Disagreeing with Frank Viola on Baptism with the Holy Spirit

I love Frank Viola and really rate his writings, but it surprises me how often it seems to me like people I totally respect seem to apply different rules of interpretation to usual when it comes to issues connected with the Holy Spirit. So far in his first post on baptism with the Holy Spirit he begins by mentioning people being coached to “speak in tongues” which is surely something everybody can agree is totally wrong!

Secondly he seems to assume that everyone who believes in the baptism with the Holy Spirit believes that tongues is always the initial evidence of this event. My spectrum post which asks “How Charismatic are you?” demonstrates this is far from the truth. No lesser pentecostal than Jack Hayford is on record right here on this blog stating he for one believes it is possible to receive the Spirit without speaking in tongues.

Finally, he seems to imply that the doctrine of a subsequent experience of the Holy Spirit has to wrong because it leads to excesses and creates second class citizens. To me that is like arguing since Christianity can lead to the crusades it has to be wrong. To be fair to Frank, in this first post he is not trying to establish his position biblically, but it is clear which way he is probably heading, so I wasn’t surprised that my disagreements only increased in his second post!

Firstly there are a lot of arguments from silence. How can we say that “there is no indication that the 3,000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost spoke in tongues.” there is no indication that they didn’t either! In fact, it does seem likely that when Peter said the experience he and the others had was receiving the promised Holy Spirit, and that same experience was available to others, that at least some of the 3000 would have experienced it in the same way. Also Frank says “no indication that people normally spoke in tongues” in Acts despite the fact that in every circumstance that the experience of the receiving of the Spirit is described in any detail, tongues and/or prophecy are mentioned. Again, this is not an argument to say that everybody must speak in tongues or prophecy if they receive the Spirit, just that there is nothing else described in Acts as accompanying it. To then say that it matters at all that tongues is not recorded in the accounts of the founding of certain churches is specious at best. The Lord’s Supper is not mentioned much if at all in Acts, does that mean the churches didn’t get taught to eat bread and drink wine to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection?

It is also very unfair to insinuate that the pentecostals “normal practice” is for people to be “coached” into tongues. I have been in both charismatic and pentecostal churches all my life and have never encountered that even once. I’m sure it must occur from time to time, but Frank seems to imply that this is something that most or all of us do!

But perhaps most egregious is Frank’s statement “The New Testament doesn’t explicitly encourage believers to seek tongues.” This is simply untrue:

1 Corinthians 14 :1-5 commands us to “. . .earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy……The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.

Also, Paul seems to highly value tongues rather than denigrate them saying, in verse 18 of the same chapter, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

So many believers think that Paul is wanting to downplay tongues when he says that it builds up the speaker. The truth is we all NEED to be built up. And, so Paul concludes,

So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”

But I have to say I do not believe that Tongues is absolutely essential to an experience of receiving the Holy Spirit, nor is it really what lies at its core. It is more fundamentally the believer becoming aware of the work of the Holy Spirit within him. Not merely seeing certain fruits that suggest the Spirit is there. As is so often said, you cannot see the wind, but when you look at the trees you can see its effects. To me receiving the Spirit is not just observing the effects in your life, whether that be regeneration, faith, the fruit of the Spirit, or other things, it is entering into a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones argues that regeneration is “unconscious” but baptism with the Spirit is “conscious” and I couldn’t agree more. The receiving of the Spirit is a dramatic event that you KNOW has happened to you. He links this elsewhere to the “sealing” spoken about in Ephesians 1.

At the weekend I also linked to a short eBook outlining Reformed support for Baptism with the Spirit.

John Piper appears to have perhaps changed his position just a little on this, seeming to agree with The Doctor here, here and here and even argued that his whole life message is really about what happens when someone receives the Holy Spirit. In another place he suggests that terminology doesn’t perhaps matter as much as we think, and maybe baptism with the Holy Spirit is a much broader term than either position imagines. But more recently at 300 leaders he disagreed with the “subsequence” position here. One day I hope John Piper will write a book on this subject, as I suspect he might have a few challenges to say to people on both sides of this one!

I really do agree with the following blogger who I will give the last word to in this post to. Speaking about 1 John he said:

Notice that John isn’t saying if we are Christians, we know we have the Spirit; he is saying if we have the Spirit, we know that we are Christians.This reminds me of Acts 19:2, where Paul asks some men if they received the Spirit when they believed. Paul is assuming they know whether Almighty God came upon them or not; an assumption we no longer make. Lastly, there is the passage in Acts 8 where Simon goes to Samaria and leads many to Christ, but the apostles “…came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Forget for a moment that this passage is theologically incredible. For our purposes, just note that they knew the Holy Spirit hadn’t fallen on these believers. They could tell that the Spirit hadn’t come upon them. Maybe Christians shouldn’t assume the Spirit is present and acting when there is no evidence. According to the Bible we should be able to tell, at least some of the time. READ MORE


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