Why do people fall down?

Bible Issues

The above “scripture” is taken from the NCV – the New Charismatic Version. It’s slightly different from the original, which promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us, guide us, lead us into truth and bring the word of Christ back to our remembrance (John 13-14).

It is not uncommon in charismatic circles to see people falling down whenever the preacher lays hands on them. In fact, it’s an anticlimax when they don’t. This phenomenon is called “being slain” in the Spirit or “slain” by the Spirit – and no, it does not mean that people are being killed by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know the etymology of the term, but being slain is the popular term for falling down, so I use the terms interchangeably.

Why do people fall? This question is especially noteworthy considering that it did not happen in the bible days. It did not happen in Christ’s ministry, Peter’s or Paul’s. Although some may site the following scriptures which use the word “fall”, the fact is that the experiences being described are vastly different from what is seen today in charismatic circles.

Falling Scriptures?

 The following scriptures are questionably used to support the practice of being slain in the Spirit. 

Falling into a Trance

People of God Falling on Their Face

Enemies of God Falling Backward

What the Bible Teaches

In the bible, people fell prostrate at their feet. This is willingly falling forward with their face to the floor as an act of submission. In charismatic circles, people fall backward and not always willingly. There were also instances when enemies of God fell backward when the power of God was revealed, e.g. Saul on the road to Damascus, and the soldiers who came to arrest Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the case of Saul, he became converted. Not so with the soldiers. But in charismatic circles, it is Christians who fall, and somehow this falling is associated with spiritual renewal.

I once attended a service where a lady fell when hands were laid on her. Others in the congregation murmured “I wonder if she knows it is the Holy Spirit who healed her and not the preacher.” I stood there perplexed because it was not at all evident that she got healed of anything. All she did was fall down. And secondly, how were they so sure it was the Holy Spirit?

The bible tells us very clearly what to expect when the Holy Spirit manifests. His general purpose is to teach, lead, guide, glorify Christ and bring God’s word to our remembrance. Later Jesus promised that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes (Acts 1:8). And in congregational settings, he also manifests gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). The purpose of these gifts is clearly stated – to profit all. God is a God of purpose and there must be a purpose in what he does. If he gives a prophesy, that will benefit people. If he manifests healing, again people will be blessed. But who is blessed when someone falls down? Most people who fall down, get back up exactly the same. They are not healed, delivered or anything. Some people say God is just giving them carpet time. The only problem with that is that the God of the bible requests devotion from people willingly. He wants us to take time out of our busy lives to devote to him. He will not force this on us. Further, why aren’t people changed for the better when they fall? Why aren’t they more hungry for God afterwards? There is simply no divine purpose in being slain by the Spirit.

Possible Reasons for Falling

I can say with a great deal of confidence that God does not throw his people down when he wants to deal with them. How am I so sure? Because it is not consistent with the bible. There is no direct scripture addressing this issue either positively or negatively, but it is just not consistent with what the bible tells us to expect regarding the Holy Spirit. So why then do people fall? Here is a list of possible answers, starting with the most diplomatic.

People Throw Themselves Down

It is possible that some people just throw themselves down. I know that I threw myself down once. I was at a small prayer meeting and some guy was praying for people, many of whom were being slain. I did not fall when he prayed for me. So he prayed harder. And everyone was encouraging me to “let go”. I supposed that they wanted me to fall. I quickly figured that he was not going to give up until I did. So knowing there were Holy Ghost catchers behind me, I let myself fall backward. Everyone celebrated and praised God for the victory. I threw myself down to get them off my back. But considering how venerable an experience being slain in the Spirit is in charismatic churches, I won’t be surprised if many others allow themselves to fall just to avoid questions like “How come you didn’t receive? Is there some secret sin in your life?” or for some other similar reason.

Personal Reaction to God’s Power

Another possibility is that this is a personal reaction to God’s power. Many people report feeling something when the Holy Spirit is on them. The feelings vary from hot to cold to trembling, etc. Jesus felt power leave him on one occasion (Mark 5:30). So it is not unheard of. It is possible that some people find the power of God so strong that they simply lose their balance. This seems to me to be the most plausible explanation. But if this is the case, then being slain by the Spirit is not really the grand experience that Charismatics think it is. It is simply a personal reaction. Some find it cold in Canada, some find it bearable. That’s all it is – a personal reaction.

Some Power Other Than God’s

A more disturbing possibility is that it might be some power other than God. I recently learned that a renowned fellow minister had studied Reiki. This is an eastern practice – the art of laying on of hands. In this practice, they chant certain incantations and invoke certain spirits. It claims to be harnessing your inner power or the power of the universe – just a nice way of saying demonic power. The minister assured me though that he always used Christ’s name during the incantations, to ensure that he accessed God’s power and not the devil’s.

So I thought to myself, “Why did he feel the need to study Reiki?” Forget about whether it works or not, why isn’t praying for people good enough? Why do you need something extra? Is the need for the sensational so strong? Is it possible that the power being demonstrated on charismatic stages is a power that does not come from God? I would sincerely hate to think so, but it would explain a lot. It would explain why people fall without getting healed, why it is inconsistent with what the Bible teaches on the Holy Spirit, and why so many unsaved and questionably saved people are attracted to such ministries. I always knew that charismatics craved spiritual power. It would indeed be sad if they finally settled for a power that was not of God.


The bible urges us to covet the best gifts. Those would be the ones God called us to operate in, and done with God’s love as the motivating factor. There is no divine purpose in people falling. Personally I don’t care for it in my ministry. My focus is on ministering to people as God would have me to. My desire is to obtain only what God has for me as prescribed in the Holy pages of his Word. Nothing more! If people throw themselves down or fall because they could not physically stand in God’s power, that’s fine. Nothing is lost and nothing is gained. It serves no purpose – good or bad. But if the power is not of God, then that’s where it gets dangerous.

If I am sincerely seeking God, and someone under a demonic power lays hands on me, I do not believe that any demon can transfer to me because Jesus promised that if we asked our Father for bread, he would not give us a serpent. However, people who are not saved and not genuinely seeking God may very well open up themselves to demonic oppression. I sincerely urge my readers to stick with the bible. Don’t crave power so much that you have to go beyond the scriptures to get it. Be satisfied with biblical Christianity. It may not always be glamorous, but it’s all you need.

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Related Articles:

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Problems with the charismatic church

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Are the gifts of the Spirit still for the church today?

What are the gifts of the Spirit?

© 2013 Denver Cheddie

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