Some of us who heard of the baptism in the Holy Spirit only recently know practically nothing of its history. Can you give us some background information?
If you are searching for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the power it promises, the best place to begin is with the New Testament, especially the book of Acts because it describes the ministry of the first group of Spirit-filled believers. Reading the book of Acts, I quickly understood why the Disciples of Christ (the denomination in which I am ordained) originally wanted to be known as a New Testament church and why it proudly claimed a New Testament heritage. It was because the New Testament church was an exciting church, a powerful church.
By today's standards, it may have been crude, undisciplined and at times shockingly irreverent, but those are not the things one notices when one reads the book of Acts. What grips the imagination is not the lack of prestige but the demonstration of power. In that day, God moved in response to prayer. Miracles attended the saving power of Jesus Christ. Within the spreading fires of that church's influence, not only were the lost redeemed, but the lame walked, the blind received their sight and the oppressed were delivered from demonic powers. It was a fellowship of believers admittedly imperfect but vibrantly and dynamically alive. It may have been despised by the society around it, but no one ever accused it of being boring, dull or dead.
Those early Christians were more interested in manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst than in maintaining orderly worship services. They were more concerned with Christian love than correct liturgy, more concerned with being found faithful than being found popular. for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:22).
Comparing the New Testament church with ours today, it seems obvious that one of two things must have happened. Either God deliberately deprived the church of the power of Pentecost, with all its supernatural gifts and powers (a rationalization we hear over and over), or else the church has somehow lost contact with Pentecost as a vital, continuing experience.
The second proposition is the true one. The resurgence of Pentecostal power in our day proves it.
Even a hasty survey of church history clearly indicates that the charismatic gifts never completely died out of the church. Though consistently ignored, they have always been present, blazing up into public view during times of renewed religious fervor or revival. For example, back in the second century, a revival in the church, led by Montanus of Ardabau, captured the attention of many Christians who felt the spiritual fires within the church were burning at too low an ebb. During the peak of the Montanus revival, all the charismatic gifts appeared, including speaking in tongues. Two renowned church fathers, Tertullian and Iraneus, found much in the movement which was favorable, but the church officialdom in Rome considered the revival a threat to its authority and declared Montanism a heresy.
The Encyclopedia Britannica states that glossolalia (speaking in tongues) "recurs in Christian revivals of every age, e.g., among the mendicant friars of the thirteenth century, among the Jansenists and early Quakers, the converts of Wesley and Whitefield, the persecuted Protestants of the Covennes and the Irvingites" (Volume 27, pp. 9-10, 11th edition).
The Irvingites were 19th century forerunners of the current recipients of the charismatic gifts. The Reverend Edward Irving was pastor of a Presbyterian church in London, England, in 1822, when his preaching on the need for a "new Pentecost" began to attract wide attention. By 1833, his emphasis upon the charismatic gifts had become too great (people had begun to speak in tongues!), and he was deposed from the Presbyterian ministry for heresy and moved to Scotland. But among his wide-spread following a new denomination was formed called the Catholic Apostolic Church and stress upon the charismatic gifts was continued.
The Irvingites proclaimed the necessity of the Pentecostal experience and stressed the certainty of Christ's second coming. From Scotland they established branch congregations in England, Germany and the United States. At its peak, the denomination is said to have numbered over 50,000 adherents. But when the last of the original leaders passed away in 1901, no attempt was made to replace them, and most of the members dispersed to other denominations.
The Pentecostal movement in the United States had its beginning in the year 1900 with the determination of a young Methodist minister named Charles F. Parham to recapture the power and vitality of the church of the New Testament. Opening a Bible school in an abandoned mansion in Topeka, Kansas, he and his students committed themselves to a thorough study of the Scriptures to try and discover the secret to apostolic power. In December of that year, Parham gave his students an assignment to study every account of the Holy Spirit being received in the book of Acts, to discover if there was some overlooked factor common to them all.
The students, each doing his own study independently, all came to the same conclusion. Five times in the book of Acts, there is an account of the Holy Spirit being received. In three of these accounts-four if you include Paul's conversion-there was the appearance of the gift of tongues. (The students assumed that since Paul had the gift of tongues and testified to it in his first Corinthian letter, it probably came at the time he received the Holy Spirit [Acts 9:17].)
Backed by this strong scriptural evidence, Parham and his students prayed to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the gift of tongues. The first person spoke in tongues on New Year's Eve, 1900. On January 3rd, Parham and a number of others also received the baptism and spoke in tongues.
From this modest beginning, the revival spread in 1906 to California, touching off the famed Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles. The Azusa revival lasted for three years with thousands of people from all over North America receiving the pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit. A number of the present-day Pentecostal denominations trace their beginnings to that revival. (For more detailed accounts of Pentecostal beginnings read John Sherrill's They Speak With Other Tongues, Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan, New Jersey.)
The Pentecostal movement grew at a phenomenal rate, spreading rapidly across the world. In just a little over fifty years, membership reached nearly 10 million. Strong on faith and short on patience, these small unlettered congregations came manifesting more of the dynamic power of the New Testament church than any Christian movement in centuries. Yet, despite their phenomenal growth, the Pentecostals were such a radical departure from the mainstream of Protestant tradition that the more established denominations viewed them with suspicion and even open hostility. So with their message ignored and their cries for a return to a charismatic ministry scoffed at, the Pentecostals drew their skirts of holiness about themselves and, shaking the dust of orthodoxy's doubt from their feet, became absorbed in a ministry to the multitudes whom the "respectable" churches passed by on the other side.
But today the charismatic revival has spilled over the boundaries so carefully drawn about it by its critics and is igniting fires in all major denominations, including the Roman Catholic. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a former president of the World Council of Churches, was one of the first outstanding churchmen to acknowledge the significance of this movement. He places it on an equal footing with traditional Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. In his book, The Household of God, he wrote:
Catholicism and Orthodox Protestantism, however deeply they have differed from one another, have been at one in laying an immense stress on that in the Christian religion which is given and unalterable... Catholicism has laid its primary stress upon the given structure, Protestantism upon the given message.... It is necessary, however, to recognize that there is a third stream of Christian tradition which ... has a distinct character of its own ... its central element is the conviction that the Christian life is a matter of the experienced power and presence of the Holy Spirit today . . . that if we would answer the question, "Where is the Church?" we must ask, "Where is the Holy Spirit recognizably present with power?"... for want of a better word I propose to refer to this type of Christian faith and life as the Pentecostal.'
Other leading churchmen have come to recognize the significance of this movement of the Spirit of God which was once dismissed as the enthusiasm of a cult. Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen, former president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, in a Life Magazine article of June 6, 1958, describes what he calls a "third, mighty arm of Christendom."
Its groups preach a direct Biblical message readily understood. They commonly promise an immediate life-transforming experience of the Living-God-In-Christ which is far more significant to many individuals than the version of it found in conventional churches.... They shepherd their converts in an intimate, sustaining group fellowship; a feature of every vital Christian renewal since the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at the first Pentecost. They place strong emphasis upon the Holy Spirit-so neglected by many traditional Christians-as the immediate, potent presence of God in each human soul and in the Christian Fellowship.
Until lately, other Protestants regarded the movement as a temporary and passing phenomenon, not worth much mention. Now there is a growing, serious recognition of its true dimension and probable permanence. The tendency to dismiss its Christian message as inadequate is being replaced by a chastened readiness to investigate the secrets of its mighty sweep.
In John Sherrill's book, They Speak With Other Tongues, Dr. Van Dusen makes an even more remarkable statement:
I have come to feel ... that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, is more than just another revival. It is a revolution in our' day. It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original Apostolic Church and with the Protestant Reformation.
The late Reverend Samuel Shoemaker, shortly before his death, published a final article in The Episcopalian, a respected publication of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., entitled, "Can Our Kind of Church Change Our Kind of World?" In it Shoemaker said:
Whatever the old-new phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" means, it is amazing that it should break out, not only in Pentecostal groups, but among Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. I have not had this experience myself. I have seen people who have, and it has blessed them and given them power they did not have before. I do not profess to understand this phenomenon. But I am fairly sure it indicates the Holy Spirit's presence in a life, as smoke from a chimney indicates a fire below. I know it means God is trying to get through into the church, staid and stuffy and self-centered as it often is, with the kind of power that will make it radiant and exciting and self-giving. We should seek to understand and be reverent toward this phenomenon, rather than to ignore or scorn it.
This rising tide of publicity and literature on the charismatic movement simply points to the ever -increasing influence it is having on Christianity. All over the world the church's spiritual pulse is being quickened by this new Pentecost.