Pentecostalism in the Light of the Bible (1)

Perhaps no movement has made more of an impact on the church world than Pentecostalism. Certainly no movement has done so in the last ten to twenty years. “The growth of the Pentecostal movement in . . . the United States has also been impressive, particularly the increment in mission of the Assemblies of God, which is reported to be building one new church a day in America and to be supporting over seven hundred and fifty overseas missionaries on a missionary budget of over seven million dollars, in addition to maintaining the largest number of Bible schools in the world today.” (Frederick Dale Brunner, A Theology Of The Holy Spirit, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1970 p. 25) Brunner goes on to say: “In terms of simple numbers international Pentecostalism reports the largest number of adherents in the United States (about three million), Brazil (two million), Indonesia (one million), Chili (nearly one million), and South Africa (one half million) usually listed in that order. Numerically, at the very least, the young Pentecostal movement has plowed a broad furrow into the first two-thirds of the twentieth century and reaped success,” p. 25. 

In addition to the Pentecostal Churches there is a related movement which has come to be called “Neo-Pentecostalism.” “Less than twenty years ago, Brumback (Carl Brumback, a Pentecostal, R.D.) confessed: ‘We might as well face the facts; speaking in tongues is not acceptable anywhere except in the Pentecostal movement.’ This statement could not be made today, because speaking in tongues is now being accepted as part of normal, personal and church life among. Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even Catholics. This outburst of tongues among the historic denominations has been called the New Penetration, the New Pentecostalism, Charismatic Renewal. (or Revival), and the modern tongues movement. Both liberal and conservative churches, schools, mission boards, and publications have felt the impact of this new movement . . . Thus it becomes important for every believer to understand this new manifestation of tongue speaking.”‘ (Robert G. Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Philadelphia 1967) We might add that the Reformed community of churches both in this country and abroad has not been unaffected by Pentecostal inroads. 

Tongue speaking (and other miracles and signs) did, of course, occur in the New Testament church. We find references to this in Mark 16, the book of Acts, and I Corinthians 12-14. It is noteworthy, however, that from A.D. 100 to 1900 tongue speaking virtually disappeared and is not to be found in the mainstream of the church. It is found among the Montanists in the second century and in various other minority groups and sects. (There is no space for a study of the history of the movement. I would urge the reader to consult Brunner’s book for an excellent and detailed history of Pentecostalism.) 

Pentecostals themselves explain this phenomenon (the virtual disappearance of tongue speaking and other miracles and gifts from the mainstream of the church) as due to a lack of faith in or rejection of the Holy Spirit by the church. Brunner quotes David duPlessis, a leading Pentecostal, as writing: “The Holy Spirit continued in control until the close of the first century, when He was largely rejected and His position as leader usurped by men. The results are written in history. The missionary movement halted. The dark ages ensued.” (Brunner, p. 27) Pentecostals feel that their movement is a new Reformation, “a worthy and perhaps even superior successor to the Reformation of the 16th century and to the English Revival of the 18th, and nearly always as a faithful reproduction of the apostolic movement of the first century.” (Brunner, p. 27) Pentecostals are convinced that the way back to the church’s experience and power is via Pentecost, i.e., by way of the baptism in or with (not “by”) the Holy Spirit with its accompanying signs and miracles. The way back to real, vibrant Christian life and service is to have the experience of the Apostles at Pentecost, to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 2). Without the experience the believer, and consequently the church, will remain impotent, virtually dead. 

It is out of this conviction that- Neo-Pentecostals especially level a very serious charge at the non-Pentecostal churches and believers. They claim to hold fast to the “faith of the fathers,” the confessions of the church. Only, they claim to have something more, something in addition to the traditional teachings and practices of the church. And, that something more is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with its resultant power and gifts which make the Christian and the church effective in service and life, This, they say, the non-Pentecostals lack; and, therefore, the churches today are guilty of dead orthodoxy. They are lifeless, powerless, ineffective and busy themselves sweeping around dusty dogmas. They are very seriously disobedient to the King of the Church, Christ. 

While we cannot go into all of the implications of this charge, this much must be said. The Pentecostal (neo) must understand that his view of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit radically affects his understanding of the truth of the Scriptures: his view of God, first of all (The Holy Spirit is God!); of God’s Christ, and therefore of the doctrine of salvation, particularly the Spirit’s work of applying the, merits of Christ in the elect—regeneration, calling, faith and conversion, justification, sanctification, preservation. And his view necessarily affects his understanding of the truth of the infallible inspiration of the Bible.

Into all of this we cannot go. What we want to do is examine the key passages of Scripture in Acts and I Corinthians especially to see if the Bible teaches that the miracle of Pentecost, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by tongue speaking is to be repeated, experienced, and sought by believers today. It is at this point that Pentecostalism stands or falls. Finally, by way of introduction, in the making of this speech I am indebted to Brunner and Gromacki cited above. Dr. Anthony Hoekema of Calvin Seminary for his book, What About Tongue Speaking? (Eerdmans); the Rev. George Lubbers for an excellent exposition of I Corinthians 12-14 found in the Standard Bearer, vols. 33 and 34; Pentecostals which I’ve consulted are Dr. J. A. Schep, Spirit Baptism And Tongue Speaking According To Scripture; John L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues; And A. G. Dornfeld, who wrote a pamphlet entitled, “Have You Received The Holy Spirit?” 

The key concept in Pentecostal belief is: “The Baptism in, or with, the Holy Spirit.” We find this in all four Gospel accounts; Matthew 3:11Mark 1:18Luke 3:16, and John 1:33. In these passages we learn that John the Baptist baptized with water unto repentance but prophesied that “One mightier than I,” Christ, was coming after him and would baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. In Acts 1:5 Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of this prophecy: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” In verse 8 of the same chapter the Saviour goes on to explain: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” For this reason Christ instructs His disciples to “. . . wait for the promise of the Father, which . . . ye have heard of me,” (vs. 4). The disciples upon the ascension of the Lord and in obedience to His command returned to Jerusalem, and together with the women and Jesus’ brethren “continued with one accord and in prayer and supplication,” (vs. 14). Two of the Gospel accounts mention this also. Luke 24:36 ff, teaches that the disciples were commanded to “tarry in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” (This is the origin of the Pentecostal “tarrying meeting,” where seekers of the Spirit baptism pray and tarry for the baptism in the Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues.) Mark 16:14-20informs us that Jesus promised that signs would follow them that believe, casting out devils, speaking in new tongues, drinking deadly things and not being hurt, taking up serpents, laying hands on the sick so that they recover. All this finds its fulfillment in Acts 2:1-4 when on Pentecost they were “all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” And, say the Pentecostals, it happened repeatedly throughout the book of Acts: to the Samaritans (Acts 8), Cornelius and his house (Acts 10), and those baptized with the baptism of John (Acts 19). And most Pentecostals believe there were more such experiences, as for example Paul’s conversion. 

Pentecostals call this or regard this baptism in the Spirit a crisis experience of the full reception of the Holy Spirit. They claim this crisis experience is elsewhere described in the Bible as: to be “filled with the Spirit,” Acts 2:4Eph. 5:18; to “receive the Spirit,”Acts 2:38; to be “sealed by the Spirit,” Eph. 1:13, “anointed with the Spirit,” II Cor. 1:21. It must be clearly understood at this point that Pentecostals speak not so much of a doctrine of the Holy Spirit or Spirit baptism, but of the experience of that. They teach that the experience of the apostles and early Christians can, does, will, and should occur in the lives of believers today. The point is that the experience of the early church is normative for the experience of Christians now and always. 

Pentecostal belief contains three essential elements (admittedly this is but a sketch). First, they teach that distinct from and following and in addition to the new birth (regeneration) and conversion is the baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. (Note that Pentecostals generally have an Arminian conception of mediate regeneration which is identified with conversion, not a Biblical conception of immediate regeneration and its fruit in daily conversion.) They teach that all Christians are through the new birth and conversion baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit, but not all Christians are baptized by Christ into the Spirit. Thus, according to Pentecostal belief, when we are born again and converted, we receive Christ; but there is more, and that more is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the baptism in or with the Spirit. When in addition to being baptized into Christ by the Spirit we are baptized by Christ with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes personally into our hearts and lives, bringing to us the charismata (literally, “grace things”), the gifts and power that we need for personal growth and service to God in the Church and in the world. 

Secondly, this baptism in or with the Spirit is evidenced initially by speaking in other tongues. It is correct and fair to say that Pentecostals, with perhaps a very few exceptions, would agree that the speaking in tongues is not mere gibberish or unintelligible sounds, but a speaking in real languages, which, however, are unknown and unlearned by the speaker. Certainly that is the case with the sign of tongues as it occurs in the Scriptures both in Acts and in I Corinthians 12-14. When a believer is filled with or baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit so overpowers him that he is in a state of ecstasy with no control over his faculties. The Spirit then enables him to speak in other languages the praises of Jesus. This is the sign that one has been filled or baptized with the Spirit. 

Thirdly, this experience of Spirit baptism and its initial evidence in tongue speaking must be earnestly sought by believers. It doesn’t just happen, conditions must be met. Consciously, fervently, actively the seeker has to do these things. Often, too, he needs the assistance of others already filled with the Spirit. These must pray for him, lay hands on him before the Spirit will come. These conditions vary, but generally they are: worship, joyous faith, earnest expectation, praise and thanksgiving, obedience, separation from sin, intense desire, baptism, asking of God, etc. Consciously the seeker must exercise himself in these things, often it becomes for him a long and intense struggle before the Spirit will fill him. But the point is that the believer must fulfill these conditions before the Spirit will come. Once having fulfilled them and having been baptized with the Spirit he must continue in these conditions so as to retain the Spirit and receive the continuing gifts of the Spirit as listed in I Corinthians 12. Pentecostals are very insistent on this; one must totally yield himself, cleanse his heart of all known sins, pray fervently before the Holy Spirit will fill him. It is not difficult to recognize the Arminian and Perfectionist influences at this point. Let it be said that the Bible neverpresents faith, obedience, regeneration, prayer, etc., as conditions for salvation or for receiving the Spirit. These are fruits of the Spirit (cf., e.g., Gal. 5) or gifts of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Pentecostal theology is to be severely and uncompromisingly condemned at this point. 

The above, though a sketch, is a description of Pentecostal belief. In our next article, D.V., we shall examine the Biblical evidence in Acts and I Corinthians especially with this question: “Does the Bible teach that the Pentecostal experience of the Apostles and New Testament Church is to be repeated and sought after by believers today?”