Born to be Alive: Born of the Spirit

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When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes, and Elamites residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism) Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”[1]

This is one of the greatest events recorded in the Scripture.  The believers there recognized that fact the Jews who witnessed it in astonishment recognized it and Luke, the inspired author of the Acts, recognized it.  It is therefore a great tragedy of Christianity that so many Christians have spent so much time trying to explain away the importance of this event.

Birthday of the Church

Most churches and denominations — even those that do not actively accept the work of the Spirit as Pentecostals do — recognize Pentecost as the birthday of the church.  They realize that the church, the body of Christ on the earth, was not really activated until the day of Pentecost and until the events that took place in the upper room transpired.  There are a few churches — fundamental ones at that — who deny that Pentecost was the beginning of the church, that in fact the church began with Jesus and his disciples.  They are in effect arguing for a church without the Spirit, and their churches are monuments to their theology.

The church could have never started without Pentecost.  It was Jesus’ express intention that the Holy Spirit take the role as the Counselor and guide for the Body of Christ.  The Spirit was to give all manner of instruction to the Body — both as individuals and as a group — giving them direction as to how they were to carry out the mission that he had in mind for the Church.  Therefore, the church cannot be the church without the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit makes the church a body with members, each one having a purpose and a role in the overall work of spreading the Gospel and building up the Body.

Filled with the Spirit

Most Christians would accept all of the above because both their Trinitarian theology and their high regard for the Scripture forces them to do so.  The difference comes in the manner and scope in which the Holy Spirit works.  The purpose behind Pentecostal doctrine and practice is to insure that the Holy Spirit has full run of the church, that he is able to manifest himself in a scriptural way at all times with as little human hindrance as possible.

This was achieved in a matter of seconds on the original day of Pentecost.  The one hundred and twenty believers were sitting together when they were suddenly baptized, or immersed, in the Spirit, and that filling overflowed with the speaking in unknown tongues.  Although they were expecting the event, there could be no human agency for the event, since they were not clear on how it would take place.

This is important to note, because what did happen really had no precedent in Jewish history.  People had possessed the prophetic gift and used it extensively.  These people spoke directly what was on God’s mind concerning past, present, and future matters.  There is also evidence that some people in the Old Testament did speak in unknown tongues.  Both of these communication gifts were restricted to a relatively small group of people the New Testament would also see a special group of people get these gifts for public utterance in the sign gifts.  What is tremendous here, though, is the distribution of the speaking in unknown tongues to all of the believers.  Part of the purpose of the New Covenant which Jesus established with man was for all of his people to be priests, to have a direct link with God.  The distribution of the speaking in tongues was and is an outward manifestation of this process, and the church excludes this manifestation in her people at her own peril.

As the Spirit Enabled

The main problem that many have with Pentecostals concerns the matter of speaking in tongues.  Many cannot see how this can be for today or discern the real purpose for people doing this.  Yet this was the first work which the Holy Spirit did to the church.  If we can grasp why this was so, we can go a long way to determining why it is as important today as it was when the apostles were on the earth.

To begin with, the tongue is an important part of the human body.  “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, `Listen and understand.  What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.’[2]  Jesus’ own brother takes up the theme: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an examples.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”[3]

Talk is cheap it is also deadly.  Once we say something, there is no retraction the words are gone from our mouths into others’ ears, never to return, accomplishing their mission for good or evil.  With the tongue we can do many things and inflict more damage with less expectation of retaliation than with any other part of our body.  No matter what realm people find themselves in, whether it is in business, politics, or church, they carry their deadliest weapon with them at all times.  Today they are the anonymous source to the press, telling lies to even a score tomorrow they are the church councilman spreading rumors to destroy a fellow Christian.  An uncontrolled mouth is like the demon’s nostril in The Cloud of Unknowing: look into it and you can see straight into Hell.

With this in mind, it should come as no great surprise that God, in his wisdom, started out directing the church with an activity for the tongue.  To insure that what came out was from God and without human filtration, the Holy Spirit made the speech unknown to the speaker, so that both the Holy Spirit and the speaker could insure what came out was right.  This obviously is not the only explanation for speaking in tongues, but it is a comfort to us who do to know that, when we are speaking in tongues, what is coming out is from God and not from our own imperfect will.

And here is something essential.  Those baptized in the Spirit spoke “as the Spirit enabled them.”  For purposes of both corporate worship and private dialogue in prayer, speaking in tongues is a method of communication unhindered by either demon activity or the workings of the flesh.  It enables people to speak the things of God which in their own capabilities they are unable to do.

Unknown Tongues

One controversy that always surrounds this event concerns just what exactly came out of the mouths of the believers that were baptized in the Holy Spirit.  When they began to speak out, the Jews assembled there heard them in the diverse languages which they spoke.  As a result of that fact, many contend that what the believers spoke were in reality the languages of the listeners, not unknown tongues.  Many Pentecostal teachers and writers have felt duty bound to defend the opposite notion.

This may be one of these debates where winning may accomplish very little, because either way we are discussing a move of the Holy Spirit.  The first question we must ask is simply, “To whom are the tongues or languages unknown?”  The first answer to this question must be, “Not to God!”  There are no unknown tongues to God.  Where we are speaking of other human languages, the languages of God, or the counterfeit languages of demons, there are no tongues or languages which God does not understand.  When men speak to each other, to God, to demons, or even dialogue amongst the demons, God is listening in with total understanding of what is being said.  Additionally, God can speak in whatever language is necessary to communicate what he has to say to created beings.

This leaves the humbling truth that it is to man that languages or tongues are unknown.  No one knows all languages most people do well to communicate in two or even one.  If the Holy Spirit instructs a person to speak in a language which they do not know, he is surely moving them to speak in an unknown tongue, the transmission of which they cannot confuse while they allow the transmission.

The same Holy Spirit who empowers believers to speak in tongues unknown to anyone can also empower people to speak in ones which are (that omnipotence again!).  We are looking at the same Spirit and the same power either way, exercised as God sees fit for the best interest of his kingdom.  Some of the Jews who witnessed the event heard words in their own languages some thought they were drunk, implying speech they did not understand.  We can thus conclude from this that it is neither incorrect nor unpentecostal to conclude that the believers first empowered with this speaking could have spoken in tongues unknown to man, known to man, or a mixture of the two, since they were all unknown to the speakers.

“Not for Today”

Beyond this, the next line of defense that Christians frequently erect against speaking in tongues and other supernatural events is that they are somehow “not for today.”  These objections generally take one of two courses, dispensational and historical.

People who take the dispensational route say that things such as speaking in tongues, sign gifts, and even miracles died out with the apostles because there was at the end of the Apostolic Era a change in the dispensation from God.  A dispensation is basically the way in which God relates to man at any given time, especially as it relates to man getting from sin to God.  In the Old Testament, this is marked most prominently by the procession of covenants.  Expelled from the Garden, Adam and Eve were given a series of promises these as a group constitute the Adamic Covenant.  Likewise after the flood Noah was given a covenant every time you see a rainbow you are looking at the most important sign of that covenant.  Then we move on to Abraham, who, along with his descendants, were given both the Promised Land of Israel and the designation as God’s chosen people, the Jews.  The most important Old Testament covenant was the Mosaic covenant, given to the Israelites through Moses, which included the law and the sacrificial system.  The last major covenant in the Old Testament was the Davidic Covenant.  Jesus himself was the ultimate beneficiary of this covenant, as he was one of David’s descendants.

With each covenant came a change in the operating relationship between God and his people for instance, there was no extensive law or sacrificial system before the Mosaic Covenant there was no permanent royal dynasty before the Davidic Covenant, etc.  Each of these covenants represented a different dispensation that marked a new phase of God’s dealings with his people, and also required a change in the way in which his people were supposed to respond.

The ultimate dispensational change, however, was brought to pass by Jesus Christ himself, in the New Covenant.  This is what he was talking about when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  His own blood was and is the blood of the New Covenant or alliance between God and men.  His own sacrifice on the Cross made a permanent and dramatic change in the way in which men could come to God and vice versa.

To begin with, as we have seen, the sacrificial system was no longer necessary, as Jesus Christ himself was a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  By coming to Jesus and making him our Savior through both confession of and being sorry for our sins, we can get the sin barrier out of the way and establish a right relationship with God.  In doing this, we must fulfill the most important commandment: “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, `is this:`Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.””[4]

The second important change concerned the Law.  Adherence to the provisions of the Law was essential for the righteousness of the Jew.  With the New Covenant, the Law was fulfilled by Jesus Christ therefore, adherence to Jesus became the most important thing.  Of course, this should never be interpreted as a license to do anything we please “Jesus replied, `If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'”[5]

To make this New Covenant work, the Holy Spirit is essential.  We have seen already that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment this is necessary in order to bring people to the place where they give themselves over to God.  The Spirit also counsels and comforts God’s people, important ministries if there ever were any.  Now on Pentecost we see the Holy Spirit baptizing people and filling them with himself — an activity fitting to God — and empowering them to do the work which Jesus had commissioned them to do after his departure.

With all this, the believers were in fine shape.  The question now arises, “Are there any further changes in the dispensation and thus the relationship between God and his people?”  Looking at the wonderful event of Pentecost, we can only reply “We certainly hope not!”

But there are those who claim that in fact there is a different dispensation between the day of Pentecost and now, and use this claim to deny the reality of the speaking in tongues and other sign gifts at the present time.  They use such passages as “Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease where there are tongues, they will be stilled where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”[6]  From this they conclude that, when the perfect, inerrant Bible became complete, the sign gifts were no longer necessary and passed out of existence, along with the Apostolic Age.  They then say that there has been a dispensational change from the times of the New Testament until now.

To answer these serious challenges, we need to first look at the passage we have just cited.  This author, in common with most Pentecostal and Charismatic people, believes the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible.  There would be no use in citing the Scriptures as I have done if the Bible were any less than the inerrant Word of God.  The close of the canon of Scripture has given us a matchless resource for the transmission of the mind and heart of God to people.

When Paul speaks about the coming perfection, he is speaking about something to the future of his writing to the Corinthians as unruly a bunch as they were, it was enough to inspire anyone to fervent hope in the arrival of perfection.  The problem with equating the Bible with perfection is simple — it came too late.  We had a perfect Word on this earth in Jesus Christ his words were still living, apostolic memory when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and his teaching was being transmitted faithfully by both the apostles who were with him in life and Paul, the latecomer.  The New Testament was complete in time to enable generations who had never seen Jesus Christ in the flesh on this earth to have a faithful account of what took place and what Jesus said, along with true Apostolic teaching to amplify this.

The problem with the coming of perfection is not with the Scriptures it is with us.  As brilliant as we seem to ourselves and as much as we have accomplished, our understanding is still limited by our human weakness.  As the body of knowledge expands, the human race has had to parcel this body out to a larger and larger group of people, each one holding a relatively small part of the whole body.  This is the main reason why specialization grows in importance as time progresses the human mind is less and less capable of a really comprehensive grasp of the body of knowledge, not because brains are becoming weaker but because what we know as a group is becoming greater.  We find ourselves more dependent daily on the assistance of computers to organize, retrieve, and process all of the information we have to deal with just to keep up with our own affairs these machines have become extensions of our brains just as tools are extensions of our hands.

When it comes to God, though, we humans were beaten from the start, because our minds were and are not capable of grasping the infinite.  The Bible is surely inerrant but it is also placed in a form, in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books, that we can comprehend in our present state.  Even with this gracious allowance from God, we still find ourselves perplexed by many of the things we find in the Bible we, like the Ethiopian eunuch, read the Bible and cry “`How can I (understand),’ he said, `unless someone explains it to me?'”[7]  (This, too, is part of the Holy Spirit’s work.)  Our perfect understanding of God will only come when perfection comes to us, namely in heaven, and especially when Jesus comes again and we are part of his final kingdom.  At that point we will not need any of the gifts of the Spirit because we will be both in God’s direct presence and be enabled by God to understand what is now mysterious to us.

This is the perfection that Paul is speaking about until then we will need the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit both in our lives and in our churches, complete with every gift and fruit that he has to offer us.  But now we must turn to the larger question of the dispensation.  Has there been a dispensational change since the days of the Apostles?

We have seen that, throughout the Old Testament, there is a progression of covenants and dispensations.  These were part of God’s progressive revelation to his people.  “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”[8]  But what Jesus Christ did for us in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit was complete and perfect, and was meant as God’s final and definitive relationship with man until the end of the age.  To say that there have been dispensational changes from then until now is to say that this is not so, that there were or are things that are not quite right with what Jesus did for and to us.  The closing of the canon of Scripture doesn’t change this because of the matter of the Apostolic teaching we have already discussed.  Jesus Christ’s work for us is either done or it isn’t, and to say the latter is to belittle it.  The gifts and fruits of the Spirit — all of them — and the speaking in tongues as the Spirit directs are part and parcel with Jesus’ finished work for us.  This is what Pentecostals mean when they speak of the “full gospel” and if we abandon parts of this for any reason we do so at our own serious peril.

Having said enough about the dispensationalism, we must turn to the historical route people take to deny the reality of the speaking in tongues and sign gifts for today.  These people state that the sign gifts are not for today because of the evolutionary process of the church.  They say that these were present during the Apostolic Age because of the people and circumstances that were then present once these passed, and both church and circumstance changed, then the need for these gifts went out too.

There can be no doubt that the church needs to suit much of what it does to effectively minister to people to whom it is sent.  It is a serious mistake for churches to attempt to live in the past for its own sake, whatever past that might be it is even worse when they force new people in the church to live in the past they are trying to recreate.  But the problem with the historical argument is pretty much the same as with the dispensational one: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[9]  His work is finished and complete until he returns.  What he had to offer was right from the start and still right today.  Although we as Christians need to always be ready to proclaim the Gospel in a way that is comprehensible to the age about us and to “become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some,”[10]  we need to always proclaim the same Gospel with the same benefits.

The Real Problem

In addition to real differences of doctrine or theories about church history, there are other factors to consider in this debate.  One of these concerns considerations of pastoral and church polity, and this is perhaps the one thing that has set so many against the introduction of the full gospel into older denominations.

People get into a rut quite easily.  Change comes only with pain.  This is especially true in the church world.  We attempt to reproduce an eternal, unchanging God with eternal, unchanging church practice.  Sometimes the appeal to tradition makes sense it provides continuity with the past that people need.  But it is equally easy to carry things too far, to get to the stage where we attempt to assimilate people into the church by forcing them into our own image and likeness, whether it is God’s or not or even relevant to their situation.

“`The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit.'”[11]  Without the unpredictability of the Spirit, church practice and polity can be a very regular, methodical thing.  Our worship form can be firmly fixed we can regulate all things according to the rules we can put things to a vote when we think we have the votes and don’t want responsibility when it doesn’t work out we can even dispense with what God thinks if we have enough tradition and popular acceptance behind us.  When the Holy Spirit is in charge, though, things aren’t quite so regular.  We get interrupted, our course gets changed, and we find ourselves doing things we wouldn’t have done otherwise.

This can be a major pastoral challenge.  Pastors who risk this regime can find themselves following the Spirit along with everyone else, rather than leading a tidy routine.  They must have discernment to know the Holy Spirit from Satan’s, and how to deal with that in a pastoral way.  Their preaching must show the power that is God’s and must be what God is wanting to speak to the people assembled.  Ideally, they should be equipped with a wide variety of sign gifts.  The vast majority of pastors not of full gospel persuasion are not equipped to handle this kind of spirituality the laity is in pretty much the same position.  When it comes to their churches, they find themselves gripped in fear of the unknown.

This is a problem that is real to many, because it comes where the rubber meets the road.  It is for this reason that people in the older denominations who are baptized in the Holy Spirit find themselves either run off, leave out of desperation, or are beaten both into submission and out of their spiritual inheritance.  The real surprise comes when we discover that the alternative to these unhappy methods — and a pretty frank discussion of the difficulties of pastoring a full gospel church — sits in the center of the New Testament.  Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are written into a situation where the situation had run amok, where the gifts became weapons and the church divided for civil war to use them.  But Paul does not suggest that the spiritual gifts be jettisoned because of the abuses that were taking place.  His advise on their orderly procession is sound, and literally a godsend for the right exercise of God’s gifts to men.

All of this is not to suggest that Pentecostal churches are free of rigid routines or fear of the spiritual unknown.  Given a chance, their pastors and people are just as capable of getting into a rut as anyone.  This is especially true when everyone gets together for a worship service, and it is to this that we must turn.

Spiritual Worship

One of the longest running questions within Pentecostal and other Full Gospel circles is simply this: What constitutes spiritual worship?  And how can we as an assembly of believers  do it?  This is an urgent question for clergy and laity alike, and quite a lot of time is spent on it.

Some people insist that we have an anointed leader to lead the worship.  This person can be a pastor, an evangelist, one or several top name speakers, or whatever but this person has to have the anointing of God.  Such a person, having the anointing, can impart same to the people by saying the words that they have always heard and have these words resonate in the way they always have.

Others say that the type of music played and sung is the key part.  Whatever is used should be God’s music of course.  What this constitutes, unfortunately, depends on the congregation involved some like old time Gospel music, some liturgical music, some choruses, some “praise and worship” type music.  This music should be led by people who have as much anointing as the speaker or speakers if not more, because music is always done first and leads the people in worship.

Still others insist that a certain order or form of worship must be used to insure spiritual worship.  These can range from liturgists to those who just appeal to local church tradition and practice.  These people insist that a certain form must be followed to insure that the worship be acceptable to God, let alone spiritual.  Others take the opposite extreme, setting their face hard as flint against “formalism” and other deviant practices.

While any of the above may or may not contribute to spiritual worship, “Jesus declared, `Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshiper the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.'”[12]

The only requirement for spiritual worship is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  When he is there, we can have spiritual worship when he is not, we can’t.  Now we know that God is everywhere, but we also know that, when it comes to the life of the believers, he will not come in unless invited.  This does not mean that we have to anticipate everything God does before we let him in, because we don’t have the intelligence to outhink God in this way.

There is another important factor at work here, and this concerns who needs to worship in spirit and truth.  Jesus did not restrict the spiritual worship to the worship leaders, but extended it to all of the worshipers.  It is just as important for the hearers to be prepared for the move of the spirit as it is for the leaders, because it takes both for true spiritual worship.  Many preachers, especially young ones, get very discouraged when they preach their hearts out and little happens.  Since this is a layman’s book, it works both ways — we get discouraged when spiritual worship is absent from the platform as well.  In either case, one of the essential elements is missing.  Anointed or spiritual preaching must be complemented by anointed or spiritual listening and response.

In addition to the edifying effects of spiritual worship on the believers, Pentecostal praise should also be part of the witness of the church.  Many Pentecostals worry when people from the outside come into a worship service.  When the Holy Spirit is truly in charge, such fears need to be laid to rest.  Worship can be a powerful witness to others.  One of the classic (and in this case non-Pentecostal) examples of this took place in 987, when Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided his people needed a new religion.  He sent delegations to investigate the major religions around him, which included Islam, Judaism, and Roman Catholicism.  He was not impressed with the reports coming back concerning these.  The delegation he sent to Constantinople to investigate Greek Orthodoxy, however, was so swept away by what they saw they told Prince Vladamir “we no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth, nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it.”  On that report Vladamir made Orthodoxy the state religion and herded his people into the Dniepr River for baptism.

Over the years Christians have equipped themselves with a wide variety of methods to communicate the Gospel to people.  We have well researched and planned methods for Sunday School, visitation, personal witnessing, missions of all kinds, etc..  It seems a waste to hide our worship under a bushel basket when the Holy Spirit is there among us, for it is he who draws people to Jesus Christ and not we ourselves or our methods.  We need to consider this carefully when we prepare for worship.  What will people think when they come into our worship?  Will they see just another ritual?  Will they see us acting out a tradition?  Or will they be so overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit that they will not know whether they are on earth or in heaven?

The day of Pentecost is an ideal example of the Spirit at work.  He falls on the entire group, which had been prepared by the teaching of Jesus.  They all manifest the Spirit spontaneously yet in unity, and make a strong impression on the people around them.  There is no record of the time just before the event this is intentional.  Only the move of the Holy Spirit and the response of a prepared people is really important.  And that hasn’t changed from that day to the present.

From One Source

The description of the Pentecostal event includes the description of the tongues of fire.  These separated and came to rest on each one of the believers present.  These are the famous “cloven tongues of fire” celebrated in Pentecostal literature and preaching.  In both cases we are looking at the separation of the fire into parts.

This description is like the description of the glass — is it half full or half empty?  We can look at the separation of this fire, or we can, like John Chrysostom, look at the fire as being from one source.  It started out as one fire and then distributed itself amongst the believers.  The reason why this is so is because there is only one Holy Spirit and many of us.  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”[13]

Many claim that the introduction of tongues and spiritual gifts and manifestations is divisive.  The problem with that assertion is simply that the Holy Spirit is one, and not the author of division.  Divisions are a result of man’s condition, not God’s.

From All Nations

Up until now, we have spent most of our time looking at the believers and what they were experiencing.  We now turn our attention to the audience.

The Jews came from far and near to celebrate the Pentecost in Jerusalem.  The nations called out in the Acts surrounded Jerusalem like its mountains.  From the land God had promised them the Jews had dispersed in all directions.  They adopted local languages and made an attempt to integrate themselves enough to make a go of it while at the same time retaining their Jewish identity.  This process in Judaism has not ceased to the present time, and will continue so long as the Jews have a Diaspora outside of the land of Israel.

Yet, in spite of the diversity of the Jews, each one heard the message that the Holy Spirit was giving the believers in his or her own language, presumably the language they were using in their local situations.  By this time Hebrew, the language of the Jewish scriptures, was restricted in its usage.  Many Jews spoke Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke and the one most current amongst the Jews in and around Palestine at that time.  Other Jews, such as those in Alexandria, found themselves needing the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible because Greek was so current among them.  In order to make sure the message got through to them, the Holy Spirit had the message presented in their own language.  When they started to compare notes about what they had heard, they were astonished, and rightly so.

This multilingual presentation was not only for the Jews’ benefit it is for our own as well.  The Holy Spirit, acting as Counselor, had for his first session an important message to pass along to the church.  Given the church’s propensity to get into cultural ruts, it’s little wonder it was given right up front.

The message was simply this: Everyone is included in Christianity.  The word goes out in many tongues, and God expects many races and nations to respond positively, as he said “so is my word that goes out of my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”[14]  Spirit filled Christianity must bring all nations into itself or it cannot properly be said to be fulfilling its mission.  After the Jews, there was no chosen people or nation or family.  The new Israel was to be made up of people reborn in Jesus Christ their actual nationality or race had no bearing on this.

Unfortunately, much of Christianity has missed this message.  A classic example of this problem concerns the Hamitic Curse, which attributed the difficulties black people face to their descent from Ham, and the curse that God placed on him.  This gave biblical sanction to racial attitudes that needed little encouraging.  Those who encouraged the propagation of this type of thinking never stopped to consider that “this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”[15]  When it is all said and done, and history be wound up, will there be racial or cultural separation or hierarchy in the New Jerusalem?  Or for that matter in the lake of fire?

There are other examples of this kind of problem, but fundamental Christianity’s enemies have made so much of this there is no point in going on here.  These people — and this includes liberal church people along with humanists of all types — have used the cultural tunnel vision of some believers as a major weapon against them.  According to these refined types, people who plan to relate to fellow human beings of other races, cultures, and the like must approach them with a completely open mind, they must be liberal and tolerant, they should have a thorough education in the workings of other cultures, and best of all they should be so unsure of their own values that they become open and tolerant to those of others.  This last is best achieved by a long and generally expensive humanistic education, designed to sap the faith and missionary vitality of those who partake of it.  The sad part of this is the widespread surrender of many Christian people to this type of thinking.

Happily these people never got to the Pentecostal missionary pioneers.  Now it’s important for anyone who plans any substantial activity in a place of a different cultural millieu from your own to have some familiarity with the new territory Pentecostal missionaries have learned the hard way about this as much as anyone else.  But these missionaries, many of whom had either limited education or limited finances or both, advanced the church without many things that others would deem essential.  They did this for two reasons.  The first and essential reason is the Holy Spirit, who had empowered these people to do what he had sent them into the field to do.  This is part of what Jesus promised his followers this is part of that resurrection power.  The second is sincerity.  People of all cultures respond to others better when they are real there are few types of people under heaven more insufferable than a cross-cultural phony.  Probably the financial and educational limitations of these missionaries were helpful in poorer places the elimination of inequities can lead to the elimination of barriers.  These people could say with Paul, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, than I am strong.”[16]

This activity was carried out, not only by full time missionaries, but also by lay people moving from place to place, spreading the full Gospel where they went.  The result of this activity is manifest in the state of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity today.  In just the few years since the beginning of this movement around the turn of the century, most people baptized in the Holy Spirit are not white most do not speak English as their first language, and many not at all.  There are Pentecostal and Charismatic people in every part of the world, many in congregations which are ethnically, culturally, and sometimes linguistically diverse.  Such a move is not a human invention but is a result of the power of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit working in people who were willing to be led by him, whether or not they could see where they were going on this earth.

Babel Reversed

When the Tower of Babel was started, people spoke one language before it could be completed, the peoples’ languages were made many and the project had to be canceled.  This has been the case ever since, and the rise and fall of the various “universal” languages has make things easier without solving the problem.

At Pentecost this was reversed the Holy Spirit broke through the diversity of languages and sent the message forth so that everyone present could understand it.  As we have seen, this was and is important for the opening of the age of grace to everyone.  It was a sign that many of the setbacks that humanity had endured up to now were to be reversed, provided humanity was ready to accept the final Covenant that God had worked out in his own Son.  This is the big “if” of history it is one that man has not quite gotten right.

One further observation about this point concerns unknown tongues.  We speak different human languages, but the tongue unknown to people is universal.  It is something that transcends the different languages we use in life and worship.  I have had the privilege of knowing Pentecostals from the USSR we could not understand them when they spoke Russian, but we knew it when they spoke in tongues.  It was a transcendent sign that our brothers and sisters were among us.

Drunk

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who are in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!”[17]

Being made fun of goes with being Pentecostal.  We should not let Satan get our goat so easily with talk like this Peter didn’t.  Being supposed to be drunk brings up an interesting business.

Of all the nations that participated in the First World War, the one that had without a doubt the most miserable lot was the Russian Empire.  The Tsar’s realm was behind most of the other European nations in industrialization as a result of this, they were always short of munitions and supplies to fight the invading Germans and Austrians.  Other problems that they faced were an inadequate transportation system and excessive government regulation that impeded the efficient production and distribution of goods and services.

Those Russian factories that were in operation at the time were generally miserable places to work.  Housing, food, medical care, and the other necessities of life were either in short supply or of substandard quality.  Living conditions were unspeakable some of the workers even slept on their workbenches between shifts.  The factories were bad enough the mines were worse.

As the war wore on and the shaky economic system of the country unraveled further, the shortages got worse and the purchasing power of wages in many places shrank as the shortages jacked up prices.  Under these circumstances, Russian men (and even some children) increased their consumption of their favorite killer of the pains of body and life — vodka.  In the cities there was so much of the stuff available it drove Russian moonshine out of circulation.  Many workers spent as much as 10% of their subsistence wages on vodka, six times as much as on books and other cultural pursuits.  But the women for the most part turned to God for solace.  They kept the religious holidays and prayed while the men just went out and got drunk again.

In 1917, after three years of war, the Russian people had had enough of this, so they turned to revolution and overthrew the Tsar.  Before the year was out, the Bolsheviks, under V.I. Lenin, had come to power, and began their long campaign of takeover of the entire country, setting their enemies aside by either the sword or the gulag.  They came armed with Marxist doctrine that religion was the opiate of the people, their drug if you will, and that they wouldn’t need it any more under communism.

The Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.  They came to the gates of Moscow and Leningrad twenty million people were dead before the hammer and sickle flag was raised over the Reichstag in Berlin.  In the meanwhile, J. V. Stalin, who had been busy liquidating Christians and others, was forced to give a limited relegalization to the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian groups so that they could give assistance to the war effort and help boost the people’s morale where his communism could not.

In 1985 M.S. Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, and began his programs of glasnost and perestroika.  His first major public campaign was against the excessive consumption of alcohol and the drunkenness which resulted.  At that time there were still about 50 million Christians in the Soviet Union, including his own mother.  Every year that he came home to visit her, she would bake him a cake with the Russian initials “XB” on it for “Christos Voskrece!” or “Christ has Risen!,” the traditional Russian Easter Greeting.  As the economy moves on under perestroika, there are shortages of consumer goods and the miners have been striking for better pay and conditions.

Christianity is frequently criticized for being a crutch for people who cannot face life.  Real men, according to this type of thinking, don’t need this kind of stick to lean on, and can face the problems of life without assistance from the opiate of the people, and now real women are getting in on this line of thinking.  This type of rugged individualism has been used as much against Christians as the collectivism of the communists.

But those who lift their eyes and look around them see what the self conceited cannot.  There are a lot of crutches out there today.  Some are financial, some are family, some are just sheer fantasy, but many are chemical.  The statistics of those who have found temporary solace in the drinking, injection, snorting, smoking, pill-popping, or other forms of intake of alcohol and drugs are overwhelming testimonies to the simple fact that, at all levels of our society, many people cannot face life without the assistance of some kind of mind altering, pain numbing substance.  Many of these people are the first to ridicule the Saviour and his followers, but it really isn’t that funny after all.

The Jews thought that the believers were drunk.  Peter was clever to appeal to the clock but in reality the believers didn’t need wine to feel as good as they did.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit, who lifted them up above life’s problems with resurrection power, power not only to speak in tongues and do miracles, but to live from day to day in a rough world.  He lifted them up to look into eternity, and they found that when they did this world was just infinitely more bearable.  Drunkenness in wine or vodka is the diametric opposite of infilling — and dare I say drunkenness — in the Spirit, and those in whom the Spirit dwells have no place left for binges with the bottle.


[1]Ac 2:1-12

[2]Mt. 15:10,11

[3]Jas 3:5-7

[4]Mk 12:29,30

[5]Jn 14:23

[6]I Cor 13:8-10

[7]Ac 8:31a

[8]Heb 1:1,2

[9]Heb 13:8

[10]1 Cor 9:22b

[11]Jn 3:8

[12]Jn 4:21-24

[13]1 Cor 12:4-6

[14]Is 55:11

[15]Rom 3:22-24

[16]2 Cor 12:10

[17]Acts 2:13-15

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