We are now plagued with performance-driven superficial worship events. “Everyone on your feet, with your hands together, for Jesus!” It is like being at a circus, little better. Prayers to ‘perform’ or preach better may be sincere, but they are misplaced. Worship has become an event characterized by an absence of humility and an atmosphere that respects neither the holiness nor the transcendence of God, coupled with worship aimed at some ‘bang’ moment – it is all too plastic and hollow.
Our dilemma is not new. For years, we have been superficially and not profoundly Pentecostal. Tongues and interpretation, for example, along with the prophetic, are treated as decorations. They are neither recorded so as to be remembered or seriously considered, as in Acts 13. The idea of testing a word and employing it as a directive is frightening, even threatening. Such action, we assume, would empower an abuse of the gift by the immature. In truth, we may actually fear the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Control is the issue. So we give symbolic space to spiritual manifestations, while disempowering their vital function. It is another way of splitting away from genuine transformation, in this case, corporate.
Some fear the ‘empowering’ of prophets – which sadly reveals a failure to appreciate the five-fold ministry of Christ in his Church. To prevent empowerment of either gifts or persons, and to avoid the sticky task of discernment, correction or discipleship, we treat spiritual moments with tacit respect and profound disregard. The idea of a people who hear from heaven, shut themselves up to discern more clearly his will and sacrifice their lives to obey – is far too radical, even if it is Biblical. The Church is paralyzed as an organizational institution, directed by men; verses, becoming a dynamic, organic body, led by the Spirit. Antioch allowed the charismatic word to burst forth, spontaneously. Then, they considered it in a season of prayer. They tested it. Discerning it to be genuine, they acted on the charismatic word. This was an authentic and profoundly Pentecostal church. It became the center for mission-sending in the New Testament. When we make room for a mere superficial display of the spirituals but treat them as mere decorations, as sweet but benign evidences of the supernatural, we err greatly.
In Acts 10, we find a collage of charismatic experiences. Cornelius, a just man, has a vision of an angel with precise information about Peter and his location, along with specific instructions. Peter experiences a private visionary moment (Acts 10:10f), and while considering it, “the Spirit said unto him, ‘Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.’” (10:19). He will embrace Gentiles, preach to them and pray for them to be filled with the Spirit. Arriving at the home of Cornelius, Peter discerns the heart of God who “is no respecter of persons.” He suddenly sees the missionary design of God to have a harvest “in every nation that fears him, and works righteousness … He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify …”(10:35, 42). Acting by the spirit and in a manner he perceives to be consistent with Scripture, he declares, “Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (10:43). Suddenly, there is a charismatic manifestation completely out of the control of Peter.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Acts 10:44-46
He baptized them in water confirming their admission to the invisible Church. Wisely, Peter took witnesses with him. But, he had still acted on the initiative of the Spirit alone. His spontaneous obedience to the Spirit was, though not intentional, an exclusion of the larger group. They challenged his independent action. Their challenge was not personal, but a protection of unity, congruence, and harmony. Peter is not arrogant or resistant to accountability. He submits and offers his testimony. “Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order” (11:4). The group listened.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.’ Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?’ When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God…. (11:15-18)
The group stood with Peter, and the Spirit. This is being profoundly Pentecostal. Unity and harmony was maintained as the corporate church leaped over the broad chasm that had separated Jew and Gentile. Such a corporate transformation would never have taken place so swiftly, so completely, in a political context. It took a Church that practiced the headship of Christ, by the leadership of the Spirit to act in such a revolutionary way.
The essence of Pentecostalism is the fiery second incarnation – Christ in His Church, through the agency of the Holy Spirit resulting in supernatural power for mission and supernatural evidentiary character or fruit.
“The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”
This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.
 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 9.