A couple of Sundays ago, my wife and I went to visit The Revival Fellowship, Belconnen: The church of a lovely friend of ours who has since flown off to England to help with a church plant. I was rather looking forward to it at the time, as I hadn't visited a real live Pentecostal church in ages. The service was pleasant, the talk relevant and interesting (even if the preacher did tend to use passages a little out of context), and the people were generally friendly and welcoming. I was even impressed by their practice of only allowing one person to speak in tongues at a time, always with an interpreter, and only two or three in total per service (as per 1 Corinthians 14). So, what's my problem? Why am I angry?
Horatio would like to advise that the following post is rated †. It may express views and opinions that will offend some readers. Horatio recommends reading by Christian audiences.
My problem is with the pastor of that church who introduced himself to my wife after the service, and proceeded to tell her that if she did not speak in tongues then she did not have the Holy Spirit, and that unless she was baptised by full immersion she was not saved. He fired a barrage of bible verses at her (and myself, when I joined the conversation), and in the end gave her cause to doubt her salvation. This, my friends, makes me very angry.
Obviously, I am convinced this man is wrong, and that what he was asserting is a distortion of the gospel. I intend to write two further essays in addition to this one, addressing the issues of tongues and water baptism being essential to salvation. As we left the church, we were encouraged to take pamphlets that explained what this church believes and cites bible passages they use to support their beliefs-this we did. In the subsequent essays, I will attempt to address the claims made in these pamphlets and the scripture verses cited to support them. In this essay, I will discuss some of the things the pastor said in conversation with my wife and I, and general issues with these particular doctrines.
From what I could gather, the main argument regarding tongues rests on the assumption that the experiences of early Christians in the book of Acts are normative for all Christians. Since speaking in tongues accompanies conversion and indwelling by the Holy Spirit throughout acts, they argue that the epistle writers in the New Testament assumed this as a common experience for all their readers. That is, since the phenomenon of tongues occurs throughout Acts, the epistle writers implicitly assumed that all Christians spoke in tongues.
The main argument regarding baptism by full immersion being a requirement for salvation comes from numerous passages in the bible where there are clear instructions given to the disciples to baptise people. Here, I must admit, their case is much stronger, but I still do not find it convincing.
I will write in more detail about both tongues and baptism later, but the main reason that I find them unconvincing is that they add to the gospel. We believe that we are saved by grace through faith. It says in Ephesians 1:8-9* "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." According to this church however, I must also be baptised by full immersion and speak in tongues or I am not saved.
Someone might argue that being baptised is acting in obedient faith; hence, it does not violate the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Further, they might also argue that since speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a work, then it does not violate this doctrine either. I would agree with both points to some extent. I believe that being baptised certainly is an act of obedience in faith and speaking in tongues certainly is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The issue however, is whether these things are a requirement for salvation.
I believe that faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is the only requirement for salvation. Repentance is implicit in this, since I have no reason to seek salvation unless I realise there is something I need saving from. Making baptism essential however, requires me to perform a work before I can receive salvation. Thus my salvation is, in part, due to a work performed by myself, and not solely through faith in Christ and his work on the cross.
The requirement of tongues for salvation comes through a chain of logic. It goes like this: Speaking in tongues is evidence of the Holy Spirit filling a person. Hence, those who lack this evidence of tongues do not have the Holy Spirit. The bible makes it clear that everyone who receives salvation also receives the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if you do not speak in tongues, then you have not been saved. This ends up placing the spiritual gift of tongues in a position far above any of the other spiritual gifts mentioned in the bible. When reading the New Testament however, the bible presents a completely different set of standards for determining if someone has the Holy Spirit. The emphasis in the New Testament is not on gifts as evidence of the Holy Spirit's work but on the fruits of the Spirit and faith in Christ. That is, the evidence of the Holy Spirit is a changed life and actions, showing things like love, patience, kindness, humility, and faith in Christ. Even these are only evidence however, not requirements for salvation.
Consider, for a moment, some of the implications of these doctrines. For starters, the requirement of baptism by full immersion excludes from salvation anyone who does not have access to a suitable body of water for dipping. This might seem like an unusual situation to those of us in western countries, but it is becoming more and more common. One third of the world's population is already facing problems due to both water shortage and poor drinking water quality. To make full immersion a requirement for salvation is to exclude from salvation many of the world's poorest and neediest people.
Alternatively, consider what happens when someone who does not speak in tongues joins a church like this. They hear the message that if they do not speak in tongues, then they are not saved. This doctrine places an immense pressure on that person, since their very soul and salvation is at stake here. If they seek for tongues and do not receive this gift, then it is assumed that this is because they are unrepentant or do not have faith enough. As I see it, this person then has three options:
- Try harder to repent and believe; seeking more prayer, all the while knowing that these people consider it their fault they have not received this gift. One can only repeat this so many times however, before the pressure becomes too much and one of the other options must be taken.
- Pretend, imitating those around them and thus be accepted into the happy family of that church under false pretences.†
- Conclude that this whole Christianity thing is a crock; that these people are weirdos; and thus turn their back on Christ.
None of these outcomes are good.
I would like to conclude by stating that I have nothing against Pentecostals, speaking in tongues, or baptism by full immersion. Tongues and baptism are there in the bible right alongside the Lord's Supper, prophecy, healing, caring for the poor and many other great things. I do have a problem however, with taking these things and elevating them to a place where they distort the message of salvation through Jesus. If you have put your faith in Christ, then you have received the Holy Spirit, and your salvation is secure. Christ's blood was enough to pay for our rebellion against God and we don't need to add anything to it. You don't have to have someone physically dunk you under water to receive salvation, nor do you need to speak a strange personal language. If you do, that's wonderful. If you don't however, don't let anyone take away your confidence in Christ.
* I am using the King James Version here because that is the version that this denomination seems to use predominantly. I can find no evidence to suggest that they use it exclusively, however, and their literature is silent about which versions they prefer. Their website offers the bible online in King James (KJV), Authorised Standard Version (ASV), and Bible in Basic English (BBE), most likely because they are all in the public domain (i.e. they are not copyrighted). [I have since found more information on this at http://pleaseconsider.info/articles/kjv/kjv_essay.htm]
† More on this can be found at http://pleaseconsider.info/articles/holy_spirit_gifts/tongues_not_sign.html