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Rodney Howard-Browne CONTINUING CONTROVERSY
When the ’Toronto Phenomenon’, or so-called ’Holy Laughter’, became a prominent focus for many churches in the early to mid-1990s it caused significant controversy across the Christian community. One of the central proponents of this ’movement’ was Rodney Howard-Browne.
In 1995 CCG Ministries was asked to address some of the issues related to this development. A number of articles were written and the CCG Ministries’ Board asked that two meetings be organised, to raise awareness and concerns about Rodney Howard-Browne’s (then) impending visit.
Our Ministries’ efforts received mixed reactions.
Some people praised us for having the courage to raise the issues we did, and for the balanced and loving way in which we did it. Other Christians, especially amongst the supporters of Rodney Howard-Browne (RHB) and the Toronto Phenomenon, behaved in most un-Christlike ways, expressing their objections to us with vitriolic comments, condemnation, and even curses.
Others who also dared to question, suffered similar treatment — even receiving public ridicule and rejection from Rodney Howard-Browne personally.
Those promoting RHB back then, promised dramatic revival which would forever change the face of Australia; fill and expand churches (supporting him) across the land; change everything from poverty to politics, and turn Australia, the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit, into a Christian nation.
Sadly, none of that has really happened.
Some people felt good for a while — but the sad reality was that, as a result of these activities, churches, friends, and even families were polarised. A number of churches went through splits; Christian friendships were severed and never recovered; some families became divided.
In 1995 CCG Ministries sent a letter to RHB (which we know he received) asking him, as a Christian in leadership, to respond to a number of questions regarding some of his teachings, public behaviour, and his raising and use of finances. He never answered any of the questions, but later that day publicly declared he was not answerable to anybody raising questions in Perth. Earlier, in April 1995 this Ministry published a statement dealing with the ’Toronto Phenomenon’. The full statement is available, on request, from our office, and is worth re-examining for those interested. The statement concluded with a 6-point presentation of our stand on the issue:
OUR STAND (at Lookout, formerly CCG Ministries)
1.) We believe that it is right and appropriate to call God’s people to be cautious and discerning about this issue - and that includes being cautious of making extravagant or extreme claims for or against the ’Toronto’ phenomenon. Most people, including those who favourably accept it, have acknowledged that at present there is very much a mixture - a genuine move of God, blessing and changing the lives of some of His people; there are also clear indications of the flesh in operation, and some would say, even of the demonic.
2.) We must all be ready to obey Scriptural injunctions to test and try everything (John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 14:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1-6) - if it is genuinely from God it can stand the test of scrutiny. While there can be no place for arrogance or judgementalism (on either side), neither can there be a defensiveness that deliberately tries to avoid scrutiny. We should be prepared to face tough questions - including extremely critical ones - and weigh them up carefully, responding in informed and balanced ways and not just with emotional reactions and rejection.
3.) We must evaluate this phenomenon, and anything else, in the light of the Written Word of God, the Bible, in its totality and in context. Experiences and feelings must be tested by Scripture and not the other way around. What is clearly contrary to Scripture must be rejected. Where the Scriptures are silent we must exercise due care and caution. Just because some other person, or persons, have found something beneficial does NOT, in itself, guarantee that it is from God, or that God wants the same for us.
4.) We must always ask whether something of this nature truly glorifies God, helps His people grow in maturity and Christ-likeness. The emphasis needs to be on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26), rather than on the thrill and excitement of experiences. Laughter and joy in the Lord, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, is a good thing, and we need to learn to enjoy the presence of God, but ultimately He calls us not to hilarity (and certainly not to hysteria), but to holiness and living our daily lives in His power and to His glory.
5.) We must also ensure that we are not simply chasing a new experience to make us feel good or happy. For the Christian, relationship, rather than experience, is of primary importance. If we focus on the experience, rather than on the relationship with the Giver of the experience, our faith can easily go wrong and deteriorate into shallow carnality. We need to let Christ be central as our Lord and Saviour; be open to what He, through the Holy Spirit, wants to do in and through us; and praise Him for whatever positive and upbuilding experiences He may choose to lead us through.
6.) However we may ultimately evaluate the issues, let us respond personally to one another in the love of Christ - without imputing or assuming that all those who promote the ’Toronto’ phenomenon are manipulative, money-making, power hungry showmen; or that all who choose to question and distance themselves from the ’Toronto’ experience are narrow-minded, bigoted spiritual obstructionists. The ’Toronto’ phenomenon is not essential to our salvation. It will neither save us, nor condemn us to hell. As Christians, let us stand firm together in what is essential to our faith, let us exercise liberty and freedom (including the freedom and right to agree to disagree) in the non-essentials, but let us show sensitivity and love to each other in all things.
Basically, we still stand behind these principles, and believe they apply to these and many similar issues, as well as potential ’new’ issues which may, now or in the future, confront the Christian community.
We revisit some of these issues now, even though the majority of churches no longer have this focus (which many had in the 1990s), because of Rodney Howard-Browne’s recent visit to Western Australia.
From the 29th of July to the 3rd August, 2003, RHB spoke in the Perth metropolitan area (29/7 — 1/8 at Perth Christian Life Centre, Cannington; 3/8 am at Northway Christian Centre, Girrawheen [both Assemblies of God congregations] and 3/8 pm Margaret Court’s Victory Life Centre). RHB then went up to the North of Western Australia (a follow-up trip to one taken there about a year earlier).
On both occasions of RHB’s visits to the North of WA, our Ministry was contacted by Christian leaders about the problems caused amongst some Aboriginal Christians — including confusion, division, damaged relationships — some even refusing to talk to fellow Christians because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit (as the RHB followers had).
Rob Furlong, senior pastor at Thornlie Church of Christ, and Chairman of the Board of Lookout, (formerly CCG Ministries), attended one of the sessions with RHB at the Perth Christian Life Centre in late July and prepared a report on what he saw and heard — reflecting on all of this from a Biblical perspective:
An Evening With Rodney Howard-Browne
’During July-August 2003, Perth was subjected again to the ministrations of Rodney Howard-Browne. The reason I have put pen to paper is out of concern for the fact that in the stakes for greater Biblical literacy among our Churches, it seems that the battle is being lost at an even more alarming rate than perhaps was first thought.
The churchinperth.com website, which is used to promote unity among the Churches of Perth, W.A., stated in its editorial, following Rodney Howard-Browne’s visit:
“Whatever opinion one may have over the style of ministry (of Rodney Howard-Browne) eventually one needs to weight (sic) the outcome with the word (sic)…”
That is precisely the intent of this article, and I write out of the conviction and hope that there will be those who, in reading this, will reconsider their endorsement or otherwise of the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne.
The Praise “Session”
I attended the opening night of Howard-Browne’s meetings at Perth Christian Life Centre. There was the usual obligatory 40 minutes of praise and worship time, which was seriously marred by the comment of the worship leader who chided the crowd when he said:
“I’m not going to play anymore if you don’t dance.”
Herein lies the problem of the modern Church - leading people in worship becomes an avenue for manipulating people in order for them to “get into the spirit of things” rather than directly helping people toward God as the focus of worship. I am quite certain that the young man leading that night did not purposely set out to manipulate people. Nevertheless, his words had precisely that effect given the number of people who began to dance!
“Come On Down!”
Rodney made his entrance after the praise time and after a couple of opening comments proceeded to literally throw out copies of his books and tapes to the audience. The result was a free for all as people jostled each other in order to snatch their “prize”.
Now, before I am accused of being hard nosed, let me say that I do not subscribe to the philosophy that Church should bore people to death! However, there is something degrading happening when people are encouraged, by the guest Evangelist, to behave like contestants on The Price is Right.
The saddest moment of the night came though when Rodney told the tragic story of the death of his 18-year-old daughter, Kelly, on Christmas Day 2002.
Kelly had been born with Cystic Fibrosis and as Howard-Browne said, “They had fought this battle everyday.” When Kelly fell ill this time the prognosis was not good but as he related the story, Howard-Browne told us all that the “power (of God) fell on me” and God said, “Kelly won’t die…” He was further emboldened by a phone call from Reinhard Bonnke, a Pentecostal evangelist who stated that he had received his own revelation about Kelly’s sickness and that it was “not unto death”.
As the days progressed though, Kelly became worse and as he comforted his daughter, Kelly asked Rodney what was going to happen. He replied, “Well, if there is no miracle, you’re going to go and be with Jesus.”
At this point, the story became extremely bizarre. Howard-Browne related how he entered into a “deal” with Kelly. Simply put, he told her he was going to send her to Jesus to get a new set of lungs and when she had done that he would then pray her back into her body. However, he did warn Kelly, “Kelly, I’m afraid that when you get there and see how beautiful heaven is, you won’t want to come back.” He made Kelly promise that she would come back and incredibly explained to everyone listening that he had given her as a gift to Jesus, the best gift he could give Him on His birthday!
Incidentally, given the fact that he believed Kelly would return, I could make no sense of his next comment, which was a vow that he made to Satan that Kelly’s death would cost him (Satan) “100 million souls”.
Now, just when you would think this could not possibly get any worse…. It did, as it invariably does at these types of meetings. Tragically, Kelly died and on the Saturday immediately after Christmas they held her celebration service. Because of Christmas, she could not be buried until the following Tuesday.
This explains why Kelly’s coffin wound up in Howard-Browne’s office on the Monday before the burial service. The purpose was to hold a prayer vigil between 8.00 am — 5.00 pm of that day in order to see Kelly resurrected. (Howard-Browne had determined that 5.00pm of that day was the cut off point. If Kelly had not been resurrected then she would be buried the next day.)
Within an hour of the prayer vigil God spoke to Howard-Browne saying, “She’s run her race.” Rodney replied, “But Lord, you told me she was going to live.”
“Well, she’s living now!” Rodney’s rejoinder was, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
And God’s answer? (Wait for it…)
“Because you would have told Kelly and she would have been devastated. At least this way she died in faith!”
Now read what I am about to say, and read it carefully:
“Since when does Almighty God, Creator and Ruler and Sustainer of the Universe use lies and deception to achieve His purposes?”
Numbers 23:19 states unequivocally that:
“God is not a man, that He should lie.”
Elsewhere it states that God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2)
The sad reality is, that according to his own flawed system of theology, Howard-Browne’s daughter should have been healed. Howard-Browne’s website, www.revival.com lists off their Statement of Faith and under the heading “Further Works of Redemption” states:
“The death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ not only secured the eternal redemption from sin, but also redemption from sickness and disease and redemption from poverty and lack. Divine Healing has been provided for by the Atonement. It is for the physical ills of the human body and is wrought by the power of God through various methods and means detailed within the Word…”
This is once again a dreadful misapplication of Is.53: 4 and 5. Yet Matthew 8:17 makes it clear that this passage was fulfilled through the earthly healing ministry of Jesus. Furthermore, the Apostle Peter affirms that it also refers to the fact that the “wounds” of Jesus have delivered us from the grip of sin.
Please don’t think I am lacking in compassion over this. I am genuinely and profoundly sorry that Rodney Howard-Browne and his wife have experienced this tragedy. In fact, it gives me no joy to write this article at all. However, Howard-Browne also professes to be a teacher of Scripture and as such is therefore to be held liable by the very Scripture he teaches.
Losing a daughter is one thing, but to use that tragedy to imply that God used deception in order to ensure that she “died in faith”, violently tears at the heart of the character of God Who is described as, “… compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness AND TRUTH (literally, “faithfulness”)” — Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine). I was also saddened by the fact that Kelly’s death was being exploited as a means of justifying a campaign to “save” 100 million souls for Jesus.
Over and above all that however was an even sadder aspect to the night. Rodney took an hour to tell this story about his daughter that night — and I was surrounded by people who were loudly “amening” him as he reached the climax of his story. Some even broke into the so-called “Toronto laughter” right at the point when we’re being told that Kelly was not coming back. Howard-Browne’s response? “I just feel the anointing.”
All I could think was, “People, read your Bibles”. The sad thing is, many of them no doubt do, but they have blinded themselves to the plain teaching of God’s Word because they have allowed their preconceptions about God and the way He works to govern their lives rather than the Word.
The Howard-Browne meetings in Perth in 2003 were touted as resembling “an emergency casualty ward minus the furniture — there were bodies all over the floor — some obviously suffering from an acute pain of joy.”
For this preacher, there was no joy to be found at all… in either what was said or heard.’
(From TACL Vol 24 #5 2003)