Slain-in-The-Spirit: The Socio-Psychological Manipulation of Christians by Charlatan Prophets

Feature Article Slain-in-The-Spirit: The Socio-Psychological Manipulation of Christians by Charlatan Prophets

I have been a Pentecostal Christian since infancy and remain so. I was a member of the Scripture Union (SU) in High School and a member of the Campus Crusade for Christ at College. Furthermore, I have been a serious student of the Bible, Christian theology, and Christian apologetics. It would be, therefore, unwise on my part to dismiss what the power of the Holy Spirit can do in the life of a believer during worship. We all once have felt a frisson of excitement and nervousness in the worship of God. However, one must be suspicious when atypical situations become typical and normative in Christian practices. Since the church's inception, heresies and aberrations from orthodox Christian teachings and practices have existed. Those deep in theology and church history will attest to the influence of the Docetists, Arians, and Marcionites movements and how the various church councils dealt with them.

There is a new phenomenon in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles called "Slain in the Spirit," which The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal Charismatic Movements (2002) describes as "A relatively modern expression denoting a religious phenomenon in which an individual falls, the cause being attributed to the Holy Spirit. The phenomenon is known within modern Pentecostalism and Charismatic renewal under various names, including 'falling under the power,' 'overcome by the Spirit,' and 'resting in the Spirit.'" Besides God's influence or power, psychologists and anthropologists believe this phenomenon could be induced by psychological stimulations such as autosuggestion, group peer pressure, or a desire to experience the phenomenon.

However, anything that recurs in a statistically predictable way cannot be described as supernatural. Miracles or supernatural events are unpredictable and often unrepeatable. While the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operational, God has given us his word to guide us as Christians in doctrine and practice. The word of God warns us to test every Spirit. (1 John 4:1). I believe the present Charismatic and Pentecostal Movement, as well as syncretic churches, are suffused with false teachers, charlatan prophets, and false miracle workers. Many false prophets and teachers have come to us in sheep's clothing, but they are inwardly ferocious wolves. We can only recognize them by their fruits. They claim to know God, but by their actions, they deny him. In their greed, they are exploiting people not only with fabricated stories but also with fabricated signs and wonders, as well as a sleight of hand. Scholars who have studied "Slain in the Spirit" see significant similarities between the phenomenon and the effects of hypnotic techniques.

Many of these "Slain-in-the Spirit" practitioners are not practicing hypnotic techniques consciously but unconsciously. These Holy Ghost gurus have unintentionally tapped into the psychological techniques of hypnosis. Slain in the Spirit evidenced a greater tendency to hysteric type personality, characterized by hyperexcitability, emotionalism, instability, suggestibility, and dependency. We are witnessing the use of hypnotic induction techniques, the domination of the subconscious mind, and the susceptibility to suggestion.

In a piece titled "Woman Sues Evangelical Church for Holy Spirit Injuries," The Christian Post writes, "A St. Louis woman is suing an Evangelical church over injuries she sustained when a fellow member caught the Holy Spirit and lost control of herself. In the complaint, Jones mentioned the woman hit her head, neck, back, and buttocks and was rendered unconscious." Jonathan Turley, a tort law professor at George Washington University commenting on this case, says, "The whole idea of being touched by the Holy Spirit is to surrender yourself. In doing so, these people are surrendering themselves to collapsing involuntarily." He continued, "These churches tend to treat this response as the Holy Ghost taking away the power of the individuals even to stand."

While I do not know the theological sophistication of the law professor, I can infer that by his pronouncement, he is making a negligence liability case against the church because the situation described here is not a normative Christian practice. We are told in 1 Corinthians 14:32-33 that "The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." Worship services in some Pentecostal, Charismatic, and syncretic churches have been characterized by certain experiences and teachings that are foreign to the orthodox Christian theology and practices. These experiences are marked by what adherents describe as: "spiritual drunkenness," "uncontrollable holy laughter," "being slain in the spirit," "uncontrollable bodily movements," "apparitions," "visions," "prophetic utterances," "angelic visitation," and "trips to the throne room." Other experiences are physical convulsions such as jerking, twitching, bouncing, and running on the spot that appears regularly, along with shouting, weeping, and roaring.

These aberrational Christian worship experiences and practices were common in the ministry of Evangelist Maria Woodworth-Etter in the 1880s. Though considered aberrational in the 1880s, they have become commonplace in recent years in the ministries of people like Kathryn Kuhlman, Aimee Sempe McPherson, Benny Hinn, John Arnott, and others. Evangelist Woodworth-Etter, in 1880, started her ministry with little formal education. But in 1883, she saw people at her meetings going into trances. She was then called the "Trance Evangelist." Maria believed the experience was the direct result of the visitation of the Holy Spirit. Later another woman evangelist, Kathryn Kuhlman, known for pinpointing specific ailments among her audience members, saw many of them fall to the floor or "go under the power,” as she later described it.

John Arnott, a Canadian man who attended several of Kuhlman's healing meetings, was also attracted to the supernatural experiences at Kuhlman's ministry. He later became the Leader of the so-called "Toronto Blessings." Another evangelist, Benny Hinn, became an adherent of Kuhlman. Benny was so mesmerized by Kuhlman's ministry that he would visit Kuhlman's graveside several times for anointing. All these experiences mimic the work of Franz Anton Mesmer, a German physician, and his theory of Animal Magnetism.

Many aspects of “Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)” have been studied in various disciplines, including history, archaeology, cultural anthropology, religious studies, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, to name a few. Tart defines an "Altered State of Consciousness" as "a qualitative alteration in the overall pattern of mental functioning, such that the experiencer feels his consciousness is radically different from how it functions ordinarily."

The phenomena parallel ancient rites designed to induce altered states for the benefit of participants, such as the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece and various shamanic practices across cultures. Early psychologists like William James established an initial framework for studying altered states of consciousness as early as 1902.

Notwithstanding, it was not until the 1960s that modern psychology began to take a serious look at the phenomena in earnest. Worshippers in altered states of consciousness who are said to have been slain in the Spirit laugh sardonically, jerk spasmodically, sob, and shake uncontrollably. Others scream and crawl on the floor. This happens as some people sing in unison with intense Music. Pastors or prophets tell their devotees to expect an encounter with God and that God will touch them. Religious sociologists describe this phenomenon as a "possession trance."

Besides the influence of God, psychologists and anthropologists believe this phenomenon could be induced by psychological stimulations such as autosuggestion, group peer pressure, or a desire to experience the phenomenon. The late 18th-century healing practice known as animal magnetism or mesmerism was considered a physical treatment meant to treat deficiencies or blockages in a patient. Animal magnetism is traced to an unknown force in the human body. Music and dancing played a major role in inducing people into an altered state of consciousness.

Research has shown a link between Music and an altered state of consciousness (ASC): Music can induce and maintain hypnosis. Arthur Schopenhauer, the great German philosopher (February 22, 1788–September 21, 1860), contemplated the power of Music and dancing on humans in his masterwork, "The World as Will and Representation." Schopenhauer writes, "Music… stands quite apart from all the other arts. It is such a great, exceedingly fine art, its effect on man's innermost nature is so powerful, and he completely and profoundly understands it in his innermost being as an entirely universal language whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself."

Yulia Ustinova (2011), in her archaeological studies, observed the discovery of ancient musical instruments such as bird-bone pipes from as far back as 30,000 years ago and concluded that "it is very probable that music and dancing were used for manipulation of consciousness as early as prehistory.” She writes, "Dance and Music create collective experiences and can lead to ASC, especially when rhythmic Music is combined with extensive motor behavior. The origin of the musical tradition is now confidently dated back to the Upper Paleolithic.”

Proponents of these unbiblical practices claim that slain in the Spirit is a common Christian practice that could be traced back to the Old Testament, church history, and the New Testament. The fact is that there are no shreds of evidence from the Bible upon closer hermeneutical and exegetical examination. Some have likened "slain in the Spirit" to the extraordinary experience of the martyr Perpetua. First, unlike the modern-day "slain in the spirit," where a mass of people is slain on the floor and jerking spasmodically, all the Biblical accounts used by the adherents of the phenomena were often individuals that had unique encounters with God.

None of these people who use Perpetua's account to justify their unbiblical mass hysteric experiences face martyrdom as Perpetua did. Second, it was neither a group action nor an experience that is repeatable, something to be repeated by a group of seekers. The uniqueness of Perpetua's experience was recognized by two great church fathers, Tertullian and St. Augustine. For Augustine, Perpetua experienced a divine intervention to strengthen her maidservant to face martyrdom.

The proponents of the slain in the Spirit go through the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and hunt down all scriptures that narrate ecstatic or trance-like experiences, irrespective of why and how they occurred, and use them as proof texts to justify their unbiblical teaching and practices. We must understand that not everything recorded in the Bible or any historical book is to be used for instruction. For example, we are not instructed to commit adultery and cover our misdeeds with murder, as David did, because it is recorded in the Bible. If anything, those things were recorded to remind and warn us to refrain from them. The fact that God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep while creating the woman out of his rib does not mean that all Christians should fall into a deep sleep. This event occurred once in the Bible and was never repeated. Or, the fact that God caused Abraham to fall asleep while cutting a covenant with him does not mean all Christians should do likewise. This was a one-time occurrence never repeated anywhere in the Bible.

Proper hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis differentiate historical narratives from didactic teaching. On the one hand, historical narratives are texts meant to relate a series of events that happened in the past, some of which may be good for instruction, repetition, or to avoid. On the other hand, didactic texts are meant to teach and explain. The problem with false teachers is that they consider every part of the Scriptures good for instruction and command and must be repeated. Understanding these two distinctions will prevent us from drawing too many wrong inferences from the Bible, resulting in heretical teaching and practice. The way to demonstrate the overwhelming power of the Spirit of God in our lives is to bear the fruit of the Spirit instead of outwardly displaying emotions. My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us test every Spirit to know if they are from God.