“I am a Pentecostal!”
In many Christian circles the very mention of the name causes the erudite to react as did the philosophers at the appearance of Paul on Mars Hill: “What will this babbler say?” (Acts 17:18). In fact, the Pentecostal is classified by most of the Christian world as a fanatic who is guilty of behavior that is neither sane nor spiritual, and who holds to a doctrine of emotionalism centered in the expression of “gibberish” that could not possibly edify a Christian saint.
Meanwhile, the Pentecostal experience is having its effect upon men, and the discovery by a minority of persons of the dynamic of God’s spirit moving in human life is keeping alive the consciousness of an active God in this degenerating world.
Appeals are being made in our Christian society for more positive teaching on the activity of the Holy Spirit. It is because of such appeals that I am attempting to speak for my Pentecostal brethren, who feel that their views have been widely misrepresented and distorted by both the liberal and conservative wings of Christianity. We believe, in truth, that our theology is biblical and orthodox, even though our representation in the theological field is decidedly weak. It may be another decade before the Pentecostal faith can be set into a systematic theology. In clarifying some of the issues relating to our faith in God’s spiritual activity, however, we cannot even gain a hearing until we have first slain the giant of prejudice.
SEMANTICS AND THE SPIRIT
Today the subject of evangelism is being discussed everywhere by Christians. Pentecostals know something about evangelism. We believe that evangelism is one of the orthodox doctrines that has kept alive what little life we still have in the Christian world. We have seen men of God such as Billy Graham bear the brunt of systematic opposition to mass evangelism from those who advocate a more “realistic” approach to converting the human heart to God. In the “seat of theology,” Berkeley, California, where I studied during the 1958 “Crusade,” it was evident that the Graham type of evangelism was not wanted. The seminaries preferred to segregate theology into separate departments as a subterfuge to eradicate the conservative viewpoint. They preferred to devise a “special system of semantics” to further the doctrine of a “realistic” theology for modern man’s needs.
The contention that such “realism” is stimulating and intellectually superior, while orthodoxy is unimaginative and vapid, is a fallacy. One proof of the validity of a theological viewpoint is in what it produces. The masses will not profit by a systematic theology that caters only to the intellect rather than to the whole man. The outpouring of God’s Spirit in these last days is a religious awakening that is giving stimulus to a spiritual hunger. Intellectuals have had their opportunity in the last century to prove what man can do; now there is a theology emerging that is proving what God can do.
NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER
The apparent lack of dialectic on the part of the Pentecostal stems from two basic reasons: First, Pentecostals are comprised largely of Christians whose backgrounds do not furnish them with equipment for philosophic argumentation. Secondly, they recognize that there was wisdom in the injunction given by God that avoidance of words to no profit would increase their godliness (2 Tim. 2:14, 15). The reluctance has been shared by many in our ranks who are well qualified to deal with the subject of the moment. However, because of the failure of modern theologians to prove themselves capable of dealing with one of the most important theological issues of the last 19 centuries, namely, the activity of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation, the task falls to us of lesser minds. The challenge is given to us to articulate what most Christians view as a fanatical experience of an unpopular sect.
The apostle Paul’s apologetic for avoiding philosophic excursions was that he should not give the impression that knowledge through speculation could be substituted for knowledge through experience, “lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). We shrink from dialectic, but not for lack of reason for the hope that lies within us. On the contrary, those who challenge the validity and necessity of the Pentecostal baptism into the Holy Spirit will not heed Scripture; rather, they demand of us a rational explanation for the superrational reality that enters into a believer’s soul. We cannot so reason any more than Paul or the other apostles could. If we resort to argument alone in an effort to convey the reality of God’s activity in the human soul, we tend to make the cross of Christ of no effect.
Pentecost is almost synonymous with “tongues.” The popular modern view of the ecstatic equates it with 1 Corinthians 14:14 and then casts it aside as something to be abhorred. The classification of all ecstatic utterances as useless is a rejection of God’s gifts to the Church. The failure on the part of many to distinguish between “initial” and “subsequent” manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s activity has tended to cause a turning away from that which was unequivocally set in the Church as an essential function of spiritual edification.
The Christian who persists in refusing to acknowledge the Pentecostal experience (Acts 2:4) can never be persuaded with argument alone any more than a person can be persuaded to become a Christian by argument alone. Faith is the victory and becomes the essential motivation which enables an individual to believe that what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and later on in the streets of Jerusalem (Acts 2:6) were two distinct acts, one giving evidence of an initial infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and the other a subsequent manifestation of the gift of tongues to convince the unbelieving (Acts 2:6–11).
THE DEVIL IS NOT ASLEEP
We Pentecostals have as much, if not more, error creeping into our camps as any other group of believers. The only explanation we have is that whenever God’s Spirit moves, Satan sets up his counter-measures with tactics of delusion and false doctrine. Our camps have been decimated by his forces. Yet, despite such adversity, statistics reveal that Pentecostals are the fastest growing evangelical force in the world today.
The first thing Satan does is to attack the mind of the seeking Christian by planting fear in his heart. If he can prevent the Christian from seeking a more profound experience with God, then he can defeat Christ’s cause.
Jesus said in Luke 11:11–13, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Sprit to them that ask him?” If the devil can keep the Christian from asking God for more of his Spirit, he will be able to trick, deceive, and defeat the Christian society until it becomes so insipid and worldly that it has no life-giving appeal. It will topple over into dead orthodoxy or revert to a rationalistic religion that can never have appeal to the masses in our world that are finding themselves in a spiritual vacuum which is rapidly being filled by the anti-Christian forces of international communism.
AS THE SPIRIT BLOWS
If there ever was a time when the people of God should seek a Holy-Spirit outpouring it is now in this fast-changing world! Perhaps if the evangelical churches had not been so fearful of spiritual exercise and had exerted proper teaching and discipline, there would not have been the necessity for a Pentecostal Movement so-called. Nevertheless, the reaction of the formalistic against the free-moving of the Spirit established barriers. Pentecostals are not such merely because they demand liberty to allow the Spirit to move as he wills nor because they desire to bask in the ecstatic experience of tongues. Neither are they justified in laying claim to any special endowment that would appear to lift them above their brethren as superior Christians; God forbid! Pentecostals are such because they have had an experience in the Holy Spirit that has revolutionized and challenged their lives. The experience has indelibly imprinted the necessity for evangelizing the world while there is yet time.
Acts 1:8 is the motivating basis for our existence: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea … and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” If we Pentecostals cease to function in this capacity, may God write “Ichabod” over our door!
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Lord, Thou needest not
Such gifts as I can bring.
Yet, from a grateful heart
These offerings do spring;
Take them, not as all
I owe to Thee, or part
But take them as a pledge
That Thou has won my heart. Amen.
JOHN C. COOPER
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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