Slain in the Spirit

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People slain in the Spirit after receiving prayer from faith healer and Catholic priest Fernando Suarez

Slain in the Spirit or slaying in the Spirit are terms used by Pentecostal and charismatic Christians to describe a form of prostration in which an individual falls to the floor while experiencing religious ecstasy. Believers attribute this behavior to the power of the Holy Spirit. Other terms used to describe the experience include falling under the power, overcome by the Spirit, and resting in the Spirit.[1]

Description[edit]

Sociologist Margaret Poloma has defined slaying in the Spirit as "the power of the Holy Spirit so filling a person with a heightened inner awareness that the body's energy fades away and the person collapses to the floor".[2]:28 Slaying in the Spirit may occur in a variety of settings, including while a person prays in solitude. However, it usually occurs in group settings, including small prayer groups, religious conferences or retreats, regular church services and large healing crusades.[3]:232

In church services or healing crusades, attendees may be invited to the front of the church or other venue to receive prayer from a minister or a team of ministers.[4]:91 Often, the prayer is accompanied with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. Those being prayed for perceive the Spirit of God upon them and they fall, usually onto their backs. In most cases, their fall is broken by ushers or "catchers". Once fallen, a person may lay on the floor face up and eyes closed for several seconds to several hours in some cases.[3]:232-233

People who have experienced the phenomenon report different degrees of awareness ranging from total consciousness to complete unconsciousness. They also report feelings of peace and relaxation.[3]:241 While lying down, they may speak in tongues, laugh, weep or speak praises to God.[1] According to anthropologist Thomas Csordas:

In Charismatic ritual life, resting in the Spirit can serve the purposes of demonstrating divine power; of exhibiting the faith of those who are "open" to such power; of allowing a person to be close to, "touched by," or "spoken to" by God (sometimes via embodied imagery); of preparing a person to receive and exercise a spiritual gift; or of healing.[3]:247

Not all incidents of falling or swooning in Pentecostal and charismatic churches are attributed to the Holy Spirit. Besides the possibility of fraud, charismatics may also attribute the behavior to demonic activity.[3]:229 Analyzing accounts of early Pentecostal religious ecstasy, historian Grant Wacker concluded that communal cues helped religious communities determine whether specific incidents were instigated by the Holy Spirit or not.[5]:56 Non-spiritual sources of the phenomenon have also been proposed, such as autosuggestion, peer pressure, or a desire to experience what others have experienced. In addition, sociologists note that similar phenomena, such as spirit possession and trance, can be found in other religions.[1]

History[edit]

Beginning with the First Great Awakening that impacted Protestant Europe as well as Britain's American colonies in the eighteenth century, bodily movements became a prominent and controversial part of Protestant revivalism. Supporters of the revivals within various denominations including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists argued that trembling, groaning, screaming and falling to the ground "as dead" were signs of divine power in those who were becoming aware of their own sinfulness. This bodily agitation, as well as the problem of sin and guilt, was resolved through Christian conversion, which was marked by peace and joy.[6]:35

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, considered falling down and other bodily movements to be natural (not supernatural) human responses to the supernatural "testimony" or "witness" of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Occasionally, Wesley attributed bodily movements to Satan's attempt at disrupting the conversion process, but at other times, he described bodily movements as natural human responses to God's love.[6]:36 Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards all record instances of people falling during their ministries. During the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, Peter Cartwright and Charles G. Finney also recorded similar behavior.[1]

In the twentieth century, "prostrate trance" became chiefly associated with Pentecostalism and its offshoots. Historian Grant Wacker argues that early Pentecostals replaced the liturgies and sacraments of traditional churches with the "disciplined use of ecstasy", including the regular occurrence of slaying in the Spirit. Regarding the sacramental undertones of slaying in the Spirit, Wacker writes:

In those situations Christ's physical death and resurrection was re-embodied—not just reenacted but literally re-embodied—night after night, before the very eyes of believers and nonbelievers alike. In one account after another we read that prostrate worshipers covered the floor. The stories sometimes stated and often implied that no one was left standing, which suggests that prostration gained a ritualistic significance comparable, perhaps, to kneeling or genuflecting in liturgical church traditions.[5]:108

The frequency of slaying in the Spirit and the importance that Pentecostals placed on it decreased over time as Pentecostals rose to the ranks of the middle class and attempted to shed the stereotype of being "Holy Rollers" (a derogatory term derived from instances of people literally rolling in the aisles when baptized in the Holy Spirit).[2]:84 In 1989, Margaret Poloma noted that some pastors and even high ranking leaders within the Assemblies of God USA, a Pentecostal denomination, were critical of the practice.[2]:272 Slaying in the Spirit saw a resurgence during the 1960s and 1970s due to the influence of the charismatic movement, which disseminated Pentecostal beliefs and practices among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. During the 1980s, it experienced another surge in visibility due to the influence of John Wimber, an evangelical pastor and founder of the Vineyard Movement.[3]:230-231

Criticism[edit]

Calvinist pastor and author John MacArthur argues that the practice is neither described nor prescribed specifically in the Bible and that it is, at best, of satanic origin.[4]:91 David Pawson, a Bible teacher and charismatic Christian, states that the closest Biblical reference is the story of Ananias and Sapphira, which has a quite different connotation.[7]

References in culture[edit]

The 1967 film Holy Ghost People by Peter Adair documented an Appalachian Pentecostal church service in which several people were slain in the Spirit.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Burgess, Stanley M.; van der Maas, Eduard M. (2002). The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements s.v. “Slain in the Spirit”. Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-22481-0. 
  2. ^ a b c Poloma, Margaret (1989). The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Csordas, Thomas J. (1997). The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  4. ^ a b MacArthur, John F. (1993). Charismatic Chaos: Signs and Wonders; Speaking in Tongues; Health, Wealth and Prosperity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 
  5. ^ a b Wacker, Grant (2001). Heaven Below : Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 
  6. ^ a b Williams, Jeffrey (2010). Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism : Taking the Kingdom by Force. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. 
  7. ^ Is the Blessing Biblical?, 1996, David Pawson, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-66147-X

Further reading[edit]

  • God Struck Me Dead, Voices of Ex-Slaves by Clifton H. Johnson ISBN 0-8298-0945-7 – describes similar experiences in the accounts of nineteenth century African American spirituality.