Question:“what do you think of the spirit of laughter? Is holy laughter in the Bible? Is it Biblical?”
I propose that to think of the “spirit of laughter” as a beneficial and Godly thing you need to have a few other spirits in you, the kinds that come from a bottle (and if you are thinking “Whaaat? Genie from a bottle? Those are real? You may be need to stop drinking too.) I started out my walk with Christ being very open to the fringe elements of Christianity, including, not limited to a movement called the “Toronto Blessing.” I would watch sermons by Pastor John Arnott and Rodney Howard-Browne, some of the most prominent figures in this movement. Eventually the emptiness in my heart that came as a result of this senseless emotionalism led me to delve deeper into Scripture and I began taking a serious look at the phenomenon of “Holy Laughter” and other charismatic manifestations.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH THIS MOVEMENT
My phone rang a few times before I picked up. I hit the large green anwer button and said, “hello?” The sound of psychotic laughter filled my iphone. It lasted for about ten seconds, until the breathless voice of my friend finally came through in short syllables punctuated by more laughter. I could barely make out the words, but hear something about a pastor from another state who was visiting and so my friend wanted to have a house prayer. More laughing ensued and while my buddy was catching his breath, he said they started to pray with this pastor (another bout of ten second laughter) and he taught them about joy. Eventually I hung up, realizing the most prominent part of the conversation was full blown laughter. I went my friends house that evening and upon entering was greeted with more sounds of giddy laughter. It sounded as if someone had told the world’s funniest joke, again and again.
There was about fifteen people there, many of whom were children of conservative Slavic people (which to me was strange, especially that a few were wearing dresses and headscarves, something practiced by only the more conservative sections of the Russian church). Yet even they were there, eyes with disbelief, talking to this pastor, who turns out was also a “prophet.”Unfortunately I have since forgotten his name, though his jolly and seemingly calm character still remains in my memory. Some of the laughing died down and he began to explain how the power of God works. Bringing up his most solid example of biblical exegesis and careful hermeneutics, he said “the Holy Spirit is like a power outlet, when you plug in, things happen.” Strangely, this even satisfied my usually doubtful mind, probably because I had seen so much charismania on TV, and believed it. He also taught a few things on prayer and prophecy.
Throughout the evening the few friends who has spent the day with him would start laughing uncontrollably as they laid back on the couch and tried to swallow back tears from the strong torrents of emotion (or emotionalism). They would also utter a few phrases in “tongues” as they giggled and truly “lol’d.” As the evening concluded this pastor asked us if we wanted to pray and to receive prophecies, and being the crazy kids we were, we readily agreed. We jumped into the prayer and started yelling in tongues as if it was a screaming contest, though eventually this pastor calmed us down and told us he was going to prophecy. He had us sit on a chair and would spend a few minutes “prophesying” to us who we are (similar to a fortune teller saying “I see you do this and that”) and following up with some predictions for the future. He got to me and proceeded to describe my character, scoring an uncanny amount of hits, rather than misses. He saw I was a leader, that I preached, and that I liked to hug people, especially side hugs to my church brothers. He then proceeded to give me details of my future, including saying that I would be elevated in official church ministry within a year. Most of these were vague, but that one specific thing I remember as I had just been elected as the youth minister, so I was thinking “senior pastor in a year?” It’s now been a few years and this failed, among some other prophecies to my friends (although I’m still hoping, because my brother was promised to be a millionaire, and that would be pretty awesome because he owes me). To my knowledge, the fallout of his visit left nothing good in anyone that was there. We debated and discussed it for days after, had some fights and division, but eventually it fizzled out and nothing good was accomplished.
ANALYSIS OF HOLY LAUGHTER
When it comes to analyzing this movement there is a lot of information and a lot that has already been said by both sides, and books have published that go over this with much detail (such as Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff and Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur). Instead of a very lengthy article below is a short analysis of the movement, with a primary emphasis on the distinctive things present and absent from the movement of Holy Laughter revival.
TWO THINGS MISSING FROM THE MOVEMENT
1. Scriptural basis
There is no Scriptural support that the church has been called to engage in uncontrollable laughter, jerking, shaking, roaring like a lion, or any other ecstatic (hyper-emotional) activity. While there are passages in the Scripture that speak of joy, none refer to joy as uncontrollable laughter. Laughter in the Bible is also mentioned as a sign of mockery (Psalm 59:8; Psalm 80:6; Proverbs 1:26) not only sign of joy. And in fact just because someone may be laughing doesn’t mean they are joyful at all (Proverbs 14:13). There are a few vague Scriptures used to prove holy laughter as normal, the main one is when Abraham and Sarah laughed at Gods promise of a child. However, the main point of the passage is missed, that they laughed out of disbelief at Gods promise, not because of a spiritual experience. I understand that not all things practiced in church are mandated in the Bible, for example, choirs or Sunday school; however, these are understood to be merely culturally appropriate ways for some churches to accomplish goals that are derived (worked out) from Biblical principles (such a singing to God and teaching of children). Holy laughter on the other hand is touted as a special spiritual experience that occurs when we communicate with God, however, this “truth” is nowhere taught in Scripture.
2. The Gospel
There is also a very big vacuum when it comes to preaching the simple Gospel. While I listened to everything possible for a period of two years I don’t remember hearing the proclamation of the true Gospel. The message of 1 Cor 2:2 is lost and the Gospel really means the good things we can have if we believe hard enough I have heard that word used often, and I have heard the sermons that use the word “cross” or “blood” but almost never in reference to sin. In fact there is a disconnection from sin and cross; namely sin is when you don’t listen to your leaders or don’t let the Spirit move in crazy ways, and the cross is how we get super powers to chase demons and do miracles.. However, if you sin, you only need to try again and let the Spirit move, instead of trusting upon Christ’s substitutionary atonement for your sin by his death. It was only when I stumbled upon John Piper and heard a completely different thing that the Gospel hit me, and I understood how different it is.
TWO THINGS PRESENT IN THE MOVEMENT
1. Lack of control
There is an uncanny and even creepy lack of bodily control exhibited by people who are involved in holy laughter. I have seen many videos and a few up close examples, and in most of these, especially the many more severe cases (which are considered to be the most spiritual) we see the subject being unable to control themselves. This is a stronger lack of control than someone under the influence of narcotics or alcohol. In fact many people even appear to be possessed for lengthy periods of time, and flail around their bodies to the point of physical harm. Conversely the Scriptures require that a man of God be “sober” (1 Peter 4:7, 5:8). Someone who is sober has the ability to judge his actions. Furthermore, the Holy Scriptures also compel us to be self-controlled, we are urged continually and many times to have a mind that I ready for action and a body that is under control (1 Pet 1:18, Prov 25:28, 2 Tim 1:17, Titus 1:8). In fact one sign that the Holy Spirit is indeed doing a work in you is self control (Gal 5:23, 2 Tim 1:7). This is not possible when one is on the floor laughing and cannot even string two words together before unraveling at the seams.
2. Lack of Biblical Discernment
There is a very heavy emphasis on personal prophecy in this movement, and simultaneously a very strong downplaying on the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture. It’s quite common to hear the leaders say “God told me _____” to prove a new doctrine or idea instead of going into Scripture and reading what God really wrote. The largest component of many that sermons I have listened to, is personal revelation, often taking the form of this “I was in the shower praying and God showed me heaven.” This is followed by a thirty minute story about a shining Jesus with a sword giving the charismatic’s more power and glory on the earth (this was indeed a real sermon). Any new idea or prophecy is not tested but treated as the living Word of God, any story is believed without questioning (for example the pastor who preached about how he never puts gas in his car but drives it on faith). And when the hyper-charismatic friends I have are confronted with Scripture, the plain, unambiguous, and solid passages are explained away so that Bill Johnson, Benny Hinn, or whoever would not be disqualified. These are people who rush to validate Todd Bentley (as did I to my shame) and even when he begins to preach about his weird “angelic” friends, and even when he begins to kick people to heal them, and even when he commits adultery and divorces his wife, they still claim he is a true man of God. There is no discernment among those who are in this movement.
There is nothing beneficial or edifying for the church in this movement. Conversely, there is plenty of dangerous practices and ideas. Whether its demonic or simply hysterical is up in the air. In my opinion it may be both. It ignores diligent study of God’s Word in favor of ecstatic speech that is claimed to be directly from God. It claims as its evidence, not the immovable Scripture, but the stories and tall tales of men with wild imaginations. Think about it for a second, why in the world would God give miracles to authenticate the crazy heretical preacher who never tells people about salvation through faith in Christ? Why are faithful pastors never given the gift of holy laughter or other crazy “miracles”? The person who spends his whole life, preaching and teaching about salvation from sin by faith alone in Christ alone, never being disqualified by adultery, doesn’t get magical laughter and miracles as proof of his message from God?? But the one that has no idea who Jesus is or what he did, but instead talks about gold dust, meditation, and divination gets miracles? Yea, and pigs fly too.