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Question:

"I was just wondering if you plan to do an article on being slain in the spirit. I'm not sure what to think of this."

Answer:

Being "slain in the Spirit" is a topic that has seen a lot of debate among Christians, but it seems to me that there is more to this issue than many people might realize.

Consider that if God were to suddenly open us up and expose us to His infinite glory and majesty, none of us could handle it. It would completely overwhelm us and overpower us. Our systems might shut down at the enormity of it, and we wouldn't be able to stand up under it or bear it. God is so much bigger than any of us are capable of comprehending, and God is probably protecting us by not revealing the fullness of Himself to us while we are in our weak, mortal bodies. So when the awesome power of God touches a person in a special way, it can easily cause a physical reaction in the frail human body and the frail human nervous system. People's hands or bodies might shake, their knees might get weak or wobbly, they might fall to the ground, and so on. Those who have never experienced the Holy Spirit in such a tangible way might think that a person is faking this or is demonized or something, which can sometimes be the case. However, the power of God is real, and God sometimes "touches" people in special ways. Here are some examples:

  • When God created Eve, He first caused Adam to go into a deep sleep:
    "So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh." (Genesis 2:21)
    Adam's body physically reacted (by falling into a deep sleep) when God manifested His power.
  • When God made a covenant with Abram (later to be known as Abraham), God apparently caused Abram to go into a deep sleep:
    "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years."" (Genesis 15:12-13)
    This doesn't sound like it was very pleasant for Abram, but the point is that Abram's body physically reacted (by falling into a deep sleep) when God manifested His power, just as Adam's body did.
  • God also put King Saul and his men into a deep sleep:
    "So David took the spear and water jug near Saul's head, and they left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep." (1 Samuel 26:12)
    The bodies of King Saul and his men physically reacted (by falling into a deep sleep) when God manifested His power, just as Adam's and Abram's bodies did.
  • When the guards at Jesus' tomb saw the glory of God which was revealed in the actions of an angel of the Lord, they were so frightened that they shook and fell over:
    "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." (Matthew 28:2-4)
    This wasn't a pleasant experience for the guards, but the point is that their bodies had a physical reaction at the manifested glory of God, and they fell down "like dead men."
  • When Judas led the soldiers to Jesus so that they could arrest Him, Jesus confirmed His identity by using the divine expression, "I AM" (as in Exodus 3:13-14: "Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'""). The soldiers and Pharisees physically reacted to this pronouncement of Jesus' glory by falling to the ground:
    "So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground." (John 18:3-6)
    The NIV has "I am he" in this passage, but the word "he" is not in the original Greek (which is why other translations of the Bible such as the NASB Offsite Link and Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link have the word "he" in brackets in this passage). As you can see if you look in a Greek/English version of the Bible (check your local Christian bookstore), what Jesus actually said was, "I AM."

    Here's what a couple of well-known Bible commentaries say about this passage:
    "Fell to the ground (epesan camai). Second aorist active indicative of pipto with first aorist ending (-an). This recoil made them stumble. But why did they step back? Was it the former claim of Jesus (I am, ego eimi) to be on an equality with God (John 8:58; John 13:19) or mere embarrassment and confusion or supernatural power exerted by Jesus?" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)

    "[They were] struck down by a power such as that which smote Saul of Tarsus and his companions to the earth (Acts 26:14). It was the glorious effulgence of the majesty of Christ which overpowered them." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link)
    So why did the soldiers and the Pharisees recoil or "draw back" when Jesus said, "I AM"? After all, if they had come for Peter then it is doubtful that they would have recoiled in that way when Peter identified himself. Somehow there was divine power or glory involved when Jesus said, "I AM," and the soldiers and Pharisees physically reacted to that manifestation of God's glory by recoiling or stepping backwards. Perhaps that caused them to stumble and fall, or perhaps it was the glory of God itself which caused them to fall.
  • When Jesus revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as the apostle Paul) and his companions, it caused them to fall to the ground:
    "About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'" (Acts 26:13-14)
  • The Bible says that Peter went into a trance when God was about to give him a vision:
    "About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners." (Acts 10:9-11)
    Peter had fallen into a trance, but what was his physical body doing while he was in this trance? Using modern terminology, perhaps a Christian who knew him would have said that he was "slain in the Spirit," or that he had "fallen out under the power of God" (or something equivalent).
  • The apostle Paul also fell into a trance when God was about to give him a vision:
    "When I [Paul] returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.'" (Acts 22:17-18)
    Paul had fallen into a trance, but what was his physical body doing while he was in this trance? Using modern terminology, perhaps a Christian who knew him would have said that he was "slain in the Spirit," or that he had "fallen out under the power of God" (or something equivalent).
  • The apostle John said that he was "in the Spirit" when he was given visions of the future, which he wrote down in the book of Revelation:
    "On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet" (Revelation 1:10)
    What was John's physical body doing while he was "in the Spirit"? Using modern terminology, perhaps a Christian who knew him would have said that he was "slain in the Spirit," or that he had "fallen out under the power of God" (or something equivalent).
  • The apostle Paul was "caught up to the third heaven," and he didn't know if it was with or without his physical body:
    "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. ... To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, 7)
    Based on 2 Corinthians 12:7 (above), Bible teachers tend to believe that it was Paul himself who had been caught up to the third heaven. If Paul was not physically caught up into heaven then what was his body doing while he was experiencing heaven? Using modern terminology, perhaps a Christian who knew him would have said that he was "slain in the Spirit," or that he had "fallen out under the power of God" (or something equivalent).

Modern Christians who do not believe in being "slain in the Spirit" often say that the above Scripture passages are not meant to be normal experiences for Christians. But the point is that the frail human body can react by falling over or "going into a trance" or "going into a deep sleep" when the glory and majesty and power of God are manifested in some way. When the power of the Holy Spirit touches people who are standing up while receiving prayer, sometimes they fall to the ground. It would be out of balance to say that this should happen every time someone receives prayer, because it doesn't appear to have happened very often in the New Testament. But it would also be out of balance to say that this should never happen, because the above passages show that people can experience physical reactions at the manifested glory and power of God.


Is Falling Backwards a Sign of Judgment?

One argument that people sometimes make against being "slain in the Spirit" is that falling backwards is always a sign of divine judgment in the Bible, and falling forwards (or falling facedown) is a sign of reverence and worship in the Bible. In other words, falling forwards is always "good," and falling backwards is always "bad." According to this argument, when modern Christians fall backwards while receiving prayer, it shows that being "slain in the Spirit" is a bad thing.

The Bible never says that falling backwards is "bad" and that falling forwards is "good," so the only basis for this argument comes from certain patterns that sincere, well-meaning people believe they see in Scripture. Therefore, we need to determine if these are valid patterns in the Bible which God intends for us to use for drawing this conclusion.

Here are the passages which are often used to support the argument that falling backwards is "bad":

  • "So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died. That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry. Eli heard the outcry and asked, "What is the meaning of this uproar?" The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes were set so that he could not see. He told Eli, "I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day." Eli asked, "What happened, my son?" The man who brought the news replied, "Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured." When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy. He had led Israel forty years." (1 Samuel 4:10-18)
    Prior to this passage, God had already judged the family of Eli the priest because he did not properly restrain his two sons (1 Samuel 2:12, 22-36, 3:11-14). In the passage above, the Israelites had been fighting the Philistines, and in order to win this battle the Israelites had decided to take the ark of the covenant to the front lines in the belief that it would bring them victory (see for example Numbers 10:35-36 and Joshua 6:6-11). At this point Eli was old, blind, and overweight (1 Samuel 2:22, 4:15, 18), and he was desperately, fearfully waiting to hear what had happened to the ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 4:12-13, above). When he heard the terrible news that the holy ark of God had been captured by the Philistines, we can understand the shock and horror that he must have felt. When people receive such devastating news, the natural reaction is to recoil (backwards) in shock, and that's what the Bible describes happening to Eli. Being a "heavy" man, he fell and broke his neck and died.

    The question is, are we meant to read something into the fact that Eli fell backwards rather than falling in some other direction? The Bible doesn't say that Eli's direction of fall has any significant meaning here. Instead, this passage simply gives us a fairly straightforward description of what happened. There is nothing here which tells us that if Eli had fallen forwards and died then we should interpret it as a sign that Eli was under God's favor, but since Eli fell backwards and died then we must interpret it as a sign of divine judgment. The only way to determine if it is significant that Eli fell "backwards" would be if we can show that a strong pattern exists in the Bible in which people under God's judgment consistently fell backwards. What we're going to see is that there is no such pattern in the Bible.
  • "So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground." (John 18:3-6)
    When we recoil or "draw back" and it causes us to stumble, it would be natural for us to fall backwards. So when Jesus declared "I AM" and the soldiers and the Pharisees "drew back," it is natural that they would fall backwards to the ground (but notice that the Bible doesn't actually tell us in which direction they fell).

    There are numerous people in the New Testament who brought judgment on themselves by their actions, but none of them are recorded as falling backwards at any time. That is not a Scriptural pattern. In John 18:3-6 (above), the Bible does not say that the soldiers and the Pharisees fell backwards as a sign of judgment, so this is an interpretation which some Christians are reading into this passage. For example, notice that Jesus used that same divine expression, "I AM," after He was brought before the high priest, and notice that He was condemned to death, mocked, and beaten:
    "But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am [ego eimi]," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him." (Mark 14:61-65)
    In this passage Jesus was officially condemned to death, and He was spit upon, blindfolded, struck, mocked, and beaten. These people certainly brought divine judgment on themselves by their actions, yet none of them fell backwards. In fact, no-one else in the New Testament is ever described as falling backwards. There's no pattern in the Bible to support the opinion that people are under divine judgment when they fall backwards while receiving prayer in a church service.
  • ""The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines." Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night." (1 Samuel 28:19-20)
    This is another passage which some Christians use to argue that falling backwards is always a sign of divine judgment. However, this passage simply says that Saul fell "full length" to the ground. Did he fall forwards? Did he fall backwards? Did he fall to one side or the other? Did he fall prostrate on his face? The passage doesn't say. We can't use this passage to prove anything about the "direction" that someone falls to the ground.
  • "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward." (Genesis 49:16-17)
    This passage describes a characteristic of the tribe of Dan, using the imagery of a snake as a metaphor. Consider that if a snake bites a horse and the horse rears up, which way is the rider likely to fall? It would be natural for the rider to fall backwards in that situation. The horse rider in this passage is not a real person (it is simply used as part of a metaphor), and this passage doesn't prove that falling backwards while receiving prayer is wrong or bad.
  • "Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, "This is the resting place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"-- but they would not listen. So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there--so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem." (Isaiah 28:11-14)
    This passage describes Israel falling into a "backward" condition in their relationship with God, which soon resulted in their capture by the Assyrian army. This passage does not describe anyone actually falling to the ground, and it doesn't prove that there is anything "wrong" or "bad" when people fall backwards to the ground while receiving prayer.
  • "For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their forefathers." (Jeremiah 7:22-26)
    This is another passage which refers to the "backslidden" hearts of the Israelites. It does not describe anyone actually falling to the ground, and it doesn't prove that there is anything "wrong" or "bad" when people fall backwards to the ground while receiving prayer.

These are the main passages which are used when people try to prove that falling backwards is always "bad." Based on the above passages, here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Notice that most of these passages do not actually describe anyone falling backwards. It is easy to find Scripture passages which contain the word "backwards," but we need to be careful that we are properly fitting those passages together and that we are drawing the conclusions which God intended to convey. In my article called Are You Sure You Believe what the Bible Says? I gave the example that there are several passages in the New Testament which refer to the "eat, drink, and be merry" type of lifestyle. But are we meant to put those passages together and then claim that drunkenness and gluttony are proper behaviors for Christians? Obviously not. We need to be careful about the conclusions that we draw from any patterns that we think we see in the Bible. In the passages above, there are only two possible examples of people actually falling backwards to the ground (1 Samuel 4:17-18 and John 18:3-6), which is hardly a "pattern" to use for condemning people when they fall backwards while receiving prayer in church.
  2. Notice that there are no Christians who fell backwards in the passages above. Not only does the Bible never condemn nor forbid falling backwards while receiving prayer, but the Bible does not give us any examples of Christians falling backwards under the condemnation of God. There is no pattern in the Bible which supports the idea that falling backwards is "bad."
  3. The New Testament tells us that if we sin then the Holy Spirit will convict us inwardly of our sin. The Bible never says that if Christians sin then we will fall backwards under divine judgment.
  4. If falling backwards is proof of God's judgment on people when they are "slain in the Spirit" (as some people believe), then what did those people do which supposedly brought them under divine judgment? All they did was to come forward in church to receive prayer! This argument is essentially saying that God is condemning people for requesting prayer in church.
To summarize, the Scriptural evidence does not prove that it is "wrong" or "bad" for people to fall backwards while receiving prayer. But notice that if the Scriptural evidence did prove that people are under the judgment of God when they fall backwards (as some Christians believe), then this would mean that it is perfectly Scriptural for such people to fall backwards!

Here is another problem with the argument that falling backwards is "bad" (showing that a person is under divine judgment), and that falling forwards is "good" (demonstrating reverence for the Lord). Notice that when David killed Goliath, Goliath fell forwards:
"Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground." (1 Samuel 17:49)
Some people argue that falling forwards (facedown) is "good," while falling backwards is a sign of judgment. But in the above passage we can see that Goliath fell forwards (facedown) in judgment, which contradicts that argument.


Examples of People Falling Facedown in Reverence and Worship

Well-meaning Christians who believe that falling backwards is "bad" often use some of the following Scripture passages to show that falling forwards (or facedown) is the only "good" or "proper" way to fall to the ground:
"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?" The commander of the Lord's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:13-15)

"On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees." (Daniel 10:4-10)

"Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking." (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

"While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified." (Matthew 17:5-6)

"Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."" (Matthew 26:39)

"As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."" (Acts 10:25-26)

"All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"" (Revelation 7:11-12)

"Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."" (Revelation 19:9-10)

(For more examples, see Genesis 17:1-4, Ezekiel 43:1-3, 44:4, Mark 5:22-23, 5:30-33, 7:25, 10:17, 14:35-36, Luke 5:8-9, 12, 8:41-42, 46-47, John 11:32, Acts 9:3-4, 16:25-30, 22:6-7, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Revelation 1:16-17, 4:9-11, 5:7-8, 13-14, 11:15-17, 19:4, 22:8-9)
According to these passages, it is perfectly Scriptural for Christians to fall forwards to the ground in reverence and worship.

However, some people go a step further and argue that this is the only proper direction for Christians to fall. In other words, their argument is that falling forwards is "good," and falling backwards is "bad." One problem with that view is that many modern Christians (especially in the West) have never been taught anything about putting one's face to the ground in reverence. This was a common practice in Biblical times, but it would not occur to many people today unless they had been taught to do that. Therefore, many modern Christians express their reverence and worship in other ways besides putting their faces to the ground. If modern Christians are filled with great awe and reverence at the manifested presence and glory of God then it might cause them to feel weak and fall to the ground, but it would be unreasonable to expect that all Christians will always fall forward on their faces if they have never been taught to do so (especially if a pastor or a prayer team member is standing in front of them and laying hands on them, which would prevent them from falling forwards).

To summarize, it is perfectly Scriptural for Christians to fall forwards to the ground in reverence and worship, but the Bible never says that this is the only direction in which Christians can fall.


Is Being "Slain in the Spirit" Demonic or Occultic?

Here are most or all of the places in the New Testament where demons caused people to fall to the ground:
"Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father." (Luke 9:42. This is repeated in Matthew 17:14-15 and Mark 9:20)

"Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God."" (Mark 3:11)

"When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!"" (Luke 8:27-28. This is repeated in Matthew 8:28-29 and Mark 5:2-8)

"In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, "Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!" "Be quiet!" Jesus said sternly. "Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him." (Luke 4:33-35. This is repeated in Mark 1:23-26)
From these passages we can see that pastors, prayer team members, and so on should be sensitive to the fact that people can fall to the ground under the influence of demonic spirits. This has happened at my church on at least one occasion when a man came forward for prayer, then fell to his knees with his face to the floor, "dry heaving" as if he needed to vomit something out (which apparently happens sometimes when demons are coming out of a person). On another occasion, a demon began manifesting itself in a woman in the congregation at our church, and she was gently taken to another room for counseling and prayer. The New Testament demonstrates that these things can and do happen, and therefore churches should be sensitive and prepared for such situations.

Sincere, well-meaning Christians who do not believe in being "slain in the Spirit" sometimes argue that people are falling down because they are demonized, and therefore being "slain in the Spirit" is demonic. However, when they make this argument they are overlooking several important things. First, there are only a few recorded examples in the New Testament where people fell to the ground under the influence of demonic spirits, so it would be unScriptural and out of balance to claim that every person who falls backward while receiving prayer is demonized. Scripture doesn't support such a generalization. Second, notice that if demonic spirits are causing some people to fall to the ground, then this is perfectly Scriptural according to the passages above! Third, if people are demonized then they need prayers and deliverance, so coming forward for prayer in church is the best thing they could have done. It's not something that we should condemn them for doing. Fourth, at the top of this article we saw a number of Scriptural examples in which God caused people to fall into a deep sleep, to fall to the ground, to go into trances, and so on, which shows that people can fall to the ground for Godly reasons. Therefore, it is unScriptural to make the generalization that being "slain in the Spirit" is demonic. Recall that the Pharisees accused Jesus of being demonized, when in reality it was the Holy Spirit operating in Him (Mark 3:22-30). So if the Holy Spirit causes some people to "fall out under the power of God," but in our prejudice we accuse those people of falling down under the influence of demonic spirits, then we would be making the same terrible mistake that the Pharisees made.


A similar argument that people sometimes make against being "slain in the Spirit" is that it resembles pagan religious practices in which people fall to the ground. Therefore, being "slain in the Spirit" is occultic, according to this argument.

We certainly should not participate in the occult, but is it true that Christians must never do things that might resemble pagan or occultic practices? For example, Christians light candles in church for various reasons (such as a candlelight service at Christmas or at Easter), yet candles are a prominent feature of many pagan religions and occultic rituals. If Christians must not do anything that might resemble pagan religious practices (as some people argue), then this would mean that we must never light candles in church for any reason. Another example is that many pagan religions worshiped gods who were born of a virgin, who died and were resurrected, who were called "the light of the world," who promised eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked, who had a "holy meal" consisting of bread and wine, who commanded baptism, whose birthdays were celebrated on December 25th, and so on (for example, try doing an Internet search for "Mithra," and then scan through some of the articles). If Christians must not do anything that might resemble pagan religious practices (as some people argue), then this would mean that we must not worship Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus was born of a virgin, He died and was resurrected, He is called "the light of the world," He promises eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked, He had a "holy meal" consisting of bread and wine, He commanded baptism, we celebrate His birthday on December 25th, and so on, all of which resemble certain pagan religious beliefs and practices.

The devil is a counterfeiter (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9, for example), so he has caused pagan religions to have counterfeit beliefs and practices which imitate the beliefs and practices of Christianity. As another example, notice that going into trances is a big part of the New Age and the occult, yet the Scripture passages at the top of this article show some of the apostles going into trances.

So while it is true that Christians should not get involved in pagan idolatry, we should also recognize that there are pagan beliefs or practices which bear a resemblance to legitimate Christian beliefs or practices. This means that it is overly simplistic to condemn "falling out under the power of God" just because people in pagan religions fall to the ground. We have already seen that there are Scriptural reasons why Christians might fall to the ground while receiving prayer (especially if God causes it to happen), so it would be wrong to condemn being "slain in the Spirit" simply because of a superficial comparison with other religions.


Are People Giving Up Their Self-Control?

Sometimes Christians will say that when people are "slain in the Spirit," they have given up their self-control. The argument is that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and God would not cause us to sacrifice a characteristic of the Spirit.

But is this really a valid reason for condemning "falling out under the power of God"? Christians certainly need to exercise self-control in the face of trials and temptations, and we need to exercise self-control in order to crucify the flesh (for example, see my article called Scriptural Ways to Grow in Spiritual Maturity), but the Bible also tells us to submit ourselves fully to God (see Hebrews 12:9 and James 4:7, for example). Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is trying to do something special within a person as he is receiving prayer and the laying-on of hands, then that person would be quenching the Spirit if he uses his self-control to resist the Spirit. Notice the following passages, for example:
"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!" (Acts 7:51)

"Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5:19, New King James Version)
Remember, we have seen Scriptural examples where God put Adam, Abram, and others into a deep sleep, and we have seen Scriptural examples where some of the apostles went into trances, and so on. Those people were not wrong for "giving up their self-control," and modern Christians are not wrong for submitting to the Holy Spirit. This doesn't mean that it is always the Holy Spirit when people fall backwards while receiving prayer, but it is unScriptural to dogmatically claim that it is never the Holy Spirit causing that to happen. If the Holy Spirit wants to do something within us, then we are supposed to give up our self-control and fully submit to Him.


Are People Wrongly Pursuing a Blessing?

Another argument against being "slain in the Spirit" is that by pursuing a blessing, people are abandoning truth and going after supernatural experiences instead.

But is it wrong to pursue a blessing? Consider the "Prayer of Jabez," for example, which has become widely known among Christians in the past several years:
"Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request." (1 Chronicles 4:10)
Jabez pursued a blessing, and God granted his request. Then there is the well-known example of Jacob. He wrestled all night with a heavenly "man," and then he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me":
"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there." (Genesis 32:24-29)
Jacob pursued a blessing, and he got it. Another example is when Elisha asked to inherit a double portion of the prophet Elijah's "spirit":
"When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied. "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not." ... The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him." (2 Kings 2:9-10, 15)
Elisha pursued a double blessing, and he got it. Now notice that the apostle Paul said that he worked hard for the sake of the Gospel, "that I may share in its blessings":
"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
So the apostle Paul pursued blessings by working diligently for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, Paul said that Jesus redeemed us so that the blessings given to Abraham would come to us:
"He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3:14)
The apostle Paul also said that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3)
According to the above passages, it is perfectly Scriptural to pursue God's blessings. In fact, whenever we pray for anything then we are pursuing a blessing from God for ourselves or for someone else! So it is erroneous to condemn being "slain in the Spirit" on the grounds that people are pursuing a blessing from God.

Furthermore, there is nothing unScriptural about desiring spiritual experiences:
"But eagerly desire the greater gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:31)

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." (1 Corinthians 14:1)

"I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:5)

"Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." (1 Corinthians 14:12)

"Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." (1 Corinthians 14:39)

"do not treat prophecies with contempt." (1 Thessalonians 5:20)
These passages demonstrate that we are supposed to desire and have spiritual experiences. Granted we need to keep things in balance and make sure that our focus is on the Lord rather than on the experiences, but there is nothing unScriptural about having spiritual experiences or desiring spiritual experiences.

There is another problem with this argument as well. It assumes that people are coming to the front of the sanctuary for the purpose of falling to the floor, but that is a poor assumption. Many people have big needs in their lives, and they come forward in order to receive prayer from the pastor or from a prayer team member. They're not coming forward in order to fall down (in fact, many people hope that they don't fall to the floor), they simply have the need for an experienced prayer warrior to pray for them. It is erroneous to claim that all of those people are seeking the "spiritual experience" of falling down in church.


The Phrase "Slain in the Spirit" Does Not Appear in the Bible

Another argument is that since the phrase "slain in the Spirit" is not in the Bible, that in itself should cause us to question this phenomenon.

But if that is a valid argument, then it means that the doctrine of the Trinity is erroneous as well, because the word "Trinity" does not appear in the Bible. Similarly, the word "Rapture" is not in any English version of the Bible, and the phrase "the Second Coming" is not used anywhere in Scripture, yet these doctrines are clearly taught in the Bible. So if we say that being "slain in the Spirit" is wrong simply because that phrase is not in the Bible, then we would have to say that the doctrines of the Rapture, the Second Coming, and the Trinity are wrong as well.


More Things to Consider

Many Christians have no problem with the idea of "falling out under the power of God," and they have seen other people falling backwards while receiving prayer in church. So if they go forward to the front of the sanctuary during a church service to have someone pray for them and lay hands on them, it is possible that they will fall backwards simply because they were expecting that it might happen. In fact, preachers have noticed that some people fall backwards because they think they are supposed to fall backwards while being prayed for, or because they want to fall backwards (they want to feel that they got a "touch" from the Lord). In other words, sometimes people fall backwards purely for fleshly reasons. The power of suggestion can be quite strong, and it affects all of us more often than we realize (which is what advertisers count on). This doesn't prove that falling backwards during prayer is wrong, it simply demonstrates that people are human. But it also shows that it is wise to have "catchers" standing behind people as they are receiving prayer and the laying-on of hands. Whether people fall backwards because of the power of the Holy Spirit or whether they fall for some other reason, it is always a good idea to have someone there to gently lower them to the ground. As an usher, I am one of the catchers at my church, and it's really none of my business why someone falls over. The simple fact is that people do fall over sometimes, and we don't want them to be injured. When people are ready to get up off of the floor, we're there to help them stand up. If a person begins manifesting a demon, we're there to help.

As catchers, we try to watch for any signs that the person might be about to fall over, and we also try to watch the peoples' faces so that we can hand them a tissue if they begin weeping. Sometimes we can see signs that God may be working in the person during that time of prayer, such as a visible peace or joy that comes on the person's face. Sometimes the person begins to sway backwards, but then he straightens himself up (or he takes a step backwards) to keep from falling. If God is doing something inside the person, sometimes the person's pride prevents him from fully submitting to whatever the Holy Spirit is doing. What I'm getting at is that not only do people sometimes fall to the ground during prayer, but many people consciously resist falling down, even if the Holy Spirit is ministering to them. Then there's the opposite situation that we watch for, which is when a person really wants to "let go" and fall backwards, but the prayer team member is speaking something important, such as a Scripture verse that he feels the Holy Spirit is prompting him to speak to the person. In such a case, the catcher might help the person to remain standing while the prayer team member is speaking. If the person is still "letting go" when the prayer team member is finished, then the catcher will gently lower the person to the floor.

The point is that many people have an overly-simplistic view of this phenomenon (such as claiming that pastors and preachers are pushing people over), when there is actually more to this issue than people might realize. Even if there are preachers who push people over, there are still many other reasons why people fall to the ground, and we have seen that Scripture describes people reacting to the manifested power of God by falling over and going into trances and falling into a deep sleep and so on.


Conclusion

No matter how we feel about being "slain in the Spirit," the fact is that people sometimes fall down while they are receiving prayer and the laying-on of hands (otherwise this wouldn't be such a hot topic of debate!). Maybe it's because they think they're "supposed" to fall, or maybe it's because in some way they "want" to fall, or maybe their burdens are so overwhelming that they subconsciously need that "release" of relaxing and letting go, or maybe their knees just get weak and wobbly during prayer, or maybe they lose their balance because they are looking up toward the ceiling with their eyes closed and their hands uplifted, or maybe they fall in worship and joy, or maybe they fall weeping with "a broken and contrite heart" (Psalms 51:17), or maybe they "fall out under the power of God." It really doesn't matter why a person falls to the ground while being prayed for, we should be prepared for the fact that people will sometimes fall over so that we can have someone ready to catch them.

Sadly, many modern Christians have never personally experienced any kind of reverence-inspiring, knee-buckling, fall-to-the-ground-in-worship direct revelation of the infinite glory and power and majesty of God. We tend to know about His majesty and glory and power in an intellectual way, but when we directly experience it then the natural human reaction is to fall to the ground in worship or joy (or even "in a faint"). Those who have never experienced God's presence in such a powerful and tangible way might not be able to relate to that, but when the power of God is moving in a church service and people are coming forward to the front of the sanctuary to be prayed for by a team of prayer warriors, some of those people will experience a great peace descending on them as their burdens are lifted, or they might sense healing being manifested in their bodies, or they might receive some other tangible sense of God's presence and power and grace and mercy and love and forgiveness. Is it unreasonable that this direct sense of God's majesty and glory might cause people to get weak in the knees and fall to the ground in worship and joy? Or that it might cause some people to collapse to the ground in weeping with "a broken and contrite heart"? (Psalms 51:17). Or that God might cause someone to go into a temporary "sleep" (as we saw in the passages at the top of this article) in order to do a deep inner work of some kind within the person? Considering that we have Scriptural examples of these things happening (above), it is not unreasonable at all. Certainly we don't need to expect these things to be normal, common experiences for every Christian, but the Bible specifically tells us that these things can and do happen. The point is that there are a number of different reasons why people might fall to the ground while receiving prayer in church, especially if they expected or wanted it to happen.

So, is it Scriptural to say that God's power sometimes causes physical reactions in people, such as making them fall down or go into a trance or go into a deep sleep? Yes, we have seen that this happened to people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Did things like that happen very often in the first century? Not as far as we can tell in the New Testament. When people fall backwards while being prayed for, is it always God causing that to happen? No, we have seen that sometimes there are other reasons why people fall during prayer. Is it wrong or bad for people to fall while being prayed for? Well, if God causes them to fall over then it's not wrong. But if people fall over during prayer for some other reason, that's not necessarily bad either. When people come forward in church to be prayed for at the front of the sanctuary, anyone who has prayed for them (or who has been a catcher) knows that sometimes people's burdens and problems are so deep and so overwhelming that it's hard for them to stand up as their tears and sobs shake their bodies. In situations like that, people sometimes just "let go" and fall down. Perhaps it's an emotional release, or perhaps sometimes God's peace has come over them and the sudden relaxation makes them "let go" and fall backwards (trusting that there is a catcher behind them). Again, there are lots of reasons why people might fall to the ground, but they can feel comforted and blessed even if it wasn't God who caused them to fall. I have fallen backwards a couple of times myself while being prayed for at the front of the sanctuary, and I honestly don't know if it was God or if somehow it was just me. But I do know that I was wobbly and unsteady (very relaxed and somewhat disoriented) as I walked back to my seat, so perhaps God did a work inside of me that I wasn't consciously aware of (and there have been other times when I went forward for prayer and did not fall backwards). Are people sometimes getting out of balance with this doctrine? Yes, there are undoubtedly people on both sides who have gotten somewhat out of balance in how they are handling this issue. Should churches have "catchers" standing behind people when they are being prayed for? Some Christians argue that there were no "catchers" in the New Testament when Jesus laid hands on people, and therefore it is an unScriptural practice. But the fact is that people sometimes do fall over when they are receiving prayer (otherwise this wouldn't be such a hotly debated topic), and therefore it is a wise practice for a church to have trained catchers standing behind people as they are receiving prayer and the laying-on of hands.

What it all boils down to is that it is easy to condemn something if we over-simplify it, but there is more to the whole issue of being "slain in the Spirit" than people might realize. As we have seen, there are many different (and legitimate) reasons why people fall to the ground while receiving prayer.


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 11/11/2003 - Added a verse at the end of the section called "Is Falling Backwards a Sign of Judgment?" which shows that Goliath fell forwards (facedown) when David killed him with a stone.
  • 06/24/2003 - Modified some of the wording.
  • 07/11/2002 - New article.