There is a lot of question around what being ‘slain in the spirit’ really means and for those who are not very familiar with the Charismatic arm of Christianity, you might scratch your head even just hearing the term. It is a little gruesome sounding…
The reality is, the only people I can think of, Scripturally, who were ‘slain in/of/by the Spirit’ were Ananias and Saphira, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t how the Charismatic wing uses the term. Being slain in the spirit is when you are allegedly overcome by the power of the Spirit and you lose most if not all bodily control, and it usually is expressed as falling backward or collapsing to the ground. But is this real or hype? Let’s find out.
There are a few aspects of being slain in the spirit I want to talk about, Biblically, but first I want to explore a little bit more about the term and what it means across varied Charismatic groups.
What is slain in the spirit?
In truth, it is hard to make sense of the phrase. To those unfamiliar with it, it may sound gruesome, strange, or perhaps it even conjures up the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead in the book of Acts for lying to the Holy Spirit. In fact, many modern practitioners have turned from using the phrase slain in the spirit simply because it is hard to understand or sounds strange to the seeker-friendly ears.
Technically, according to the aged meaning of the word slain, to be slain is to be killed, murdered, or made dead. To phrase that together with the spirit implies to be made dead by the Spirit, which makes little to no sense in the sense of worship or relationship to God when the Spirit is come to give life. (John 10:10, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Romans 8:10)
In varied churches across America and beyond, and as seen on televangelist networks like TBN, being slain in the spirit has turned in to a theater show where entire crowds or individuals are repeatedly blown over, knocked over, collapsed or entranced.
A great charismatic marketeer Benny Hinn swings his signature white jacket at a person or a crowd of people and in waves, they crumble under the ‘power’ of the spirit. At least, that is the claim.
These events are usually then marked with subsequent and equally un-biblical traits such as convulsions, twitching, trances or being rendered unconscious. And, on several occasions, people have been seriously injured or have injured others due to being slain in the spirit.
In milder charismatic circles, being slain in the spirit may not include such fanfare but would result from heavy, exhaustive prayer and worship and traditionally comes after the pastor, elder or person praying for the individual lays their hand upon the recipients head with the expectation that this behavior transfers some kind of power to the praying individual.
Being then overcome by the transferred power (spirit) the individual loses bodily control and collapses backward or simply falls to the ground. This event is so expected and routine that churches that practice this behavior generally have other workers ready to support the collapsing body, or to cover woman with sheets to ensure they do not become immodest in their stupor.
Others have reported that they were pushed down, forcibly, and some have confessed to falling simply due to peer pressure, while yet others believe that they had this experience and cannot explain it, but that it was real to them.
The question isn’t whether or not it is real, either by self-will or some other force – the question is whether or not it comes from and is motivated by God? Does God really operate in such a confusing way? Does God want his people to lose control of themselves in inexplicable ways, especially when it can and has caused harm to people?
Finding slain in the spirit in Scripture
The truth is, you cannot find this behavior in Scripture. There is not a single reference in the Christian Bible nor early church writings of this event. While there are documentations of things of this nature happening, such as during the Azusa St. revivals in North America in the 1940s, and some preceding Charismatic revivals known as Awakenings. In fact, the term ‘slain in the spirit’ originates from what is called the Second Great Awakening with people like Peter Cartwright describing the phenomenon like a battlefield where men fell over slain.
This alone isn’t a reason to write off the practice or claim it to be false – there are a lot of things done in the modern church that is not found in Scripture, like Sunday School and Choir. That in and of itself doesn’t disprove being slain in the spirit but it does beg the question, where did it come from?
There are Scriptural events where people have fallen down, by the power of God. Not in the way in which modern Charismatic movements behave today but we can compare events in Scripture to see if it matches or holds some example for us.
For instance, Saul, on the road to Damascus was so struck by the light, voice, and power of God that he fell down to the ground.
“and he fell to the ground and heard a voice [from heaven] saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting and oppressing Me?” And Saul said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” ~ Acts 9:4-6, AMP
Yet here we see two contrasts to this phenomenon of being slain in the spirit. First, Saul is still perfectly conscious and aware, rather than the trance/stupor we see today, and neither is there an indication of convulsions, twitching, rolling on the ground, etc.
We can see in Matthew 26 Jesus falling on his face in prayer to the Father, but again this was a fully conscious and purposeful act, with reverence and an outcome that did not leave the man unable to control his body.
In fact, the closest thing we have in Scripture that proponents use to defend this phenomenon is found in 1 Chronicles 5 where the text says;
in unison when the trumpeters and singers were to make themselves heard with one voice praising and thanking the Lord, and when they raised their voices accompanied by the trumpets and cymbals and [other] instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His mercy and lovingkindness endure forever,” then the house of the Lord was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not remain standing to minister because of the cloud; for the glory and brilliance of the Lord filled the house of God.
Whether or not this literally means the priests fell to the ground is questionable. Looking at the definition of the word stand or standing here reveals that is means to abide, to continue, to dwell, to remain. The word found in the Hebrew here is aw-mad.
This again does not mean that it couldn’t happen, but it does seem to indicate that there is no historical (early Christian) or Scriptural defense for this phenomenon. This leaves Charismatic proponents leaning on progressive revelation or progressive demonstration by God. That is to say, it is something modern God is choosing to do that He has not done in the past when Scripture was being written.
This, unfortunately, in my opinion, leaves us open to any kind of strange doctrines or practices if we believe in a progressive demonstration by God. We would then need to accept anything anyone chooses to say is from God, such as barking like dogs or other animalistic utterances and beyond.
The author and pastor John McArthur label’s this as Charismatic Chaos. As documented in the Toronto Blessing or Awakening, worshippers were instructed on how to be slain in the spirit. In more recent broadcasts on networks like TBN, worshippers are instructed how to speak in tongues or how to be slain in the spirit, leaving us wondering if it was a divinely inspired behavior or the power of suggestion.
Consider this quote from the Toronto Blessing of 1994
I saw on videotape one time, everybody in the place was laying on their backside. He finally turned around and realized that the choir hadn’t been blessed yet. And so he said “you all up in the cheap seats need some of this,” and he went like that and they all fell down, except one old man with a hearing aid. And he looked around at everybody, and when he looked this way, you could see on the camera the hearing aid, and you knew why he didn’t fall down, he didn’t hear the command. And he looked around and then he [falls down] ~ http://www.bible.ca/tongues-slain-in-spirit.htm
Hypnosis, The Power of Suggestion?
There are ample studies about the power of suggestion and in a documentary called The Heist, Derren Brown showed how powerful suggestion was, to the degree that people would fall over at his suggestion and even perform other behaviors without realizing or knowing why.
And the reverse can be true! The Power of Suggestion tells us that the desire for a specific outcome can be so strong that fail to recognize an imitation or fake. For instance, in the movie Borat, UPC Minister Greg Godwin was absolutely bamboozled by the actor pretending, in the most obviously fake fashion possible, to speak in tongues. See the video here.
The UPC minister and surrounding worshippers, as seen in the video clip, were clueless to the obvious fakery because it was the outcome they most desired and in fact, was suggested to them. To be fair, this is not an attack on the UPC or the minister Greg Godwin. This fakery takes place in Charismatic churches across the globe in equal portions and the lack of discernment lives amongst all men.
Another example is the book Kundalini Warning, written by Andrew Strom in which he exposes the link between paganism, specifically Kundalini Yoga and the chaos seen in Charismatic circles known as being slain in the spirit. In his full review video of the book, the author displays the connection and apparent origin of this behavior, leaving us wondering why God would choose to use something also found in paganism.
And I’m also reminded of the cult that overtook Antelope, OR in 1980 called the Rajneeshees. This was also a yoga-based cult in which worship looked eerily similar to a charismatic/Pentecostal circle, replete with convulsions, falling over, shouting, excessive and demonstrative bodily spasms, screaming, animalistic noises, and being overcome, or ‘slain’ in the spirit.
I personally became overwhelmed by the mob-mentality that takes place is an over-amplified worship service. This is something I’ve come to call emotional hyperventilation when the mind becomes oxygen-starved and the mentality of the mob around you controls the movement.
There were times I would be in prayer, exuberant prayer, with people all around, hands rocking me around, screams in my ears, the minister pressing on my forehead, and when my euphoric prayers ceased, I would find myself in a completely different part of the building from where I began praying. We called it being ‘moved’ by the Spirit, but later I began to realize it was just the jostling of emotion and energy, as seen in this image, again from the Rajneesh yoga cult.
If you watch the Wild Wild Country documentary about this cult you will find their emotion, belief, and worship no less fervent or emotional than a Pentecostal Sunday night like I came from. Yet, one would call the other demonic (Pentecost to Yoga) and the other would call them religiously deceived. (Yoga to Pentecost)
Conclusion – Fact or Fiction?
Contrary to my normal style, I’m not going to say Fact or Fiction, I’m going to leave this one up to you. There is no Scriptural evidence or support of this behavior yet most recipients will claim they know what they ‘felt’ and that it was undeniable.
Like the claims of seeing the apparition of the Virgin Mary, those who believe in what they saw will not be persuaded otherwise. I believe the phenomenon is real, what I question is the source of this phenomenon.