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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
THEOLOGY
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THEOLOGY

The Pentecostal Reality: Chapter 3

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Theologian

Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5


Chapter Three

Pentecostal Spirituality


These pages will be an attempt to sketch out some of the main lines of Pentecostal spirituality. The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome has suggested that the international Roman Catholic- -Pentecostal charismatic dialogue ought "to relate realistically to Pentecostalism which appears as a movement, a spirituality rather than a systematic theology."1 Since the first formal session2 concerns "Scriptural Basis," it would seem important to delineate certain aspects of Pentecostal spirituality, noting here and there biblical evidences given. Hence this paper will be largely informational and will draw on a representative range of Pentecostal sources, thus allowing the Pentecostal witness to speak for itself. These sources, however, will not include Catholic Pentecostal writing (despite the rapid proliferation of such), but will be confined to classical and neo-Pentecostal (Protestant, Anglican) materials. Actually, as the Steering Committee paper on "Reasons for a Dialogue on the World Level," says, "There is no essential difference between them in terms of the spirituality they all three embrace."3 Thus what is written here will be in essence true of the worldwide Pentecostal movement, although there will be many extrinsic differences. It will be noted that, even with Catholic Pentecostalism not being discussed, there are some divergences between classical and neo-Pentecostal understanding.

 

The concern of this paper will be limited to basic Pentecostal spirituality, centering in the area of what is termed "baptism in the Holy Spirit," and will say little about the charismata of the Spirit. I might add that there are those who prefer to call this whole movement "charismatic" rather than "Pentecostal" perhaps for three reasons: (1) the name "Pentecostal" has become largely associated with a particular denomination or sect; (2) they are dissatisfied with much of the traditional Pentecostal viewpoint on "Spirit baptism"; (3) a conviction has grown that what is particularly important today is the renewal of the ancient charismata. However this may be, it would seem important, first of all, to understand Pentecostal spirituality as represented by most Pentecostals, and particularly the way in which "baptism in the Spirit" is viewed in itself and in various relationships.

I am listing at the end a brief bibliography of sources quoted in this paper. A much more comprehensive bibliography may be found in Frederick Dale Bruner's book, A Theology of the Holy Spirit: the Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness, pp. 342-76.

1. Pentecostals stress the experience of the Holy Spirit. The center of the Christian message is Jesus Christ, the Pentecostal will say, but what is critical for him is "the personal and direct awareness and experiencing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit."4 Thus Pentecostalism, while not pneumacentric as such, does make a strong witness at the point of personal, immediate, spiritual experience. Note: The concern is not experience as such, but the Holy Spirit who is said to be experienced, personally and directly. Thus the Christian life is a matter of the experienced presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

According to Professor James Dunn (non-Pentecostal New Testament scholar): "Against the mechanical sacramentalism of extreme Catholicism and the dead biblicist orthodoxy of extreme Protestantism they (the Pentecostals) have shifted the focus of attention to the experience of the Holy Spirit."5 Bishop Lesslie Newbigin (non-Pentecostal churchman) has written that the Pentecostal answer to the question, "Where is the Church?" is neither in terms of a given message (where the pure word is preached and rightly understood) nor of a given structure (where there is continuation of apostolate) but "where the Holy Spirit is recognizably present with power."6 Thus he calls for a recognition of the Pentecostals as representing "a third stream" which, along with Protestantism and Catholicism, is needed for the ecumenical church of our day.

Pentecostals tend to be quite wary of talking about a "theology" or "doctrine" of the Holy Spirit. It is not that they are fundamentally anti-theological but that they fear the elevating of theology or doctrine to the first place. With the traditional definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" the Pentecostals would largely agree; however, they would want to be sure that the faith was not merely formal or intellectual (surely not merely a depositum fidei to be accepted), and that it be profoundly experiential. Pentecostals are basically people who have had a certain experience; so they find little use for theology or doctrine that does not recognize and, even more, participate in it. They are convinced that the shape and content of their experience, which they believe to be of the Holy Spirit, is essential to the life and thought of the whole church.

2. Pentecostals focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as continuing event. According to the systematic theologian of classical Pentecostalism, Ernest S. Williams, "To be Pentecostal is to identify oneself with the experience that came to Christ's followers on the Day of Pentecost; that is, to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the same manner as those were filled with the Holy Spirit on that occasion."7 Thus what happened at Pentecost (according to Acts 1 and 2, especially 2:1-4) is more than a once-for-all event; it is to be experienced today.

Pentecostals speak most often of this continuing event as "baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit." Other terms, taken largely from Acts, include, from the divine side, the Spirit's "outpouring," "falling," or "coming upon"; from the human side, the person is said to be "filled with," or "receives," the Holy Spirit: thus "full reception." "Baptism in the Spirit," however, is the term most often used because it expresses for the Pentecostal two things: (1) the totality of the event: viewing baptism as immersion, it signifies that the whole man is submerged in, activated by, the Holy Spirit; (2) the uniqueness of the event: like baptism in water, it represents a decisive, therefore unrepeatable, experience in Christian life.

The Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit is held in close connection with this event, or experience. F. D. Bruner writes:

"The Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) is centered in the crisis experience of the full reception of the Holy Spirit.... Pentecostal pneumatology emphasizes not so much the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as it does the doctrine...of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For it is not so much the general biblical doctrine of the Spirit or, particularly, the Pauline doctrine of the walk in or fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 8; Gal. 5), or the Johannine work of the Spirit Paraclete (John 14-16) from which Pentecostalism derives its name or its special doctrine of the Spirit, though it wishes of course to include all these emphases in its life. Pentecostal pneumatology is in fact primarily concerned with the critical experience, reception, or filling of the Spirit as described, especially, by Luke in Acts."8

The Pentecostal, going beyond Acts, also may use other terms to express this experience. Two particularly are "anointing" and "sealing." See, for example, classical Pentecostal Harold Horton's The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, pp. 11-13"The Baptism in the Spirit is an anointing," and "The Baptism in the Spirit is being 'sealed' with the Spirit."

3. Pentecostals view the event of "Spirit baptism" as distinct from and subsequent to conversion. The coming of the Spirit, as such, has nothing to do with conversion. The Spirit to be sure is active in bringing a person to faith and repentance (therefore conversion), but this is other than baptism in the Spirit. Spirit baptism may occur simultaneously with conversion, or happen at some time thereafter; but in neither case are the two identical. Don Basham (neo-Pentecostal) writes: "The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second encounter with God (the first is conversion) in which the Christian begins to receive the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit into his life."9 A second "encounter," a second "experience," a second "blessing"; such is typical Pentecostal terminology.

In early Pentecostalism there was often stress upon Spirit baptism as a third, distinct experience. The first work of God's grace is justification "by which we receive remission of sins;" the second work is sanctification "by which He makes us holy"; whereas "the Baptism with the Holy Ghost is a gift of power upon the sanctified 'life."10 (Here one sees connections with the Holiness movement of the late nineteenth century that laid stress on sanctification as a "second blessing" and often called it "baptism in the Holy Spirit.") Later classical Pentecostal teaching, however, has increasingly tended to minimize, or even disregard, a second work of sanctification as prerequisite to Spirit baptism;11 neo-Pentecostals do not stress it at all. Thus, presently, Pentecostals by and large speak of Spirit baptism as a second experience of God's grace: not for sanctification of life but for empowerment to witness (see below). Sanctification (in its initiatory stage) is understood as being included in conversion, or is thought of as a lifelong process that may or may not include Spirit baptism.

An event of Spirit baptism as distinct from conversion is claimed to be the experience of many Pentecostals. Formerly, there was a crisis occasion of turning to Christ in faitha true conversion; later there occurred the event of the Spirit in their lives. Scripture passages that are used to point to this are largely found in Acts: Acts 1 through 2:4the 120 who were already converts before the Spirit came; Acts 8:5-17the Samaritans who had believed, and were baptized, some time later received the Holy Spirit; Acts 9:1-19Saul of Tarsus, who had a crisis experience of the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, three days thereafter was "filled with the Holy Spirit"; and Acts 19:1-7the Ephesian twelve who after hearing the word about faith in Jesus Christ and being baptized, received the Holy Spirit. John 7:39 is also frequently quoted"Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive" (hence a later reception of the Spirit by those who already believed), and Galatians, 4:6"Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts..." (thus a distinct experience from conversion by which one enters into sonship, and possibly occurring later).

Conversion is often used interchangeably with "regeneration," "new birth," even "salvation." Hence to be "born again" or to "be saved" is quite different from Spirit baptism. The belief in Christ whereby men come to salvation is not necessarily accompanied by the event of the Spirit. Thus the Assemblies of God officially say: "All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire.... This wonderful experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth. Acts 10:44-46; 11:14-16; 15:7-9."12

Pentecostals therefore go beyond other evangelicals, who likewise stress conversion-regeneration, by adding a subsequent experience of Spirit baptism. Many evangelicals identify regeneration with Spirit baptism and insist that every "born again" Christian has thereby received the Holy Spirit. To receive the Spirit, from this perspective, is part and parcel of becoming a new man in Christ. For Pentecostals, however, to become a Christian is one thing, to be a "Spirit baptized" Christian is another.

It should be added that there is at least one classical Pentecostal group that does not differentiate between conversion/regeneration and Spirit baptism. I refer to the Christlicher Gemeinschaftsverband Mülheim/Ruhr in Germany that dates back to the early twentieth century. Christian Krust, longtime leader, writes: "In the Christian Federation of Mülheim communities we understand by the term 'Spirit baptism' the same thing which other groups in Christendom call 'coming to a living faith,' 'conversion,' 'rebirth' or 'salvation from above.'"13 Again, "The attempt to set forth Spirit baptism as in principle a separate, second spiritual experience different from rebirth has no scriptural basis."14 Arnold Bittlinger, Lutheran neo-Pentecostal, independently holds the same position in writing: "We Christians do not look for a special act of receiving the Spirit in 'sealing' or 'Spirit-baptism,' but we know that the Holy Spirit dwells in each Christian and also in each Christian can, and wants to, become manifest."15 Thus from this classical, and neo-Pentecostal perspectiverepresenting a small minority in the Pentecostal movementthere is no differentiation between being Christian and being Spirit-baptized.

4. Pentecostals understand the Holy Spirit as acting differently in conversion/regeneration and in the work of "Spirit baptizing." The Holy Spirit in the former experience brings about conviction of sin, contrition of heart, and unites the believer to Jesus Christ. As such, many Pentecostals say, the Holy Spirit dwells with the believer, acting in various ways upon his life. With the event of Spirit baptism another relationship occurs, namely, the Holy Spirit comes to abide within. Only thus is He the indwelling Spirit. Harold Horton spells this out in writing: "The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the Spirit 'in you' as distinct from 'with you'a very great distinction indeed (John 14:17). The Spirit is 'with' every believer as He was with the disciples before Pentecost. He is 'in' those who are baptized in the Spirit."16 Derek Prince (neo-Pentecostal) follows the same pattern in saying that "without the influence of the Holy Spirit a person cannot be convicted of sin, cannot repent, cannot believe in Christ, cannot be born again. However, the fact that a person has received all these experiences is not by itself evidence that the Holy Spirit dwells in that person.... To receive the Holy Spirit as an indwelling personal presence is a separate and subsequent experience. It is the privilegeand the responsibilityof each believer to go on and seek this experience personally."17

Other Pentecostals, while agreeing on two experiences, hold that in the moment of conversion/regeneration the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within, whereas in Spirit baptism there is an infilling or fullness of that same Spirit. So writes R. M. Riggs (classical Pentecostal): "They who are Christ's have the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit baptizes them into the body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit resides in their hearts."18 Before conversion the Spirit may have been with them, as with the disciples before the Resurrection, but when one believes in the crucified and Risen Lord the Spirit comes in. Here the text quoted is John 20:22"Receive the Holy Spirit"which is understood as the Spirit of regeneration, the Spirit bringing new life. "The Spirit of God's Son, as the Spirit of conversion, came into their hearts on that occasion."19 (Note the difference from Horton who sees the Spirit's incoming only later at Pentecost.) But this indwelling of the Spirit which happens to all believers at conversion is only "the first step of the Spirit's incoming";20 it needs the supplementation of the Spirit's coming not to indwell but to infill, not to convert but to overflow. Thus there is both a Paschal and a Pentecostal gift and reception of the Spirit: but for different purposes. Dennis Bennett (neo-Pentecostal) also distinguishes between the Spirit's indwelling and a subsequent "outpouring": "To become a Christian is to have God come and live in you... to be converted...to be forgiven...to be born again."21 He calls this "the first step." The second step follows: "It is not salvation...but a second experience.... When we receive Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit comes in, but as we continue to trust and believe Jesus, the Indwelling Spirit can pour out to inundate, or baptize our soul and body, and refresh the world around."22 Bennett can also speak of the latter as the "receiving" of the Holy Spirit, wherein the indwelling Spirit is now "received" into the entirety of one's being.

According to the first pattern above (Horton, Prince), many, perhaps most, Christians know nothing of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (how this can be related to Romans 8:9b"Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him"is not clear). They may be "born of the Spirit" and yet not be tabernacles of the indwelling Spirit. Thus, passages in the New Testament about the Spirit within apply only to Christians who have had a "second experience." There is only one "coming" of the Spirit, the baptizing action of the Spirit for the believer, where He comes to dwell within. According to the second pattern (Riggs, Bennett), all Christians are indwelt by the Spirit (this is the result [Riggs] of the Spirit's baptizing us into Christ, but it is not the same as Christ's baptizing us in the Spirit, which is another action), but not all are baptized in the Spirit. Since the word "receive" is used in both John 20:22 for the "indwelling" and in Acts for the "infilling," there are actually two receptions of the Holy Spiritone for regeneration, the other for fullness. (How this can be related to certain passages in Acts is not clear, since there is little evidence of a double reception of the Spirit in such accounts as Acts 8, 10-11, and 19; even more difficult are such passages as John 7:39 and Galatians 4:6).

Because of the problems implicit in either position above, there is a growing tendency, particularly among some neo-Pentecostals, to speak of the "second experience" as a "release" of the Spirit. The terminology of "baptism" and "receiving" is not thereby given up, but (e.g., in line with John 7:38) the picture is more that of flowing out, a releasing therefore, of the inward Spirit. Bennett, for example, speaks of the power needed "to change the world" as coming thus: "By the acceptance of Jesus the Savior and by the release of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives by a renewal of the experience of Pentecost!"23 The book by Watchman Nee, entitled The Release of the Spirit, is read widely in Pentecostal circles, and carries forward this theme.

5. Pentecostals characterize the meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit variously. Since it is understood to be an experience of God's presence and power breaking in or becoming manifest, the meaning is proportionate thereto.

Some Pentecostals speak of the experience as a new sense of reality in faith. Formerly God, Christ, had seemed distant or indistinct, but now through the Holy Spirit reality has dawned. "We know He is real" is a motto inscribed on one Pentecostal banner, and the testimony of many is that "for the first time I know the faith to be true." In similar vein Horton writes: "The baptism gives great assurance concerning all the experiences of our salvation: sonship, forgiveness, divine favour, hope of heaven. Whatever assurances we had before the baptism are intensified unspeakably."24 The Christian life is said to take on new realitya lively sense of God's presence, a rejoicing in Him, a freshness in prayer and worship.

Power, or empowering, doubtless is the main word used to express the character of the experience. It is evident that from the beginning of the Pentecostal movement the endowment of power is emphasized. Charles Parham, Methodist, then Holiness minister, and first of the Pentecostal leaders, shortly before his "baptismal" experience wrote: "I honor the Holy Ghost in anointing power both in conversion and in sanctification, yet I believe there is a greater revelation of His power."25 The "greater revelation" came a few days later. Oral Roberts (formerly Pentecostal Holiness, now Methodist) describes this power as "enabling power," or "the power of enablement," first of all to be a witness for Jesus: "to do and to be with the force of an explosion."26 This includes power to heal, to cast out demons, to do mighty works. Michael Harper's (neo-Pentecostal) book, Power for the Body of Christ, which deals with baptism in the Spirit, by title shows the same emphasis. The power, accordingly, is understood as an enablement of the individual and/or the community to carry forward witness to Jesus Christ. Pentecostals draw their chief biblical support for viewing Spirit baptism as power from Luke 24:49"And behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" and Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses."

Fullness of life is another way of expressing the Pentecostal experience of Spirit baptism. This is understood to mean a Christian life with an interior sense of "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8 KJV), of a deep feeling of inner peace, of the satisfaction of a profound hunger for God, and of a newfound love for, and unity with, other people. Spirit baptism, in Pentecostal witness, often seems to specify more than what one has previously known and experienced; at other times it seems to suggest a new dimension of life one has entered upon. The word "fullness" expresses for the Pentecostal both the quantitative and qualitative difference in Christian life and both continuity and discontinuity in relation to what one has experienced before. Such Scripture as "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10: 10), "...that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19) is often used.

But to be "filled with (or by)" the Holy Spirit also means, for the Pentecostal, to be a recipient of God's gifts. To return to the theme of enablement (above), Spirit baptism is the investment of the individual and community with various gifts for edification of the body and service to the world. Hence there are exterior manifestations of the Spirit in terms, for example, of "word of wisdom," "word of knowledge," "working of miracles," "prophecy," "discernment of spirits" (cf. 1 Cor. 12), and the like. Thus the coming of the Spirit, so Riggs says, is "the coming of divine equipment."27 Spirit baptism is not "gifts" as such; it is the gift of the Spirit. However, the Spirit in being poured out is at the same time the investiture of the believing community with heavenly powers. Pentecostals often point out that the experience of being "filled with the Spirit" in Scripture is expressed in terms of prophecy, tongues, boldness of utterance, discernment of spirits, overflowing praise, and thanksgiving (e.g., Luke 1:15-17, 42, 67; Acts 2:4, 4:8,31; 13:9; Eph. 5:18-19). The Spirit is not without His gifts, or manifestations.

One classical Pentecostal (Horton) sums it up by saying that there is both an expressional and a experiential side of baptism in the Spirit. "On its expressional side the purpose of the baptism is power. But there is an experiential side as well." He continues (regarding the "experiential"):

"In the marvelous baptism the fainting human spirit drinks draught after draught of the satisfying Spirit of God.... Those blessed floods of satisfying water come rushing in in astonishing reality and startling intensity by the baptism in the Holy Ghost. The baptized believer is not only the empowered believer; he is the satisfied believer. 'They shall be abundantly satisfied, thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasure.'"28

6. Pentecostals speak much of the background or preparation for the event of Spirit baptism. There is general agreement that the essential background for this experience is conversion, or salvation. So writes Riggs in a chapter, "The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, How to Receive It," in bold letters, "WE MUST FIRST BE SAVED."29 Writes Basham, in italics, "If you have not already done so, you must accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior."30 He adds: "By no means should anyone who is not a believing Christian pray for baptism in the Holy Spirit." Thus faith in Jesus Christ that brings salvation is the essential background or preparation. Without this, Pentecostals urge, to seek for the Holy Spirit is meaningless, since it is only the believing Christian who can possibly receive. Further, without this saving faith, one may experience not the Holy Spirit, but some spirit of confusion and error.

A second preparation frequently mentioned for Spirit baptism is heart purification. Classical Pentecostalism with its roots in the Holiness movement often spoke (as we have noted) of sanctification as the second work of grace preparatory to baptism in the Spirit. Without separation from sin and cleansing of the heart, the Holy Spirit cannot be received. For example, one Pentecostal denomination in its declaration of faith says: "We believe in the sanctification which is subsequent to the new birth through faith in the blood of Christ...[and] in the baptism with the Spirit which is subsequent to the purification of heart."31 Sometimes the word "obedience" is used in this connection, drawn particularly from Acts 5:32 ("the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him"). More recent Pentecostalism lays much less stress on the theme of heart purification (even as it tends to omit sanctification as a second work prior to Spirit baptism). One neo-Pentecostal writer urges that baptism in the Spirit is not "an attainment or reward based on some supposed degree of holiness."32 However, another writer stresses that "we should repent of every known sin";33 but he does not suggest sanctification as a prerequisite. Indeed, sanctification is more likely to be a result of baptism in the Spirit than the other way around.34 Thus one discovers a movement increasingly away from the classical stress on a prior condition of sanctification. It is interesting, and perhaps significant, to note that it is the practice of some neo-Pentecostals to emphasize not so much cleansing of inward sin as the exorcism of evil forces. Bennett, for example, spends most of a chapter on "Preparing to Receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,"35 discussing contemporary occult practices, and suggests a prayer of renunciation for those who have been involved. Once these unholy spirits have been cast out, one may be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is usually stressed as preparation for receiving the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, this is understood as living a life of prayer in which the soul is prepared increasingly for God's fuller blessing. On the other hand, this is prayer that focuses particularly on the hoped- -for gift of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal Evangel (largest circulating Pentecostal publication in North America) includes in each issue a creedal statement that mentions only prayer as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit: "We believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4 is given to believers who ask for it."36 This does not mean, Pentecostals say, that we earn the Holy Spirit through prayer, for it remains a gift; but as we ask, and continue to ask, the way is prepared for God to pour out His blessing. "Insistence and persistence," says one writer,37 are important. Here the Scriptures often adduced are Luke 11:5-13 and Acts 1:14, 8:15, 9:11, and 10:2.

Another aspect of preparation emphasized by many Pentecostals is yielding. Riggs writes in vivid manner:

"Jesus is the minister who officiates at this baptism in the Holy Spirit. We present our whole being to Him. Body, soul and spirit must be yielded.... Thus yielded to our Christ, we are taken into His wonderful charge and submerged into the great Spiritual Element which is none other than the actual Person of the Holy Spirit.... There are many spiritual experiences which approximate the baptism in the Holy Spirit.... Utter and complete baptism in the Holy Spirit, however, is reached only where there is a perfect yielding of the entire being to Him."38

Some Pentecostals speak of this as "emptying," wherein the candidate for spiritual baptism lets go all barriers (perhaps of security, reputation, pride) and the Spirit freely moves into the void. Thus God may have His complete way.

Finally, Pentecostals often point out that expectant faith is important for Spiritual baptism. This is not simply the faith that looks to God for salvation, but the faith that holds firm to "the promise of the Father" that He will send the Holy Spirit. Some Pentecostals speak of this as a faith directed to the Holy Spirit, e.g., "As there is a faith toward Christ for salvation, so there is a faith toward the Spirit for power and consecration."39 Many Pentecostals, however, do not speak thus of two directions of faith, for, they urge, it is the same Christ who saves who also baptizes in the Holy Spirit, and ultimately all comes from God the Father. The important matter is expectation, yearning, desiring the fullness of what God may impart, and believing that at the right time He will give it.

7. Pentecostals recognize no essential connection between external rites and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here we shall consider water baptism and the laying on of hands.

First, it is to be noted that, in regard to water baptism, the most prevalent practice is that of immersion, and of "believers" only. Writes Bloch-Hoell: "On the whole, adult baptism is practiced all over the world by the present Pentecostal movement."40 There are exceptions to this in a few classical Pentecostal bodies (e.g., the Methodist Pentecostal Church of Chile, the Christlicher Gemeinschaftsverband Mülheim/Ruhr in Germany, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church in America where it is optional), and among many neo-Pentecostals the practice of infant baptism continues. Water baptism is understood as having to do with conversion/regeneration but not in the sense of mediating or conveying such sacramentally; rather water baptism is primarily the believer's action whereby he expresses obedience to the commandment of the Lord. However, the all-important matter is the prior act of faith wherein occurs the new birth. Baptism is an outward symbol of this profession, but as symbol it has no integral relationship with the experience itself (whether performed earlier, as with infant baptism, or afterward in believer's baptism as a sign of the faith professed). Water baptism is by no means essential to salvation.

Thus since water baptism has to do with conversion, and only rather incidentally, it has no vital connection with Spirit baptism. One may read lengthy Pentecostal statements on "baptism in the Spirit" and find, if at all, only passing reference to baptism in water. Bruner has compiled, from six representative classical Pentecostal writers, lists of "conditions" for receiving baptism in the Spirit, and on only two of the six lists is water baptism so much as mentioned.41 Even for the two who mention baptism in water, a reading of their material will show that it is included more as an aspect of obedience than as a vehicle or means of grace. Pentecostals often seek to justify this lack of emphasis on water baptism by pointing to the record in Acts: (1) the 120 are baptized in the Spirit at Pentecost (2:1-4), but no stress is laid on their (presumed) prior baptism in water; (2) upon Cornelius and his household the Spirit is poured out, but this is prior to their being baptized in water (10:44-48); (3) the Samaritans believe and are baptized, but it is days later that they receive the Holy Spirit (8:12-17). Since some are baptized in the Holy Spirit without any reference to water baptism, some prior thereto, and some thereafter, why should we be concerned, the Pentecostal asks, to work out some formal, or sacramental, relationship?

There are, however, Pentecostals today, especially neo-Pentecostals, who are seeking to work out a closer connection between Spirit baptism and water baptism. The two baptisms, they are saying, actually belong together. Michael Harper, looking back at the early church, writes: "This blessing [baptism in the Spirit] was regarded in the early church as the completion of Christian initiation, distinct from water baptism, yet linked to it, and experimentally distinct also from regeneration. Full Christian initiation was not deemed to have been completed until every convert had been both baptized in water by the Church, and also in the Spirit by the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ."42 Ideally, they should occur in immediate connection, but in sacramental practice (where baptism is followed by later confirmation) and in experience there is frequently a long interval between.

What then about the relationship between laying on of hands and baptism in the Spirit? Again, Pentecostals see no necessary connection. In practice, the laying on of hands for Spirit baptism occurs everywhere among Pentecostals, but this practice is never elevated to a necessity; and there are innumerable testimonies that the experience often happens without hands being laid. Basham writes of this matter in his Handbook, under the chapter 33 heading, "Does one have to receive the laying on of hands to be baptized in the Spirit?" His answer points out that in the five Acts accounts where people receive the Holy Spirit, three depict laying on of hands (Acts 8:18, 9:17, 19:6), but the other two (Acts 2:4, 10:44) do not. Thus, says Basham, there is ample justification for this practice, but no way of regarding it as essential: "The laying on of hands for the receiving of the Holy Spirit is scriptural, often helpful, but not always necessary."43

Pentecostals, moreover, do not view the imposition of hands as limited to any one person or religious order. They point out that in two of the three cases mentioned, apostles do lay on hands (Acts 8:18 and 19:6), but in the other, it is simply the matter of a Christian brother (Ananias) who lays hands on Paul (Acts 9:17). Nor is the laying on of hands viewed as a sacrament, which carries with it both the necessity of proper ecclesiastical order and the understanding of a particular rite as essential to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

A further word about confirmation: It is seldom mentioned in Pentecostal literature and witness, and if so is usually viewed rather negatively. For example, Robert Frost (neo-Pentecostal) says, almost in passing, "No longer is baptism followed by the laying on of hands for the fullness of God's Spirit in power. The rite of confirmation most closely follows this form, but even here no one really expects to receive and to respond as did the disciples at Ephesus under Paul's ministry (Acts 19:1-7)."44 Michael Harper speaks of confirmation as verabschieden or "goodbye" to the church: it is not the rite of fullness of the Spirit but of leave-taking. The confirmand usually disappears thereafter from participation in the life of the church. "Today the low level of expectation and the vague concept of what is supposed to take place [in confirmation] is in tragic contrast to the powerful experience of Pentecost and the transforming effect it had on succeeding generations of Christians, until formalism and unbelief robbed the Church of its birthright in the Holy Spirit."45 It can be seen, from the writers just quoted, that a part of the problem is that no one expects much to happen. Question: Does this make confirmation a purely formal matter, or could a part of the problem be lack of discernment as to what may really be going on?

8. Pentecostals see a close relationship between baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues. Classical Pentecostalism holds firmly to the position that the initial evidence of Spirit baptism is speech in "other tongues." The Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, comprising fifteen major Pentecostal bodies, includes in its eight-point "Statement of Truth" the following (No. 5): "We believe that the full Gospel includes holiness of heart and life, healing for the body and the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance."46 Thus though there is not a simple identification between baptism in the Spirit and tongues, it is clear that the two are intimately related, since the first sign of Spirit baptism is this speech.

Pentecostals date their twentieth-century beginnings from January 1, 1901, with the experience of a Miss Agnes Ozman at the Bethel Bible College, Topeka, Kansas, when Rev. Charles F. Parham prayed for her:

"It was as his hands were laid upon my head that the Holy Spirit fell upon me and I began to speak in tongues, glorifying God.... I had the added joy and glory my heart longed for and a depth of the presence of the Lord within me that I had never known before. It was as if rivers of water were proceeding from my innermost being."47

This "initial evidence" was speaking in tongues, although it was also accompanied by joy, glory, presence of God, and the like. Rev. John Osteen (neo-Pentecostal) describes his experience thus:

"With my hands lifted...and my heart reaching up for my God, there came the hot, molten lava of his love. It poured in like a stream from heaven and I was lifted up out of myself. I spoke in a language I could not understand for about two hours."48

One might say from this description that the initial inward evidence was the "lava" of God's love, but the outward was speaking in tongues.

Neo-Pentecostals, while likewise convinced of the importance of speaking in tongues, often prefer to use such an expression as "normal accompaniment" (rather than "initial evidence"), and say that speech in tongues may occur later. Basham (in his Handbook) answers the question, "Can I receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues?" by giving what he calls "a highly qualified yes," but then adds in bold letters, "SOMETHING IS MISSING IN YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT YET HAVE NOT SPOKEN IN TONGUES." For, Basham adds, "Those Spirit-filled Christians who have not yet spoken in tongues will receive a precious added assurance of God's presence and power when they do."49 Normally, tongues accompany Spirit baptism as evidence of the "overflow," but because of various reasons (such as ignorance, fear, prejudice) there may be a delay. Neo-Pentecostals, like their classical brethren, see a vital connection between Spirit baptism and tongues. Larry Christenson (neo-Pentecostal) agrees that there are those who receive baptism in the Spirit without tongues, but he calls this a "gap" in their Christian experience, and adds: "To consummate one's experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues gives an objectivity...sign...to remind one in a special way that the Holy Spirit has taken up His dwelling in the body."50

Pentecostals find in the Acts narrative vindication for their position. In the five incidents describing the reception of the Spirit, three accounts specifically state that those receiving the Spirit spoke in tongues: Acts 2:4 (the 120 at Pentecost); Acts 10:46 (the centurion and household); Acts 19:6 (the twelve disciples at Ephesus). The other two descriptions of the Spirit's being received, Acts 8:17 (Samaritans) and Acts 9:17 (Paul), make no direct reference to such. This may be implied, however, in the case of the Samaritans (Simon the magician "saw" something for which he was willing to pay, Acts 8:18-19), and Paul writes to the Corinthians that he does indeed speak in tongues"I thank God I speak in tongues more than you all" (1 Cor. 14:18). Thus the case can be made for "initial evidence" in several instances (if not clearly in all), or as "normal accompaniment" (based on at least three out of five incidents).

Pentecostals generally admit that almost all their evidence for a close connection between baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues is drawn from Acts. The disputed text from Mark 16:17 is often also quoted: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues." Classical Pentecostals seldom question the dominical authority of this text (since it is contained in the King James Bible); neo-Pentecostals, while sometimes more hesitant in using the text, suggest that it points at least to a very early recognition in the Christian community of the close connection between believing and speaking in tongues. More of a problem for Pentecostals is Paul's discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where he depicts tongues as one of nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thereafter raises the question (which implies a negative answer), "Do all speak with tongues?" (1 Cor. 12:30). How can speaking with tongues be "initial evidence" or "normal accompaniment" of Spirit baptism if it is only one gift among many? Here the Pentecostal answer is twofold: (1) there is a difference between speaking in tongues as sign of the Spirit's reception (thus possible for everyone) and as a particular gift for body ministry (which not all possess); (2) even in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where the concern is body ministry, Paul can still say, "I want you all to speak in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:5). Hence there must be some way in which this speech is possible for all.

Finally, Pentecostals maintain the close relationship between baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues by virtue of what they understand to be happening in this baptism. Since Spirit baptism is an "overflow" of the Spirit in praise of God, ordinary speech may very well be transcended by the language of the Spirit. So writes Robert Frost: "It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring such release to our lives when by faith we allow Him to fill us to overflowing with praise to the One who has set us free.... No wonder the apostle Paul exclaims with great feeling, 'I thank my God I speak in tongues more than ye all!'"51 It is also to be noted that speaking in tongues is not viewed as communication to men but to God. David du Plessis writes: "Paul considered all speaking in tongues as prayer and always addressed to God, never a 'message' to men."52 Hence the old idea that tongues was a miraculous gift of foreign languages for proclamation of the gospel, or that a proper interpretation would bring about its inner nature as communication to men, is discountenanced. Since what happens through baptism in the Spirit is primarily a new opening to God by the Holy Spirit moving in the spirits of men, speaking in tongues is essentially a vehicle of the upsurge of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.


Footnotes

1. Part of a statement drafted in Rome (September, 1970) at the first informal meeting of the Secretariat with representatives of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement.

2. Meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, June 19-24, 1972.

3. After two informal meetings (September, 1970, and June, 1971), a Steering Committee of Roman Catholic and Pentecostal/charismatic representatives met in Rome, October, 1971, to plan for the first session in June, 1972. This quotation is taken from one of the papers drafted at the Steering Committee meeting.

4. Part of a statement drawn up at the first informal meeting in Rome.

5. Baptism in the Holy Spirit, p. 225.

6. The Household of God, p. 95.

7. Pentecostal Evangel, 49, p. 11. See Bruner, op. cit., p. 57.

8. A Theology of the Holy Spirit, p. 57.

9. A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism, p. 10.

10. Quotations from The Apostolic Faith of 1906, early in the Pentecostal movement. See Nils Bloch-Hoell (non-Pentecostal writer), The Pentecostal Movement, p. 45.

11. Again see Bloch-Hoell, pp. 125-30.

12. Irwin Winehouse, The Assemblies of God, pp. 207-09.

13. See Walter J. Hollenweger, Die Pfingstkirchen, p. 181. My translation.

14. See Hollenweger, Enthusiastiches Christentum, p. 223. My translation.

15. Der Frühchristliche Gottesdienst, p. 9. My translation.

16. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, pp. 13-14.

17. From Jordan to Pentecost, p. 66.

18. The Spirit Himself, p. 44.

19. Ibid., p. 44.

20. Ibid. p. 45.

21. The Holy Spirit and You, pp. 11-12.

22. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

23. Nine O'Clock in the Morning, p. 136.

24. Op. cit., p. 12.

25. See Klaude Kendrick, The Promise Fulfilled, p. 50.

26. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, pp. 6-8.

27. Op. cit., p. 82.

28. Op. cit., p. 24.

29. Op. cit., p. 102.

30. Op. cit., p. 100.

31. The Church of God in Latin America; see Bruner, op. cit., p. 97 f.n.

32. Don Basham, Face Up with a Miracle, p. 148.

33. Michael Harper, Life in the Spirit, p. 5.

34. Harper, The Baptism of Fire, p. 18.

35. The Holy Spirit and You, chap. 4.

36. See Bruner, op. cit., p. 98 f.n.

37. Riggs, op. cit., p. 104.

38. Ibid., p. 67.

39. Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, p. 316.

40. Op. cit., p. 166.

41. Op. cit., p. 92.

42. The Baptism of Fire, p. 20.

43. Op. cit., p. 97.

44. Aglow with the Spirit, p. 20.

45. Baptism of Fire, p. 14.

46. See John T. Nichol, Pentecostalism, p. 4.

47. See Kendrick, op. cit., pp. 52-53.

48. See Baptists and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, "Pentecost is not a Denomination: It is an Experience" (Osteen's personal testimony).

49. Op. cit., pp. 62-63.

50. Speaking in Tongues, pp. 55-56.

51. Op. cit., p. 28.

52. The Spirit Bade Me Go, pp. 82-83.


Bibliography

 

Basham, Don W. Face Up with a Miracle. Northridge, CA: Voice Christian Publications, 1967.

. A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism. Reading, Berkshire: Gateway Outreach, 1969.

Bennett, Dennis and Rita. The Holy Spirit and You. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1971.

Bennett, Dennis. Nine O'Clock in the Morning. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1970.

Bittlinger, Arnold. Der Früchristliche Gottesdienst. Marburgan der Lahn: Oekumenischer Verlag Dr. R. F. Edel, 1966.

Bloch-Hoell, Nils. The Pentecostal Movement. London: Allen and Unwin, 1964.

Bruner, Frederick Dale. A Theology of the Holy Spirit: the Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970.

Christenson, Larry. Speaking in Tongues. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1968.

Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Great Britain: SCM Press, 1970.

du Plessis, David J. The Spirit Bade Me Go. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, rev. ed. 1970.

Frost, Robert C. Aglow with the Spirit. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, rev. ed. 1970.

Harper, Michael. Power for the Body of Christ. Life in the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of Fire. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1971.

Hollenweger, Walter J. Die Pfingstshirchen (Die Kirchen der Welt, vol. 7). Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlagswerk, 1971.

. Enthusiastiches Christentum: Die Pfingstbewegung in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Zurich: Zwingli Verlag, 1969.

Horton, Harold. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. London: Assemblies of God Publishing House, n. d.

Kendrick, Klaude. The Promise Fulfilled. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1961.

Nee, Watchman. The Release of the Spirit. Cleveland, IN: Sure Foundation, 1965.

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Household of God. New York: Friendship Press, 1954.

Nichol, John Thomas. Pentecostalism (The Pentecostals). Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1971.

Osteen, John. Baptists and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Los Angeles: Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, 1963.

Pearlman, Myer. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible. Springfield, MO, 1937.

Prince, Derek. From Jordan to Pentecost. Witney, Oxon: Gateway Outreach Ltd., n. d.

Riggs, Ralph M. The Spirit Himself. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1949.

Roberts, Oral. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Tulsa, OK: Private Printing, 1964.

Williams, Ernest Swing. Systematic Theology. 3 vols. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1953.

Winehouse, Irwin. The Assemblies of God: A Popular Survey. New York: Vantage Press, 1959.

 

Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

 

 

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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