Howling in the Church
What is wrong with the "Holy Laughter" movement.
I listened to a show on KBRT in Southern California yesterday and the discussion was about this new manifestation of the Spirit. I hate saying that, by the way. This supposed manifestation is roaring. It's called roaring in the Spirit. I don't even want to call it that, frankly. Roaring in the Spirit gives too much credibility to it, but that's what it's being called--Christians who allegedly come under the influence of the Holy Spirit and they start making animal noises. Roaring like a lion is an example of it, but I think there are other bizarre manifestations--people who shake and quake and fall down and quiver. I've had a number of calls about this, although the first call that I got I couldn't believe, to be honest with you. I thought, "No way is anybody going to take this seriously."
First it started with laughing in the Spirit. Then it moved now to the roaring in the Spirit and other animal sounds. I'm kind of curious where this is going next. I'm kind of curious to see how much can Christians take. How much will they be willing to label bizarre behavior as from the Spirit? I'm curious.
I listened to a show yesterday and the host was sympathetic, and beyond that a bit defensive--challenging those who would question such a thing. After all, as he mentioned, in Acts 2 people acted in such a way so that others thought they were drunk. You have the Azusa Street revival and other revivals in which there was bizarre behavior going on so, gee, who are we to suggest this might be weird? That seemed to be his response. Maybe he was just asking questions and trying to get the conversation going, playing devil's advocate, I'm not sure. I'm willing to grant that I may have misunderstood it.
But even if that isn't what he meant, there are a lot of people who have called me with these same ideas. Some have defended this thing in the same way. Some have told me about others who have defended it. And the irony is that the burden of proof is somehow pushed and thrust upon those who are a little concerned that this isn't really right. It's kind of like if you think there's something wrong with this then it's up to you to prove it. Ladies and gentlemen, if you make a bizarre spiritual claim the burden of proof is on you, frankly.
It strikes me that saying that howling and roaring and making animal noises "in the Spirit" is an unusual claim. If you are claiming that God is involved with that then it seems to me that it's up to you to prove it. I'm a bit uncomfortable talking about this because even discussing it like this lends some legitimacy to it. It's kind of like saying, Well, let's reflect on this for a moment and see whether this might be okay. Ladies and gentlemen, why would anybody even be tempted to say that people thrashing about making animal noises is an evidence of the movement of God? What has the Body of Christ come to that we look at this kind of behavior and we call it the Holy Spirit? Just on the face of it, doesn't it seem--think, please think--doesn't it seem that if anyone was going to turn people into animals it would not be God? It would be Satan. I mean if I had a choice. Remember the Gadarene demoniac? Thrashing about in the tombs, demon possessed, cutting his body, living like pardon me, an animal? That was demons. Not God.
The only time I can think of God making someone like an animal was Nebuchadnezzer--and that was a judgment of God. If you recall, it was when Nebuchadnezzer came to his senses that he was released from his bovine behavior. Read it in the book of Daniel. He was taking all the glory to himself, not giving praise to God, so God made him into a cow. I mean, he was still Nebuchadnezzer, but he lived like a cow. He went out in the field for seven years (Daniel 4), I believe, and ate grass. His nails grew long. He was an animal. He bellowed and mooed, I imagine. And then he came to his senses, gave God the glory and was restored to his position of authority. Read it, it's right there in Daniel.
Now someone might say, Well, this roaring in the Spirit is giving God the glory. Ladies and gentlemen, doesn't that strike you as bizarre? I'm at a loss for words here. Doesn't it strike you as bizarre that someone says, I give God glory by howling at the moon, roaring like a lion, rolling around and barking. Doesn't that strike you as strange?
What is really stunning about this is it's called "revival". Do you get this? A revival is to return life to something. That's what it means to revive it. In other words, this is an example of us being revived in the Spirit. Our Christian lives were spiritually dead and now we receive spiritual life when we get revived spiritually. Then what happens? We act like animals. That's an evidence of our spiritual revival. That's what Christianity has come to. The Spirit turns you into an animal.
We've talked about this before and I've discussed it a little bit sanely, calmly, intelligently reflected on it. And then I asked myself, What the heck am I doing? Why am I treating this like it's something sane? Let's go back to the Bible for a second. All right? When I read my Bible I find as evidence of spiritual vitality--balance, sanity (remember the Gadarene demoniac). They regained their sanity and became like people rather than like animals once the demons were cast out. I'm not saying here, by the way, that those who do this are filled with demons, I don't know. I'm just saying that it seems like demons are the ones who would be more likely to make us act like animals than God.
In the Bible I see as examples of spiritual vitality thoughtful, careful, meaningful, culturally relevant proclamations of the gospel. I see renewing our minds, order, reasonableness, attractiveness, patterns of submission, faithfully running the race. That's all in there. But now I'm being asked to believe that genuine revival may entail me being overwhelmed so much so that I act like an animal or fall into epileptic fits thrashing about and out of control. Good night! What next? This is all we need as a church. As if the world doesn't have enough to point at to object to, to discredit our witness, now we've got this. Another lunatic fringe to move towards because the simple basic ordinary Christian life is not good enough.
Okay, here is something really bizarre. I'm struggling to find an illustration here that will make the point because bizarre illustrations don't make the point. What is going on is so bizarre but still people accept it. I'm not going to be vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. What if a group of Christians got together and began to urinate in the middle of the church? Every Sunday. After all, the scripture says that from our inner most beings will flow rivers of living water, right? Now, some screw ball is going to find some justification for that kind of thing. I mean, do we really need to call an expert in on this? Does the Bible actually prohibit whizzing in the Spirit? I mean, there is no verse against it. God moves in strange ways. What next?
The problem with giving illustrations like this is that some goof-ball is going to go out and do it, and then he'll give me a phone call and tell me I'm grieving the Spirit, I'm quenching the Spirit. I know people are going to be offended by that illustration--and my apologies--but I choose this bizarre picture to make a point because, frankly, if you choose anything less bizarre somebody might say, Well, maybe. It doesn't sound so bad to me. You have to choose something utterly bizarre to give a clear case example anymore. We used to joke about extreme spiritual manifestations, and our extreme, clear case example was swinging from the chandeliers and barking like dogs because everybody knows that if anybody swung from the chandelier in church and barked like a dog then it would be unacceptable. Now somebody is asking me to accept this.
If we stand back for just a minute, if we just think a minute, if you are offended by that last illustration, why aren't we equally offended when we go to church and people are roaring and yowling and howling like animals and having epileptic fits, and they are attributing this to God. Instead there are some of us who say, boy the Holy Spirit is really moving. Wake up!
Sure, God can do whatever He wants. He even had Isaiah preach nude. Are you going to use that as a proof text for giving a message in your birthday suit next Sunday in church? It seems to me that a reasonable, mature, biblically literate Christian is going to look at this and say, Don't be ridiculous. Don't even suggest that's from God. I hope you're reacting in the same way to my suggestion that there might be something called whizzing in the Spirit. That's offensive. That's blasphemous. If you are concerned about me being a little bit direct or sarcastic, I think it was Paul who said if you want to circumcise yourself to show your spirituality why don't you just cut the whole thing off? That's Galatians 5:12, I believe. So I've got some biblical basis for being a little bit direct.
If you're bugged by the whizzing in the Spirit illustration you ought to be bugged by this because they are both bizarre. Why not snake handlers? What about that? Snake handling is more sane than this. At least you have a verse that directly suggests such a thing in Mark 16. I think the verse is misunderstood and there is some question as to whether it is authentic, but at least you've got a case. You'll handle snakes and not get bit, remember that verse? But the scripture doesn't say that one of the marks of spiritual life, of revival is howling like an animal. I think it's time for Christians to regain their sanity.
Somebody asked me this morning, "What do you think draws people into this?" Desire for the dramatic? The ordinary Christian life is boring. That's why. It's work. The ordinary Christian life is too ordinary. Instead people want to have this dramatic experience allegedly with God. People want to be different. The irony, ladies and gentlemen, is if Christians led the ordinary Christian life they would be different in all of the ways that really matter. When believers get off on tangents like this they are no different than the rest of the world doing loony-toon things. That's just what this is. Loony-toon. You can quote that.
Then you wonder why people think we're nuts! Can you believe it?
(Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©1995 Gregory Koukl)
Mr. Koukl wrote this article in 1995 in response to unusual manifestations occurring at the Toronto Blessing(?) meetings which were going on at the time. Looks similar to what goes on at the meetings in Lakeland, FL with Todd Bentley and at MorningStar with Rick Joyner as well as at other places influenced by their group of propheteers. TB and the rest keep saying that God is doing a new thing. It doesn't look new to me (and it doesn't look like the God I serve either.)