Christian Spirituality > the Holy Spirit > Slain in the Spirit: notes on a sign.
One of the most common manifestations is that of being 'slain in the Spirit', when a person loses all motor control over their body and falls to the floor or ground. The context for it is almost always a revival meeting or a prayer-and-praise service, though it has been known to happen at religious music concerts and programs, and small group meetings. In a development that has taken hold after the Second World War, it's often brought on when the preacher or designated assistant comes directly to a person and lays hands on them or speaks a prayer over them. Sometimes, the planning at these events is very thorough, to the point where padded folding chair are used in the section the evangelist will head off to, and there are designated catchers who are trained at how to make the fall less abrupt. (The best method for catchers is to put their hands lightly on the small of the back of the 'slain' as they begin to fall; this takes away some of the fear of falling. Pushing, pulling, shaking, and especially tickling and rubbing are no-nos.)
It is common for new-style pentecostal churches like the Vineyards to use the term 'resting in the Spirit'. These churches choose comforting terms like 'resting' instead of words like 'slain' that create fear because it is linked with death. 'Resting in the Spirit' conveys a more hopeful or happy vision of it. Yet, if testimonies are any indication, in most cases there is little if anything 'restful' about the experience itself.
It was common for this kind of manifestation to take place in the 19th- century revivals, such as those of Charles Finney. The results of it in his ministry was usually a strong conviction of sin, and thus a thorough conversion. Finney said in his autobiography, "I observed a woman - supposing she was in a fainting fit - she could not speak. After lying in a speechless state for sixteen hours, Miss G's mouth was opened and a new song was given her. She was taken from the pit of miry clay and her feet were set on a rock; and it was true that many saw it and feared." As time went on, however, the manifestations (including these 'slayings') became so vigorous and uncontrolled that even Finney (ever the master of technique) felt that a calmer approach was needed. It was not so much that he wanted the manifestations to end, but rather that he became increasingly aware of why the apostle Paul insisted on some sort of order to it.
In the 20th century, Charles Price was one of the premier Pentecostalist evangelists. He himself was once slain in the Spirit - not that he wanted to be. He was on the floor for hours while the Spirit reportedly burned in and over him. It was an experience that Dr. Price would provide to thousands over the coming years. He is said to have prayed over crowds of more than 1000 people, with ninety percent of them said to be "slain in the Spirit". People fell where they stood, laid on the ground for hours, and when they arose, they felt covered with the glory of God.
Advocates of the practice make a claim that there is Scriptural warrant for this sign. But does this claim hold up? Let's look at some Bible references that are used to support the practice.
The reference in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 5:14) is about when the Ark was brought to the completed Temple. During the service, right before Solomon spoke, "the Lord's house was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud".
The first Matthew reference (Matthew 17:6) is to the Transfiguration, where God showed the three key disciples what the significance of the Law and the Prophets were: that Jesus was greater, as the living fulfillment of them. It was a direct and unique encounter with the divine Presence, enough to make anyone quiver.
The second Matthew reference (Matthew 28:4) is about the guards at Jesus' tomb, literally paralyzed by fear when the angel appeared, sitting on the rolled-away stone.
The John reference (John 18:6) is to the action of the Roman soldiers when they reached Jesus to arrest Him. When they heard him identify himself, they retreated from him and fell to the ground. In this case, in answering that he's the one they seek to arrest, Jesus uses a term that people in the Middle East, Gentile and Jew alike, could have recognized as the name of the Jewish God, "I Am". Given why they went to arrest him, that would've taken me aback for a moment had I heard it.
The Acts reference (Acts 9:4-8) is to Paul's Damascus Road experience, where Saul was blinded (v.8) by light from heaven (v.3) and fell to the ground, probably from the shock of what had happened to him. His fellow travelers heard the voice, but saw nothing except Saul's reactions and blindness. Paul recounts this experience before the Jews in Jerusalem, in Acts 22, and again before Agrippa in Acts 26.
The Revelation reference (Revelation 1:17) was of John, the writer of the Revelation, speaking of the vision which gave him the messages to the churches in Asia Minor. This vision was one of seeing the glorified Christ in His full heavenly setting. It is said in the Old Testament that the sight of God is too much for humans to take. John, at least in this vision, got to see the most see-able part of divinity, that of Jesus, but in the heavenly setting, even that much was too much, and John fell at His feet "like a dead man". Then, Christ laid His hand on him, to calm his fears.
In only one of these cases was there anyone falling down because of things that happened during a worship service or a church gathering, and that was at the original Temple in Jerusalem, when God moved into it for a home and thus started a new phase in the divine covenant with the Jewish nation. This was an unparalleled act that made for effective power over an entire society, unbeliever as well as believer.
In none of these cases did it happen because anyone laid hands on or said prayers over anyone. In Revelation, Christ gives John a hand of comfort after John falls down. Similarly, Jesus gives that same assuring hand to the disciples after the Transfiguration.
In only one of these cases, that of Paul, was the falling person's turn to God involved at all in the experience that caused the falling. Paul's case was (in Paul's words) "as one untimely born", to give him a direct and personal call from Christ as an apostle, and to end his persecution of Christ's followers. Can anyone today lay claim to so huge a change and so great a task as Paul's? And even in Paul's case, he followed it with a period of extensive learning that fit him to the task to which he was being called. There is no indication of any kind of conversion by the guards and soldiers; the priests, disciples, and John were already solid believers.
In these cases, the experience was not expected or sought. Indeed, when the people involved came into it, they were usually filled with paralyzing fear, and they would probably flee in fear if you told them it would happen to them again. Trust the Bible: you don't want to go through what they did.
What the case described above does mean is that the practice of being 'slain in the Spirit' does not honestly draw from Scripture. The claim of a Scriptural basis for it does not hold up. Scripture speaks of things that are like it in some ways, but they're not the same thing.
What it does not mean is that being 'slain in the Spirit' is evil or bad. (I'm always getting e-mails from people who think that it is what I mean, and therefore being 'slain' must be from the Devil. They must've stopped reading before reaching this place on the page.) That which is not directly found in Scripture can be Christian, so long as it holds to what Scripture calls us to (especially the gospel of Christ) and to Paul's concerns for order, and as long as it is tested by all the means of discernment at our disposal. The Spirit works new things within that framework to do whatever is needed to get God's purposes done. (If that weren't true, why are you using the Internet to read this?) As with all things ordinary or extraordinary, look for the kind of faith, life, and growth (the Spirit's fruit) which develop in each person(s) who goes through it, and each ministry that is involved in it. Blanket- or snap-judgements have no place here.
What makes the experience truly Christian, then, is what follows from it. It's not about your falling down, it's about what you become and what you do when you get back up. That is in your hands and those of the believers around you.
A reader writes:
> if God does "slay people by the Spirit", what
> changes occur in a person once they get up? <
I look at it as an opportunity, a physical phenomenon with potential spiritual consequences. That is, it's something that the Spirit can use to crash their inner gates and clear away the jungle that's choking their soul, but what comes of it depends on them and what they do next. That also is to say it depends in part on the church and what in the Spirit it does with them.
If they wake up the next morning, look in the mirror and say, 'naaaah...', then it's like a reasonably good rock show, a trip but nothing much more, and they'll bring the garbage back into the house of their heart. If that church teaches them a bunch of platitudes that wear thin in the face of daily life, and takes them no further or deeper, they'll probably fade off of it and be back to their usual self. (Only, a bit more cynical.) But many people look into that mirror the next day, say, 'I don't know, but I'll trust it anyway and see where it takes me'. They take that scary next step, and perhaps another. Which is followed by another, in growing trust.
The Spirit does not set up home in someone who spits in the face of the Divine. The Spirit, even in full power, does not take your mind captive. The Spirit asks in and leaves when expelled, left to knock on the door from the outside instead of opening you up from the inside. So, if you shrug off the 'slain' experience after a while, or stop allowing yourself to grow, or even take up with the earlier life of fear, greed, selfishness, lust, or thrill, the Spirit is not in you, and can only call from outside of you. (The latter is one reason why the biblical Word must be told - it is the foremost way the Spirit speaks.) Too many people I know have gone through this part of the experience.
In short, the 'slain in the Spirit' experience is one of many experiences that act as a starting (or re-starting) point, a first step. From there, those 'slain' need to keep stepping. Step into a fellowship which cares to show how a Christian life of obedience, grace and freedom is lived - a fellowship which just plain cares. Step into studying the Bible, alone and with others. Step into worshipping God regularly simply because God is worthy of it. One step, then another, and before they know it, it's a journey, they're going somewhere worth going.
That's my take on it. I haven't gone through it, but others around me have, and I can see where they went with their lives and their faith. I can't say how it goes with you, for the Spirit deals with each of us differently.
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|ver.: 06 April 2011
Slain In the Spirit. Copyright © 1995-2011 by Robert Longman.