A practice has arisen in many churches over the past decades, and especially over the last 15 years, of people laying hands on others, who then fall over backwards, as if knocked out, this practice being called "falling under the power" or "being slain in the spirit." Let us see what the Bible has to say on this.
1) Laying on of hands in the Bible.
When the Old Testament prophets or the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry or the apostles laid hands on people for healing, those upon whom hands were laid did not fall down but, on the contrary, they were raised up, which is what we would expect. Falling down is obviously the opposite of being physically healed. We can take just two examples of this. When Simon Peter’s mother in law lay sick with a fever, Jesus came, took her by the hand and lifted her up. Immediately the fever left her and she served them. (Mk. 1:31) Later, when the same apostle took hold of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, so he stood up and walked.(Acts 3:7-8)
When Jacob blessed his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and laid his hands on them, they did not fall down, for he spoke to them straightaway, and they were aware of what he was saying to them. (Gen. 48:14-20) In the same way, Jesus blessed the children who were brought to Him by placing His hands on them. There is no suggestion of falling down, or they would have been frightened and not gone to Him.
c) Being filled with the Spirit
Again, there are no records of any believer falling down. On the contrary, those who are filled with the Spirit are full of life and immediately speak. On the Day of Pentecost, when the 120 were filled with the Spirit, they began to speak in other languages. (Acts 2:3-4) Later, when the Early Church gathering was filled with the Spirit, they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31) When the twelve men at Ephesus had hands laid on them by Paul, straightaway they spoke in other languages and prophesied. (Acts 19: 6)
d) Being commissioned and gifted for service.
Again there is no record of anyone falling down, but the inference is that something good was given which caused them to rise up and serve. When Joshua was commissioned, Moses laid his hands on him, and immediately he was set before Eleazar the priest and all the people. (Nu. 27:18-23) Paul and Barnabas were sent off on their missionary journey after having hands laid on them. (Acts 13:3) The references to Timothy being commissioned and equipped for service by Paul and the elders, when they laid their hands on him, imply that through it he was enabled to speak the word boldly. (1Tim.4:14 & 2Tim.1:6)
Mention should also be made of Ananias laying his hands on Paul. When he did so, Paul did not fall down, even though he was weak from not eating, but his sight was restored and he heard what was said to him, which included being instructed to rise up and be baptized. (Acts.9: 17-19, 22:12-16)
God laying His hand on people is another matter, for it is always in judgment, e.g. Ex.7:4, Ex.
24:11, Is.11:14, Ez.39:21 This is why Jabez prayed that God’s hand would be with him, not on him or against him. (1Chron.4:10)
We can summarise by saying that the laying on of hands by people is either for the recipients to be blessed, to be healed, to be filled with the Holy Spirit or to be commissioned for service. In all cases, people do not fall down, on the contrary, they rise up to serve, to praise and to work. We can confidently assert, therefore, that any laying on of hands that causes people to fall down is not of the Lord.
This is corroborated by what we have already noted in previous Encouragers, that the practice of laying hands on people that causes them to fall is occultic. It is used by spiritualists and those of Christ denying religions. When we see it, therefore, we can know that basically it is not Christian, even though it may be mixed up with Christianity. This is why it is so deceptive, and why so many have been deceived by it, for it can often be attended by many Christian words and phrases. But we need to note that the spiritualists, the faith healers, the gurus and the psychics use exactly the same methods as those who are doing this "slaying in the spirit" in Christian circles. Both sets of people lay hands on people, but often do not actually touch but just go near the person who is seeking the healing or the impartation, or push their hands towards them, or blow at them. All these are standard occultic practices that the Church should have recognised years ago, and realized that they were being deceived, and those Christians who have accepted these practices should be very concerned that these psychic phenomena have come into their churches, and are not new but old techniques reproduced and dangerously intermixed with Christian ideas. Such practices need to be renounced, and the cleansing of the blood of Christ sought.
It is interesting to note, in this connection, that strong believers who have gone to meetings where people were falling to the floor, have understood what was happening, have gone spiritually armed, and have sought only what was from the Lord, have not fallen to the floor, even when touched many times.
2) Falling over backwards.
We are familiar with the fact that when hands are laid on people or near people, whether in occultic or Christian gatherings, they fall backwards. Let us see what the Bible says about this.
a) In the Bible, going backwards signifies being put to shame and defeat. (Ps.40:14, Ps. 70: 2, Is. 1:4, Jer. 7:24) When Eli heard the news of the capture of the ark of God, he fell backwards off his seat and died. Those who fall backwards are unbelieving sinners or God’s enemies. Judas and his band of those sent to arrest Jesus fell backwards when Jesus identified Himself as the "I am," (Jn.18:6); Saul of Tarsus and those with him fell to the earth when Jesus revealed Himself,(Acts 26:13-14); the false prophets and priests that Isaiah wrote about who were confused with wine and staggered around due to strong drink, would be spoken to by the Lord so that they would fall backwards and be broken, be snared and be captured. (Is. 28: 7-13) This is getting much closer to one correct meaning of being "slain in the Spirit," something that nobody in their right mind would want, for it signifies judgment. The only people in the Bible who were truly "slain by the Spirit" were Ananias and Sapphira, whose punishment was terrible and final. We need to be very careful when using such expressions.
b) Believers who are genuinely struck or touched by the Holy Spirit, or who see the Lord, fall forwards not backwards.
i) When God appeared to Abraham, even though he was 99 years old, he fell on his face before his maker. (Gen. 17: 1-3)
ii) When fire came from the Lord, and consumed the burnt offerings of the people of Israel in the wilderness, all the people shouted and fell on their faces.(Lev.9:24)
iii) When the Commander of the army of the Lord appeared to Joshua, the leader of the people of Israel fell on his face to the earth, and worshipped the Lord. (Josh. 5:13-15)
iv) At the dedication of the first temple, when Solomon had finished praying, and fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the priests could not enter the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the house, all the children of Israel knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped the Lord. (2Chron.7:1-3) Oh that we could experience that.
v) When the fire of the Lord fell on Mount Carmel, and consumed the sacrifice, the people fell on their faces and said, "The Lord, He is the (true) God, the Lord, He is the (true) God. (1Kings. 18: 38-39)
vi) When Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord, he fell on his face and remained conscious, for he heard the voice of the Lord. Moreover, when God’s Spirit entered into Ezekiel, he was set on his feet. He didn’t fall on his back or become unconscious. (Ez.1:28, 2:2 , 3: 23-24) Later, when the glory of the Lord came to the temple and filled the temple, he, again, fell on his face, not on his back, and he heard the voice of the Lord telling him to notice carefully what he was to see and hear. Ez.43: 3, 44:4-5)
vii) When the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ saw their Master transfigured, and heard the voice of God, they fell on their faces, but Jesus touched them straightaway and told them to get up. (Mt.17: 1-7)
viii) After the resurrection, the disciples fell down at Jesus’ feet, held Him by the feet and worshipped him.(Mt.28: 9)
ix) When John saw the ascended and glorified Son of God, he fell at His feet as though dead, but Jesus laid His hand on him and told him not to be afraid, but to write down what he would see and what would be revealed to him.(Rev.1: 17-18)
x) Moreover, we are told that the correct way to worship God and the way that they do it in heaven is to fall on our faces before Him, (1Cor. 14:25, Rev.7:11, Rev. 11:16) We are given beautiful illustrations of this being used in prayer and thanksgiving in the stories of the leper who when he saw Jesus, fell on his face and implored the Lord to heal him, (Lk.5:12); and that of the one leper out of the ten who were healed who felt so indebted to the Great Physician that he went back, fell down at Jesus’ feet and poured out his thanks to Him (Lk.17:15-16). How that must have brought joy to the Saviour. Above all, we see how the Son of God fell on His face when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is our supreme example.
We can see that a completely different picture is presented in the Bible to what happens today in those places where people are falling backwards. In the Bible, people fall forwards because they are overwhelmed with the greatness, the glory and the holiness of God; and are quickly told to get up and do what God says. Where people fall today, they are not humbling themselves before the greatness, the holiness and purity of God, they are not broken before Him, they just fall backwards and stay lying on the floor. It should be obvious that we are dealing with a different phenomenon, one that bears little relation to the teaching and practices that are revealed in the Bible.
We need to ask why such backward fallings did not occur during the earthly ministry of the Son of God when He touched people, for, of course, He was the supremely Anointed One. His divine power was obviously greater than anybody else who has ever lived, yet masses of people moved around Him, touching Him and He touching them, without anybody falling down. We need to ask why that was if people fall down under today’s ‘anointed’ leaders.
We also need to notice that when people fell on their faces before God in the Bible, nobody stood behind them to catch them, for, of course, it was not necessary. Yet today, people have to be designated to catch people as they fall. Where this has not been done, many people have fallen and hurt themselves, sometimes so badly that they have had to go to hospital, and some have even taken out court cases against the "evangelist" who was responsible. Something has gone seriously wrong.
Furthermore, we also need to remind ourselves that any indiscriminate laying on of hands is not condoned by the Lord, for Timothy is told by the apostle Paul not to lay hands on any one hastily, (1Tim. 5:22), yet in meetings today, everyone is encouraged to have hands laid on them; and when that fact is combined with the occult influences and the falling backwards, there is indeed cause for great concern.
The more one considers the situation, it seems incredible that many more people have not sat down seriously with the Bible and wondered why today’s situation is so different, why the backward falling over did not occur then, why the people in the Bible did not fall over when hands were laid on them, especially the hands of "The Anointed One", why ‘catchers’ were not needed then, why leaders lay hands on people indiscriminately when the Bible says not to do so, why virtually a different kind of God is presented to them. The answer must be what we have mentioned before, that we have a largely Biblically illiterate set of people in our churches, who are unable to discriminate the true from the false. How they need to be brought back to simple Biblical principles.
3) The Genuine Falling Down
There is a genuine "Falling under the Spirit," and it occurs during times of revivals, when people fall down without anybody touching them or waving a hand over them, or pushing a hand at them or blowing at them. It is due to the direct operation of the Holy Spirit of God, sent in answer to the prayers of God’s people, often as the word of God is being preached. This falling down without anybody touching you, because you have been convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit is another matter altogether. When people fall down and cry out for the mercy of God, we can know that this is a genuine work that He has done. This is truly being ‘slain in the spirit,’ and that is what we should be seeking.
I am indebted to Greg Gordon of Sermonindex.com for the following historical survey.
" By looking at the history of revivals we see clearly that phenomena such as "falling under" and being "smitten down" was simply a response to the extreme conviction upon the souls of men. True revival preaching brought forth much strong exhortations and pleadings upon the sinfulness of men and the holiness of God. For any sinner or carnal Christian that heard this preaching would have these type of manifestations because of the deep work of God in conviction and guilt upon the conscience. In modern day churches preaching that produces conviction, or shows the lost sinner the condemned state he is in, is considered by most to be legalistic! To bring forth the "terrors of the law" is a thing from the past and is not considered relevant anymore. It is hoped simply through reading these various accounts from past revivals that the reader will realize the true reason for the experience of "falling under" in the Spirit of God.
During the revival in Cambuslang in 1742 under the ministry of Reverend M’Culloch there were many phenomena that surrounded the revival meetings, especially the occurrence of "falling under," as it was termed in those days. "As to what these young men termed ‘the falling,’ it was a way of speaking among scoffers at the time, occasioned by the bodily distress which, in many instances, accompanied conviction. The work was much objected to in consequence; but when the intimate connection of soul and body is considered, it will not appear surprising that great outward agitation should mark the emotions of a soul fully awakened to the dread realities of judgment and eternity."
Paris Reidhead in his sermon "Ten shekels and a Shirt" gives two accounts of this phenomena during times of revival: Wesley was a preacher of righteousness that exalted our great God. When he would exalt the holiness of God, and the law of God, and the righteousness of God, and the justice of God, and the wisdom of His requirements and the justice of His wrath and His anger, then he would turn to sinners and tell them of the enormity of their crimes and their open rebellion and their treason and their anarchy. Then the power of God would so descend upon the company, that on one occasion it is reliably reported that when the people dispersed, there were 1800 people lying on the ground, utterly unconscious, because they had had a revelation of the holiness of God, and in the light of that they’d seen the enormity of their sins, and God had so penetrated their minds and hearts that they had fallen to the ground!
It wasn’t only in Wesley’s day; it was also in America, New Haven, Connecticut, Yale. A man by the name of John Wesley Redfield had continuous ministry for three years in and around New Haven, culminating in the great meetings in Yale Ball, the first of the Yale Balls back in the 18th century. The policeman were accustomed during those days, if they saw someone lying on the ground, to go up and smell his breath, because if he had alcohol on his breath they’d lock him up; but if he didn’t, he had Redfield’s disease. And all you needed to do if anyone had Redfield’s disease was just take him into a quiet place and leave him until he came to. Because if they were drunkards, they’d stop drinking, and if they were cruel, they’d stop being cruel, and if they were immoral, they gave up their immorality; if they were thieves, they returned what they had. For as they had seen the holiness of God, and seen the enormity of their sin; the Spirit of God had driven them down into unconsciousness because of the weight of their guilt! And somehow in the overspreading of the power of God, sinners repented of their sin and came savingly to Christ.
In the Irish Revival of 1859, this account of falling under the Spirit was given: "When the conviction as to its mental process reaches its crisis, the person, through weakness, is unable to sit or stand, and either kneels or lies down. A great number of convicted persons in this town and neighborhood, and now, I believe, in all directions in the north where the revival prevails, are "smitten down" suddenly, and they fall as nerveless and paralyzed and powerless, as if killed instantly by a shotgun. They fall with a deep groan, some with a wild cry of horror--the greater number with the intensely earnest plea, 'Lord Jesus, have mercy on my soul!’ The whole frame trembles like an aspen leaf, an intolerable weight is felt upon the chest, a choking sensation is experienced and relief from this found only in the loud, urgent prayer for deliverance. Usually the bodily distress and mental anguish continue till some degree of confidence in Christ is found. Then the look, the tone, the gestures, instantly change. The aspect of anguish and despair is changed for that of gratitude, and triumph, and adoration. The language and the looks, and terrible struggles, and loud desperate depreciation tell convincingly, as the parties themselves declare, that they are in deadly conflict with the old serpent. The perspiration rolls off the anguished victims; their very hair is moistened. Some pass through this exhausting conflict several times; others but once. There is no appetite for food; many will eat nothing for a number of days. They do not sleep, though they may lie down with their eyes shut."
The Cane Ridge revival of 1801 had many cases of "falling under" in the meetings. During that time, the majority of people that experienced these manifestations were the mockers, the sinners and those convicted greatly under the power of God showing their sinfulness before a Holy God: "At its height, about twenty thousand were said to have been in attendance. Religious services of praying, singing, exhorting, and preaching were kept up day and night. Physical expressions of the excitement were numerous and sometimes took bizarre forms. The groans and screams of those under conviction mingled with the shouts of those who had found release and joy. The fear of hell and damnation and the hopelessness of the lost would be succeeded by the bliss of assured salvation. The most common physical experience was "falling." About three thousand are said to have been prostrate at the Cane Ridge meeting. Some of the "fallen" were insensible. Others were aware of what was happening about them but were powerless to move. Women and children were especially suggestible and were the most affected. Yet men were also among "the slain.
The phenomenon of falling under the power of the Spirit occurred in the revivals of Jonathan Edwards. His assessment was that a person may "fail bodily strength" due to fear of hell and the conviction by the Holy Spirit or due to a "foretaste of heaven."
R.A. Torrey testified of people falling under the power of God due to conviction of sin. Praying Hyde relates of the Punjab Prayer Convention of 1906, "We began to pray, and suddenly the great burden of that soul was cast upon us, and the room was filled with sobs and cries for one whom most of us had never seen or heard of before. Strong men lay on the ground groaning in agony for that soul."
However, discernment and study is required in our day of perverted and dubious workings of false spirits and doctrines of devils. The counterfeit has been alongside the truth since the beginning.
I give this example from the 1623 Ulster revival:
"There were now many converts in all the congregations which have been mentioned, and Satan observing the prosperity of the gospel amongst them set himself to perplex them by discrediting the work of God in their hearts. This he did by a counterfeit of the operation of the Holy Spirit on several persons at Lochlarne, whom he caused to cry out during public worship, and some of them were affected with convulsive pangs. The number of persons thus affected increased daily, and at first the ministers and people pitied them, hoping that the Holy Spirit was at work with them. but when they had conversed with them, and found that they did not discover any sense of their sinful state or any longing after a Saviour, the minister of the place wrote to his brethren, inviting them to come and examine the matter, who when they had spoken with them saw that it was a mere delusion of the destroyer. The next Sabbath, an ignorant person in Mr. Blair’s congregation made a noise, but immediately, says Mr. B., ‘I was assisted to rebuke that lying spirit which disturbed the worship of God, and I charged the same in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, not to molest that congregation; and through God’s mercy we met with no more of that sort."
Oh how we need to see changed lives in response to preaching that brings conviction and contrition. Only God can change a life and make it holy, that is the true litmus test of revival.
We have seen what is the true state of being slain in the Spirit. It always brings conviction of sin. If it does not, then it is not of the Holy Spirit, for "when He comes, He will convict of sin and righteousness and judgment." (Jn. 16:8)
We have also seen that we need to be discerning, and guard against any counterfeit of the devil. If anybody falls down when hands are laid on them, we can be sure it is not of God, but from another spirit. Furthermore, if anyone falls down without any conviction of sin, we can be sure that also is not of God. The term "slain in the Spirit" should be used only of those who have been convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand we have every right to lay hands on people in blessing, for healing, for filling with the Holy Spirit, for commissioning and equipping for ministry; so that people rise up straightaway in health and holiness and power to praise and serve the Lord.
Above all, let us continue to seek that genuine revival that brings true conviction of sin; the rending of the heavens and the outpouring of the Spirit of God on this spiritually dry and barren land.
P.S. Give your church the litmus test:
Are the services and worship meetings of the church you attend dominated by a ruthless honesty before a Holy God, acknowledging that without Him you can do nothing, and an insatiable desire to see the presence and the glory of God fill the place, (Ez.43:2&5), so that everybody falls in adoration before Him; sin is disclosed and repented of, people are cleansed and made new by the Holy Spirit, lives are overwhelmed by the Lord Jesus Christ, God is worshipped in true adoration and holiness, and everyone is empowered to pray, praise, witness and work for the Lord?
Don’t be satisfied with any counterfeit of the real thing.