The new Pentecostal movement seems to this observer to be a genuine movement of the Spirit of God renewing his church. I speak as an observer who, though standing outside the new Pentecostalism proper, has learned to appreciate it from personal involvement in charismatic groups, both Protestant and Catholic. From these experiences I have emerged a stronger and better Christian. I agree with Karl Barth that there may often be too little of the pneumatic in the Church, but never too much. Therefore, it thrills my soul to see multitudes of people allowing the Spirit to operate freely in their midst.
No useful purpose would be served, however, if I limited myself to an uncritical commendation of the movement, nor would I fairly represent the actual opinions of those evangelical Christians who stand outside it. The new Pentecostalism has occasioned a division, sometimes quite bitter, within the evangelical community. I wish to enter into a discussion with the movement on some of the issues that divide us. It may be that through discussions such as these we will come to understand each other better, and penetrate the mind of God more exactly, so that a more perfect unity and cooperation will result for the good of the Church and of all mankind.
Our Gratitude To God
According to Scripture the Church is a charismatic community. It is the human assembly that has received the eschatological gift of the Spirit. There would be no Christian existence at all were it not for this blessed outpouring. One of the most fundamental things the Bible has to say about the church is that it is the creation of the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals who place the highest value upon a personal relation with Jesus Christ through the Spirit in the fellowship of his Church can hardly fail to praise God for the vivid appreciation of this truth within the new Pentecostalism.
For too much of its history the Christian Church has been “binitarian.” It has neglected, theologically and practically, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. If we are honest, we have to express our shame at the worldliness and spiritual ineffectiveness of a large portion of Christendom, both yesterday and today. The Church needs nothing more than it needs a supernatural visitation of the Spirit of God.
The new Pentecostalism has arisen to meet this need. Because of this, evangelicals outside the movement can only lay aside their objections and thank the living God, who is once again renewing his people. For the emphasis with fresh urgency that believers be filled with the Spirit of God we are deeply grateful. And the fruit of this movement is unmistakable. I find a renewed devotion to Jesus Christ, a new steadfastness in the faith, a new authority in witnessing, an expanded prayer life, and above all a fresh exuberance of joy in walking daily with God.
Evangelical religion in our day has tended to become overly intellectualized and “Apollonian.” We have become insecure in the presence of the strange, paralogical powers of the free, dynamic Spirit. And instead of lamenting our deficiency we have sought to restrict the outpouring of the Spirit to the first century so as to direct attention away from our own spiritual poverty. As Rodman Williams has observed in Era of the Spirit, we shrink from the unpredictability of the Spirit; we crave blueprints that will map his operations and leave us at ease; we prefer our quiet lethargy to the explosive situation in which anything might happen. The new Pentecostalism is a well justified protest against the cold and impersonal form that institutional evangelicalism has often taken. It is paralleled by far less biblical reform proposals that also press for “Dionysian” religion of a more ecstatic kind (e.g., Harvey Cox, Feast of Fools; Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, III, 114–20). Unlike them, this movement is likely to have staying power, because it is at root an invitation to recover the authentic doctrine of the Spirit in its full biblical context.
Alongside our real appreciation, evangelicals outside the movement also experience some hesitation theologically. For it appears to us as if, despite the best of intentions, there has taken place a degree of doctrinal malformation at certain key points in the new Pentecostal theology. For this reason, a minority of us (this observer not included) have been completely turned off and have sought to discredit the whole movement. But a growing segment of evangelical opinion would like to see a doctrinal development that would break down the walls that divide us and at the same time represent the biblical concerns of both sides more adequately than has as yet been possible. For it would be little short of catastrophic if there were to develop an ever-widening rift among fellow believers. Only Satan could be pleased with such a turn. The way to avoid this, it seems to me, is to keep on probing into the central issues, not separately but cooperatively, in order to find the mind of God, which none has yet exhausted, and if possible to achieve a clearer and more accurate articulation of the authentic religious values that grip us all.
1. The subsequence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. A basic element in the theology of the new Pentecostalism is the teaching that the believer ought to seek a post-conversion baptism in the Spirit, in order to obtain full power for Christian service and to receive the full complement of charismatic gifts. Historically this emphasis on a second work of grace stems from the Methodist-holiness movement, mediated by its vigorous daughter classical Pentecostalism.
Evangelicals cannot see how such a concept can fail to detract from and demean the initial encounter with the Spirit through saving faith in Jesus. If we wish to speak of the baptism in the Spirit, surely we must reserve the expression for the initial saving encounter which is Christian conversion. To be a Christian at all is to be baptized by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and to receive Him as a gift (Acts 2:38). Through Jesus alone we receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:14). According to Peter, the baptism of the Spirit was what the disciples and the three thousand received on the day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15–17). It looks to evangelicals as if the new Pentecostals, like the old, are setting up a two-plateau schema of the Christian life, with faith in Jesus admitting one only to the lower and inferior level. Any doctrine that gives that impression is either unscriptural or, as I think, defectively formulated.
At the same time, “baptism” is a flexible metaphor, not a technical term. Luke seems to regard it as synonymous with “fullness” (Acts 2:4; cf. 11:16). Therefore, as long as we recognize conversion as truly a baptism in the Spirit, there is no reason why we could not use it to refer to subsequent fillings of the Holy Spirit as well.
This later experience, or experiences, would not be tied in with the tight “second blessing” schema but should be seen as actualization of what we have already received in the initial charismatic experience, which is conversion. On such an understanding, evangelicals could be united. The weakness of the Church, the abnormality of so much contemporary Christian living, would not be seen as the failure to go beyond saving faith and seek something beyond Christ. It would be understood as the failure of Christians to appropriate on a day-by-day basis all that we really have in Jesus (Eph. 1:3). The fullness is in him, and to him believers must be urged to go. We are complete in him (Col. 2:10).
Is not the genuine thrust of the new Pentecostal movement, not calling Christians to a second experience of grace, but calling them to the charismatic fullness of the first? Such a refinement of emphasis, if it is acceptable to the movement, would have a healing and irenical effect upon the Body of Christ in our time.
2. The conditions of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. An unfortunate result of this undue emphasis on the second work of grace has been the teaching of the conditions under which the experience may be received. Inevitably, if we suppose that only some believers enter into it, the reason must be that these have met the conditions of the baptism and others have not. This teaching could even go so far as to imply that some deserve this blessing while others do not. In short, the movement could very easily degenerate into something for which the least appropriate term would be “full gospel.”
Evangelicals find the New Testament very clear in stipulating that the only condition for receiving Christ, and his Spirit, is simple faith. Believing in Jesus releases the fullness of his Spirit (John 7:37–39). Through faith alone this promise of the Father comes to us (Gal. 3:3, 14). The obedience Peter refers to in his answer to the high priest is the obedience of faith in Jesus the Christ (Acts 5:32). On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit did not fall only on some of the disciples, those who had fulfilled certain conditions; it fell on all of them. No one was passed over because he failed to meet some condition beyond that of faith. Even their waiting was as unstrenuous as possible.
Yet precisely here the new Pentecostals can teach the broader evangelical community. Faith once and for all in Jesus is not the way to fullness and fruitfulness. There must be an abiding in Christ and a walking in his Spirit, an ongoing trust and openness to all that God has for us.
The new Pentecostal movement calls other Christians to give up their practical unbelief in the power of the Spirit and to adopt a stance of openness and expectancy—in short, the stance of faith, the one condition without which the Spirit is not free to work. On this point both sides must change. New Pentecostals must refrain from any semblance of making the gift of the Spirit dependent upon human achievement, and other evangelicals must begin to appreciate the fullness that God has indeed poured out upon his people.
3. The evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The new Pentecostals do not agree on this subject. Some of them insist that the baptism in the Spirit be attested by the physical sign of speaking in tongues. But others remain flexible on the subject. They can envisage the possibility of Spirit baptism apart from glossolalia. But even they usually go on to say that the tongues experience, though not normative, is nonetheless normal and valuable. They seem to believe like the others that everyone touched by the charismatic renewal is meant to speak in tongues. To sum up, for the new Pentecostals speaking in tongues is either the indispensable or else a highly desirable evidence that one has received the coveted baptism in the Spirit.
All non-Pentecostal evangelicals would question the biblical basis for making glossolalia the normative sign of the baptism in the Spirit. A minority of us (this observer excepted) would go further and argue that all supra-normal gifts ceased being given after the close of the apostolic age. This view, first developed by Augustine, has become influential among present day evangelicals through the writings of B. B. Warfield.
The new Pentecostal movement, in my judgment, is entirely correct in repudiating this theory. Even if it could be established (which it cannot) that the supra-normal gifts were withdrawn, we could not safely conclude that the Spirit is incapable of bestowing them again should the need for them arise. We have no right to try to bind God’s hands with a tenuous theological theory that has the effect of denying him the power to grant spiritual gifts to his Church. It is entirely misleading to distinguish arbitrarily between normal and supra-normal gifts, and to assume that the supra-normal gifts were marks of the apostles. According to First Corinthians 12, they are marks of the body of Christ, and as far as tongues are concerned we can do no other than to follow Paul’s command, “Forbid not!” (1 Cor. 14:39). We may request legislative controls for speaking in tongues in a public assembly, but we may not forbid the phenomenon altogether. It is this closed-mindedness on the part of many evangelicals outside the new Pentecostal movement that poses the greatest threat to the unity of our life and witness.
But let us now focus upon the issue on which evangelicals do not disagree, namely, the normativeness of glossolalia. This teaching is wrong in two ways. First, Scripture does not teach that the only sure sign of the baptism in the Spirit is in tongues. If it did, Luke’s silence on the matter in reference to the three thousand saved at Pentecost and to the experience of the Samaritans in Acts 8 is inexplicable. And, surely, their occurrence at Caesarea was a sign, not because they were expected or usual, but precisely because they were unexpected and unusual. Only the most irrefutable proof would convince bigoted Jewish Christians of what they ought to have accepted without a supernatural sign. Non-Pentecostal evangelicals cannot accept the idea that glossolalia is the normative initial sign of the baptism in the Spirit.
The second objection to this notion is that it is theologically misdirected. The New Testament epistles have a good deal to say about the initial evidences of an encounter with Jesus Christ by his Spirit, and nowhere do they make supra-normal gifts the sign of it. Confessing Christ as Lord, ascribing diety to him—this is the test of genuine charismatic experience (1 Cor. 12:3). The ability to cry “Abba, father” is the evidence of the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 4:6). It is our experience of the love of God that assures us of his outpoured Spirit (Rom. 5:5). It is in our relations with our neighbors that the authenticity of our spirituality is tested (Gal. 5:25 f.). Is it not Paul’s evident concern in writing to the Corinthians that they ought to concentrate on love and gifts that edify the Body rather than promote a sensational, but not very profitable, gift? It is a very common misconception to think of gifts as principally exceptional or miraculous phenomena. Paul would have us concentrate on those everyday duties, that, though they are unobtrusive, build up the Church. Self-edification is not a high Christian goal. Prophecy is preferred because of its ability to serve the people of God.
I would like to appeal to the new Pentecostals to correct a one-sided emphasis on tongues-speaking. Many of us outside the movement are quite prepared to grant that glossolalia ranks in the list of bona fide spiritual gifts that God is pouring out on us in these days. Would it be out of the question for its leaders to drop the teaching of the normativeness of tongues, if in return non-Pentecostal evangelicals were to admit freely the full range of gifts and evidences that the Spirit has given? For my part, the new Pentecostal movement has been raised up, not to divide the Body on a spurious doctrine of normativeness, but to open our eyes to the diversity of spiritual manifestations of which we had hitherto been unaware.
Words Of Caution
In conclusion, I should like to add three cautions as a theologian observing with great interest and concern the new Pentecostalism.
1. Just as there has been a unitarianism of the Father and of the Son, so there can be a unitarianism of the Spirit, in which everything is subordinated to personal experience and intuition. There is a certain tendency within the movement for people, when pressed on questions like those above, to appeal to personal experience. The exegetical difficulties are more than balanced by the experiential proofs in Christian lives. I submit that this is a dangerous procedure. The Spirit who indwells us is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Jesus of history and the Christ of Scripture. He is the same Spirit who speaks infallibly in the words of the Bible (Heb. 3:7), and he does not contradict himself. One of the alarming features of liberal theology today is its tendency to reduce the Gospel to existential concerns, and to confuse the Word of God with the opinions of men. It would be sad indeed if the new Pentecostalism were for some the door into the theology of human subjectivity.
2. It is easy to equate the presence or absence of the Spirit with our changing human emotions. God’s promises concerning the Spirit should not be devalued in this way. He is with us always, in every situation (John 14:16; Matt. 28:20). Do we need more than his Word for it? This insatiable desire for tongues sometimes seems to stem from the desire to prove God’s promise when we ought simply to believe it. A passion to know that one has been baptized in the Spirit often comes through. Why is not the promise of our Saviour and the witness of the Spirit in our hearts crying “Abba!” sufficient for us? Can it be wrong to walk by faith and not by sight?
3. The impression is sometimes given that we ought to engage in two movements of faith, one in Jesus for salvation and one in his Spirit for power. The New Testament, however, contains no command to believe in the Spirit for the simple reason that the Spirit is Christ’s and in Christ. Not only does this double-faith idea detract from the full sufficiency of Jesus; it also tends in the direction of tri-theism. According to my understanding of the trinitarian dogma, we do not have communion separately with the three personae of the Godhead. Rather, we trust in the one triune God, who is eternally a Thou to us, and who is not known in one of his modes of existence except as he is known in the others as well. To think of establishing a faith relationship with each of the personae of the trinity separately seems to me inescapably tritheistic in its implications.
Let me make a final appeal. Let us not permit Satan to use the occasion of the new Pentecostal revival to drive evangelical believers from one another as he has used eschatology, social practices, and the sovereignty of God in the past. Now that some old wounds have healed, let us not create any new ones. If schism is to be avoided, evangelicals outside the movement must abandon their unscriptural resistance to the truth that is in it, and the new Pentecostals themselves will have to press on to theological formulations that conform better to the biblical standards.
It is commonly charged that the new Pentecostalism breeds division in the Church. I would not want to conclude without indicating where I think the greatest problem lies in this regard. Undoubtedly some of the blame may be attributed to the movement for failing to show that all its emphases were unequivocally biblical. But the greater problem lies with the non-Pentecostal evangelicals themselves. We have not taken the movement seriously as a work of the Spirit of God. At best we have tolerated new Pentecostals in our churches, at worst driven them out. We have not exercised mature Christian leadership in this matter. It is high time that evangelical leaders begin to think about how to integrate the charismatic movement into the life of the Church, and stop treating its members as spiritual lepers. The Roman Catholic Church and the liberal denominations have far surpassed us in maintaining the unity of the body.
Having posed some questions to the new Pentecostalism in the name of non-Pentecostal evangelicals, I wish to direct one to them: How can our professed openness to the fullness of the Spirit be reconciled with our overall negative attitude toward a movement that in its deepest intentions desires nothing else itself and gives abundant evidence of possessing a spiritual fullness that we desperately need in our own midst?
George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”
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