I grew up in the southern region of our nation, and, as a lad, sometimes attended those rural “Pentecostal” services — more as an entertainment than anything else.
Those summer “brush-arbor” and “tent-meeting” gatherings provided some fascinating sights.
I’ve seen grown men and women dancing, bucking, jumping, screaming, crying, and flopping around on the ground like one of my grandmother’s decapitated bound-for-Sunday-dinner chickens. One gentleman told me of a man, supposedly “slain in the Spirit,” who bowed himself over and attempted to “butt down” a blackjack oak tree!
I was reminded of those days, as I read an interesting news report. A New York woman was awarded a civil judgment of $80,000. Purportedly, in a religious service she was “slain in the Spirit,” and, during the ordeal, broke her arm (The Alabama Baptist, Feb. 21, 2002).
When the “power from on high” hit her, a minister pushed her backwards. The attendant who was appointed to catch didn’t. She suffered injury and sued. The church was required to pay damages.
One cannot but admire sincerity in devoted religious people. But sincerity, apart from a knowledge of truth, does not avail (cf. Acts 23:1; 26:9; Rom. 10:2). There are several important observations to be made regarding the lawsuit incident cited above.
The Holy Spirit does not overpower you.
The Holy Spirit does not subdue people and make them do things over which they have no control.
In a letter to the Corinthian church, in discussing the operation of the Holy Spirit in connection with supernatural gifts, Paul wrote that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).
The present tense form of the verb hupotasso (“subject to”) reveals that the activity of the Christian remained under his personal control, even when under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit.
As noted scholar Gordon Fee observed: “There is no seizure here, no loss of control; the speaker is neither frenzied nor a babbler” (1987, p. 696).
The Holy Spirit will not overpower a person and throw them to the ground, or render them helpless as someone else pushes them backwards.
Is the Holy Spirit to blame?
If it were the case that divine power seized this dear lady, making her vulnerable to a serious accident, could not the sacred Spirit at least have alerted her “catcher,” so that he might have been more diligent in his responsibility?
Why wasn’t she miraculously healed?
In the event that the Spirit “slew” her, and the “catcher” missed her, since the Pentecostals claim the gift of modern-day healing, why did not the clergyman who “placed his hand upon her forehead, causing her to fall backwards,” lay hands upon the unfortunate soul and instantly heal her?
This is somewhat perplexing if, as these conscientious folks claim, miracles were principally designed to benefit the recipient.
It is a tragedy of no small consequence that many honest people are so duped with reference to the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Miracles are not being performed today. No one is being “slain in the Spirit.” The dead are not being raised, bones are not being miraculously mended, and no one is speaking in languages they never learned.
These kinds of “signs” were a part of first-century divine operations, as the New Testament events were unfolding and being recorded (see 1 Cor. 13:8-10). It is an illusion to expect such miracles today.
For further study, see our essay What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?.