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4 Ways Pastors Can Cultivate Discernment in Their Church

Pastoral ministry is a serious work that requires work. When it comes to a pastor’s mandate to proclaim the truth and protect God’s people from error, The task is nothing short of a divine burden.Pastoral ministry can be described as a daily spiritual battle for souls that never seems to end. There are times when it can feel like a constant warzone across the landscape of the Christian world with causalities in the pulpit and in the pew. – and it probably is.

One of the ways to reduce spiritual casualties is equipping church members to be discerning. With false teachers using blending so much truth into their poisonous errors, people need faithful leaders to consistently provide objective truth they can depend on. Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he explained, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”

There are many ways that pastors can cultivate discernment in their church. I’ve offered 4 here that can help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Make a Big Deal About Sound Doctrine

A pastor who wants to cultivate theological discernment within the church needs to first be excited about teaching sound doctrine himself! A congregation that is fed a steady diet of sound doctrine is going to be growing like a well-rounded, balanced body. Like resistance to muscles in the weight room, solid doctrinal teaching breaks down old ways of carnal thinking and builds up the mind; bringing a believer to maturity. A pastor shouldn’t view doctrine as an inconvenience, but rather, as essential to the health of the church. Theological discernment can be cultivated not by merely telling the church to be discerning but by serving them a feast of sound doctrine that makes them discerning. Making a big deal about sound doctrine will be rooted in making much about Christ. A pastor ought to teach straight out of the Bible on Christology, Pneumatology, and other “ologies” that help people have a proper view of self and a high view of God. Sound doctrine is kryptonite to biblical illiteracy and protects people from falling prey to false teaching.

  1. Make the “Why” Clear

Pastors can be guilty of assuming people know the reason for everything they’re teaching. In order to cultivate discernment in a church, people have to know why any of it matters. A congregation’s lack of understanding is usually at the root of their indifference to discernment. Furthermore, the word “discernment” sparks thoughts of sinister behavior, deception, and conflict. Those are not things the average church member is eager to face. Most of them are just trying to make it through another day at work without any conflict. A pastor’s passionate sermon may leave them asking, “Why is the pastor on this bandwagon about doctrine and discernment?” or “Did our pastor just turn into one of those guys looking for a heretic around every corner?” Look to biblical examples of faithful men who explained the “why” along with instructions to be discerning and defend the faith. Paul did this in his farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38), and when he had to teach the Corinthians concerning their use of spiritual gifts and correct a few things in the process (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). Jude did this when he wanted to write about the common faith he shared with his readers, but instead, had to deal with false teaching and apostasy (Jude 3). Train your leaders, and your church on why doctrine and defending the faith matters.

  1. Make Sure You Model It

People are quite often a reflection of their leadership. Chances are, if it matters to you, it will eventually matter to them. Pastors who are absent-minded when it comes to theological discernment will often produce a flock who is as well. Modeling discernment is showing people how you got to your conclusions, and more importantly, what the bible says on the issue. If you’re praying for a culture of theological discernment and trying to take steps towards equipping your church to be theologically discerning, make sure you are practicing what you preach. Your example will be a powerful tool in God’s hands.

  1. Make Resources Available to Your People (God’s People)

There is arguably nothing worse than majoring on the problem without offering a solution. Yes, a sermon will certainly do the job and the Bible is all we need to show people the answers they seek. Still, excellent resources are available to engage people’s minds and equip them in specific ways. Online blogs and popular books are bombarding your people each day. If you let the latest Christian marketing fads guide their discernment, you’ll get the results – and they probably won’t always be on point. Give them a fighting chance by resourcing them with trusted material. As the old saying applies: Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life. A false teacher, a “new gospel,” and the winds of culture are no match for a church who is equipped to know the truth and discern the truth for themselves.

One of the most loving things that a pastor can do for his church is to equip them to be theologically discerning believers at a time when many are falling prey to divergent doctrines.

Can You Define Deception?

The church’s greatest threat has never been from the outside, but rather, from deception within.

The Bible is clear. Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with red horns and a pitch-fork claiming, “Here I am to distract and deceive you!” Neither do his false prophets. They are disguised in light; seeming to be workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Our adversary’s deceptive strategy is to infiltrate our ranks. Like a Trojan horse entering through the city gates, darkness often hides in plain sight. Satan doesn’t fight fair and false teachers take no prisoners.

During the 1930’s and 40’s, millions of Jews were murdered as a result of the Holocaust. Museums like the Yad Vashemin Jerusalem have preserved the horrific evidence of how deceptionplayed a crucial role in the Nazi plans. The Germans used propaganda to appear as though they were caring for Jews, but millions were being brutally slaughtered. Nazi soldiers were trained to deceive Jews until their death. In one of the most inhumane acts in world history, countless Jews were told that the concentration camps they were being taken to were communities of safety and rest. Some were shown pictures of a beautiful paradise only to arrive at the sterile barracks confused. At the camp named Auschwitz, Jews worked to unknowingly lay the foundation for the very buildings that would be their own “death factories.”

Like the ruthless deception and false propaganda used by the Nazi’s to execute their evil plan, false teachers and the kingdom of darkness use lies to attempt to bring down the church and destroy the kingdom of God. Discernment is crucial to preventing spiritual casualties.

Can you say with absolutely certainty that you are not being deceived? Do you know if the church you’re a part of is a biblical church? How do you know that the ministry you follow is playing for the right team? How has your pastor’s pulpit ministry increased your prowess for studying your Bible? Are you confident in saying that you know when something is biblically true, or fatally false? Many Christians are sitting in churches and following ministries that are anything but biblical – yet they aren’t sure what the signs are.

To help you navigate the challenges we’re facing in the body of Christ today, here are 5 ways to define deception:

  1. The Gospel is Mishandled

One of the keys to defining deception within the church is how the Gospel is treated. If God is always in a good mood, sin is “too intense” for the pulpit, and the cross is a just revelation of our value, things are heading in the wrong direction. If sermons are preached so broadly that people aren’t told Jesus is the only way can to be saved (John 14:6), there is a problem. The Gospel is not inconvenient, it’s essential. A church (and its pastor) must be willing to offend people if it means pleasing God. Yes, there is the Good News! But, it’s only Good News because there was some bad news.

The Gospel is also mishandled when certain people dogmatically assert that without “signs and wonders” the Gospel has no power. This faulty view is common in Word of Faith theology and flies in the face of Romans 1:16 where Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The Gospel is not powerful because it accompanies signs and wonders. The Gospel is powerful because God authored the transformation of dead sinners into living saints.

  1. My Experience Informs My Truth

There is a massive wave of experience-driven theology sweeping over the church. If you find that your church or your favorite ministry uses “expert eye-witnesses” claims in order to propagate things that are contradictory to the Bible, the writing could be on the wall. As Christians, it’s great to have moments of awe in light of what God is doing in the church. But if those moments are built on the mystical experiences of someone like Jesus Culture’s Kim Walker-Smith claiming that Jesus appeared in a vision and behaved like “Stretch Armstrong,” or Bethel Church’s Seth Dahl (Redding, CA) explaining how Jesus appeared to him in a vision to ask him (yes, Seth) for forgiveness, things have stretched into dangerous territory.

Right now our culture is waging war on absolute truth by using subjective experience. People can identify as whatever gender they “feel like” they are, women can kill babies because they “feel like” it’s ok, and gay-marriage is ok in more churches than ever because pastors “feel like” we should just love people and not “judge.”

If our church or our pastor is building on the foundation of experience to define the truth, is that much different than the world? True Christians must be committed to trusting the Word of God as the authoritative and sufficient filter through which every experiences must pass through.

  1. You and I are the Same as Jesus

One of the best ways to define deception in a church or teaching, is to analyze what they do with the doctrine of Christ. When pastors with a global platform like Bill Johnson claim that Jesus did His miracles as a just a man in right relationship to God and not as God, that’s heresy. This is a historical heresy with a modern face. It is the springboard for today’s mystical-miracle movement which claims that if Jesus was just a man anointed by God when He was on earth, you can be just like Him too! If a teaching diminishes Christ in order to elevate man – that’s the mark of deception. Satan has always been a master of twisting Scripture to undermine God and shipwreck people’s faith. From the beginning the serpent has been whispering, Did God really say…? You surely shall not die!(Genesis 3:1-4)

  1. The Abundant Life Is Now

A church is off course if John 10:10 means that the “abundant life” of heaven guarantees health, wealth and happiness on earth. The idea that you should be experiencing job promotions, perfect medical reports, and an overflow of financial provision throws out James 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:12, and Luke 18:29 (at the very least). If your pastor gears his messages towards “hope” that is realized through material possessions and perfect relationships on earth – he’s not a pastor; he’s an imposter.

Jesus didn’t promise that life would be easy on earth for those who are His true disciples. An over-realized atonement that guarantees riches and health on earth has missed the entire point of trials, suffering, sovereignty and sanctification.

  1. Faith Is a Force You Can Unleash

Billionaire prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has built an empire on the false teaching that “faith is a force.” In other words, you can make things happen if you believe. If your pastor twists passages about confession of faith in Christ (Romans 10:9) to mean that confession is also the way to land a Bentley on your driveway – run to the nearest Biblical church. When a church has a culture of “making it happen with your mouth,” it is time to move on.

This theology defines deception by teaching that God is like a magic genie – you get what you want by rubbing Him right. Positive confessions are repeated in cult-like unison as crowds say, “I am promoted!”, “I am healed!” or “I am blessed!” They believe that faith does not lead one to merely confess their sin and turn to Christ in repentance but that faith is a force you can use to control all outcomes.

It is a War on Truth

All of the deception within the church can be disheartening. People are being used and spiritually abused. But there is hope.

First, we’ve been forewarned that false teachers would “secretly introduce” destructive heresies, and exploit people in their greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). We need not be surprised. We also know that even in the midst of spiritual warfare, victory has been won by Jesus Christ! Discerning Christians have no need to cower in fear if they are clad in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-18). The believer equipped with the Word of God has everything needed to stand firm against enemy tactics. God has given us the ability to define deception and enjoy the security of walking in truth.

Take courage, Christian. Christ promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Make sure you’re a part of a local body where He is actually building.


If you need help discerning what is true and what is false, order your copy of Defining Deception today!

Why Contend for the Faith?

Many Christians don’t contend for the faith because they don’t know why they should. Like a football team who hits the gridiron without a rally cry, the church can often be overtaken by naysayers who demand silence in the name of tolerance. This tends to rattle many passionate Christians who insist that we contend for the faith. It’s important to remember that we must know why we are contending sdo as to be properly motivated to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints! (Jude 1:4)

In this postmodern age of tolerance let’s be honest, contending is a word that denotes fighting, and fighting isn’t popular. More specifically within the church, the concept of fighting more often brings back ugly memories of a “worship war” or power struggle than it does standing up for truth. It’s about time for the church to redeem the biblical concept of contending for the faith. The truth about Christ must come back to the forefront of our battle cry. We must stand for the true gospel no matter what the cost!

So why contend for the faith?

I. BECAUSE CHRIST IS WORTH IT

No greater argument can be made than this.

Jesus Christ came down to earth, lived a sinless life, died a horrific death, and raised from the dead. He is the conquering King who calls hell-bound sinners to heavenly life! Jesus is the center of the Christian faith, and without Him, humanity is hopeless. Jesus is the only Way, the only Truth, and provides the only Life (John 14:6) that is worth living for, worth fighting for, and worth dying for.

Christ’s loving sacrifice was part of God’s perfect plan and redeemed man from the Fall. Even before sin had entered the world, Satan began his assault on truth and attempted to undermine the authority of God. In the Garden, he hissed to Eve, “You surely will not die! (Genesis 3:4-5) as he tried to convince her that God just didn’t her to be “just like Him.” Satan’s tricks have not changed for thousands of generations. He still seeks to undermine God’s Word through lies. At the core of his efforts is a motivation to divide people from the truth of the gospel, and conquer their soul. Contending for the faith pushes back against darkness with the weapons of warfare that Scripture commands we use (Ephesians 6:11-18).

Standing for the truth about Jesus Christ will cause conflict whether Christians like it or not. Jesus Himself explained why this conflict was going to be inevitable for His followers long before any modern apologist had contended for the faith:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (Matthew 10:34-38).

Those are strong words from our Lord, but they undeniably affirm that He would be the center of controversy, conflict, and contention.

In all of this, He is worth fighting for and has called us to carry His message as ambassadors. Ambassadors act as an extension of the King and should anyone attempt to misrepresent the King or His message; an ambassador must fulfill his duty to the truth. In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul declared,

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

For the King and His kingdom, we must act as beacons of truth, and that means there will certainly be times when we must refute those who stand against our King.

II. BECAUSE THE BIBLE COMMANDS IT

Numerous imperative commands and Apostolic advice direct Christians to contend for the faith in the New Testament. Paul is the source of these (under the control of the Spirit as he wrote).

Here’s a just a short list of “to do’s” when it comes to contending for the faith:

There are a lot of things Christians would rather do than fulfill the list above. It often said that we should emphasize what we’re for rather than what we’re against. Singing songs to the Lord, fellowship, encouragement, evangelism, rest, and discipleship are all uplifting and even energizing ways to live out our faith in a positive way. No conflict. No mental drain. No danger.

Jude thought the same thing and had hoped to write about the wonderful fith that he had in common with fellow believers. But he soon realized that a serious situation required him to act out of necessity. He writes:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord Jesus (Jude 3-4).

False teachers are those who Jude was describing as trying to creep in “unnoticed, ” and their entire purpose is to turn God’s grace on its head, deny Christ, and smear His name. And they do all of this as deceitfully as possible! Much like how Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), his false agents do not show up exclaiming, “Here I am to deceive you!” but rather they introduce destructive teachings that lead men away from Christ with subtlety. The more biblically illiterate the sheep, the easier it is to fool them. The more passive the sheep and leaders who refuse to contend, the easier it is for wolves to pluck them.

For the gospel sake, Paul was willing to be beaten, shipwrecked, robbed, wronged, and even didn’t care when men preached Christ out of selfish ambition as long as Christ was being preached. But step on the toes of sound doctrine or lead sheep astray from the true gospel and he would contend for the faith (Romans 16:17-18; 1 Timothy 1:20, 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:17). He was never one to back down when the truth was on the line. No Christian ever should.

III. BECAUSE MARTYRS HAVE DIED FOR IT

The life of Christ and the Scriptures are more than enough to inspire a true Christian to walk in obedience, but there are other important historical considerations.

Over the centuries contending for the faith has been no glamorous endeavor. Historically speaking, it’s widely understood that all of the apostles but John were brutally martyred. Other devout New Testament followers like Stephen were stoned to death (Acts 7:58-59). Then outside of the biblical canon, millions were tortured and killed for standing upon the foundation of Christ. A disciple of John named Ignatius (108 AD) was thrown to lions. Polycarp (156 AD) was set on fire. Perpetua’s (203 AD) judge begged her to deny Christ and live to feed her breastfeeding baby, yet she refused and was run by a bull then finished with a sword. Julian of Cilicia (249 AD) was put into a sack with serpents. Later on in the timeline of Christian history hundreds of Reformers were burnt and brutally tortured for opposing the Catholic system. Men like William Tyndale (1536) were strangled and burned at the stake but not before translating the Bible into English.

Today, our brothers and sisters in Christ still die for their faith in the midst of great persecution. Surely we can be willing to lose popularity for a faith that many better men and women have shed blood for.

IV. BECAUSE THE LOST ARE WORTH IT

If there be any final consideration given to this topic, it’s this: that the lost sheep must be snatched from the wolves who prey upon them. If Christians have any semblance of evangelistic zeal, then they cannot sit silently while deception runs amok on the sanctity of sound doctrine. Contending is part of being a Christian.

Charles Spurgeon famously described the kind of perspective and the kind of effort that should mark Christian zeal. Even as the doctrine of election remained a pillar in his preaching, Spurgeon refused to lay aside his responsibility to obedience! He said:

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Jude finished his letter on apostasy with a sobering reminder that there is work to do even while darkness is allowed to operate under the sovereignty of God’s purposes. He pleaded:

But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 1:20-22).

It’s clear that passivism is not to be the church’s strategy when false teaching is harming sheep. Christians must do all they can to proclaim truth and refute the errors that lead people to believe in a false Christ.

True saving faith is on the line. Eternity is on the line. Let’s do our part and trust God with the results.


Originally posted on www.servantsofgrace.org on April 18th, 2017.  

Does Experience Make it True?

Experience is never a good excuse for ignoring the truth. In fact, when we choose to use our own experience as the ultimate evidence for our view of truth, we end up believing in things and defending things that may be set on sinking sand.

We’ve all heard someone say it. “I am an expert because I’ve experienced it!”

It’s the subtlety of pride that creeps up from our heart to dogmatically declare that our experience is the judge and jury on the truth. Ah, how human we truly are.

Have you ever responded to someone’s objective argument with the words, “Well, I’ve personally experienced it so that’s how I know it’s truth”? This sort of argument works wonderfully with your opinion about the quality of restaurant food, the beauty of exotic travel destinations, and knowing how your wife responds to spiders in the house, but it doesn’t make a great deal of sense with how we practice Christianity. The Bible isn’t subjective…it is objective. Experience doesn’t shape it – experience bows to it.

Anything and everything that the Christian experiences needs to be filtered through the text of Scripture.

It is a slippery slope to build your theological positions and opinions on experience – no matter how real the experience seems to be. For example, someone could claim that Jesus was a woman because he appeared to them in a vision and told them so, but the experience is shattered in light of biblical truth. He was a man – definitely, a man. The bible says that Mary bore “a son” (Luke 1:31), that He was the “Son of the Most High” (1:32) and that He was the “Son of God” (1:35). What part of His gender is unclear in the Bible? When my experience contradicts what the Bible says, I am under obligation to place my experience in a category far below the God-breathed, infinite, wisdom of the Almighty (Isaiah 40:8; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12). Right now our culture is waging war on truth because of experience. The world is doing it with gender, abortion, marriage – and, Christians do it too – with our sacred cow beliefs.

But aren’t we called to be different than the world?

God’s word is alive. Therefore, it is still the all-sufficient, life changing rule for faith and practice. No Christian reserves the right to change what God has said because they had an experience – that’s blasphemous at worst, arrogant at best. The facts of God’s word don’t care about your feelings, they inform your feelings. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to submit to God’s word as sinners saved by grace, but since when do Christians simply give up when things get hard? We’ve got the Ultimate Helper! Marriage is hard, but we look to the Holy Spirit for help. Controlling the tongue is hard, but we look to the Holy Spirit for help. Life is hard…and you get the point. Where we can’t reach the bar of obedience in relation to what the Bible says, grace fills in the gap and enables us to do so. You can trust the Scriptures even when it’s hard. You can submit to Scripture even when it’s hard. And you can leave behind old beliefs even when it’s hard.

The Holy Spirit is there to help us do what we cannot do on our own.

FACING THE TRUTH

When Defining Deception comes out on February 9th, Christians will have a decision to make. Many defenders of Third Wave/Charismatic chaos will use a variety of tactics for skirting around the truth. Some will avoid the truth. Some will butcher it. Others will diminish it. But what will you do?

We can argue with the research based on subjective feelings and personal experiences, or analyze the research based on the objective word of God. People may not agree on everything in the book, and that’s expected, but every Christian is responsible for viewing history, heresy, and emotional attachments to certain modern-day belief systems through the lens of Scripture. No matter how much the truth stings, the balm of unity comes through finding common ground in contending for the faith. Charismatics, Calvinists, and everyone in between need to get the essentials right at the very least – and that means bonding together to call certain movements and teachers what they are. It also means praying for their hearts to change if they’re still alive.

Admitting that a movement or a teacher is false doesn’t have to put them on our hate list. It should put them on our prayer list. We can protect ourselves from wolves, while disagreeing in a God-honoring way.

To help you grow in your ability to discern truth and error, numerous footnotes have been provided in the book. Every reader is encouraged to follow those footnotes to do further research, or whenever statements are made that contradict their own experience.

The following questions (in any variation) will guide those who desire to learn and be challenged in their growth by Defining Deception. You may even consider printing them out and keeping them handy while reading the book:

  1. Does the evidence seem to provide a clear basis for the claim?
  2. Do the facts surrounding the claim make me feel angry, insecure, or uncomfortable because it contradicts my own beliefs? Why do I think the author made such a claim? Has the author provide any reasoning for this?
  3. Is my attachment to such a belief founded in a proper interpretation of the Scriptures? Have I adapted any portion of such a belief because I love and trust the teacher whom I learned from? Is that teacher accused of false teaching? What evidence is there to back this claim?
  4. In what ways can this evidenced claim help me better understand the issues I am reading about? If something is true, and backed up by evidence, what is the next logical step?
  5. Am I willing to sacrifice my own emotional attachments and insecurities in order to submit to what the Bible says? Who are the friends, family, and/or teachers who I can reach out to for help?

“…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

 (1 Peter 5:5-7)

 

Did a False Teacher Heal You?

A few years ago an excited woman in her 20’s ran up to me one Sunday at church – she was a newer attendee who had been kicking the tires on our church for a few weeks when my last name must have clicked. It’s not like we talk about it every Sunday at Mission Bible –  our members don’t really care. We have a lot of important ministry to do and I’m just another one of the pastors. But sometimes it comes out in conversations and you never know what you’re going to get. Angry ex-faith-healer-enthusiast who threatens a shake down if I don’t pay them back what my uncle stole from them?  Excited believer who came out of the jaws of deception like me? It’s hit or miss.

This particular Sunday it was a little more complicated. Here’s a paraphrase of what she exclaimed just outside the sanctuary doors:

Costi Hinn? Like as in Benny Hinn? Oh my goodness! Your uncle is part of my testimony – He totally healed me of scoliosis (curved spine). It was late one night when I was watching his program, “This is Your Day,” and he told everyone who is sick or in pain put their hands on the TV up against his hands and believe for a miracle. I did. Then, I felt this warmth go up my spine and I just knew I was healed! After that experience, my spine got better and I stand here today completely healed with a straightened spine. I know you don’t agree with all that he teaches but he’s a part of my story and God used him to heal me – I’ll always be grateful for your uncle.  

This is familiar ground for a lot of pastors and Christians who are approached often by people who claim that God is doing great things through a false teacher and/or that God used a false teacher to heal them. Some of these claims are even by well-meaning, truly converted Christians who no longer follow the false teacher but are adamant that God used the false teacher to heal them or provide them with some particularly meaningful mystical experience.

“The truth of a teacher’s words is determined not by the feats he can perform but by the orthodoxy of what he teaches. We are never to follow anyone who perverts the truth of God’s Word, no matter how gifted that person is, how large of an organization that person commands, or how amazing that person’s work seems to be.

– R.C. Sproul

So is there any credence to a claim of miraculous healing at the hands of a false teaching faith healer? How should a pastor or leader handle such claims when there is clearly a danger in any kind of endorsement of a false teacher? There is much more to be said on the topic than a mere blog entry can supply, so resources for further reading have been recommended at the end of this article.

For our purposes here, let’s look at four potential responses (or scenarios) that can be useful in helping people understand what they may (or may not) have experienced.

Response #1: You were mercifully healed by God; and He mercifully snatched you from a wolf.

This particular response would be applicable if an individual proved to be a true believer, was verifiably healed, and had been saved from following a false teacher’s ministry out of ignorance.

Since God is still a healer, it is certainly possible that He has healed this individual, but the biblical standard for healing must still apply as does the biblical standard for bearing the fruit of true faith in Christ.

First, throughout Scripture we see divine healing at the hands of God as: 1) immediate, 2) unquestionable, 3) irreversible, 4) not dependent on special healing services, 5) not solely dependent on faith, 6) much more than curing a cold, 7) accompanying a call to flee from sin 8) not dependent on continuous confessions 9) not solely dependent on proximity, 10) possible through prayer.

One could certainly add this to this list but if, generally speaking, the healing matches the biblical standard, then praise God! God heals in many different ways, but false teachers are not able to thwart the divine power it takes to match God’s criteria. Even if in the slightest way, they will fall short.

Second, throughout Scripture we see that true believers cannot and will not stay deceived, so even if someone appears to be have been healed, there may have been other powers at work if that individual has not come out from the clutches of false teachers. Sheep ultimately come to hear and follow the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), saved people grow in Christ-likeness (Philippians 1:6), children of God walk in the truth (1 John 3:18-19), true disciples – though not always perfect – will pursue obedience to God’s Word out of love for Christ (John 14:15).

Plainly, we can gather a short list of truths and offer these to genuinely saved people who have experienced healing, but mistakenly believe they were healed by a false teacher.

  1. Give God the credit for healing you if it fits the biblical criteria.
  2. Give God the credit for healing you through medical means if you’ve received treatment and were healed from it.
  3. God is sovereign in healing, and in saving. He has mercifully done both in your life.
  4. He spoke through a donkey (Number 22:28-30) in Scripture, turned a murderer into an Apostle (Acts 9), and healed a man’s ear who was teamed up with Judas the Betrayer and Pharisaic High Priests (Luke 22:49-51). He has graciously worked in your life, in spite of your prior ignorance and blindly following false teachers.
  5. Reject false teachers as agents of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), not as anointed vessels who “God uses despite some shortcomings.”
  6. Seek wise counsel for quantifying your testimony and explaining it biblically.

Maybe you know someone who fits nicely into this criteria – and that’s wonderful – but it’s likely you will eventually meet someone that needs help defining one of the subsequent categories.

Response #2: You were temporarily healed by the power of suggestion, hypnosis, or sleight of hand.

 Wouldn’t it have been nice to just have the first section on our list?

The sad reality is, this response is necessary and applicable for helping people understand that if their healing, relief from pain, or euphoric experience was temporary, then it was not cut short because of their own lack of faith or negative confession – it was because it was all part of the game. God doesn’t relapse when it comes to divine healing.

We need to get honest about facts that are much easier to kick under the rug.

Studies have shown that the placebo effect is real, that hypnosis can cause people to do and feel things they’d otherwise never do or feel, and that the power of suggestion can cause people’s bodies to respond in temporary ways – without the lasting results. This reality is nothing new. Back in the late 1980’s, Tyndale published Dr. Normal Geisler’s, Signs and Wonders, and shed light on a very confusing era in evangelicalism. The Charismatic Renewal era (approx. 1960-1983) had given way to what was being called, “The Third Wave.” The Third Wave was taking Charismatic practices to new mainstream heights and Dr. Geisler’s book provided important answers. In his chapter, Psychological or Supernatural, he quotes Doctor Paul Brand’s original article in Christianity Today on the mind’s power to control or even heal the body,

In the placebo effect, faith in simple sugar pills stimulates the mind to control pain and even heal some disorders. In some experiments among those with terminal cancer, morphine was an effective painkiller in two-thirds of patients, but placebos were equally effective in half of those! The placebo tricks the mind into believing relief has come, and the body responds accordingly…In a false pregnancy, a woman believes so strongly in her pregnant condition that her mind directs an extraordinary sequence of activities: it increases hormone flow, enlarges breasts, suspends menstruation, induces morning sickness, and even prompts labor contractions. (Brand 1983,19)[i]

Furthering the evidence surrounding the power of the mind, Geisler writes,

Dr. William Nolen explains that “the patient who suddenly discovers…that he can now move an arm or a leg that was previously paralyzed had that paralysis as a result of an emotional, not a physical disturbance.” It is known that “neurotics and hysterics will frequently be relieved of their symptoms by the suggestions and ministrations of charismatic healers. It is in treating patients of this sort that healers claim their most dramatic triumphs” (Nolen 1974, 287). So “there is nothing miraculous about these cures. Psychiatrists, internists, G.P.’s, any M.D. who does psychiatric therapy, relive thousands of such patients of their symptoms every year.” But they do it by purely natural means, claiming no special supernatural powers.[ii]

Today, not only do we have many faithful Christian theologians who have put in countless hours of study to help us understand false faith healers in contrast to biblical truth, even unbelievers have been able to shed light on the deception. In his 2011 documentary, Miracles for Sale, a world-renowned hypnotist and illusionist goes undercover in one of the most jaw-dropping exposes ever recorded. maxresdefaultHe teaches and trains a man who had no prior experience with hypnotism or faith-healing to be a faith-healer. The facts prove that numerous modern faith-healers are little more than scam artists who use a false rendering of biblical truth to exploit the sick for monetary gain.

Unfortunately, many people – both Christians and non-Christians alike – have been duped by faith-healers who use hypnotic strategies and the power of suggestion to provide temporary relief from ailments. The real losers in this game of winner-take-all are the sick and hurting people who are left wondering what they’ve done to keep God from healing them completely.

Response #3: You’ve been deceived by a demonic, or counterfeit, sign.

This isn’t a popular one but the Word of God gives room for scenarios in which a power other than God is at work either to perform a legitimate sign or falsify one so well that it’s uncritically believed. Here some examples from Scripture that provide undeniable evidence that satanic and demonic power is allowed under the sovereignty of God and legitimate to some degree – whether falsified or not:

  1. Jesus doesn’t refer to “false” signs and wonders when He tells miraculous workers that He never “knew” them (Matthew 7:23). Those could be legitimate, demonic signs.
  2. Jesus is also clear that in the last days “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).
  3. Paul points out that the man of lawlessness will come in accordance with the activity of Satan, with “all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
  4. Paul also assures that false prophets will disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:15).
  5. The Seven Sons of Sceva were completely overpowered by evil spirits who “leaped on them” via a man they possessed (Acts 19:14-16).
  6. Satan can bind people with sickness (Luke 13:16). If such an individual is converted, Satan and his oppressive force through disease would conceivably both be gone. In cases like these, salvation is primarily the miracle, the physical relief from satanic sickness is not – the person has simply gone back to his pre-possessed state of health.
  7. Satan could stop Paul from going forward in his missionary plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).

No matter which side of the coin you land on, there’s no debating that Satan is the father of lies and has mastered the art of deception. It is very likely that many false teachers in the signs and wonders movement are “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13) by demonic means.

Spiritual warfare is real.

Response #4: You are being used by darkness to deceive people.

There is one final category and it’s probably the last one on the list for a reason – use it sparingly. Simply put, it’s possible that a person is lying and being used to deceive others or are being deceived. They were never sick in the first place, or they had a minor ailment that was healed by their own body’s self-healing capabilities (built by God) and they see it as a way to get attention. Similar to little children who make millions of dollars off of false stories about going to heaven, people claiming healing can make a lot of money off of books and films but offer zero theological value to evangelicalism. Truth always produces fruit. Money doesn’t equal fruit.

Furthermore, even with the best of intentions, deception is deception. I have a former colleague in the faith-healing circuit who is fully convinced (and ok with it) that many of the healings claimed in his meetings are faked and claimed by people who want to be prayed for on the platform. Claiming you were healed is one of the best ways to make it on stage at a healing crusade – if not the only way.

His answer when I asked him why he doesn’t quit going along with the charade and just offer people truth? He says that it’s not his job to focus on who is or isn’t lying. He believes his job is to give people hope and increase their faith so they can activate their healing that Christ already paid for in the atonement. If he can do that by being optimistic about even the potentially false healings, then that is fulfilling his calling in his mind.

This category fits Paul’s exact words to Timothy about the contrast between those who will be faithful to the boundaries of God’s Word, and those who will irreverently or ignorantly do things as they please:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:13-17).

None of these scenarios negates that a sovereign God can will and work in the life of one of His sheep at any given time. If a person is in fact a genuine believer, he or she will not stay in a false church long-term, and he or she will be malleable to God’s word as it informs previous experiences under a false teacher.

There is nothing wrong with a Christian praising God for being healed by the Great Physician or his or her medical doctor, but there is something dangerous about an enthusiastic perspective that believes a false teacher is just a well-meaning (though somewhat mistaken) healer who did the healing. We cannot stand idle while sheep are left untaught.

Experience never defines our truth. Truth always defines our experience.


Recommended Reading for Further Study on This Topic: 

Desiring God: Satan’s Ten Strategies Against You

Grace to You: Demons and Magic

Grace to You: False Prophets and Lying Wonders

Ligonier Ministries: False Signs and Wonders


[i] Norman L Geisler, Signs And Wonders, 1st ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1988). 78-79. Geisler quotes from Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, “A Surgeon’s View Of Divine Healing”, Christianity Today, 1983. 19.

[ii] Ibid., 79-80. Geisler quotes from William Nolen, Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle. (New York: Random House, 1974). 287.

Are You Easy Prey for False Teachers?

Modern-day Christian culture is obsessed with experience. The Bible has become a footnote.

Truth, we say, is important, but it must come second to our experience. Modern mystics claim, “We owe the world an encounter!” They’re referring to their ability to help people experience a special anointing of God. One of the newest faith healers on the circuit states, “The cross, to me, isn’t a revelation of my sin, it’s a revelation of my value!” He’d prefer we don’t talk about sin.

God’s Word is being grossly misrepresented and instead of challenging the divorce of truth from experience, the church at large has embraced experience as the preeminent proof of spiritual maturity. He who says, “God told me…”, wins the crowd. Man-centered experience, and man-centered gospels are sweeping across the landscape of evangelicalism. People are loving it and false teachers are too.

It’s an uphill battle, and a marathon fight, but we must never stop contending for the faith by calling today’s world back to the timeless truth of God’s Word.

  • Do you know your Bible?
  • Do you use Scripture accurately and confidently?
  • Do you trust subjective “impressions” over the objective truth of God’s Word?
  • Do you offer sentiments like, “I think” and “I feel” to others or do you point them to God’s truth?
  • Do you find yourself able to discern false teaching because you know the truth of God’s Word?

The way you answer those questions provides you with an accurate gauge of how useful you are in fighting the good fight of faith right now. Simply put, knowing your Bible is one of the highest priorities of the Christian life. How else will you know God’s will for your life? God’s voice isn’t the “whisper” in your head or the wind blowing through your hair – it’s the Bible – and it’s knowledge you need to survive and thrive if you call yourself a Christian.

“To live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you. ‘To the Law and to the Testimony.’ If it is not according to this Word, the impression comes not from God — it may proceed from Satan, or from your own distempered brain! Our prayer must be, ‘Order my steps in Your Word.’ Now, that rule of life, the written Word of God, we ought to study and obey.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Some people think that knowing the Bible is about being a super-Christian who can thump everyone over the head with their jaw-dropping knowledge – but that’s just egotism. The Pharisees knew a lot about the Law. A lot of good that did them. Knowing the Bible is about knowing your God and therefore, enabling your life and worship to be rooted in who God is. The what is good to know; the why is equally as important.

In the spirit of knowing why you should take knowing your Bible seriously, here are 3 dangers of not knowing how to use your Bible in these experience-driven times:

  1. You Are Easy Prey for Predators

Have you ever watched one of those animal shows where the hungry lion creeps in the tall grass of the African Savanna while an Impala peacefully grazes? The lion has the perfect strategy in play as it blends into the grass and silently inches closer, and closer. When it seems like the Impala is done for, their head perks up, they somehow hear the lion, and they’re gone before the lion can hit full stride.

What saves the Impala’s life? Those big ears and a lighting quick leap that allows them to cover 30 feet in a single bound! A beautiful design by our Creator to level the playing field a bit – they can hear a pin drop in a hail storm and be from home plate to first base in 3 hops. That gives them a fighting chance against a roaring lion, and that’s the exact picture of what a Christian armed with God’s Word can do. An Impala without big ears is like you without a bible – lion lunch.  15325676887_3e8accd6a4_b

False teachers are banking on biblical illiteracy to exploit you with their greed (2 Peter 2:3), establish abusive power, and do Satan’s bidding. A Christian with a growing knowledge of the Word of God is able to discern when that Word is being twisted. If your mind is rooted in Scripture, it can’t be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). This starts with asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Bible’s truth to your ignorant eyes, finding trusted Bible resources to learn from, plugging into a trusted church to grow with, and following qualified pastors who take their role seriously (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Hebrews 13:17). Biblical literacy will be a challenge you will come to enjoy, and it will save you from the headache of heretics plundering your wallet.

  1. You Can’t Help Anyone Else

What do you call a person who can’t swim but jumps into a pool to save a drowning friend? Fill in the blank: ______________. I bet your word of choice wasn’t “useful” or “helpful.” So it is with the person who isn’t growing in their use of the Bible but is trying to help everyone with their opinions. If Christians do not continually devote themselves to internalizing the wisdom of God’s Word, what useful insight can they offer? They’re aimlessly dependent on wild stabs at “that one verse I think is in the Bible,” self-help books, and the odd nugget of wisdom that their granddaddy told them.

When answers to life’s toughest questions are needed, only the timeless wisdom of God’s Word will do. Divine wisdom is what people need. Biblically illiterate Christians can only attempt to sell desperately needy individuals their own empty palaver.

This has become increasingly problematic in church leadership as well. In a poor effort to make the gospel relevant, we’ve allowed the “cool factor” of a man to dictate his becoming a hired pastor. Pastors can get hired at a church because of how popular they are for things other than pastoring people. Never mind how faithful they’ve been to the Scriptures or how devoted they are to growing in doctrinal depth. It’s about how many followers they have on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Pastors can get hired at a church because they wrote some self-help books or look hip. Pastors can get hired at a church without ever knowing that their qualifications are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. If our leadership is biblically illiterate and unqualified, and evangelicalism at large supports that, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many who follow them are biblically illiterate.

The world doesn’t need any more celebrity Christian leaders who slosh around in the mushy-middle of evangelicalism with a pocket-knife in hand. The world needs men and women of God who can take up the sword of the Spirit and wield faithfully for Christ.

  1. You Are Sinking

Christians who don’t know their Bible are on a sinking ship. That is, either their church, their own life, or both, are sinking. You can try pull a “Jonah” and toss things overboard, bail out water one bucket at time, or pray your heart out, but that ship is going down and only all-out devotion to the sufficiency of the Bible can save it. This is not a new problem for the church.

A mega-church was on the cutting edge of Christianity for decades. They were packing out the seats with tens of thousands, drawing people in from all walks of life, and writing best-selling books on church growth and leadership. There was just one glaring problem they didn’t yet realize. When the congregation was surveyed, it turns out the ship had a hole in the hull.

By the time they caught on, it was too late. The congregation was surveyed on their spiritual growth and the results were sobering to say the least. The church was amazing at getting people in the door, but once in the door, they were spiritually inept – that is, they didn’t have deep roots in Christ let alone have a handle on His Word. The sheep are most often the ones who become causalities of spiritual war when a pastor won’t demand that the people devote themselves to the Word of God, and this was no exception.

After some soul-searching, one of the pastors said,

We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders…We should have taught people how to read their Bibles between services, how to do the spiritual practices…What’s happening to these people [is that] the older they get, the more they’re expecting the church to feed them, when, in fact, the more mature a Christian becomes, a Christian should become more of a self-feeder…We’re going to up the level of responsibility we put on the people themselves so that they can grow even if the church doesn’t meet all their needs.

Now that’s more like it.

The Bible speaks to the kind of earthly wisdom that doesn’t produce lasting spiritual fruit.

  • Isaiah said that the Word of our God endures forever (Isiah 40:8).
  • Isaiah also prophesied, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…” (Isaiah 5:21).
  • Jeremiah declared that a man shouldn’t boast in his own wisdom but know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
  • Paul called the wisdom of this world “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
  • Jesus said those who hear His words and don’t do them are building on sinking sand (Matthew 7:26).

It’s not a bad idea to go with Scripture when it comes to pouring the spiritual foundation of wisdom in your life. In fact, it’s the best idea.

Many Christians are at different places when it comes to Bible knowledge, but every Christian is supposed to be enjoying the same process when it comes to Bible knowledge – progression!

And let’s be honest, nobody gets it right every time. There is no one pastor who has mastered the art of interpretive perfection. Still, every Christian is called to continuous growth in handling God’s Word. There are no good excuses for biblical illiteracy.

The Psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). You don’t have to live under the cover of darkness. Pick up your Bible and let the light of God’s Word pour in.


Recommended Resources:

Our forthcoming book, Defining Deception, will challenge today’s mystical-miracle movements who hold objective truth as secondary to “experience.” We hope that people will look to the sufficiency of Christ and His Word over the latest false fads. 

Other specific tools from proven Christian leaders are listed below:

How to Study God’s Word – John MacArthur

Searching the Scriptures – Chuck Swindoll

The Origin of the Bible – FF. Bruce, J.I. Packer, Philip Comfort, Carl F.H. Henry

Women of the Word – Jen Wilkin

Mythbuster: "Slain in the Spirit"

It had been over three hours since the service started, and I was really starting to feel God’s presence in the building. As I stood next to my friend, the music was deep and intense. The lighting made everything feel so intimate, and a slight fog danced through the air. The lead singer’s voice was so beautiful – Jesus Culture’s music is so anointed. The voices all around me sang in unison, and I felt myself slipping into a deep, rhythmic trance as I swayed to the song. The pastor had been continuously telling us to expect an encounter with God and that God was going to touch us all in some special way. Could this be the solution to my problems in life? I’d been through so much heart-ache and insecurity. I was tired of being told that God’s word and prayer was enough. Maybe this was the real deal – maybe this was the encounter I needed. Just then, the pastor interrupted the singing and shouted, “Jesus is here! The anointing is yours! If you want a fresh touch from God get down here to the front of the stage!” I looked at my friend quickly and said, “Are you coming?! This is it!” He shrugged nervously and stayed put. I think he was skeptical of this sort of thing – he’s a Baptist. Oh well, I thought – his loss. Bodies poured out into the aisles as people just like me hurried desperately down to the stage. As I got closer to the front I felt adrenaline pump through my veins and soon found a spot just a few feet away from the pastor. Looking up at him I felt like God was telling him who to lay hands on. His eyes scanned the sea of young people below his platform. Then, my moment came. He told one of his assistants, “Get that girl right there! The power of God is all over her!” I felt so special that he picked me it caused me to sob uncontrollably. I was pulled up on the platform and it felt like I had made it to the holy of holies. My hands were shaking from the nerves, my breaths were short but heavy, and I sensed the catchers getting into place. Then he shouted, “FIRE!!! on you…” The emotion of the moment was too much for me to take as I felt something take a hold of my body. I abandoned all rationale and was powerfully forced to the ground. My body began to convulse and contort while I was laying on the stage; sounds poured out of my mouth I’d never made before. I could hear and feel other bodies beginning to fall around me and on me. Some people were laughing hysterically, others touched me and groaned deeply, and some were screaming while crawling on all fours. I have heard some Christians say this sort of experience was demonic, while others say it’s just hypnosis. To be honest, I haven’t seen it in the Bible and don’t really know what it is…but I really feel like it’s the Holy Spirit…

The virtual tour you’ve just read through is taking place all over the world every single week in tens of thousands of charismatic churches, healing crusades, youth groups, kid’s camps, Third Wave revivals, and N.A.R. conferences. Many conservative Christians are scared to death of their children ever going to one of these services but when asked what the issue really is, most cannot explain it but to say, “It’s unbiblical” or “not God.”

We need a better answer than that.

So what exactly does someone mean when they say, “I got slain in the spirit!”? This phrase describes what many believe to be a touch from God that sends them falling to the ground – literally. Those who ardently defend this practice claim that it’s God’s manifest presence in a service that causes people to fall over. According to them, God’s power is usually “imparted” to people by a pastor who lays his hands on them, blows his breath on them, waves his hand, waves his jacket, or shouts a phrase like, “Fire!” or “Touch!” These gestures cause people to go flying in all directions. Sometimes it even occurs when a certain song is sung by the worship band, or because people are overcome with emotion during a portion of the service. Often times those being slain in the spirit will manifest on the ground by making animal sounds, crawling, slithering, shaking, convulsing, weeping, laughing, and experiencing trance-like euphoria. Some say they feel electricity when the pastor touches them, others feel warmth, while others are not able to stand under their own strength for hours afterwards. All of this is believed to be the work of the Holy Spirit as He refreshes and renews spiritually empty and broken people. With over 500 million charismatics, and 1.5 billion Hindus (Kundalini Awakening)  practicing slaying people in the spirit, it is no exaggeration to state that at least 2/7 of the entire world has beliefs tied to falling or shaking under the power of some sort of spirit. This is not fringe behavior. This is now mainstream spiritualism and considered highly normative – it’s everywhere.

But does the Bible have any evidence to prove normative activity by the Holy Spirit that causes people to shake, slither, laugh, bark, crawl, or convulse in the church? When God interacts with people in the Bible, does He electrocute them into a seemingly drunken state where speech is slurred and the body uncontrolled? Can a preacher (shouting “FIRE!”) really cause heaven to invade your life on earth? Is there a chance that when some of these charismatic experiences are identical to manifestations found in Hinduism that there is a demonic aspect to it? maxresdefault-1

The best way to understand the charismatic practice of being slain in the spirit is to understand the position of those who support and practice it.

WHAT DO ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT’ ENTHUSIASTS CLAIM?

First, there are a number of varying claims depending on what charismatic group is explaining them. That in itself proves how much confusion there is surrounding the practice.

Here are several key claims:

  • Slain in the spirit experiences are the result of the manifest presence of God the Father.
  • Jesus is the one doing the slaying.
  • The Holy Spirit is a force that cannot be stopped. When He touches people they fall
  • People who are “empty” need to be slain in the spirit to get filled with the Spirit.
  • When God touches human flesh, something will happen.
  • When heaven touches earth, things shake.
  • The power of God is overwhelming. When it shows up, people fall.

To support these general claims and explanations, charismatic enthusiasts use specific Bible passages as proof-texts for being slain in the spirit. Christians who aren’t biblically literate won’t usually notice the interpretive gymnastics being utilized, but when we study what the Bible actually says, the myths behind being slain in the spirit get biblically busted.

MYTH #1: IT HAPPENED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10-11).

The context of this passage is the completion of Solomon’s temple in which the manifest glory of God literally descended. God’s presence dwelt in the temple as was consistent throughout the Old Testament. A similar experience happened in Exodus 40:34-38 to Moses when he was unable to enter the tent of meeting because of the glory of the Lord.

BUSTED: God’s glory descended upon the temple to signify His residence in the temple. The priest could not to stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:13), and Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because of the cloud of glory that filled it – not because they were laid out on the floor. There is nothing remotely close to today’s slaying in the spirit that provides evidence for the practice. God’s presence did not once slay people in the spirit, He did not cause people to fall hysterically, burst out into holy laughter, nor manifest with strange noises. None of what the Old Testament says about God’s presence or experiences at the temple has anything to do with the practice of being slain in the spirit today.

Though still a complete misinterpretation, if charismatic enthusiasts insist on using these texts as proof for their antics, then they must reconcile how the O.T priests were unable to stand or serve in the manifest presence of the Lord while modern day preachers, catchers, organ players, singers, and rest of the audience is able to stand, clap, use the restrooms, and film the antics with their cell phones while only people being “touched” are slain the spirit?

If the glory of God literally shows up, nobody will be filming for YouTube. All will be faced down.

Other texts that are poorly twisted in a similar way to the aforementioned example are:

Genesis 15:12Abram fell into a deep sleep.

Exodus 19:18Mount Sinai shakes from the presence of the Lord.

1 Samuel 16:13The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.

Judges 6:34The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.

There is not a theologian on earth who can make any of these truly mean that being slain in the spirit is biblical. Did God move in powerful ways throughout the Bible and does He still today? Absolutely. Is there a single instance in the Old Testament where He “slays someone in the spirit” or instructs a prophet to form a fire tunnel and knock people down in a heaping pile? Absolutely not.

MYTH #2: IT HAPPENED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5-6).

Jesus the very Son of God stood face to face with a betrayer, and a mob of soldiers and high priests, then sent them straight to the ground with a declaration of who He was. This was the ultimate sign of power and authority by Christ and a clear display of His divine sovereignty over those He was allowing to kill Him. Not once was the Lamb of God not fully God and not once was He without control.

BUSTED: When we observe Jesus sending these men falling to the ground, several things cannot be overlooked: 1) They were His enemies 2) He did not impart His anointing to them 3) They did not have a euphoric encounter with God 4) They did not manifest by barking, shaking, convulsing, or sobbing 5) They were not filled with the Spirit 6) They were not healed while lying on the ground 7) They carried on with arresting Him. The events of this text cannot be divorced from the application of this text. What Jesus did, and how the mob responded offers no support for modern day practices.

Other New Testament texts poorly twisted in a similar way to the example above:

Acts 8:17Peter and John lay hands on people who receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:12Handkerchiefs that touched Paul were used to heal and deliver people.

Acts 26:13-14Paul was knocked off his horse by a beam of light.

Revelation 1:17John falls on his face before Jesus out of fear. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

To use any of these examples of God’s power in the New Testament as proof to support the normative practice of slaying people in the spirit today is beyond far reaching – it’s dangerous hermeneutics.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT BEING ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT’?

There is literally nothing in the Bible that supports the practice of slaying people in the spirit, being slain in the spirit, or even uses those terms. Some may argue that the term “Trinity” is not in the Bible either yet we believe in the Trinity. This is not a good argument since the doctrine of the Trinity is explicitly proven through countless texts that describe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and we apply it exactly as the scriptures teach it. Terminology is not the issue with determining the biblical evidence for being slain in the spirit – finding any evidence is.

Even the most commonly known chapters on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14) do not at all deal with the practice or give credence to it. In fact, Paul does more to tone down the chaos of Corinth than to invoke further antics that would confuse the church.

The burden of proof to legitimize this completely unbiblical practice ultimately lies only with those sympathetic to being slain in the spirit.

WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN PEOPLE ARE BEING ‘SLAIN IN THE SPIRIT TODAY’?

Since we can conclude it is not found in the Bible, there must be other factors at work. After 26 years of personally experiencing, or being a part of tens of thousands of “slayings”, I’ve come to find that five conclusions quantify what in the world is going on when people fall under this supposed power.

I. People think they have to fall down – Peer pressure at these sort of services is intense. Nobody wants to look bad or make the preacher look bad. It is widely believed that there is something wrong with you if you don’t “feel” God’s presence and have a manifestation of some sort, so peer pressure plays a huge factor in falling. Sadly, kids end up being the biggest loser in this forced behavior as they seek to please and soon are brainwashed into the system. In many cases, people see other people falling and just follow suit. Finally, it is common for seekers who come to these services to think they have to fall down in order to get the experience that the preacher is promising.

II. People are told they are going to fall down – The power of suggestion and hypnosis is real. Documentaries like “Miracles for Sale” have proven that the power of suggestion and hypnosis can be used to make complete strangers do whatever the hypnotist commands. This isn’t news to those with an understanding of psychology and social science but many Christians are still unaware that many charismatic extremists who slay people in the spirit are experts at hypnosis and manipulation. Three hours of sensual and soothing music, countless bursts of saying, “Jesus is here! He is going to touch you! You are going to feel something you’ve never felt before! Just receive it!”, gets people in the mood. Then, they are ripe for the picking. Hypnosis is also proven to put people in a trance-like state – something common at these services.

III. People want to fall down – Reverence is a big deal in Third Wave, N.A.R., and charismatic extremist circles. People are taught to honor leaders in a god-like fashion because they are literally on His level. Many former followers in these movements have admitted that they wanted a deeper connection with God, and wanted the anointing that was being promised by the leader – so they chose to fall in hopes of having a spiritual experience. This often leads to the weeping, praying, and emotional responses seen after the pastor lays his hands on them.

IV. People are faking it – I’ve personally interacted with friends, family, and followers who have faked it. By the grace of God, people who don’t grow up in charismatic chaos have no idea this happens but when you grow up with a special anointing service every week and it lasts 4 hours a shot – you start falling just to get it over with. I once asked someone close to me why they threw themselves back and acted so crazy on the platform to which he claimed, “Come on man, we gotta make him look good and get this over with.” Make no mistake about it, people fake it.

V. It is demonic – In many cases where a false teacher is involved (Start @ 3m:15s) modern day slayings in the spirit are akin to the biblical accounts of someone who is experiencing demonization and demonic possession (Mark 9:17-18). Being seized, thrown to the ground, and rigidness of the body are all things people experience – this is exactly what demon possessed people experienced in the Bible. This isn’t a blanket statement to say that all slaying in the spirit practices today are demonic, but it is to say that when the other four points aren’t in play, you can bet it’s not innocent charismatic behavior. Some may wonder how anyone could dare attribute this to demonic behavior, but think about this for a second. Can a false teacher, teaching a false gospel, being used by Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), lay hands on false Christians (or anyone for that matter) and cause them to experience the true Holy Spirit? No. It’s a false imposter – a demonic spirit.

At best, well-meaning people are seeking an encounter with God in the wrong way through the wrong means and will end up confused and disappointed. At worst, desperate people and apostates are being overtaken by hypnosis, the power of suggestion, demonic forces, or a false spirit that they believe to be the Holy Spirit.

If it doesn’t match the Bible, isn’t found in the Bible, or can’t be truly backed up by proper interpretation of the Bible, you’re not missing out on anything. The Holy Spirit is accessible today through the power of the gospel and He exists to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, not to put on a show (John 16:14-15). If people surrender to Christ, embrace the true work of the Spirit in their life, and submit to the Bible as sufficient and final revelation, being slain in the spirit becomes obsolete.

No matter what a person’s position is on spiritual gifts today, all discerning Christians can confidently say, “I’ll pass” when it comes to being slain in the spirit.