Modern Pentecostalism | A Critique
Modern Pentecostalism began in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas under the leadership of Charles Fox Parham, a former Methodist preacher. Parham was the one who formulated the doctrine of “initial evidence” – that the initial evidence that one has received the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues – after one of his students, Agnes Ozman, experienced tongue-speaking in January 1901.
The modern Pentecostal movement began a few years later in Los Angeles at what has become known as the Azusa Street Revival. In 1906 William J. Seymour, a Holiness preacher, founded the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street. This revival attracted attention from such secular media as the Los Angeles Times and quickly became a local phenomenon. Several individuals who would become leaders in various Pentecostal denominations attended this meeting and were thus converted to Pentecostalism. This meeting was held every day from 1906 to 1909.
In many parts of this country and the world, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religious movement.
Let’s examine the Scriptures to see what they teach about Pentecostalism.
Characteristics of Pentecostalism
Pentecostals teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to the new birth. In other words, Holy Spirit baptism comes after water baptism. They use Acts 8:14-17 to teach this:
- The Christians in Samaria had only been baptized in the name of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit had fallen on none of them.
- Peter and John come down and pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
There are two main problems with saying the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to the new birth:
- In the Bible, Holy Spirit baptism did not always follow Christian baptism (Acts 10:44).
- The disciples in Samaria did not receive the Holy Spirit directly from heaven – they received him through the laying on of apostolic hands.
Pentecostals also teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be earnestly sought. They use Acts 10:30-31 to teach this. Cornelius had been fasting and praying. An angel told him that his prayers had been heard and that his alms were remembered before God. There are problems with saying that Cornelius was earnestly seeking the Holy Spirit:
- Cornelius may not have even know the Holy Spirit existed; he was a God-fearer and may, therefore, have been somewhat familiar with the teachings of John the Baptist.
- Cornelius was not seeking the Holy Spirit – he was trying to honor God.
Pentecostals also teach that the initial sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. Acts 10:44-46. All Christians must, therefore, according to Pentecostals, speak in tongues.
Pentecostals speak of the “full gospel.” Forgiveness of sins isn’t the whole thing – there’s more. They teach that holiness of mind and heart, healing of the body, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what God has in store for all Christians.
Pentecostalism basically grows out of a weakness of faith – a desire to be able to see God directly.
Steps to Receiving the Spirit According to Pentecostals
One must be separated from sin – One must seek to purify himself.
One’s heart must be purified. “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them [Cornelius and his household] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). God, therefore, purifies the heart and then gives the Holy Spirit.
One must earnestly pray. The Bible teaches that God will answer our prayers. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). “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!” (Lk. 11:13). These passages are understood to mean that if we ask God to give us the Holy Spirit, he will do so.
One must yield. A Pentecostal wrote, “Body and soul must be yielded. Our physical bodies must be pliable under his power …. Utter and complete baptism in the Holy Spirit is only reached when there is perfect yielding of the entire being to Him and one’s tongue is surrendered to the control of the blessed Holy Spirit.” The idea is that you must place your body under the control of the Holy Spirit so that he can cause you to speak in tongues.
One must have a tarrying meeting. Jesus told the apostles to tarry in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them – “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until you are endued with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). A Pentecostal wrote, “It is in order to surround these candidates with an atmosphere of prayer and praise, and to offer an encouraging word. When it is evident that they are being filled with the Holy Spirit, it is perfectly in order to exhort them to continue to yield to him.” A tarrying meeting refers to a meeting where individuals come together to receive the Holy Spirit, to tarry like Jesus told the apostles.
- Tarrying. None of the Scriptures can be understood to mean psychological waiting. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem – King James Version translates the word wait as “tarry.”
- Cleansing from sin. Pentecostals teach that in order to get the Holy Spirit, one must cleanse himself from sin, but one cannot cleanse himself from sin. One is cleansed from sin when he responds to the Gospel. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16).
- The gifts of the Spirit must be earnestly sought. Pentecostals teach that one must earnestly seek the Holy Spirit. Yet, God distributes gifts according to his will (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4). The Holy Spirit is received when we faithfully respond to the Gospel; he is not received based on our good works (Gal. 3: l-5).
- Speaking of tongues as the initial sign of the full indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Of the many conversion accounts in Acts, only three mention speaking in tongues. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor. 12:29-30).
- Fullness. The Pentecostal experience is sought out of spiritual desperation, a feeling that “God must have something more for me” than the mere forgiveness of sins. Pentecostalism systematically undervalues forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is nothing light – it is nothing to make light of. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us” (Eph. 1:7-8).
- We need to seek assurance in the word of God rather than in signs. Luke 1:1-4. Luke 16:29-31. John 20:30-31.
- The miraculous gifts were part of the apostolic mission. Since this mission has been completed, there is no reason for miraculous gifts. The apostles were to perform miracles to show the kingdom of heaven had come near (Matt. 10:7-8). The miracles confirmed the Word of God the apostles spoke (Heb. 2:3-4; Mk. 16:20).
- Christians received the miraculous gifts through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17-18). History confirms miraculous gifts ceased with the death of those upon whom the apostles laid their hands. Throughout the first few centuries only sporadic tongue speaking is recorded, and those who spoke in tongues were considered heretics. John Chrysostom, a 4th century preacher, said the spiritual gifts ceased before his time and no one was certain of their characteristics.
One cannot receive the miraculous measure of the Spirit today.
Yet, the ordinary measure of the Spirit is available to anyone who obeys God. Acts 2:38. Have you been baptized for the remission of sins? Have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.