A physical manifestation where people fall down to the floor when they are prayed over is often seen at Charismatic and Pentecostal meetings. This is commonly known as ‘being slain in the Spirit.’ The New international Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements calls this a recent term where the cause of this falling is attributed to the Spirit of God (Burgess and Van der Maas 1072). Nigel Scotland says that the right word would be ‘resting’ rather than ‘slain’ as the people on the floor are conscious and can be engaged in conversation but are overwhelmed by a sense of the presence of God (Scotland 205). This phenomenon has come under severe criticism as being mainly experiential and not biblical (Burgess and Van der Maas 1074). Since, we cannot depend on mere experience alone to determine whether something is from God or not, the goal of this article is to bring this experience to the Bible and to conclude whether the Spirit of God actually works in and through people in this way.
Before we even get to the subject it is very important to address what we mean by something being biblical. For example, if I ask whether worship is biblical, one would say yes, but would be quick to also point out that it depends on whom (2 Kings 17:35) you worship and with what attitude (Psalm 24:3, 4). Just because people worshipped idols in the bible does not mean that idol worship is a biblical form of worship. So when I say something is biblical, I don’t mean that it is mentioned in scripture but I mean that God approves of it in his word. Also when we deal with certain contemporary issues that do not occur in scripture, we take principles from scripture that are according to Godly standards and apply them appropriately. This gets even more complicated as God may approve of something in one context but not approve of it in a different context. In that case, being biblical would not just include the issue in it self, but would break it down to the context, the culture, the attitude and the consequence as well. With this in mind we can move ahead.
So what does the bible say?
Karla Poewe, based on her fieldwork and interviews with Charismatic Christians, observes that they seem to relate physical manifestations like being slain with the Spirit metonymically with the Holy Spirit. She says that a Charismatic Minister typically prays over a person till they fall down which is then taken as a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in that person. It is also believed that the Holy Spirit himself has caused the person to fall and not the minister. In other words, the Holy Spirit causes the ‘falling down’ as well as the ‘falling down’ indicates the work of the Holy Spirit (Poewe 245). What they are basically doing is making the two signs as one, and that is where the fault lies. If we want to prove the biblical authenticity of this phenomenon we have to separate each sign and ask the following questions. First, can the Holy Spirit cause a physical manifestation in a person like falling down? Secondly, if a person is fallen down how can we be sure that it is the Spirit of God who has caused them to fall and not any other force? Lastly, should a Christian who is praying over a person always expect them to fall and only then conclude that the Holy Spirit is working in them? It is in the answers of these three questions that we will find our answer.
The Holy Spirit and Physical manifestations
Scotland refers to three New Testament biblical instances where people have fallen down to the ground when encountered with Jesus, viz., Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4), the disciples on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:6-7) and the apostle John who fell as though dead (Rev. 1:17) (Scotland 220). One may state that this happened in the presence of Jesus and not the Holy Spirit, but in the book of Acts the Holy Spirit is also known as the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7). With reference to Saul on the road to Damascus, Hagin also reminds of Acts 26:14, where Paul retells the incident, but mentions that even those who journeyed with him fell to the ground (Hagin 25). It seems to be clear that they weren’t expecting to fall down. Many others like Samuel mention that instances in the bible where people fall to the ground (Ezk. 1:28; Dan. 8:18, 10:19; Rev. 1:17) are where people fall forwards and not backwards. He states that today people fall backwards and somebody holds them and hence it cannot be the Holy Spirit (Samuel 52). However, this would be a weak argument as there are many today who fall forwards as well.
Others like John MacArthur associate being slain with the Spirit with being evil because it is a common practice in occultism (MacArthur 146). Just because a particular practice is also seen in occultism, one cannot dismiss it being occulted when seen in a completely different context and perhaps done for a different purpose.
Hagin also quotes from Ezekiel 1:28 & 2:1 where it clearly states that the Ezekiel responded to the glory of God by falling on his face and then the Spirit of God entered him and caused him to stand (Hagin 27).
In the Bible we see that the Spirit of God often causes some sort of a physical effect on the person that would smoothly facilitate some work that He wants to do in them. Hence, I would conclude that it is clearly possible for a person to physically manifest in the presence of the Spirit of God by falling to the floor, forwards or backwards does not matter.
Test for authenticity
In continuation with the above inference, we must address the next important issue as to when someone is fallen down how can we be sure that the cause of this is the Holy Spirit indeed. Scotland and Beverley reminds us of two New Testament verses (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21) that command us to test every spirit to see if it is from God (Scotland 214)(Beverley 25). Scotland informs us during the Great awakening in 1741, America witnessed similar manifestations that included “faintings” (Scotland 217). In response to this, Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon called, “the distinguishing marks of the work of the Spirit of God,” stated that a person who has been touched by the power of the Spirit will hold in high esteem Jesus, the Son of God (1 Jn. 4:2, 3); operates against the interests of the devil (1 Jn. 4:4, 5); holds the Scriptures and truth in high regard (1 Jn. 4:6); and starts to operate in love (1 Jn. 4:7) (Edwards 109–120). Scotland adds to that saying that other fruits should be repentance, holiness, an increased appetite for the word of God and prayer, physical healings and reconciliation of broken relationships. These fruits have been seen even in the Toronto Blessing (Scotland 223).
On June 26, 2014, I interviewed a Pastor who experienced this phenomenon in 1993. He said that during worship he automatically fell down to the floor. While he was down, he was in a semi-conscious state, as he knew that demonic spirits were moving out of him and was aware of people praying. After 45 minutes of being “slain”, he experienced a sense of being clean, pure and was led to worship Jesus. He felt after that experience his commitment to Christ was stronger and felt deeper confidence regarding his faith which was more than he had before.
If these fruits have come out of the experience of being slain in the Spirit then I would surely vouch for the fact that Holy Spirit himself has caused it to happen and hence this would be biblical.
However, Scotland points out the allegations associated with this phenomenon were that people were pushed down and even hypnotized. Some voluntarily fell down to gain attention or because they thought that this was “expected of them when prayed for” and fell down out of courtesy (Scotland 34). Such occasions are clearly not in keeping with the conditions above and hence, those particular instances cannot be termed as biblical and should be preached against.
Should it be expected all the time?
Lastly, should a Minister praying over a person expect this to happen all the time and keep praying till it happens as seen in many Charismatic meetings? Samuel rightly points out that in biblical accounts, the person concerned was alone in the presence of God and the response was unexpected (Samuel 52). In response to this I would say that we should not pray over the person with an anticipation that he or she must fall down to prove a genuine work of the Spirit. This is mostly caused due to the minister’s insecurity to prove his own effectiveness. As Deere rightly points out that it’s the work of the Spirit and not the manifestation that is of ultimate importance. Neither should one suppress or fear when it happens (Deere 172). Deere also states that God may use a physical manifestation only when he needs it (Deere 173). Thus, if one seeks after the manifestation in itself and is disappointed when it does not happen, then that would be unbiblical.
The Holy Spirit is very much able to cause someone to fall on the floor. However, the phenomenon of being ‘slain in the Spirit’ is biblical, meaning it is what God would approve of, under the circumstance that the Holy Spirit and not any other force caused it. The ministers or those being prayed over should not pray for the occurrence of this manifestation, but for the genuine work of the Spirit. One should also not judge the effectiveness of the work of the Spirit on basis of whether the person has fallen down or not.
Beverley, James A. Holy Laughter & the Toronto Blessing: An Investigative Report. Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995. Print.
Burgess, Stanley M., and Ed M. Van der Maas, eds. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Rev. and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 2002. Print.
Deere, Jack S. Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996. Ebook.
Edwards, Jonathan. Jonathan Edwards: On Revival. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984. Print.
Hagin, Kenneth E. Why Do People Fall Under the Power? Tulsa, Okla.: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1981. Ebook.
MacArthur, John. Charismatic Chaos. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993. Ebook.
Poewe, Karla. Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture. Columbia, S.C: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Ebook.
Scotland, Nigel. Charismatics and the Next Millennium. London: Hodder & Stoughton Religious, 1995. Print.
Samuel, Joy T. “A Practise of Popular Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in Neocharismatic Movement: A Critical Appraisal.” SAIACS, 2006. Print.