Disagreeing with Frank Viola on Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Disagreeing with Frank Viola on Baptism with the Holy Spirit November 13, 2012

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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  • Hi Adrian. If this is an example of a strong disagreement between us, then you and I are brothers joined at the hip. 🙂

    I don’t see much disagreement, to be honest. And the heading of this post is sure to get some clicks … people like to see controversy, blood, guts, and gore! 😉

    A few things.

    1. I’ve responded to the argument about silence in the comments of the 2nd part of the series, so you and your readers can view the discussion here in the comments section: http://frankviola.org/2012/11/13/spiritbaptism2/

    2. About my comment regarding “seeking” tongues, here’s the full paragraph of my post:
    “The New Testament doesn’t explicitly encourage believers to seek tongues. Paul says to not forbid tongues, but to seek to prophesy instead (see 1 Cor. 14). At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with desiring the gift of tongues as Paul says to covet all the gifts.”

    The third installment goes up tomorrow which addresses the only times where tongues is mentioned with the giving of the Spirit in Acts. And I offer an explanation for it that I find more compelling than the classic Pentecostal doctrine (which says tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit.)

    All told, you and I agree on the following two major points . . . which is really the main thrust of my series:

    1. A person can receive the Spirit without speaking in tongues.
    2. Coaching people to speak in tongues isn’t something we should practice or approve of. (I’ve never implied that every Pentecostal/charismatic does this, but it’s VERY common in the good ole’ USA.) 🙂

    In closing, as someone who both believes in and has functioned in all the gifts mentioned in the beginning of 1 Cor. 12, I think you and I are closer in this area than you are to many of our Reformed brethren.

    Even so, you might be right about every detail of this subject. 😉



    Psalm 115:1

    • Hi Frank. I like the image of you and I joined at the hip! I agree that we agree on the areas you outline. I was concerned that the way you outlined your arguments implied much more than you were actually saying. But I do believe that seeing baptism with the Spirit as distinct from conversion is important in encouraging a full-throated pursuit of the experience. If I am understanding you correctly you would be third wave on my “spectrum” is that correct? If so you are definitely much closer to me on this issue than many off reformed friends. I do also see the Pentecostals as my friends so tend to instinctively jump to their defence!

      • Frank Viola

        I read your spectrum post (good job on that!), and I would fit *elements* of 4, 5, and 6. I describe myself as post-charismatic (John Wimber was perhaps the first to use it). You’ll see what I mean in the coming posts on the subject. I believe in the operation of all the gifts and ministries found in 1 Cor. 12, 14, Rom. 12, Eph. 4, et. al. But without the typical charismatic/Pentecostal “wrappings” that are commonplace in the USA (at least). I’ll be exploring this topic more in the present series and then I have some other posts in the queue that will go into what spiritual gifts look like in post-charismatic settings, for instance, and how I envision them to have functioned in the early church (despite popular opinion, I wasn’t there!). But without question, you and I have more in common on this subject than many of the Reformed brethren that you often mention.


        Psalm 115:1

  • jcubed

    Thirty years ago on January 14, 1982, my wife (girlfriend then) and I led to the Lord via a lay evangelism team (Evangelism Explosion) from an Evangelical Free Church (USA). After four years, we (my family) began attending a “Spirit-filled” Mennonite Church that was similar to a Vineyard Church. After two years, my family and I began attending a Foursquare Church and for 20 years we we adherents in that Foursquare Church. For the last four years we have been attending a non-denominational church that is definitely not not Pentecostal or charismatic. We just went through 1 Corinthians 14 in October and November 2012. Here are two links to one of our Campus Pastors teaching and our Directional Leader (graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary) teaching on tongues. I have experienced the coaching of tongues, being slain in the spirit, holy laughter, etc. However, not in the churches I attended, but usually in small groups and bible studies. The church I attend now, teach cessationism, whereas, I am a continuationist. I also lean toward Arminianism whereas they are Calvinistic. Another aspect they teach is the book of Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive, therefore, they throw out all of supernatural acts (sign gifts) as historical events that only served the purpose of validating the office and authority of the Apostles, and when the Apostles died, so did their “sign gifts.”

  • rosesandcobblestone

    As a refuge from the madness of charismania, I think that the focus on the gifts is entirely misleading to Christians who should be focused on pleasing God with their lives. Philip Jensen puts it quite well–the fruit of the Spirit trumps the gifts of the Spirit.

  • CGC

    Hi Adrian,
    I like what appears to be your more proactive response to Frank’s reactive response which now leads him to be what he calls “post-charismatic” (which by the way, I do like the term 🙂 Although I like your approach Adrian, I will come to Frank’s defence on one point. I suspect that Frank’s relationship with the Pentecostal church was decades ago. All I know is decades ago, I also ran into many Pentecostals trying to teach (coach) others how to speak in tongues and the like. I’m from the Midwest and I am not sure about Frank? Maybe some of our experiences were shaped by the regions we grew up in whereas your experiences in another place or time has been quite different? And I will say I fully concur that the NT strongly suggests we pursue spiritual gifts, including the gift of speaking in tongues. I have a suspicion that if people do not understand or make a distinction between tongues as a kind of prayer language and tongues used with interpretation as prophesy, they will probably have a greater dissonance and problem “biblically” with the gift of tongues. It does appear Frank does not recognize this distinction which I believe will cause problems in his theology on this particular gift. I will say I have the greatest respect for both of you.

  • CGC

    PS – After reading some of the discussion on Frank’s list, I now realize Frank does make a more nuanced distinction than I first thought. Frank not only has a theology but a practice of a kind of third wave theology which I think is very helpful. In this light, maybe you and Frank are actually very close and Frank’s style of saying things sometimes more has to do with the differences than actual substance?

  • Alan Rees

    Jesus did promise a ‘sign’ to those who receive Holy Spirit. It was not, of course , tongues, but He did promise ‘Power’. It seems to me that when a believer receives Holy Spirit, two things are evident – joy and power. I would expect that, when the Lord is the giver..

  • Adrian, The best way to teach on the baptism in the Holy Spirit is to focus on the baptism itself rather than tongues. It is clear from the Scriptures that being baptized in the Holy Spirit is a distinct and separate event which Jesus gives to believers that is meant to follow the initial receiving of the Holy Spirit during salvation. Based on the Scriptures, we can also be confident that all sincere Christians who have in faith asked Jesus to baptize them in the Holy Spirit have definitely been baptized in the Holy Spirit. They do not need to doubt this or to keeping asking for it. However, based on experience, we know that many of these same Christians (who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit) do not immediately speak in tongues (although many of them do). Why is this? When Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, He gives us the ability to speak in tongues. This ability may or may not be immediately experienced. This is the same as all of God’s promises and provisions. Just because we do not immediately experience all of them certainly does not mean that they are not Biblically true. This is evidenced by the fact that many Christians who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit (but who do not immediately speak in tongues) do eventually speak in tongues at a later date (sometimes months or years later). I would put it this way: tongues is not so much the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as much as it is the enabling of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. There is a difference. There is also a difference with the personal use of tongues for private devotion and intercessory prayer and the use of tongues (when accompanied by interpretation) as a ministry gift in the church. I go into all of this in more detail in an article entitled, The Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Its Purpose and Power, on my website http://www.ChristCrucified.info In Christ’s love, Peter

  • rosesandcobblestone

    Here’s my contribution to the discussion:



    These videos are well worth the time.

  • Simon D

    Its usually those who don’t speak in tongues that adamantly want to disprove them. But for most tongues talkers, we would just rather go speak tongues rather than argue.