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How to View Claims About Dreams and Visions

When it comes to analyzing dreams and visions, very few people are short on opinion.

Some seek dreams, visions, and other mystical experiences constantly yet don’t even know their Bible. Others dismiss every supernatural claim and prefer rationalism at all costs; unwilling to even accept any possibility that supernatural experiences could either be demonic or that God could providentially use a very normal dream to move someone into realistic action once they wake up.

There are landmines on all sides of this subject, and one of those is that it tends to become a tier 1 issue. In other words, people will make railing judgments about the salvation of an individual based on their position regarding how God may or may not use dreams, or if it is possible for someone to have some supernatural experience. It’s important to navigate these hotly debated waters with a great deal of grace, while still holding fast to the truth of God’s word. A fascinating example of this is when R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler sit with Ravi Zacharias as he shares about some interesting experiences during this Q & A.

What About “Sola Scriptura?” 

The natural question arises for theological conservatives: Wouldn’t such an experience deny “Sola Scriptura?” This question has two answers: Yes, and no (depending on what the claim is).

Why yes?  If someone is making wild claims that demean Jesus and contradict His word, that should be cause for red flags. Especially if they say things that insult Him, like one particular claim from a leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California who declared that in a vision Jesus came and asked for him for forgiveness. You read that correctly. The claim was that Jesus asked for this leader to forgive him.

Why no? While discernment is merited for supernatural claims, someone simple having a dream would fall within the normal pattern of human behavior. A dream is simply defined as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep.” It is possible that someone could dream about Jesus and that God could use a dream to lead them to investigate Jesus and the Bible in the same way that someone could dream about baseball and wake up wanting to play baseball. Can we honestly say that God can’t put a thought in someone’s head? That seems far-reaching to deny, even if this subject makes you uncomfortable. Another experience that would not violate Sola Scriptura is if someone had a demonic experience. Such a thing is a non sequitur to Sola Scriptura since most who hold to Sola Scriptura would not deny that the Devil and demons are actively attacking people through deception of all sorts — including demonization, false signs, witchcraft, and more. We can’t possibly deny that demonic experiences are real and that the Devil is actively working to deceive people with real experiences dripping with sinister lies. Therefore, discernment is crucial.

As you navigate claims regarding dreams and visions, here are some practical steps to consider. These will keep you from swinging to extremes or jumping to conclusions. We do well to avoid sign-seeking and sensationalism (Matthew 12:38-39), while at the same time being careful with our words lest we lose an opportunity to guide someone into the truth and needlessly hurt someone with our dismissive or pompous attitude (Colossians 4:6).

1. Be sensitive to new believers and their experiences

When someone comes to us and shares their perceived experience, dismissal is the best way to get yourself dismissed. Just like nobody wants to work for someone who wreaks of smug arrogance, and just like no one opens up to a father who suppresses your expressions and unkindly dismisses questions, nobody trusts those who jump to hasty conclusions or who exhibit a condescending tone.

Some people have experienced something and they need sensitivity and help. What if their experience was demonic and they don’t know it? Could it be that they don’t know their Bible very well and are innocently ignorant? What if they merely had a dream and it led them to further investigation and gospel transformation in a country that doesn’t allow missionaries? Couldn’t Jesus build His church in some way that causes a person to investigate the true gospel? It helps no one when someone opens up to us and we pompously remark: “Whatever you experienced wasn’t real. You’re making this up.” Being sensitive doesn’t mean you’re agreeing or believing. It just means you’re listening and caring.

2. Be discerning because a lot of people make things up

There are a ton of made-up stories. When I was growing up in the Word of Faith movement, one next-generation family member who is now running with the New Apostolic Reformation told me that we have freedom in Christ to make things up sometimes if it builds people’s faith. He made up healings, visions, stories about God verbally speaking to him, and more. Many people do this. Don’t be shocked or deceived.

3. Be willing to confront glaring inconsistencies with Scripture

Oral Roberts was an old hero of mine, a famous pioneer of faith healing, and a dangerous deceiver. He once claimed that a 900-ft tall “Jesus” appeared to him, and later on claimed “God told him” that people needed to give millions of dollars towards a building project or God would kill him.[1]

If someone claims something manipulative like this, they don’t need a 900-ft tall Jesus, they need the Scriptures that the real Jesus taught. Some people we encounter will have had demonic experiences or have been led away by strange and deceitful spirits (1 Timothy 4:1). They need to be taught that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

3. Be willing to say “I don’t know what you experienced.” 

So many want to slam dunk people with black and white answers but the reality is, you can’t know everything or conclude upon every person’s story with absolute certainty. What can you say with total confidence from time to time? Simply say, “I don’t know.” This allows you to point to what you do know — which leads us to the most important point in this article.

4. Be consistently pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture

Let’s imagine for a moment that someone did have a dream about Jesus and it caused them to wake up to reality and seek out answers. Guess what? We don’t live by dreams. We don’t get saved by dreams. We don’t stay saved by dreams. We don’t get filled with the Spirit by dreams. We don’t study the Bible through dreams. We don’t get heaven by dreams. Faith doesn’t come by dreaming.

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Even if you think you heard the word of Christ in a dream, you’ve still got to wake up and live by faith in reality!

When it comes to dreams and discerning an experience, we don’t need to be cruel to people. But we also don’t need to be chasing signs or hunting for the next “high” that gets our adrenaline pumping. The word of God is enough for the true believer and will always be enough.

Isaiah 40:8 reminds us, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

___________________________

[1] “Oral Roberts Tells of Talking to 900-Foot Jesus,” Tulsa World, October 16, 1980, accessed December 23, 2016,

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.