What is Slain in the Spirit?
[This is an excerpt of Appendix E, "Slain in the Spirit" from our book:
The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to Be Like Christ]
The experience called "slain in the Spirit" usually occurs in churches when the minister or speaker has an altar call and puts his hand on the forehead of the person who has come forward for ministering, who then falls over. Sometimes the minister does not even have to touch people, but only gestures toward them and they fall down. When they fall, the people may be unconscious, semi-conscious, or fully conscious. Occasionally, even people in the pews or the audience, fall over when the minister gestures or waves his arm at them.
The whole experience of slain in the Spirit is hotly debated, with some people claiming it is a powerful move of God, while others saying it is from the Devil. We believe that slain in the Spirit, as it is usually seen in churches and on television, occurs as the result of one, or a combination of, people's free will action, emotional response, and/or demonic manifestations. That is not to say that God does not move powerfully in peoples' lives in unusual ways, but when He does, He never contradicts His Word, which contains all things pertaining to "life and godliness."
The most important thing that a Christian must keep in mind when studying spiritual matters is that the Word of God is always our only rule of faith and practice. God does not want us to be ignorant about spiritual matters (1 Cor. 12:1) because they hold such opportunity for both deliverance and bondage. For too many Christians, "spiritual experiences" and "sincerity" are given priority over the written Word of God as the criteria to determine doctrinal truth and practice. Furthermore, all too often Christians use their experiences to validate the Word of God rather than allowing the written Word to be the ultimate "discerner" (Heb. 4:12 - KJV) of the things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet.1:3). This leaves them open to counterfeit spiritual experiences. "Counterfeit?," you ask? Yes, the Devil is a spirit being who is adept at creating spiritual experiences for worshipers of all faiths. The Bible calls these "…counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9). It is vital for Christians to learn to be discerning in worship lest they displease the God and Lord they seek to honor and deceive themselves.
The conflict between the truth of Scripture (which may or may not have specific emotional appeal) and religious or spiritual experiences (which are by nature exciting and impressive) has been going on for centuries. For example, when Jesus sent out his disciples, they "returned with joy" because of what they had experienced, and said, "…Lord, even the demons submit to us…" (Luke 10:17). Jesus then reminded them, "…do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The same tension exists today.
Certainly, genuine spiritual phenomena are to be expected in the life of a Christian, but we must diligently examine these occurrences. The Bible gives many examples of false prophets who deceived people by demonstrations of spiritual power. The magicians of Egypt turned sticks into snakes, but their power was not from the true God. Thank God that He gave us His Word so that we have a standard by which to discern His will. It is only by carefully examining one's experiences in light of the principles of the Word of God that the power or force behind the experience can be determined.
A cardinal rule is that we do not abandon what we understand from Scripture when faced with an experience that we do not fully understand. So, regarding the subject in question, being slain in the Spirit, what do we know from God's Word? There are six major biblical truths that pertain to the practice of ministers "slaying" people in the spirit.
First, we know that free will is a precious gift from our Creator, and that He is very slow to do anything that might diminish our ability to choose what we say and do. God is the perfect gentleman, and is very respectful of people's right to choose to believe, love, and obey Him. Love is not true love without the freedom not to respond to that love, and God graciously gives us that freedom. We are not puppets. The countless imperative verbs in Scripture, and the number of times He asks us to choose, clearly indicate that the choice is up to us whether or not to obey God's loving directives.
However, God's love is also quite parental, and every parent knows that at times it is loving to provide discipline and correction of one's child to keep him or her on a safe and healthy path. This involves a variety of temporary infringements on the child's freedom (grounding, time out, etc.) to the end that he can better handle responsibility and freedom in the future. As parenting involves preparing children for the realities of adulthood, the purpose of God's "parental" love is to bring us into spiritual maturity and greater understanding of His purposes so that we might know Him better and more effectually serve others on His behalf.
There are records in the Bible where God directly or indirectly (i.e., through an angel) interferes with a person's free will. This happens, however, only under specific conditions:
- God already has a relationship with the person whose commitment to Him is apparent.
- God's purpose in the situation is clear.
- The person in question is standing against that purpose, whether ignorantly or deliberately.
- The condition of discipline or restraint is temporary.
- There is great profit evidenced either in the person's ministry or by making him an example to others that God is not to be trifled with.
An example of this is when the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was told he would not be able to speak for a season (Luke 1:5–23, 59–79 - KJV). This occurred because of his lack of faith in the angel's announcement that he and Elizabeth would have a child who would be a mighty prophet and prepare the way for the Savior. His muteness was not painful, and because he was a priest, it kept him from being able to minister in the Temple, which gave him time to prepare with his wife for the birth of their child. Furthermore, when this season of being mute was over, he prophesies powerfully about his son's ministry. This record meets all five of the above conditions.
Another example is Paul being blinded by the glory of the Lord (Acts 9:3–9). Paul was deeply committed to being in God's will, but was ignorantly resisting Him, and God needed to get his full attention. As with Zechariah, Paul's brief period of blindness was redemptive. It was not painful, and it gave him time to repent of his past actions and reassess his thinking about Scripture and the Messiah.
Zechariah and Paul were deeply committed to doing God's will, but in ignorance were actually standing against His righteous purposes. Their actions provoked God's redemptive rebuke, also known as "…the discipline of the Lord…" (Heb. 12:5–10 - RSV). What happened to Paul and Zechariah was temporary and redemptive. It was not a Satanic attack, nor was it painful or permanent.
We must understand that when someone who loves God opposes Him out of ignorance, the Devil is more than happy to take advantage of the situation. There are occasions when God will chastise a believer who is willfully disobeying Him, but He never does so by harming him. Any tragedy that befalls a believer in such a situation is due to the Devil taking advantage of the situation. A good example of this would be the Christians who misunderstand Mark 16:18 and pick up poisonous snakes in their church service. Their intention is good, but they are nonetheless acting out of ignorance, and many of them have been bitten, some fatally. That is not "…the discipline of the Lord…," because God does not kill anyone in order to correct them. That is disobedience out of ignorance, which, in some cases, can have deadly consequences.
Second, we know that it is the Devil who wants to control people by infiltrating their minds, demonizing them, and thus making them do things contrary to God's will and purposes (Acts 10:38, etc.). We use the word "demonize," not "possess." The Greek is daimonizomai, which means to be afflicted by a demon. The word "possess" is misleading and too restrictive. First, a person can be afflicted by a demon in many ways. A person in a haunted house who is scared because of noises, apparitions, moving objects, etc., is "demonized" in the biblical sense of the word. He is afflicted by a demon, but not "possessed" in the way the word is generally used. Second, the demon, even if inside the person, does not own him, so "possess" is misleading. The demon simply takes residence in the person and then does his evil work.
Both Christians and non-Christians can be demonized. The Devil is interested only in stealing, killing, and destroying God's people, and, if he can, he will cause people to do things that they do not want to do, things that make Christianity look bad. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses the issue of the corporate witness of the Church in worship.
1 Corinthians 14:23 (RSV)
If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad [demonized]?
In this verse, the Lord, via Paul, sternly sets forth that there should be no speaking in tongues without interpretation in the congregation because some might come into the assembly and think the believers were taken over by demons. This is a huge point. The Lord does not want to open the door for anyone to even think that Christians are demonized. The fact that many congregations today disobey this directive does not mean they are demonized, but an observer may think they are.
If the Lord was so careful to keep his people from being accused of being demonized in the first century, are we to believe that he now "slays" people and causes them to behave even more bizarrely than if everyone in the congregation were to speak in tongues at the same time? We think not. There is no question that not only outsiders, but also Christians themselves, are very divided about whether being slain in the Spirit is of God, the Devil, or of one's own action. This division and accusation is exactly what God was trying to avoid in the first century, so we find it hard to believe that He would now introduce such a controversial and divisive act of power without Scriptures to clearly support it, and there are none. The manifestation of speaking in tongues is controversial, but Scripture is very clear about it. Given the aforementioned inconsistency between God's Word and the strange behavior of being slain in the Spirit as it is seen in most churches, we do not believe it is God's initiative.
Third, we know that the true God is a God of decency and order, and not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33 and 40 - KJV). Some worship services become so "out of control" with so-called "spiritual manifestations" that no teaching of the Word of God is possible. We do not see how this is edifying the Church, which the Apostle Paul makes the central goal of what is allowable in public worship. Is it really "decent and in order" to have people lying all over the floor in church, even if the women in dresses are covered with towels? Is there any clear purpose or profit to such a scene? In a pragmatic sense, despite the fact that many groups have "catchers" behind people to break their fall, the possibility of physical injury is certainly present, and has occurred on occasion. Would it ever be the will of God to hurt a believer coming to participate in worship? We think not.
Fourth, we know that when our heavenly Father does something, there is always purpose and profit in it (1 Cor. 12:7, 14:6 [both KJV]). Some people report healings, visions, deliverance from demons, and other profitable aspects of the experience of "being under the power" (as some call it). In those cases, although we would be slow to condemn the experience as ungodly, we are cautious, recognizing that demons can give people positive experiences to win them over, such as when a false prophet gives true information to get the person to believe and thus be "set up" for the future. The overall profit to the Body of Christ must be considered as well.
Some people report that they were unconscious and not aware of any profit other than the experience itself. In these cases, we strongly suspect the influence of counterfeit, demonic power. There are only nine ways listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 that the holy spirit is to be manifested in the Church, and all are profitable or "for the general good." These are a message of wisdom, a message of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Being slain in the Spirit is unlike any of those nine manifestations, and does not merit being referred to as a "manifestation" of the true spirit of God. At best, being "slain" might qualify as an occasional spiritual phenomenon, but certainly not something that has clear biblical warrant or precedent. If it is a God-given phenomenon, it will have evident profit for the person who has the experience, and also profit the Church at large.
We are aware that the people ministering slain in the Spirit to congregations speak of it as "new wine," a new move of God, but we do not think so. Throughout history God has moved in ways that coincide with His Word, which He thought final enough to say that no one should add to it (Rev. 22:18). We think the points we made above about the general principles by which God works with people and in history show that what we said in the opening paragraphs (that slain in the Spirit is due to one or more of people's free will action, emotional response, and/or demonic manifestations) is valid.
Fifth, we know that in nearly every biblical record where someone fell down in the presence of God, the Lord, or an angel, he fell on his face (a sign of respect in the Eastern culture), was not unconscious (he could still hear the angel), and was told to get up before the angel would give him the message (Dan. 10:8–11). According to the biblical evidence, God seems considerably more interested in getting people to stand up and receive His Word and His blessings than He is in knocking them down and rendering them semi-conscious or unable to easily communicate.
Sixth, there is no biblical evidence of a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ knocking people down "under the power." When Peter ministered to the people in Cornelius' household (Acts 10:34–46), they received the holy spirit and manifested speaking in tongues while he was in the process of speaking to them. He did not lay a hand on them or even gesture toward them. One can look in vain for any biblical example of what has become all too common in evangelical circles these days, where ministers lay hands on people and expect them to fall down.
A good question to ask, then, is whether a person who "fell under the power" did so by his own choice or whether he was acted upon by a force outside of his own free will. Our experience is that the majority of believers who fall down like this do so by their own volition because they have been taught this is the thing to do and that it is a legitimate "manifestation of the spirit." This is especially the case when it is some well-known Christian personality who lays his or her hands on them. It seems they do not want to be one of the "unspiritual" ones who does not receive the Lord's "blessing." We have often wondered why being knocked to the ground is considered a blessing? Would an unbeliever think that being knocked unconscious by God was honoring his choice to believe?
Keeping in mind the six criteria we have cited above, what about those who definitely were acted upon by a force that rendered them unconscious. Was it God Almighty who knocked them over? Not unless He says so in His Word, and we do not find this in the pages of Scripture. However, demons are ready, willing, and able to take over a part of the minds of those who open themselves up to let "the spirit" have its way. But is this spirit the holy spirit of the Lord or a demonic spirit? The ability to focus "kundalini energy" is one form of Eastern religious worship, and members of a variety of non-Christian religions who practice forms of witchcraft do experience blacking out, being knocked over, etc. This should at least give Christians pause to reflect upon what the Bible says on this subject before submitting to the ministry of someone who "slays" people in the Spirit.
It remains an important question whether or not a person's will was usurped. Did he fall down, or was he knocked down? We have heard rather bizarre testimonies of people who were "knocked flat" or even "thrown across the room," supposedly by "the power of God." At best, this is highly suspect. It is therefore our general conclusion that if and when a person is overpowered by a force outside his free will, and is thereby knocked to the ground, that force is not from the true God, but from Satan. We will hold this view until it can be demonstrated to us that there was long-term godly fruit as a direct result of such an experience. We have seen many instances of God healing people without them falling down upon the floor.
We know there are people who testify that the Lord healed them during such an experience. That is certainly possible, because we know that healing is the will of God, and that He and the Lord Jesus are always doing all they can to bring healing to pass for anyone they can. However, biblically, and generally in our experience, such healing occurs in response to active faith in the individual who is seeking healing, and not a function of getting slain in the Spirit by a minister. Praise God for anyone who is healed, but we assert that it was not "falling under the power" that healed them. It was God's love and grace in response to their faith.
Jesus emphasized the role of individual faith when he said, "…your faith has healed you" (Matt. 9:22; Luke 18:42). The context of those healings shows they could not be done without the power of God in evidence, but by emphasizing the role of faith, Jesus was teaching them that healing and miracles are not just sovereign acts of God. Rather, they are done in conjunction with one's faith and trust in God's power as it resides in those who manifest that power. Paul's handkerchiefs (Acts 19:12) and Jesus' spit (Mark 8:23) brought healing because people had faith in the power of God conveyed through these godly men.
The fact that some people are healed when they are slain in the Spirit does not necessarily indicate that the "slain" part of the experience was of God. Although we like to be able to neatly categorize spiritual experiences into "good" and "evil," there can be both in any given experience. In that sense, spiritual experiences are like people. There can be both bad and good in the same package. God is always at work to bless people, and if someone has faith that he will be healed if a certain minister touches him, then God honors his faith even if the minister is not acting for God at the time. We see that with Eli in the book of Samuel. He himself was actively disobeying God, and was so full of wrong judgments that he thought Hannah, who was praying, was drunk. Yet he blessed her, which changed her whole attitude and she became pregnant with Samuel (1 Sam. 1:12–20).
The Devil is a liar and very crafty, and he will do anything to discredit God. That includes making true statements to get people's attention, and then introducing error later on. Psychics give much factual information, and the woman with the demon in Acts 16 rightly spoke the truth about Paul and his companions when she said, "…These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved" (Acts 16:17b). If demons did only evil, or gave only false information, they would quickly be discovered, and would not be able to sow confusion among believers. Some people get help from psychics, tarot card readers, "white witches," etc., and then wonder why God forbids those practices. God forbids them because the demons do good only to get an opportunity to do evil. We have personally ministered to people who had been slain in the Spirit and had a wonderful experience. However, after going back several times they began to have disturbing things happen in their lives, and ended up having to seek spiritual deliverance. We have never experienced that with anyone who was prayed for or ministered to by a Christian healer who did not practice slain in the Spirit or the other "new outpourings" such as "holy laughter," etc.
Another thing the Devil is adept at is leading people from truth into error. He knows he cannot now effectively refute speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc., because there is too much biblical evidence for those manifestations and too many people speaking in tongues and prophesying. So what can he do to lead people away from God? Introduce unbiblical manifestations that confuse and divide them. People who seek power and experience will go along with these new manifestations of power, while people who search for Scriptural support will hold back, and the congregation will be divided—a main aim of the Devil.
One reason we have heard why people think that being slain in the Spirit is from God is that sometimes people pray, "Lord, if this is not from you, do not let it happen to me." Then they go up to the front of the church, and when "slain" by the minister, they believe that the experience must have been from God. This is not proper thinking. God often cannot protect someone from a harmful experience he enters into ignorantly but willingly. This is a huge point, and has been confirmed many times. The "snake handlers" who are bitten and die are a good example. Another is missionaries who travel overseas and eat unfamiliar food, ignorant of what it will do to them. Many of them get indigestion (or worse) even though they have prayed for the food. God expects us to use wisdom, and not willingly enter into something that may be harmful.
We need to say more about "miracles" and "phenomena." There are occasions when God goes "above and beyond" the general pattern of reciprocal relationship that He has established with human beings. In these cases, He acts independently of our cooperation, and does what can be called either miracles or phenomena. Miracles are rare and unusual supernatural acts of God that are creative and responsive to particular situations, and sometimes involve God superseding natural laws or the natural course of events. They are inextricably linked to His own purposes, are an important part of His relationship with people, and will never be at odds with the written Word. In fact, they significantly support what He has revealed about His character and His methods.
Miracles and phenomena can be perceived by unbelievers, whether or not they understand what is going on, and thus they are not visions or subjective experiences. With the exception of the manifestation of miracles, they are not promised to God's people, nor can they be expected or demanded. They demonstrate His love and support of His people, and they also glorify Him and attract people to Him. In many cases they are a response to faith and to people's need. Nevertheless, they are not the standard of truth, or even a sign that someone is walking in truth or faith. John the Baptist, as great as he was, did no miracles (John 10:41). Though we cannot totally comprehend the whole of God's purposes in manifesting miracles, we can discern that at various times phenomena show forth His judgment, mercy, protection, glory, and approval. In short, God always has a good reason for displaying His power.
Some examples of miracles and phenomena are: the Flood of Noah; the scattering of languages at the Tower of Babel; fire and brimstone raining upon Sodom and Gomorrah; the pillar of fire at night and the cloud by day that led Israel through the wilderness; the finger of God writing the Law onto tablets of stone; fire falling from heaven to light the sacrifices; the earth swallowing up Dothan; Balaam's donkey talking to him; the writing that appeared on the wall at Belshazzar's feast; Zachariah's muteness; the darkness upon the earth the afternoon of Christ's crucifixion; the earthquake that rolled back the stone on his sepulcher; the cloven tongues of fire and sound of the mighty wind on Pentecost; the house shaking (Acts 4:31); the brilliant light and Paul's subsequent blindness; the Philippian prison earthquake; the appearance of angels throughout the Word; and perhaps the miracle, which is still to come, that is the melting of the present heaven and earth with fervent heat.
We bring up miracles and phenomena because God will be God and move upon the earth for the benefit of His people as He sees fit. The power and variety of these biblically recorded miracles and phenomena lead us to be cautious and discerning as we evaluate slain in the Spirit and other experiences that the Bible does not specifically sanction, for though we have seen that God is infinitely creative and often unpredictable, it is clear that each of the biblical miracles and phenomena had a purpose and a profit. Let us emphasize once again that God's ways will be in concert with His character of love and justice as revealed in His written Word. He will not do evil that good may come (Rom. 3:8), or "push people around" so that they might believe.
In regard to this issue of being slain in the Spirit, we must distinguish between the genuine power of God in action and the emotional or physical reaction that a person may have in response to it. God's power is awesome and ultimate, and in His righteous and holy presence, the sinful man of flesh may: "fall on his face" (Gen. 17:3), "fall on his knees" (2 Kings 1:13), become as one whom wine has overcome (Jer. 23:9), become "overwhelmed" (Dan. 10:7), "turned...pale" (Dan. 10:8), "tremble" (Dan. 10:11), "shook" (Matt. 28:4), "become like dead men" (Matt. 28:4), "become dumb" (Luke 1:20), and "fall to the ground" (Acts 9:4). If a person faints while being ministered to, we should say that he fainted. We should not say he was slain in the Spirit and attribute to God what is actually the frailty of the flesh.
We must also recognize that sometimes when the power of God touches a person, his behavior may be the result of a demon being expelled from him. Clearly, this is a time for the manifestation of the spirit called "discerning of spirits," because one would not want to attribute the activity of demons to God. When demons are stirred up in a person during worship, or while he is listening to the teaching of the Word, or by spiritual warfare, the appropriate response is to take authority over the demon and cast it out by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, many Christians are ignorant of demons and their activities, and naively think that all unusual manifestations are the work of God. This naiveté has even extended to such extremes as saying that people writhing around on stage like serpents are doing so because of "the Holy Spirit."
Other behaviors that have been baptized as evidences of "the Holy Spirit" are barking like dogs, clucking like chickens, roaring like lions, laughing uncontrollably for hours, etc. In such situations, spiritually mature believers should consider the possibility that the person is either under the power of a demon or in the process of being delivered from demonic strongholds. In such cases, the individuals should be taken aside and led into deliverance from the demons that have manifested themselves. It is tragic that many of God's people are so ignorant of spiritual matters that they mistake demonic manifestations for those prompted by the holy spirit of God.
A major part of the spiritual battle raging between God and the Devil is the battle of words. Given the "bottom line" that God is love, the very terminology, slain in the Spirit, is offensive to many Christians, because "to slay" means "to murder," and, of course, murder is something God specifically condemns in the Ten Commandments ("You shall not murder" is the accurate translation in Exod. 20:13). The phrase, slain in the Spirit, casually used by many sincere Christians, subtly implants in people's minds the idea that God can and will act upon His people in such a way as to incapacitate them. Not so.
In fact, the Pentecostal circles in which the phenomenon of slain in the Spirit was first manifested were marked by a strong aversion to leadership of a worship service by ministers. Complete "submission to the Spirit" was encouraged, and this fostered a climate that discouraged spiritual discernment. Though the upside of this was the renewal of the godly manifestation of speaking in tongues in the Christian Church, ungodly manifestations were also let in, like being slain in the Spirit. Our challenge is to not throw out the baby with the bathwater spiritually, but to allow the Word of God, the "sword of the spirit," to be our faithful guide in all spiritual matters.
In closing, we must emphasize the importance of going to the written Word of God as the only rule of faith and practice in everything, and especially spiritual matters. We certainly do not want to be guilty of labeling as satanic something that God is doing in a person's life. At the same time, we do not want to be guilty of discouraging discernment among God's people and thus leaving them vulnerable to satanic counterfeits. Let us neither put God in any box of our own making nor attribute to Him things for which He does not claim responsibility. Let us beseech Him to continue to expand our understanding of His glory and power, and to grant us discernment to perceive the counterfeit spirit power manifested by His archenemy, the Devil. God's power will be manifest among those who seek to glorify, honor, and serve Him, and who walk in obedience to Him and His written Word.