We always have to remember that anything can go too far, and that what God bestows, the devil mimics — can imitate, counterfeit.
This can be true of aspects in any part of religion (see: how distorted aspects of Islam are) and even, in extreme cases, in Christian circles, with charismatic gifts.
They are good when they are from God.
And so a test of spirituality: discernment.
For example, you may have heard about the “Toronto blessing.” This was a supposed outpouring of the Holy Spirit so strong in non-denominational revival groups that it spread from Ontario to other nations and often involved wild laughter, even rolling around in the aisles, screams, shouts, and in some cases animal sounds.
Were there positive aspects? Perhaps. It has become synonymous within charismatic Christian circles for terms and actions that include an increased awareness of the Father’s love, religious ecstasy, external observances of ecstatic worship, being slain in the Spirit, that uncontrollable laughter, emotional and/or physical euphoria, crying, healing from emotional wounds, healing of damaged relationships, and electric waves of the spirit.
Maybe. But all that “holy laughter,” as a result of overwhelming joy — a hallmark manifestation — and instances of participants roaring like lions?
Laughter is great. Joy even better. Healing? All for that. But fanaticism?
Here, in the fanaticism, and in whatever movement, one can discern the enemy. It’s hardly to say that laughter can’t be holy — even, perhaps, healing [see video below, for discernment only].
But history harbors what seems like a darker side to certain eruptions of epiphany, and for this we can go back a century to the United Kingdom where there was a revival with so many attendant wonders that the Liverpool Echo on January 18, 1905, headlined with it: “Wales in the Grip of Supernatural Forces!”
Perhaps we discern when we note extremes of anything. Bands of girls roved the streets, singing, clapping, and disrupting churches. Hand-clapping now dominated Christian services.
There were also certain fruits:
Sixteen people were admitted to the Denbeigh Insane Asylum, their dementia attributed to the revival, and like the Toronto blessing, it spilled over the border, with, once more, mixed results:
“In town after town, police stations were invaded by exhorters,” wrote one chronicler. “In Leeds, women, who said they were directed by visions, stood in the streets, stopping cars, trying to compel passengers to join them.”
In England, folks were suddenly confessing to sins they could not possibly have committed — one woman throwing herself under a railroad train, in repentance.
A man, wanting to comply with Scripture, chopped off his right hand.
“Holy dancers” appeared in London. Perhaps some of it was from God. Perhaps it was a mix. Riots broke out in Liverpool (later home of the Beatles), as “revivalists, with medieval enthusiasm, attacked Catholics.” Bricks were slung at Catholic homes. Those who disagreed were assaulted. Excitement and joy are one thing; agitation is another. The same is true of traditionalism if it leads to judgmentalism, antagonisms, and a numbing-down (instead of some more lively prayer, and things like a priest laying on hands) of the Church.
Note in contrast the quiet way Christ attracted followers — by the True Holy Spirit.
Yet, we can sing; we can shout out praise. For sure!
“Praise the LORD!” says the Book of Psalms. “Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!”
Indeed: maybe we don’t do enough of this. Perhaps we lack prayer from the heart in today’s Church, real engagement with the Holy Spirit, more lively prayer — from the deepest part of the spirit, exalting and finding effluvient joy with God.
Perhaps we do. Perhaps it’s why there are so many empty pews. But we always tread carefully onto such rarefied ground.