Edited By: Leslyn Kim
The Desert (Story #1):
I have stories from both sides of the tracks, but far fewer than from the desert. (This doesn’t makes sense to me…what is the desert). So, I won’t pretend to be an expert in this category. If you felt the other two stories from the jungle were long winded, then have no fear. I’ll keep these stories brief. However, before I get started I want to be clear that the brevity of the stories makes them any less extreme than the jungle. I just have less information to share based on my background.
It’s the Summer of 1998, and I’m living in Portland, Oregon during a summer internship. That summer I shared an apartment with two other roomates. I made some great friends that summer, two people in particular who I came to know pretty well. Eventually I learned that both of them were Christians and that only further solidified our bond. None of us had found a local church body, or made an effort to connect to during our time there, but at some point we collectively decided that we would attend a church service together.
About halfway through the summer we all decided to attend mid-week church service. We drove from the suburbs to the downtown area in the city and entered a small commercial business building where the service was being held. The group attending the service was small, and I can’t remember what denomination the church was, but I do remember feeling out of place. The praise and worship was ultra-conservative. I got the feeling that had I even closed my eyes while singing to focus on God that I would have stuck out like a sore thumb. There was no meet-and-greet to transition between the praise & worship music, no hugs, no shaking of hands, just cut and dry, stick to the regularly scheduled program – praise and worship, announcements, sermon, home. LOL
The sermon that night was on the Holy Spirit. I can’t quite remember what text was used, but I’m guessing that part of it came from 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Romans 8:9. Both versus are proof text for those who believe in only one necessary baptism “in the spirit”. The idea being that when someone is saved they are immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, and that the two events and concluding results are inseparable. That night the pastor laid out his defense for why one filling of the Holy Spirit was not only scriptural, but the only necessary one for the believer. It was the first time that I had ever heard, or experienced Christians who embraced a belief about the Holy Spirit so radically different from what I had grown accustomed to knowing. His concluding remarks focused on how one filling of the spirit at salvation was adequate for the Christian life.
As my friends and I departed the service that night and headed back to our apartment a discussion about the sermon came up. What did each of us believe about “that whole thing”. That’s usually how mysterious topics like these (about the Holy Spirit) are phrased and presented….”How you we FEEL about that whole thing?” Funny, isn’t it?! Anyway, there were varying opinions. One person said that they didn’t really believe in all of that “stuff”. Meaning the shouting, being slain in the spirit, tongues and prophecies etc…. The other person, who I’m still close with seemed open to “all of it”, but non-committal one way or the other. I simply explained that I didn’t really believe “it” in the way it was preached, but understood why people have their hesitations about. I guess I was hoping to bridge the awkward gap there. I can’t really remember what I was thinking at that moment, but I do recall afterwards reflecting more seriously on what I believed.
Was what I heard in the sermon that night true? Where did I really stand on all of “that stuff”? Almost all evangelicals believe in the power and necessity of the Holy Spirit. The real controversies arise over two issues. The first is over how the Holy Spirit is received by the believer (i.e. – at salvation, after salvation, during a second-filling, or continually). The second area of controversy is over the gifts of the Spirit, and whether or not they are for today (Cessasionist vs. Continuist). Even most Cessationists believe that there is one baptism in the Holy Spirit, followed by a need for an on-going and continual filling of the Spirit after.
On Receiving the Holy Spirit (once, twice, three times and many more):
In reality almost all Protestants are in agreement on the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring at salvation and some later filling(s) of the Spirit afterward. There however may be some minor disagreement over how the later fillings should or can occur. Where Charismatics may believe in the individual being the initiator of the second filling, but the filling being the sovereign work of God, a traditional evangelical would probably see subsequent fillings as the complete and sovereign gift of God, not prompted by any individual’s will.
Regardless of how it happens, I want to touch on just a few scriptures in the New Testament that I feel dispel the idea that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a one-and-done type of deal. The first is in Acts 4, where we find Peter and John thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, and healing a crippled man. Peter is then brought before the rulers and elders to explain by which power he had done everything:
“8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’[a]
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
I want to point out two things here. First, this is all occurring post-Pentecost. Peter has already been filled with the spirit, spoken in tongues, and given special power (as promised by Christ) to witness about Christ (Acts 1). One of the key portions of the text above are the first five or six words…. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit”. At first glance, the text seems to be confirming that Peter had been filled (past tense, day of Pentecost) with the spirit. However, if you study the phrase “filled with the Spirit”, it actually denotes that Peter received a fresh filling of the Spirit for that very moment, in order to testify about Christ. For those who may struggle with the idea of being filled again, post salvation, the ending of the story only further reinforces the need for it. After Peter had addressed the crowd he and John return back home, shared with fellow believers what had happened, and then pray. That prayer ended with the place where they were meeting being physically shaken, and the scripture says that they were all “filled (present tense) with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31). So, here again we see people already filled with the Spirit at Pentecost being filled again. There are other examples from scripture, that support multiple and subsequent fillings (key word) in the Spirit.
That leads me to draw some conclusions from the desert story above. What’s so bad about it? “How can someone be logos-only and disregard texts like Acts 4?” Well, most of them don’t. Even Cessasionists don’t. Pretty much all Protestants believe in the Holy Spirit being necessary for a strong and fruitful Christian life.
I do however see the general skepticism toward anything related to the Holy Spirit as a natural result of a strict “logos-only” mindset. An attempt to comprehend all things spiritual with the mind alone, at the neglect of experience and emotion, can lead to a leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). It goes without saying that the many miracles in the bible can’t be comprehended with the natural mind. Peter fishes all day and catches nothing only to be accompanied later by Jesus and mysteriously pulls in a catch so large that it almost sinks his boat. Jesus multiplies 2 fish and five loaves to feed a huge crowd. Paul, or possibly another man fell into a trance, was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things. Peter James and John witnessed Jesus being transfigured before their very eyes and afterward holding a conversation with physical manifestations of Moses and Elijah right in front of them. The list of miraculous signs and wonders literally goes on and on. Point being, all of these stories, experiences and events were not revealed through scripture alone. No amount of studying the Torah could have prepared Peter and the other disciples, I would guess, for what they experienced on the day of Pentecost. Experiencing the presence of God through the power of the Spirit enhanced their faith. While this is not necessarily a direct parallel with receiving a “rhema-word” it does involve personal experience that is external to scripture. The key is that in order to avoid being mislead or misleading ourselves we need to hold all things accountable, best we can, to what we know from scripture (the logos).
Perhaps the most skepticism about the Holy Spirit are exposed over the controversy surrounding the The Gifts of the Spirit. Stay tuned for Part 6 – Desert Story #2, where I discuss the gifts of the Spirit.