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Enduring evidence

By George O. Wood

We must live beyond the initial evidence of Spirit baptism.

Recently, I was in a conference with 200 of our national leaders and missionaries from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. In 16 countries — most of which are very sensitive — the gospel of Jesus Christ is seeing significant advance despite great hardship, threats and persecution.

Over the course of three days, we listened to reports from the delegations in country after country describing the coming of the gospel in power to their lands. I sat with countless numbers of these leaders, including the two young sons of martyrs for the gospel who are now ministers where their fathers laid down their lives for Christ.

In many countries and cities where the church did not even exist 15 years ago, there are now individual congregations numbering more than 4,000 people. One such church is only 11 years old but has planted more than 100 other churches. Countries where two decades ago you could count the number of believers on one hand now have thousands of believers in Assemblies of God churches.

I ask myself, “How has this happened?” The Lord has impressed me with the fact that these flourishing congregations are demonstrating the “enduring evidence” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In so many of our American churches today, little emphasis is placed on the Holy Spirit. Those of us in leadership, out of concern over this neglect, urge our pastors and churches to pray and provide opportunities for people to receive Spirit baptism with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues. But we must not stop there.

Pentecostals have always believed and taught that speaking in other tongues is the initial physical evidence. But it is initial. We must have the initial evidence, but we must also go past the initial to the enduring and ongoing work of the Spirit. The seventh doctrine of our Statement of Fundamental Truths declares that with the baptism in the Spirit “comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31).

This tenet also states: “With the baptism in the Holy Ghost come such experiences as an overflowing fullness of the Spirit (John 7:37-39; Acts 4:8), a deepened reverence for God (Acts 2:43; Hebrews 12:28), an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work (Acts 2:42), and a more active love for Christ, for His Word and for the lost” (Mark 16:20).

We believe the baptism in the Spirit brings the delight of initially speaking with other tongues, but if we stop there this Pentecostal experience will have no ongoing fruitfulness. I grew up in the Assemblies of God when it was preached that the baptism in the Spirit is for the empowerment of believers for life and service. In short, the enduring evidence of the baptism in the Spirit results in our fulfilling Acts 1:8. Evangelism and outreach are substantial evidence of the Spirit’s work. If we are not seeing this evidence — fruitfulness — we’re in trouble.

Practicing what we preach

As Pentecostals, we also hold out a promise. We say that our churches are blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But what if, when people come, there is no sign of His presence, no joy, little love and no manifestation of the grace and power of Christ?

The fact is, we must become what we advertise or we simply have no credibility. A “fighting” Pentecostal church is a contradiction in terms. A Pentecostal church without an emphasis on missions is also a contradiction, as is a Pentecostal church without outreach or new believers. In too many of our churches there is little emphasis placed on people receiving the baptism and fullness of the Spirit. And we get what we preach or don’t preach.

The church is supposed to be what it advertises. Unfortunately, some Pentecostal people have, at one time, had an experience with God, but the work of the Spirit has diminished in their lives. It has not continued to affect how they live. I know this firsthand because I receive their critical and judgmental letters. It is amazing to see in so many people the disconnect between Spirit baptism and the Spirit-filled life.

Authentic Pentecost

Many years ago, an article appeared in a business magazine by a man who had been studying the economic recovery in Brazil after a period of the nation’s worst inflation. One of the major factors to which he attributed the economic recovery was the Pentecostal revival, especially singling out the Assemblies of God. He interviewed non-Christian factory owners who said they want Assemblies of God employees because they don’t come in with a hangover on Monday mornings, they don’t steal and they work a full day. This calls to my remembrance another example.

A man who worked in a factory was known for foul language and telling off-color stories. Friday night after he’d get his paycheck, he would go down to the bar and spend most of his money. By the time he got home, he didn’t have much left for groceries or rent that week.

One night, he went into a church service and was wonderfully saved and transformed. When he went back to work, he was no longer swearing or telling off-color stories, and he was coming home with his full paycheck.

His co-workers were not happy with the change in his life. They taunted and ridiculed him.

One day, a co-worker asked him, “Do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?”

He said, “Yes, I do. I wasn’t there when it happened. But in my house, He turned beer into furniture.”

That’s an enduring work of the Spirit.

Leading by example

Many people just don’t feel the need for the Holy Spirit. This may be because they have seen special gifts misused. I think much of it has to do with people seeing a disconnect between the testimony of those who say they are Spirit-filled and their actual conduct.

Jesus talked about how the anxieties and cares of this world can crowd spiritual things out. When our life is full of appointments, when we have what we need to make it through life’s challenges, when our relationships are going well, we tend to get comfortable and satisfied, like the Laodicean church — neither hot nor cold. There must be a desire for the Holy Spirit.

I think the reason so many of our young people today are struggling intellectually with the doctrine of initial evidence is because they do not see enough churches with enduring evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. The only difference some see between a Pentecostal church and a non-Pentecostal church is that the Pentecostals speak in tongues. The younger generation is looking for more than words — they long to witness the demonstration of the Spirit’s person, presence and power.

Speaking in tongues is the initial evidence at the beginning of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but there is far more to the Spirit’s fullness! We will have much more credibility in preaching the doctrine of initial evidence if that proclamation is backed up by an ongoing demonstration of the Spirit’s power. His power propels believers into this world with an anointing to witness, a lifestyle like that of Jesus … a boldness to heal the sick in body and heart, to cast out demons and to bring good news to the poor.

This is an hour for us as Pentecostals to proclaim with new fervor both the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues is that initial dynamic that catapults our experience beyond the natural into the supernatural. But if that’s all there is, we will be like a rocket launched into space that, instead of going into orbit, plunges to the ground. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is God’s great rocket booster to lift us past what the flesh can do and into the orbit of supernatural usefulness to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord. The orbit God wants for us is that “the word of God spread ... the number of disciples ... increased” (Acts 6:7, NIV).

It is vital that pastors and ministers live a life full of the Spirit and call people to experience Spirit baptism and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Early Pentecostals did not try to argue people into the baptism in the Spirit. They lived and preached in such a way that people wanted what they had.

If we have nothing to give but arguments and theological defenses of our doctrinal position, this generation will seek spiritual reality elsewhere. I am not saying that apologetics are unimportant. Clearly, we must be able to give a reason for the doctrines we hold. But we must acknowledge that there will be no lack of people responding to the work of the Spirit when they see a demonstration of the reality of the Spirit’s presence and power.

I want to exhort all of us to stir up the fire and preach not only the initial evidence, but the enduring and fruitful evidence of Spirit baptism. If we only have the initial evidence but no empowerment, our young people will no longer be interested in the initial evidence. But if they see the enduring evidence — the empowerment that brings people to Christ and grows the church while God performs signs and wonders among us — then they will want the initial evidence of Spirit baptism as the gateway to the enduring evidence of living a Spirit-filled life.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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