To Pentecostalism and Back2
As many of you know, I had a brief foray into the Pentecostal world. I was 22, a fresh graduate from Dordt College, and I visited First Assembly of God, on 44th street in Wyoming, sporadically for about 1 ½ years. I also attended a fascinating (strongly charismatic) Friday night Bible study for about a year. There were about 40 of us, mostly young people, all very hungry for a personal relationship with the Lord.
That was the thing that intrigued me about the charismatics. They worshiped like God was really there. They prayed like they expected God to answer. They studied the Bible as if it were God’s personal, hand-written note to them. They talked about evangelism as if it were a normal part of the Christian life. They spoke in tongues, sang with their hands raised, and used language like “God spoke to me”. And they strongly suspected that this Dutch, CRC, farm boy was in dire need of a “second baptism” of the Holy Spirit!
Someone recently asked me, “So, what brought you back to the Reformed faith?” That’s a good question.
As I look back, I realize that, in most ways, I never really left. Wayne Benson, the pastor at First Assembly, was an excellent preacher and an ardent Arminian. The first time I heard him say that “God has tied his hands behind his back. He would never force himself on you. He fully respects your free will”, I nearly choked on my Wilhelmina peppermint. I went to the “prayer room” after the service, (they invited anyone), and tried to discuss Romans 9 with a confused prayer volunteer. Arminianism never made the slightest sense to me.
The proper work and role of the Holy Spirit, however, was something I needed to work through. Does God still speak to people today? Is speaking in tongues an important (even necessary) evidence of the presence of the Spirit? Is there a “second blessing” – the first into salvation and the second into the fullness of the Spirit?
I was suspicious of ongoing revelations (and prophecies) from God. The Bible study leader told some fascinating stories about God revealing things to him – like which house to buy. But the only “revelations” that seemed reliable and worthwhile were direct quotes from Scripture – which seemed to suggest ongoing revelation isn’t necessary. Most of the “prophecies” I heard were vague or flatly wrong - like the earnest young man “declaring” a fellow Bible study member healed of heart disease by quoting the KJV of Ps 57:8 “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”. I deeply appreciated the zeal. It just didn’t seem “according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2).
Speaking in tongues was also a let-down. I was encouraged to “try” – so I spoke some gibberish. Earnestly, too. But in spite of the enthusiastic praise I received, I knew perfectly well it was gibberish. Once again, when someone “translated” the tongue, they quoted Scripture. Which was great – but seemed to make the “tongue” irrelevant.
The idea of a “second blessing” took some time and study. It was an intriguing thought. Could I be miraculously set free from my besetting sins by a deeper filling of the Spirit? Was I missing out on profound spiritual experiences and power which God intended for me? Paul’s command “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18) seemed to suggest that many Christians lacked the fullness of the Spirit and should eagerly seek the “second blessing” or baptism of the Spirit. And, in truth, the difference I saw between the vibrant Christian zeal of most of my charismatic friends and the spiritual apathy I saw among my CRC and PRC friends suggested that the charismatics were on to something. Had Reformed Christianity forgotten about the Holy Spirit?
I didn’t have this issue resolved when I left for Westminster Seminary in California (fall of 1987). But as I studied Scriptures and church history in-depth, I was soon able to start putting the pieces together. Being “filled with the Spirit” was not a command for an “empty” believer to get filled. The Holy Spirit is given, in total, to every believer (Rom 8:9-10). Furthermore, the passive verb tense and the specific word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18 shows that “being filled” means pretty much the same as “walk by the Spirit”. It’s a daily, ongoing, submitting to the Holy Spirit in obedience. (For an excellent explanation of Eph 5:18, go here.). In short, Paul is not commanding believers to pursue a second blessing that brings extraordinary spiritual abilities. He’s commanding ordinary Christians to live under the “ordinary, extraordinary” influence of the ever-present and powerful Spirit of God!
Is this something of which Reformed Christians should be more aware? I definitely think so – at least the West Michigan version of it. Christianity is meant to be an experience of the power of God – not just a confession (Rom 1:16; 15:13; 1 Cor 1:18; 4:20; 5:4, Eph 3:14-21, etc).
As I continued to study, I realized that the spiritual apathy I witnessed among my Reformed peers was not a result of bad theology but a failure to grasp the spiritual significance of Biblical theology. In short, while we “reformed folk” professed a sovereign, present God – the charismatics put that doctrine to work as they evangelized and prayed for their lost loved ones. They expected failing marriages to be healed, bondages of sin to be broken, lost souls to be converted. They expected these things in a way I just didn’t see in the church of my youth.
So, I’m very thankful for my time with First Assembly of God in Wyoming. I learned so much. While I quickly began to see the shortcomings of an overly-emotional and intuitive reading of Scripture, I was blessed to be rebuked for my weak (reformed) faith. I was challenged to figure out what the Bible really teaches. And I saw, firsthand, what expectant faith and personal intimacy with God really look like.
I recently asked someone who had come into the Reformed faith as an adult what they missed most from their Pentecostal childhood. Do you know what she said? “The fervor. I miss the fervor.” (See Romans 12:7).
Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit, for a genuine, joyful fervor for the things of God - for the glory of God!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20–21
In His Service,
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