Some "manifestations" of the charismatic revival are unusual. I have in mind the "Toronto Blessing" (which occurred in the Vineyard denomination, which split over this issue) and the "Pensacola Blessing" (which has occurred in Assemblies of God churches). I offer four points for consideration:
1) Very few of the manifestations at these events have biblical precedence. "Slaying in the spirit," "laughing in the spirit," "getting drunk in the spirit" and making animal sounds are not in Scripture. I believe that speaking in tongues is a valid gift of the Spirit, but not a gift for everyone, and most certainly not as a test of membership (as some Pentecostals practice it). This is one reason I appreciate the Four Square Gospel denomination, for they do not use tongues as a test of fellowship. While a few of the FSG pastors have become involved in other manifestations, most of their leading ministers distance themselves from it while not speaking out against it.
2) God sometimes does miraculous work through people and events even in ways that are not normative or do not fall under generally accepted orthodoxy. Healings have occurred at Lourdes, for example, and even though some people credit Mary for such miracles, I do not believe that Mary is the one who healed them. Not all who go to Lourdes are healed. Some who feel that they were healed were actually suffering from a psychosomatic problem and they feel healed simply because they were never really ill in the first place.
3) I believe the same is true for speaking in tongues. Some actually have a gift. Others have learned a behavior that mimics the genuine manifestation. There are several ways to achieve an altered state of consciousness. These include physical and/or verbal acts that cause a psychophysiological phenomenon. Most are familiar with yoga (long periods of silence accompanied by certain postures), transcendental meditation and hypnosis. Other ways an altered state of consciousness can be achieved are through the phenomenon of group-think and hypnosis.
A brief word about the psychophysiological phenomenon: Some biological/physiological phenomenon occur through sensory overstimulation or sensory deprivation. For example, when a person enters a room with a particular odor, he or she will gradually cease to be aware of the smell after a certain amount of time. Unless the odor is unusually intense, 15 minutes is usually enough time for the olfactory sense to desensitize to the odor. The more intense the odor, the more time it takes to desensitize.
Another example would be the repetition of a word until it is meaningless. If you were to repeat a word over and over until you lose touch with the objective meaning of the word, it is possible to render the brain incapable of distinguishing the relationship between the meaning of the word and a nonsensical sound. This is how transcendental meditation induces a tranced-out state of altered consciousness. Just as the sense of smell can be desensitized, so can the cognitive facility of our brain. However, when it happens with our minds, we achieve an altered state of consciousness.
People usually experience a wonderful sense of well-being when in an altered state of consciousness. After all, one is not thinking about any problems or difficulties and is in a level in which pleasant dreams can occur. Many who practiced transcendental meditation in the '60s and '70s described the experience as one of meeting God, an angel, spirit guide or a spiritual avatar.
I believe that a similar phenomenon occurs with being slain in the spirit or laughing in the spirit. People are induced into an altered state of consciousness. It is not necessarily harmful, but neither is it necessarily edifying. It can be interpreted as edifying when someone is persuading you to believe that it is a special gift of the Holy Spirit. But the truth is that the individual has been manipulated into an altered state of consciousness just like people who are hypnotized. It is unlike a gift of the Holy Spirit, which you can control.
4) After a person has had such an experience in a Christian environment, the person may or may not be brought to a relationship with Christ. Nevertheless, there are two problems to be noted. The person has been taught to reason from experience to logic, rather than the other way around. This tends to usurp the authority of Scripture, and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:14-16 is violated. It says, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
When Christians begin to look more to such experiences rather than to the instruction of Scripture, they have adopted an error. And there is another danger. Some do not begin a relationship with Christ and have merely become converted to an experience. For these reasons, I would not promote the "blessings" of Toronto or Pensacola. I try to be cautious and gracious in offering these facts to others without disparaging them. Merely having experienced an altered state of consciousness is not a sin. An obvious concern would be that people can be easily manipulated afterward.
For further information and critique of these "blessings," I recommend Hank Hanegraaff's latest book, Counterfeit Revival (Word Publishing, 1997). I also recommend A Different Gospel, by D.R. McConnell. McConnell is a charismatic Christian who shows the history of the word of faith teaching and its roots in the occult).
Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit, by Thomas R. Edgar, can be ordered from Personal Freedom Outreach. This book deals with the root issues in confronting the charismania that is sweeping some churches.
Christianity in Crisis, by Hank Hanegraaff, also deals with the false teachings of the word of faith movement. It can be ordered from the Christian Research Institute.
A book that might be helpful to some is The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, by G. Fisher and M. Kurt Goedelman. This book documents the numerous false claims and misinterpretations of one "word of faith" teacher. This book can be ordered from Personal Freedom Outreach, P.O. Box 26062, St. Louis, MO 63136 (314) 388-2684.
Another book I've found helpful is Strange Fire? Assessing the Vineyard Movement and the Toronto Blessing, by Eric Wright. This can also be ordered from Personal Freedom Outreach.
I'd like to mention some tapes that might be helpful, too: Hank Hanegraaff compiled two tapes called Christianity in Crisis. They contain recordings of various "word of faith" preachers teaching heretical ideas. In his radio program aired April 29, 1997, Hank has an interesting interview with Professor Nunnally from the Assemblies of God Seminary. And on another tape, Hank interviews Tom Stipe, former Vineyard leader, about the Toronto Blessing. These tapes are available from the Christian Research Institute (phone 800-443-9797).