The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

June 18, 2013

by Peter Amsterdam

The Holy Spirit and History

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

In the previous article, we read various accounts from the book of Acts describing how the Holy Spirit came upon believers. In some instances, the Spirit was given at the same time that the person first believed. In other cases, belief came first and the Spirit was given at a later time.

Throughout the book of Acts the Holy Spirit empowers the believers to witness,[1] anoints them to speak and preach boldly,[2] gives direction and instruction,[3] and bestows the gifts of tongues and prophecy.[4] In the Epistles, more is said about the Holy Spirit, not giving examples of people receiving or being baptized in the Spirit, but describing the functions and gifts of the Spirit. More on these gifts and functions will be covered in further articles.

History of Spiritual Gifts in the Church

Virtually all Christians believe that the Holy Spirit worked mightily during the era of the primitive church. Miracles and other manifestations of the Spirit are evident throughout Christian history. Among other things, miracles of healings caused many pagans to become Christians throughout the first few centuries AD. Various church fathers mentioned healings, speaking in tongues, and casting out demons in their writings up until the seventh century.

At some point, however, the church began to distance itself from manifestations of the Holy Spirit. It likely had to do with the issue of authority. If prophets could receive and deliver messages from God, it could have been seen as a challenge to the authority of the official church and of Scripture.

The belief over time within the Roman Catholic Church, and later within some of the Protestant churches, became that at the end of the apostolic era, around 100 AD, the works of the Spirit—specifically miracles, healings, and prophecy—discontinued and were no longer active. The majority of the church came to believe that since the preaching of the Gospel had taken hold in the world, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were no longer needed, as they had served their purpose as a means of authenticating the apostles’ preaching of the Gospel. This position was evident in the late second century when a movement known as Montanism arose, which was heavily focused on speaking in tongues and prophecy. One author explains:

[The Montanists] represented a revival of the prophets who were prominent in the first few decades of the church … At his baptism Montanus [the leader of the movement] “spoke with tongues” and began prophesying … Two women, his disciples, were also believed to be prophets, mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit. The Montanist movement spread widely. It prized the records of the teachings of Christ and His apostles, but it believed, although not contradicting what had been said there, that the Holy Spirit continued to speak through prophets, and among these it included women … The Montanists, with their assertion that Spirit-inspired prophets continued to arise in the Christian community, were a challenge to the administrative regularity represented by the bishops … Certainly prophets, accorded a place in the early church next to the apostles, were no longer granted recognition by the Catholic Church. Inspiration through prophets was supposed to have ceased with the apostolic age.[5]

The Montanist movement carried on into the fifth century, although it was persecuted by the official church. In time, it faded from history. However, various church fathers continued to mention healings, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and prophesying in their writings through the sixth century. As time went on, the church became more organized, rigid, and political. And the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power became less evident. Throughout the centuries, movements that did not accept Roman Catholic doctrine were persecuted, and in some cases, destroyed. There is evidence that some of these movements exhibited the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. After the Reformation in the 1500s, some movements also exhibited the gifts of speaking in tongues, healings, casting out demons, etc. These movements were not generally located within the major accepted branches of Protestantism.

In the 1800s, there was a bit more emphasis put on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians, especially in the Holiness movement[6] and others.

Since the early 1900s, there has been a resurgence or a revival of charismatic/miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was at this time that modern-day Pentecostalism began, and throughout the century it became the fastest-growing branch of Christianity. Today there are about 560 million Pentecostal/Charismatic/Neocharismatic Christians worldwide.

There are many branches of Christianity that believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed within the New Testament. Some of these Christians believe that while many of the gifts are available, the miraculous gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healing are not, and that those claiming they are available today are misguided.

Waves of Revival

There have been what some refer to as three “waves” or renewals of the move of the Spirit within the past century.

The first was the Pentecostal revival, which began in the United States in 1901 and which gave birth to the Pentecostal churches. Pentecostals believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is usually a separate event that happens apart from conversion or salvation. They hold that the gift of speaking in tongues is the primary sign or evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that all of the gifts of the Spirit should be used today. Pentecostal churches usually have their own denominational structure. One of the largest Pentecostal denominations is the Assemblies of God.[7]

The second wave was the Charismatic movement, which traces its beginning to the 1960s and '70s. Charismatic believers don’t generally have a separate denominational structure, rather they see themselves as Protestants or Catholics who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who remain in their traditional churches. Charismatic believers are found in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and other mainline churches. They seek to practice all the spiritual gifts, including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation and discernment of spirits, and believe these gifts function within Christianity today. Unlike the Pentecostals, they allow for differing viewpoints on whether baptism in the Holy Spirit happens at conversion or is subsequent to conversion, and also on whether tongues are the main sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit.[8]

The third wave is a movement known as Neocharismatic. It emerged on the heels of the Charismatic movement, in the 1960s, with its full impact being felt in the 1970s. This movement embraces many of the doctrines and practices found within Pentecostal and Charismatic churches; however, they are not specifically aligned with either movement. The Neocharismatic movement encourages the equipping of all believers to use the New Testament spiritual gifts today, and those embracing it believe that the preaching of the Gospel should be accompanied by “signs, wonders, and miracles,” which some call “power evangelism.” They generally teach that baptism in the Holy Spirit happens to all Christians at conversion, and that subsequent experiences are called being filled with or the filling of the Holy Spirit, rather than calling the event being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Vineyard churches are an example of a Neocharismatic church.[9]

A Range of Beliefs as to When the Spirit Is Received

Within these movements, there is a range of beliefs regarding the receiving of the Holy Spirit, with Pentecostals claiming that the baptism of the Spirit is a secondary event subsequent to salvation; with some Charismatic believers believing the same, and others being open to or believing that the Holy Spirit is given at the time of salvation; and Neocharismatic believers considering that generally it occurs at conversion. Charismatic Christians who believe the Spirit is given at salvation believe that there are times when believers receive an extra boost or filling of the Spirit, and that this can happen more than once.

Denominations which are neither Pentecostal nor Charismatic generally believe that receiving the Holy Spirit happens at the time of salvation. Some of these denominations, such as the Baptists, are cessationist—meaning they believe that the charismatic or supernatural gifts of the Spirit are no longer functional in today’s church. Other non-Charismatic churches believe that the gifts of the Spirit still function within the church, and that God continues to give such gifts, though they don’t put emphasis on the miraculous gifts as the Pentecostals do, and neither do they see the receiving of the Holy Spirit as a subsequent experience to salvation.

The biblical evidence shows that the Holy Spirit is involved in the lives of Christians, and according to the book of Acts, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit came powerfully upon the believers—some when they first received salvation and others at some time after that. Because some believers received the Holy Spirit upon salvation, it seems that the belief that the Spirit is received in the believer at the moment of salvation is valid.

Jesus spoke of being born of the Spirit. Paul said that those who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them do not belong to God. Peter said to repent and be baptized—in other words, to believe in Jesus—and you will receive the Holy Spirit. These verses indicate that the Spirit comes into the believer’s life at the time of salvation.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[10]

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.[11]

Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[12]

These verses indicate that individuals receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation, at least in some measure. However, many Christians experience a filling or empowering of the Holy Spirit at a subsequent time, which cannot be ignored.

Some theologians suggest that individuals who have a second experience when they pray to receive the Holy Spirit were actually unsaved, and when they prayed for the gift or baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is when they experienced salvation, which is why they feel so empowered by the Spirit. While in some cases this could be true, it seems highly unlikely that the hundreds of millions of people who have had a spiritual experience subsequent to salvation, when praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit, were in fact unsaved at the time.

A Balanced Interpretation

A better understanding seems to be that individuals receive the Holy Spirit in some measure at the time of salvation. The presence of the Spirit within salvation begins to bring about spiritual change and regeneration in the person. Receiving the Spirit at salvation can be looked at as a glass being full of water.

Christians who pray and ask for the infilling or gifts of the Holy Spirit later could be looked at as the full glass having more water poured into it, until it overflows. Rather than seeing it as the only time one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, it would be seen as a further outpouring of the Spirit, causing an overflowing of God’s Spirit within the individual. This infilling can happen more than once.

Most likely those who don’t believe in asking for the infilling of the Holy Spirit will not manifest certain gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, such as prophecy, miracles, healings, tongues and interpretation of tongues, as their interpretation of Scripture would constrain them from manifesting these gifts in their lives. This doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have any gifts of the Spirit, as they would most likely manifest the many other types of gifts that are not manifested in supernatural ways, such as wisdom, teaching, knowledge, faith, discernment, service, exhortation, generosity, leading, and acts of mercy.

By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.[13]

Jesus specifically spoke about asking the Father to give the Holy Spirit when He said:

I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him![14]

While there is some disagreement between Christian denominations regarding whether all Christians receive the Holy Spirit at the time of their conversion, or if the Spirit is only given after salvation, what’s most important to remember is that Scripture tells us that the Father will give the Spirit to those who ask. Therefore, it seems that no matter when or under what circumstances one may believe the Holy Spirit is given, as Christians we can ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, so that we can be filled to overflowing with God’s love and power, enabling us to share the message of Jesus with others.

As can be seen by the different interpretations of how and when the Holy Spirit is received, scripture sometimes appears to support differing positions. Regardless of what interpretation one believes, they will be forced to deal with scriptures which others interpret differently. In many instances, these differences don’t affect the fundamental point being made. In this case, no matter which interpretation one believes in regard to when and how the Spirit is given, both sides believe that the Holy Spirit is given. It seems wisest to remain somewhat open about the details of when and how.

Sadly, the difference in beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit has caused some oppositional attitudes between different schools of thought. Some of those who believe that being baptized in the Holy Spirit is an event subsequent to salvation categorize those who haven’t specifically prayed for the Holy Spirit as carnal or weak Christians, while they see themselves as more spiritual or stronger Christians. Some of those who don’t believe in a subsequent receiving of the Holy Spirit claim that those who do are often more focused on the experiential side of faith with less focus on being grounded in God’s Word.

Christian apologist Matt Slick offers the following observation:

The danger of this phenomena [baptism of the Holy Spirit] is the potential division of the body of Christ into two categories: those who are “regular” Christians and those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. This, of course, would be an incorrect way of looking at Christians, and this is why. If you were to step outside into a soft mist, it would take a long time to get completely wet. On the other hand, if you were to step into a torrential rain, you’d be drenched quickly.

Those who have not experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (meaning a sudden and powerful experience) are not second-class citizens by any means. They are the ones in the gentle mist who experience the Lord over a long period of time and get just as blessed as those who suddenly step into the torrent of the Spirit’s presence.[15]

Within the book of Acts, the manifestation of the filling or baptism in the Holy Spirit came upon some at the moment of conversion and others some time afterwards, but in both scenarios, the Spirit was within them. Throughout the New Testament there are references to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the lives of Christians, as we are led by the Spirit,[16]receive gifts and manifestations of the Spirit,[17] are washed and sanctified by the Spirit,[18] have received God’s Spirit,[19] are taught by the Spirit,[20] are helped in our weakness by the Spirit,[21] preach the Gospel by the Spirit,[22] and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.[23]

It seems that the Christlike attitude would be to accept that though there may be differences in certain specific beliefs regarding when and how the Holy Spirit comes to believers, all believers are part of the body of Christ, all receive the Holy Spirit, and as Christians we should show respect and love toward our fellow believers. As the apostle Paul stated after writing about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “I will show you a still more excellent way,”[24] followed by his beautiful exhortation regarding love being more important than manifesting the gifts of the Spirit. The greatest of these is love.[25]

[1] Acts 1:8.

[2] Acts 4:8,31; 6:10.

[3] Acts 8:29; 10:19–20; 13:2,4; 15:28; 16:6–7.

[4] Acts 2:4; 11:28; 19:6.

[5] Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1500 (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1975), 128–29, 134.

[6] The holiness movement refers to a set of beliefs and practices emerging from 19th-century Methodism. The movement emphasized John Wesley’s “Christian perfection” teaching that one can live free of voluntary sin through a second work of grace. (Wikipedia).

[7] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 763.

[8] Ibid., 763.

[9] Ibid., 763–64.

[10] John 3:5–8.

[11] Romans 8:9.

[12] Acts 2:38.

[13] Romans 12:3–8.

[14] Luke 11:9–13.

[16] If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Galatians 5:18).

[17] Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4).

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).

[18] You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

[19] We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).

[20] We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).

[21] The Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).

[22] It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).

[23] By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you (2 Timothy 1:14).

[24] 1 Corinthians 12:31.

[25] 1 Corinthians 13:13.