Edited By: Leslyn Kim
Story #1 – It’s a Wednesday night service and a sheepish young teenager approaches the altar. He’s responding to the call to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There may have been multiple people who approached the altar that night, but he’s the only one that I remember. His story, in my mind, has always stuck out as particularly vexing. As the young man stood at the altar a very brief explanation was given on the person of the Holy Spirit, his role, function and the importance of his indwelling spirit within us to give us power in life. After the young man was prayed for, hands were laid on him and prayers were made in order for him to be filled with the spirit. Shortly after, he was asked to begin to speak in an unknown tongue. The young man just simply couldn’t find the proper foreign words to say. This approach was tried for several minutes with no success. Next, the appeal was made (all of this taking place before a crowded Wednesday night church service) to try his best to block out his intellect. That is, to let go of the natural mind and to simply begin to speak. The young man tried this as well with no success. The process continued with much coaching and cajoling for a prolonged period of time. Finally, a break was taken, and in a slight tone of frustration, the person leading the prayer re-entered the pulpit to give the congregants a monologue on why the young man was struggling to receive the spirit. It was a combination of his stubborn attitude, he surmised having known the young man, mixed with a lack of faith and disbelief. At that point, it became incredibly awkward for the young teen. Yet another attempt was made shortly after, again with no success.
I would imagine that the teen left that night with a mixed bag of emotions – self-doubt, discouragement, and I can only guess a bit of lingering distaste. Distaste perhaps in himself as he doubted his own faith, and possibly in the pastor and the church in general who watched him struggle for 30 minutes with very little encouragement received after his disappointing night. I can’t say for certain that he wasn’t consoled by someone before leaving, or maybe by his parents, but my heart went out to him.
It still grieves me to recount that story as I wonder what mixed messages were sent that night to the young man. Certainly none that can’t be overcome or corrected by the grace of God. But, that does not detract from the fact that an unfortunate scenario unraveled that may have caused unnecessary confusion for the teen and those looking on.
People will likely argue until Jesus comes back as to whether or not tongues are a sure sign of the filling of the Holy Spirit, how and when the Holy Spirit is received, who he is, and how it all unfolds over the life of the believer. Don’t believe me? Google it, and you’ll be convinced in no time. The argument continues to rage on, from those who don’t even believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today (Cessationists), to those who believe that tongues are the only true sign of Salvation (Oneness Pentecostalism). Those are only the two extremes. There are a plethora of positions in between that include:
1. Tongues are strictly the Spirit-given ability in order to witness to others in a foreign language
2. Tongues are one of many gifts of the Spirit given by God (according to his will) of which not everyone receives
3. Tongues are one of many gifts of the Spirit given by God (according to his will) of which not everyone will receive, but that everyone can have a form of the gift of tongues commonly referred to as a private prayer language
4. Tongues or private prayer languages are evidence of being filled with the Spirit, but not the only evidence
5. Tongues or private prayer languages are the only true evidence of being filled with the Spirit
6. The filling of the Holy Spirit occurs at salvation, and subsequent fillings should take place in the life of the believer throughout his walk through prayer and supplication (general non-Charismatic view)
7. An initial receiving of the Spirit takes place at salvation, but a second and unique filling of the Spirit can take place after salvation (known as “The Second Blessing”).
8. The Holy Spirit is one part of the tri-une Godhead. Each part being a unique entity yet all a part of one God (i.e. – one God in three persons)
9. The Holy Spirit is one manifestation of the nature of God. This deviates from the Trinitarian concept. It maintains that God manifested himself in the Old Testament as “Father”, in the New Testament as “Son”, and as the Holy Spirit after Christ’s resurrection and ascension (often associated with “Oneness Pentecostalism”).
I could continue to list even more subtle intricacies of each point, but I think you get my point. The number of beliefs held by Protestants about the Holy Spirit is incredibly diverse and complex.
Instead of trying to sort out all of the different beliefs and opinions on the Holy Spirit, I would like to focus mainly on one issue in relation to the story above. Assuming that we believe the gifts of the spirit are for today, what scriptural examples of people being filled with the Holy Spirit do we have? What can we conclude from those stories in scripture that will helps us decipher how to receive the gifts of the spirit? In particular I will attempt to stick mainly to real life events that took place in the bible, to study how the baptism of the spirit unfolded and what took place in the life of the believers who were filled. Let’s dive right in!
Acts 2, is probably the most cited and referenced chapter in the bible as it relates to the baptism of the spirit.
New International Version (NIV)
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
The text concludes with the disciples speaking in real foreign languages that surrounding crowds witnessed in astonishment. Observing the miracle of the apostles speaking in their native languages led them to hear Peter preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were subsequently “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) as Jesus was preached. They repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus and received the spirit.
From the story we can conclude the following. 1) Twelve people spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost. 2), Three thousand people were saved. 3), The promise that Christ made in Acts 1 was fulfilled–that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came, to witness about Jesus.
Therefore we should conclude that the object of the story was not about speaking in tongues nor the power of the gift, but that men were saved as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit moving on their hearts through hearing the gospel preached. The tongues were a sign, and a very important one that supplemented their conversion.
New International Version (NIV)
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter and John pray over new believers, Samaritans, who had already been baptized in the name of Jesus in order to receive the Holy Spirit. The text never clearly says that the Samaritans’ experience with the baptism resulted in them speaking tongues. However, Simon obviously saw something that made him want the gift of the Spirit, so one could conclude that what he witnessed was the Samaritans speaking in tongues.
Again, the text here indicates that the apostles are continuing to fulfill Jesus’ promise that the power of the Holy Spirit would compel them to be witnesses. This again is the main focus of the text. The idea that the apostles first receive the spirit, and then subsequently grow the church by praying for others to receive the Holy Spirit, so that they will then be empowered to go and share the gospel. The tongues in Acts 8, serve as sign for Simon, that makes him then desire the baptism of the Spirit. God is genius! The church is growing like wildfire literally by the power of the spirit, who’s causing people to witness to others about Jesus
After Peter has seen a vision and Cornelius (Greek gentile) is visited with special instructions by an angel, they meet together. Peter, begins to share the gospel message with Cornelius by the power of the Spirit, once again fulfilling Christ’s promise. Before Peter can even finish sharing the gospel the Holy Spirit came on all of the Gentiles who heard the message and they began to speak in tongues. Afterwards they were baptized in the name of Jesus.
New International Version (NIV)
Paul in Ephesus
19 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues[b] and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Here again, the good news is preached and afterwards twelve men are filled with the spirit and begin to speak in tongues. These events constitute the four places in the bible where the gift of tongues is mentioned during the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve almost gotten ahead of myself here, but I will conclude by drawing some conclusions in relation to the story above. Let’s go back to the questions that I proposed above: What can we conclude from those stories in scripture that will helps us all to decipher how to receive the gifts of the spirit? Should we simply pray and wait for God’s answer, or do we need a more aggressive approach?
In each example from scripture (in Acts only, there are more) we see that the act of being baptized in Holy Spirit (after the day of Pentecost) occurs through the prayers of believers for those who are ready to receive Christ or who have already. Whether or not this is considered a second or later filling is for another blog post, and honestly I’m not sure it matters much anyway. . The other constant theme that we witness is that it is purely a work of God. None of us can travel back in time to witness the event, but the stories are remarkably similar. In no instance does it appear that any LOUD coaching, cajoling, screaming in petition or demanding to God. Nor is assistance and prodding using jargon or “cliche” tongues/private prayer language hints (i.e. – Just repeat after me these words…… “huh na muh tie” and then start saying your words) given to anyone who received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.
Quick prayer: “Lord, please forgive me if that last sentence is in any way offensive to your work and power. Even if men are guilty of teaching tradition, I do believe they are only doing what they thought they knew best at the time” Amen!
It appears that people simply received the baptism and begin to speak in an unknown language, which is likely a real foreign language that other witnesses could understand. The best example to summarize that point may come from Acts 10 – where Peter never even has the chance to pray for those in the house of Cornelius: “44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.”
In other words, the behavior of the apostles in the early church (in regards to their handling of the Baptism of the Spirit) seems much more consistent with the God and Jesus of the New Testament. Meaning, God is all-powerful, sovereign, providential, and he provides the power that we do not possess. Although we are conduits of his power, there was never any confusion as to who was doing the work. No amount of human coaxing and tampering could persuade God to pour out his Spirit. The key to being baptized in the Spirit was an open mind, a softened heart, and believing in Jesus.
I feel that the story of Simon provides a great modern day context for the opposite. Simon wanted to be Baptized in the Spirit so bad, and coveted the gifts so much that the gift itself became his focus even though he had already believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13)! His misplaced focus on the gift over receiving the giver led him astray. He desired the gift more than the giver.
This is what grieved my spirit for the young teen that Wednesday night. What message was sent to him and the congregation as he left that night “unsuccessful” in his pursuit to be baptized in the Spirit. He failed to receive the gift, therefore he failed to receive God’s approval and power (the Spirit)?
This is why a closer study of scripture and doctrine matters today, because unsound doctrine often misrepresents God’s glory and power before men.
Stay tuned for The Desert – Story #2……