As current day Pentecostals, we have to realize that the Holy Spirit is neither our exclusive trademark of our denomination, nor limited to it! I would argue that we need to reform the way we use the name of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is not limited to our Pentecostalism, Holy Spirit can move anywhere and in any way Holy Spirit she chooses!
Some fanatic Pentecostals among us, attempt to exclude other Christians when it comes to experiencing and having a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit. Have you ever been in meetings where the preacher ridicules other denominations for their lack of ‘Holy Spirit power’? In fact, I was once one of those who did such shameful things. I am also aware that people from other denominations may also ridicule us as Pentecostals, call us names and even brand us as heretics, or spiritists. Still, we as Pentecostals should not retaliate and do the same.
What is it then that makes us Pentecostals think otherwise? I believe the answer may lie in how we as Pentecostals view experiencing the Holy Spirit. Often some of us think that experiencing the Holy Spirit, means: feeling chills, falling onto the floor or speaking in tongues. These can be very beautiful; however, every person has his own way of experiencing Holy Spirit and none of these can be the absolute standard.
Noise and Holy Spirit
Another point of concern is noise and the belief that the noisier one gets, the more Spirit-filled one is! But this foolish assumption has caused many problems, not only in inter-denominational relationships, but also in relations between members of the Pentecostal churches. Pentecostals often criticize the non- Pentecostal denominations that they lack the direct experience of the Holy Spirit, because they are too silent. Let us recall the story of Elijah as he waited for God to speak to him. God did not speak in the noise of the wind, in the violence of the earthquake, or in the fire. He spoke in a soft whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). Please do not get me wrong, I am not against noise, but I am against making noise to be the only standard of Holy Spirits presence in a meeting.
As Pentecostals, we are all aware that we often use the words ‘wind,’ ‘shaking,’ and “fire” in our church services or conferences. We all love to see the fire of God, to experience the wind of revival and the shaking power of the Holy Spirit. In the case of Elijah, however, God did not speak to him in any of these ways. Of course God was present in all of them, for He caused them all to pass before the eyes of Elijah, but, still, He did not speak except in a whisper within Elijah’s very being. Of course, the Holy Spirit can and always will manifest Himself in the form of fire, wind and a powerful shaking effect. However, when He speaks, He speaks in a gentle voice. He addresses our deepest being and speaks to our consciousness where no man can reach; no one can see or hear what is going on inside us. It is there that he addresses us quietly and gently.
Abusive or Confusing Prophesies
Things can even become more hurtful and spiritually confusing, when prophecy is concerned. Listeners have to basically take it or leave it and if they leave it, there may be fatal consequences. No doubt, many of you have experienced this kind of: “Thus says the Lord” or “The Holy Spirit told me.” Such words need to be carefully weighed before one utters them. They may influence other people’s lives in a drastic way. We have to exercise caution in this. Unfortunately, poor communication is sometimes a problem among Pentecostals. One of the reasons for this is that, when we do not know what to say to defend ourselves, we simply use the Holy Spirit as means of escape. But, when we say things like “the Holy Spirit told me to do it” we actually close off every possible alternative or process of questioning. Doubt becomes unacceptable for most of us.
Speaking in Tongues
Lastly we have to ask ourselves what is genuinely a sign of being filled with, or baptized in the Holy Spirit? Most of us would likely answer: “speaking in tongues”. This is based on the traditional claim that, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they all supposedly spoke in tongues (Book of Acts, 2). Speaking in tongues has become the trademark for Pentecostalism. But, on the other hand, many of us misuse this gift and some even despise other Christian denominations that do not practice it. However I believe that the real and most important sign of the Holy Spirit is the unconditional, boundless love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts when we have genuinely experienced him. As the apostle Paul writes:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Notice that Paul states explicitly, that, if he speaks in tongues of men and angels but has no love, he is nothing! Love is a power. Love it is a force. Love is the most powerful positive force, ---it has the power to prevent atrocities, undermine prejudices, build bridges, and bind us together. In the Book of Acts (1), Jesus Christ requests that the disciples not leave Jerusalem but wait until the Holy Spirit comes upon them. It is then that they shall receive true spiritual power.
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
As a Pentecostal, I have always believed that this power Jesus spoke about is the power of signs and wonders that I often see on Christian cable TV. It causes people to fall down on the floor when I pray for them; similarly, when I prophesy, signs and wonders follow and people stand in amazement! Of course all of these things can be signs and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but, as I grew in the Lord, I realized that the power Jesus spoke about is that of love. The experience of unconditional love makes us do things that we were incapable of doing. Love moves us to serve people that we were unable to love, to go places we were unable to go and do the hardest jobs. Mother Theresa did what she did for the sake of people and in the name of her Lord Jesus Christ. Her work can only have been inspired by unconditional love. It was the Holy Spirit that moved Martin Luther King to advocate for abolition of the racist blindness that dominated in the United States in his time. It was the Holy Spirit that gave him the courage to face the possibility of becoming a martyr for Justice. Love is as sweet as honey for those who love goodness and light, but is bitter and has great destructive force for to those who hate goodness and enjoy darkness. Love is the sign of the Holy Spirit. I once said that when a person risks his or her life for the sake of Jesus and for the love of his or her fellow humans, when someone goes to the most dangerous areas in the world to distribute medicine for the poor, he or she is as much filled with Holy Spirit as the one who is praying in tongues in a fully air-conditioned church in the affluent West! Unfortunately, we have hurt many through the arrogance and inflated self-confidence we derive from praying in tongues. We have to embrace all of our other Christian brothers and sisters. It can be that their expression of the Holy Spirit, or their experience is different than ours, but they still know Him and His power. What binds us here is the love that He pours in our hearts: Love is a force, a vast and almost untamable power, or as the Greeks said it, “dunamis.”