In Pentecostal Churches it is common to see people who answer an altar call for prayer, fall to the ground under the influence of an experience which is called by such names as "Slain in the Spirit", or "Falling under the Power".
Whilst under the influence of the "spirit" causing the phenomenon, people sometimes "speak in tongues", or laugh or jerk uncontrollably, or just lie still in a trance. Some claim healing from sickness. Others report visions. Others claim to wake with a new hunger for prayer, Bible reading, or other spiritual exercises. Some even claim to have been called and empowered with "spirit gifts" for "ministries" of various sorts.
Usually the experience lasts just few minutes. However, for some it has been known to continue for hours, and in rare cases, for a day or more.
There is no doubt that these people experience something ....... But is it from God ?
WHAT IS IT?
To a casual observer, It looks very much like fainting . However it is not anything so relatively harmless as fainting.
Nor is it new! Amongst Pentecostals, it dates back to the beginning of this century where it made its appearance amongst the excesses at Azusa Street. And before that it was a feature of the more abandoned "revivals" of the 19th century.
A recognisable form of the same thing is also found in some PAGAN religions, such as Voodoo.
Amongst the less accomplished practitioners, it is nothing more than a well timed PUSH in the middle of a "prayer". I have seen that happen.
Indeed, on one occasion when we had a visiting preacher who we had formerly trusted, I have stood behind people as they were prayed for, and when the expected push came, I pushed back, holding them up to prevent them from falling! (We haven't invited that visiting preacher back!)
Some churches increase the level of expectancy by having "catchers" standing behind the "prayer line". And it is not uncommon to see the "catchers" with towels draped over their arms, which are used to cover up the nakedness of women who fall in "indelicate" positions! (Can we really believe that the God who made those coverings for Adam and Eve, could possibly be the author of a "spiritual experience" which causes a woman to fall in such an embarrassing way?)
The "best" of them use a very subtle form of audience manipulation and suggestion, which is nothing more or less than HYPNOTISM!
It works best in a large crowd, who have come in preconditioned expectation of the spectacular, are WILLING TO BE DECEIVED, and who have been made receptive by lots of singing, loud preaching, (and perhaps some "worship" in tongues). It all opens the mind to suggestion. In the more susceptible victims , it becomes very easy for the miracle working preacher to induce a deep trance like state of "altered consciousness".
Crowd manipulation doesn't always happen only in "Christian" circles! Hitler and other famous figures have all used their own versions of the same techniques!
It depends for its success, on the ignorance of the majority about the real nature of hypnotism and the power of suggestion made to receptive minds. It depends also on the willingness of an audience to abandon control of their minds into the hands of the manipulator. (and how can we believe that comes from the God who commands us to worship Him alone with ALL our mind?)
Sadly, suggestions to the victims that their "spiritual experience" is not from God, but merely a very subtle and little recognised form of hypnotism, are usually angrily rejected!
THE OCCULT DIMENSION
However not all of it can be written off so easily and casually, as merely the power of suggestion. In a few cases there may well be another dimension, which is even less understood than hypnotism.
It is more than possible that in some of the more "powerful" practitioners, there may be a real power , which is very definitely NOT from God, but instead belongs in the realm of the occult,
Whatever it is, it is amongst those things that God calls "abomination". (Deut 18:9-12)
A CASE HISTORY
I know of one case where the person concerned acquired an appetite for the experience, and a conditioned reflex , from some Pentecostals who are NOT on our list of respected "ministries"!
After their "ministry", she was left with an embarrassing "falling reflex" which occurred every time she came to church! And the original problem for which they "ministered" to her, was still with her!
In that case God did reveal His Power! But it was not in the falling! It was in His gracious answer to her prayer which confessed the need, forsook the association which caused it, and asked that she be set free from the "falling reflex".
IS THERE ANY BIBLICAL JUSTIFICATION FOR THIS PENTECOSTAL EXPERIENCE?
I certainly don't think so. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible .
However Pentecostals tend to seize upon any and every reference they can find about people falling asleep, or falling on their faces. e.g. Abraham in Gen 15:12 & Gen 17:3 , and Paul in Acts 9:4.
These, we are told, are the same thing as this modern Pentecostal "falling under the power"! I have even heard the scripturally destitute claim that Eutychus (Acts 20:9) was probably "under the power"! (To what incredible and illogical lengths the deceived will go in their endeavours to hold on to their deception!)
You and I both know (I hope) that these claims are a blatant abuse and distortion of the passages concerned. However, amongst the UNREPENTANT who are willing to be deceived (2 Thess 2:9-12) that suggestion is likely to attract less than friendly reactions! Sadly, that group seems to include most Charismatics.
THE REAL PROBLEM
We must not concentrate unduly on the deceiving experience. That must be regarded as only a symptom of a deeper spiritual need.
In John 14:15-17, Jesus did say that real spiritual experience is reserved for those who love Him and obey Him. Peter repeated that in Acts 5:32. And Paul said it again in 2 Thess 2:11-12!
The real source of deception is always lack of adequate repentance and obedience !
Not the least by far, of the many of those obedience problems, is the ego trip of appearing to perform miracles, and the attractiveness of "having all men speak well of us" and bow down to our "authority" and superior "spiritual power". (Luke 6:26)
THE REAL ANSWER
If, instead of concentrating on debate about the "Scriptural validity" of the "supernatural" experience, we spent more time evaluating the quality of repentance in those who claim the experience, we would have a much clearer vision of their real spiritual need.
Let the Sermon on the Mount be our standard!
Of course, in order to have that clear vision of the real needs of others, we will also first need to get the beam out of our own eyes! Otherwise, we too may well expose ourselves to the same risk of deception! That is a possibility which we ignore at our peril. JESUS SAID SO! (Matthew 24:24)
Don't expect a lot of success with convincing charismatics about this. It isn't always easy to convince even the elect that they are in danger, until they have been burnt a little!
Only those who search for God with ALL their heart are guaranteed success in their search.
By and large, the Charismatic movement repeats the serpent's lie to Eve. "You shall be like God". (Genesis 3:5) It promises the power of God without some adequate measure of the holiness of God.
Although it uses the words "repentance" and "holiness" it denies both their real meaning and the true Gospel which begins with the words "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17)
It is my prayer for all of you, who seek to know more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that God will keep your eyes open to the dangers of false Charismatic experience.
"By their fruit you shall know them." (Matthew 7:20)