Posted by: Andrew Gabriel | July 25, 2011

Tongues is NOT the Only Sign of Spirit Baptism

Speaking in tongues is not the only sign that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to baptize them in the Holy Spirit he didn’t even mention tongues. Rather, he focused on the fact that this was preparation for their ministry. He said that they would receive power to witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). One sign that the early believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit must indeed be that “they spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).

Another indicator of Spirit baptism was that, “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12). The apostles also received guidance from the Spirit (Acts 16:10). Another sign that a person had been baptized in the Spirit was that they would overflow with praise to God (Acts 10:46). Dreams, visions, and prophecy were also indicators that one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17). The long discourse on the unity of the church, which occurs in Acts 2:42-47 directly after the story of Pentecost, indicates that church unity was also a sign that people were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Considering the biblical emphasis on the relationship between the Spirit and love (consider Rom 5:5 and 1 Cor 13), William J. Seymour, leader of the Azusa Street Revival, viewed love as the key sign of Spirit baptism. He wrote that if your life did not “measure with the fruits of the Spirit…you have not the baptism with the Holy Spirit.”[1] In light of all of the above, it would be fair to say that there are many signs of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

For those who might be wondering, my credentials are secure :). The section in the PAOC Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths on Baptism in the Holy Spirit (5.6.3) mentions numerous signs of Spirit baptism (although not specifically using the term ‘sign’). And these signs are listed even before any mention of speaking in tongues. Specifically, the statement affirms that through baptism in the Holy Spirit a person “comes to know Christ in a more intimate way and receives power to witness and grow spiritually.” Pentecostals frequently teach that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence that a person has experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but this does not mean that there are no other indicators that should be found after this initial evidence. Hence, D. W. Kerr, a leader in writing the Assemblies of God (USA) Statement of Fundamental Truths, wrote that, “We can consistently say that ‘tongues are not the only sign of the baptism,’ and yet be just as consistent in saying that ‘tongues are the sign of the baptism.’”[2] Similarly, James E. Purdie (founding principal of the first PAOC Bible College), wrote that evidences of the infilling of the Holy Spirit include “a much greater passion for souls; a greater reverence for the Word of God, and a greater love toward all true Christian people, as well as the deepening of the prayer life . . . [and a person's] earnestness to help others.”[3]

My concern is that too many Pentecostals have made Spirit baptism only about speaking in tongues. Although I regularly experience the value of speaking in tongues, I appreciate the words of Minnie Abrams (Pentecostal missionary in India), who wrote in 1911, “When I see anybody seeking to speak in tongues rather than seeking the power to save souls I am grieved.”[4] It worries me that so many Pentecostal sermons on the baptism in the Holy Spirit focus so extensively on speaking in tongues. These sermons often concentrate on proving that if you are baptized in the Spirit, you will speak in tongues, and then proceed to an altar call with the preface, “this is how you speak in tongues.” I am concerned because Spirit baptism is not just about speaking in tongues and because presenting Spirit baptism in this manner makes Spirit baptism all about personal experience (“do you have it?”), or, even worse, we can present Spirit baptism as only a one-time personal experience. In our preaching, let us not neglect the numerous signs that should follow Spirit baptism and the personal responsibility to utilize the anointing of Spirit baptism for ministry by keeping in step with the Spirit.

See also the Assemblies of God (USA) position paper, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Initial Experience and Continuing Evidences of the Spirit-Filled Life”

Key words: sign, signs, evidence, evidences, Spirit baptism, baptized, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues


[1] William J. Seymour, “To the Baptized Saints,” Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), 1:9, (June-September 1907), 2.1.

[2] D. W. Kerr, “‘The,’ ‘A,’ or ‘An’—Which?” Pentecostal Evangel (21 January 1922), 7.

[3] Cited in Peter Althouse, “The Ecumenical Significance of Canadian Pentecostalism,” in Winds from the North: Canadian Contributions to the Pentecostal Movement, ed. Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 72.

[4] Minnie F. Abrahms, “The Object of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” Latter Rain Evangel (May 1911), 10.

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Responses

  1. Excellently said, dear friend! Great to read after you, Andrew! Blessings to you and yours!
    Tracy

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tracy! Glad to be in touch.

  2. Thanks for sharing! There have been times where I have been guilty of reducing the Spirit’s baptism to only speaking in tongues. Thank you for this fresh reminder and encouragement to view the Spirit’s baptism as a continued infilling and ongoing occurance.

    I have a couple questions for you.

    Do you believe that it is possible that the Holy Spirit not give utterance to an individual? I am thinking here of the “as the Spirit gives utterance” line within the PAOC statement of fundamental beliefs.

    How does a PAOC’er respond when an individual displays the numerous “other indicators” (prophecy, gifts of healing, fruit of the Spirit) yet does not give utterance? Can said individual make a claim to being baptized in the Holy Spirit?

    Peace,
    Paul

    • Hi Paul,

      WWJD?

      Regarding the first question… “as the Spirit gave them utterance” is just a quote from the KJV (Acts 2:4), so I doubt that the authors of the statement of faith were trying to say anything specific here other than that when a person does in fact speak in tongues, “the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (NLT, Acts 2:4).

      Regarding the second question…the PAOC does not have an official position on this (it is not in the statement of faith and the PAOC has not endorsed any official statement regarding this). Hence, the answer will depend on which PAOC’er you talk to. Overall I would say there are two main views (with some diversity of opinion in the second view):
      1/ Some people would argue that “initial evidence” means “immediate” evidence (that is, no tongues, no Spirit baptism).
      2/ Some would say that speaking in tongues may come a while after a person has been baptized in the Spirit (and that when the person speaks in tongues later, it is the initial evidence that the experience of Spirit baptism has occurred). Those who hold this view generally hesitate to affirm that someone has been baptized in the Spirit if they haven’t spoken in tongues (saying, “where is the evidence?”), but they will also hesitate to deny that someone who hasn’t spoken in tongues hasn’t been baptized in the Spirit.

      What I can tell you is that the PAOC districts knowingly give credentials to people who hold to both views, but it may (I’m not sure) depend on which district you are in and even who is on your credential committee. You can read a little about the historical diversity on this issue here on page 121-123: https://journal.twu.ca/index.php/CJPC/article/viewFile/23/9

      Keep in mind, the above really only deals with Luke’s concepts of Spirit baptism/being filled with the Spirit (which is where many Pentecostals stop). Some Pentecostals who affirm either of the above positions (that is, regarding Luke’s concept of Spirit baptism) also affirm at the same time that any believer can say that “in one Spirit we were all baptized” (ESV, 1 Cor 12:13…the Greek is no different than in Acts, contrary to what some English translations might indicate, even though Paul may have a different concept of Spirit Baptism) and that all believers are filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18; 1 Cor 3:16).

      Andrew

      • Oh, dear…another conversation about Spirit baptism has become all about speaking in tongues…what a shame :)

  3. Well said, Andrew.

    Only a small portion of Acts 2 is reserved for the baptism account, while the greater part records Peter’s sermon concerning Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. From that moment, Peter’s life and ministry revolved around the person and work of Christ. His sermons, as well as the signs that followed, were the result of the Holy Spirit testifying to Jesus’ Messianic identity and redemptive mission. The message is clear; the primary purpose of the Spirit’s outpouring in Acts 2 was to enable Christ’s followers to more effectively witness concerning the person and work of their Lord.

    Tongues play a role in the account (they declared praises to God), but even this proved to be ‘witness’ oriented as those attending the festival heard them speak in their native languages, pointing to the universality of God’s redemptive mission through Christ. Witness, in both words and deeds, became the ‘kingdom’ means through which Christ-followers would be enabled to carry out the mission; a point Jesus made in Acts 1:8.

    As you mentioned in the final paragraph, an exclusive focus on tongues speech makes the whole experience deeply personal, and we run the risk of losing the community and other-person emphasis the narrative clearly displays. That is, Spirit baptism is essentially for others, not ourselves.

    Good post, Andrew.

    Jeff

    BTW, I have a paper coming out soon in “Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics” on this very topic. Not so much on tongues speech, but on the witness element of Spirit baptism. I’ll post the link when it becomes available.

  4. [...] Speaking in tongues is not the only sign that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to baptize them in the Holy Spirit he didn’t even mention tongues. Rather, he focused on the fact that this was preparation for their ministry. He said that they would receive power to witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). One sign that the early believers were baptized in the … Read More [...]

  5. Andrew,

    And here I thought everyone in the PAOC held to the idea that tongues was / is the *only* evidence of Spirit Baptism. How thankfully wrong I was! It’s good to come across someone (else) concerned more about biblical teaching than denominational credentials.

  6. Well, Andrew, Here I am a non theologan attempting to respond… but I will! Whether “tongues” is initial evidence or not, I agree that you essay hits the nail on the head. If I am only a tongue-speaker but do not exhibit all the other evidences as listed, then what is the use of tongues? Sometimes I am afraid we “scare” people away from tongues by placing so much emphasis on only that aspect. Tongues is important to me not only for my private prayer life, but when I pray for others and they say, “I can’t tell you what it is but could you pray for me about it?” Yikes! Praise God for tongues. The Holy Spirit knows and my groanings by pass my thoughts and I can pray for the “unknown request”. Wouldn’t it be an amazing event if we focussed on all the signs of the Baptism of the Spirit including tongues and help people grow into the Jesus follower who’s life speaks of the Spirit that lives in them. There would be such a change in our characters that people who “do not know the Lord” would be drawn to Christ in very supernatural ways. No more back biting, gossipping (sp?), envy, one upmanship… nothing but reflecting the qualities of Christ. Don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but that’s my thoughts for what they are worth. I reprinted this comment because my typing was so bad. Sorry! Thank you Andrew for an excellent essay. Marilyn

  7. Glad to hear the PAOC is more tolerant about credentializing folks who don’t speak in tongues. Wasn’t true in the 1980s when my husband, who won many awards while at Northwest Bible College in Edmonton, Alberta including for his involvement with local congregations, was not able too be credentialized as he did not speak in tongues even though he regularly exhibited other gifts including Words of knowledge. Not to worry. He found a group who would take him in and has been a wonderful pastor to many people. But it always seemed absurd to me that someone could babble a few words, then go home and molest his daughter (a true example by the way) and be considered Baptized in the Holy Ghost while someone who did not babble, but exhibited other signs and traits was not. And, yes, I speak in tongues myself. Just do not agree with tongues being the only sign of Spirit baptism.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Pamela.

      Just to clarify, I don’t think the PAOC credentials people who don’t speak in tongues. The credential committees still wants to see the “initial evidence” of speaking in tongues as a necessary indicator that the person seeking credentials has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, I am sure they would also look for other indicators as well to confirm that this is the case.

      So, while the PAOC (e.g. the statement of faith) recognizes that their are other signs that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they still (I am quite certain) want to see the sign of speaking in tongues before someone receives credentials. As some people have explained it, “only the sign of tongues proves SB (hence, ‘initial evidence’), but the other signs can confirm it.”

      • Just to add further, the above is working with a narrow understanding/definition of an experience of Spirit Baptism (relying solely on Luke’s writings), rather than utilizing an expanded metaphor of Spirit Baptism (various types of experiences) as many Pentecostal theologians are employing the metaphor today (e.g., Macchia’s “Baptized in the Spirit”).

      • Andrew,

        Your inclination is correct; the PAOC will still not – as far as I’ve been (recently) told – bestow credentials upon anyone who hasn’t spoken in tongues. That’s their loss, I suppose.

        I share the frustrations of Pamela. My wife holds credentials with the PAOC: I’m involved in her ministry, share similar experience, I’m more educated (but what does education matter in Pentecostalism), but because I haven’t ‘babbled’ (Pamela’s term) I’m put to the side.

        It’s a real shame – the PAOC could use someone like me.

        Cheers.

  8. I applaud the thesis, but the follow-up conversation seems to have taken all the traction out of it, at least as far as helping the denom help itself is concerned. If love and prophecy and even healing are elevated above tongues and, importantly, equally powered by the Spirit, why the necessity for any additional, arguably lesser evidence of the Spirit? If we think that healing and prophecy, for instance, only happens via the Spirit’s power, and that at least prophecy is a “greater gift” and certainly commonly given in the “initial evidence” scriptural stories, what does the “lesser” gift of tongues prove that prophecy and healing (let alone love) do not?

    The necessity to give religious authorities the “sign” of tongues in order to be recognized as a called minister of Christ seems to look awfully similar to the Pharisees who, after seeing all that God was miraculously doing through Christ, still demanded a sign (as if the prior actions weren’t evidence enough that the Spirit was with Christ). The sooner that the pentecostal denoms can rid themselves of this, the better it will be for them, for unity with the larger Body, and for the world.

  9. It seems to me the ‘demand’ for tongues is rooted in 1) poor exegesis and 2) a desire to quickly and ‘definitively’ identify who and who hasn’t been ‘baptized in the Spirit’. I might also add, 3) an overwhelming desire to cling onto supposed ‘Pentecostal Distinctives’ out of the irrational fear of losing ones identity.

    It’s been mentioned to me several times, by several different people, that once you remove tongues as the standard (if you will), the ability to determine who and who hasn’t been ‘baptized in the Spirit’ becomes that much more difficult – not to mention Pentecostal’s might lose their uniqueness.

    I’m glad these people have their priorities straight.

    • An observation…it appears that your inability to get credentials with the PAOC comes just as much from the seeming incompatibility of your theological views with the denomination’s statement of faith as it does with the fact that you don’t speak in tongues (which you mentioned above).

      Andrew

      • Andrew,

        With respect to my other theological views, I’m not sure; my discussions with those in the PAOC – with respect to credentials – hasn’t ever gotten past ‘have you spoken in tongues’ question. It’s been the question that’s always been sprung first, as it were.

        I’m assuming that you’re referring to my views on exclusivism and inclusivism? I’m not sure that my view conflicts with section 5.5 (Salvation) of the “Statement of fundamental and essential truths” so much as it represents a more nuanced consideration of salvation… That is, it takes into consideration the Old Testament in more ways than just ‘tithing’.

        Otherwise, I’m not sure what view(s) you are referring to.

      • Jeremy,
        I was referring specifically to your comment above (which begins, “It seems to me the ‘demand’”).

  10. Andrew,

    Right. My view is that ‘tongues’ is not the only evidence of Spirit baptism, nor is a necessary sign of Spirit baptism (in other words, the ‘initial’ evidence of Spirit baptism may not manifest as tongues in all who are Spirit baptized).

    That wasn’t always my view (it wasn’t when the prospect of credentials was on the horizon); my entire family speaks in tongues. It was only after not being able to speak in tongues myself (actually, I’ve spoken one while praying for / speaking in tongues… ‘Shekinah’), and seeing others manifest such-and-such gift, while not manifesting tongues, that I began to question Pentecostal dogma. It was either that or live in some sort of cognitive dissonance.

    I disagree with the PAOC only on the emphasis they put on tongues. I think they are doing themselves a disfavor by requiring credential candidates to not only affirm a Pentecostal stance on tongues, but also speak in tongues themselves. It seems to me the PAOC would do much better by requiring their credential candidates to affirm tongues (or the gifts of the Spirit) while not requiring them to have spoken in tongues.

    Call me jaded; one of things I don’t understand is how I can (approvingly) get involved in very ministry possible, and then be turned down for credentials because I haven’t spoken in tongues.

  11. Very thought provoking. However, I’ll stick with Acts 10:44-46, for now.

    • Hi Jennies, I’m not sure what you mean there. Acts 10:46 says they were speaking in tongues and praising God. So are you suggesting those are the two signs of Spirit Baptism?

      • The verses (44 – 46) seem to indicate that the disciples considered the gentiles to have the baptism of the Spirit because of the tongues. I guess what I’m trying to say, based on that and other Scripture, tongues is the sure way of knowing. I don’t believe all the Gifts of the Spirit require the baptism though.

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