- Religion and Philosophy
Pentecostal Experiences Through The Eyes Of A Pentecostal
My First Pentecostal Church
The Pentecostal Experience Cannot Be Imitated
“I cut my eye teeth on the church pew,” was an old saying that we used to use in the Pentecostal churches many years ago to say that we were born and raised in the Pentecostal faith, and that this form of Christianity was all we knew. That was true for me, since my father had been a Pentecostal preacher from before I could remember, and Pentecostal churches were all that we attended. Sadly, and erroneously, we believed that this was the only true way to Heaven, and this belief meant that we would not darken the doors of a Christian church of a “different” Theology. We kept to our denomination, very cloistered, and our social lives revolved almost entirely around visiting with members of our denomination only. My earliest memories of Pentecostalism were formed from within our old church at Liberty Grove, Maryland. A dirt lane climbed from the paved country road up a steep, often rutted, and on rainy days, impassable, incline that led to the top of the hill where our church was situated. It was a white, one-room, wooden, turn-of-the-century school house that had been converted to make room for our services. On cold winter mornings, my father would arrive hours early to fire up the old coal furnace beneath the church. I can still remember sitting on the huge pile of coal in that basement bin watching my father shovel the coal into that huge stove, then work patiently to get the fire lit. That was no easy task. The welcome arrival of warmer weather meant not having to leave home so early on church days, but once that summer heat arrived, it meant having to raise all of those tall windows and break out the cardboard hand fans that had been provided by the local funeral parlor. Those fans had a picture of Jesus on one side, and the ad for the funeral parlor on the other, and I can’t remember a summer church service without those ubiquitous fans waving to the beat of the music. One thing Pentecostals did well was sing the praises of God with all their hearts. Slow songs that made you cry, fast songs that made you stand to your feet and clap your hands to the beat, worship in the Pentecostal services of my childhood was never half-hearted. There was a universal desire to seek God, to visit with God, to feel His presence, and to pray that His presence would manifest itself during the church service in the same way that He had on the Day of Pentecost. For “outsiders” visiting with a friend, this moment in the Pentecostal service could be unnerving, even frightening, but for those who “cut their eye teeth on the church pew,” it was church as was meant to be...nothing unusual. In fact, we children could sleep through all of that shouting and carrying on. And we often did.
Old Fashioned Pentecostal Baptisms
The Day Of Pentecost, Where It All Began
There was Sunday School at 10:00 a.m., on Sunday morning, followed by worship service which began at 11:00 a.m. Worship service on Sunday morning would go to noon, but if the Spirit moved, it could last longer, even until 1:00 p.m. Sunday evening service began at 7:00 p.m., and if the service was “cut and dry,” it would be over at 9:00 p.m. sharp, but if it was a “gulley washer,” meaning that there was a lot of “shouting,” it could go past midnight. Cut and dry meant that no one got to “shouting,” and the service was quiet. A gulley washer meant that the Holy Spirit moved on the congregation, and people gathered around the altar to pray, shout, speak in tongues and dance in the Spirit. Of course, there was always the mid-week Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” and if we were in revival services, there would be nightly services for at least a week, sometimes two. We also had once a month Saturday night District church services, in which all the churches in that district came together for a communal service, occasional hymn sings and other special events. All in all, we loved to be in church, and we had a joy in going there. As I grew older, I was ordered not to sleep, but to sit up and pay attention, for this was the graduation from childhood into useful adulthood, and as I paid attention, I learned the tenets of our faith. With regard to the Pentecostal experience, our sect of Christianity took its marching orders from the book of Acts, particularly chapter 2, verses 1-12:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?”
The Upper Room Experience
To summarize this story, Jesus had departed from Earth days earlier in front of the disciples while on the Mount of Olives, and He had told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and continue in constant prayer until the Holy Spirit would come. As Jesus put it, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The disciples returned to Jerusalem to an upper room in a building where they would now pray and exhort one another in constant worship. There is some sacred significance that is lost on non-scholars, and that is this: the disciples were praying to God for the promised Holy Spirit, while all Jews in Jerusalem had come to the holy city to celebrate Hag ha Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, wherein the wheat harvest was celebrated, but also, the celebration of the giving of the Torah to the Jews from God.
Deuteronomy 16:9-10 “You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the LORD your God blesses you.”
Here were people in Jerusalem celebrating one gift from God, while a select few were praying for yet another gift from God. The Day of Pentecost was the end of that mandatory seven weeks for the Hag ha Shavuot, and it was on that very same day that the occurrence happened.
The disciples were praying in the upper room, when, as per their description, a sound like that of a powerful wind entered the room, and immediately, everyone in that room saw tongues of fire coming to rest on the tops of the disciples’ heads. The moment the tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, they each began to speak in other languages. The resulting commotion became so loud that it drew the attention of the people in the streets who thereupon came pouring in to see what was happening. As this annual religious celebration brought observant Jews to Jerusalem from all over the known world, many foreign languages were present. According to the book of Acts, astonishingly, each of these foreign pilgrims heard the various disciples speaking in their native tongue, and what they heard was even more astounding... these disciples were declaring the wonders of God! Imagine being in the heart of China, you are from Atlanta, Georgia, you are visiting a small gathering of Chinese Christian converts, and suddenly several of them begin to praise God, not only in your language, but even in your Southern drawl. Multiply this by one hundred and twenty people, and many languages, and you have the event in the Upper Room at Jerusalem. Astonishing!
More Spiritual Significance
Over the years, I have heard many a theologian try to downplay this miraculous event, because they cannot understand it, and because they therefore cannot believe it happened literally. Diluting the miracle, they insert “symbolism,” even inserting their own “ideas” of what might have “actually happened,” and what might have led to the “confusion” of those who wrote about this account. They do so to the point of ignoring what the Bible very plainly declares, and what the Bible clearly states with no apologies given for the incredulousness of the scene this passage describes. It is so easy for those who have never seen the physical manifestation of the actual Pentecostal miracle to try to make this event something else, something less miraculous so that they can explain it in more believable terms, because, for the non-Pentecostals, this event as described in Acts is just too incredible to have happened the way it is worded. I’ve got news for you...it happened exactly the way the chapter and verse says it did! Furthermore, I have witnessed this phenomenon!
What spiritual significance when one considers that the Day of Pentecost was a Jewish celebration of God giving them the “Word,” the Torah, a sacred gift, and now that same God was giving them another gift of equal significance. With this spiritually significant event, the disciples were miraculously speaking in languages which they had otherwise no ability to speak, since these were uneducated Galileans, and as they were doing so, they were praising and glorifying God to those foreign observers. Here were religious pilgrims in Jerusalem fulfilling their religious duties without any emotional connection to the very God that they had come to Jerusalem to worship. They were performing rituals without emotional reward, their hearts were empty, yet they were doing what they had been taught to do by those who came before, year after year, rituals that left them just as unchanged emotionally when they finished as when they arrived, and suddenly this...an astonishing, physically tangible and emotionally charged experience from the God they sought. They were hearing from the very Being Whom they professed to worship...and on the sacred day that they commemorated His last tangible contact with them.
The Azusa Street Mission
Don't Overlook What Really Happened
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is the key to the mystery, and this is the part that SO many people overlook in their zeal to race forward past this part. They, the disciples who had not been praying for just a few short minutes, who were not reading from prayer manuals, who were not engaging in group recitations, but who had been in long, days long, soul-searching long, pleadings from their very hearts, had been imploring God to send them the Comforter that had been promised. They were determined, and they were not leaving until they received what they had been promised. It was only this extremely earnest prayer session in that famous Upper Room that led to the right conditions for God to say, “You have prepared your hearts, minds and souls. You have my reward. Here, I give you the Holy Spirit!” Only with that much soul searching, that much determination to STAY until they had been given that which they sought, only with such huge sacrifice of time and intense prayer were the disciples finally given this amazing miracle. And God sent it with a sign that no one could misinterpret nor imitate—the room was suddenly filled with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the very breath of God, and visible fire, the energy of God’s very presence, was made manifest. Energy looking like flickering flames of fire sprang from God’s presence and sat upon the heads of each of these devoted worshipers. They were immediately filled with unspeakable ecstasy...indescribable and unspeakable ecstasy. Their hearts sang, they wanted for nothing, as God took away their tears and replaced them with a joy that nothing on this Earth can equal!
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” As the Spirit gave them utterance. There it is. They were not speaking in foreign tongues out of any skill that they had gained from some university. These were Galilean fishermen, local fishermen’s wives, ordinary people who had no ability on their own to do what they were now doing. The Bible says “the Spirit gave them utterance.” These people were now fluently speaking languages which they had no earthly ability to speak, and they were doing so to the utter amazement of those foreigners who were present, praising God to them, but it was not the local fisherman who was speaking, it was the Holy Spirit speaking through that lowly fisherman. And while each of these disciples was speaking to the glory of God, they were filled with such joy that they appeared drunk. And what brought about this phenomenon? The disciples had been there in that Upper Room for days... not minutes... days, praying constantly, without ceasing. Here is another part of that mystery… “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” All in “one accord in one place.” They had reached a unity of mind, body and spirit. They had put aside all differences to worship God in unity. They were not divided, but united, in one accord, together in one place for one purpose. Like an engine that is firing on all cylinders, this spiritual engine was finally ready to move forward. They had come together, they had the blessed purpose, and when they had put everything else out of the way, all hindrances were removed, with one mind and one spirit, they reached out to God, and He did what He promised that He would do. Thus, when asked why this phenomenon is not in every church, there is the answer...without these conditions being met, God does not send the Pentecostal experience. Does He then not love His children who are unaware of this experience? God loves ALL of His children, no matter where they are. But, the Pentecostal miracle of the visitation of the Holy Spirit still exists today, rare as it is, and I will share some of my experiences where I have seen the true glory of this sacred phenomenon. I assure you, these moments will defy physics and science, yet they were witnessed by many who can attest to what I am about to recount here.
The Day Of Pentecost Was A Beginning, Not An End
The Pentecostal experience of the Day of Pentecost did not end on that day. It was not a one-day phenomenon. It continued in the Early Church, and the phenomenon has been recorded down through history, though it has come and gone, at times hidden to the point of seeming extinction, and other times roaring to life and making itself known like a forest fire. For those who think this phenomenon was a one-day, one-time event, here are some passages to help you. From the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts:
11 “And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”
As Peter and other disciples preached, they took this Pentecostal experience with them, and those who heard them were baptized in the Holy Ghost. The Pentecostal phenomenon became a sacred part of the Early Church.
Acts 19:6 “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
Spiritual Gifts Can Be Misused
As the Early Church grew, and the Pentecostal experience grew along with it, there naturally came problems with zealots who took it further, zealots who often decided that their sacrificial living made them higher than others. Self-righteousness is nothing new, but add the Pentecostal experience to the mix, and humans can abuse even this sacred blessing. Paul had to issue guidelines to bring disorder back into order. Here, then, is the rule of order that was laid out by the Apostle Paul with regard to speaking in tongues:1 Corinthians 14
14 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
40 Let all things be done decently and in order.”
All Things In Order
From this list given by Paul to help restore order and structure within the church worship services, Paul demonstrated that this Pentecostal phenomenon could also be abused by humans to bring the opposite effect of that which transpired on the Day of Pentecost, namely, fanaticism, religious arrogance, self-righteousness, disorder and rivalry. For these reasons, over the centuries, the Pentecostal phenomenon has been sought, has been embraced, has been abused and has been forsaken. When people seek this experience and find it, they become excited, because it is an indescribable joy, a sense of complete peace, tremendous euphoria, and a comforting strength. Some heightened states of the experience even result in “dancing in the Spirit,” a joyous dancing that is such a tremendous release, as if all the worries and cares that were present before are now gone, and this is sometimes even called being “drunk in the Spirit.” This joyful experience becomes a driving reason to go to church, and eventually, believers only want this experience. They will listen to a sermon, but the entire time they are listening, they are hoping that the preacher will get them emotionally excited to the point of “shouting,” a term that denotes praising God loudly. Shouting can be simply loudly exclaiming “Hallelujah,” to actually speaking in tongues once the emotional aspect is heightened. When believers are not careful, the Pentecostal outpouring from the Holy Ghost becomes the most sought after point in the church service, and such myopic worship begins to eclipse learning the true meaning of God’s word, even becoming a substitute for any learning at all, since the believer begins to think that the manifestation of “shouting” is direct communication with God, and all other forms are unnecessary. This belief then leads to fanaticism, even misinterpretation of God’s will, and the rise of people who deem themselves spokespersons for God. This is dangerous ground, for few are genuinely called to be “prophets,” and prophecy is not always needed in every church service. Paul tried to give the Early Church some common sense rules about the wise use of this gift from God. And here is the gist of that set of rules.
The order of the church worship service will come from the pastor. The pastor is the shepherd, the one called by God to watch over His sheep. That is who God ordained to stand and instruct the believers in the church. Jesus gave us the use of the symbolism of the body, wherein some are hands, some are feet, but one is the head, indicating that we all have a job to do in order to construct a full body. Likewise, we all have a job to do in order to construct a fully functioning church. As the pastor is one called to lead the sheep of God, this position is one of sacrifice and dedication to that duty. If the pastor is prayed up and serving God, the pastor will know what to do. During a church service, if the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit as some prefer to say, decides to manifest Its presence on the congregation, there will be two types of manifestations. The first will be speaking in tongues for the benefit of the person who is worshiping God. That person will be communing with God and enjoying that deeply edifying experience. This person is manifesting a witness to the glory of God, and non-believers should feel something compelling when they witness this. During the church service, speaking in tongues can happen while people are praying, while they are singing as a congregation, while the pastor is preaching, and it can be individuals, or it can be the entire congregation. It can begin like a wave that travels through the congregation, resembling a breeze blowing over a wheat field, and it can begin with the preacher “getting happy,” as they say, or the congregation coming to life. It is a euphoric experience and simply heightens the worship aspect of the service. It can be non-disruptive, adding to the moment, or it can grow suddenly to the point that much “shouting,” even dancing in the Spirit, takes over. The order of the service switches to a higher gear when this happens, and only God knows when this will subside. I have seen services begin with standard preaching, elevate to people worshiping God with a growing fervor, and loud praising takes over. Sometimes this leads to many people heading to the altar at the front of the church where people then begin to seek God in even greater earnest.
The second type of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit will be prophetic, will usually be one person suddenly speaking in an unknown tongue, and they will be doing so suddenly, clearly and loudly. It will just happen without warning, and in my experiences, when this happens, everyone knows instantly that it is sacred and very special. The air is charged, suddenly there is a loud voice from somewhere in the congregation, and the entire church goes totally silent...totally silent! Even the preacher goes silent and shows reverence. All one hears is this wonderful, strange language flowing from someone who is totally charged with the Holy Spirit. That person will almost always be shaking or trembling, as if they have been hooked up to electricity, their eyes closed, often their hands are raised toward Heaven, and there is an intensely serious look on their faces. As quickly as they finish speaking, either that very same person begins to speak again, or another person does so, and this time, it is in the language of the congregation. This second half, equally loud and clear, is considered to be the interpretation. I will say this emphatically, neither person has ANYTHING to do with what comes out of their mouths. They are not in control of what they are saying, and when the message has finished being delivered, the church immediately responds with worshiping God, responding to whatever God has just said, because all of the believers know...that this was God who just spoke to them. They are emotionally very moved.
The reason I emphasize that the person speaking has no control over what is being said, is because I have seen too many televangelists faking this gift, speaking in tongues at the drop of a hat, as if they are in control. Having been around the genuine Pentecostal phenomenon, I can also tell that what these false prophets are doing is pure gibberish and absolutely meaningless. It is making a mockery of a sacred gift from God, and they do so for personal gain, not for the glory of God. They will have to face God someday. Paul does say “...the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” By this, Paul means that a person who has been given the gift of prophecy will feel the Holy Spirit moving on them, and they can allow themselves to willingly be a conduit for the voice of God. It does not, however, mean that the prophets can turn this on and off like a power switch. The Holy Spirit is not subject to the prophet, but the other way around, since the prophet is an instrument of God, and for some televangelist to go in and out of speaking in tongues with no visible change in their emotional involvement is one of the tip offs that the person doing so is fraudulent. Once a person has been exposed to the genuine Pentecostal experience, it is not hard to see the difference between real and fake.
Basically there are two types of speaking in tongues. There is that which is for personal communication with God, which the entire church can be engaging in at the same time, and there is that rare prophetic speaking in tongues that defies physics and science. Not everyone who speaks in tongues will end up prophesying, but there are some people to whom God gives the gift of prophecy, and these people are known as prophets. They are the ones in the Pentecostal churches who are routinely the vessels God chooses to deliver interrupting and special messages to the believers at any given time. Sadly, if there is no proper spiritual leadership, even with this wonderful gift from God, there can be confusion, division and eventually fracturing that leads people to go in separate directions. This is why the pastor must be prayed up, filled with the Holy Ghost, cognizant of God’s divine direction during a worship service, and open to the leading of God and the Holy Spirit as God leads...wherever God leads...whenever God leads.
Try The Spirits, Know What Is Of God
Sometimes, deeper walks with God, without maintaining spiritual balance, can also lead to fanaticism, and fanaticism can led to religious arrogance and judgmental self-righteousness. When this happens, the Pentecostal phenomenon does not stay, and this is what Paul was warning against in his letter to the early churches that were experiencing the Pentecostal phenomenon for the first time. Without genuine leadership from the heads of the church, this gift can be corrupted by zealots who think they speak for God, when in many cases, the zealot is speaking out of self-held prejudices. I should also mention that there are those who whip themselves into a religious frenzy during church services, and they think that anything and everything that comes out of that “frenzy” is the Holy Ghost. This then leads to some very peculiar Theology that is not directed from God, nor by the Holy Spirit. As Paul warned, “God is not the author of confusion.” Because of this, there are churches that engage in some very contrary activities, they attribute these to the Holy Spirit and God, and just because they do so does not make the experience sacred, nor does it make God the author of their “Theology.” Be mindful when you are in a charismatic church that you are not taken in by zealotry that demands more than Jesus did. The Holy Ghost does not enforce prejudice and bigotry, it does not condone superstition, and it does not underwrite ignorance. The Bible tells us to “try the spirits to see if they are of God.” Take wise note of this. Many a church has started off good and ended up off the rails, so to speak.
Praying For The Baptism
Pentecostal Worship Services
Of equal importance, speaking in tongues is not to be the entire worship service, but a portion of it. It happens during worship, and it comes to lift us up, to strengthen us, to comfort and relieve us of burdens. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter. When people are going through the trials and tribulations of life, they can reach their limits, but when they pray to God for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit makes Itself manifest by touching these who are seeking the experience, and I can attest to this, when the Holy Ghost has “moved on you,” as they say, whether you are simply speaking in tongues, or dancing deliriously in the Spirit, sometimes even being “slain in the Spirit,” referring to one who has fallen out on the floor and is in a spiritual trance, when it subsides, you feel that you have been lifted up, relieved of all the burdens that troubled you, and you are so refreshed that the sensation is one of indescribable elation...always! Still, there is much else to a genuine worship service, and this, too, should be stressed. A worship service can be on many levels, and not everyone needs this experience in order to worship God. I say this not to downplay the value and significance of the Pentecostal phenomenon, but to state that those Christians who worship God without this experience are just as much His children as are those who do. But, and this is a big BUT, there are two centers within the Christian heart that must always be considered: the heart and the mind. The heart needs emotion, and the mind needs understanding. If your religious experience is based solely on emotion, the mind will eventually demand answers that the heart can’t give. Equally important, when the mind is all that is fed, the heart will eventually demand feeling something that says “This is real.” The two must both be equally considered in all religious pursuit.
When the Pentecostal experience is present in a church service, there is no time limit on how long people are going to be “in the Spirit” while praising God. I have seen the phenomenon last a few minutes, and I have seen it last for hours. I have seen the outward emotional expression in a service build to the point that everyone is called by the preacher to come to the altar and seek God. I have seen people praying around the altar at such times as these, and they can be praying for salvation, healing, or the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and I have seen these worship events at the altar go past midnight in a worship service that began at seven. People who had to go to work the next morning would discreetly leave while others stayed and prayed with those who were “seeking.” And for the record, when someone goes to seek the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, it can be minutes, wherein they suddenly begin to speak in tongues, the sign considered by all Pentecostals that the Holy Ghost has genuinely entered the person’s being, and I have seen some people take to that same altar for two or three nights, hours at a time, during a revival before they finally got “baptized.” It is an emotional experience when it finally happens, and that is an understatement. In my article, “Does God Exist?”, I wrote about my experience when I was “baptized in the Holy Ghost” and how I was taken out of my body and into Heaven where I saw relatives who had been dead for many years. When I returned, I was lying on the church floor in front of the altar, and I was speaking in tongues.
Some Experiences I Have Witnessed
Here, I want to simply recount several times wherein I have personally witnessed and experienced the phenomenon known as the Pentecostal outpouring in a worship service. The events I am about to describe are to illustrate that reality and the sacredness of the genuine Pentecostal experience.
I Corinthians: 14 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth
him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
One of the gifts of being baptized in the Holy Ghost is that of prophecy. In all of my experiences with this aspect of the Holy Ghost in Pentecostal churches, the event would always happen in this manner; the service could be at any point, the beginning, the middle, or the end, but it would always happen the same way. No matter what the congregation was doing, even if the preacher was in the middle of his sermon, there would come a sudden and loud voice from one person in the congregation. Everyone and everything came to an immediate reverence and no one spoke, not even the preacher, unless he was the one being used by the Holy Ghost at that moment. This was always one of the most reverent moments in a Pentecostal church, because everyone knew that this was God speaking to us directly, and we intently wanted to know what He was going to tell us. On one particular night, I was speaking to a congregation at a church, and the message came through me to the people. The sensation is a sudden, electrifying surge through your body, an intense tingling head to toe, and you literally shake from the presence. As if someone just turned on a faucet inside your throat, you fill with words that just come pouring out. The message came forth first in an unknown tongue, then the interpretation came immediately after, both flowing and uninterrupted. Here was what the message said: “You have wandered from me and left your first love. Return unto me, and I shall restore thee, for if thou doth not return and seek my salvation, the things ye do in the darkness, I shall reveal in the light. Return unto me, heed my voice. If thou heedest not my voice and return unto me, yet in seven days I shall reveal thee for whom thou art. The things that thou doest in the darkness, I shall reveal for all to see. Return unto me, I say unto thee, seek my face, and I shall forgive, saith the Lord.” Sitting directly behind me was the pastor of that church. The identity of whom that message was directed to was not revealed to me, and I even had one member of the congregation come down the aisle and ask me if it was him. I told him that the Lord had not revealed that to me. I told the church to pray, and we all entered into full congregational prayer. We left that night without knowing whom God was singling out for this message. The following Sunday night, the church came together, but the pastor was not in attendance. The pastor’s wife walked to the pulpit and said the following: “You pastor is not here tonight, and I am no longer going to lie about where he is when he is missing services. He has been running around with another woman, and that is why he is not here tonight...he is out with her.” Just as the prophecy had stated, seven days after, the adultery of the pastor was revealed.
Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
One day, while I was a student at Lee University, the Holy Ghost began to move on the congregation, and suddenly, there was a voice speaking loudly just a few feet from me. The congregation went completely silent in anticipation of a message from God. As a person who is multi-lingual, I recognized that the man was speaking in French, although he personally had no such ability, and he was speaking about the wonders of God. I looked at a French friend of mine who was near me, and he was listening intently, enjoying the message from God. Then, the man switched from French to Creole, which I do not speak, but am familiar with, and I looked back to the upper balcony where one of my professors was standing, because he had been a missionary in Haiti and was fluent in Creole. The look on his face was one of wonder and joy, because God was giving him a personal message.
After service, I asked the man who had been the instrument of that message in tongues, and he affirmed to me that he spoke neither language. He was spiritually elated to find that we understood what he was saying while under the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:7-8 “And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”
One Sunday night, I was attending church service at the North Cleveland Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, when one of my most memorable events took place. A friend of mine from Hong Kong had married a Church of God missionary, and even though he, himself, was an atheist, he attended church out of respect and devotion to his wife. He even sang in the choir. On that particular night, an amazing series of events happened. In the South, there was a prevalent rumor among the Baptists that, if you went to the altar in those Pentecostal churches, the reason you started “carrying on” was because they threw a hallucinatory powder in your face while you were praying. So, this Baptist man came down to the altar at the end of the service when we typically came to prayer. Interestingly enough, instead of anyone coming to him with the mythical powder, he received the baptism in the Holy Ghost. He was so overcome with joy, that he wanted to testify, a Pentecostal practice where a person gets up in front of the church and tells of something God has done in their lives. He came up on the stage where the pastor was, and the pastor leaned the hand-held microphone toward him, because the attendance in that church was quite large. The man told his story of how he had come there as a skeptic bent on exposing the Pentecostal shenanigans, and had, instead, encountered this miraculous experience of unspeakable joy. He was telling his story when he suddenly began to speak in tongues. This part is where it really gets interesting. My Chinese friend was sitting up there in the choir, which was located further forward from where the pastor and this new convert were standing. The look on my friend’s face was bizarre, blank, staring, yet a sort of desperation. What he told me later was that he was sitting there watching this part of the service, and he was mocking those who were down at the altar shouting and speaking in tongues, when suddenly, he was struck blind. Everything went black, and he was waiting for his sight to return, thinking that it must have been some momentary fluke that would go away...but it didn’t. He was blind, and it was permanent. Now, he was becoming worried, thus the look on his face. As he sat there, he heard this Baptist convert begin to speak in tongues, and the man began to speak not only in Chinese, but in my friend’s dialect! Even more astounding, he was speaking in my friend’s hometown accent! My friend immediately asked the two men on either side of him to lead him down to where this man was standing, because he wanted this man to pray for him. I remember seeing these two choir members leading my friend down to the front of the stage, and I wondered what he was having them lead him for, since that was rather odd. I thought he must be feeling ill, such was the look on his face. When the man prayed for him, my friend received his sight back immediately. The man who was speaking in tongues and praising God in Chinese spoke no other language than English.
What Does It Take?
What does it take to experience this Pentecostal phenomenon? Analyze the original. What were the disciples doing when they received the experience on the Day of Pentecost? They were steadfastly praying, they had been praying thusly for days on end, they were exhorting one another, which means reminding one another of the goodness and greatness of God, testifying of things God had done for each of them, and most powerfully, they were unified in one accord. What does this mean? Whatever differences might have caused them to avoid one another in civilian life, these differences were put aside. They hugged one another, prayed with one another, joined each other in the new-found love of Christ, preferring one another over themselves, and this unifying bonding in love and prayer, self-sacrifice, sharing and caring, all of these factors led to the condition that the Bible describes as being “...in one accord in one place.” These two parts of this sentence are potent, because they let us know that the early believers were in one room with one purpose. They had come together in all manner and ways possible, their hearts were open to whatever God wanted to send them. They were waiting and expecting, and very importantly, they were submissive to the will of God. Many churches wonder where this phenomenon is, yet if God were to bring this experience to their midst, He would have to meet with their leaders to schedule a time convenient to their programs. In the Upper Room, God was first, anticipation and readiness to receive was first, prayerful submission was first, whereas many modern churches have it in the exact reverse—God is secondary to the “program,” there is no anticipation of anything miraculous, no one genuinely has prepared sacrificially to be a recipient, and as far as prayerful submission goes, most church members have a will of their own, and the church leaders have to cater to it. Whenever I have seen the genuine event of the Pentecostal experience, I say the “genuine,” the congregation has always come anticipating a “movement” of God’s Spirit, they leave their attitudes at the door, and whatever God wants for them, they are humbly only too eager to comply. There is an ingredient of total submission to God, both in seeking and in expectation. Without this, there will be no true outpouring of this phenomenon. I say this unequivocally and without apology, even at the thought of being labelled a Fundamentalist. The miracle happened exactly as recorded, because it still exists and is experienced exactly as described. Furthermore, the Pentecostal experience is a heightened state of worship, an extraordinary emotional one, and it is during this high level of involvement that the Pentecostal event is made manifest. Repression of emotion will definitely suppress this. When Pentecostals describe a church service as “cut and dry,” they mean that there was absolutely no emotional experience, no “shouting,” no speaking in tongues. And when Pentecostals come to worship God, they do so with joy in their hearts, because they so very much relate to God as real and manifest. It makes a tremendous difference in their worship services.
Further, when a person seeks the experience of speaking in tongues, it is during individual prayer, whether a person is praying alone, or with a group of believers around them praying in tandem with them, and it is prayer that is directed to God while requesting His filling of their lives. Pentecostals call this “seeking the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.” You simply pray for it, ask for it, and when God’s time comes, you will be filled with the experience. No one, and I mean no one, can instruct you on how to act and what to do. With the genuine experience, God is the author. Disturbingly, I have seen videos on the internet of preachers instructing seekers on what to say, what kind of words, how to let the mouth and tongue act, all in an effort to get them to begin speaking gibberish that soon seems, to the uninitiated, to resemble the genuine experience. I do not find any of this “human-taught, human-made, human-induced” experience to be biblically founded, nor is it even remotely similar to the genuine article, and I do not see the signs and wonders that should follow, which only further testifies to their lack of validity. Tricking people, fooling them and others into emotional reactions, none of this is the genuine article, and the difference is plain to see when one has experienced the real thing. Genuine speaking in tongues has several attributes: immediate release from the pressing cares of this world, a lasting blessing of peace and strength afterward, and a sign to the believers to each other that they are truly in contact with a living and ever-present God.
Also, there are several levels of tongues. The first level is for the believer to enjoy the presence and reality of God in a close and personal way. As such, that level of speaking in tongues will only be between that person and God. Occasionally, someone will “bring forth a message from God,” in other words, they will “prophesy.” When this happens, it is while the Holy Ghost moves within the congregation. One person who has been given the “gift of prophecy” will be randomly selected by the Holy Ghost, and they will speak with a loud voice in either a known, but foreign tongue, or a tongue completely unknown to the congregation, and this loud speaking will be immediately followed with the “interpretation” in the language of that congregation. The message will either be prophetic of events to come, or it will be an exhortation to the believers. This event is not common, so the most frequent example seen in Pentecostal churches is people rejoicing in the Lord and speaking in tongues as they reach a heightened state of ecstasy and joy. I can say this, if you are troubled and depressed going into one of these services, you will leave with your burdens lifted, such is the immediate benefit of this phenomenon.
In far too many ways, this blessed and sacred phenomenon has been exploited, misinterpreted and abused. The worst expression of this that I have encountered is among those who think that handling poisonous snakes during a church service is proof that they are following the will of God. These people, commonly found in under-educated and socially backward regions, will literally keep deadly snakes, most commonly rattle snakes, in boxes at the front of the church, and they will take these snakes out during the emotional high points of the worship service and begin to handle them. They misinterpret Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." The Bible here is not telling us to volunteer to do these things. It is merely telling us that God will be with us in times of dire circumstances. Herewith, I will give you an example of how we should properly interpret this passage. Back when I was a young preacher in the Pentecostal churches, whenever I knew that I was going to be preaching, the day of the sermon, I would take what I called a “walk with God.” I would take a long walk in the country near my home, and I would listen for God to tell me what He wanted me to say to His people in the church service that would be held that day. On one particular summer day, I was on such a walk, and I was wearing sandals. As I walked up a particular hill in the woods, I stopped for a moment to listen and look, and I happened to look down at my feet. There directly in front of my bare left foot was a poisonous snake, literally an inch from my toes. I immediately stepped back a few feet and looked at the strange sight, because directly where my foot had been, the snake was still sitting there, stretched out, long and deadly, but his head was bent back exactly as if someone had their thumb and finger on his head and had pinched it and bent it back upon his body. It was the strangest sight. Here sat a long, deadly snake, perfectly still, and his head, which had been directly in front of my toes, was bent completely back upon his body for no apparent reason. I should have been bitten, but instead, the snake was perfectly still, paralyzed, and in this most unusual position. I watched and waited for him to move, but nothing was happening, which made me wonder if he were dead. Breaking off a small, slender tree branch, I moved closer to investigate. Slowly, the snake’s head was lowered back to the normal position, which made me realize that he was very much alive, and this just added more to the inexplicable defiance of the order of nature at this moment. I placed the tip of the tree branch near the snake’s head, wondering if he was blind, but he immediately struck the tip of the branch. This told me several things. The snake was not dead, he was not paralyzed, and he could see perfectly well. At that moment, I stood there filled with a love of God and a belief in His power, and speaking to the snake directly, in the name of my God, His Creator, I stood in front of the snake and refused to step aside. Instead, I ordered the snake to proceed around me and go on his way, rather than me stepping aside, because this was proof to me that God was involved. It also was a spiritual sign that I was not to retreat and go backward, but to continue forward with God, to let nothing stand in my way. Exactly as I had ordered the snake to do, he did. I knew then that the invisible fingers that held that snake’s head in that most unusual position were undoubtedly from the hand of one of the angels that accompanied me on these walks with God. I also believed, and still do, that God orchestrated this event to show me that I was indeed in His care when I claimed my membership in His family. This was a miraculous intervention, because my foot was one inch from the mouth of that poisonous snake, and instead of being struck, which his strike at the tree branch indicated should have happened, I was shown how God can intervene. That evening, during the sermon, I recounted the experience as part of the message that God had given me to His people. This level of seeking God, this level of worshiping God, this whole desiring of a closer walk with God, is where the genuine Pentecostal experience leads to the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. And I will have to say that this is not the level to which most churches aspire, either through a lack of desire or a lack of knowing. Nonetheless, let me be very clear on this: I do not believe that, just because a church does not practice speaking in tongues means, by any stretch of the imagination, God does not love them just as much as He loves His Pentecostals. God loves ALL who call on Him and are called according to His purpose...ALL...no exceptions! Get rid of your lists!
Snake Handling In The Church
All Of God's Children
I relate these few experiences for one simple reason, to show that Pentecost is a very real phenomenon. I have witnessed this countless times, and I have experienced this more times that I can relate here. But, here is something I want to end with, not all “speaking in tongues” is of God. The Bible warns us to try the spirits to know if they be of God. Equally important, the Apostle Paul admonished the Early Church in I Corinthians 14 that there is an orderly and logical way that the Holy Ghost works during a worship service, and that God is not the author of confusion. Unbridled zealotry can lead to major problems when it is in the hands of egotists and authoritarians. Read Paul’s admonitions and study them well. Also, many people think that anyone sputtering and mumbling is under the influence of the Holy Ghost, and I can point to numerous frauds on the television and the evangelical circuit who are abusing Pentecost by acting and imitating. These frauds will surely answer to the Divine origin of the real Pentecost. And one other very important note, beware of those who think that the heightened state of emotionalism that is arrived at by being “whipped into a frenzy” by “routines” is the same thing. While I have nothing against worshipping God with unfettered zeal, since I am often reminded of how excited King David was when he danced before the Lord till his clothes fell off, emotionally enjoying a worship service is a blessing in itself, but the phenomenon of speaking in tongues for the edification of the believers does not require any emotionally frenzied state. In fact, I have seen prophecies come forth in the quietest of moments during a church service. Speaking in tongues has been around for a very long time, and whether it diminishes in the number who practice it, or grows through some revival to larger numbers of believers, the genuine experience comes from God, blesses tremendously those who so worship God, and is a gift. Speaking in tongues is not a requirement nor a litmus test, and it does not make anyone superhuman. It is simply this, a gift from God for those who seek it. And those who do not seek it? Well, they are equally the children of God.