Prof. Hanko is professor emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Previous article in this series: November 1, 2006, p. 62.
The Teachings of Pentecostalism
The very core of Pentecostal religion is the doctrine of the second blessing, or, as it is sometimes called, the baptism with the Holy Spirit. When most people think of Pentecostalism, they think of long lines of people waiting to be healed, of tongue-speaking, of singing with rhythm and clapping of hands, and of rather disorderly meetings with a lot of shouting, many “Praise the Lords,” and even rolling about on the floor. But these practices do not tell what Pentecostalism really is. At its heart lies the doctrine of the second blessing.
This doctrine teaches that a child of God, regenerated, converted, believing, sanctified, and walking in the path of his pilgrimage, is at a lower level of salvation than he ought to be, because he has not received all that is available to him in Christ. God intends more for him than this relatively lowly status. He must receive the second blessing.
Although the Holy Spirit of Christ has already worked in his heart the work of salvation, he can and must aspire to greater blessings and to a higher level of piety, obtainable only when he is baptized with the Holy Spirit. At the time of his conversion he may have been saved by the Holy Spirit, but he needs more: the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Upon his conversion, or as an infant, the baptism of water may have been administered to him, but another baptism is required.
This baptism with the Spirit sometimes comes unexpectedly, especially when an individual is actively seeking it through prayer. But more frequently it comes through the agency of the ministration of others who lay hands on an individual and pray for this second blessing.
Frequently, this second blessing of baptism with the Spirit is accompanied by some startling behavior, which is also characteristic of revival meetings. The two have much in common, for revival meetings are conducted with the purpose of seeking special outpourings of the Spirit to bring renewal to a dead church. Such revivals are accompanied by bizarre behavior of all sorts. In some Pentecostal circles such bizarre behavior also accompanies the second blessing.
A person who receives this second blessing is also suddenly endowed with special gifts called charismata, after Paul’s description of such gifts in I Corinthians 12:4. From this word comes the name Charismatic Movement. These gifts include speaking in unknown tongues, ability to perform miracles, the gift of prophecy, and the gifts of interpreting prophecy and interpreting unknown tongues. In more radical Pentecostal circles, the gifts include also the handling of poisonous snakes. For proof of this latter, appeal is made to Mark 16:18.
The second blessing, or baptism with the Spirit, is, in the theory of Pentecostalism, a re-enactment of the first Pentecost and an on-going fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, which Peter quoted on that day in his sermon.
Criticisms of Pentecostalism
Pentecostalism is a dangerous threat to the church of Christ, which has the calling to hold fast to the truth revealed in the Word of God. It is a measure of the spiritual and theological departure of much of the church world that Pentecostalism is tolerated and approved within Reformed and Presbyterian churches. It is a destructive movement that contradicts Scripture’s own doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit and comes close to a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, if it is not so.
We mention here, somewhat briefly, the objections to Pentecostalism that arise out of Scripture’s teachings.
Pentecostalism is seriously wrong when it speaks of the second blessing or baptism with the Holy Spirit as a power to bring the child of God to a higher level of spirituality and piety. By doing this, Pentecostalism speaks scornfully of the ordinary life of the Christian who daily fulfills his or her calling in life in the home, the church, or the shop. This daily struggle with sin, this constant battle to live in obedience to God, this mundane and routine willingness to bear one’s cross in patience, all this and so much more that belongs to the life of the Christian in the world is looked down on and denigrated. Such a Christian is, in the eyes of Pentecostalism, a second- class Christian who has not attained to the higher, nobler, more spiritual level of piety and Christian experience that belongs to the spiritually elite. Such a wicked classification of Christians smacks of Phariseeism.
Pentecostalism speaks of gifts of the Spirit that belong to the apostolic period. This is a serious error. It lacks completely an understanding of the purpose of special gifts. God gave special gifts to the early church as signs of the truth of the gospel. This was necessary because the Scriptures were not written as yet, and those who were brought, by the preaching of the gospel, to faith in Christ, had no complete Scriptures with which to compare the teachings of the apostles to determine their truth. They could not perfectly do what the Berean Christians did in part: search the Scriptures to see whether these things were so. But when the Scriptures were completed, the need for signs and wonders was past. The church had the written Word of God. That is not only enough, but far, far better than signs and wonders. In fact, to lean heavily on signs and wonders as a necessary part of the Christian’s life is to speak disparagingly of God’s Word in the Bible. It is to say that the Bible is not enough; more is needed. It is to do what the rich man in hell wanted done when he pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, because a ghost from the dead would do what the Bible could not do. Let the Pentecostals hear Abraham’s words to the rich man: “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded though one should rise from the dead.”
That Pentecostals teach the importance of signs and wonders is not strange. They really do not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. They want to add to it, in contradiction of Scripture’s own words in Revelation 22:18. They want prophecies, additional revelation through those who speak in tongues, special words from God through special revelations. I would not be surprised if someday Pentecostalism produces an additional Bible.
Pentecostalism stands in the tradition of mysticism. I need not go into this, for I have treated mysticism in an earlier article. But let it be said, though briefly, that the mysticism of the Pentecostals stands in the tradition of mysticism as it has raised its ugly head throughout the ages of the church since the Montanist movement in the third century. The Christian who has attained to a higher level of the Christian life has attained to direct and immediate fellowship with God through prophecies, visions, dreams, special revelations, and other mystical experiences.
Mysticism tends to bypass Christ, for it speaks ofdirect communion with God in meetings with God that are characterized almost entirely by spiritual ecstasy, highly emotional experiences, indescribable encounters with the divine, and a soaring of the soul to heavenly realms that submerges a person in the divine being. Here is where Pentecostalism and revivalism meet. Leaders of revival speak of direct encounters with the triune God, in which they talked with God, discussed with Him various matters, and were given by God various bits of information that they proceeded to communicate to others. Evan Roberts, the chief figure in the Welsh 1904-05 revival, spoke of his conversations with God, the length of which he measured by glancing at some clock or wristwatch as the conversation proceeded.
Pentecostalism is deadly mysticism and denies that the only way to the Father is through Christ. Christ is set forth in the Scriptures, and only in these Scriptures do we know Christ, and knowing Christ, know God. But that knowing of God through Christ revealed in the Scriptures is an intellectual apprehension of the truth of the Scriptures and never a revelation apart from the Scriptures. Eternal life is, according to Jesus in His high-priestly prayer, to know God as the only true God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.
Finally, both Pentecostalism and revivalism have an incorrect understanding of Pentecost. Pentecost was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, which marked the end of the old dispensation and the beginning of the new. For, according to John 7:39, the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the ascended and glorified Christ did not exist in the Old Testament. (See also Acts 2:33.) The new dispensation differed from the old in significant respects because of the presence of the Spirit in the church. In the old, the church was limited to the Jews; in the new, the church is gathered from all nations of the earth. (Hence the sign of speaking in tongues.) In the old, the believers were utterly dependent on prophets, priests, and kings to know the will of God; in the new, the believers have the Spirit and “need not that any should teach them” (I John 2:27;Heb. 8:10, 11). In the old, the revelation of God was limited to types and shadows, which enabled the saints to know only in part; in the new, believers are led, through the Spirit, into all truth (see John 14, 15, 16) and are able to understand things they did not understand before. The apostles who, even on Mt. Olivet at the time Jesus ascended, were still looking for an earthly kingdom (Acts 1:6), a misconception rooted in their failure to understand the work of Christ on the cross, suddenly, after the Spirit was poured out, understood it all clearly; and Peter was able to preach an extraordinarily insightful sermon, in which he laid out the full meaning of Christ’s perfect accomplishment of salvation in His cross, His resurrection, His ascension, and His pouring out of the Spirit.
Pentecost was a once-for-all event. Pentecostals and Revivalists, who speak of repeated Pentecosts in special outpourings of the Spirit, sin greatly in denying the meaning and significance of that glorious event almost 2000 years ago.
Pentecostalism, because it is to be found in most denominations, may very well be the one unifying factor in a false ecumenism that will eventually unite the church in the service of the beast.