One of my most memorable experiences from childhood was my baptism in the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
The Holy Ghost was formally introduced to us when Jesus ascended into heaven saying to his disciples:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26 kjv
The disciples we understandably distraught over Jesus’ departure and weren’t particularly comforted by Jesus’ proclamation of the comforter, that is until the day of Pentecost.
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance Acts 2:1-4 kjv
The role of the Holy Spirit was to provide a guiding voice in the life of believers. He is that ever doubting voice in the back of your head encouraging you to do thus or discouraging other actions. He is a constant presence providing direction in a cloudy world and the completion of the Holy Trinity. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.
Interesting that he is called a Ghost.
Indeed the Holy Ghost is so important, that of the members of the Trinity, he is the only one of whom has been said:
But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. Mark 3:26
Reason tells me at this point in my life that this is because of the 3, the Holy Ghost is the most unbelievable and serves the least purpose. Therefore, the unforgivable sin is invoked to prevent undo questioning of him.
As a child and even into my teen years I often worried if I had committed the unforgivable sin. When I would ask the answer was always the same: “If you had committed it you would not care if you had or not”. Not an especially comforting answer for a developing child wrought with guilt but it sufficed on multiple occasions. I suppose my current state would suggest I have finally succeeded in committing said sin.
What I think the fundamentalist church does not fully understand, or maybe it does, is the impact that it’s teaching have on children. We will discuss at length the effect that they had on my life specifically but I do not believe my experience to be in way unique. Children look to the adults in their life for guidance and confirmation that they have made good decisions, they want to please the adults and of course in particular their parents.
Fundamental churches believe that the day of Pentecost is not reserved for some of Jesus’ followers in a loft but rather a manifestation of a gift from God for all and still actively ask God to bless them with the same gift given to his followers in the New Testament.
Going back to my spiritual baptism then at age 12. The service as I recall was not unlike any other service in which the power and the comfort of the Holy Spirit was taught. These types of services were always followed by an invitation by the speaker to come forward to the alter to be baptized in the Holy spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Those of us who had not been baptized felt immense pressure to do so but the fear of failure was monumental. The thought of going up to the alter in front of all those people and not being able to speak in tongues was petrifying, but each time there was such a call my parents would gently nudge and ask if I wanted to do so. On this occasion, for whatever reason, I was feeling particularly worthy and agreed.
I would like to describe the setting at some length here because I believe it is an important for you to fully understand the experience and a part of this experience is the environment in which it is set.
I attended a large church, the sanctuary, which is the large theater where the congregation sat, held around 500 people. A far cry from the mega churches but a large audience nonetheless. It had very tall vaulted ceilings, at its peak, in excess of 50 feet, this made sanctuary feel much bigger than it actually was. The pews sat in three rows. The center row was the widest with narrower rows on either side of it divided by aisles. Above that sat the balcony and it stretched about half the length of the lower level. The sanctuary its self, was ornate with fancy decorum in differing shades of purple. The pulpit was made of glass and stood at the end of a 35 foot deep platform in front of a very large wall with 25’ Cross which stood above the baptism tank that was used for water baptism. The front of this platform was the alter and it stretched the full length of the sanctuary in front of the pulpit.
The service always starts with worship. Worship is not the reserved practice you may have seen in a Catholic mass but an energized event full of loud singing, dancing in place, hand waving and crying. Occasionally this service would be interrupted by an especially holy event called “Tongues and Interpretation”.
In a lull in the worship service someone (as often as not my mother) would begin loudly speaking in tongues. As the speaker spoke their foreign language the building would fall silent and everyone would listen. Once the speaking of tongues was done the silence remained as all waited for another person to interpret what had just been said. I remember well the growing tension as time would tick by, every second seeming like an eternity, as we waited for the Lord to move upon someone with the correct words. Then it would come, it always did, and it always began the same way: “My people, my people I say unto you” I always thought it interesting that God spoke in King James English but I certainly was not going to judge the Lord himself. After the message had been interpreted the congregation would clap and rejoice in the words of the Lord and the worship service would continue.
Between the worship service and the preachers message there was the collection of money. This event was generally precipitated by the reading of the Word of God commanding his people to give their 10% and a prayer over the offering asking God to move his people to give. In the event of a special speaker, a second offering called a “Love Offering” would be taken at the end of the service.
The preacher speaks from the platform though I dare say rarely from behind the pulpit. In my fundamental upbringing it was much more common for the speaker to be pacing back and forth from one side of the platform to the other speaking loudly then softly and then loudly all the while wiping the sweat from his brow with the customary white kerchief. As seen through the eyes of a child the preacher is nearly superhuman. All the adults listen intently to his words, they nod their heads, they shout in agreement and write down all the things he has to say. He is clearly an important person and appointed by God and the child in the church tip toes around him for fear of making him displeased.
At the end of every service is an alter call. The nature of the alter call varied depending on the content of the sermon, but nearly always included a portion for those who did not know Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior to come forward and accept him and eternal life. Upon coming forward the lost or in need would have hands laid upon them by the elders of the church (chief among them my father). The elders would pray for them in unison, generally slipping in and out of the tongues of angels in the process.
On this occasion the sermon was about the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit and I, a 12 year old boy, answered the call. I moved to the front of the church towards the alter and immediately wished I hadn’t. Doubt clouded my mind and 500 sets of eyes were peering down on me from all around. As I walked down the aisle I could hear the whispers of “hallelujah” and “praise Jesus” and sniffs of old ladies rejoicing to see a young person answering the call of the Holy Spirit. I was mortified! What if the Holy Spirit rejected me, what if I was unable to speak in tongues, what would they say?
As I approached the elders I looked to the left and the right and to my dismay realized I was the sole respondent to the call that evening.
At 12 I was tall drink of water. I stood maybe 5’7” and weighed all of 80lbs. Always the tallest in my class, I was also the thinnest. As I approached the group of 8 adult men they opened to form a half circle and asked me to kneel, as I did so the group collapsed around me as all 8 full grown adult men formed a circle around me with their hands on my back, shoulders and head. They began to pray.
7 of the 8 men (including my father) began, as was often the case, to pray in tongues speaking words that I could not understand but which, presumably, God did. The eighth man knelt in front of me and endeavored to coach me through the process of loosening my tongue and allowing the Holy Spirit to take over my body and control my tongue. The pressure was insurmountable, I simply did not know what to do, I knew relatively quickly that this was not going to work, perhaps I was not worthy, perhaps I did not believe strongly enough, whatever the case it was evident to me that the Holy Spirit was not going to enter me that day. But what to do? The embarrassment would be to much to bear and with my father so adamantly praying over me, how could I face him? I decided to try and fake it. To my surprise with each grunt or noise I made the more enthusiastically the men prayed and the more joyful their tone and expressions. As an imaginative child I had made up my own language long ago and as I slipped into this language it gained credibility as a gift from God.
When it was over I was pronounced baptized in the Holy Spirited as evidenced by speaking in tongues. My father and mother were elated, they took me out to dinner to celebrate and all the others in the church congratulated me on this big step in my relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
But as I saw it, there was no other acceptable outcome. To fail would have been devastating and my already lowered self confidence, thanks to the continual teachings of unworthiness, would have collapsed entirely as I watched my role models hang their heads in disappointment.
It was that night that my skepticism began to set in. “These were men of God” I thought, “that should not have worked, they should have seen right through my deception”. But it did work and from that point on I was looked at in a completely different light. I was encouraged to use my new prayer language all the time, to foster it and grow it. It never occurred to me before that night to question the gift of the Holy Spirit but after that I did. I listened to everyone’s prayer language and wondered if they too had just made it up and I wondered if they believed they were speaking in the tongues of angels or if they too were just trying to do what was expected of them.