Note: For several years, Kevin Reeves was a member and elder in a NAR “River,” “Latter Rain” church. His testimony of how the Lord opened his eyes and delivered him from this deception is written in his book The Other Side of the River. The following is an extract of that book.
By Kevin Reeves
Jason had just picked himself up from the floor at the front of the sanctuary and clasped the aged hands of a dear older believer who occasionally came to Sunday service. With a deep reverence, he gently kissed her hands in a gesture of honor.
Only a moment before he had been laid out on the carpet. Sister Carmen had come up front at the service’s end to receive healing prayer for eyes suffering from progressive vision deterioration. She was a sweet old lady, a pioneer who talked a lot about getting back to her home in a small community farther north and deeper into the backcountry. In the previous few months, I had spent considerable time with her and her young companion, a fervent Christian and fellow sticks-dweller who had land staked out for homesteading. A loving and self-appointed protector, he guarded Sister Carmen physically in their travels, and she in turn imparted some of the Christian wisdom gleaned over many years of serving the Lord.
Jason anointed Sister Carmen with oil, and I prayed for her with my eyes closed. I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Sensing a pulling away by Jason, I cracked open my eyelids just in time to see him, frozen in position with his hands outstretched in ministering prayer, free-fall to the hard floor. So stunned that I failed to react, I watched as Jason hit the thin carpeting with a frighteningly loud thump! He lay there in an attitude of sleep while I stood, jaw unhinged and, a ridiculously helpless look on my face. Getting up a few minutes later, Jason said in hushed tones that he had witnessed Jesus overshadowing Sister Carmen.
At the time, I never doubted him, not for a moment. Despite hammering the floor with his head at concussion force, he seemed unhurt, and he was so spiritual about the entire incident that I could barely speak.
Called to the Carpet
Anyone becoming involved with an active charismatic ministry knows what being slain in the spirit means by the end of his first week. It is so common in so many Pentecostal and charismatic services that if it fails to happen for a while, folks engaged in this practice begin to wonder why God’s favor has left them. Experiencing the slain phenomenon for the first time at my old church, New Covenant,* I witnessed it probably hundreds of times in twelve years.
But what exactly does being slain in the spirit mean? Traditionally, the term applies to the supposed power of God coming upon a person at a specific time, overpowering his physical strength so that he or she is unable to stand, wherein he or she falls backwards. Sometimes while lying on the floor, the person is totally aware of the experience; at other times individuals claim the power is so intense that all outside influences disappear. Visions are often seen or voices heard during such trance-like states, usually attributed to God. Sometimes the person becomes stuck to the floor, as if held in place by an unseen hand. Some claim to have undergone tremendous spiritual renewal after “falling out,” and still others claim physical healing.
During my years (some of which I was an elder) at New Covenant Fellowship, I believed very strongly in the experience, recommended it to others, and marveled at the power of God that could cut a man’s legs out from under him as with an invisible scythe. I have witnessed entire rows of people go down at the wave of a minister’s hand, bodies collapsing in a disheveled heap on chairs or in the aisles. There were times the anointing seemed to come on me, and I was amazed that I’d lay hands on people or merely walk by them, and they would hit the floor with no warning. The first time this happened, I was awed, deeply grateful that God’s presence had manifested in such a powerful way through so inferior a vessel. I determined to walk more closely with Him, wanting to be used again in this way.
Carnality in Motion
At first, I was very caught up in the excitement, but in later years some disturbing hints began to surface that everything was not as I had first believed. For one thing, a few in our congregation seemed to swoon at the slightest hint of God’s power in the room. Nancy Bullinger* was one such, falling out more times than anyone else I knew. I thought it was because she was so sensitive to the things of the Spirit that God just naturally gravitated toward her to demonstrate His presence. But the closer I watched, the more nagging doubts tugged at me. On more than one occasion after she was supposed to be slain, I saw her sit up and pull her skirt down to a discreet level, the hem of which had risen inappropriately when she was laid on the floor by the catcher. She then lay back down and stayed there for a reasonably long period of time. This bothered me. If she was really under the power of God, as we believed, she would have not have had the strength to move, much less be concerned or aware of her modesty.
But this brought up another scriptural inconsistency. First Corinthians 14:40 addresses this concern: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Many of the women who had skirts or dresses fell with legs askew, exposing skin that should have, in decency, been covered. This obvious immodesty even spawned the ministry of covering in some churches, where specific individuals are assigned the duty of draping prepared cloths over the legs of women indecently exposed. One video of a Kenneth Hagin conference showed one of Hagin’s aides going down to the floor under the power, falling into a sitting woman and sliding down the side of her legs—a woman, mind you, who was not his wife. This scenario was repeated in this video numerous times.1
Would the same God who commanded His people to do all things “decently and in order” also permit—rather instigate—a spiritual practice that places them in physically compromising positions?
Catch Me if You Can
In most services where being slain in the spirit occurs, some members of leadership are routinely assigned the duty of catcher. Their job is to stay behind the person being prayed for and be prepared to catch, should the individual be overcome, and to lay him gently on the floor while God “ministers.” Since the job can be physically demanding, most of the catchers are men, and, since a great percentage of those slain are women, the catchers must come into abrupt physical contact with the woman’s body. While a catcher is often able to lay hold of the woman’s arms or shoulders, that is sometimes impossible. I have seen some women collapse so quickly and in such a free fall that the catcher has no time to consider appropriate contact, regardless of good intentions. Many people have swooned without prayer of any kind and with no warning beforehand. Those present are faced with the split-second choice of letting the person hit the floor with a thud or laying sudden hold on whatever limbs or body parts present themselves and lowering the person gently.
Sometimes they are not caught at all. There are simply too many at once responding to “the power,” and they fall one on top of another. During the early ’90s, I witnessed this aplenty, a mass of bodies sprawled out in the aisle, men on top of single women or other men’s wives.
However you slice it, it comes up way short.
I had also been bothered by the very necessity for catchers. If God indeed was knocking His people down, surely He would have the mercy to cushion the fall. In all fairness, I have heard of some who were slain and hit the floor hard, but felt they landed on a bed of feathers. Jason had insisted he was unhurt after his falling out. But that, at best, is subjective. It may or may not have happened the way the person relates the experience. Embarrassment can be a strong silencing factor. Or there may be another reason for that altogether.
But people at times do get hurt, sometimes noticeably. I have personally seen at least one young man go down without realizing no catcher was behind him. He plummeted to the floor and cried out in obvious pain, holding his head. I wonder how many would fall down if they knew nobody would be there to lower them gently. A young church elder visiting our congregation from another town stood behind me as I received prayer during a Sunday service. Noticing I was shaking violently and fighting the urge to fall, he said quietly, “It’s okay, I’m here. You won’t get hurt.”
Of course, I went down.
Context or Pretext?
Where does being slain in the spirit come from? The Bible, presumably. The favored verse and the one uniformly lifted standard-like by the charismatic community is 2 Chronicles 5:13-14:
[A]s the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
Whenever anyone asked for scriptural proof for the validity of being slain in the spirit, we’d trot out this verse with a less-than-humble attitude. And, on the surface, it does look very similar to the modern practice.
There’s just one small difficulty—that’s not the end of the story.
Pastor Ted Brooks, in his devastating critique of modern false signs and wonders within the church, I Was a Flakey Preacher,2 notes that we should continue to read down through chapters six and seven of 2 Chronicles, which is a continuation of this same narrative. Solomon addresses the multitudes present, prays to God, and way over in 2 Chronicles 7:1-2, we find a startling revelation:
Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house.
And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’s house.
The priests were not able to minister in the house of God in the first place because they were not in the house of God at the time. They had come back out and stood with the large gathering of people after setting up the Ark of the Covenant in the holy place. While charismatic teaching would have us believe that the temple was littered with the bodies of incapacitated priests, the Old Testament simply tells us they could not even enter into the area where God had manifested His glory!
A quick reading of 1 Kings 8:10-11 will reveal the same thing. The priests simply were not in the holy place when it was filled with the glory of God.
We must look to Jesus. If He was the Word made flesh (John 1:14), then the entire canon of Scripture is summed up in Him. Not once is it even hinted at in Christ’s ministry that being slain in the spirit ever occurred. It is true that when the soldiers came to take Him in the garden of Gethsemane, He spoke and they all “went backward, and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). But two things must be borne in mind here. For one thing, those who came to take Him were unbelievers and subject to His judgment. In this case, being slain in the spirit is not something to be sought after. Second, the mob didn’t just stay on the ground for a while—they immediately got up again. If Christians are going to use this verse to support being slain in the spirit, it must be used in context with nothing withheld. Seen this way, this particular passage does more damage to the notion than provide support.
Daniel 10:9 has also been used with some success to validate the practice. Confronted by an angelic being, Daniel said “then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.”
But again, one must read on to verses ten and eleven:
And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling.
We need to take every word of God at face value. If Daniel says he fell into a deep sleep, we need to accept that without adding to or taking away. If some call this being slain in the spirit, another could as easily say that he simply passed out from fear. The contrasts between this and current practice are rather graphic. When Daniel was touched by the angelic messenger, he received strength to get up. In church when we were “touched by God,” we lost strength. Daniel stood up to face the angel. We lay down so that God could minister. Daniel’s encounter happened through no human agency, and without another witness present. Being slain in the spirit almost always happens under the touch or prayer of an “anointed” minister, and it is done in public. While it does happen on occasion when a Christian is alone or in prayer, these instances are reportedly rare, and again, subjective. I saw enough instances, and experienced them myself, to recognize the effects of heightened expectation. The result is often just what the person believed would happen simply because the desire for the experience was so great.
A Visit With “God’s Bartender”
This very thing happened to me in my living room with my wife and daughter present. When Rodney Howard-Browne and his new wine, get-drunk anointing exploded onto the charismatic scene in the early ’90s, both being slain in the spirit and holy laughter roared through our congregation, like wildfire. We grasped any teaching we could get on those subjects. With a five-pack of Rodney Howard-Browne videos, I sat down to glean as much as I could from this man. Since I hadn’t the funds to travel to his itinerant services in Anchorage or Juneau, I reckoned this avenue the next best. I recall being disappointed with his preaching. Watching him maneuver through the congregation I couldn’t see what all the fanfare was about. Mostly he told stories, anecdotes peppered with rehearsed jokes. He talked about the power and mocked those who questioned its origin. I struggled through the teaching because I wanted to get to the “glory.” It was something dangled before me the entire time, and my expectations of being touched rose concurrent with my desire for the power. By the end of his teaching, I was primed, sitting on the edge of the couch.
When he spoke to the congregation and told them to expect the glory to manifest, I looked at Kris, who was combing my daughter Megan’s hair. “I’m going to do it,” I told her gravely, and stood.
I closed my eyes and listened to Browne’s voice as he prayed. Suddenly, the decibel level shot through the roof.
“There it is!” he shouted, meaning the power of God. I listened as he described the anointing, which was supposed to be the manifest presence of God, as it moved up one side of the building and down the other, knocking people to the floor right and left.
When he shouted something like “Take it!” the air was forced out of me in a loud groan, and I fell like a rock back onto the couch. I heard Kris say of Megan, “Kev, you’re scaring her.”
But with my hands still raised and feeling “drunk in the spirit,” I laughed, wept, and felt the power go all over my body, quite unconcerned about who was being frightened. It lasted maybe a half-hour, and when I came out of it, I felt refreshed, a bit awed, and wanting more.
What happened there? An honest appraisal requires me to admit susceptibility to an emotional surge. It wasn’t the power of God. I’ve seen this same form of manipulation in church services (my former church included), whereby recipients are whipped into a fever pitch of expectation. Of course they will go down! That’s what they’ve been waiting for throughout the entire service. It is only natural that they will respond at the appropriate time to the signals given by the man behind the pulpit.
My suspicions finally had an outworking about two years prior to my leaving New Covenant. By that time, having seen so much obvious hype, fakery, and emotionalism, I decided that if God was ever going to knock me down again, then He would be able to do it with my eyes open and my feet planted solidly. Although maintaining a respectful attitude about the entire practice, I was adamant that I would not fall prey to emotional manipulation.
I was never again slain in the spirit.
It is important to understand that all of what goes on in a slain in the spirit service, regarding the actual manifestation, is attributed to the anointing of God. Depending on which River preacher you ask, this anointing can mean power, the weight of glory, the presence of God, or all of the above. While the Bible does refer to an anointing (I John 2:27), it has in these days of sensual faith been contorted almost beyond recognition. And as with so much of hyper-charismatic experience, it has been placed in the realm of something that needs to be reached for, pursued, or worked up in order to be obtained.
Many of today’s biggest superstars in the church have redefined the anointing in a way that brings the experience more into agreement with occult forces than biblical truth. Benny Hinn told of his touch received at the grave of Foursquare founder Aimee Semple McPherson.3 The anointing rests on her bones, he believes, and he shook with the power emanating from her long-dead body. The idea is that visiting these certain graves will give a double-dose of anointing. There’s the “Rambo” anointing of one major Laughing Revival evangelist,4 and the “Braveheart” anointing of Toronto Blessing’s Wes Campbell.5 It doesn’t seem to matter that both Rambo and Braveheart are the main characters of two R-rated movies of gore, mayhem, and foul language. Then there’s Carol Arnott’s “Sword of the Lord” anointing, that makes you shake, cry out, and jerk violently. The video of this specific women’s conference was very revealing.6 I watched in amazement as one of the ladies participating behind the pulpit hefted a huge Scottish broadsword and passed it over the gathering to the congregational accompaniment of wails, groans, and manifestations. This was like something out of ancient Celtic wizardry.
Another major problem in the error-stricken part of today’s charismatic subculture is that some people, usually big-name ministers like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, or John Kilpatrick, are looked upon as being more anointed than others. This naturally presupposes the necessity of making a journey to wherever they happen to be ministering in order to be touched by them, and consequently, by God. It is universally recognized by River adherents that the impartation of power is passed from person-to-person via the laying on of hands, and that belief has provoked a virtual scramble among regular church members to get to the preacher that has “it.” It was certainly common practice among New Covenant membership to gravitate toward the most anointed minister who happened to be preaching at our meetings. Long lines formed before the power or prophecy minister, even if there were others less prominent in the visiting ministerial team that might be standing around with nothing to do and no one to pray for after the service.
Today’s River proponents believe also that God moves in particular geographical locations, hence the necessity to get wherever God happens to be in order to get a touch from Him. Places like Toronto and Pensacola have become neo-Medieval pilgrimage destinations, and in fact, people are encouraged to make the journey by many of the front-running River preachers and by their own pastors. And this despite Jesus’ obvious counter to that line of thinking when He told the Samaritan woman that physical locations mattered little in the eyes of God (John 4:21). The Temple made of stones would become obsolete. No more yearly pilgrimage. As long as we worship in Spirit and truth, He will dwell with us and reward us accordingly (John 4:20-24).
A little common sense might help here. What about the poor or those in some far distant corner of our planet who simply believe Christ’s Gospel without knowledge of or desire for the Toronto anointing? Does it leave them out in the cold, or have they missed a necessary move of God? Plus, the fact that so much merchandising unarguably goes on in the form of videos, tee shirts, cassette recordings of worship music, conference fees, skyrocketing pastors’ salaries—ad infinitum—that this current movement bears more of a resemblance to the money changers in the Temple than the humble followers of Jesus.
The Biblical Anointing
So, what, actually, is the anointing? In the Old Testament, it was used to signify the setting apart of an object or the ordaining of an individual for special service to God (Exodus 30:22-30). The anointing oil was specially prepared according to the command of God and was not to be used for any other purpose or manufactured without regard to God’s specific instructions (Exodus 30:31-33). Kings as well as priests were anointed (1 Samuel 10:1, 1 Samuel 16:13). Elisha was also anointed prophet by Elijah (1 Kings 19:16). The act of pouring out the oil on an individual was used to signify God’s selection, authority, and empowerment for the position.
But with the coming of Jesus Christ, this form of anointing (signifying God’s choice for a position) with oil passed away** and was replaced with the anointing by the Holy Spirit, who Himself has come to live in each believer, empowering us to follow Christ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). He also is the one who ministers the gifts of the Spirit within the congregation (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Ephesians 4:8-12), and who performs works of miracles (Galatians 3:5) among His people. He leads us into all the truth, and reveals to us the things of God (1 John 2:20, 27). This entire series of Scriptures, and many others on the same subject, shows us that the scriptural anointing is completely different from what is practiced today within the charismatic circles of which I once participated.
The anointing is not a thing conveniently passed from person-to-person—like getting zapped by a current of electricity a la Rodney Howard-Browne or Benny Hinn. To say, as we so often did in New Covenant Fellowship, “the anointing is now present for healing,” or prophecy, or whatever, is to replace the indwelling Spirit with a physical feeling, emotion, or experience, and to separate Him from His ministry.
This is exactly what is suggested by terms like “getting plugged into the power.” What this kind of thinking promotes is exactly what we are seeing within the River camp, the idea that we need something more than we already possess as believers in Christ. This is precisely the original temptation in the Garden of Eden. Just look in the third chapter of Genesis. The fact is, if the Holy Spirit resides in us (and He isn’t going anywhere), then His power is there as well, to enable us to do what He wants us to do. Anything added to what God has already provided is a counterfeit. We don’t need to get zapped, or experience extra-biblical manifestations in order to feel that we have arrived, or to earn inclusion into the mythical great end-times army of Dominion or Latter Rain doctrine.
Examine the Source
Is there ever a real power at work? I have thought about this one long and hard, because if we admit that there is a genuine supernatural power manifesting, then in light of both the Scriptures and the voluminous evidences of carnality, we must conclude it is a spirit other than the Holy Spirit. Again, if this is so, that can only mean that Christians have opened themselves up to seducing spirits come to lead believers away from the one true God. I have come to the conclusion—very cautiously—that, at times, a real supernatural power is at work. In both River meetings and at the Brownsville Revival, documented testimonies from church leadership have involved vivid descriptions of people lifted bodily by an unseen force and violently thrown across the room and up against walls. Our own Tom Smalley* told of being witness to this in one of Howard-Browne’s Anchorage meetings. He’d seen a man well over two hundred pounds thrown back across three rows of chairs at the touch of God’s Bartender. This is scary stuff. And it doesn’t match anything I’ve come across in my Bible about God’s dealings among His faithful covenant people.
I have experienced only two incidents of being slain that felt like a genuine power outside of myself. One was in a local Assembly of God service. A visiting woman preacher laid hands on many who had come forward for prayer, and a mass of them went down. Then it was my turn. Though she never so much as touched me, I felt a numbness sweep over my body, and I fell. On the floor, I shook uncontrollably for about ten minutes. The other time involved a service in my former congregation, again with the aid of a visiting minister. My wife, sitting in one of the pews, described my body contorting backward at a severe angle when the power hit me. To me, they both seemed supernatural. Whether or not that was the case, I will leave for the Lord to decide. If they were indeed supernatural, I now question from which source of power they truly came.
But I have yet to know of anyone, myself included, who, because of being slain, experienced a changed life characterized by a love for the truth and a knowledge of God in agreement with the Scriptures. In my experience, the exact opposite has happened. When folks get touched with this kind of power, they routinely become almost unteachable, preferring the experience to the Word of God. I can’t relate how many times I’ve heard, “Well, maybe I can’t find it in the Scriptures, but it happened to me, so it’s real!”
That’s a dangerous step to take. In my many years of involvement with the occult prior to salvation, I had numerous real encounters with the supernatural. Certainly they could not have originated with God, but I once believed some of them did, and to me that was all that mattered. My ears were closed to any protest from Christian friends. Such a stubborn mindset is a fertile seedbed for deception. From just such a people will spring up a world ruler who will lead many to everlasting destruction:
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10)
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*Not real name.
**There are two New Testament references (James 5:14, Mark 6:13) to anointing the sick with oil.
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1. Kenneth Hagin conference video/DVD, “Kenneth Hagin and the Spirit of the Serpent” by Joseph E. Chambers (Charlotte, NC: Paw Creek Ministries). To order this dvd, 800/338-7884.
2. Ted Brooks, I Was a Flakey Preacher (Westlock, AB, Canada: Guardian Books, 1999).
3. G. Richard Fisher with M. Kurt Goedelman, “Benny Hinn’s Move into Necromancy” citing Benny Hinn sermon, Double Portion Anointing, Part #3, Orlando Christian Center, Orlando, Fla., April 7, 1991. From the series, Holy Ghost Invasion.
4. Mike Oppenheimer citing Rodney Howard-Brown, “The New Anointing” (Let Us Reason ministries, http://www.letusreason.org/Pent40.htm).
5. “New Year 1998—Where To Now?” article by Christian Witness Ministries (Australia) citing Wes Campbell’s Braveheart speech. (http://www.christian-witness.org/archives/cetf1998/newyear1998.html).
6. Carol Arnott speaking at the Arise Deborah women’s conference in Pensacola, Florida, January 1999, documented by Jewel Grewe, “The Sea of Subjectivity” (Discernment Ministries newsletter, March/April 1999, Volume #2, Issue #10).
(Photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)