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Holy Laughter, Is It Biblical?

By Bill &Jackie Alnor


Rodney Howard-Browne: The Legacy Begins...

1995 Christian Sentinel

If you haven't seen the latest "wave of the charismatic spirit" that is rolling in all over then you probably can't get the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in your area. Here's the scene:

A lady wearing a dress is laying down on the ground seemingly writhing in agony and screaming. A man with a thick accent in a dark suit is standing over her barking orders while a crowd of people stand all around laughing. The lady appears to be possessed by a demon because her body jumps off the floor in an unnatural way. The man pushes her back down ordering her to "stay down. Let it bubble out your belly!" A woman with an armful of airline blankets covers her thighs to hide the view of her undergarments.

The lady continues to flop up and down for several minutes screaming hysterically. She shouts "Dear Jesus" and the man orders her not to pray but to submit to the power. She put her hands over her face and continues laughing uncontrollably and the man proclaims "There it is! Now you got it." The audience jumps up and down applauding while the man shouts "The bar is open. The bar is open. Drink deeply! Get drunk on the spirit!"

The man is "evangelist" Rodney Howard-Browne (RHB), a South African "missionary" to the United States who claims to be bringing in the latest "wave of the Holy Spirit," yet as one radio minister has said, "it is the greatest indignity to God yet." He has been holding "revivals" in the states since 1987 though he's just recently come to the forefront through the vehicle of TBN which has been televising the theatrics. The 7,000 who daily attended his recent crusade in St. Louis were greeted as they walked in by a large sign that read: "THIS MEETING IS NOT FOR PHARISEES, SADUCEES, AND WOULDN'T SEES." This is how RHB poisons the well to prevent any dissenters from resisting.

TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch have accepted RHB's explanation for the phenomenon as a move of God bringing people to experience the "JOY" of the Lord. The proof text is Romans 14:17: "For the kingdom of God is...righteousness and peace and JOY in the Holy Spirit." In the May 1994 issue of TBN's newsletter they state, "Laughter is a seemingly new demonstration of the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit...People are literally over-powered with laughter in the Spirit at his (RHB) meetings."

The word "over-powered" is well put. At a RHB meeting a lady testified that when she first walked in and saw everyone laughing she thought they were all crazy and she was frightened. Then her friend convinced her to go along with it and when she finally did she couldn't control the laughter coming from her. She said this also scared her and made her stomach hurt. As she spoke the people all around her were chuckling in spite of the inappropriateness of the moment. The testimony of losing control hardly sounds like a manifestation of God. For His Word says:

"And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Cor. 14:32-33).

So, the following syllogism would apply:
God is not the author of confusion.
Rodney's meetings are full of confusion.
God is not the author of Rodney's meetings.

So-called "holy laughter" has been seen in pockets of charismatic circles in the past but never in so sweeping a way as today due to RHB's popularity. On a recent TBN broadcast of a RHB meeting Marilyn Hickey and her husband, Wallace, joined right in with the laughter. Mr. Hickey took over the microphone and spoke an unbiblical word: "I can prophesy at the drop of a hat," he chuckled. "And I can drop the hat myself." He went on, "God is new and he's a growing person as anything that is alive... God would will that everyone in eternity would be as he is, never old, ever young, a growing thing" (something the Bible contradicts Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). To confuse God's divine nature with that of His creation is an essential false doctrine of the New Age movement. It is quite clear that Pastor Hickey, not God, dropped the hat. RHB looked amused by the false prophecy.

Teaching about Jesus is mysteriously missing from Howard-Browne's meetings. This is another clue that God is not at work, for Jesus said, "When the Comforter is come...He shall testify of Me" (John 15:26). Yet RHB does not teach scripture at his meetings, his messages usually consist of testimonies of strange manifestations he has witnessed at other meetings. He boasts of people being stuck to the floor, unable to get up for hours and of others being struck dumb for long periods of time. These stories prime the pump to insure that the people manifest the desired results. Peer pressure does the rest. People go along with it for fear that they will be eyed suspiciously by their friends who might judge them as unspiritual if they resist. Now it has been reported that holy laughter has taken over conferences held by John Wimber's Vineyard. And, the laughter has degenerated into people barking like dogs and roaring like lions. And 9-year-old children in a Vineyard Sunday school were encouraged to fall under the laughing spirit, being told that the Holy Spirit was "on people."

Word/Faith teacher Kenneth Hagin wrote in his May 1994 newsletter, "On Wednesday evening, spontaneous Holy Spirit-inspired laughter broke forth throughout the congregation...This same strong move...simultaneously erupted in both the children's and youth services. As thousands yielded to the move of the Holy Ghost in laughter, Brother Hagin asked people to come forward who felt bound and unable to yield to the spirit of joy that permeated the building...[they] laid hands on those who came forward to 'loose them and let them go.'"

Not to be outdone, Charles and Frances Hunter, in their Summer 1994 newsletter, say "there is a new wind of the Spirit blowing, and it's bringing joy, joy, joy! Not only joy, it's bringing a vocal joy, or Holy Laughter, right along with it." Like RHB they claim that people are "getting drunk on the power of the Holy Spirit." To use that illustration in a literal way misses the point made in the book of Acts. Those that accused the apostles of getting drunk were the scoffers; the apostles would never have used that themselves since it was a derogatory statement.

Some experience-driven Christians may join in the laughter but these spectacles do not make me laugh, but cry. The Christians I've spoken to who have witnessed this feel grieved in their spirits to see God getting the blame for such utter carnality. This is surely not the kind of joy that God manifests in the life of His believers. One eyewitness said, "They call it a revival, but there is no spirit of love." Another concerned sister noted "the noise at the meetings sounds like mocking voices from hell. I feel that it is the devil laughing at the church at how gullible we are. It nauseated me!" Other discerning Christians have testified of the ill wind they felt in their spirits and a sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs even as they were encouraged to "let it bubble out your belly."

Reports have come in that the phenomenon is splitting churches apart. Pastors who make a stand against it are losing their people to churches that accept it as a "move of God." At a recent Calvary Chapel Pastors Leadership meeting, Chuck Smith warned the other pastors to be aware of the strange fire and to take a stand against it coming into Calvary Chapels.

Laughter can be deceptive and does not necessarily reveal the truth of the inner reality. The Bible says, "Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness" (Prov. 14:13). (Several witnesses have reported that it is indeed not a happy or joyful environment, but an empty, dark atmosphere.) Laughter is the response to something funny, yet there is nothing humorous about people laughing over nothing. In fact, if you were walking down the street being approached by someone laughing loudly over nothing, you would do your best to get out of his path. There's a good reason for such aversion, the man has probably lost his senses.

Laughter used in a biblical sense usually describe scorners (Ps. 59:8; Pr. 1:26; Matt. 9:24, etc.). The spectacles at Rodney Howard-Browne's crusades invite that kind of laughter from any who stumble upon them. It makes a mockery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the One who should be exalted, whose name is blessed forever and ever.