Acts: Their Story. The Experience

How frustrating to read of a potentially life-changing book, only to order it, and discover it is out of print. How annoying to rush to the store to purchase the perfect gift and to find it is out of stock. How aggravating to want something and find that it is unavailable. How disturbing to hunt for a part and find it is now obsolete. How equally frustrating, annoying, aggravating, and disturbing it would be to walk down the aisles of the Book of Acts only to find those things we desire: divine empowerment, miracles, healing, and things pertaining to the supernatural are no longer available, out of stock, and meant only for the first century church.  Regretfully, that is exactly what some believe happened, or should happen, when thinking that the baptism of the Spirit, evidenced by speaking in other tongues, stopped at worst on the Day of Pentecost, or at best at the end of the Book of Acts; having a brief life span of some thirty years.


Steven Ger shares his reflections:

The book of Acts grants readers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the world of the early church. We peer through the corridors…and see the still vivid foundations of our own faith….Acts shows us the road we believers have traveled to arrive at our present state….It is story—a simple story about regular human beings who are just like us. They share our same hopes and similar fears, our worst biases and best qualities. In fact, Acts is, essentially, our story. It is your legacy and mine. It is the record of our brothers and sisters who came before us, blazing a revolutionary, messianic trail from Jerusalem to ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Ger, 2004, 1).

Unfortunately, Ger eventually and sadly, comes up short, believing Pentecost was unique, unrepeatable, and possesses no timeless truth or doctrine. How perplexing. How confusing.

Even questions arise within the Pentecostal ranks, but are often swept under the proverbial carpet, silenced, or excused away as a lack of love for truth, and drifting from the old paths. Not all questions indicate moving away from what is right. What is left could be a sincere desire to understand; the ability to intelligently, logically, and persuasively explain beliefs to others. Rather than forcing such questioners into corners—causing them to be hesitant in asking, afraid of being misunderstood—one would do well to create an environment of learning; freedom to ask, freedom to explore, freedom to experience, freedom to discover, and a freedom to learn. 

F. L. Arrington said:

The interplay of Scripture, experience, Pentecostal tradition, and reason under the direction of the Spirit have strong implications for a Pentecostal approach to hermeneutics. Out of the Pentecostal reality and dimension of life in the Spirit emerges a uniquely Pentecostal approach to hermeneutics. (172)

Experience and history reveals that tongues did not cease with the Apostolic Age, and have not disappeared during the Church Age (the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming). Church historian, Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. revealed, “Speaking in tongues has always been in the Church, although with varied levels of expression and acceptance” (874). It would be difficult to convince over five hundred million Pentecostals and Charismatic’s worldwide their experience is invalid and ceased a couple thousand years ago. They represent the second largest ecclesiastical body in the world, second only to the Roman Catholics. Not bad for a group that recently celebrated a century of existence. Many are receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit daily. Each evidenced by speaking in tongues. Each persuaded their experience is biblically based. F. J. May (1990) tells of an old-timer that said, “You are wasting your breath trying to tell a man he can’t have what he has already got” (84).

Whereas experience can never be the basis of theology, experience is the contemporizing of history. Thus, the understanding of the Bible generally, and Luke-Acts, particularly, involves a hermeneutic cycle. In this cycle the record of the experience of the divine by God’s people in the past addresses the experience of God’s people in the present, and the present experience of the divine informs the understanding of the past. In this way the divine word as a historical document becomes a living Word—a Word, which, like God himself, is, was, and is to come. (Stronstad 1995, 64)

This is referred to as an experience-certified theology. Every interpreter brings to the text, a cognitive and practical presumption. Pentecostal hermeneutics should be holistic; combining experience, the Spirit, genre, and incorporate traditional, and rational forms of interpretation. Unfortunately, non-Pentecostals lack the premise of experience, and the ability to verify it.

Seeing the Future by Looking at the Past


A little over one hundred years have passed. Here is what the Christian world is saying today:

According to Christianity Today, twenty-five percent of the world’s Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic with a world growth rate of about 19,000,000 per year. 

C. Peter Wagner in his book Prayer Shield, stated, “The most massive growth of churches is found in Pentecostal/ Charismatic traditions.”

Estimates show that there are between 400 and 600 million Pentecostals worldwide—a half billion or more—not bad for a group that found its humble beginnings in a Bible school classroom.

Philip Jenkins anticipates that by 2050 there will be one billion Pentecostals/Charismatic in the world.

Mark Noll said the 21st century will belong to the Pentecostals not only in religion but in all other areas of life as well.

Global Pentecostalism is “the new face of global Christian missions.” Surely, this is ample reason to trace our roots and perform exegetical and hermeneutical analysis to ensure we are on the right track and stay there.

Lloyd Oglivie states my every-day quest, and maybe yours as well: “The greatest longing in the church today, stated both directly and indirectly, is the quest for something more than dull religion. People are in need of the intimacy, inspiration and impelling power of the Holy Spirit…It is impossible to live the Christian life without the indwelling Spirit. Courageous discipleship in the crisis of society cannot be accomplished without the guidance and enabling energy of supernatural power. The church today, like the disciples in the Upper Room, is waiting on the edge of a miracle (1983, 55-56).

Back-tracking to the First Day

The first day of the twentieth century marked the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement. That evening Agnes Ozman received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A few days later, Charles Parham, his wife, and twelve of his students received their personal Pentecost. Parham had been leading a small group of students into a study of the Acts of Apostles. They started out studying Acts, but ended up living it. The doctrine of the first church was restored as a step was made toward the Book of Acts.

Throughout the last century, the Pentecostal movement has exploded. Never has a group grown more rapidly than the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. As we wade ankle-deep into the twenty-first century, God’s army continues to sweep across the globe undaunted by worldliness and modernistic thinking, still burning with the fire ignited at Pentecost. I applaud the Pentecostal movement of the past and look forward to greater things from God and His church. I’m glad to be part!

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photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC via photo pin cc

Two Percent Makes a Difference

The local church walked in to visit the family doctor for a spiritual check-up. The doctor said, “There is good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

The local church responded, “Let’s get the bad news over first.”

The bad news:

Historically the trend has been for a church denomination to drift or move away from their foundational doctrines over time. Just a two percent decline in church health causes a steady, slow, sure decline.

John Trent, author of Heart Shift, and a professional counselor, tells of a plane trip where he sat beside a NASA petroleum engineer. He took advantage of the opportunity to ask the missile scientist, “How many degrees can a space rocket be off before it becomes a huge problem? Could it be two degrees off?”

The man pulled out his calculator and started punching in numbers. “To be two degrees off from when you blast off, and taking into consideration the time and distance traveled, you’ll miss not only your point of orbital entry, but you’ll miss the moon by 11,121 miles.”

Trent goes on to say, “Just be two degrees off from the right heart attitude, add in enough time and distance, and an entire church can end up miles from God’s heart.”

John Wesley once said, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist…But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having a form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

The Charisma magazine (October 1993) quoted the Assemblies of God general superintendent as saying, “We might be Pentecostal in doctrine but we’re not Pentecostal in experience.”

“Too many people,” George Wood said (in the same meeting), “are leaving our churches unchanged, unmoved, unsaved, unfilled, unsanctified and unmotivated to turn their heart and will over to God completely. We need a holy fire which sets aside business as usual in the church until Jesus comes.”

Timothy Beougher and Alvin Reid in Evangelism for a Changing World cautioned, “When adenomination’s theology changes, that change almost always begins in the seminaries that train its leaders.” It is paramount that we as Bible school educators take special note of what was just stated. Many colleges started out with the objective of teaching God’s Word but have strayed far from that. God forbid that this ever happens in our apostolic Bible schools.

Just a two degree shift in doctrine and convictions can cause change for the worse, pulling the church away from God.

The local church was devastated, “Well, that is gloomy news! I think I would like the good news!”

The good news:

A two degree shift toward correct doctrine and appropriate convictions can bring a church closer to God. Trent adds, “Even small shifts in a positive direction could move a person from ruin to renewal.”

Yes, churches drift. Churches die. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A two percent positive shift in church health has amazing, salvaging, eternal impact.

H. B. London, Jr. and Neil Wiseman in The Shepherd’s Covenant for Pastors said, “One social scientist recently expressed…the quality of a whole culture can be changed if just two percent of the population has a new vision of what needs to be done and starts doing it.”

I want to be part of that two percent, firmly focused on God’s Word, living it daily, and proclaiming the whole gospel to the whole world. A small percentage can make a large difference. We can reverse trends. We can upsurge church health.

Two percent makes the difference.

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