Lighting Up the Dark Side

dreamstime_4237371Pentecostalism has undoubtedly made a monumental contribution to the practice of Christianity across the world. Traditional churches have shifted significantly in embracing supernatural workings of the Spirit and contemporary approaches to worship that were once anathematised. Some associated beliefs are the less palatable ‘dark side’ for many and have been adapted, if not actually consigned to the fringes of orthodoxy. Some merely dabble in the debate over seemingly awkward practices which are easily and conveniently eliminated with minimal consideration. There are generally three main concerns.

1) Subsequent or Simultaneous? Receipt of Spirit Baptism clearly follows well beyond salvation in Acts 8:14-17 and there is no contextual reason to believe this was a unique experience. Acts 19:1-7 shows receipt of the Spirit is ideally intended to accompany water baptism, but is nevertheless a distinct and separate experience (but occurring before water baptism in Acts 10:44-48). Paul refers to Spirit Baptism as a key aspect of Christian induction (1 Corinthians 12:13) which perhaps explains why he conceives of just ‘one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5). This affirms the role of the Spirit in empowering full participation in the body of Christ as intended by God. The one Exodus of Israel was for the purpose of entry to the Promised Land and, if the Red Sea crossing symbolises baptismal separation from the old life (1 Corinthians 10:2), then the Jordan River crossing symbolises a second baptism that is actually a logical extension of the first. It is not required to effect salvation, but facilitates induction into the fullest experience of the new life.

2) Necessity of Tongues. Speaking in tongues can be the supernatural utterance of a human language or a spiritual one (1 Corinthians 13:1 refers to both in identifying love as a chief motivator in operating spiritual gifts). The former is described in Acts 2 and the latter in 1 Corinthians 14:2 (in which tongues found in church services is used to speak to God, but to be interpreted if public). Its apparently minimised importance in 1 Corinthians 14:5 simply refers to its lesser usefulness in public services, without explicitly commenting on its usefulness in private prayer. After all, Paul says in the same verse that he wants everyone to speak in tongues. He does not contradict himself when suggesting in 1 Corinthians 12:30 that not all do, since he is intending to show that not everyone will within a church service (i.e. context shows this is the gift of tongues as a public utterance requiring interpretation, which is to be used up to three times in public worship according to 1 Corinthians 14:27). Therefore, the individual distribution of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:11 may be thought of as the will of the Spirit for a particular occasion and not for all time. Also, the idea that the gift of tongues was for the early church is a misreading of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, since tongues “cease” or “pass away” at death, not at some convenient point in history.

3) Tongues as Evidence. Receipt of the Spirit is consistently accompanied by tongues throughout Acts. In Acts 8:14-17, this is not explicitly mentioned, but Spirit Baptism was seen in verse 18. How? Possibly some other way, but could tongues really be excluded? If every other instance in Acts includes tongues, why not here? Paul’s receipt of the Spirit in Acts 9:17 is sometimes cited as an example in which tongues is not received, but he clearly spoke in tongues according to 1 Corinthians 14:18. Acts 4:31 is another, but it shows a continuation of what commenced in Acts 2, so tongues need not be mentioned here. Jesus didn’t speak in tongues, of course, because He was (and is) God and the gift came for the purpose of empowerment to witness (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). Also, 2006 neuroscience research validated the experience by measuring brain activity for tongues speakers, showing it to be voluntary, but uncontrived, as expected.

Of course, even if Spirit Baptism enhances the experience of the Christian life with empowered witness and miraculous signs following, many Pentecostals still fall short of this ideal, anyway. Rather than represent some supposed induction to a different class of Christianity it is simply about maximised service, not being an imperative gateway to all gifts but a means of optimising them. If Baptism in the Spirit implies overflow, then the Acts 2 and 4 duality suggests the importance of being refilled (as with a car’s fuel tank).

Outstanding non-Pentecostal Christians may openly acknowledge the absence of some Gifts of the Spirit amidst an abundance of other examples of fruitfulness but Pentecostals, conversely, may openly acknowledge different deficiencies (i.e. we ideally seek the ‘and’ of spiritual empowerment and not an ‘either/or’ encounter). Of course, Baptism in the Spirit is not centred in the spiritual regeneration of the born again experience, anyway, even though the Spirit must be present to enable confession of Christ as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). But, in the end, if we can desire spiritual gifts then why not eagerly seek what the Spirit wants to give us, anyway?

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