I haven’t posted anything meaningful in quite awhile, mostly because I tend not to think so much anymore about our time in Charismania. We’ve moved on and are in a good, healthy place.
But every once in awhile, something does trigger a memory, or a flash of insight.
The other night, right as I drifted off to sleep, I had such a moment.
For some reason – I have no idea why – I was remembering all those times at Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names used in this post) when people would “fall out under the power.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the goings-on at your typical Charismaniac (hyper-Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith) church, “falling out under the power” was what happened at certain times during a church service, usually when the pastor or guest speaker would pick a person out of the audience (or prayer line) and “lay hands on” him or her.
At our particular church, this practice was frequently accompanied by the pastor’s declaring a “prophetic word” to the recipient as well, prior to the “laying on of hands.” Typically, in what had initially seemed very spontaneous but in retrospect was probably far more orchestrated and deliberate than we’d ever imagined, Pastor Smith would, either during points in the praise-and-worship time or after his sermon, suddenly pick someone out in the crowd and stride down from the stage purposefully toward that person. If the person were a member, someone whom Pastor Smith knew personally, he’d usually call them out by name. If the person were a visitor, he’d point to them and say something like, “Sir? Yes, you – you in the brown shirt. May I pray for you?”
In our years at Living Word Church, we never saw anyone turn Pastor Smith down when he asked that question. In fact, most people were very eager to be picked out of the crowd like that. If you went to Living Word for any length of time, you easily picked up on the fact that those “prophetic times” – the times when Pastor Smith “ministered prophetically” to people – were the highest point of the service, the greatest thing that could ever happen to someone. People could even get petty or jealous about the amount of times that someone “got called out.” After all, there were folks who’d attended Living Word for years – even some people who were longtime members – who had yet to receive a “word.” It could start to seem unfair when certain new people would get called out two or three times in one month.
Getting called out for a “word” followed something of a formula. When we were new to Living Word, I generally believed in the authenticity of Pastor Smith’s “prophetic gifting,” and especially at the beginning, I was enthralled by the sorts of things he’d say to people when he was in his “prophetic” mode. It wasn’t exactly what I’d have thought of as “prophecy,” in that it wasn’t particularly specific or even very predictive. It also wasn’t much like the prophecies of the Bible, either, in that it was ALWAYS very positive. There were never any warnings about repenting – turning away from sin – for instance, which is a typical theme of Biblical prophecy.
Pastor Smith’s prophecies were instead quite frequently about the “great blessing” the person was about to begin walking in, which at Living Word generally was understood to mean FINANCIAL blessing. It was common for the recipient to react as though he’d just found out he’d won the lottery – there’d be lots of excited jumping around and/or praising Jesus as Pastor Smith would wrap up the prophecy, which would typically end with, “Somebody give Him a praise!”
At this point, the recipient would be caught and lowered gently to the ground by one of Pastor Smith’s “catchers,” the big, burly men who served in that highly coveted capacity and who would have unobtrusively sidled up behind the recipient while Pastor Smith was prophesying to him.
When the recipient would fall to the floor, it was understood that something supernatural and mysterious was happening to him. Pastor Smith frequently referred to himself as a “conduit” of the “anointing,” which (I guess) was the same thing as the “manifest presence of God,” or the Holy Spirit. We never did receive clear, coherent teachings on what, precisely, happened during these ministry times, but if you hung around Living Word long enough, you picked up on the lingo and sort of figured out what was supposed to be going on.
As Pastor Smith would shout, “Somebody give Him a praise,” the crowd would oblige enthusiastically, clapping and hooting. Interestingly, the applause would always be louder if the person seemed to “fall out” in a particularly forceful or dramatic fashion.
“Falling out under the power” could happen in another context, too, which was the prayer line. This didn’t occur terribly often, but maybe once a month on a Sunday night, Pastor Smith would decide to “pray for people.” Like a well-oiled machine, the ushers and catchers would direct us to file out of our pews and snake around into a line that led up to the front. Then they’d place us into position, lined up across the front of the sanctuary. Pastor Smith would pass back and forth in front of the line, praying in tongues loudly and moving from one person to the next, momentarily placing his hands on the person’s forehead. “Falling out under the power” was not such a practically guaranteed outcome in this setting, like it was when an individual was “pulled out” and received a personal word. But it probably did happen to at least 50% of the people whom Pastor Smith prayed for in these prayer lines.
Sometimes a third variation would occur, when Pastor Smith would pause, motion for the music to get quieter, and then would begin to prophesy personally to an individual in the prayer line. When Smith would go to “lay hands on” the person after delivering the “word,” that person typically WOULD “fall out.”
Because of the need for expediency – after all, even the thinned-out Sunday night crowds were still fairly large, with sometimes as many as 500 people – those who did “fall out” in the prayer line were not permitted to lie on the floor for very long before being helped to their feet by one of the catchers.
But it was still understood that we were RECEIVING something from Pastor Smith during those times…
Again, we weren’t taught clearly and specifically WHAT we were receiving, but we easily absorbed the notion that God did something to us through Pastor Smith, and that it happened while we were lying down on the floor, after Pastor Smith had touched us. This practice was one of the things that set our church apart from the inferior “dead” churches out there. It was one of the main ways that we were “ministered to.”
Of all the things that have puzzled me as I look back on my experiences in Charismania, I have to say that “falling out under the power” is still the one that remains the most mysterious.
The other night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was once again puzzling over what the whole thing meant. In the way that one’s thoughts go as one is in that twilight zone between waking and sleeping, here were the random observations that floated in and out of my brain…
We see no instances of “falling out” happening in the Bible, at least nothing remotely resembling the way that it was done at Living Word Church. Yes, there are places in the Bible where we can read about people trembling in fear at the manifest presence of God and falling on their faces before Him, even (apparently) seeming to temporarily lose consciousness. But I’ve never been able to find a single instance in Scripture where a man of God (like the Apostle Paul, or Timothy, or one of the disciples) behaved like a physical “conduit” of God’s power, where he would touch a recipient and the recipient would fall backward.
We certainly can find no instructions to the church about doing these ministry times. I mean, you’d think that if “falling out under the power” were such a crucial way to nourish and serve God’s people, it would have received at least a few verses of teaching somewhere in the New Testament. But there’s nothing. Even the verses that do mention the “laying on of hands” say NOTHING about “falling out under the power” and lying on the floor afterward. There’s NOTHING about receiving something specific or particular from the Holy Spirit during these times on the floor.
But the biggest thing that struck me the other night, as I thought about all this once again, was this: the applause.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit’s main role is to direct people’s attention to Jesus. Therefore, it would logically follow that if this whole “falling out under the power” thing actually IS the Holy Spirit in action, it would serve to glorify Jesus and make people focus on Him.
But in all honesty, I have to say that that did NOT seem to be the outcome of this practice, at least not at Living Word Church.
At Living Word, when someone “fell out under the power,” I don’t really think that Jesus was thought about all that much.
Instead, the recipient of MOST of the attention seemed to be whichever person had performed the “laying on of hands.” Even though Pastor Smith was very diligent about telling his audience to give God praise, I never felt like the applause that would follow these times of ministry was actually about God. It always felt like it was much more a way for the audience to express their awe at how the ministering pastor had just done something to the recipient of the “word.”
The natural reaction of the people seemed like it was to be impressed with the pastor’s (or visiting minister’s) amount of “anointing,” which was assessed by how forcefully the recipient of the “laying on of hands” had “fallen out,” and how long that person had remained unconscious on the floor. By default, our attention was not so much on God Himself (Jesus). Our attention was on the dramatic act of the person’s falling down on the ground, and on the pastor who had touched the person and therefore had caused this dramatic thing to happen. Looking back, I can even remember how certain visiting ministers were particularly revered for the number of people they “pulled out,” and for how powerful these people’s time on the floor had been to them.
And the recipient – the person who “fell out” – basically received whatever attention the audience had left to give, after they’d applauded at the pastor’s behest. It was not uncommon for the recipient to be congratulated after the service. Sometimes, people would even seem to be a bit in awe of the recipient, almost as though they were hoping that some of the “anointing” that the recipient had received would rub off on them.
I have to say that whatever “falling out under the power” actually WAS, it did feel really good. I was never the recipient of a “personal word” from Pastor Smith, but I “fell out” more than a few times in the prayer line. Sometimes it was quite powerful, like a jolt of electricity had hit me and my knees buckled. I’d fall to the floor and be in a sort of zoned-out frame of mind, although I certainly remained fully conscious. I can remember plenty of times where my mind would be pleasurably blank as I fell, and yet I’d still be aware enough of myself that I’d tug on my blouse to make sure that my stomach hadn’t gotten exposed as I’d fallen.
Also, I can’t really say that anything changed in me during those times that I “fell out.” If I’m going to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that I always felt just a teensy bit disappointed after each of these experiences.
I’d return to my seat, sometimes feeling quite befuddled and almost dazed, pretty convinced that whatever had knocked me to the floor had been something from God…
Something deep down inside of me sort of knew that if it HAD been God who’d knocked me to the ground, I was still the one at least somewhat in charge of my faculties. After all, I’d have the presence of mind to adjust my clothing. (And I wasn’t the only one – I often noticed other ladies doing that very same thing!) And ultimately, I was ALWAYS able to get up off the ground when I wanted to or was told to by the ushers.
If what had knocked me to the ground was God Himself, it had to be a very watered-down version of God, because my own human will was able to overcome the effects of the “knocking-down” power.
Which brings up another interesting thought: after being at Living Word for awhile, I had to admit that whatever it was that happened to people while they lay on the floor, it didn’t seem to have very lasting effects in their lives.
Among the regulars who “fell out,” we all seemed to pretty much remain as we had always been. I don’t know that any of us went forth and lived holier lives, or more actively loved others, or exhibited more patience, or more faith, or did any of the dramatic things that Pastor Smith frequently declared would happen (such as seeing people we touched be instantly healed, or walking into a room and having so much anointing on us that people would burst into tears at our mere presence and demand to pray to accept Christ, without our ever having to utter a word).
And sadly, among the visitors, or more “transient” folks who were prayed for and “fell out,” I think we saw even fewer lasting results. I can only speak of the folks whom I personally knew, of course, but off the top of my head I can remember several people who attended Living Word for a month or two, people who had major issue with stuff like drug use. I can picture one gal in particular who got prayed for and “fell out” dramatically. She disappeared from Living Word about a month after that dramatic moment, only to return maybe a year later, still entrapped in all the same problems she’d always had.
While the practice of “falling out under the power” was something that felt good, and while I still have no real explanation for the jolt of electricity that I myself experienced from time to time, a jolt so powerful that it knocked me backward and made me fall to the ground, I have to say that I’ve come to the following conclusions.
- I don’t think the practice can be clearly or directly supported by anything in the Bible.
- I don’t think the jolt of power is God Himself, or else we humans wouldn’t be so easily able to overcome its effects.
- Moreover, if the jolt IS from God, then that would mean that God is putting Himself at the mercy of fallible guys like Pastor Smith, who then control when and where and how they dispense God to their people. Ultimately, that would make Pastor Smith and his visiting ministers in charge of God, rather than the other way around.
- I never saw any lasting positive effects of the practice. If anything, it seemed to create a cycle in people of just hungering for more of the same. Sometimes I got the distinct impression that Pastor Smith was fully aware of this, because he seemed to dole out those prayer times judiciously, doing it just enough to maintain attendance. After all, he could always ensure a much larger Sunday night crowd if he announced in advance that he’d be “praying for people” (which almost always meant that there’d be an opportunity to “fall out”).
- The practice seems to take attention AWAY from Jesus and what He accomplished for us through His death and resurrection. Instead, “falling out under the power” directs people’s attention to the person performing the “laying on of hands,” as well as to the recipient of said hands.
I can’t say that I’ve yet reached a definite conclusion about what that whole experience actually was. It’s possible – faintly possible – that when I arrive in heaven someday and get to ask Jesus about this, Jesus will tell me that yes, this whole thing was something He wanted for His church, and that yes, He actually DID “minister” to people through it.
But I have to say that this would surprise me.