The venue was the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, the largest exhibition center in the UK. Five of us squeezed into a small car and drove the sixty-plus miles from Hereford to what we thought at the time was the biggest spiritual event of the year. Christ for All Nations, evangelist Reinhard Bonnke’s ministry, was hosting a conference, and one of the main attractions was Benny Hinn.
This was the late 80s—1988, I believe—and for most of the British population, television consisted of four stations. And none of them was TBN. This meant the only way we would ever hear the cream of American televangelists was on video or audio cassette tapes obtained either by mail-order subscription, or at conferences. The friend who drove us to Birmingham had obtained by one of these means a video of Benny Hinn, which he had shared with our church youth group some months previously. The presentation on the tape consisted of about thirty minutes of teaching—mainly Hinn recounting how his “Holy Spirit ministry” started, and then talking about how to relate to the Holy Spirit. He’s a gentleman, Hinn taught, and won’t come unless you ask. And don’t grieve the Spirit, otherwise He’s like a child, and you’ll lose His trust. There was no trace, as I recall, of his wackier teachings that I would later be made aware of. After the talk, there followed a solid hour or more of “slaying in the Spirit,” and people getting out of wheelchairs. Although four of us in the car were students of theology (two just starting University, and my best friend and I in our last year of A-Levels), we were all charismatic in our pneumatology, and Arminian in our soteriology. Within those parameters, we found a home for Hinn. More on that later.
The auditorium was at least two-thirds full. I don’t recall who the first speaker was that morning, or what he spoke about. I do remember a refreshment break, and then hurrying back to our seats to be sure we didn’t miss any of Benny Hinn’s presentation. He came out, he taught—I don’t remember any details of his teaching, though I daresay it was largely what we’d already heard on the video—and then the show started. The organ played, he set the mood, and then started with the “words of knowledge.” A lady over there being healed of something. A man somewhere at the back has been suffering with X and the Lord wants him to know he’ll be well before he leaves. Then he began calling people up on stage. People reported healings, people were in tears, and all of them were slain in the Spirit at the touch of Hinn’s hand.
I should note at this point that I was no stranger to the “slaying in the Spirit” phenomenon. It was only five years earlier that I came to the Lord through the witness of my best friend (the same friend who sat beside me at the NEC event). Since I was not in a Christian home, his family took me under their wing, and began the work of discipling me. This sounds ideal, except for the fact that they were heavily influenced by teachers such as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin, and about as deep into the charismatic movement as I have known anyone to be. My best friend’s mother was the most “on fire” of them all. His father was supportive, but not as vocal. Nevertheless, they would take me to revival meetings and church events where speaking in tongues and “slaying in the Spirit” were commonplace. I spoke in tongues, too, and I had at least wobbled in the Spirit—I had never experienced a full “slaying.” At least not yet…
Suddenly, Hinn invited anyone in the audience who wanted a healing to come down to the front of the stage. I had been having problems with my sinuses, and I mentioned that to my friend. Should I go forward? It seemed so trivial compared to the people on crutches and with misaligned legs. My friend encouraged me—why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So I did. I made my way down to the front of the stage and stood there along with probably a few hundred other people. I don’t recall if Hinn prayed over us, but I do remember him pointing at various people in the crowd and summoning them up on stage. I could hardly believe my eyes when his finger pointed at me. Me? Really? Before I knew what was happening, I was coaxed forward and helped up on stage.
From where I stood at the side, the audience seemed to melt into darkness. The lights were so bright I could only really see half the auditorium. A couple of people were ahead of me, and Hinn made short work of them. Then it was my turn. He didn’t even ask what was wrong, why I was there, what the Lord had done for me. But he was close enough that I could smell his aftershave. He looked at me and said, “The devil’s not gonna get you,” and he blew on me. I went wobbly, and it’s possible I went down. I don’t remember exactly. My next memory is sitting up at the side of the stage watching as other people came forward and were “slain.” There was definitely a vibe up there. A buzz. The feeling was something akin to a huge adrenaline rush, an intense excitement, and a feeling of light-headed clarity, all rolled into one. No-one came to check on me, or talk to me, so I made my way off the stage and rejoined my friends.
Not long after this, I started my theology studies at university. I remained a charismatic the whole time I was there, and went to “happy clappy” churches. But it was around this time that I began seriously questioning much of what I had previously assumed. If God is sovereign, why does He have to have my permission to come to me? If it’s so important that we speak in tongues, why doesn’t every Christian speak in tongues? And why do Christians have to learn how to speak in tongues? If we have the Holy Spirit, and He is sovereign, can’t He just do it for us? And what about those Christians who don’t use tongues, and aren’t charismatic? Are they really spiritually dead? If so, how come they seem to be as passionate for Christ as my charismatic friends—in some cases even more so? Since I was moving in predominantly charismatic circles, both at church and within the university’s Christian Union, I decided to set these questions to the side, resolving to study them more another time.
A few years after graduating, I stopped being a practicing charismatic. Not long after that, I turned my back on the charismatic movement altogether. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why I walked away from my former charismatic convictions.