The Cane Ridge Phenomena
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 3:27pm
I RECEIVED THIS QUESTION: One of the first events in the history of the Restoration Movement was the Cane Ridge [KY] Meeting in the early 1800s, where about 20,000 people gathered for revival. During this revival many strange and possibly frightening activities took place, described as “exercises” in various forms. Witnesses describe people fainting, barking, dancing, laughing, and ultimately “jerking.” This last exercise involved individuals with feet planted on the ground moving in strange ways, making large 180-degree “jerks,” i.e., touching the forehead and then the back of the head to the ground without moving their feet. It is said that even women jerked so hard that their hair made the sound of a bull whip. What do you make of this event? Barton Stone seems to have been particularly troubled by these events but ultimately concludes that because the result was faith in Christ there was nothing to be feared. What do you think?
MY REPLY: I have not done a really detailed study of the Cane Ridge phenomena, but what I have become aware of leads me to believe that there was demonic activity involved. Some of the phenomena have modern equivalents in Charismatic contexts, e.g., fainting could be similar to being “slain in the (s)pirit,” and so-called “holy laughter” is a fairly common modern “exercise.” Things like this could have psychological explanations, but some of the other things, especially the “jerking,” appear to be supernatural, defying natural law. In general, I hold the view that the Spirit does not give miraculous gifts to Christians after the apostolic age (see my books on the Holy Spirit). But I acknowledge that truly supernatural (even miraculous) events take place in certain Christian contexts today (such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement). The only explanation for such events, I believe, is that those who exhibit them have been inadvertently taken over by demonic spirits, and are producing such miraculous activities through demonic power (see 2 Thess. 2:9). At least some of the Cane Ridge exercises seem to come within this range.
What many people do not realize is that such practices can occur within a Christian context. See Matthew 7:21-23. Here Jesus says that many who have cast out demons, have prophesied [which includes tongue-speaking], and have worked miracles EVEN IN HIS NAME will be lost because they are outside the will of God. Thus I would want to distance myself from Cane Ridge, even though we are historically connected with it. From my point of view, nothing in the Restoration Movement as such is “untouchable.” Our Movement may have begun IN SPITE OF Cane Ridge, not because of it. “The Bible and the Bible alone is our only rule of faith and practice.” This is still a basic principle.