Pentecostals and Conservative Evangelicals: Barnett & Jensen

© Anzea Publishers 1973
This article is an excerpt that was first published in The quest for power | neo-pentecostals and the New Testament by Paul Barnett and Peter Jensen (Sydney: Anzea Publishers, 1973, p. 69-80). It is reproduced here with permission.

Neo-pentecostals and conservative evangelicals enjoy a broad agreement about Christian doctrine. Both groups agree about the authority of the Bible, the efficacy of the atonement, the unique Sonship of Jesus and his return, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and our obligation to fulfil the great commission to bring men under the lordship of Jesus. For all of that we are genuinely grateful. The differences are found in such areas as the nature of the Christian life and in the way we use the Bible. Let us identify areas where the most serious differences occur.

The neo-pentecostal doctrine of ‘subsequence-consequence’

To be fair, ‘subsequence-consequence’ is our title. Neo-pentecostals believe that God intends already converted people to have a great religious experience subsequent to conversion. This is most frequently referred to as the ‘baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit’. The chief consequence of the subsequent experience is ‘power’. It is power for signs, power for witness; but some writers extend the consequences to greater godliness, love for God, family, etc.

We reject this doctrine because there is not one command or promise in the New Testament that we should have this experience. Neo-pentecostals are unable to produce a single promise or command of either the Lord or his apostles with respect to subsequence-consequence.

The neo-pentecostal doctrine of ‘conditions’ or ‘steps’

If there is a baptism for power, the next question is: how can I have it? Harper1 speaks of ‘conditions of receiving’; Schep2 refers to ‘steps’ to ‘fullness’. We schematise their conditions as follows:

These conditions are appealingly righteous. But they presuppose a clear command and/or promise in scripture that we have a baptism for power subsequent to conversion. Yet there is not one text in the New Testament where a baptism for power subsequent to conversion is promised or commanded.

In spirit, the above conditions really belong to becoming and being a Christian. They are the marks of the Christian attitude to God. Indeed one must seriously doubt that a person is a believer at all if these marks are missing. But once a person becomes a Christian these things, when considered as conditions of a not-yet-arrived baptism for power, become ‘works’. It is common for people to fulfil the conditions and not receive the baptism. So they must fulfil the conditions at a deeper level, then at an even deeper level, etc.

At conversion we are promised that the sinner who genuinely comes to Jesus in repentance and faith will be received. But the experience of the baptism depends on my attitudes reaching such a pitch before it can happen. Conversion is by faith alone; the baptism is by attitude-achievement. This seems like beginning in the Spirit and being perfected by the flesh. We believe that the required baptism with its prior attitudinal conditions is similar to the false gospel condemned in Galatians.

The neo-pentecostal use of the Bible

We have grave difficulties with common neo-pentecostal practice at this point.

We regret, for example, that many writers and preachers use without qualification a disputed text of the Bible. It is almost beyond doubt that Mark 16:9-20 is no part of the original text since it does not occur in our best and earliest manuscripts. The reader must judge the propriety of binding on men as God’s word a passage which honest scholarly opinion doubts to be part of the word of God. (See Mark 16:9-20 and Speaking in Tongues)

Further, it is an invalid method to take narrative parts of the Bible and convert them into promises or commands. The author may hold a narrative incident up for imitation, but it ought not to be assumed that the author is doing more than informing us what happened (unless this is clearly indicated). The black deeds in the latter part of the Judges are not commands to ‘do likewise’. Nor are Job’s comforters examples for us. The communal sharing of the Jerusalem church does not bind our consciences. In other words a description is not a prescription. ‘Is’ is not ‘ought’. The scriptures that bind our wills and consciences are commands and promises of the Lord or his apostles as found in recorded speech or in the epistles.

We are unhappy about the neo-pentecostal method of deducing doctrine from the scriptures. How, for example, do they establish their doctrine of the baptism as subsequence-consequence?

Their method

1.They begin with the Baptist’s prophecy that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit. (It is usually assumed, without discussion, that the Baptist’s prophecy refers to their concept of subsequence-consequence).
2.They proceed to the five celebrated Acts passages and conclude they teach the baptism as subsequence-consequence. We observe that their doctrine of subsequence-consequence is only really a possibility in two of the passages (Samaria and Ephesus), but that both of these passages are equally capable of alternative or even better interpretations. Further, the one occasion where the Baptist’s prophecy of the baptism is quoted is applied to the case everyone agrees is impossible for subsequence-consequence, the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:43-47; cf. 11:15-17 and 15:7-9).

Our method

1.We also begin with the Baptist’s prophecy that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit. We do not assume that we know what Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit means.
2.We then proceed to clear promises and statements where John’s prophecy is explained. What did Jesus understand by John’s prophecy? Thus we investigate the Paraclete passages in John 14-16. What did the evangelist understand? Thus we investigate John 7:37-39. What did the apostles upon whom the Spirit came understand? Thus we investigate Acts 2:38.

We believe that the narrative passages in the Acts have been misused and the promises/commands about the baptism with the Spirit ignored or submitted to violent treatment. Let us consider one of these promises. We regard Acts 2:38 as a very important promise. On the day of Pentecost those Jews who heard Peter’s explanation that the Spirit had come because Jesus was made Lord and Christ (whom they had crucified) asked Peter what they were to do. Peter replied, ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

Here is the clearest of statements: do this (command) and you shall receive that (promise). This command/promise is the norm for receiving ( = being baptised in) the Holy Spirit. It appears as the norm again and again in the Acts (e.g., 8:15-16 where the abnormality in the delay between command and promise is indicated by the ‘not yet fallen… they had only been baptised’; see also 10:43-44; 11:15-17; 15:8-11; 19:2; 22:16). Yet despite the clarity of this command/promise M. Harper,3 for example, drives a wedge between the command and the promise. He prises the promise away from the command and makes it relate to the allegedly subsequent experience, the baptism. But the command and the promise belong together and they both relate to the gift of the Holy Spirit in conversion ( = the baptism with/in the Spirit). By teasing the scripture apart in this manner the concept of subsequence is falsely imported into the passage.

Again, we cannot agree with a tendency to import into a passage information from the other places where there is no clear evidential link. Harper4 actually insists, without even arguing the case, that the twelve Ephesian disciples were leading figures in the notable progress in the gospel in Asia recorded in Acts 19:8 ff. For this there is not one shred of evidence.

Finally, neo-pentecostal writers generalise too easily. For example, can we assume, as they do, that every congregation was as gifted as the church at Corinth? Can we assume that tongues speaking continued to be a feature of the church life at Jerusalem, Caesarea or Ephesus? Can we assume that every believer could perform the signs which were performed by the apostles or that they apostles were able to do them at will? All this is assumed. Then all one needs is an out-of-context proof-text like ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ and we have an emotional appeal to our consciences that we are spiritually ‘B’ grade because Jesus isn’t performing miracles through us today in the same way.

What do we think of the neo-pentecostal experiences?

Most will agree with the following propositions about the nature of religious experience.

1.Each of us is psychologically complex. We do not fully understand ourselves.
2.Psychological make-up varies from person to person. Men are psychologically different from women, for example.
3.The scriptures say little about the subjective details in Christian experience.
4.Religious experience varies from person to person and is, in itself, no final guide to godliness.
5.God constantly blesses us as his children. Sometimes our emotions are caught up more than at other times. Such occasions stand out in our memories. They are not necessarily greater blessings simply because we were more emotionally involved.

We do not deny the reality of the Holy Spirit experiences of many neo-pentecostals. We locate the problem in the interpretation placed on spiritual experiences, especially post-conversion experiences. For example, one person may have been a Christian for some time and then come into a new assurance of forgiveness. Another person may discover a new spiritual dimension y submitting to the lordship of Jesus. Yet another may be awakened as to gifts of evangelism of which he was hitherto unaware. So we could go on. The possibilities are as endless as the human personality is complex and the Christian experience diverse. Truly our God is inexhaustible in his treasures of blessings for our human diversity and complexity.

In the past twenty years we have witnessed a resurgence of spiritual interests throughout the world. One could attribute this to the age of anxiety in which we are living, as well as the final bankruptcy of theological liberalism (‘God is dead’) and the cold irrelevancy of mainstream orthodox churches. The present resurgence is in part, not doubt, a reaction against all of this.

As individuals have been caught up in this worldwide resurgence it has become the custom to describe the nature of one’s own spiritual upsurge as ‘the baptism with the Spirit’. We do not deny nor seek to destroy the reality of the experience. But we are pleading that a proper interpretation be placed upon it. Let those concerned speak of ‘spiritual reawakening’ or ‘spiritual renewal’. Let them supply information about date and place if they wish, as a form of testimony. But let them not bring biblical terminology to bear on a range of experiences which scripture doesn’t preclude, but about which it gives no detail.

What we plead is that we stop trying to read into the scriptures subjective details of post-conversion spiritual experience. Immediately the Bible is invoked for details two things seem always to happen.

1.The pressure of strong subjective experience forces those concerned to twist the scriptures into the mould of their experience pattern (which has often been pre-suggested by neo-pentecostal speakers and writers). They theologise from their experience into the Bible.
2.Those who enjoy a spiritual reawakening then directly or indirectly call on other Christians to enjoy the same experience pattern. This is improper in itself. But worse, they do it from the scriptures, which means that the exhortation comes with all the force of the word of God on our conscience.

However, the call to have the baptism (understood as subsequence-consequence) is not the word of God because neither the Lord nor the apostles call on us to have such an experience. We can only ascribe good motives to those who thus exhort us. But we say to them: don’t impose your experience pattern on us and don’t do it from the scriptures (for it isn’t there) in the name of the Lord.

We believe the neo-pentecostal must not only search his conscience, he must also use the scriptures with infinite care. If he fails to do this, despite the excellence of his motives, he will become a false prophet since he calls people to fulfil something as the will of God on which the word of God is silent.

We, the authors, wish to make it clear that we are not opposed to tongues speaking provided there is no coercion to non-tongues speakers and that the activity is kept within the restrictions set out in 1 Corinthians 14. Nor do we discount the possibility of miracles of healing for this age. We do in fact welcome the gifts and fellowship of neo-pentecostals in our churches. We see one thing as the great obstacle to fellowship of this kind. That obstacle is the doctrine of subsequence-consequence, the view that the scriptures teach the neo-pentecostal baptism in the Spirit. We believe that this doctrine is in fact a new legalism: that it is Spirit expelling. Equally serious, it divided the brethren, it classified brothers according to whether or not they have enjoyed this experience. Experience, not the death of Jesus, has for them become the basis of fellowship. We are not optimistic about the effects of the movement while the alleged baptism remains one of its central planks. Remove this and we can see no difficulty about deep fellowship in evangelism and edification.

The challenge to conservatism

It must not be thought that we uncritically endorse traditional conservative evangelicalism. We rejoice in the great insights of the classical reformers. We affirm that there are many splendid congregations and outstanding individual Christians within this venerable tradition.

Nevertheless we must admit that many churches in the historic Protestant denominations are cold and lifeless. The church members frequently appear ultra-conservative, being unprepared to consider even the most moderate revisions of the liturgy. Worse, they appear to have no concern for those outside the church, or even the young within the church if they happen to have long hair.

‘Church’ takes on the appearance of a monotonous grind. The members seem to be unable to enter into any meaningful relationship with one another, scarcely therefore with people outside the church. Sharing, fellowship, caring, mutual ministry, exercise of gifts—all these are for many, it seems, meaningless categories.

By contrast the neo-pentecostal meeting is frequently a joyful occasion with lively music and a sincere sense of love and sharing between the members. Many find the neo-pentecostal meeting infinitely to be preferred because of factors like these.

It would not be surprising if many attach themselves to such meetings not because of neo-pentecostal doctrine, but because of the nature of the meetings.

Neo-pentecostalism is a movement of religious enthusiasm. It will reject the cold and formal and create new patterns of its own which express spiritual zeal and enthusiasm. Again, it would not be surprising if the experience of the baptism many claim to have is in fact an expression of the joy of free fellowship and sharing in a warmly emotional situation.

Many orthodox churches could benefit from an injection of enthusiasm and warmth.

What is God teaching us in the orthodox churches through this outbreak of religious enthusiasm in our midst? We make five suggestions:

1.The Holy Spirit has been, up to a point, the neglected person of the Godhead. Christians need to study the teaching of scripture about him. Preachers and Bible teachers should devote more time to teaching about his work in our lives. Nevertheless the Holy Spirit’s role is to glorify Jesus, not himself. Any study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit must be in relation to the person and work of Jesus.
2.Preaching frequently lacks balance. Some preaching is academic and lacks warm personal exhortation. Most preaching has little teaching content, consisting merely of slogans and pious appeals. The New Testament writing reflects the preaching of the early church. Here we find teaching and exhortations interwoven, with the exhortations based on the teaching. We need to recover this balance so that people are encouraged and exhorted on the basis of the truth of the gospel.
3.Christians are often uninformed about membership of the body and the fact that they belong to one another as brothers and sisters. Much time needs to be devoted to effective communication about this unique New Testament pattern. Until we learn to share with one another we will not be able to share with outsiders. We need to learn to give ourselves to others, to listen, to care and to share.
4.Christians often do not understand that the Spirit who converted them also baptised them into a body and imparted gifts to them for the growth of the body. The clergy need to give consistent teaching about this and also to create the situations where the exercise of gifts in the body is possible. We ought to come away from meetings convinced that we have met with the living God. The lively exercise of the gifts of the Spirit will be an evidence of his life in our churches.
5.Christians often do not understand the gospel, only rarely have they any idea how to go about sharing it with others, while few indeed have the ability to answer even the fundamental objections raised by unbelievers. The clergy must begin to train and equip church members, and stimulate the work of evangelism. There are specialists in evangelism and apologetics available to instruct people.

1.M. Harper, Power for the Body of Christ (Fountain Trust, London, 1964), pp. 38-42.
2.J. A. Schep, Spirit Baptism and Tongues Speaking, pp. 84-97.
3.M. Harper, Power for the Body of Christ, pp. 39, 40; and J. Baker, Baptized in One Spirit, p. 9.
4.M. Harper, Power for the Body of Christ, p. 49.
5.Quoted from A Discourse of the Subtill Practices of Devilles by Witches and Sorcerers, in K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1971). | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.