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Praying in the Spirit: Better Than I Was, Not Better Than You Are

The Baptism and Spiritual Maturity

I have met many excited and effervescent souls whose hearts could not contain the joy of the Holy Spirit. Some have such zeal to share their experience, they offend many strong and faithful Christians who are not yet convinced that the charismatic experience is for today’s Church.

Along with the misperception of pride about the baptism and tongues, there is apparently a question about the baptism and Christian growth or maturity. Let me say, first, that there are two related points that charismatics and non-charismatics agree on. The first is that this blessing does not affect anyone’s status as a Christian. No one Christian is better than any other. All are justified and sanctified by the work of Christ. And the second is that we all agree that Christians may differ in their levels of maturity. The great Reformed Presbyterian Abraham Kuyper wrote that “there are in the Church holy, holier, and holiest persons” (p. 452). (Imagine the outcry if a charismatic said this today!) Non-Pentecostals Richard De Haan and Hal Lindsey teach that some Christians are filled with the Spirit and some are not (Spirit, pp. 26, 135). Pentecostals and charismatics also believe that the New Testament teaches that there are, beyond the justification point that makes all Christians holy through Christ, varying degrees of maturity. Paul told the Corinthians, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). So there is agreement generally that Paul’s teaching allows for different grades of Christian spirituality.

The difficulty or division on the subject of maturity comes in the minds of some who feel that Pentecostals teach that Spirit-baptism is “an easy shortcut to spiritual maturity” (Burdick, p. 89). They think that Pentecostals remove the “long, sluggish grind of the Christian walk” and telescope it into the instantaneous Spirit-baptism (Paulsen, p. 11). Non-Pentecostal Theodore Epp writes, “When the Spirit enters the life, that is the beginning, not the consummation, of that life. Some believe that once they have received the Spirit and spoken in tongues they have reached the zenith” (p. 115). Non-Pentecostal George Duncan adds, “To so many the experience of speaking in tongues is either the most desirable or the most commendable of the Spirit. If they possess it they feel that this is the final goal of their ambition” (p.59).

This vocational gift of the Holy Spirit with the experience of tongues is not earned. It is not merited. It is not for only the elders or bishops. It is for every Christian.

There is, of course, no such thing as “instant maturity” in the Christian life and Pentecostals and charismatics know this. In fact, one who has experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit is acutely aware of his (and only his) shortcomings. He is, at times, ashamedly conscious of his need for a more sanctified life. The pre-charismatic pinprick of the Spirit upon the conscience becomes a machete!

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2000

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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