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In 1901 students in a class taught by Charles Parham began speaking in tongues. This was something they sought, and something which in their mind proved the power of the Holy Spirit. It was an evidence. The evidence of the Holy Spirit, as illustrated in Acts 2, Acts 10, and then in Topeka, Kansas was considered speaking in tongues.

Such an evidence as this gained traction. More people prayed in such the way the Topeka students prayed, more people began speaking in tongues, some indeed recognizable as regular languages it is claimed. Then such a thing as this had a trip down route 66, to Los Angeles where on Azusa Street, it is known, this claim to the evidence of the Holy Spirit began to do a curious thing. It exploded. It was given a name, Pentecostalism, and this name has traveled from the dusty streets of the City of Angels to all corners of the world.

So there must be something to Charles Parham’s discovery. And there certainly is. For instance read Numbers 11:22-24:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets. The story of this passage isn’t about all the people becoming prophets, however, it’s not even about a small number of people becoming prophets. Moses, you see, was rather overworked. He was the man who went up the mountain and came down with a bright face and a lot of authority. All of it. Question his authority and you might, like Miriam, get a spot of leprosy. Moses, even with all of his honors, was still but a man, and not a man superempowered to do all the work that authority must do in a group this big. He was spending a lot of his time on minutiae. A man such as Moses should not be immersed in minutiae. He had things to do, like keep everyone’s eyes on the prize.

Keeping their eyes on the prize was a particular problem as the people tended to be rather grumbly. And what with all of Moses work, and his devotion, and whatnot, he got fairly fed up with being between the rock of God and the hard place of Israel. He felt trapped and asked God to kill him. God said he’d rather not, but that he would show him a thing or two. So he had Moses call 70 elders and God spread the wealth a little bit. The Spirit was poured out over the whole bunch. And when the Spirit came, well these men got a bit filled up. Overfilled really. They weren’t enough in themselves and the Spirit overwhelmed them. It was like walking out into a bright day after spending years in a dark cave. The eyes get overwhelmed and they squint. When the Spirit comes, the soul gets overwhelmed and things begin to happen.

That’s the sign of the Spirit being poured out on a person. But, that’s not the reason for the Spirit. God sent the Spirit here so that Israel would have a bit more leadership variety, all while knowing everyone is on the same page. This is important as having leaders turned to different pages often means a whole mess in the making. Take Korah for instance. The earth sure did.

The Spirit is the only way of the work of God, and without the Spirit there is only a muddle. But that’s really the key point. The Spirit is about the work of God, not giving us the goods to put on a show for ourselves or for anyone else.

Which brings us back to the gift of Tongues and Acts 2. Now, it’s certainly not the case as some authoritarian people might suggest that the gift of tongues is gone. It’s in the lists, and it serves a purpose. So did prophecy in the old days, and today. But, the ecstatic overwhelming quality in which the souls becomes filled and overfilled into a frenzy is a sign of the Spirit’s coming, but it’s not a sign of the Spirit’s staying. Tongues is not the goal of God. Neither is prophecy.

What is? Well, the quick response from many is salvation. Which is true in a way. But that’s not really it either. That’s just a beginning of the beginning. Salvation is sort of like, if I can engage in a terrible analogy, buying a ticket at Disneyland. It costs a lot, usually children are more eager for it and pay less, but the payoffs are nice because there’s the Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones, and Star Tours inside. The payoff, you might be surprised to know, is not in buying the ticket. I mean there are Disney themed pictures and even the occasional Mickey Mouse or Goofy wandering about. That’s not why anyone would want to go to Disneyland and if you suggested going to Disneyland soley to buy a ticket that would be silly, what with the hassle of parking and driving all the way there. No, you buy a ticket to do something more, and salvation is a ticket to something more.

That something more is what the Spirit is really about.

God is in the restoration business. He has created us in his image, but we’ve gone and distorted his likeness. As Mark Twain once said, “I was made merely in the image of God, but not resembling Him enough to be mistaken for Him by anyone except a very near-sighted person.” Yet God is wanting to renew that resemblance. The Spirit comes for that very purpose, to lift us up, and guide us into becoming wholly sanctified. Jesus opened the door to this process. The Spirit presses it forward in our very lives, taking our salvation and making into a whole lot more. Wesley called this sanctification. The Eastern Orthodox call it theosis. These are but words to describe the fact God thinks we are worth quite a bit, and able to be quite a bit more than our present wallowing selves.

He once walked in the evening breeze with a man and a woman. He’d like to do so again. The Spirit makes us pleasant and inviting company for such a thing as this, restoring our souls towards real wholeness so that we think right, feel right, listen right, and feel joy right. Our wan selves can’t handle the fullness of the Spirit, so we’re given time to change. Part of what we have to learn, part of the extensive remodeling of the Spirit is our learning how to relate. God, you see, values relationship, being in eternal relationship and creating in terms of relationship. We have lost this, becoming selfish, isolated, indulgent people who are always gunning for our rights or expectations. Always seeking to fulfill our desires by using other people. The way of the Spirit, however, is in mutual giving and mutual receiving so that we live for others as they live for us.

That’s what we see at the end of Acts 2. The Spirit poured out. There were tongues. There was evangelism. It is only at the end of the chapter we get to the heart of it all. The Spirit comes, and people begin to instinctively respond in the fullness of community. They interact with one spirit for they are filled with the One Spirit who unites and shares and values all equally while expressing divine qualities diversely in each.

Of course saying that Acts 2 is a fine community is a common thing. That’s the goal of every shameless idealistic group of people who leave their churches to live in a commune and do things “right”. Only that’s not quite it either. See, the thing at Acts 2 isn’t about this group of people who decided to be selfless and share. They were simply expressing the continuation of the fullness of the work of the Spirit in their lives. In other words, they didn’t think about it, they were just doing it. It was as natural to them as such as thing is unnatural to most of us. Natural in the fullest sense of the term, being part of our truest nature. But, we don’t do this, and we don’t see this. But we don’t see a lot of things. That doesn’t make it untrue, that just goes to show our present status on the ladder of God’s restoration.

Should we see the fullness of the power of the Spirit in our own lives. Should we experience the kind of renewal and the kind of enlightenment we read about, then its not a matter of our choosing then to sell our property and give a great deal to the poor. We just will do those sorts of things. It’s a reflection of the Spirit, not a working towards the Spirit.

That’s what Charles Parham had wrong. He thought it was about the tongues. He thought it was about the fireworks and the parade, when really there’s a lot more to it. Inasmuch as he got it wrong, inasmuch as many of those who came after him missed reading to the end of the chapter and so cut off, or grieved the Spirit in whatever way, they missed out on seeing in their own lives the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of themselves, in a gathered community that reflects the ultimate reality of God among us.

We miss out on such things for much the same reason. But, there’s no reason to make an artificial attempt. There’s only to do those sorts of things the earliest church did and pray the Spirit comes upon us in power, and then not get distracted by the shiny things but press on in the Spirit so as to see the real work. It’s not something we do. It’s something we become. That’s the gift of the Spirit, to us and to this world.

I suspect William Seymour got a lot more of this than did Charles Parham. Not all of it. He was entranced by the initial works as well. But, there was a freedom to press on and see what happened, a freedom which too many denied to him. Sad. But that’s the topic of another post.

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