Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Ever since January 20, people have been traveling long distances to a modest warehouse in an industrial district near Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson Airport. These people are attending meetings of a group called Airport Vineyard. They are seeking what is being called “the Toronto blessing.” Apparently the “Toronto blessing” is a special anointing of a person by the Holy Spirit, an anointing marked by “holy laughing.”
People from a wide spectrum of churches attend: Pentecostals, Presbyterians, dispensationalists, Roman Catholics, and others. Meetings of about 1000 people are held every night except Mondays. Those attending come not only from all over Canada, but from all over the world. So many Britons are attending that flights from London to Toronto are often sold out for days.
How did all this begin? A year ago St. Louis pastor Randy Clark attended a conference in Tulsa conducted by South African Pentecostal pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, whose name has become most closely linked with the “holy laughter” phenomenon. Last November (1993) Airport Vineyard’s pastor, John Amott, during a Vineyard leadership conference in Palm Springs, California, learned that Clark had experienced powerful manifestations in ministry since Howard-Browne prayed for him. Arnott invited Clark to a January conference at his church in Toronto. On January 20 about 120 people gathered at the Airport Vineyard. Arnott says both he and Clark felt a heightened sense of faith. At the service most church members fell on the floor “laughing, rolling, and carrying on,” recalls Arnott. Clark ended up staying at the church for two months.
By then people were coming to Arnott’s Airport Vineyard in large numbers from distant parts of the globe. “It went from something hard to catch to something very contagious,” Arnott says. “Our whole ministry team—boom they were anointed.”
What’s occurring in Toronto is nothing new, according to John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement. “Nearly everything we’ve seen—falling, weeping, laughing, shaking—has been seen before, not only in our own memory, but in revivals all over the world,” says Wimber.
Where in Scripture do we find that “laughing, rolling, and carrying on” are evidences or fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of God’s people? Scripture does teach that the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23). Where this fruit is seen in the lives of people there is the Holy Spirit. What is more, “against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:23).
Earlier in this column (Oct. 1, 1994 issue) we reported on a decision made by Classis Grand Rapids East of the Christian Reformed Church, which decision put that Classis in disobedience to the decision of the 1994 CRC synod concerning women in office. The synod refused to ratify a change in its Church Order which would allow women to be ordained as ministers and elders. The synod also “urged” local congregations which have already ordained women elders to release them from office by June 1995. Meeting in special session in July, the Classis decided to “permit its individual churches the freedom to decide whether or not the word ‘male’ in article 3a of the Church Order is operative in their particular settings.” The Classis, by taking this decision, allows what the synod said “the clear teaching of Scripture prohibits.” In so doing the Classis decided “in principle” to disobey the synod’s ban on women in office.
Not wanting to be in disobedience to the synod, the Classis at its regular session in September declared that “recognizing synod’s legal right to insist on the retention of the word ‘male’ in Church Order Article 3a, classis nevertheless acknowledges its congregations’ moral right of conscientious objection (with any attendant consequences) to that insistence with respect to the office of elder.” The Classis also resolved “not to attempt to force its congregations to comply with the decision of Synod 1994” urging churches to release women elders by June 1995 and not to ordain more women elders. These resolutions came from a five-member committee appointed by the July Classis “to do further work and refinement” on the motion. Dr. Henry DeMoor, professor of Church Polity at Calvin Seminary, served as reporter for this committee.
The July decision provoked a great deal of negative reaction. Objections came from Classis Illiana, First CRC of Chino, California, and the Presbytery of Southeast Alabama of the Presbyterian Church in America (a denomination with which the CRC has fraternal relations). DeMoor told the Classis (September session), “You’ve got to do something to fix July, because there are many people who are really upset.” Concerning the September decision DeMoor said, “This says something different from defying synod. One thing classis can’t do is say, we’re going to say Article 3 does not apply to churches in classis, that’s defiance, we can’t do that.” Concerning Classis’ decision not to urge the churches to release women elders or elect more women to that office, DeMoor said, “Synod is going to have to understand that there are churches, not just one or two, that cannot do what synod urges them to do. We’re saying to synod, do not, please, expect us to go to those particular churches and say, you’re going to have to get rid of these women elders or we will have to depose your entire council, then you have another 1926 on our hands.”
The 1926 date refers to the year when the CRC synod upheld the deposition of three CR councils by Classis Grand Rapids East (Eastern Ave., pastored by H. Hoeksema) and Classis Grand Rapids West (Hope, pastored by G. M. Ophoff and Kalamazoo I, pastored by H. Danhof). Those depositions of course led to the formation of our Protestant Reformed Churches.
In spite of DeMoor’s opinions concerning the September decisions, they do not get Classis Grand Rapids East “off the hook.” According to Article 29 of the CRC Church Order, decisions of ecclesiastical assemblies, “… shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved that they conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order.” What Classis must do, therefore, is not merely plead conscientious objection to those synodical decisions, but Classis must appeal to the synod of 1995 and prove to that synod that the 1994 decisions re women in office conflict with the Word of God. This the classis may do, under the provisions of Article 30 of the CRC Church Order. Unless the Classis does this, she is still in defiance of the synod of 1994.
Recently approximately 70 of the 140 families of the Sanborn CRC left the church to form an independent church. Soon after the Sanborn split, some 50 families left the First CRC of Orange City. Rev. Ralph Pontier, former pastor of First Orange City, and several former council members of the church are leading the independents in Orange City. Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, is also a member of the newly formed independent church.
First CRC of Orange City was organized in 1871, making it the oldest congregation in Classis of the Heartland. Numbering 180 families before the split, it was also the largest congregation in the classis.