Holy Spirit History (1)
The Church is Maintained in Truth by the Holy Spirit!
The Azuza Street revival proclaimed it stood for “the restoration of the faith once delivered unto the saints.” The revivalists sincerely believed that for “ages men have been preaching a partial Gospel.” They were excited because in their age God had raised up men “to bring the truth back to the church.” They saw a progression in the bringing back of “the truth.” Luther brought justification by faith, Wesley Bible holiness. “Now he [God] is bringing back the Pentecostal Baptism to the church.” “He gave the former rain moderately at Pentecost, and he is going to send upon us in these last days the former and the latter rain. There are greater things to be done in these last days of the Holy Ghost.” “God is now confirming His word by granting signs and wonders to follow the preaching of the full gospel in Los Angelos.” The truth and experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the culmination of God’s restoration.
The Pentecostal Bible college I attended presented a vision of Church history that followed this narrative and emphasized a church falling away from the full Pentecostal Gospel. The falling away resulted in dark centuries bereft of the power of God in signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts, a lack of the fullness of life brought by the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the development of false doctrines. The Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the twentieth century inaugurated a new age of light for the church returning it to its former glory in spiritual power and doctrinal truth in preparation for the second coming of Jesus. As future Pentecostal ministers, we rejoiced because we received the “light” of the story of the fall and restoration of the church, considered the story an essential part of our identity, and passionately shared the story.
As a Pentecostal reading church history, I am convinced the story our forbears embraced and my Bible college teachers earnestly taught contain elements of truth. The pages of the New Testament do describe very different Christian communities than the ones evidenced throughout history. Doctrines strayed from an Apostolic biblical norm. Believer conversions occur by intellectual consent to propositional truth rather than a personal and life-changing experience of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The ethics of Christian discipleship and disciplines of the spiritual life vanish in institutional churches accommodating to politics and culture. Christian existence no longer evidences the biblical emphasis on signs, wonders, miracles, and the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Reading church history raises the question, did the church lose the truth of the Christian faith at some point? Is it appropriate to tell a story of the fall and restoration of the church? The early Pentecostals answered with a wholehearted yes! But what if they asked the wrong question? What if we ask, “How is the church maintained in truth?” Jesus and the writers of the New Testament provide a straightforward answer to this question.
John wrote his gospel to Jewish Christians experiencing anxiety and concerns similar to twentieth and twenty-first-century Pentecostals. Their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord resulted in dramatic events, expulsion from the synagogue, and persecution. They were fearful “for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Banned from the center of Jewish life and worship, separation from family, friends, and commerce would result. Like Jesus, Jewish Christians experienced intense persecution from the Jews. Jesus characterizes them as belonging to their father, the devil (8:44), and believing that when they kill Christians, “they are offering worship to God” (John 16:2). How could these Christians be “maintained in the truth” after Jesus departed and continue his mission without change and compromise? John comforts them by sharing Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and before his crucifixion and resurrection.
I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth (John 17: 9-19, NRSV).
Jesus acknowledges that the disciples are living in a hostile world. However, like him, they belong to God. Their discipleship glorifies God (John 15:8). God lets them remain in the world to continue Jesus’ mission. Jesus prays for their continued protection in his name. Jewish Christians understood that just as the fullness of Yahweh, the God of Israel, saving work was in his name, so the fullness of Christ’s saving work is contained in the name of Jesus. Believing in the name of Jesus is believing in the messianic mission (John 3:18), following God’s commandment, and abiding in Christ. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (1 John 3:23-24).
Jesus and his disciples do not “belong to the world” (John 17:19). They do not belong to the fallen world of sin and evil that aligns itself against God and Christ. The disciples belong to the world God loves and for whom the Son dies (John 3:16). Jesus gives them the Word, his person and story, as they are sent forth on their mission. He prays for God to sanctify them in truth, and reminds the disciples that God’s “Word is truth” (John 17:19).
John prepares the Jewish Christians to be “maintained in truth” by pointing them to Jesus. Jesus does not separate them from the hostile world in which they live but reminds them of the “glory” of their discipleship, the protection they receive in the name of Jesus, the importance of following God’s commandments and abiding in Christ. They will be “sanctified” in truth by the Word of God. For John, Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The way to truth, the Word, for John is through the Holy Spirit. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13, 14). The church is “maintained in truth” by the Holy Spirit.
The Pentecostal narrative of the fall and restoration of the church needs rewriting. The story of the Christian church is “Holy Spirit History.” The next Christosis post will present a new story for Pentecostals to tell when explaining God’s purpose for their revival.
Hans Bietenhard. “Name.” In New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 2:648–55. Grand Rapid, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977.
“The Apostolic Faith | Consortium of Pentecostal Archives.” Accessed October 6, 2021. https://pentecostalarchives.org/collections/apostolicfaith/index.cfm.
 “The Apostolic Faith | Consortium of Pentecostal Archives,” accessed October 6, 2021, https://pentecostalarchives.org/collections/apostolicfaith/index.cfm.  Hans Bietenhard, “Name,” in New Interantional Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977), 655.