I spent my formative Christian years as a member of a small Pentecostal church which belonged to a large Pentecostal denomination called the Church of God out of Cleveland Tennessee. Speaking for this particular denomination there is a fundamental belief or doctrine which teaches that the initial evidence that an individual was baptized in the Holy Spirit is she will begin to speak in an unknown tongue (glossolalia).
I have heard many things come out of this doctrine over the years from Pastors, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, Bible College professors and others which I have struggled immensely with in light of the scriptures and also of practical experience. For example; one particular preacher boldly declared that the way to determine “if someone is a Christian or not is by whether or not they speak in tongues”. His conclusions where deductive in the following way: he’s not excluding those who do not speak in tongues he was simply affirming (what he perceived to be) the reality that if someone spoke in tongues they must be a Christian. My initial reaction to this brassy proclamation was to recall the words of Christ, they shall know we are His by our love [John 13:35], not by our glossolalia; Paul further declares that one who speaks in tongues but has not love is nothing more than a loud gong! [1 Cor 13:1.] Furthermore, since that experience I have met at least one person who no one would deny her Christianity, but when she began to speak in tongues it later manifested itself as demonic. That (once) popular preacher whom they called “fearless” is no doubt wrong.
Another example: Taking a Holy Spirit class in Bible College, my professor declared that by the end of the term everyone would be speaking in tongues (a sure sign of Spirit-Baptism). At the time I wondered how anyone could place such commands and restrictions on the Holy Spirit. As it turned out she was (nearly) right. I say nearly because from the experiences which I am aware of only two (so far as my memory serves me) did not receive “the Spirit” by evidence of “speaking in tongues” and I was one of them. Near the end of the course the second last person was being prayed over to receive it and I was more or less asked not to place my hands on him with the rest of the students because I did not speak in tongues – I silently walked out of the class. Later I was summoned to the presidents office where I was ordered to apologize or lose credit. In other words, a sub-class (a boundary marker James Dunn would say) was imposed upon the student body; those who speak in tongues were considered more powerful in the Spirit and in the Christian walk and those who did not were considered less. This is a very dangerous road to travel down.
Furthermore, it is interesting to point out that it was in that setting – one of those very students – who received a tongue in chapel in Bible College, and who’s tongue later manifested as demonic! I wonder in retrospect if there isn’t such a strong psychological pressure placed on these students, that their desire to speak in tongues and thus to be considered equal to other superior Christians, is so powerful that it actually opens them up to receive demonic influences as opposed to the influence of the Holy Spirit, or an impulse of the flesh. (I’ve been told before, “fake it ’til you make it”. No joke.)
Another example: I watched a young man receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (as is assumed by the evidence of tongue speaking) but who continued doing, selling, and buying drugs. It was his reputation. Another person accused me of some “hidden sin” because when a group of men prayed over me to receive the Spirit (aka. Speaking in tongues) for nearly three hours nothing happened. But later on that same young man was caught in an internet pornographic addiction! A teacher once declared that any person (even one who is addicted to some sin) who speaks in tongues has more power of the Holy Spirit in a single finger than Billy Graham (who, as far as I know, does not speak in tongues). I began to wonder based on this philosophy why I, who was doing my dandiest to live a godly life, was being denied the Holy Spirit (assuming the evidence of tongues), while drug addicts, porn addicts and other overt sinners were granted the Holy Spirit (again, assuming the evidence of tongues)?
John Hick’s professes to be a Christian, but he denies the deity of Christ, the Atonement, the Incarnation, and refers to God the Father as “the Reality” – in short, Hick’s believes that God can be found in every religion manifested in different ways. One of the factors that have led Hicks to this conclusion (he was at one time a conservative evangelical) and polemic against Christian exclusivity (or soft inclusivity) is based on a lack of morality among Christians who claim to have the Spirit! In Hicks words, “Should not the fruit of the Spirit, which according to Paul is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Gal. 5:22-23), be more evident in Christian than in non-Christian lives? Yet it does not seem to me that in fact Christians are on average noticeably morally superior to …” [he lists several other religions, p.41]. Whether or not Hicks argument is relevant to his own discussion (Pinnock and McGrath believe it is not), his question holds certain relevance here: Why would God grant the Holy Spirit baptism to one who was, is, and continues to be unchanged in their sinful addictions, but denies the other Christian in who’s life the Spirit is very much evident according to the standard of Paul in Gal. 5?
Final Example: I want to add one more personal and life altering effect this belief within the Church of God denomination had on me.
I believed I had received a call to the ministry; by that I mean that aside from events and circumstances and ‘coincidences’ and the such that borderline miraculous, I have – ever since my teen years – received different “callings” from different people at different places and different times. In obedience to this “call” I travelled across the country for Bible College, spent time interning at a church on the opposite side of the country, ministered alongside a pastor friend in another city, have preached in various cities from Alberta to Nova Scotia, from North Dakota to Michigan and many places in between. Yet in all of this I have never been ordained and remain a lay reflective Christian. This is because I made a choice to stick with the only denomination I ever knew – and thus my tardiness and hesitance to leave due to a sense of having to ‘start afresh’ as it were. What was the problem? Simply this, an ordained minister must speak in tongues since it is assumed that one who speaks in tongues is baptised in the Spirit, and they do not want their leaders to not have the Spirit. It has been said and judged of me that if I were truly called into the ministry of ordination that God would equip me to do so by empowering me with the Holy Spirit as is evidenced by Speaking in Tongues; however, it is this very notion that is being called into question. The onus is not on God to further ‘prove’ my call with the gift of tongues, the onus is on the Church to align its teachings to what God has already said in his Word, and not place restrictions on the Spirit of God that prevent those who are called from entering into the ministry! So though I believe the entire premise is erroneous, nonetheless this is the predicament I found myself in.
One might ask, Derek what were you thinking spending all those years waiting, hoping, working and serving? The answer for many years was this: I was hoping that enough Pastors and Leaders in the Church of God denomination would one day vote at their national assembly to revisit and rethink this doctrine and its implications; indeed I had even wondered if I would somehow be a contributing catalyst to help the denomination progress in this way. And this brings us to Larry Vern Newman’s book The Ultimate Evidence: Rethinking the Evidence Issues for Spirit-Baptism; and in particular, to its forward which was written by Bruce Arnald Tucker, Ph.D. of the Church of God in Cleveland Tennessee; the very denomination of my roots and the rumblings of my hopes realized!
I have wanted to write on this subject for some time now – and indeed I even tried once or twice before – but I feared that the negative experiences I have had along these lines would color my writings with emotional rhetoric and bitterness. So I decided many times to withdraw from the subject, examine my heart – my motives and intent – and to wait until I sought forgiveness from God for the callousness which built up within me, and also, to forgive those who I feel have allowed this doctrine, which I believe is unbiblical and (evidently) harmful, to be used against me – albeit, unintentionally.
Thanking the Lord for this grace and extending mercy and forgiveness, I now believe that I can safely address this subject and even (as is evident above) share my own testimony of the effects this teaching can have on a believer, and do this out of a clear conscience.
I am very thankful for my experiences within the Pentecostal movement, for my growth and the emphasis of the Holy Spirit that was built in me. Because of these experiences and this emphasis being ingrained in me the Person and work of the Holy Spirit often (though often subtly) influences and can be felt within my theology. This observation is more critical then is usually credited for; often among mainline theologians, the person of the Holy Spirit is seldom (if ever) seriously addressed and given due credit. Yet – and I think, in part anyways, thanks to my Pentecostal background – the Spirit is no less recognized in my theology then God the Father or Jesus the Messiah (as a case in point: I have been contemplating coining the phrase “Covenantal Pneumism” in place of “Covenantal Nomism” as a means to more accurately articulate the Covenant relationship of the New Testament believer in relation to Faith and the Law [Romans 3:31, cf. Gal. 5], giving the Spirit prominence in a theology of the New Covenant!)
Furthermore, as a final note, I have many dear friends in the Church of God – brothers and sisters in the Lord – whom I love and cherish and strenuously wish to avoid offending. Many of them I went to college with, many I grew up with and one in particular – the most influential pastor in my life – who graciously accepted the position of standing next to me as the best man on my wedding day.
When Larry Newman employs the word “rethinking” he is revealing his cards, that he is a post-conservative Christian. When he says “The church faces grave danger exactly at that point where theological constructs are considered to be absolutes. In other words, our theology must always be open to adjustment or reformation when it is exposed to and judged by a fuller and more competent understanding of the Word of God” [p.xiv]; I think we should listen.
In the words of Bruce Tucker Ph.D. of the Church of God, Cleveland TN; “Let us then, welcome this work, examine it thoroughly and thoughtfully, and then respond to it in a manner that honors our witness to Jesus Christ” [p.ix] – amen.