Originally written 20 years ago, a pioneer’s message on our need for the Holy Spirit’s power is just as relevant–and prophetic–today.
Dennis Bennett was a priest in the Episcopal Church who became known as the father of the modern charismatic movement after he proclaimed from his pulpit on April 3, 1960, that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Within weeks he was asked to resign his pastorate at thriving St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, Calif. He continued his ministry, moving into the pastorate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, where he stayed until 1981. In 1968 he founded Christian Renewal Association with his wife, Rita, who is its president today. Dennis died on Nov. 1, 1991, a year after he wrote this article, which is adapted with permission from Mission & Ministry, then the magazine of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It is a reminder that, in any era, the foundation for ministering to the world isn’t us alone, but the Holy Spirit, who works through us to change people’s lives.
I had a vivid experience of receiving the Lord Jesus as my Savior when I was 11 years old. I found He was alive and wonderful beyond belief but afterward spent much time looking for what came next. I tried to find that first, careless rapture of my conversion over again. At times I would sense that the Lord was still very much with me, but my awareness of Him was limited, although my intellectual belief was strong.
You who have been brought up in this age of awareness of the Holy Spirit cannot imagine how blank we were on this topic back in the 1940s and 1950s and even later. Kenneth Scott Latourette in his masterful two-volume history of the Christian church, which covers church history up to 1976, does not even mention the Pentecostal revival! Yet without question the growth of the Pentecostal movement is a most striking phenomenon of modern church history.
In my personal Pentecost, the joy and glory of God broke in upon me in 1960. I recognized it as the same kind of experience I had when I accepted Jesus, only much more vivid and constant.
It didn’t seem to matter whether I was awake or asleep—or what was going on—the new awareness of God stayed with me. It was an incredible new dimension in my spiritual life. I had been trying hard to become more aware of God; now, all of a sudden, He was with me without my having to seek Him.
I had no precedent for this experience. It was not the fulfillment of any expectations that had been implanted in my mind. I had never attended a Pentecostal church and had no notion what they taught or believed. Moreover, I did not receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit in a church setting, but in a private home, praying with two Episcopal laypeople.
True, I had done a good deal of research over several months while I was looking into it all, but the friends who witnessed to me simply told me faithfully what had happened to them and then prayed with me. After that I didn’t have a great deal of further contact with them.
It concerns me that so many Christians nowadays seem not to grasp, or perhaps have not even had a chance to grasp, what happened back there 2,000 years ago and can continue to happen today as people receive the same Pentecostal experience. I believe the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be the drivetrain by which the power of the Spirit travels from the engine to the wheels.
Evangelism starts the engine, but without the drivetrain the people of God do not move very far, and soon begin to wonder when Jesus is going to come and take them away from a world they obviously are unequipped to cope with!
Acts 8:14-17 clearly tells how Peter and John prayed with the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit after their conversion and baptism with water through Philip the evangelist. Jesus made receiving the baptism in the Spirit mandatory—and for a very good reason, since it is what makes the power of God available through the individual believer to the needy world.
In those early days in Van Nuys we experienced what it was like to be “early Christians,” both from the excitement of discovering how real it all was and from finding out how quickly one could become unpopular! We found out for ourselves why people in the first century were willing to risk their lives to belong to the fellowship of Jesus of Nazareth.
None of us may have literally risked our lives, but we did risk our reputations, our jobs, our friends. I saw the amazing fellowship and love with which people were drawn together after they had been set free in the Spirit, and to me it was worth the challenges.
I soon found, though, that there was much in me that could quench my new awareness of the Holy Spirit. He never leaves us, but I would lose my awareness of Him if I did not follow His leading.
During these last 30 years I have been learning how to continue to respond to the Holy Spirit in me, so His joy and power and freedom can continue to flow in and from me. I have certainly failed far more often than I have succeeded, but the Lord is patient. The main desire of my life is still to enjoy more of what I knew at the first.
So, in retrospect, my concern is still to keep that first fire burning—not to lose my first love. Yet I have learned that He doesn’t forsake me. It is always I who forsake Him, or at least make my environment distasteful and untenable for Him, so that He has to retire into the depths of my spirit, where my soul is not aware of Him for a time.
It has been a difficult three decades, but I would not go back to the time before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit for anything in heaven or earth. There is no nightmare I can imagine that would be more devastating than to lose this awareness of the reality of God.
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