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Revivalist movements such as the Toronto Blessing have spurred a wave of controversy around the origin of the manifestations observed in their services. Many Christians believe that these manifestations are caused by counterfeit spirits pretending to be the Holy Spirit. In particular, Andrew Strom published an influential three-part documentary (1, 2, 3) and a book in which he argues that the observed manifestations are suspiciously similar to the symptoms reported by individuals who have undergone the so-called "Kundalini awakening".

Likewise, it's not uncommon to hear of Christians accusing other Christians, particularly Pentecostals and Charismatics, of being influenced by counterfeit spirits. See for example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

What is the biblical basis for identifying certain manifestations as counterfeits (e.g. Kundalini awakening) instead of genuine Holy Spirit manifestations?

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    The Holy Spirit will testify of Christ (John 15:26). – Mike Borden Dec 2 '20 at 0:16
  • What evidence supports the claim that Kundalini awakening is "counterfeit"? As far as I can tell, NT authors were not aware of the existence of Kundalini or other culture's similar experiences. So what is this claim based on? – Codosaur Dec 4 '20 at 11:43
  • @Codosaur did you watch the 3-part documentary and the book linked in the question? – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 4 '20 at 12:27
  • @Codosaur also, there is plenty of evidence that many Christians believe in counterfeits, for example see: 1, 2, 3 – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 4 '20 at 12:52
  • The opinions expressed in that document are personal, not doctrinal. My question is: what doctrinal arguments can you give that justify calling these experiences "counterfeit"? – Codosaur Dec 4 '20 at 13:31
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There is no explicit historical or Biblical basis for this argumentation. The earliest known mention of Kundalini yoga dates to the Vedic collection of writings known as the Upanishads (c. 1000 BCE). The practice of Kundalini thus predates the oldest extant Tanakh manuscripts (the Silver Scrolls c. 650–587 BCE) by several centuries. Clearly, the authors of the Tanakh were unaware of this practice. The same can be said for experiences like samadhi in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and yogic schools (oldest reference late 1st millennium BCE in the Maitrayaniya Upanishad). Nor the Tanakh, the OT or NT mention any knowledge or understanding of these practices. Virtually every religion - surviving or extinct - includes some form of this kind of experience in their oral or written tradition, including Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religions.

As for the "Toronto Blessing", this has been investigated by Andrew Newton, who had this to say about it:

the phenomena so closely resembled mass hysteria that most observers – scientists and laymen alike – deduced that it was indeed a text book case of mass hysteria. Those who took part in it were all emotionally very suggestible and there is no doubt that expectancy and wish fulfillment played a major part in the experience.

He then examines the testimonial of two of the participants. The first is a man called Mick Brown. He went to Toronto and attended a meeting led by John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Airport Vineyard. Here is Mick Brown’s testimony:

“A body came falling towards me. I rested it on the ground and moved on. I found myself beside John Arnott, who was moving through the crowd, blessing people, who fell like ninepins. I didn’t even see his hand coming as it arched through the air and touched me gently – hardly at all – on the forehead. “And bless this one, Lord….” I could feel a palpable shock running through me, then I was falling backwards, as if my legs had been kicked away from underneath me. I hit the floor – I swear this is the truth – laughing like a drain.”

Newton's analysis:

The interesting thing about that testimony is that Mick Brown is not a Christian. He is an unconverted Daily Telegraph journalist who went to Toronto to write a report on the Toronto Blessing for the Daily Telegraph magazine, from which the above quotation is taken. Yet when Pastor Arnott touched him, Mick Brown experiences exactly the same phenomena as all the professing believers. He becomes “slain in the Spirit” and laughs hysterically. Later he told a Christian newspaper that his experience had made no difference to his unbelief in Christianity. He was and still is a non-believer. So we are left with the same physical and emotional experience, the same Toronto Blessing, the same hysterical reaction but without the religiosity.

This forces us to ask two very important and searching questions:

First, how can this be the Holy Spirit at work? and second, does the Holy Spirit bestow the same emotional and physical experience on believer and non-believer alike – ‘slaying in the Spirit,’ uncontrollable laughter, a state of euphoria?

If these things had no spiritual or religious meaning or significance in the life of atheist Mick Brown, how can precisely the same things have any authentic spiritual meaning or significance in the lives of professing Christians? Clearly we are dealing with an experience that is not truly spiritual in nature, but can be happily shared by believers and non-believers alike. Obviously it must be up to the individual to interpret the associated emotions and find meaning… or not.

Another obvious question is, what is the power that John Arnott has to induce this experience in a non-Christian who has absolutely no belief that the Toronto Blessing is a work of God, since he does not even believe in God? Is it possible that this is nothing more that hypnotism working on a suggestible mind? Mick Brown had not participated in any of the warm-up techniques of the worship, and had no expectation that anything would happen to him. Yet when John Arnott touched him, quite by accident, down he goes, gibbering away and laughing hysterically. This seems to point us in the direction of John Arnott and others like him actually possessing or at least channeling some kind of supernatural power. Or not…

Stage hypnosis employs the same mental sleight of hand, as do the industrial scale antics of American TV evangelists, such as the market leader, Benny Hinn. Once a participant has seen other volunteers collapsing and falling into what appears to be a trance-like state, that participant also becomes suggestible. This happens quite unconsciously and is as reliable as clockwork. One does not have to take part in the warm up tests and exercises to be affected by it – merely watching it work with others is enough to increase suggestibility.

The second testimony is that of Glenda Waddell, a member of staff at Holy Trinity Brompton, the Anglican church in London which acts as the British headquarters of the Toronto Blessing. Here is Ms. Waddell’s testimony of how she first received the Toronto Blessing:

“To my absolute horror I just knew beyond any shadow of doubt my hands were doing strange things and I was going to roar. I said, “Oh Lord, I’d do anything but please, please, don’t make me roar. Only the men roar and the women don’t roar.” But it came and I did roar quite loudly and I made a lot of awful noise and I was crawling around the floor doing terrible things and half of me was thinking, ‘This cannot be me.’ But another part of me knew that it was.”

Newton's analysis:

The disturbing thing about Ms Waddell’s testimony is that it presents us with a picture of the Holy Spirit supposedly at work. And yet her experience makes it painfully obvious it was not the Holy Spirit at work.

By her own account, Ms Waddell was invaded and possessed by a power which reduced her to bestial behavior, crawling around and roaring like a wild animal – all against her conscious will. She was simply taken over, physically and spiritually, by a controlling force. That is not how the Holy Spirit operates in a believer’s life. He does not sanctify individuals by possessing them like a demon and forcing them to do weird, sub-human things. He is supposed to work through the Word of God, bringing truth to bear upon our minds, enlightening our understanding. Anyone with any spiritual discernment must see that this darker force was not the Holy Spirit.

An important thing to understand about mass hysteria is that it can creep up even on those who are on their guard against it. From the accounts of the two people in the extract above, it seems to me this is what happened.

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  • The issue with using mass hysteria (or more formally, mass psychogenic illness) as an explanation is that MPI is usually employed as a catch-all term for anything we don't yet understand, and scientific research into MPI is very poor (read this for more details). The other issue is that Andrew Newton is into stage hypnosis, which is not free from controversies. – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 6 '20 at 18:36
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    "MPI is a catch-all term for anything we don't yet understand" - the research disagrees: 1 2 3 4. And faith healing is not free from controversy either. – Codosaur Dec 7 '20 at 8:25
  • Regarding MPI, I still feel unconvinced. Would you kindly post an answer to this question? Regarding faith failing: how does that make stage hypnosis any more credible? – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 7 '20 at 15:52
  • I think Brian Krause's comments on your question on the psych SE speak for themselves: "you're asking the question as a way to push a nonscientific approach to observed phenomena and as such have not bothered to understand what it means to be falsifiable before asking the question". And "...you asking the question because you'd like to argue about how MPI can't be proven and therefore (insert your supernatural hypothesis) is supported. It's a circular approach that is the opposite of a good scientific practice". – Codosaur Dec 8 '20 at 6:54
  • Which I responded to and he totally failed to justify. He wasn't able to provide a single quote where I supposedly claim that a supernatural hypothesis is true. If you can find such a quote, please share it. Otherwise, the accusations remain unsubstantiated. Moreover, you are just deviating the focus. You still haven't explained how MPI is scientific. Downvoting the question doesn't make MPI scientific. If MPI is scientific, please post an answer. Here is the link. – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 8 '20 at 8:46
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I'm sure this differs on a by-Denomination (and even a by-church) basis, but the general measure would be 'By their fruits you will know them' - ie, have the fruits of the Spirit been seen?

Similarly, is there evidence of the activity of the Spirit - tongues, prophecy, healings. These are seen in all revivals through history, and are consistent with the work of the Spirit in the Bible.

Thirdly, as Mike Borden mentions above, the Spirit testifies to Jesus. Are those under the effect of the blessing testifying to and glorifying Jesus?

Through my understanding, the Toronto Blessing easily passed all of these tests. Very few non-cessationist denominations denied that the Toronto Blessing was a true revival led by the Spirit of God.

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