Over at the FutureAG blog, Paul Steward wrote a post called, "Identity Crisis," which is about how the younger generation feels about the Assemblies of God. Many of the responses (including mine) focus on what is essential to Pentecostalism. Apropos of much of that discussion, I’m posting an article my dad wrote four years ago called, "The Substantial Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit."
I have just returned from a conference with 200 of our national leaders and missionaries from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. In 16 countries – many whose names are so sensitive the name of the nation itself cannot be put in print – the Gospel of Jesus Christ is seeing significant advance despite great hardship, threats and persecution.
Over the course of three days, we listened to reports from the delegations in country after country describing the coming of the Gospel in power to their lands. I sat with countless numbers of these leaders, including the two young sons of martyrs for the Gospel – now ministers themselves back in the very places where their fathers laid down their lives for the Gospel.
In many countries and cities where the church did not even exist 15 years ago, there are now individual congregations numbering over 4000. One such church has already planted over 100 churches and the mother church itself is only 11 years old. In countries where two decades ago you could count the number of believers on one hand, now you can number believers in Assemblies of God churches into the thousands.
I asked myself, “How has this happened.” I felt the Lord answered me with a phrase I have never heard before. “They are demonstrating the substantial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
In so many of our American churches these days, little emphasis is placed on the Holy Spirit. Those of us in leadership, out of concern over this neglect, urge our pastors and churches to pray for persons to receive the baptism in the Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues. But, WE MUST NOT STOP THERE.
Pentecostals have always believed and taught that speaking in other tongues is the initial physical evidence – it is INITIAL. We must have the initial – but we need to go past the initial to the SUBSTANTIAL and ongoing work of the Spirit. Article VII of our Statement of Fundamental Truths declares that with the baptism in the Spirit “comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 8; 1 Corinthians 11:26).”
Article VII also states: “With the baptism in the Holy Ghost comes such experiences as an overflowing fullness of the Spirit (John 7:37-39, Acts 4:8), a deepened reverence for God (Acts 2:43; Hebrews 12:28), an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work (Acts 2:42), and a more active love for Christ, His Word, and for the lost (Mark 16:20).”
We believe the Baptism in the Spirit brings the delight of initially speaking with other tongues – but if we stop there; this Pentecostal experience will have no ongoing fruitfulness. I grew up in the Assemblies of God when it was preached that the baptism of the Spirit is for the EMPOWERMENT of the believers for life and service – in short, the substantial evidence of the baptism in the Spirit resulted in our fulfilling Acts 1:8.
Years ago, Jess Moody wrote a book titled, A Drink at Joel’s Place. He compared what a church promises to the promises made by a bar. A bar promises liquor and if the patrons come in and the bartender says, “We’re out of liquor today, but we do have milk,” the patrons may put up with that for one time – but if it occurs several days in a row, the bar will soon be empty. (And wouldn’t that be wonderful!).
As a Pentecostal people, we also hold out a promise. We say that our churches are graced by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, what if when people come, there is no sign of His presence – no joy, little love, and no manifestation of the grace and power of Christ?
Jess Moody said that we falsely think the label of a thing is what sells it. But, people do not buy Coke because of the brand name. If Coca-Cola began adding a dash of lye soap to its formula, people would quit asking for it, requesting a generic cola instead. Or, if Kleenex began adding grains of sandpaper to its product, customers would go back to asking for facial tissue.
The fact is – we must become what we advertise or we’ll simply have no credibility. A “fighting” Pentecostal church is a contradiction in terms. A Pentecostal church without an emphasis on missions is likewise a contradiction in terms. A Pentecostal church without converts and without outreach is a contradiction in terms. In too many of our churches, there is little emphasis placed on persons receiving the baptism and fullness of the Spirit. And, we get what we preach or don’t preach.
I think the reason so many of our young people today are struggling intellectually with the doctrine of initial evidence is that in many churches they see no substantial evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. The only difference they see in their Pentecostal church and a non-Pentecostal church is that the Pentecostals speak in tongues (and there may be even little of that!). Brothers and sisters, speaking in tongues is the starting place for the baptism in the Holy Spirit – but there is far more to the work of the Spirit! We will have much more credibility in preaching the doctrine of initial evidence if that proclamation is backed up by the substantial demonstration of the Spirit’s power that propels believers into this world with anointed witness, a lifestyle like that of Jesus, and a boldness to heal the sick in body and heart, to cast out demons, and to bring good news to the poor.
This is an hour for us as Pentecostals to proclaim with new fervor both the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is that initial dynamic that catapults our experience beyond the natural and into the super-natural. But, if that’s all there is – we will be like a rocket launched into space that instead of going into orbit plunges to the ground like a dud. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is God’s great rocket booster to lift us past what the flesh can do and into the orbit of supernatural usefulness to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord. The orbit God’s wants for us is “that the word of God spread…the number of disciples…multiplied (Acts 6:6).
It is vital that we pastors and ministers live in a manner full of the Spirit and that we call our people to be filled with the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The early Pentecostals never even tried to argue people into the baptism in the Spirit, they lived and preached in such a way that people wanted what they had. If we have nothing to give other than arguments and theological defenses to our position, this generation will seek spiritual reality elsewhere. I am not saying that apologetics are not important – we must be able to give a reason for the doctrines we hold – but we must acknowledge that there will be no lack of persons responding to the work of the Spirit when, like Simon (Acts 8:18), they see a demonstration of reality.
I left the Cyprus conference challenged in my spirit to write you this note exhorting all of us to stir up the fire and preach not only the initial evidence, but the substantial and ongoing evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If we have only the initial evidence, but no empowerment – our young people will not even be desirous of the initial evidence. But, if they see the substantial evidence of empowerment which brings people to Christ and grows the church while God performs signs and wonders among us – then they will not only want the substantial evidence – they will also want the initial evidence as the gateway to the substantial and ongoing evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
George O. Wood
Ministers Letter, April 2003