Q: #356. Why do Christians fall over when someone touches them?
A: This phenomenon is called being “Slain In The Spirit” (or sometimes “Resting In The Spirit” / “Falling In The Spirit”). It is primarily practiced in Pentecostalism, and generally takes place during church services, healing services, conferences, or “revivals.” What usually happens is that an “anointed” pastor or leader, “full of the Holy Spirit,” touches someone (usually on the forehead), and the power of God that “flows” that out of that pastor/leader is so overwhelming that the person they touch cannot stand, and they fall backwards. Many report that they feel like they have been “struck by lightning,” or feel “warm all over” when this happens.
Some lose consciousness, but most remain conscious (but still fall), so several “catchers” are usually placed behind them so they won’t be hurt when they fall. Those who are conscious can display any number of reactions (i.e. seizures, great peace, laughing uncontrollably, crying, speaking in tongues, even barking like a dog…). This can go on for minutes, or even hours.
Does the Bible support this type of thing? Those who believe it does generally use verses that show people “falling” to the ground in response to some act of God to support their position. Among the most prominent verses used are: (Jn 18:6)(Acts 9:3-4,8)(Mt 28:2-4)(Rev 1:17)(Mt 17:5-7)(2 Chr 5:14)(1 Kin 8:11).
However, if you look closely at these, or other verses used, it is pretty easy to see that they really don’t offer much support for this practice. For example, if you look at the first two verses, it is ENEMIES of God who fell, not believers. In the 3rd verse, they “became like dead men” at the appearance of an ANGEL, not God. In the last two verses, when it says “the priests could not stand to minister,” it is not saying the priests “fell over,” it is saying that they were unable to minister inside the Temple because it was filled with the “glory of the Lord.”
In fact, I actually looked at every place in the Bible where the word “fell/fall” is used. Here are some important things I found.
1. There is NOT ONE place in the Bible where people ever “fell” in response to God working through a human (including Paul, Peter, and any other disciple). No one fell as a result of their “anointing” or healing.
2. When people in the Bible “fell,” they almost always fell “forward,” on their faces. In only one verse (Jn 18:6) does it show people falling backwards.
3. The people who “fell” did not plan to fall. It was not an “experience” they were seeking, and more often than not, it was not a pleasant experience (see: Rev 1:17, Mt 17:5-7).
4. When people “fell,” it was in response to seeing God in some way, seeing something God did, or something God showed them. Or, they fell on their faces in prayer, worship, or thanks.
5. NO ONE ever fell in response to “having hands laid on them.”
6. Not ONCE did anyone “fall over” when Jesus touched them, or healed them. (If they didn’t fall at the hands of Jesus, who was more “anointed” and “full of the Spirit” than anyone in history, why are people falling today?)
7. Those in the Bible who fell never needed “catchers.”
There are many stories out there of people who have been involved in this practice, and then gotten out of it. Nearly all admit that they “fell” on purpose because one of several psychological factors were at work:
Peer pressure, falling because it was expected.
Falling because they desperately wanted to have that “experience” others were having.
Falling so they didn’t make the person laying hands on them look bad.
Falling so they didn’t seem less spiritual.
Falling because they gave in to the power of suggestion.
I have experienced some of this in my own life. Early in my walk with the Lord, I attended conferences where many people were “Slain In The Spirit,” although I never was. Even in those days, something about it did not feel right. More recently, I worked for a short time in a ministry where this was a common practice. At one point, I told the “anointed” minister, who was the head of the ministry, that I was sick. He called over the “catcher,” put his hand on my forehead, and prayed. He pushed so hard on my forehead that it was hard to keep from losing my balance. I did not fall (and I really didn’t feel much better). (They didn’t keep me in the ministry for long.)
I do want make this clear though. I am NOT saying that people cannot “fall” to the ground because they are “overwhelmed” in some way by God. I have read that some of the most respected ministers in history such as Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and others have reported people falling to the ground in their meetings. The problem is not about “falling” in response to something connected with the power of God. It is about the WAY this is practiced in so many places today. Making the experience a “show,” usually on stage in front of thousands. Placing more focus on the “anointed” minister than on God. Manipulating people’s emotions to get a response. And, most importantly, saying the Bible supports what is being done.
In (1 Cor 14:40), when Paul is giving instruction for worship within the Church, he says “all things must be done … in an orderly manner.” Individually, we are told to be “self-controlled and alert” (1 Pet 5:8). Self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23). Being “Slain In The Spirit,” in an altered state of consciousness, seems to run contrary to these Bible commands.