John MacArthur sparked some intense dialogue the last few months after his “Strange Fire” conference and the strong and sweeping criticisms he espoused about the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements.
Overall, I believe the debate has been really good for the Body of Christ. (See one of the responses here)
I would even say it has prompted millions of believers to examine their own theology and experiences with the Holy Spirit.
I’ve long considered myself a “Charismati-gelical”, in the sense that I am both passionate about the authority of Scripture as the foundation for all matters of doctrine AND passionate about personally experiencing and encouraging others to seek the gifts, power, and freedom that the Holy Spirit brings.
This post won’t be a lengthy apologetic on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Neither will it be a lengthy critique of excess and abuse I’ve seen within the Charismatic movement. The purpose of this article is simply to address some mistaken beliefs about the Holy Spirit I’ve seen that are pretty common, while encouraging people to be eager for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’ve included an audio message at the end for readers who want to dive deeper into the issue.
Here is the point I’m making in this article:
When someone begins following Jesus, we should pray with them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Our evangelical culture has largely squashed this practice.
This was a common practice in Scripture.
(Note: For this article, I’m using the terms “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, “receiving the Holy Spirit”, and “being filled with the Holy Spirit” interchangeably. There may be scriptural evidence to delineate them, but I’m not doing that here. Regardless of semantics, I want believers everywhere to experience a rich and transforming relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit.)
Here are a few beliefs I’ve seen over the years among believers regarding the Holy Spirit. I believe each of these hinders a fuller understanding and relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Mistaken Belief 1:
“If God wants me to experience gifts of the Holy Spirit, He’ll just give them to me.”
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially that you may prophesy…” (I Corinthians 14:1)
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:11-13)
“Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them…” (Acts 19:6)
Implication: Your personal desire and seeking for the Holy Spirit is important.
If God will give gifts regardless of our desire for them, why did the Apostle Paul exhort people to eagerly desire gifts from the Holy Spirit? Why did Jesus say our Father in heaven gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask? Why were there so many examples (among varying experiences) when people received the Holy Spirit after specifically being prayed for?
Mistaken Belief 2:
“Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit the moment they become a believer in Christ.”
This one pains many of my evangelical friends, but there’s strong scriptural support that gives a different perspective.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.
“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
“Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.
And they replied, “The baptism of John.”
Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”
As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-6)
Implication: Of course the Holy Spirit is involved in your salvation. Of course he’s with you and will teach you. But the implication of scripture is that many people have secondary experiences where they personally receive the Holy Spirit (and tertiary, quaternary, quinary – Ok, I’ll stop. I had to google what came after tertiary anyway).
Think with me: Why would the Apostle Paul ask these believers if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed if – without question – people receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of believing in Christ? Why would Peter and John lay hands on new believers to receive the Holy Spirit after they’d already believed and been baptized? The Apostles Peter, John, and Paul evidently believed that the Holy Spirit (at least sometimes) came upon people after they became believers. How ironic that their views probably would have gotten them disqualified from leadership in many evangelical churches!
It is my personal experience, as well as my practice in ministry, to pray for every new follower of Christ to personally receive the Holy Spirit, as I see in Scripture. Have I seen my fair share of Charismatic abuses – manipulating people to speak in tongues (“Just repeat after me, “Yabba dabba doo….”), overemphasis on emotions, condescending attitude toward those who don’t practice gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc? Absolutely.
Nonetheless, it was a normative practice for the early church to pray for new believers to receive the Holy Spirit if they did not receive Him at the moment of their salvation. Sometimes people did receive the Holy Spirit right when they believed the good news of Jesus. See Acts 10 with Peter and Cornelius. Even in this case, however, the evidence given in scripture that they received the Holy Spirit was that they were speaking in tongues and praising God (Acts 10:46). The apostles never showed an entrenched belief that “it just happens automatically when you receive Jesus.” The presence of the gifts of the Spirit and the outbursts of praise to God were signs to the Apostles of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
Additionally, I have personally known numerous people who have followed Jesus for years who later had experiences with receiving gifts of the Holy Spirit that changed their views on this matter. Come on, for a moment, let’s step back from it being a theological issue and make it a personal one – Which one would you hope for: A walk with God that is continually growing, with new opportunities to learn and experience more gifts and powerful encounters with Him that you haven’t yet experienced? Or a walk with God in which the supernatural stories shown in scripture don’t occur anymore?
Mistaken Belief 3:
We should be suspicious and cautious about gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (I Corinthians 14:29-33)
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.”(I Corinthians 14:39-40)
Implications: Authentic gifts of the Holy Spirit can still be misused by immature or uninstructed people. Are we ever taught to be suspicious of Holy Spirit gifts? Never. Are we taught to use discernment and have order in our corporate gatherings, while fostering an attitude of eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit? Yes.
Corinth was like the “out-of-balance” crazy Charismatic church of the New Testament epistles. There’s a reason Paul wrote longer letters to them than to anyone else. How did Paul respond? Never – not one time – did Paul ever invalidate their experiences with the Holy Spirit. He instructed them how to use them more properly, keep love (not gifts) as their highest goal, and encouraged them to continue seeking for gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Where does this belief come from anyway, this belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit should be viewed with suspicion? Does it come from God, Scripture, satan, or humans? It’s definitely not from Scripture, or anything that God reveals about Himself in Scripture.
We have a role to play in how we use the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. These gifts shouldn’t be feared – people should be taught how to use them with maturity. I like to tell my Charismatic friends – “Look, you can have gifts of the Holy Spirit and still act stupid.”
In my experience, churches and ministries that foster an attitude of fear about the gifts of the Holy Spirit seldom make room for them to be practiced.
Here’s a story about one of them:
A few years ago, I trained a group of national staff from a respected college ministry in Central America. I didn’t know it at the time, but many of the staff had been instructed not to ever teach students about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One day, I taught a session on the Holy Spirit. A precious time of authentic reflection and discussion occurred at the end of my talk: Numerous people reported how they had experienced spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.) but they were embarrassed and ashamed to talk about it. As a result, the full benefit of these gifts had been squelched. I led the group in a time of repentance for not honoring the Holy Spirit and cultivating a cultural value in their ministry of eagerly desiring gifts of the Holy Spirit. Many people were set free from the shame they’d felt, and many people experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit that night.
Mistaken Belief 4:
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit have passed away.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“… eagerly desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit…” (I Corinthians 14:1)
This one is impossible to justify scripturally. That is, unless you’re playing Scrabble with the text or have a Salvador Dali approach to distorting pieces of scripture and placing them together completely out of context. I’ve just listed a few quick scriptures above among the gazillions (ok, maybe hundreds) that mention gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. The irony of those who teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased (called cessationists) is that it requires them to contradict their own beliefs about the authority of the Scriptures to make that argument. The argument for cessationism can’t legitimately be made from any scripture — taken in context or even remotely respectful to the text. Zilch. Nada. The New Testament overwhelmingly speaks of the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit being a present reality until the return of Christ and entering into eternity where we see him face to face. Cessationism is an entirely unBiblical view, disrespectful to the Scriptures and violating their clear precedents.
“But Erik, you should be nicer to those cessationists…”
I will give a note of empathy here. Many people don’t believe in gifts of the Holy Spirit or miracles simply because they haven’t yet seen authentic examples of them. I understand why people would doubt the miraculous if they haven’t seen it – it’s human nature. But that’s the self-contradiction of cessationism anyway – it’s not good hermeneutics (the process of interpreting the Bible) to interpret Scripture through the lens of our experience. We must interpret our experience through the lens of Scripture. As followers of Christ, we honor the Scriptures – regardless of our experience – and seek to have our lives match up to the testimony of Scripture. There’s a lot of things Scripture gives example of that I haven’t seen, either. I haven’t yet seen anyone raised from the dead. But I believe it happens sometimes. I have heard a number of legitimate personal stories from others who have raised someone from the dead. Oh, and I did raise our kids’ gerbil from the dead once, but that’s another story.
Mistaken Belief 5:
“The Holy Spirit is a divisive issue. We shouldn’t teach about the Holy Spirit for fear of offending.”
“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
“… don’t forbid speaking in tongues…” (I Corinthians 14:39)
“After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” (Acts 4:31-35)
Implication: The Holy Spirit doesn’t divide the Body of Christ. He unifies the body of Christ. Some would say, “Well, it’s not the Holy Spirit who is divisive, it’s certain people’s views about the Holy Spirit.” In my experience, I’m yet to see someone who is suspicious about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Holy Spirit teach on the Power of the Holy Spirit. Conversely, I’ve known plenty of overzealous charismatics who overemphasize charismatic gifts to the neglect of other functions of the Holy Spirit. That’s not the point. Regardless of your particular “camp”, “faction”, or denominational stream, the Scriptures are clear that when the presence and power of the Holy Spirit are reigning, it helps produce supernatural unity as Jesus intended. It is a lie and a grave mistake to ever treat the Holy Spirit — or any function of the Holy Spirit that is clearly presented in Scripture — as a divisive issue. The greatest unity we see among the early church occurred after times of supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Mistaken Belief 6:
“Only those who pray in tongues have received the Holy Spirit.”
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
This is a funny one to me. Yes, people spoke in tongues a lot in the Book of Acts. However, the Scripture has so much more to say about other gifts and the true evidence of someone who lets the Holy Spirit lead them. The rest of the New Testament speaks consistently of the role of the Holy Spirit in helping you produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I’ve known a lot of people who have received the gift of tongues who are relatively immature when it comes to growing in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I gave my seven year old a new bike last year. He loves it. He rides it like a champ. But the gift didn’t make him more mature. It simply showed my wife’s and my love for him. It empowered him to get more places. In a similar way, the gift of tongues (and other gifts) don’t make you a mature Christ-follower. It just makes you someone who’s received a cool gift from your Daddy.
A Balanced View
A beautiful thing happens when people grow in maturity, character, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and gifts of the Holy Spirit – the body of Christ grows up and we become more fruitful in our mission of discipling nations.
For those who would like to dive deeper into the issue, I’ve included the audio message of a presentation I did last year on the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit below. Many people experienced gifts of the Holy Spirit during this session.
It’s about an hour, so grab some coffee and get comfy.
May God continue to work in your life as you mature as His son or daughter and eagerly seek for more gifts that your Father in heaven wants to give you!
Got Pocket Disciple?
Erik Audio Teaching on Baptism of the Holy Spirit
(Recorded in Norway at Stammefeiring Tribal Gathering in 2013)