While a woman staggered around on her stage, Kathryn Kuhlman repeatedly told her audience that this woman was drunk in the spirit adding that this was what the early church experienced; and because the early church experienced the same thing, she concluded that the restoration of the early church was taking place in her crusade.
Announcing the restoration of the early church, she was claiming to have found the Holy Grail of conservative and Pentecostal circles, which is rediscovering the purity, the power, and the dynamics found in the early chapters of Acts.
Kathryn is not alone in connecting the modern experience of staggering in church (being drunk in the spirit) to the early church as it is revealed through the writings of the Bible. Many modern churches hold prayer meetings with people staggering around. They believe they are drunk in the spirit and claim that the experience is the same thing the apostles and disciples of Jesus experienced on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:13) and in the years that followed (Ephesians 5:18).
In this post, I will take a look at both of these verses, but before I discuss the two verses, I would like to give an illustration:
ILLUSTRATION – THE MISUNDERSTANDING
Three teenage girls (Susan, girl 2, and girl number 3) were best friends. Susan unintentionally said something about girl number 3 that was misunderstood by an outside girl. She didn’t mean it the way it was understood and upon realizing what she said could be misunderstood, Susan hoped what she said would not get out, because she would never say something bad about her two best friends.
Girl number 2 celebrated her birthday the next day with girl number 3, but Susan couldn’t make it because she went with her family to Hawaii for a week long vacation. Girl 2 and 3 wanted to include Susan in their fun, so girl number 3 texted Susan:
As you know girl number 2 had a birthday today, and when all the candles on her cake were blown out, I pushed her face into the cake. We never laughed so hard! (smiley face 3 times) She told me….
I will get even with you (angry face emoticon).
Later girl number 3 shared another text:
“We are the world’s best friends (lots of kiss emoticons and explanation points)”
For some reason, the first and third texts did not send, so all Susan ever read was:
One of these days, I will get even with you (angry face emoticon).
Susan thought about the words she said the day before and assumed that girl number 3 was angry. Because she did not see the other messages, Susan did not know what the other texts said, she only knew about her own experience and feelings and was misled.
Individual verses in the Bible are often like that. Rather than reading verses in their original contexts, well meaning Christians read their experiences and assumptions into Bible verses.
In this blog, I will be looking at the Bible verses used by Charismatics to say that being drunk in the spirit was practiced in the Bible. As I look at theses verses, I will be asking, “Does the context of each verse support a modern reading of being drunk in the spirit?”
THE BIBLE AND BEING DRUNK IN THE SPIRIT
They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to many of his disciples, about 120 of them were told by Jesus to wait for the promise of the Spirit. So they hung out in a 2nd story room for a few weeks, praying, taking care of business, and worshiping God.
Pentecost Sunday was a day for people to come to Jerusalem to celebrate a harvest festival, and during festivals people were in celebration mode, buying, selling and doing business. The people who visited Jerusalem during any festival got used to the hustle and bustle of the city. They did not think much about the normal noises and activity. Occasionally disruptions occurred. A soldier might be stabbed, a small riot might ensue, or some odd fellow might get rowdy, but these were to be expected once in a while. But on this particular Pentecost Sunday there was an unusual noise coming from the second floor of one building and unusual things draw crowds. 120 followers of Jesus were all speaking in different languages, and they were loud enough to draw the attention of thousands of people nearby.
As the crowds began to gather, Jews who came from other parts of the world heard languages from their home towns spoken by common Galileans. This was sufficiently unusual to draw the attention of people in the middle of the morning part of a festival. The question then becomes, did the people see 120 staggering adults, drunk in the spirit?
- If the disciples were all praying in tongues and staggering around, the crowd would assumed the first thing that came to their minds – the group had been up all night drinking and were indeed drunk. No one would have been asking “What can this mean?” which was the first question posed. Only after that question went unanswered did anyone suggest drunkenness.
- Any type of unusual noise coming from a group of 120 people during a festival can imply drunkenness. If you have ever been to a restaurant that serves liquor and sat near a loud group of people sitting at some table, chances are good that some of them have had too much to drink. The disciples were a
ll speaking in other languages in a way that would have drawn attention from a festival going crowd. They must have been louder than people would expect to hear. Certain versions do state their praying was loud. The original Greek of this passage also implies the same.
- Acts 2 is saturated with words referring to speech and noise (languages, noise, tongues, sound of rushing wind, and speech). Because those words are so commonly used, it is obvious that the accusation of being drunk referred to the noisiness of the disciples.
- Even though some sort of noise is repeatedly mentioned in Acts 2, staggering is not mentioned at all, and if staggering is not mentioned, any thought that the disciples were staggering like drunk men and women is read into the passage and not in any way drawn out of the verses.
- My conclusion is obvious: drunk in the spirit is read into the text by modern day readers. Acts 2:13 does not imply the experience in any way, shape or form.
And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit:
The argument presented here is that Ephesians 5 is comparing two similar things… being drunk with alcohol and being filled with the Spirit. They are similar in that people under each influence stagger and feel a sort of intoxication. My question then is this, “does the context support this?”
THE CONTEXT OF EPHESIANS 5:18
The book of Ephesians was written by a converted Rabbi named Saul. He used the name Paul in non-Jewish circles.
Paul talked to people about Jesus and converted many to become followers of Jesus. Once converted, he helped them organize and become a church, usually meeting in homes. After starting a new church, Paul moved on to other cities to start new groups elsewhere. As he built new groups, he often wrote to churches and individuals in order to keep contact with them and make sure they were still strong. The book of Ephesians was a letter from Paul to an extremely successful church in Ephesus (now in Turkey).
In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul tells his readers the basics of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. He also explained how we all fit in to God’s plan. Basically, we are accepted by God and divisions and hatred between cultures, races and genders are crucified and dead.
In the next three chapters, Paul tells his readers that because Jesus did all this for us, we should live and behave in certain ways that reflect what God has done in us in Christ. We should walk in the Spirit and not return to the practices we once did, before we knew Christ. In this section, Paul uses contrasts eleven times. The first item Paul mentions is something we should not do and the second part is what we should do. So he will say something like this: “Don’t steal any more, instead, work hard and earn your wages honestly.” Here is a full list of his contrasts:
- Stop following your old behavior and follow a new one. Literally he tells his readers to remove the garment of the old nature and its lusts and put on the new garment of godliness.
- Stop lying, speak truth
- Be angry, don’t let it get out of control
- Don’t steal, work hard
- Don’t talk trashy, say what builds others
- Don’t give in to bad feelings and bad talk about others, be kind, forgive and love others
- Don’t talk dirty, but give thanks
- Don’t walk in darkness, but walk in the light
- Do not walk with those in darkness, but expose it
- Don’t walk foolishly, but walk wisely
- Don’t be unwise, but understand God’s will
- Don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled with the spirit
In all of these, there is a contrast reflecting before one was a Christian – we were dead in sin, but after becoming believers we are alive in Christ. In every one of these contrasts, Paul reflected the image of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We were dead in sin, and are presently dead to sin. Our behavior was the result of living in sin, but now that we are raised to new life in Christ, we should walk in that resurrection life.
But let me get to the point. With a quick look at chapters 4 and 5, I was able to find 12 complete contrasts. With every one of these contrasts before our verse about drinking, Paul gives us contrasts. The only relationship found between the work of darkness and the work of light is the fact that they are polar opposites.
1 SAMUEL 1:12-14
When Samual’s mother, Hannah was praying for a baby, she went to the temple and poured out her broken heart to God. Her lips were moving and Eli accused her of being drunk on wine because it looked like she was talking to herself. Above all the other passages, this one is the most obviously misused. Drunk in the spirit is accomplished corporate conjuring of the spirit or being slain in the spirit, not by pouring out a grieving spirit before the Lord. But when people have to find texts for unscriptural views, they will use anything that they can.
“Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.”
Once again, someone is broken in spirit, not drunk in the spirit. Secondly, Jeremiah uses a simile – “I am like….” He did not say, “I feel great because I am drunk in the spirit.” Secondly, the context (remember context?) says quite clearly that Jeremiah compares himself to a drunk, because he is completely helpless (overcome by it). He is not having a great feeling of the presence of God. He is crushed in the spirit and overwhelmed like a drunk overpowered by liquor. It is a comparison and nothing more.
IS BEING DRUNK IN THE SPIRIT FROM GOD?
Sometimes the stages of healing evangelists get someone who staggers around for awhile, and sometimes churches encourage unusual behavior such as twitching and passing out. Here are the reasons this happens:
- Most healing on these stages rely heavily on the placebo effect (some suggest hypnotism which responds to similar stimuli as the placebo effect). The brain is an amazing creation that can do a lot of amazing works that we are just beginning to understand. One of those amazing works is the ability to increase or decrease pain (given the right preparation and expectation) and temporarily bring relief to symptoms. There are limits to its abilities (it cannot grow limbs not there already and cannot do much with the structural diseases and broken body parts) but it can help blind to see better, lame to walk better, and deaf to hear better (only if they are not 100% blind, deaf, or paralyzed). Placebo effects also usually wear off in time, so the blind who see better will return to their original level of blindness, the deaf will return, the pain will return, and so on. The placebo effect can also convince people they are drunk if they believe they drank alcohol when it was not. Studies of the brain see that the expectation of drinking alcohol will stimulate areas of the brain associated with being drunk, so that people really do feel drunk when they are not. So people are staggering around on stage because they expect to be drunk in the spirit and therefore have created their own stupor.
- People pretend. There are several reasons why people would want to act out being drunk in the spirit. Some do it to fit in, some do it to get attention. Some do it because they have a disease called Facticious Disorder or Munchausen Syndrome. It may not be known why these people like to fabricate things, but they do.
- In local churches, it may be that many seek to get drunk in the spirit to bring heaven down by conjuring up the spirit of God through shaking, repeated verses of some song, laughing, or any other method to bring heaven down rather than to respond to God. Even when I was a die hard Pentecostal, I could see that many people contrived and forced unnatural actions upon themselves, hoping to reproduce some experience or tap into a deeper presence of God. Even then, I knew this was carnal conjuring and not responding to God. The Bible speaks of a God who reaches out to humans. The Bible makes it clear that our attempts to reach God (the Tower of Babel, good works, religious festivals, fastings, prayer, etc. – Amos 5, Isaiah 1, Jeremiah 7:21-23, ET AL) not only fail but are in many cases are abominations to God. The Tower of Babel was a story of the inability of humans to reach the heavens and the spiritual disciplines were considered repulsive when the poor and the powerless were neglected and when they were not mixed with humility.
BE SOBER IN THE SPIRIT
Ten years ago Charisma magazine posted an article steering Christians away from being drunk in the spirit. Rather than focusing on the verses above, the writer pointed out that the New Testament emphasized sobriety in the Spirit (See https://www.charismamag.com/blogs/fire-in-my-bones/7143-sloshed-in-the-spirit-its-time-to-get-sober). Here is some of his post:
With all of this emphasis on Holy Ghost intoxication, did anybody notice that the Bible clearly commands us to be spiritually sober?
If soberness wasn’t mentioned in the New Testament, then I wouldn’t be beating this drum so loudly. But I find numerous references, from both Peter and Paul. “But you, be sober in all things,” is Paul’s admonition to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5, NASB). He tells the Thessalonians, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation,” (1 Thess. 5:8).
Peter hammers the same point. He wrote, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13) and “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7).
The soberness here is not primarily a reference to abstaining from alcohol (although it’s worth mentioning that believers who drink will find it more difficult to obey these commands). To be sober can be defined “to show self-control,” “to be sane or rational,” or “to be free from excess or extravagance.” A sober Christian knows the heights of God’s inexpressible joy, but he is never ruled by emotions, passions, lust or any other category of temptation that has the power to dull the spiritual senses.
When I look at the state of our nation today, and consider our spiritual challenges, it’s obvious the last thing we need are Christians who are so sloshed in emotional euphoria that they can’t pray intelligently and work diligently.
This is not a time for God’s people to be incapacitated. We need to be thinking, planning, strategizing, researching and building—all using the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Yes, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit like never before—but He is not going to fill us so we can act like giddy freshmen at a frat house keg party. Let’s put the childish things behind us. It’s time for us to grow up and sober up.
I could not say it better.