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The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series


What Does It Mean To Be Pentecostal?

Tue, 02 Jul 2013 - 1:22 PM CST

Three Perspectives

The Dynamic Behind the Doctrine

By Roger Cotton

I am a first generation Pentecostal by choice after an experience in early adulthood, and through marrying a third generation Pentecostal. I am also a student of the history of the Assemblies of God and of Pentecostalism. It is this perspective on where we have been and how others have viewed us that helps me draw the following conclusions on what it means to be a Pentecostal. From the beginning of Pentecostalism at the turn of this century, and even again in the charismatic renewal of the 70’s, the essential defining principle of Pentecostalism has been the desire for and active pursuit of all that God has for His people as described in the Bible. That means in practice Pentecostals have a high view of the Bible as relevant to today, a unique dynamic in worship, and a special vitality in daily life.

First, it means Pentecostals view all the Scriptures as profitable for doctrine and instruction in what God wants for His people (2 Timothy 3:16). The narratives of the Bible are not just nice stories but revelations of precedents for our walk with God. The same Jesus whose words and deeds are recorded in Scripture still speaks and acts today (Hebrews 13:8).

Second, Pentecostals have always been known for whole-hearted, even exuberant, expression of worship. This comes with wanting all God has for them. There is a boldness, and an excitement among such worshippers. There is a healthy allowance for the whole person to get involved in worship. The great joy and hope expressed in an atmosphere of freedom in Pentecostal services attracts outsiders. There is also the expectation of supernatural manifestations of the grace of God through Christ, as described in the New Testament.

Finally, Pentecostals have a dynamic in their daily lives as a result of seeking all that God has for them. He is still doing for believers today what we read about in the Scriptures. It has been exciting to me to experience the personal direct leading and empowering of the Spirit. Early Pentecostals came to expect an experience of the Spirit’s power which they observed in Acts 2:4 and proclaimed for all believers. This Baptism in the Holy Spirit became defined in terms of the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Over time more and more traditions were established providing an increasingly narrow definition of a Pentecostal. Bible doctrines are important, but sometimes traditional applications are treated as though they were actually stated in Scripture. And even more important, we must not lose the dynamic, historical perspective of what it means to be Pentecostal.

If we define ourselves only in terms of doctrines in contrast to what others believe, we get a too fragmented or fossilized view of Pentecostalism, and miss the vibrancy and dynamic of the whole picture.1

Pentecostals are seekers after God. They are always open to new understandings of Bible truths for a present-day experience. They are striving to learn greater yieldedness to the Spirit in both fruit and gifts, in holiness and ministry, and whatever else God wants to do in and through their lives. They encourage one another to express themselves freely and wholeheartedly in worship. An important result of the dynamic of the Spirit in their lives is that others come to know Christ. With this there is a sense of urgency because of the heightened expectation that Christ could return at any moment.

When these things are no longer true of us, we are no longer truly Pentecostal. When we see our group as having arrived at God’s final truth and no longer sense our spiritual need nor hunger for more of what He has for us, we are no longer truly Pentecostal. I want the dynamic that led to the doctrine. Both are important to being a Pentecostal in today’s world.

1The following chart gives an overview of my perspective of how Pentecostal experience progresses from the desire to the doctrine:

1→ 2→ 3→ 4→

Earnest Desire for and active pursuit of all that God has for His people as described in the Bible

Experience of the Dynamic that God wants for all believers  — the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Definition of the Experience in terms of the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues
Exclusive Doctrine of the group

Roger Cotton, Th.D., professor of Old Testament, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri

Our Distinctive, Yes … But Not Our Confession of Faith

By Zenas J. Bicket

A faith Pentecostal is more than a tongues speaker. From the earliest days of 20th-century Pentecost, the baptism in the Holy Spirit was only one of four cardinal doctrines. Salvation, healing, and the imminent return of Christ rounded out the four cornerstones of Pentecostal belief. Adapting A.B. Simpson’s Fourfold Gospel of Christ as Savoir, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King, the Pentecostals substituted the Baptism in the Holy Spirit for the sanctification cornerstone.’

The substitution was logical and appropriate, for the Holy Spirit plays an important part in the believer’s sanctification (Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11). But for later generations (especially outside Pentecostal ranks), the tongues-speaking emphasis of the Baptism gradually overshadowed the sanctification emphasis. Never should we respond to a question about our beliefs by speaking only of tongues or the infilling of the Spirit, no matter how precious that experience may be. We must be ready always to give a complete answer for the belief that energizes us as Pentecostals (1 Peter 3:15). Being Pentecostal involves more than testifying of an entry-level experience into the Spirit-filled life. It requires giving evidence of continuing walk in the Spirit, a life that is becoming more Christlike through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual fruit
is certainly an evidence of a Spirit-filled life, the mark of a true Pentecostal. That does not mean that the Pentecostal is the epitome of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). It means simply that these virtues are being fashioned and developed in the life of the believer who cooperates with the Spirit’s work in his or her life. An authentic Pentecostal cooperates with the fruit-producing work of the Holy Spirit.

A Pentecostal recognizes that the Spirit works in the body of Christ through gifts and ministries to edify and build up believers and to draw unbelievers to Christ (1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30, Romans 12:4–8; Ephesians 4:11). Knowing that every believer is a priest and minister of God’s grace (1 Peter 2:5,9), and through the inner working of the Spirit is appointed to minister or serve, the Pentecostal desires and expects the Spirit to impart one or more gifts and seeks to use those divinely given gifts to glorify God and edify mankind (1 Corinthians 12:4–7; 14:1). The regular operation of the gifts is the mark of a vibrant Pentecostal community.

A Pentecostal is a soulwinner. Acts 1:8 is more than a memory verse. It is a distinguishing mark of a Pentecostal: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” The promise is “for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). More than just a tongues experience, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience of divinely sent power-power to witness, to evangelize. Though everyone who witnesses is not a Pentecostal, one who does not witness is not fully Pentecostal.

A Pentecostal worships with ease. Though described by some as a fanatic because he lifts his voice and his hands in praise, the actions are his natural response to an awesome yet loving God. Furthermore, the Pentecostal knows that his walk before his Maker is as important as his “worship talk” to his Maker. An earthly father who reminds his child, “Have you done your duties tonight?” would not be pleased to hear, “I love you, Daddy; you’re the most wonderful daddy in the world.” Nor would he be satisfied to hear the same repeated when he asks the second time, “Have you cleaned your room as you were told?” The Pentecostal knows “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Obedience to God’s Word is the truth in which the Pentecostal worships God. The Pentecostal, even though acknowledging the work of the Spirit in his life, is not perfect. He is still fallible, vulnerable to temptation and even sin. He continually turns to the Holy Spirit for help in becoming Christlike and progressively sanctified or growing in holiness. He seeks to walk in the Spirit so he “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). Having described the characteristics of a true Pentecostal, one may legitimately observe, “Most of those traits are desired by and seen in the lives of all devoted Evangelicals.” That cannot be argued, yet the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues and an appreciation for supernatural manifestations of the Spirit are distinctives not usually found in mainline Evangelicals — distinctives, yes, but not all there is to a Pentecostal. The Pentecostal seeks to recapture in 20th-century belief and practice all the doctrine and practice of the Early Church.

Zenas J. Bicket, Ph.D., former president, Berean College, Springfield, Missouri

1. Charles W. Nienkirchen, A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1992), 2–12.

Spiritual Experience and Rationalism in Tension

By Benny C. Aker

Oh I’ve never seen a purple cow
and never hope to see one,
but this I will say now —
I’d rather see than be one.

This little saying expresses in a special way the dilemma I faced growing up in a non-Pentecostal environment. We had heard about those tongues speakers, but often not good or kind things. Then, it happened — God filled me with the Spirit and life has not been the same. Since then, it has not been easy to know who a Pentecostal is or how she/he should act. Our roots in the holiness tradition often confuse our children who come into contact with other viewpoints, especially those with a strong sense of Pauline justification by faith alone (as opposed to legalism). And the rise and fall of televangelists has not helped us much, either.

The title of this article contains the word “be” and implies a contrast to the word “act.” To “act” as a Pentecostal is not the same as to “be” a Pentecostal. “Being” suggests something is inside, that which cannot necessarily be seen, but can be misinterpreted by external qualities.

Let me first address a vital issue of the danger of rationalization. Though I spent my childhood years in another evangelical denomination, I have been Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) for 34 years. The first decade of my new life in the Spirit paralleled the emergence of the Charismatic movement. A/G churches where I lived involved themselves in this revival. It was not long, however, before I picked up more and more of a distancing of many A/G ministers and churches from such meetings as the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. In the early to mid eighties, I detected, in many areas, a shift away from Pentecostal life and worship styles: spontaneity of worship and prayer, prophesying, tongues and interpretation, and, in some cases, the manifestation of a hunger for more of God. It is not that we do not believe or desire these things  — we do. During this time, many practical and theological threats accosted us — we have had to turn our attention to “think” through these things: the shepherding movement, transcendental meditation, the latter rain movement, and the inerrancy issue. Could it be that in the process, we have picked up a mentality that is not conducive to the in-breaking of God’s Spirit?

We would do well to reflect on earlier examples of the impact of rationalization on the Church. For instance, the gift of prophecy all but died out after the first century.1 Second-century Montanism was sort of a reactionary, yet serious, attempt to restore this gift to the church. Terrance Callan says, “Montanism was called ‘the new prophecy,’ an appellation which might suggest that it was not only a revival of prophecy, but a different kind of prophecy that had been current in the church. It was attacked precisely because of this, criticized as a departure from the type of prophecy familiar in the church, i.e., prophecy without a trance.”2 Robert L. Thomas, citing Aune, gives five major reasons for this decline, two of which are important to our topic at hand. First, the presence of false prophets eventually undermined the authority of true prophets. The church responded by ruling out prophecy altogether. Second, the church decisively repudiated Montanist prophecy. (These two are closely related.) He includes two additional reasons for the decline in a footnote, referring again to Aune. One is important for us: “The increasing Hellenization of the Church and the accompanying emphasis on the rationality of the faith. Such a trend was evident as second-century leaders sought to defend the Christian faith in a society that was thoroughly entrenched in its Greek philosophical background.” The lesson we should learn is that in our dealing with error, we should not supress genuine spiritual experiences because of the abuse of some errant practitioners. Furthermore, this process of decline may be all the more subtle because our Western culture is similarly Greco-rational in its world view. That is, we tend to condition ourselves to rely merely on reason, even though we commit theologically to Spirit-experiences.

This brings me to my second point. Not only is a strictly cerebral approach detrimental to Pentecostal experience, it conditions a mindset that removes God from our lives. When we theologize in our strictly rational, Western way, we think about God. This becomes a substitute for the presence of God. What Pentecostalism offers to the world is the immanence of a transcendent God. By making Him mostly transcendent through our third person (i.e., theology is only discussion about God) approach, we no longer experience Him in our lives.

Years ago when students came fresh from our churches, it was common for them to say, “God told me” or “God spoke to me.” We teachers hesitated to use the same expression and often cautioned others about using such expressions because of abuse and, in some cases, because of pride. In recent years or so, however, rarely have I heard such language. I now encourage it because it helps me to “practice the presence of God.”

I began, about the same time, to notice that some types of education trained the mind to think about God in the third person and thus to remove the presence of God. I made a conscious effort to search for a truly biblical/Pentecostal educational approach. This search has led me to realize that a merely Western rational approach to education is detrimental to Pentecostalism and to Pentecostal ministry — it leads to skills that are not practical in a Pentecostal way. With this in mind, one can be trained and know theology well, be in the ministry, but still not be a Pentecostal minister. My approach to education now takes great pains to have at its center a consciousness of the presence of God and His miracle-working power. Everything then fits orderly around this center.

While in many ways I am not the same person I was when first filled with the Spirit, I find that I must cultivate the same sensitivity as when I was so hungry for God that nothing else mattered. The same sense of His presence and the results are still with me — that never changes. When He filled me with His Spirit, my soul had a bubbling up of the Spirit. This is what I had searched for, for so long. The Scripture came alive, I could not wait to tell others about this wonderful Savior, whom I now knew in a powerful and personal way. Now — I’d rather be than see one!

Benny C. Aker, Ph.D., professor emeritus of New Testament Exegesis, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri

1. Robert L. Thomas, “The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy in Revelation 22:18,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32 (June 1989): 212, notes authors who discuss this issue.
2. Terrance Callan, “Prophecy and Ecstasy in Greco-Roman Religion and in 1 Corinthians,” Novum Testamentum 27 (1985): 139.

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