When I was first exposed to the concept of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it was at the height of the Charismatic Renewal/Jesus Movement of the 1970s.
I committed my life to Christ’s lordship in November of 1973 while I was a GI assigned to the US Army’s 3rd Armored Division in Gelnhausen, about 30 minutes northeast of Frankfurt, then-West Germany. After conversion, I was discipled by two disparate Christian ministries who operated outreaches to military personnel there.
There were several people who ministered to me at my home base: John Little (who led me to Jesus), Gene Billingsley, and Chaplain & Mrs. Hedrick, and a missionary to the Soviet Bloc named Chester Gretz in Gelnhausen. As it turned out, John, the Hedricks, and Rev. Gretz were all charismatic, though I didn’t find this out until much later. My friend Gene married the Hedrick’s daughter Kathy and they have been married for almost 40 years now. Now isn’t THAT cool! But I digress… 🙂
While I was at my home base, I was also discipled by The Navigators who had a ministry covering Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main AFB and neighboring Army installations. The Navs were not a charismatic organization and remain so to this day.
The person who discipled me from this organization was an Air Force NCO in Frankfurt named Jim Albert, though John and Gene were also associated with that group. So I have personally witnessed people then and since who did not speak in tongues — and indeed didn’t even accept it as scriptural — who walked in the love of Christ and lived 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 (known to all soldiers in Germany as “Graf”), I hung out at a Christian coffee house operated there by Youth With A Mission. These folks were definitely charismatic and I acquired from them quite a number of teaching cassettes recorded by the leaders of the then-in-progress Charismatic Renewal as well as hearing some incredible teaching from video tapes of classes taught at their School of Evangelism at Lausanne, Switzerland. At the time I was hearing all this teaching, however, I had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
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, and the like and ask my mentor Jim about them, his response was always, “Well, what does the Word say?” I owe Jim 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 his response because it motivated 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
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until after I was honorably discharged from the Army and was living in El Paso, Texas during late 1975 that I actually received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for the first time, about a year after I had initially heard about it and sought it from the Lord. So months before I ever spoke in tongues, I could defend the experience as scriptural from God’s Word apart from my personal experience, something that is actually rather rare.
Why do I call this rare?
Every other charismatic believer I’ve ever met has experienced it first, then dug into the Scriptures afterwards to figure out what happened to them. Because Holy Spirit baptism is such an incredibly powerful experience and is highly personal as to its immediate impact on people’s lives, there is a great tendency for such believers to commit eisegesis. As I have discussed elsewhere in my writings here, eisegesis means interpreting the Scriptures in light of our experiences/frames-of-reference/opinions/religious traditions rather than conforming our beliefs to what the Bible actually says and means.
And My Point Is?
So why does any of this personal history make any never-mind?
Because it demonstrates my solid credentials on this topic; I’m not some wild-eyed, gibberish-spouting, Bible-waving lunatic who hasn’t done his homework. Truthfully, I’ve been at this for 45+ years and have been there and done that: studying the Scriptures and observing all kinds of Christians — some good, some bad, some tongue-talkers, some not — and seeing both the fruit of God’s Word and their fruit.
And 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, rarely in tongues and interpretation of tongues. But all these are manifested as the Spirit chooses and I lay claim to no titles others might be tempted to apply to such a person. I’m just a believer God uses to supernaturally bless some people every so often.
The bottom line is this: I’m never in the mode of trying to cram any of this down anyone’s throat and I don’t look down upon those who disagree with me on the matter.
We’ll start digging into the Scriptures on this subject in depth in my next post.
Thanks for reading!