A Pentecostal Church
WHAT IS A PENTECOSTAL CHURCH?
By Mark E. Hardgrove, D.Min.
Text: Acts 1:4-5
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “Which,” He said, “you have heard from Me;5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”NKJV
Looking out over this church today, I realize that we come from different cultures, backgrounds, and countries.I think this diversity is beautiful as together we create a wonderful mosaic that is the church of the living God.But there is another kind of diversity that we bring to this church, and that is, our religious backgrounds.Though we are all here today in the Conyers Church of God, not everyone grew up in a Church of God church.I know that some of you were Catholic, some were Baptist, some (like my wife) were Presbyterian, some Methodist, Assemblies of God, and so on.And it is awesome that so many people representing such a rich religious heritage can come together here in this church and find common ground in Jesus.
Over the years, as I’ve talked with various people I’ve found that there are many reasons why people choose to attend here.For some it is because they know and appreciate the doctrines of the church.For others it’s because they like the music or they like the preaching.For some it’s because they like the people, or because they have friends here.Some like the children’s programs and others like the fellowship of the senior adults.So there are many reasons to attend the Conyers Church of God.
Some might ask why it should make a difference where one attends as long as the church preaches the Bible, loves Jesus, and loves one another.What makes one church distinctive from another?Many people attend churches and have no idea of what that church believes, they just like some program or some personality in the church, so they that’s where they attend.Well today, for those of you who may not have been raised in a Pentecostal church, I want to address the question: What is a Pentecostal church?
I)PENTECOSTAL: THE DEFINITION
Let’s begin with definitions.The identification as “Pentecostal” was adopted by the Church of God fairly early in its existence.At around the turn of the twentieth century, members of what was then known as the Christian Union gathered at the Shearer Schoolhouse, in the mountains of Eastern North Carolina, for a revival being led by two Methodist and one Baptist evangelists. During this revival the Holy Spirit began to move upon the people in the services and they began to speak in other languages.
The Bible refers to this as speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. It was an ecstatic experience during which many of those in the revival encountered God in a deeper, richer, and fuller way.It wasn’t premeditated and it wasn’t manufactured by human will, but it was what they identified as a latter day outpouring of the Holy Spirit.They found in Scripture (Acts 2) that on the Day of Pentecost a similar outpouring had been experienced by the Early Church, so this new outpouring was viewed as a renewal of Pentecost, and in time the churches that welcomed such manifestations of the Spirit in their lives and in their worship were known as Pentecostals.
These early Pentecostals held to the cardinal doctrines of the church, only now they also believed that the Holy Spirit was still at work in the church and that God intended for the Holy Spirit to continue to manifest in tongues, interpretation, prophecy and all the other gifts of the Spirit listed throughout Scripture.Pentecostal was not a denomination, but a renewal movement within Christianity.It was a revival for all who were ready to experience more of God in their lives and in their churches and it wasn’t just in North Carolina that this was happening.At the turn of the century the Pentecostal outpouring was simultaneously happening in Northern New England, in Kansas, and most notably, at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California.
This movement transcended class, gender, and race.In California one of the leaders was an African-American man named William Seymour.In North Carolina the Christian Union, which later changed the name to Church of God, gathered under the leadership of William Bryant, R. G. Spurling, Jr., and A. J. Tomlinson.From the east coast to the west coast of the United States, men and women of every race, creed, and color were experiencing a powerful renewal of Pentecost in their lives and in their churches.Church historian Vinson Synan said that from that time on, Pentecostalism has crossed more ethnic boundaries than any movement in the world in Christianity.
However, as often happens when human egos and pride get in the mix, the movement began to fragment as men and women tried to establish themselves in positions of authority and leadership.The Azusa revival spawned a number of denominations, including the Church of God in Christ, the Assemblies of God, and Foursquare Holiness, while the revival in the east gave birth to the Church of God, the Church of God of Prophecy, and a number of independent Pentecostal churches.
Unfortunately, one group, whose doctrines were not in keeping with Orthodox Christianity, adopted the term Pentecostal as part of their denominational name, the United Pentecostal Church, often called simply UPC.Many people know this group as the “Jesus Only” folks because they believe that to be saved you must be baptized in the name of Jesus only, rather than, as Jesus said, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).Further, this group does not believe that you are born again until you speak in other tongues.
I said that it is unfortunate that this group uses Pentecostal in their denominational name, because often when I tell someone that I am Pentecostal they will associate me with that particular group.In reality Pentecostal is not a denomination but continues to be a powerful move of God that has had more influence and growth in Protestant Christianity than any other movement in Christianity over the past one hundred years.
II)PENTECOSTAL: THE DOCTRINES
Most of the Pentecostal denominations that emerged from the early movement have very similar teachings.These denominations are identified as Classical Pentecostals.Unlike the Jesus Only folks, they teach that there is one God who eternally exists in three persons, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.They teach that after one is born again, by grace through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, there is another experience available for the child of God.In the closing verses of Luke’s Gospel and in Acts chapter 1, Jesus called this second work of grace, “the promise of the Father.”He goes on to refer to it as being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism with the Holy Spirit
The people to whom Jesus was speaking were already believers, they were already born again.The promise of the Father, which Jesus calls the baptism with the Holy Spirit, is a promise to the children.Contrary to what the UPC teaches, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the initial salvation experience, because it is only available to believers, and therefore have already been born again.
Most non-Pentecostal churches teach that when you are born again, you are baptized with the Spirit at that moment.However, Jesus clearly tells the believers in Luke to tarry in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father has come.In our text, Jesus tells believers that they will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.In John’s Gospel Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit was with them, but He would be in them.Later in the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul asks the disciples of John the Baptist, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
One of the common teachings among all Classical Pentecostals, as well as among many Charismatic churches, is that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a work of God in our lives that is separate from the act of salvation.It is only after we have been saved, or born again, that we are capable of receiving the promise of the Father.
Speaking with Other Tongues
The early believers were eager to receive all that God had for them, so about 120 men and women gathered in a large upper room where they prayed and tarried in the presence of the Lord.When the Day of Pentecost arrived there was a powerful outpouring and infilling of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believers.
Look at Acts chapter 2 beginning at verse 1:
1 When the Day of Pentecost had 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 the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (NKJV)
This was a powerful moment as each believer in the Upper Room was baptized with the Holy Spirit.What evidence was there of their baptism?There was one unmistakable evidence of this experience, and this is that they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them the utterance.
If this was the only place where tongues was referred to in the Bible we might conclude that this was one unique experience, but later when Peter leads the Gentile Centurion Cornelius and his household to the Lord, they also were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the evidence was that they spoke in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 10).Later as Peter was explaining to the Jerusalem council what happened in the home of Cornelius and how they began to speak in other tongues, he said, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:16, NKJV).
In another account we are told that when Paul prayed for the disciples of John to receive the Holy Spirit “they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6, NJKV). Tongues is not the only evidence, nor necessarily even the most important evidence, that one has been baptized with the Holy Spirit—sometimes they spoke in tongues and prophesied—but speaking in tongues is consistently given as the first outward observable manifest evidence that one has been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Given these examples, along with other verses, such as Paul’s assertion, “I thank my God I speak in tongues more than you all,” and “I wish that you all spoke in tongues,” all Classical Pentecostal denominations—which includes the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Foursquare Holiness, Congregational Holiness, Pentecostal Church of God, Church of God of Prophecy, and many others—all of them teach that the first outward manifested evidence that one has been baptized with the Holy Spirit is that the believer speaks in other tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance.
III)PENTECOST: THE PURPOSE
What is the purpose of Pentecost?The purpose of the Pentecostal experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not for salvation.You must be born again before you are in a position to receive this blessed promise from the Father.The purpose of the Pentecostal experience is not for self-aggrandizement or self-promotion.Jesus said, “But when the Comforter comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John15:26).In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “You shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses.”
The purpose of Pentecost is to empower the church to be a light shining in the darkness.It is to empower each believer with spiritual gifts that exalt God, edify the body, and evangelize the lost.The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not an issue of salvation, per say, but it is an issue of power to live a godly life in an ungodly world, it is power to shine the light of God’s love in a world darkened by hatred and strife.
You don’t have to have the baptism with the Holy Spirit to be saved.It isn’t a question of salvation, it is a question of the power to fulfill your purpose.It is a gift from the Heavenly Father for His children.Why would anyone refuse that gift?
Some folks say they are afraid, or that they don’t understand it.Jesus simplifies it for us by comparing the gift of the Holy Spirit to a father who gives good gifts to his children when they ask.In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says:
11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13, NKJV)
We don’t have to be afraid to ask God for what He has already promised us.He has promised to send the Holy Spirit to baptize with power.He said that all we have to do is ask and receive.We don’t come to seek tongues, we come to seek the promise of the Father. We come seeking to be filled, to be baptized in and with the power of God’s Holy Spirit.But before that can happen we must be prepared to surrender ourselves completely to God’s control.As long as we hold back, and as long as we refuse to surrender control to God, He will not baptize us with the Spirit.
When I baptize people in water they have to kind of relax and allow me to plunge them beneath the water and trust me to bring them back up again.Sometimes people are afraid and they resist me.I can feel it when I lay hands on them.When this happens, it seldom goes as it should.One fellow stiffened up about half-way down and I never did get him all the way under the water.I could have forced him down, but that’s not the way it works.You have to want it and you have to surrender to it for it happen.
This is what happens when we seek to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, we have to surrender ourselves to the touch of God upon our lives.And do you know what the hardest member of your body to surrender is?According to the Epistle of James, it is the tongue.James writes:
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. James 3:7, NKJV
Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Lk. 6:45).When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the overflow of that abundance manifests in the Spirit speaking through our surrendered tongue.What does He speak?On the Day of Pentecost the people in the streets of Jerusalem said, “We do hear them speaking our language, the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Some folks don’t believe speaking in tongues is for today, but the Bible tells us that tongues and prophecies will not end until Jesus, the perfect one, has come (1 Cor. 13:10).However, as I said, we are not here to seek tongues, the tongues will flow when we have completely surrendered our will to the Holy Spirit and He fills our heart with heaven’s language.All we have to do is speak it out and trust God to give us what He promised, the power to be his servants and His witnesses in a lost and dying world.
I hear people say they’re afraid.Why?If you ask for the Spirit, Jesus said the Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask. I’d be afraid to try to live in this world without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life.If you’re ready to believe and receive today, then the Father has a promise prepared for you.