I have been in the charismatic movement for
over twenty years, so I am no stranger to the unusual manifestations associated
with pentecostalism/revival movements and attributed to the Holy Spirit. I have
seen it all, and done much of it myself! In the late 1980's I began to question
many of the extra biblical manifestations I was seeing and promoting. Up until
that time, even as a Pastor, I had often believed whatever someone else said
about the scriptures or their experience was true without checking to see what
the Bible said for myself. Like most Christians, I assumed if a televangelist
said it or did it, it must be God! And yet I always had an uneasy feeling about
the things I would see, even in my own ministry. And in services (especially
Minister's meetings), I always felt great pressure to perform (dance, run, fall
down, etc.) for fear of being thought of as unspiritual if I didn't have the
same experiences or do the same things as everybody else. Thank God, He has
delivered me (and continues to deliver me) from what people (even other
ministers) think. I made a decision several years ago, that the Lord could do
whatever He wanted to do to me - knock me down, throw me across the room,
whatever - but I was not going to be pressured into doing something in the flesh
to "fit in" ever again. Since that time I've been prayed for by well
known ministers such as Randy Clark, Rodney Howard-Browne, ministers from
Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, associates from Kenneth Hagin's ministry,
and others, and have never felt or manifested anything physically. (I have been
coached as to "how to receive", and even pushed a few times!)
My concern is that people are being misled
into thinking that an emotional experience is the same as being touched by God.
I fear that on the basis of an emotional experience, people will think they have
received something from God that they in fact did not receive, and that when
reality sets in, they will become discouraged with Christianity and reject their
one and only Savior!
And so the purpose of this article is to
search for the truth concerning the unusual manifestations of
pentecostalism/revival movements and attributed to the Holy Spirit, examining
them in the light of the word of God. Jesus said in John 8:31-32, "If you
abide in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the
truth, and the truth shall make you free. Psalm 119:160a says, "The sum of
thy word is truth". Therefore, to walk in the word is to walk in truth. To
go beyond the word is to walk in error. We cannot go wrong by staying with the
Word. Anything that agrees with the word of God is the spirit of truth. Anything
that goes beyond the word, we must assume on the basis of the Word, is the
spirit of error.
So what's going on? Are these unusual
manifestations of God or not? To know the truth, we must look at them in the
light of the word of God. God's word is truth! God has given us His word as a
guideline so that we don't have to wonder what is of God and what is not.
Refusing to test all things by the standard of the Word opens us up to spiritual
deception. Someone might ask, "Can't the Spirit do things beyond the
Word?", to which we must answer yes, He can, He's God! But a better
question is "would He?", and I believe the answer is no, because I
believe the Spirit will stay within the guidelines of scripture so that we won't
have to wonder if something is of Him or not. God is not a God of confusion, but
of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). We'll compare the manifestations some people have
claimed to experience in church meetings with what happened in the Bible, using
the scriptures they offer as proof texts to support their belief that these
manifestations are produced by the Holy Spirit. We will find that these proof
text scriptures typically require assumption, stretching, or misinterpretation
in order to make then appear to be describing the manifestations people are
claiming to have had. We will first define the manifestation, then consider the
This is being overcome by the Spirit and
laughing uncontrollably. (It should be pointed out that the fruit of the Spirit
is self control. It should also be pointed out that just calling something holy
does not make it holy!) The first two passages we'll consider are Gen. 17:15-17
and Gen. 18:11-15. These two passages describe Abraham and Sarah's reaction to
being told they would have a son late in life. Doubting, they both laughed at
what they considered ridiculous. But their laughter was the result of their
circumstances, not the result of being overcome by the Holy Spirit.
The next passage is Gen. 21:1-6, when Isaac is
born. This is certainly a time of great joy, and they said others would laugh
with them, but there is nothing here to imply uncontrollable laughter. Neither
is there anything here to indicate they were overcome by the Spirit. Their
laughter seems to simply be the result of their joy in child bearing.
In Job 8:20-21, Job's friends encourage him
that God would turn his trials into triumph, and in Psalm 126:1- 3, the children
of Israel were filled with joy at release from captivity. But again, the cause
of the laughter is not the result of being overcome by or even having an
encounter with the Holy Spirit. It was clearly the result of their
circumstances. Nor is there the implication their laughter was uncontrollable.
Many other scriptures speak of laughter
metaphorically or as mockery, including 2 Chron. 30:10, Psalm 2:1-4, 37:13,
52:1-7, 59:8, Prov. 1:26, Ezekiel 23:32, Mat. 9:24, Mark 9:24, and Luke 8:53.
A New Testament passage sometimes used as a
proof text is Acts 2:1-21. But what was it that got the attention of the
multitude in this situation? "Holy laughter"? It's possible the
multitude heard the wind (V.6). But most definitely they heard the believers
speaking in their languages! The context shows that "tongues" is the
issue in this particular situation. Though they are certainly filled with joy,
there is no evidence implicit or explicit of laughter, uncontrollable or
Therefore, we find no scriptural evidence for
the phenomena of "holy laughter".
In an August 1994 Charisma magazine article
entitled, "Praise the Lord and Pass the New Wine", Rodney
Howard-Browne claims the Spirit of God came on people in one meeting and caused
them to laugh while he was preaching on hell. "The more I told people what
hell was like, the more they laughed." Does the Holy Spirit consider hell a
Notice, there are no examples of "holy
laughter" in the ministry of Jesus, Paul, any other Apostles, or anywhere
else in the New Testament, which is where the Holy Spirit is poured out on all
flesh. Thus, we use the phrase "extra-biblical" to describe this as
well as the other unusual manifestations.
The second manifestation we want to consider
is staggering as though drunk. Certain ministers encourage believers to get
"drunk on the Spirit", using Eph. 5:18 as a proof text to justify the
invitation. The proof one is drunk is that he staggers as though intoxicated.
But is that what Paul was admonishing us to do, or was he admonishing us to be
under the control of/under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that we would
walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord? I would suggest that he was admonishing
us to walk in love, not in a drunken stupor!
The Acts 2 passage mentioned above is also
used as a proof text for drunken staggering, but that requires a stretching of
the meaning of the passage. Clearly, the accusation of drunkenness was the
result of the babbling in other tongues heard by the multitude. Tongues is
clearly the issue when the context of the passage is understood. Staggering is
nowhere mentioned or implied in the passage.
Staggering and drunkenness are spoken of
metaphorically in Jer. 23:9 and Rev. 17:2.
Notice, again, there is no evidence in the
life or ministry of Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, or any other apostles anywhere
else in the New Testament of people staggering around as though drunk. There
were no services conducted for the purpose of getting drunk on the Spirit! Do I
believe the Holy Spirit can fall so mightily on a person that they cannot stand
upright? Yes, of course. He is God! But there is no biblical evidence that it
ever happened to believers before, therefore it is not something we should
expect God to do to us today!
At a meeting we attended in 1997, the speaker
never spoke the Word, but spent the evening staggering around,
"dispensing" the Holy Spirit (by laying on hands, pointing, blowing,
or "scooping") on others so they could get drunk too. But is that the
purpose of the presence or anointing of the Holy Spirit? In the Word, the signs
and wonders of the Holy Spirit were to either confirm the Word that was preached
or to prepare hearts to receive the Word, but the Word and the Spirit are always
seen together in the New Testament, for the purpose of bringing salvation. The
Holy Spirit does not act independently for entertainment purposes! I cannot
imagine Jesus acting in such a manner. There is no biblical evidence that either
Peter, John, or Paul ever scooped the Holy Spirit on anyone in order to see
them, dance, stagger, or fall. The Holy Spirit is not a commodity to be
"scooped", He is a Person, He is God! We do not control Him, He
SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT
This is being overcome by the Holy Spirit so
powerfully that you fall down. (it should be noted that the term is not found in
scripture). Also called resting in the spirit, this is the most common of what
are believed by some to be manifestations/demonstrations of the power of the
Holy Spirit. Question: Did God ever knock down anyone who came to Him for
ministry in the Bible? We continue to use the proof text scriptures used by the
preachers who practice these manifestations.
In Gen. 2:21 and 15:12-21, God causes Adam and
Abraham to go into a deep sleep (Heb. - tardemah); with Adam, to take a rib with
which to fashion Eve; with Abraham, to establish His covenant with him. Yet
those who are "slain" in today's revival meetings don't go into deep
sleep. In fact, they testify of being well aware of what's going on. What was
experienced by Adam and Abraham were special, unique circumstances and should
not be thought of as normative for believers, as "slain in the Spirit"
In Gen. 17:1-3, Abraham falls on his face, not
"under the anointing" but of his own free will in awe, reverence, and
worship, before holy God.
Num. 24:1-4, & 16 speak of Balaam
"falling down" (NASB), but the meaning here is unclear as the various
translations demonstrate (NIV - falls prostrate, KJV - falls into a trance).
Other translations imply the spiritual state of the man, falling away from God.
Regardless, Balaam is referred to in the New Testament as false teacher, not an
example for believers.
1 Sam. 19:20-24 speaks of Saul, in rebellion
against God, seeking to murder David. Under the influence of the Spirit, he
prophesies and falls down stripped naked. But Saul is not coming to the altar of
God for ministry in this passage. He is actually in total rebellion against God.
Therefore, this story cannot be an example of the modern phenomena of being
"slain" claimed by believers today.
1 Kings 8:11 and 2 Chron. 5:1-14 tell us when
Solomon's temple was complete, the glory cloud of God came and filled the temple
so that the priests could not stand to minister in the temple. Does this mean
they were knocked down or stuck to the ground, unable to get up? That's not what
the text says. More likely it means they could not take their positions to
minister in the temple as they normally would have because God's presence
prevented them from doing so. Compare with 2 Chron. 7:1-2 and Ex. 40:34-35.
Isa. 28:13 is clearly spoken to/about a people
in rebellion. Therefore, as with Saul above, this story cannot be an example of
the modern phenomena of being "slain" claimed by believers today.
In Ezekiel 1:28, 3:23, 43:1-5, 44:4, it is
more likely that the Prophet "falls on his face" of his own free will
in awe of Holy God, for that is what the phrase means, not that he was
"slain". In his case, the Spirit is not said to have knocked him down
but rather to have stood him up!
In Dan. 10:7-11, it appears that Daniel was
overcome by the vision he saw and fainted (v.8)! Alas, all his
"catchers" ran away!
In Mat. 17:1-8, Peter, James, and John fall
down on their own free will, not under "the anointing", but in fear
and trembling - in awe of God. Likewise, in Mat. 28:1-4, the guards at Jesus'
tomb did not fall under the anointing but fainted out of fear!
John 18:6 gives us a clear demonstration of
the power and authority of Jesus Christ. When the Roman soldiers came to arrest
Jesus, He drove them to the ground with His word! But again, these were not
seeking a touch from the Lord, they were seeking to arrest Him! Thus there is no
comparison between this situation and the experience testified about among
Acts 9:1-5 and 26:14-15 tell us about Paul's
Damascus Road experience. Clearly this is the Lord's doing. Yet Paul is not
looking for an encounter with Jesus, but rather seeking to persecute the church.
As with the above, not a type of a seeker being "slain".
There are three proof texts offered to us in
the Revelation. The first is in chapter 1:10-17 where John, in the Spirit, sees
the Lord in all His, glory, splendor, and majesty, and falls at His feet as a
dead man. Clearly He is overcome with awe at what he sees and passes out. He is
not "under the anointing". The last two are similar, in chapter
7:11-12 and 11:16, and speak of willful falling down prostrate in worship, not
"slain in the Spirit".
The Bible tells us Jesus had the Spirit
without measure. No man has walked under the type of anointing that Jesus
possessed, and yet not one person who came seeking an encounter with Jesus
experienced the phenomena of being "slain", with the possible
exception of those who were demonized! Neither did it happen under the ministry
of Peter, John, Paul, or any of the apostles. Notice that there's not a single
example of someone being slain through the laying on of hands. Jesus never lined
people up in a prayer line to knock them all down. Neither did he
"slay" them by twirling his cloak at them, or winding up like a
baseball pitcher and hurling the Holy Spirit/anointing on them as one
televangelist has done.
Why then, do so many fall? I believe there are
several reasons. Please do not misunderstand this part of this paper. We are not
accusing anyone of doing these things deliberately. For the most part, leaders
no doubt don't even realize they are doing these things, possibly because they
don't understand how these things work. Never-the-less, they do happen.
1. Intimidation/coaching of
Most leaders don't understand the pressure
they put on those they minister to manifest something that will validate their
ministry. Neither do they understand how simple it is to deceive and control
another person's mind and psychologically manipulate them without even trying!
In a church in Toronto, Canada, they've been known to call those who don't
manifest something "hard to receive". I.e., if you don't manifest
something, you didn't get anything from God. The implication - you are
spiritually inferior. But this only serves to encourage people to fake a
manifestation. Some ministers spend hours telling stories and hearing
testimonies of people being "slain in the spirit", thus conditioning
attendees with the power of suggestion. In the prayer line you are told exactly
what to do in order to "receive". We fail to understand how powerful
the "power of suggestion" really is!
2. Peer pressure - it is
expected of you
Everyone else is doing it. If you don't, you
won't appear as spiritual as the rest. When you are in a room filled with people
who are expecting something to happen to you, the peer pressure is almost
impossible to resist. Unfortunately, sometimes people who are insecure (which is
just about all of us to some degree!) and don't want to be left out or thought
of as unspiritual will often imitate what they see happening in others. They do
it for acceptance. People would be less likely to yield to this pressure if
there were no catchers present! Do people really think God would knock them down
and hurt them? Some justify catchers by saying they are there to keep people
from getting hurt in order to avoid lawsuits, but they ultimately serve to
encourage people to fall. I wonder how many would be "slain" if they
knew no one was behind them to catch them?
3. People expect to, thus they are
vulnerable to manipulation
Because most Christians believe whatever they
are told without ever checking things out in the Word for themselves, they are
easily led to expect to experience what others claim to have experienced. So
when they are told what might happen to them, they expect it to and simply
"go for it". People are fascinated by, hungry for, and chase after,
the supernatural. They always have. They always will!
4. Self Deception
It is possible to want so much for something
to be "of God" that you convince yourself that it is God and become a
5. They are pushed
6. Some people are controlled by a
Some people are just phony and like to
participate in all the latest religious fads. To them it's a game they play,
saying, "look at me. See how spiritual I am." Catchers only serve to
encourage this attitude. Or a person may have a religious spirit that causes
them to do unusual things.
Some people are overcome with emotion and
respond in unusual ways. This has been the case in some pentecostal churches for
Because of these reasons, the psychological
pressure to fall is so strong it is almost impossible not to fall if you go to
one of these services.
Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Pastor
John Arnott, in The Father's Blessing, (Creation House, 1995, p.58) testifies to
not being sure why he fell the first time he was "slain", as does
Francis McNutt, author of Overcome By the Spirit (Chosen Books, 1990, pp.
19-20). In his book Daughter of Destiny, (Logos, 1976, p.281) Jamie Buckingham
reports faking a fall for miracle healer Katherine Kuhlman so as not to make her
look bad, saying he felt sorry for her.
Becky and I made the decision we would not
play the game for anyone and have offended several preachers because we would
not voluntarily fall down when hands were laid on us. If this were truly the
Lord, we would not be able to resist! When God did knock people down (King Saul,
Saul of Tarsus, the Roman soldiers) He did it without their consent or
cooperation. They were driven to the ground!
OF THE ANOINTING
Some people shake as though having a seizure
or twitch like someone with Tourette's syndrome. This looks more like those
Jesus delivered from demons than anything else in the Bible. Proponents of these
manifestations point to verses such as Psalm 99:1, 114:7, Jeremiah 5:22, and
33:9 as proof that these manifestations are caused by the Spirit, but each of
them speaks of trembling in holy fear and awe in the presence of the Lord - a
response to His presence, not something He is doing to them. Similarly, the
dread that came on Daniel's companions in Daniel 10:7, is a response to the
Presence, not something the Spirit did to them.
Acts 4:31 is an obvious display of the Lord's
power, as He shakes the house in response to the disciple's prayers. And James
2:19 speaks of how demons shudder at the very thought of God, but neither of
these scriptures speak of spasmodic, seizure like shaking among people.
Other unusual manifestations include barking
like a dog, roaring like a lion, crawling on all fours, and rolling around on
the floor as though in labor (supposedly birthing something in intercessory
prayer) which clearly look to be more demonic than anything else.
We do not believe it is appropriate to add to
or take away from the Word of God. The Word says test all things, and we believe
the Word alone is the standard for the test. Certainly God moves in supernatural
ways. Jesus Christ really is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What He did
in the days of the Bible He can and does do today. Jesus is our example and our
model for living and ministering. Everything the Spirit did through Him we
should expect the Spirit to do through the church, nothing less, and nothing
more. The signs and wonders He and the church in the book of Acts displayed were
healings, deliverance from demonic spirits, raising the dead, and various
miracles and the gifts of the Spirit. However, there is not a single mention of
holy laughter, slain in the spirit, drunken staggering, spasmodic jerking, or
any other of the unusual manifestations of today's revival mentioned in the
ministry of Jesus, the Apostles, or anywhere else in scripture.
The truth in this matter is not hard to
discern. Jesus is the truth! He is the exact representation of God, the Word
that became flesh, the will of God revealed, the fullness of the godhead bodily.
He is the standard for truth. He is our example, the pattern Son. Our lives and
ministries should be modeled after His life and ministry. We are to do the same
works He did, and greater, but not different! The same Spirit that worked in
Jesus is who works in us too, to produce the will of God and glorify the Son of
God. Everything that happened in Jesus' ministry should happen in ours as well,
and if it didn't happen in His ministry, it should not happen in our ministry
either! We would do well to heed the instructions of the Apostle Paul and not go
beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6).