim are involuntary.

Eichrodt (1961:309-328) gives a concise description of the ecstatic elements in the religious expression of the early Israelite prophetic bands. It is clear from the experience of Saul in I Sam 10:10-12 (and its parallel in the life of the later Saul, I Sam 19:23-24) that in the early Israelite period 'to prophesy' involved ecstatic elements associated with the descent of the (&9 upon the prophet. Ecstasy (as religious frenzy) appears to have been associated primarily with music and dance, but does not appear to have been a significant element in the process of material revelation: neither in the life of Samuel the seer, nor in the prophetic utterances of the literary prophets, is the state explicitly described. Of only the non-Israelite seer Balaam is it expressly stated that he received his communication 'falling (-51), but having his eyes open'. The KJV elaborates here with an italic insert: 'falling into a trance'(Num 24:16). Although there is a strong visionary element in the revelations received by particularly the later prophets, this does not automatically equate with a condition of ecstasy, even of the non-frenzied sort. Significantly it is the rejected Saul who is 'overwhelmed' by the Spirit, to the extent that in an uncontrollable frenzy he strips off his clothes and lies naked, prophesying (I Sam 19:23-24). When one considers the experience of the yet unregenerate Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, and the curse of unlooked-for blindness upon Elymas, as well as the death of the wilful Ananias and Sapphira, it would appear that in the Christian canon the uncontrollable physical manifestations associated with the descent of the Spirit were reserved largely for those who stood in opposition to the Spirit.

Moses' exasperated exclamation in Num 11:29 (Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!) finds fulfilment in the new covenant, as cited by Peter from the prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18). However, the primary expression now is no longer the Spirit's 'descent upon' a particular individual, but the Spirit's 'filling' of every believer, as fulfilment of prophecies such as Ezek 36:27 concerning the new covenant. There is a sharp contrast made between a people who need prophetic guidance from the inspiration of a handful of individuals upon whom the (&9 periodically rests, and a new covenant fellowship in which sons and daughters, old and young men, shall receive divine revelation. Paul is disapproving of conduct rather than content when he exclaims: Every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let everything be done with the purpose of edifying (I Cor 14:26). He then expressly states: You may all prophesy one by one .... (:31). He has assured these same Corinthians: Don't you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, which you have received from God ...? (I Cor 6:19). Since the presence of the Spirit is now an ongoing, inner reality, and no longer a periodic and temporary occurrence, the conditions associated with it must necessarily be different. If ecstasy and ecstatic frenzy were associated at times with the activity of the Spirit in the Old Testament, to what extent would this still be true in the New?

Ecstasy is understood today in the English language to mean displacement of the individual's will and control over their members or faculties. In the world of comparative religion and of modern psychology it is generally associated with the notion 'trance'. 6FJ"F4H is used sparingly in the New Testament: in the gospel accounts it is linked solely to the idea of amazement and astonishment (eg. Luke 5:26; from the stem >\FJ0:4 Mark 2:12, 6:51 et al). This is true also of the accounts of the Jerusalem church in the Lukan account of Acts 1-9. >\FJ0:4 is attributed in a derogatory sense to Jesus by his kin (Mk 3:21), but is used in a more enigmatic sense by Paul (2 Cor 5:13), which will be discussed below. 6FJ"F4H is used in the second part of Acts only three times: twice in conjunction with the vision received by Peter in Acts 10 (Acts 10:10; 11;5), and once by Paul in connection with a vision he received in the temple (Acts 22:17). It would appear then that, as Luke records it, 6FJ"F4H as used in any sense close to that of the modern term 'ecstasy' was linked primarily, if not solely, to the condition in which a divine vision was received. In both cases, the vision was connected with the commission to proclaim the gospel beyond the confines of ethnic Israel. In both cases the trance is associated with prayer, although in Peter's case the faintness of hunger may also have been a contributing factor. The text gives no indication of any unusual physical manifestations linked to these occasions, neither as having induced the trance, nor as an effect.

In the second epistle to the Corinthian church Paul appears reluctant to comment upon the nature of his own spiritual experiences. Apparently the trouble-makers in that congregation had been overawing the church by recounting their rich experience of divine revelation (II Cor 5:12; 11:12-13; 12:6,11). In an oblique way he recounts an experience which was apparently his own, and uses two interesting terms: 6J@H J@L FT:"J@H and PTD4H J@L FT:"J@H. These terms are associated with far more than a mere 'seeing' (BJ"F", II Cor 12:1; D":", Acts 10:3; or D"F4H as used in translating Joel, Acts 2:17). They appear to be associated with an actual entrance into a spiritual realm, termed 'third heaven' and 'paradise'. In fact, the experience was so intense that the apostle is not sure whether it did not in fact involve actual corporeal transport. This would appear to be an exceptional experience, involving revelations which the recipient was not able to communicate, bringing it in line with some aspects of the exceptional visionary experience recorded in John's Apocalypse (Rev 10:4 - John also refers to his revelation as being received < B<,L:"J4, an apparent equivalent to being in 6FJ"F4H). What is essential to our discussion is precisely this exceptionality: in a church where spiritual experience was plentiful, it took exceptional testimonies of revelations to impress the Corinthian membership of the bona fides of the false leaders: Paul feels he is stooping to the level of these agitators in recounting his own exceptional experiences. The exceptionality appears to lie precisely here: the experiences were ecstatic (although not necessarily accompanied by involuntary physical manifestations). This makes it probable that normal experience of the activity and ministry of the Spirit was not.

In II Cor 5:13, Paul refers to apparently ecstatic experience (>\FJ0:4). The context is similar to that of II Cor 12 - the apostle does not believe that his experience or lack of experience in the ecstatic realm is of consequence to his ministry. When he is in 6FJ"F4H, it is part of his relationship with God. (In fact, if the earlier context is taken into account, Paul may well be comparing or even equating 6FJ"F4H here with death - cf. II Cor 5:1ff). When he is in full possession of every faculty, that is the state in which he addresses the needs of his converts. Yet this distinction is not observed when he addresses the subject of tongues, interpretation and prophecy in I Cor 14. These experiences are therefore apparently normal, and do not seem to rely upon the ecstatic condition of their subject to be manifested.

This point of view was apparently not held by the translators of some of the newer Bible translations. The New English Bible consistently refers to (8FF"4H 8"8,< as 'ecstatic speech'. The notes to the German translation entitled Die Gute Nachricht point out that the choice of 'unbekannten Sprachen' in their text actually refers to 'einem ekstatischen Sprechen', the 'sogenannten <Zungenreden>'. The New Afrikaans Bible refers somewhat enigmatically to 'ongewone tale en klanke gebruik'. Perhaps it is because the term 'speaking in tongues' has become more commonly current since the neo-pentecostal movement of the 1960's and 70's introduced it to the mainstream historical churches that many newer translations are happier to literally translate the phrase rather than attempt an interpretation by paraphrasing it.

M`ller adequately presents the Pentecostal objection to the presuppositions entailed by such interpretations. He does this in a comprehensive discussion of the secular psychological and linguistic evaluations of modern day tongues speaking by Pentecostals and charismatics (M`ller 1975:151-191). Central to such objections is that most secular evaluations treat tongues-speaking as an ecstatic phenomenon, whereas Pentecostals do not experience it as such (eg. the illuminating findings of a secular researcher, Malony 1985:109: 'There is no indication that glossolalics go into a trance during the experience'). If the theological objection were to be raised that what Pentecostals experience today may not be what the New Testament describes in Acts and Corinthians, then it must be argued that the language of the New Testament itself does not imply that a condition of ecstasy is necessary for tongues, interpretation of tongues, or prophecy to occur as P"D4F:"J". In fact, a careful study of I Cor 14 may show that precisely the opposite is implied.

I Cor 14:27-33 contains Paul's famous 'order' concerning the use of tongues and prophecy in the congregation of believers. The fact that the numbers of those speaking in tongues, and those prophesying, is limited ; that they can be quiet if there is no interpretation, or if another person receives a revelation; that the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet - these would be meaningless if it were not understood that the speaker in tongues and the prophesier were in full control of their faculties. Paul's earlier references to meaningless prayer in tongues (vs. 16), and to prayer in the Spirit being accompanied by prayer with the understanding (vs. 15), appear to indicate the same.

The New Testament itself is silent concerning involuntary physical manifestations in the New Testament community. Although mention is made of 'inexpressible joy, full of glory' (I Pet 1:8), the physical implications of this are probably similar to the reaction of the healed cripple in Acts 3:8 - walking, and leaping, and praising God. These reactions are totally understandable, but also perfectly voluntary! Individuals will give physical expression to their encounter with a loving, redeeming, saving, healing God according to their own particular temperament, culture and volition. Those exuberant physical activities which accompanied the ecstatic veneration of pagan deities such as Dionysus and Apollo were shunned by the early church community. The history of music informs us that although singing was a normal part of early Christian worship, it was not until some time after Constantine that musical instruments were introduced into general Christian worship . The rationale behind this exclusion was apparently that while musical instruments were used in cults such as that of Apollo to induce a state of hysteria and ecstasy in which divination might be received, as well as at state festivals and entertainment, converts needed to be separated from such expressions of the their pagan past (Grout 1960:19-20). While practising prophecy and receiving revelation in the form of dreams and visions, the early church radically distantiated these charisms from the modes and methods of contemporary pagan divination.

This is not to say that the worship and life of the early Christian community was not exuberant. It is not only Pentecostals and charismatics who insist that the religious expression of the earliest communities was a strong contrast to the cold formalism that dominates many modern liturgies. Johannes Weiss (1959:41) and James Dunn (1983:192-194) make it clear that they discovered in their research into the earliest Christian community a vibrant, enthusiastic, jubilant, victorious charismatic community whose point of personal and communal integration was not intellectual assent to the great confessions, or participation in formal liturgies, but an ongoing experience of the presence of the living God. It would be reasonable to imagine that such a community would give expression to its experience in a variety of extrovert emotional and physical forms. I have discussed this aspect as revealed in contemporary Pentecostalism in greater detail elsewhere (Clark & Lederle 1989:60-63). However, the silence of the New Testament text can only lead us to believe that it was not these forms which were central, nor propagated, but a more concrete content which was subject to testing and evaluation (I Cor 14:29; I John 4:1-3). Even the concrete expressions of the Spirit's presence were subject to such objective testing - I Cor 13:1-3 subjects charismatic manifestations to the test of the presence of ("B0 in the subject's life; and then provides a full list of concrete criteria by which the presence or absence of that love might be discerned. As for involuntary physical manifestations, in seeking a Biblical foundation the Toronto movement is driven to such forced exegesis as the following: Psalm 23:2, claims Toronto apologete Guy Chevreau, tells us: He makes me lie down .... ! (Chevreau 1994:51). While Chevreau may be excused as making what appears to be a tongue-in-the-cheek statement, this cannot be said of many of the exponents of the Toronto Blessing who proclaim this verse as normative for 'falling down under the Spirit'.

It might be argued that one of the reasons for the perpetuation of the Pentecostal revival of the twentieth century into its tenth decade has been the understanding that the presence and work of the Spirit among the community of believers can be objectively tested. The proof of such power is not subjective, i.e. in emotional intensity and accompanying physical manifestations, but can be concretely tested against accepted 'lists' of charismata such as that of I Cor 12:8-10 - speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, gifts of healings, etc. This understanding has been tested many times during the last 90 years by the classical Pentecostal denominations, and invariably reconfirmed. More transitory or faddish criteria such as involuntary physical manifestations or liturgical dance or frenzied hand-clapping have been rejected on numerous occasions, such as the Latter Rain schisms of the 1920's and 1950's.

One of the most strongly stressed qualities of character in the New Testament is self-control. This is expressed in various forms, some accenting vigilant control over one's desires and choices (based on FTND@<,T), some emphasising restraint (based on (6D"J0H), some clear-headedness (based on <0NT). In fact, it is stressed in II Tim 1:7 that it is precisely the Spirit which engenders in us FTND@<4F:@H, the ability to apply our minds clearly. The New Testament knows nothing of the neo-gnostic dualism between an evil mind (as part of the flesh) and a perfected spirit, which one finds underlying the Toronto movement. Although the Vineyard movement, which finds its origin in the teachings of John Wimber, has not flirted with the grosser tendencies toward dualism found in the Word-Faith movement of E W Kenyon's disciples (McConnell 1988:103-115), it nevertheless reveals a strong anti-intellectual bias which implies the same type of distinction between mind and spirit (Lewis 1989:56-57). Opposed to this, the New Testament Christian imperative is to be wide-awake to every possibility of seduction from the pathway of genuine discipleship. While it is true that the believer is obliged to lose control of much of his life, this is not to be seen in terms of a mindless and uncritical pursuit of ecstatic experience, but rather in terms of subjection of the self to the Master: giving up control as a *@L8@H of Christ, rather than losing control of one's mind and body. 

A final word may be added concerning Christian and non-Christian revelatory experience. The student of non-Christian revelatory religions, whether of the shamanistic type, or of the more sophisticated eastern religions, will notice the centrality of the trance to the process of communicating with the spirit-world. The trance might be induced by music and rhythm, by meditation, or by a combination of either of these and some form of narcotic. In this trance situation the subject may take on another personality, becoming 'possessed' by a spiritual entity. They may then speak in tongues or a known language; they might change their voices ludicrously; they might make animal noises, even act like animals. In this process, the persona of the subject is overwhelmed by the spirit they are hosting. 

In contrast, the New Testament understanding was that the human persona entered into willing cooperation with the Spirit of God. Hence Paul could refer to himself as FL<,D(@H with God. Thus the Scriptures could be inspired, and yet the work of men. A prophecy could be inspired, and yet subject to testing. Revelation consists of a divine element and a human, working together to confront the listener with the speaking of God. There was no element of coercion in this partnership. It was not necessary for the human partner to submit the mind and body to 'emptying' or external control: the divine Spirit and the regenerate human spirit could 'work together' in the purposes of God.

In the light of the challenges created by the emphasis upon ecstatic, involuntary physical manifestations in the Toronto movement, as well as the ongoing religious syncretism which is so much part of the post-modern era, this article is an attempt to re-assert the values of the New Testament community. Without decrying the cathartic affect the intense emotional content of the Toronto Blessing appears to afford certain individuals, an exegetical Christian theology could only with difficulty encourage communities or individuals to base their understanding of God and his presence upon such an uncertain foundation.


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