There is something powerful about spirit baptism which is most often evidenced by speaking in tongues. In July, I read a report that the Assembly of God (AG) denomination is the fastest growing in the country and growing faster than the U.S. population as a whole. As someone whose roots began in the AG, I was also happy to hear tremendous growth among ethnic minorities within the AG. 38% of AG members in the U.S. today are ethnic minorities. This is good news, not for its own sake, but because homogenized groups often have challenges reaching people outside their own group.
Also in the news, Brazil recently experienced a visit from Pope Francis I, the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church (RC). One of the reasons for his visit was to revitalize the Catholic Church in Brazil, the most Catholic country in the world. As recently as 60 years ago, 99% of Brazilians were considered Roman Catholic. Today, 67% claim to be Roman Catholics. The RC church has been losing members largely to Pentecostal groups, such as the AG. During his visit, Francis I promoted a deeper spirituality including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the RC’s answer to Pentecostalism. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is the fastest segment of growth within the RC church today. It has absorbed many of the aspects of Pentecostal or charismatic churches. The results have been amazing. While some RC churches have struggled to fill cathedrals, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is able to fill soccer stadiums.
Pentecost is a powerful force. Pentecost marked the birth of the church. Just as God had come down to confuse languages at Babel, the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost to initiate a reverse Babel. The occupants of the upper room spilled out into the street and became radical witnesses to something God had just breathed onto the earth. Visitors from many nations heard the first Christians speak in strange languages; some of them even heard these Christians speaking their own native languages. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the act of speaking in tongues seems to be a key to overcoming cultural and denominational obstacles. This is one reason I believe Pentecostalism is growing so quickly around the world.
In a related story Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, shared his experience with being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues back in 1975. The Archbishop said that speaking in tongues is a “routine part of spiritual discipline” for him. While speaking in tongues is not a core part of the Anglican tradition, it demonstrates how the Holy Spirit is working throughout His church in every corner of His Kingdom. God is not working in just American evangelical churches. He is taking over everything. Praise God!!
God is doing some amazing things in His church today. We Christians sometimes pay attention to all the negative going on in the world (and sometimes with good reason). We should not forget that He is still the Lord of His church and that the Holy Spirit who fell at Pentecost is still here today. Let’s tap into Him and reach across the cultural and denominational divide.
-by Pastor Shawn Martin