Before digging into the Scriptures, I would like to establish my credentials on this topic. I was first exposed to the concept of being baptized in the Holy Spirit almost immediately after I became a Christ-follower.
I submitted my life to Christ in November of 1973 while a soldier assigned to the US Army’s 3rd Armored Division in Gelnhausen, a small town about 30 minutes northeast of Frankfurt in what was formerly West Germany. After conversion, I was discipled by two Christian ministries who operated outreaches to the military personnel there.
There were several people who ministered to me at my home base: the late John Little (who led me to Jesus), Gene Billingsley, and LTC Richard and Mrs. Hedrick (our base chaplain), as well as Chester Gretz, a missionary to the former Soviet Bloc who was based in the same town. As it turned out, John, the Hedricks, and Rev. Gretz were all charismatic, though I didn’t discover this until later.
When I was at my home base, I was also discipled by The Navigators. They operated a ministry outreach centered near Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main Air Force Base which also covered neighboring Army installations — including Gelnhausen.
Another brother associated with The Navs named Jim Albert, an USAF sergeant stationed at Rhein-Main, spiritually adopted and discipled me. My aforementioned friends John and Gene were also associated with that group.
The Navs were not a charismatic organization and remain so to this day. So I have personally witnessed people then and since who did not speak in tongues — and indeed didn’t even accept that experience as scriptural — who walk in the love of Christ and live lives of victory by the grace of God.
When our unit went out to “the field” to shoot for qualification with our tanks at a place called Graffenwöhr, I hung out at a Christian coffee house there operated by Youth With A Mission. These folks were definitely charismatic. Please note this was during the height of the Charismatic Renewal and Jesus Movement of the 1970s.
Through them, I purchased quite a few teaching cassettes recorded by major leaders of the Charismatic Renewal such as Bob Mumford and Derek Prince. I also heard some incredible teaching through video tapes of classes taught at YWAM’s School of Evangelism at Lausanne, Switzerland. I used to patch my portable cassette recorder into the VTR and record those 1-hour classes onto 120-minute cassettes so I could take them home to Gelnhausen with me and listen to them again and again.
It was an interesting spiritual upbringing, to say the least, and I thank God for it!
What Does the Word Say?
When I would return from Graf with all my shiny, new teachings about the Holy Spirit, tongues, miracles, etc. and ask my mentor Jim about them, his unvarying response was always, “Well, what does the Word say?”
I owe him an incredible debt of gratitude for his consistency in driving me back to God’s Word, rather than taking the much easier course of simply expressing his personal opinion. Though we eventually came to differing conclusions on the subject, I thank God for Jim’s response.
Because it caused me to emulate the Berean disciples in the Book of Acts who:
…were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. — Acts 17:11
From my very first exposure to charismatic teaching onward, I sought the Lord to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit for the roughly year and a half of my remaining time in the Army. However, I never experienced it until I was living in El Paso, Texas shortly after being honorably discharged from the Army in late 1975. There, at a non-denominational charismatic church called The Church at El Paso, I finally received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.
So well over a year before I ever spoke in tongues, I could defend it as scriptural from God’s Word apart from my personal experience, something so exceedingly rare it borders on uniqueness.
Why do I call this situation almost unique?
Because every single charismatic believer I’ve ever during the ensuing almost 5 decades has experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit first — and then had to figure out from the Scriptures what had happened to them after the fact.
There’s a major pitfall inherent to that particular sequence of events:
- The baptism in the Holy Spirit is incredibly powerful. I’ve never met another charismatic believer who wasn’t completely overwhelmed in some way or another by the experience.
- Its impact on people’s walk with Jesus and their lives in general is highly personal. After hearing testimony after testimony over a period of decades, no two of them were alike, though there were more than a few similarities.
Because of this, there is an almost universal tendency for such folks to commit eisegesis on the Scriptures when what we are supposed to be doing is exegesis.
Here’s the difference:
- Eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes their own presuppositions, assumptions, experiences, and biases upon the passage. It is commonly referred to as “reading into” the text.
- Drawing out a text’s meaning in accordance with the author’s context and discoverable meaning.
Thus exegesis tends to be objective; and eisegesis, highly subjective. And the vast majority of testimonies and teaching I’ve heard on this experience is precisely that: subjective.
And My Point Is?
So why should any of my personal history on this topic make any never-mind to you? Because it demonstrates my credentials on this topic, that I’m not some wild-eyed, gibberish-spouting, biblically-illterate lunatic (well, that lunatic part might be a tad debatable if you asked my wife or closest friends! But that’s not important right now…).
After almost 50 years of following Jesus, both studying the Scriptures and observing spiritual fruit in the lives of other believers — mostly good, others not so much; many of them tongue-talkers, quite a few not — I’m fairly certain I have a sound perspective from which to present my case.
I personally have been both praying and praising in the Spirit and operating in various gifts of the Spirit all along the way. It seems like most of the time, God uses me in the word of wisdom and exhortation/prophesy, occasionally healings, sometimes a word of knowledge or wisdom, but rarely in tongues and interpretation of tongues. These are manifested as the Spirit chooses.
I’m merely a Christ-follower He uses to supernaturally bless people every so often. There is nothing special or noteworthy about that because that is what all Christ-followers are supposed to be doing.
Besides, my reward is in heaven, anyway!
The bottom line is this: I’m never trying to cram any of this down anyone’s throat. Neither do I look down upon those who disagree with me on the matter.
Our next step is to answer Jim’s burning question from 50 years ago:
What does the Word say?