Slain In The Spirit

The pastor of my church and his wife have just begun to preach being 'slain in the Spirit' as a way to get close(r?) to God (a la Benny Hinn). He won't discuss the merits of his teaching, only the "beautiful experience of seeing Jesus face to face" through this. Can you comment upon the scriptural validity of being "slain in the Spirit," and do you know the history of it?
Well, the fact that your pastor won't discuss the merits of the teaching ought to tell you something significant. Not that Benny Hinn or his theological compatriots are wrong about everything, but there is no Scriptural precedent for being "slain in the Spirit." It actually has less scriptural basis than the wacky practice of snake handling, which is based on a bizarre interpretation of a questionable text (Mark 16:18) -- but at least it appeals to a text. There is mention of people being "slain by the Spirit" in the Bible, but it is not something you want to emulate. People were slain by the Spirit in judgment for their sin, and they didn't get back up again (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1ff.).

I do not know the specific history of the practice of being slain in the Spirit, though there is no indication to my knowledge that it existed before the modern charismatic movement. I give it no more credibility than any other sensationalistic adrenaline or hypnotically induced worship practices of many of our charismatic brethren. Please don't misunderstand me, here. I actually believe the charismatic gifts continue today, though I disagree with the charismatic position on the gifts (I have an answer online explaining my position: answer.asp/category/nt/file3Dqna215.qna).

All that being said, and with a clear affirmation of the regulative principle, I think that if a questionable practice (e.g. modern charismatic tongues) really enhances one's love for God, we probably ought not to squelch it. Consider the somewhat removed parallel of thinking that God is wonderful because he makes beautiful sunsets -- clearly nothing wrong here. And usually there is no real basis for criticizing people for appreciating God for the rush they get surfing (unless there is some real danger involved). The point is that many things in creation and general revelation may give us a greater appreciation for God, a greater awareness of his worth and glory, or some other benefit. Sometimes we think others are weird for appreciating these things, and maybe in some ways they are, but that doesn't mean they are sinning, and it doesn't detract from the fact that their relationships with God really are being nurtured.

While it is erroneous and therefore wrong to teach that slaying in the Spirit is a biblically based practice, if you read the answer I linked above you'll note that I argue for the possibility of new manifestations of spiritual gifting. If slaying in the Spirit is used in ways that spiritual gifts are used in the New Testament, then perhaps we can consider thinking of it as a real spiritual gift. Now, I've never seen it used that way. Rather, on TV at least, it always appears to be individualistic rather than centered on the congregation, it does not tend to edify the body but is geared only toward experience, it is not manifestly miraculous so as to provide a credible witness to divine power, and frankly it appears sensationalistic and self-indulgent. These factors indicate, in my mind, that we are not looking at real manifestations of the Spirit. Of course, there could be real manifestations of the Spirit in the mix -- maybe some instances are real and the rest are not. God is free to do what God wants to do.

At the same time, we have no obligation to think that something is from God just because someone claims it is, or even just because a Christian claims it enhances his relationship with God. For example, I have known believers who insisted that psychedelic drug use enhanced their relationship with God and opened their mind to his truths. In the Bible, this kind of drug use is called "sorcery" and it is forbidden. We need to be careful that alleged modern manifestations of spiritual gifting are not really ploys of the devil or self-delusions -- this whether or not the manifestations parallel those in the New Testament.

The fact that being slain in the Spirit is not in the Bible indicates to me that those who practice it ought not to exhort others to engage in it except by way of offer. Certainly there is no basis for condemning those who aren't turned on by it, just as there was no basis in the New Testament for condemning anyone either for abstaining from a questionable practice or for not having a particular spiritual gift. If it is not a spiritual gift, then as a regular part of worship it is probably out by virtue of the regulative principle (a very biblical principle, see the article linked above).

Now, as far as "seeing Jesus face to face" goes, I hope he means that as a metaphor, because otherwise he is claiming an experience that the Bible reserves for Christ's return (1 Cor. 13:12), claiming a gift that surpasses biblical spiritual gifting. If he really means that he sees Jesus face to face, the best conclusion I can draw is that he is either imagining or hallucinating, and neither would weigh in favor of the experience being legitimate on my scales. If it is a metaphor, it seems like a harmless statement indicating that he feels closer to Jesus through the experience. That could well be true -- there is really no way to verify how he feels. Maybe it even helps him feel closer to Jesus for legitimate reasons (meditating on Jesus' attributes, works, etc.).

Finally, even if it is an allowable practice (on whatever grounds), it ought not to be practiced in such a way as to detract from the comprehensible witness to the gospel. Consider, by way of example, that Paul told the Corinthians to limit the practice of tongues in public worship because it did not edify, and even to limit prophecy that did edify to two or three speakers (1 Cor. 14). If even the great gift of prophecy is to be used sparingly in worship, and lesser gifts such as tongues even more sparingly, questionable practices or unverified gifts ought to be used even less, if at all, in worship.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.