Besides putting a heavy emphasis on Mark 16:9-20 and on personal experiences and feelings, my Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian brothers and sisters place a heavy emphasis on the Book of Acts. For example, “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit” and the “speaking in tongues” comes from the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian Church, recorded in Acts 2: “Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came on them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (vv. 2-4). A little while later, the Apostle Peter addressed a large crowd, “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” (Acts 2:38).
In another place in Acts (8:26-40), the Apostle Philip was told by an angel to go meet up with an Ethiopian who had gone to worship God in Jerusalem. He was reading the prophet Isaiah, in his chariot on his way home, when Philip caught up with him: “The Holy Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it’” (v. 29.). Then the Ethiopian saw Philip and invited him into his chariot to explain what he was reading in Isaiah (53:7-8). The Holy Spirit opened the Ethiopian’s heart to the Gospel through Philip’s explanation and he wanted to be baptized: “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch [Ethiopian] said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (vv. 36-39).
In still another place in Acts (10:1-48), a man named Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Regiment, who was a God-fearing man, had a dream from God that the Apostle Peter was coming to his house. Meanwhile, Peter had a dream from God which showed him that all foods were clean for him to eat and the Holy Spirit said to him, “Simon [Peter], three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (v.20). The three men came and the next day Peter and the three men set out for Cornelius’ house. At Cornelius’ house, “…Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, Who is Lord of all…’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (vv. 34b-36, 44-46).
Finally, in still another place in Acts (19:1-7), the Apostle Paul arrived in Ephesus: “There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (vv. 1b-6). These disciples were disciples of John and, I believe, they did not hear about Jesus, let alone the Holy Spirit.
The Book of Acts is a history book about the 1st Century Christian Church. It is known as the Acts of the Apostles. More accurately, it is about the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is not a doctrinal book as are the Book of Romans and the other Epistles. The Book of Acts is about how the Holy Spirit worked in the 1st Century Church to establish the body of Christ on earth. The Holy Spirit used “Sign Gifts”, especially the Gift of Tongues, to demonstrate to everyone listening and watching that the GOOD NEWS of Christ was not only for the Jews, but also for every tribe and nation and people group all over the world. The Gift of Tongues (the ability to speak in a foreign language “off the top of your head”) [Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!] was given to spread the GOOD NEWS of Christ in the languages of all the people groups who came to Jerusalem. In the Book of Acts, people were baptized as an act of obedience (See Matthew 28:18-20), not as a prerequisite to becoming Christians or to being filled with the Holy Spirit. It was done as a demonstration of a person’s faith in Christ. A believer in Jesus Christ symbolically dies to the sinful nature when s/he is dunked under the water and s/he is raised up out of the water and symbolically identifies with Christ’s Resurrection and is now living for Jesus as a His New Creation (See II Corinthians 5:17)! Jesus and the Holy Spirit is a “One-Package Deal!” When we look at the examples of the baptisms in the Book of Acts, some were accompanied by the speaking of tongues and some were not. If speaking in tongues was so crucial to salvation, why didn’t Philip wait around to make sure the Ethiopian eunuch spoke in tongues? In Peter’s Pentecost preaching, why didn’t he say, “Repent and be baptized and speak in tongues”? At Cornelius’ house, the Holy Spirit gave the Gentiles the gift of tongues, so that the Jews present would see and hear that God truly is without favoritism. The Gentiles were just as much believers in Christ as they were.
With all this said, it is important not to judge our brothers or sisters in Christ. In I Corinthians 12:29-31, Paul asks rhetorical questions, including, “Do all speak in tongues?” (v. 30b), to emphasize the fact that every Christian does not have all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the Gift of Tongues. A Christian who has the Gift of Tongues should not think s/he is more spiritual than the Christian who does not have that Spiritual Gift. At the same time, I should not judge a brother or sister who has the Gift of Tongues as being phony, as long as the gift is used to glorify Jesus Christ, as it did in the Book of Acts. God does work in mysterious ways. In I Corinthians 12, after talking about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul ends the chapter with these words: “But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way” (v. 31). We will pick up on this topic in two weeks..