The Tragic Divide: Acts 8:14-19
“14) Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15) who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16) For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17) Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. 18) Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,” 19) “saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Acts‬ ‭8‬:‭14‬-‭19
This text introduces us to the theological crisis at the root of the Evangelical – Pentecostal Divide. To state the case simply; evangelicals believe according to Ephesians 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit is given at the moment of salvation. That’s when Paul clearly stated that the believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit. They see no need for what they view as a second work of grace.
But the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement believe strongly according to this text in Acts 8:14-19, that the Holy Spirit is bestowed through the laying on of hands and often accompanied with speaking in tongues as seen in Acts 10:44-48. Of course, the problem in Acts 10 is that Peter did not lay hands on them and they were later baptized with water.
Relating to the issue of speaking in tongues, evangelicals quickly point out in 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 Paul warned of the possibility of false tongues and clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 12:30 that all do not speak with tongues because it is a distributed gift. (1 Corinthians 12:11)
Some try to bridge this gap by elaborating on the difference between baptism of the Holy Spirit, sealing with the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit. This is a noteworthy contrast. It’s a great study.
I do not expect to solve this tension, but I will observe that both sides have biblical merit. For some reason, the Bible does not solve this controversy. This issue begs the question; “Is salvation based on faith in Jesus Christ alone or does it need a manifestation of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues?” I have very godly and mature friends in both camps. They all love Jesus and live fruitful lives. Carnality and sin also shows up equally in both camps. Neither camp has a cornerstone on godliness.
When I became a Christian, I started attending an evangelical free church and a charismatic Bible study at the same time. Looking back, that was providential. The first full book of the Bible that I memorized was 1 Corinthians for the Bible Quizzing team hosted by the evangelical church. I have never been pulled heavily into either camp nor have I been closed to the gifts or ministry of the Holy Spirit even though I attended Moody Bible Institute.
The second full book that I memorized in high school was the Gospel of Matthew. It became very hard for me not to acknowledge the doctrine of laying on of hands, asking the Father for the Holy Spirit, healing the sick and the need to cast out unclean spirits. I equally value the solid biblical foundation I received at Bible College and the passion and unction for the Holy Spirit I received from the Scriptures and my many “Spirit filled friends.”
I confess, for a while I was influenced by the extreme academic environment of Bible College and the tendency to create numerous theological boxes that rationally carry biblical concepts to extreme conclusions. But, I learned that Dwight L Moody himself and many other spiritual giants of the Great awakenings were very Spirit anointed and dependent. They saw the dangers of dead academic theology.
So how do I approach the evangelical/Pentecostal divide? My answer might be simplistic, but I do not make it an issue! I preach Jesus Christ and a pure gospel while persuading people to be saved. I pray earnestly for the filling, anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. I lay hands on the sick and pray for healing. I rebuke, confront and cast out unclean spirits in Jesus name. I lay hands on new believers and carnal Christians and pray for the filling and baptism of the Holy Spirit. I leave the distribution of spiritual gifts to the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. I expect signs and wonders to accompany the spread of the gospel. I point all believers to a holy life, passionate prayer and worship of Jesus Christ, solid Bible study, walking in the Spirit, world evangelization, personal fruitfulness and love of the brethren. I see these as the inner motivations that should accompany salvation.
I respect and honor different biblical convictions and doctrines within the Christian tradition. I love the old hymns of the faith and modern inspirational worship songs. I can stand stoically in the presence of God and I can sing and dance in the Spirit. I am madly in love with Jesus Christ and His Spirit and enjoy Him both day and night. He is my portion in this life.
I have zero interest in being a people pleaser or gaining the approval of men. Academic degrees or big titles mean absolutely nothing to me. If the presence, power and anointing of God is not on a life, they are nothing but modern Pharisees. Many of them need a burning bush encounter with Jesus Christ and His Spirit.
I strongly reject the prosperity gospel, spiritual abuse, immorality and carnality in the church, playing church politics, and any kind of woke drift. I view these as the work of the anti-Christ and the apostate church. If the Bible doesn’t teach it… don’t ask me to embrace it!
Ok, I didn’t solve the dilemma, but I hope you caught my approach to this conflict. I build up rather than tear down. I unite rather than divide sincere and godly believers. I point all believers to a deeper walk with Jesus Christ, solid Bible Study and greater intimacy with the Holy Spirit. I sincerely believe if you ask for a fish, your Father in heaven will not give you a snake! He will give the Holy Spirit to those who seek and ask. (Luke 11:9-13)
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global