Summary: I first preached this sermon as a response to a movement in North American churches in the early 1990s. It featured what was called “holy laughter” and “falling out” (or being “slain in the Spirit”). I investigated these phenomena both in person and in the Scriptures. I found much excess and very little Scriptural support for the often bizarre activities of that specific movement.
Undoubtedly, there many believers have experienced genuine touches from the Lord in these and other meetings. My purpose in writing this article is not to doubt or diminish that at all. Every true encounter with the Lord is to be treasured. Rather, I intend to point out that in that movement at large there is much excess that is erroneously attributed to the Holy Spirit.
This 1995 sermon summarized my findings. "Holy laughter," “falling out,” and being “slain in the Spirit” as an identifiable movement have mostly died out today [comment posted in 2006]. However, although the broad movement fell out of favor fairly soon, these manifestations continue in some churches to this day. Again, the wise Christian will differentiate between that which is of the Lord and that which is not. I offer this Scripture commentary in the hope of helping you with that spiritual discernment. May the Lord help us to avoid that which is merely man's doing, while at the same time never missing that which proceeds from God. Lord, give us wisdom.
Ezekiel 33:7 Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
•• I’m deeply burdened and moved to give you a warning.
•• A “movement” has broken out in the U.S.A. and Canada.
•• It was launched primarily by an evangelist from Africa. Then it got a major boost from widely-publicized meetings in a church in Toronto, Ontario. It has captured virtually entire fellowships of churches and millions of Christians.
•• In November 1992, in Anchorage, Alaska, I attended 16 hours of revival meetings featuring what was then being called “holy laughter” and “falling out” or being “slain in the Spirit.” Some of those attending were also staggering around as if drunk, which was termed being “drunk in the Spirit.”
•• Some of my minister friends embraced this. A few were undecided. Others were and are strongly opposed.
After two years and three months of observing and studying this movement, both in person and from other reports, plus much searching of the Scriptures, I wish to establish my personal position on this movement. I have much respect for my ministry friends who hold different convictions on this issue. However, I am sufficiently troubled by the nonbiblical nature of much (not necessarily all) of what I have seen and read that I feel it is imperative to “take a stand” based on Scripture.
•• At the beginning of this move I believe it was, at best, a non-biblical mixture of spirit and flesh. As this move has progressed, I believe it has evolved increasingly to the point where it is bringing great confusion, damage, and division to the Church in North America.
•• The early movement’s manifestations were primarily three: (1) laughing, (2) “falling out” or being “slain in the Spirit,” and (3) being “drunk in the Spirit.”
•• Predictably, this has progressed to include now such “manifestations” as roaring, clawing the air like a lion, and (the latest) vomiting.
•• These activities are labeled in the movement as “manifestations of the Spirit”. But the only place in the Bible where the phrase “the manifestation of the Spirit” occurs is in introducing the list of the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
•• I want to proceed now to an examination of the Laughing-Falling Revival in the light of the Scriptures.
• Remember Isaiah 8:20 — “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
• Recall also Acts 17:11 — “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
1 Corinthians 14:32-33 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
•• At the end of 1 Corinthians 14, the Bible’s largest chapter teaching on the operation of the Holy Spirit in the assembled church, Paul closes with this charge: [vs. 40] “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Disorder is entirely contrary to the nature of the Holy Spirit and His operations in the Church.
• Paul says further [vs. 37]: “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.” His encouragement to good order was “the Lord's command”!
Acts 2:22 ...Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him...
•• “Signs and wonders” — that is the catch-all phrase used in the movement to describe many of these things that can’t be substantiated by the Bible. So they are lumped under the term “signs and wonders.”
•• But notice! Jesus is specifically said to have done “signs and wonders.” Where is the record of them? The four Gospels!What were Jesus’ signs and wonders?
•• And these are the types of signs and wonders Jesus’ disciples did in the Book of Acts!
•• No falling ... No raucous laughing ... No staggering as if drunk. No crowing like roosters or roaring like lions.
•• NO! They were too busy preaching the Word of God and seeing it confirmed with real signs and wonders.
• Peter and John raising up the lame man, with the result that thousands were saved.
• Paul raising up the dead boy Eutychus.
• Philip preaching Jesus in Samaria and having it confirmed with “...miraculous signs ... evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed ... great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:5-8)
•• These are biblical signs and wonders! To confirm the Word of God.
LAUGHING [“holy laughter”]:
Search the New Testament. You will not find a hint of anything endorsing laughing in a gathering of believers. In fact, the New Testament refers only 6 times to laughing at all — five of those in a negative context. The final bible mention of laughing is James’s warning to Christians — James 4:8-10“...You sinners... Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning.... Humble yourselves before the lord....”
•• In the December 19, 1994 issue of his ministry’s magazine, Rev. David Wilkerson said, “Most of the so-called spiritual revivals today are mere cardboard structures.... Right now there are Jews mourning and weeping for their Messiah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. And not long ago some 10,000 Lubavitcher Jews held a march in Brooklyn, crying, ‘This is the year of our Messiah!’ Their hands were upraised, tears rolled down their faces, and they wept and cried out for their Messiah.
[Wilkerson continued:] “When I think of the 25 million babies aborted in this country and all the lost people who are going to hell, I don’t understand why multitudes of Christians are laughing. Why are millions of Jews weeping and millions of hellbound, disillusioned sinners crying themselves to sleep while charismatics are laughing? When the revival comes, the joy will be because of repentance and because of the ingathering of the last harvest of lost souls.”
FALLING [“slain in the Spirit ... falling out”]:
Again, search the Scriptures.
•• In the 66 books of the Bible, there is not one instance of a man or woman ministering this experience to someone else. No prayer lines to receive the experience! No pushers! No catchers!
•• Jesus is not recorded as ever ministering this in the Gospels. What’s wrong? Did Jesus lack sufficient “Holy Spirit anointing”? I pose that ludicrous question because some of the leaders of this movement proclaim that people fall in the presence of the leader’s anointing. That is preposterous when compared with the absence of these manifestations in the presence of the Bible's most anointed Man — Jesus Christ!
• A note of caution to those who misunderstand John 18:6 — When Jesus said to the soldiers in Gethsemane, “I am He,” it says “They drew back and fell to the ground.” They were not overcome by the Spirit!
•• This never occurred in the biblically recorded ministries of the great apostles Peter and Paul — or of any other apostles, either!
•• In the Bible, those who fell, fell before the LORD or an angel, not man! Paul fell before Jesus. John on the Island of Patmos fell before the glorious Lord Jesus. No man pushed them ... no man prayed for them to fall ... no one stood behind to catch them.
•• In Revelation 1:17-19, John fell before the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Jesus had John get right up and got him busy writing down the Revelation. John was lucid, alert, awake. Jesus did not leave John lying down on the ground.
•• Search the Scriptures. Again and again, people fell down before the Lord (or before an angel of the Lord), not before man; usually face forward; often voluntarily; and usually to worship. [Note: the angels never received worship from humans.]
• 2 Chronicles. 20:18 “Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people...fell down in worship before the Lord.”
• Ezekiel 3:23-24 “...the glory of the Lord was standing there...and I fell facedown. Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet.” The Spirit lifted him up from the ground, rather than knocking him down to the ground!
• 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 “...convinced that he is a sinner.... he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you’” = conviction of sin and a voluntary prostration before God, still in full control of his faculties.
•• The common denominator was: whether voluntary or involuntary falling, it was before God, not man. And no man or woman ministered the experience to others anywhere in the entire Bible.
Read: Acts 2:4, 7-8, 11-15These are not drunk as you suppose [verse 15].
•• This passage is misused in the movement to justify conduct labeled as being “drunk in the Spirit.”
•• But these verses do not say anyone saw any staggering or any loss of control whatsoever.
•• To the contrary, the people’s amazement was over hearing the tongues-speakers clearly articulating the wonders of God in foreign languages. [verses 11-12]
•• It was only the mockers [verse 13] who ridiculed them with charges of drunkenness.
Ephesians 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
•• Read what it actually says; don’t read into it.
• It says don't get drunk on wine.
• It says do be "filled" (not “drunk”) with the Spirit.
• Hear that again. It says don’t get drunk ... do get filled!
• It then lists the results of this filling with the Spirit: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs ... a song in your heart to the Lord ... abundant thanksgiving to God. No staggering! No spiritual intoxication!
”Some fall upon the ground, unable to bear the strained emotion or effect upon the mind; and some are thrown down by some supernatural power; others cry out in ecstasy; the speaker leaves the platform, passes by a young man, who becomes conscious of a feeling of intoxication upon him, which does not leave his senses for some time. Others laugh with the exuberance of the intoxicating joy....” [Author's note: This is not a 1995 meeting. This was written in 1912 about the Welsh Revival of 1904-05 and its aftermath.] “...Briefly put, this is a glimpse into the mixed “manifestations” which have come upon the Church of God since the Revival in Wales. For, almost without exception, in every land where revival has since broken forth, within a very brief period of time the counterfeit stream has mingled with the true....[pp. 99-100] — (Jesse Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts, from War on the Saints, 1912). The Famous Welsh Revival declined when these same manifestations began to break out, according to Evan Roberts, the primary leader of the Welsh Revival.
•• Christ would not have warned His disciples, “Take heed ... be not deceived”, if it were not possible for well-meaning Christians to be deceived.
•• Arrogance and judgmentalism have entered into this movement. At least one of its major leaders prophesied judgment on those who deny that this is the move of God. I heard this personally spoken 27 months ago by one of the early leaders of the "holy laughter"/"slain in the Spirit" movement.
•• This move fails the test of John 15 and John 16, where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit’s mission is to testify of Jesus and to glorify Jesus.
• This movement in many cases (certainly not all) glorifies its leaders ... it glorifies feelings and mood alteration ... it glorifies manipulated, mind-controlled conduct ... and it throws charges of “unbelief” at those of us who dare to declare that many aspects of the movement fail to survive examination in the light of Scripture.
In sum, what do I think is the source of much of what is going on in the Laughing/Falling Revival?
1. Unrestrained emotionalism
2. Learned responses, often manipulated by the speaker
3. An increasing element of the demonic
Is God present and even operating among all of this? Of course! Because God loves people. He wants to save and bless people. But just as in the Welsh Revival of 1904-05, the false, the carnal, and even the demonic are, in my estimate, occurring with increasing frequency in this movement.
As one pastor who fled from this movement said: “When worship of God becomes revelry, the next step is idolatry.”
Let’s obey the Bible command to test everything and hold on to the good.
Test these manifestations by the Word of God. Test “holy laughter,” “falling out,” and being “slain in the Spirit” when they are orchestrated by the efforts of men and women, as practiced in this movement. You will find that these things fail the test in the light of God’s Word.
Postscript: Please remember that this message was written in response to nonbiblical excesses that I witnessed in a specific movement in the 1990s. By no means have I intended to speak against any and all genuine experiences with the Lord. God touches His people in many ways. My sincere hope is that we will embrace every genuine encounter with God and will reject that which is only orchestrated by man and falsely attributed to God. May the Lord give us all wisdom to discern the difference and to embrace every instance of the true blessings of the Lord.