In recent years the belief and practice of being slain in the Spirit has gained considerable acceptance among some Churches and Groups. While there is debate whether the term should be “slain by the Spirit” or “slain in the Spirit,” these terms really mean one and the same thing. It is usually considered that “slain in the Spirit” is the more correct expression to use.
When the teaching of being slain in the Spirit was first introduced it was opposed by many preachers and viewed with suspicion by others, but gradually it has gained wider acceptance. It should be pointed out that not all preachers accept the teaching as Biblical, even among those who believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit belong to believers today.
The usual experience is that a person, saved or unsaved, responds to the appeal of the preacher and comes forward in a meeting. The preacher then places his hands upon them, (although some preachers do not lay hands in the person) and they fall backwards. They then usually become unconscious for a time, which may extend to several hours in extreme cases. This experience is claimed to be the Spirit of God coming upon a person in a powerful way, slaying them, and thus giving them a wonderful experience whereby they are filled with the Spirit.
Those who have this experience are usually viewed as having a greater blessing than others, and to have been visited by God in a powerful and special way.
Scripture commands us to “prove all things,” (I Thessalonians 5:21). The word “prove” means to test, try, examine, scrutinize, to put to the test. We must test this teaching in the light of the Word of God.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God so if any experience is from the Spirit, it will be in full agreement with the Scriptures. Sometimes “proving all things” is claimed to be a sign of unbelief and doubting, however God commands us to “search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so,” (Acts 17:11). Not to test and prove all things is to disobey the Word of God.
Firstly. Is the expression “slain in the Spirit” Scriptural? It is not found anywhere in the Word of God. However, this fact alone does not prove it to be unscriptural, for neither are the words, “sacrament” or “trinity” in the Bible.
The word “slain” means to kill, to injure. Has the Holy Spirit come to kill or to give life?
Has he come to cast down or to raise us up? The Holy Spirit is never said to be a slayer, but a giver of life. “It is the Spirit that gives life,” (John 6:63). “I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:14).
Secondly. What Scriptural proofs are there for being slain in the Spirit? There are a number of Scriptures which some people claim demonstrate that this teaching is true, and that we are to expect to be slain in the Spirit today. There are three in the New Testament and one in the Old. We shall consider these texts in the order they appear in the Bible.
- I Samuel 19:20-24. This portion of Scripture records how King Saul was seeking to arrest David. Samuel and David were at Ramah at the time and Samuel was superintending a company of prophets who were prophesying. King Saul sent two groups of messengers to arrest David. However, on both occasions the Spirit came upon the messengers and they also prophesied, and were thus prevented from arresting David.
Finally, Saul went himself to Ramah and the Spirit of God was upon him also and he prophesied before Samuel. Then we read “And he stripped off his clothes also…and lay down naked all that day and all that night,” (Verse 24). Probably this means that Saul divested himself of his armour and military clothes.
Does this account of Saul have any connection to present day slaying in the Spirit? Samuel did not lay hands on Saul. There is no evidence that he was unconscious. He was not filled with the Spirit. Saul was not a saved man, nor did this event change his life or actions in the least. There is no indication in the Scripture that Saul’s experience was to be repeated in the lives of New Testament believers. To seek to use the case of Saul is to misapply and misuse the Word of God, which is called the “accommodation of Scripture.”
- John 18:3-6. These verses record how the soldiers and officers of the chief priests and Pharisees came to arrest Christ. The Lord went to meet them and asked, “Whom seek ye?” They replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Lord replied, “I am he.” When Jesus had said this, “they went backward, and fell to the ground,” (Verse 6).
Do these verses teach the doctrine of being slain in the Spirit? Most definitely they do not. These verses do not even mention the Spirit, nor do they say that the soldiers fell backward, but that they withdrew, and then fell to the ground. Jesus did not lay hands on these men, nor were they deterred from their intentions to arrest Christ. Their actions cannot be construed to be an example of a Christian experience of receiving God’s Spirit in any way.
Commentators usually believe that they fell down because of some sense of the Lord’s majesty and greatness, or because He used the Divine Name when he said “I AM.”
- Acts 9:3-9, which records how the Lord appeared to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus. Saul had been filled with rage against the Church and went to Damascus to arrest the believers there. On the way suddenly there shined a great light from heaven and Saul “fell to the earth,” and heard the Lord speaking to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Verse 4). When Saul arose he was unable to see and was led into Damascus, where Ananias was sent to him and his eyes were opened and he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Does Saul’s experience provide an example of being slain in the Spirit? Certainly not. There are no similarities between what happened to Saul and the experience of those who claim to be slain in the Spirit. Saul did not fall backward, he fell to the ground and so did the men accompanying him (Acts 26:14). The great light and the revelation of Christ to him, overwhelmed him, and in amazement and awe, he fell to the ground. Saul was by no means unconscious. He heard the Lord speaking to him, as did the men with him, and Saul responded and spoke to the Lord.
There is no reference to the Holy Spirit until Saul was in the city of Damascus, and three days later Ananias came to him and put his hands upon him (Acts 9:17-18).
The experience of Saul is that of the Lord appearing in a glorious way to him, whereby he was completely overcome and humbled, and was fully transformed to be the Lord’s servant for the rest of his life.
- The final example is taken from Revelation 1:17-18 where we are told that when the apostle John saw the revelation of the risen, glorified Christ, whose face was as the sun shining in his strength, John fell at the Lord’s feet as dead. The Lord then laid His right hand upon John and spoke very comfortingly to him with the words “Fear not, I am the first and the last,” (Verse 18).
Again we must ask, Does this portion of Scripture teach the doctrine of being slain in the Spirit or does it give us an example of a man of God who saw the Lord in His glory and was completely overcome with awe and reverence? The answer is clearly that this portion does not even speak of the Holy Spirit. It records the effect of the overwhelming sense of the glory and majesty of the Lord upon a man of God. Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel and others felt the same way when they saw the glory of the Lord.
When we consider all the above examples, none of them provide any indication that anyone in the Bible experienced being slain in the Spirit. None of these examples even occurred during a meeting conducted by a preacher. This teaching has been imposed on the Scriptures, and not found in them.
Some preachers have sought to justify the practice of being slain in the Spirit by claiming that it is a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit. These preachers point out that we cannot limit God, that He is free to manifest His power how and when He pleases and that this experience is one of those sovereign manifestations of the Holy Spirit today.
It is agreed that God is sovereign, and that at times He works in unusual ways. At times the Holy Spirit has often worked in wondrous and unexpected ways.
However, to adopt and systematize a certain practice not even mentioned in the Bible, claiming it to be a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit is totally wrong. Being slain in the Spirit is totally wrong. Being slain in the Spirit is very much through human influence and effort, with the preacher creating the right atmosphere and having his helpers ready to catch those who fall backward. It is not something that the Spirit does sovereignly outside the control and direction of man.
Probably the most serious and dangerous aspect of being slain in the Spirit is not only that it is unscriptural, but it is anti-scriptural. The practice of falling backwards and of becoming unconscious is totally contrary to the plain teachings of the Word of God.
It was the devil who cast men down, not the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:20). He raised them up again. No one in scripture ever became unconscious as a result of the operations of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit works in our hearts He does not bypass our minds and intellects, but He enlightens and teaches, thus making the Lord Jesus known to us through His Word.
The experience of being slain in the Spirit is one that in its nature and content is contrary to the way that God has revealed He works in our hearts. He does not cast us into some unconscious state, and then without any knowledge on our part fill us with His Spirit.
God works in us according to our nature which He has given us. He makes us alive to Him and causes us to see His ways, to know His truth, to understand His Word, to love, obey and to trust in Him.
Thirdly. How does any person then have an experience which they believe is being slain in the Spirit? Such an experience to them is often very real and dramatic. There are several factors involved which make an experience which is thought to be of the Spirit possible to men.
- a) There is the atmosphere created in the service. Preachers create an emotionally charged atmosphere through excitement, music and other means. This experience would not take place without the right atmosphere. The experiences appealed to in the Bible all took place in situations which were without emotion and mass hysteria.
- b) There is the expectation of the person coming for that experience. Their emotions must be sufficiently stirred and aroused so that they are cooperating with the spirit of the meeting.
- c) There is the influence of the speaker. Preachers who practice being slain in the Spirit, have learned how to create the right atmosphere, to break down any resistance in the minds of the hearers, and lead them into a state of passivity, that they might receive this so-called slaying.
We must note that no one in the Bible ever created such emotionally charged meetings before their hearers were blessed with the Holy Spirit. We must also note that such swoonings, collapsings, faintings, screamings and emotions are not limited to these preachers only, but are to be found in meetings conducted by gifted but ungodly people, and are even to be found in some of the rituals of heathen worship. ❖
Rev. Cameron-Smith is minister of the Southern Presbyterian Church in Launceston.