Unfortunately, there is a chasm in the body of Christ with regard to this phenomenon. In some churches, it is practiced on a regular basis. At the other end of the spectrum, other churches do not accept it as scriptural. As such I will not attempt to bridge this gap in a single article, but will limit my words to the role of this practice in healing and evangelism, not necessarily within the confines of a church service. In the context of church, there have doubtlessly occurred many instances in which the Holy Spirit has come upon believers with power, and they involuntarily fall (or “float,” as some have reported) to the floor. While they are in this state, the Spirit ministers to them, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually—in some redemptive way. On the other hand, the practice in some other churches can almost become a ritual where it might not be so much the work of the Holy Spirit, but of sincere ministers who with the best of intentions may want to see people fall and of seeking, thirsty people who want and allow themselves to fall.
There are instances in Scripture of people unable to stand because of God’s presence. Daniel fell forward to the ground in the presence of God’s holy angel Gabriel: “Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.” (Daniel 10:9) In John 18:6, it is recorded that Roman soldiers drew back and fell to the ground when Jesus identified himself to them. But let us simply consider the ministries of Jesus and the early disciples in the gospels and Acts and determine whether or not this phenomenon occurred specifically while they were preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Was there a role of this practice in healing and evangelism?
The answer is we do not see any direct reference to anyone being “slain in the Spirit” in that context. What we do see is people being healed and the Scripture immediately testifying to the miracle, bringing glory to God. We see demonized people thrown to the ground, but of course these are not manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but of the devil. We see these demonized people set free by Jesus or in his name, and souls are drawn to Christ. In short, the miracles we see in the evangelistic ministries of Jesus and his disciples are not people falling down, but people being healed and freed from demonic oppression quite apart from this manifestation.
We also note that there is no reference in the gospels and Acts to a believer speaking in unknown heavenly tongues while healing the sick or casting out demons. In Acts, the instances of people speaking in heavenly tongues had to do with the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians we are taught that speaking to God in an unknown tongue is a form of prayer or worship unto Him. But speaking in tongues did not accompany the ministry of healing the sick or casting out demons. The reason is simple: speaking in a heavenly tongue is directed in humility toward God, while healing and deliverance require speaking to disease and demons with spiritually-violent authority. We are not saying that it is wrong to speak in tongues at such times. But what we are saying is that speaking in tongues in general does not result in miraculous healing and deliverance. Rather, it is the believer speaking with authority over disease and demons, sometimes with the laying on of hands, that results in the miracle.
If we are called to do what we see Jesus doing in the gospels, we should preach the gospel and heal the sick, not simply desire that people will be slain in the Spirit. Our job is to heal the sick (as confirmation of the gospel), not to see people fall down when we minister to them. There may be reasons why we would rather have people simply fall down.
When a person we pray over falls down, we feel we have done our job and can move on to the next person. We feel that now God can do what He wants in that person. Although at times this may in fact be the case, often the person has specific physical or spiritual needs over which we have been given a measure of authority. In general, only by directly speaking forth in Jesus’ name are these needs effectively met. But it is less risky to have someone fall down and let God “do whatever He wants to do” than to command their miraculous healing in Jesus’ name. Thus sometimes when a person falls down, whether by the Spirit or not, the minister feels “off the hook” and can proceed to the next person who needs prayer. There is also the factor of the euphoria a minister might feel when someone falls down at his feet. It may be difficult to resist the desire to see everyone fall down.
In contrast, when a blind person came to Jesus, he opened the blind eyes. When a deaf person asked for his hearing to be restored, he opened deaf ears. He did not cause them to fall down and ask the Father to have His way in them. Jesus got the job done. When we merely want people to fall down, we might not be getting the job done. Our job as soul-winners is to visibly heal the sick so that souls will be open to accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior. When people fall downin an evangelistic context, it may sometimes be counterproductive, for the unbelievers who are watching may become confused. They may not understand what is happening. All they know is that someone has fallen down. As far as they can see, there has been no miracle.
But when a witness of Christ says to a deaf person, “ears be opened in Jesus’ name!” and the deaf begin to hear and testify to it publicly, it is clear to all the spectators that a miracle has occurred in Christ’s name. This is what brought multitudes of precious souls to seek and hear Jesus Christ in the gospels.
In the past, we may have chosen to pursue a ministry where people are “slain in the Spirit” in part because we did not witness the blind see and the deaf hear when we ministered. We were not able to minister with the authority we see given to the disciples in the gospels and Acts. We did not see disease and demons submit to our commands as they did for Jesus and the early disciples. But now is God’s chronos, the time at which He is restoring His power and authority to His people for completing the Great Commission!
However, there are situations where our argument may not apply. For example, in the context of a meeting for believers, a person may come forward for prayer and for some reason does not or cannot reveal his or her need. Thus the minister may not be able to speak specifically over the need, and rather entrust the situation to God, letting Him do whatever He wants to do since He knows their needs. Sometimes there may be too many believers to pray over, or not enough time to give them all focused individual attention. In such situations we can understand the validity of the phenomenon of being “slain in the Spirit.”