Soon after I became a Christian, I moved from the Anglican church I had been raised in to a Pentecostal church. This was a good move for me. I naturally lean toward an intellectual faith and I needed the push to experience God. I am so thankful for my experience within the Pentecostal church. It was there that I was baptized, where I was discipled and where I heard the call to ministry.
And yet it was also a time of struggle for me. Unfortunately, it was a struggle with the heart of Pentecostalism. I was told by my pastors and all my friends that the fulness of the Holy Spirit always came with the sign of speaking in tongues and it was that fulness that was required for real ministry. I heard testimony after testimony of Christians who had been going through the motions, received the gift of tongues and then finally had the power for effective ministry. Despite the strong conviction of people I respected, I had great trouble with this.
Ironically, it was a Pentecostal hermeneutic that led me to give up on the belief in tongues as the initial sign of Spirit baptism. I did not perform a systematic study of all biblical passages related to the Holy Spirit. Rather my change of perspective came through experience. I was spending much time with Christians of other traditions, most of whom did not speak in tongues. Despite the testimonies of my friends, I noticed no differences in either effectiveness in ministry or in personal holiness. After much internal struggle, I finally left the Pentecostal church. While I am credentialed with a Baptist denomination, I considered myself to be simply a Christian.
I say I left the Pentecostal church but what I really mean is that I no longer worship at a church affiliated with a Pentecostal denomination. I have become more and more convinced that all Christians are pentecostals with a small ‘p’. The church was born at Pentecost and it was designed to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. How that looks will vary from tradition to tradition, but if Christianity is not based in Pentecost, it is not the church. I am fine worshipping without raising my hands and I do not miss messages in tongues during the services. But I am still a pentecostal in that I am well aware of my need for the Spirit’s power and guidance in all that I do. I appreciate my experience with a Pentecostal denomination and I still enjoy visits, but because of my views on tongues I can no longer identify as a classical Pentecostal. However, I will remain a pentecostal in that I understand Christianity as finding power in the Holy Spirit.
Stephen Bedard is the director of Hope’s Reason Ministries. His vision is to equip Christians to articulate and defend their faith in a respectful, relevant and reasonable way.