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  • Writer's pictureTerry M. Smith

The Promise and Peril of Pentecost

"I also believe in the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son and yet is with them one true God, who sanctifies all things, without whom nothing is holy, in whom I place all my trust, that he will teach me all truth, increase my faith, and stir up the fire of his love in my heart with his holy breathing and kindle it right properly that it might burn in genuine, unadulterated, and Christian love toward God and my neighbour. This I pray heartily, my God, my Lord, my Comforter."

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, let's consider these words from a prison in Switzerland in 1525, for they reveal a strong belief in and a deep dependence upon God's Spirit.

Anabaptist leader Balthasar Hubmaier wrote this as part of the Apostles' Creed in prayer form after being arrested in 1525 and placed in Wellenberg, a prison tower on an island, until his release in April 1526. Ultimately Hubmaier was executed by burning at the stake in 1528, in tragic irony, by other Christians who with him would say in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

Pentecost, Jean II Restout, Oil on Canvas. 1732

The Journey with Pentecost

Hubmaier's dependence upon the Spirit amid his struggles connects with my journey with God's Spirit. Of mainline church roots, as a teen I moved in evangelical circles and after baptism as a believer, journalism studies, and two years at Central Pentecostal College (now Horizon College and Seminary, Saskatoon), I served as a pastoral intern at the Thompson Pentecostal Assembly, in northern Manitoba, under Ernest and Bertha Shelvey, both fine pastors and still good friends.

On Pentecost Sunday I preached on The Promise and Peril of Pentecost. The promise of Pentecost is that the Spirit of God will empower believers; the peril is that people who claim the Spirit might not reflect this in their lifestyle. I don't know if I drew upon the thoughts of my professor Dr. Ron Kydd from his course on Pentecostal Distinctives, but I do recall he taught that when a person was baptized in the Spirit there were two evidences: speaking in other tongues and a changed lifestyle—and he said of the two, the changed lifestyle was more important.

More than 40 years after preaching that sermon, I am aware of how I need the Spirit's power and yet often have fallen short in life.

What is your experience with the Spirit​?

The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) and CPC still impress me with their concern decades ago for church planting and missions, Scripture's authority, and the Spirit's work. Some of Central's professors held doctorates; when I transferred into Steinbach Bible College, no professor did. CPC's concern for discipleship equaled what I've seen in Anabaptist circles; and of the four fine colleges where I studied (full-time at three and two courses at another), CPC was the most important for my pastoral training.

Yet I left the PAOC after three years. I thought it unlikely to ordain me because I wasn't convinced that the “initial, physical evidence” of being baptized in the Spirit was speaking in tongues. There was a phone call to an area official who said, “If you're not willing to preach the Word....” Being willing to preach the Word was not the issue. It was what the Word teaches on this matter.

Pentecost and the Church

How do I view the Spirit's work today? It seems odd for parts of the Church to use certain gifts (such as tongues, interpretation, and prophecy) while others do not. All gifts are for His whole Church, including the words of wisdom and knowledge, healing and prophecy, faith, distinguishing of spirits, and the working of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). As Peter Gillquist says, the Spirit's gifts protect the Church and strengthen us in Christ's mission. In my view, dismissing or ignoring some gifts is as unhelpful as to abuse them.

The need for certain gifts did not stop when the original apostles died or the New Testament was formed. As Bill McLeod reminds us, the apostle Paul said of the struggling Church at Corinth, “You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7). The Spirit's gifts are to be used by the entire Church until Jesus comes.

Influenced years ago by Wayne Robinson, a former Pentecostal, my view is that at conversion “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). So what of more experiences of the Spirit? You've heard of how a person told a Christian leader, “I've had a second experience of the Spirit.” The leader replied, “Good. Go have a third!”

Paul's Counsel Protects the Church

The excesses of some Christians need not cause us to fear any of God's gifts. Yes, some leaders err in healing or exorcism, by teaching “name it and claim it,” or health and wealth, or by misusing the Spirit's gifts. Churches are harmed when they ignore Paul's counsel (1 Corinthians 12 to 14).

Paul said gifts are distributed as God sees fit (12:11) to be used for common good (12:7) to build up the church in love (13:1-7, 13; 14:1, 26) and to be used decently and in order (14:26-33, 39-40). We are to respect all gifts (14:39), yet “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (12:31) which teach and build up the Church (14:4-5, 12, 18-19). While Paul valued and privately used the gift of tongues (not my gift), he said “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:18-19).

Further, as Dr. Ron Kydd said, the church is to test a prophecy: it must be scriptural; it is to be encouraging; and the speaker's lifestyle matters (see 14:29-33, 36-38). “Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). In my view, a genuine prophecy will not contradict, replace, or go beyond scripture. It might even come as sound preaching or a hearty exhortation!

No part of the Church can survive or thrive without the Spirit's power, work, and gifts. What gifts are operating in Anabaptist circles? Here's an unoriginal thought: Rather than ask “What gifts do I have?” (which might seem less than humble), perhaps we together can identify gifts operating through our brothers and sisters.

How is the Spirit at work in our lives? The Spirit frees our will so we can choose whether to believe, illumines the truth of Christ, and invites and enables us to believe. We are indwelt by the Spirit at conversion, placed into the Body of Christ, and gifted to carry out Christ's mission. When we struggle in prayer “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” and “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will” (Rom. 8:26-27). And when we feel weak we recall by the Spirit what God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In my weakness I am helped by the perseverance of Balthasar Hubmaier, burned at the stake in a premature, horrible death that he dreaded rather than welcomed. His journey with the Spirit involved strength and weakness, courage and struggle, yet he remained committed to Jesus to the end. God's Spirit strengthened him during his execution and in such help the Church today can take hope.


Key Resources

Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism, trans. and eds., H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Herald Press, 1989).

Peter E. Gillquist, Let's Quit Fighting Over the Holy Spirit (Zondervan, 1974).

W. L. McLeod, Charismatic or Christian? (Western Tract Mission, ca. 1970s).

Wayne A. Robinson, I Once Spoke in Tongues (Fleming H. Revell, 1975).

Terry M. Smith is an ordained EMC minister who has served as a pastor and within the EMC national office. He is a graduate of SAIT, SBC, MBBC, and PTS.

This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 59 No 3


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