What is the Assemblies of God position on reported modern day manifestations of the Holy Spirit such as dancing in the Spirit, being slain in the Spirit, etc.?
Misunderstanding and controversy have swirled around the happenings in every revival since New Testament times. When the divine manifestation of tongues was heard on the Day of Pentecost, skeptics declared the Spirit-filled believers drunk (Acts 2:13). In similar fashion, in the early days of 20th century Pentecost, many skeptics in mainline churches also misunderstood the Spirit’s outpouring and declared the Spirit-filled believers to be demon possessed.
Such criticism and controversy, however, are not limited to attacks from non-Pentecostals. Some who have been reared in Pentecostal churches also disagree over which manifestations of the Spirit are biblical and therefore appropriate. Critics of extra-biblical manifestations declare them to be inappropriate because the exact same manifestations cannot be found in the Bible. Proponents of such manifestations counter, also citing scripture to justify their experiences, but remote passages used for support are often extremely distant or unrelated to the modern-day manifestation. Yet in spite of the lack of strong scriptural support, the Assemblies of God recognizes those instances in Scripture where individuals were in an abnormal physical and spiritual state (e.g., Dan. 8:17,18, Acts 9:3,4. Rev. 1:17). However, the Church also realizes the danger in defending every unnatural manifestation in a revival as a mark of divine presence on the basis of an isolated, incompletely described incident in Scripture.
As believers we should look carefully to the Bible for any evidence of a manifestation that is proclaimed as a mark of spirituality and a pattern for all people. The doctrine that tongues are the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is based on the recurring record of Scripture. Therefore, we say with confidence that all believers can have the experience and that it should continually be a normative part of every believer’s spiritual experience.
However, to say that every little happening during a revival move must be found in Scripture is not in keeping with our understanding of a sovereign God who can do as He knows best and wills to do. An example of this would be divine healing. We as Pentecostals believe and proclaim this truth. But we do not conclude that God can heal only diseases mentioned in Scripture. Because there are many different instances of healing in Scripture, we know God is able to heal any infirmity or disease.
Likewise, there are many instances in Scripture when God moved supernaturally on human beings. The apostle Paul reported one of his experiences (2 Corinthians 12:1-5), but he never proclaimed such as a normative experience that every believer should seek, nor did he claim to be more spiritual because he had the experience. John also had an unusual experience on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:10). In each case God manifested Himself to a specific person, in a specific time, in a specific way, for a specific purpose. These occasions were never recorded as recurring regularly. This does not mean that the manifestations were not real, only that they were special acts rather than normal occurrences. In view of this we recognize that God is sovereign and creatively dispenses His blessings to His people, in His timing.
People often look for easy answers to hard questions. Few like to do the spiritual judging that l Corinthians requires for prophecy (1 Cor. 14:29). It is easier to say that anything that needs judging should not be allowed. However, manifestations in a Pentecostal service should be spiritually judged, not for the purpose of declaring the entire revival out of order, but to preserve the good that God wants to accomplish in the revival move.
Furthermore, judging from a distance, on the basis of second- and third-hand reports, is not what Paul was requiring. Judging whether a human response is appropriate or not should be done in the church setting where God is obviously at work, where some fleshly manifestations might mingle with the true manifestations of God’s presence. We must always seek and cherish God’s presence more than any particular evidence or manifestation of that presence. God can come in the wind, the earthquake, the fire, or in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:11,12).
Isaiah’s unusual experience of God’s presence (Isaiah 6) demonstrates a beautiful sequence. First, there was a vision, a revelation of God’s holiness and majesty. Isaiah’s response was to give glory to God. But the experience with God’s presence didn’t stop there. A crushing sense of unworthiness, of sinfulness, followed immediately. “Woe is me!” He cried, “for I am a man of unclean lips . . . and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Yet self-condemnation was not the end. God immediately gave Isaiah an assignment, “Go and tell.” Experiencing the divine presence of God is more than a warm feeling; it brings a call to greater service.
The following are modern-day manifestations about which questions are frequently raised and deserve judging.
Slain in the Spirit. The phrases “slain in the Spirit,” “falling under the power,” or “resting in the Spirit” are not found in the Bible. They are used, however, to describe the experience of falling to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit. Although being slain in the Spirit seems to be a distinguishing characteristic of some recent revivals and evangelistic ministries, there are recorded accounts of people falling under the power of God or being slain in the Spirit in 18th and 19th century revivals. Some of the earlier recorded prostration experiences were related to sinners falling under conviction for their sins. More frequently in the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic revival, believers who are slain in the Spirit experience an extended, intense time of inner work of the Spirit tailored to the specific nature or needs of the individual.
Some expositors have noted that in all biblical instances of the powerful presence of God causing one to fall prostrate, the position was always face down, while in contemporary instances, the worshipper falls backward. When the number of worshippers who fall reaches a larger number with regularity, some evangelists have relied on “catchers” to protect from injury during a fall. Some have questioned if humans have to protect from injury if the work is genuinely an act of the Holy Spirit. But based on biblical evidence, falling down is not an evidence of spirituality. Nor is it a normative experience that should be sought on the basis of any biblical command or repeated example.
Overwhelming experiences, such as falling to the floor, are, therefore, in themselves not to be encouraged as a pattern sought by all believers. However, such experiences, when they occur, may be valid, and should not be summarily discredited.
On the other hand, some believers attending a meeting where a few are slain in the Spirit may feel incorrectly that if they do not fall, others will think them unspiritual or resisting the move of the Spirit. A “courtesy fall” is never the work of the Spirit, nor is a quick rise so others may have the experience. If one is truly slain in the Spirit, there is most likely a work the Spirit wishes to do in that life.
Dancing in the Spirit. Dancing in the Spirit must be clearly distinguished from social dancing and from choreographed or orchestrated dancing, even if the latter were to take place in the church sanctuary. Instances of dancing in the Spirit, as seen in the 20th century Pentecostal revival, have generally involved a single participant spontaneously “dancing” with eyes closed without bumping into nearby persons or objects, obviously under the power and guidance of the Spirit. But again, this manifestation by itself is not an indication of greater spirituality, or a pattern that all worshippers are to seek. If the experience happens, it is because the worshipper has become so enraptured with God’s presence that the Spirit takes control of physical motions as well as the spiritual and emotional being.
The biblical account of David dancing before the Lord is not an example of dancing in the Spirit. Scripture says “David danced before the LORD with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14), thus describing the personal joy and thanksgiving that David consciously expressed to the Lord. Based on this account in Scripture, some contemporary charismatic churches have instituted orchestrated and rehearsed dancing as part of the worship service. Traditional Pentecostals, like those in the Assemblies of God, regret the replacement of an edifying, spontaneous, beautiful manifestation of the Spirit by a humanly planned and executed natural dance. Some justify choreographed dancing in the worship service as a restoration of the Old Testament “Davidic dance”; however, such teaching selectively omits the unrehearsed spontaneous manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit that represents a higher expression of worship.
Other Manifestations. To deal with a long list of other manifestations would be unproductive. The list would be out of date in short order. But the principles outlined above hold true for those that have already appeared and for those that have yet to be seen. In every instance they are human responses to a conscious realization of God’s immediate presence. They are not marks of spirituality, nor will they in themselves guarantee Kingdom growth. It is the genuine presence of God, not human responses to that presence, which will empower a victorious Church in these end-times before Christ returns.
A move of God which includes manifestations of the Holy Spirit, must always be welcome in the Church. Yet we must be careful to keep our focus and desire on Jesus Christ rather than on any manifestation. In our seeking we must willingly obey God’s Word in everything we do. We must also realize that when God creatively pours out His Spirit on a person in a way that is not recorded in Scripture, it is not intended to be a normative experience for either the individual or the church.
How can we recognize a Spirit prompted and controlled manifestation? Does it bring glory to Jesus and edify the Body? The confirmation that a spiritual experience is real and biblical lies in the spiritual growth of the believer. Is there a humility that lifts up Jesus? Is the believer becoming more and more like Jesus? Are the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control—increased after a personal experience in the presence of our Lord? These fruit will have a direct effect on one’s testimony and will ultimately draw others to Christ.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.