Baptists, the Holy Spirit, and Being Endued with Power From on High


Cartoon by Kevin Frank

In Luke 24, we find the risen Jesus appearing to his eleven disciples and several other people, saying to them: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” After Jesus uttered these words, He ascended to Heaven and hasn’t been seen since. From that moment forward, Christians have wondered what Jesus meant when he said his followers would be “endued with power from on high.”

I was taught growing up in Baptist churches that the power spoken of by Jesus was the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost); that prior to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came UPON God’s chosen ones but did not permanently live inside of them. Once Jesus was gone from the scene, he sent the Holy Spirit (comforter) to earth to live inside every believer. I was taught similar pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in Bible college.

In Acts 2, we find the followers of Jesus gathered together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon them and “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Most Evangelicals believe that this was the moment that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer and endue them with Heavenly power. I am just kidding: most Evangelicals don’t agree on anything — Holy Spirit included. You would think receiving the Holy Spirit would be quite simple, but thanks to endless arguments and debates amongst those who claim to have ONE LORD, ONE, FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, Christian sects have all sorts of pneumatological beliefs. Let me share a few of them with you.

Many Baptists believe that the moment a person is saved, the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence inside of them. Now, that’s only for people who are saved after the resurrection of Jesus. Those saved before the resurrection of Jesus — say people in the gospels and the Old Testament — the Holy Spirit came upon them when he needed to use them in some sort of powerful, supernatural way. Once this was accomplished, the Holy Spirit departed.

Other Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit has always lived in saved people — both before and after the resurrection of Jesus. These Baptists see a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. This belief is popular among worshippers of John Calvin.

And yet other Baptists believe that all saved people are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but “special,” on-fire, sold-out Christians can receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit if they really, really, really beg God to give it to them. Some preachers I heard growing up called this being baptized with the Spirit.

Wander off into the Evangelical weeds and you will find all sorts of additional — and contradictory — beliefs about the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit the moment you are baptized by immersion. Other sects believe similarly, except the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. What is speaking in tongues, you ask? Ah yes, another belief Christians are hopelessly divided over.

Most Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is Demonic. Some Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is the ability to speak foreign languages you haven’t learned. Pentecostals, Charismatics, Apostolics, and some garden-variety Evangelical churches believe that speaking in tongues is some sort of babbling prophetic or prayer language; one that must be interpreted so hearers can understand; but then, maybe not — maybe it’s just a Heavenly prayer language that no one, including the speaker, understands. Turn on the TV and watch Christian programming and you will see plenty of speaking in tongues — interpreted and uninterpreted.

Back to the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved, but if you want to want to have a close relationship with God, you need to beg him to fill you will his Spirit. Again, speaking in tongues or some other supernatural demonstration will be the requisite evidence for such fillings of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I attended a number of southern-style camp meetings. It was not uncommon to “see” the Holy Spirit come upon people. They would start shouting, waving towels/hankies, running the aisles, walking on top of pews, and just about any other bit of religious craziness you can think of. I heard countless preachers say that the Holy Spirit gave them their sermons; that their preached words were straight from the Spirit himself. I had similar experiences while preaching. There were a few times when my sermons seemed to have some sort of special “zip” or anointing, and people responded to them in overtly emotional ways. One evening, in particular, I remember the service was overflowing with the Spirit. Sinners were saved and backsliders were reclaimed. Afterward, I was exhausted. God really used me for his purpose and glory, I thought at the time.

As you can see from this post, Christians have varied beliefs about the Holy Spirit and the outworkings of receiving said Spirit. It is these varied beliefs that make me wonder about the existence of God. If, as Christians believe, the Holy Spirit is essential to the salvation and the day-to-day lives of believers, why all the diverse and contradictory beliefs? Surely, God would want to make sure every Christian was on the same page when it came to the Holy Spirit, right? Yet, they are not, and the same could be said concerning virtually every other article of faith.

If, over the course of 2,000 years, we saw that Christians generally believed the same things, it might cause us to pause a moment and consider whether those beliefs are true. Instead, what we have is countless sects, each believing that their beliefs are true and all others false. This leads me to conclude that Christian religions are manmade, filled with internal and external contradictions. Either that or God loves confusion. Oh, wait, 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, God is NOT the author of confusion. If he’s not the author, who is? That’s right, humans are. And from this conclusion, it is clear: that religions — all of them — are human constructs; that the plethora of beliefs about the Holy Spirit reveals human engineering, not divine.

What were you taught about the Holy Spirit? Were you ever “filled” with the Holy Spirit? Did you ever speak in tongues? Please share your human utterances in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Neil

    If believers were actually indwelt by the Holy Spirit (as the bible teaches and as I was indoctrinated to believe) then there wouldn’t be all the black collar criminals who are exposed on a daily basis. Unless of course it’s the Holy Spirit who prompts these bastrads to molest children.
    Must be, I guess.

  2. ObstacleChick

    The concept of the Holy Spirit freaked me out, so I tried not to think about it too much. I didn’t like the thought of an invisible spirit inhabiting me and making me do things. As a Southern Baptist the Holy Spirit was pretty quiet so I could ignore that concept for the most part.

    1. Matilda

      That was exactly how I felt, I didn’t understand the holy spirit. I didn’t try too hard over the many years I was fundy. I think maybe cos I was quite shy, and the idea it might lead to me babbling incomprehensibly or rolling on the floor in public was too embarrassing to contemplate. I also objected to penty churches I knew of, who called themselves ‘Full Gospel’…the rest of us were doomed…it took many years and the deconversion process to realise over 40,000 sects think that too…theirs is the only true, correct one..and everyone else is wrong. And I thought, it’s not like the prophesies, the ‘Words to the Faithful’ etc I heard interpreted meant or achieved anything. The promised salvation of hundreds, the special blessings, the wrath of god for some sin…..never took place, folk just went back for more of the same every week!

  3. DJ

    Yes, as a congregant of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God persuasion I use to “Speak in Tongues”. I was very watchful that I wasn’t faking it to be just like everyone else. I was not one to “turn on tongues”. Since everyone spoke with different expressions, I can’t come to the conclusion that it was “learned”.
    After I left the faith, “tongues” was the only memory that kept me persuaded that belief in God was real. Then I did some research. I looked but can’t find the article I found that explains that it is a result of a brainal function and not something spiritual. When one is in an hypnotic state, many things can happen.
    I can’t explain the speaking in tongues with interpretation. Yes people can just “interpret” and who would be the wiser but a church friend said that she “received a message” & was self-conscious about saying, out loud, the “interpretation” and didn’t – come to find that another congregant said the exact same thing she was to say. Her explanation was – if “God” wanted her to do it but she didn’t, “He” would give it to someone else. (When I think about it now, as “omni” as “God” is, “He” would have known that she was NOT going to do it – so why give the interpretation to her in the 1st place?)
    But just because I can’t explain it doesn’t mean that we are to fill “God” in the gaps.

    1. Carolk


      I think that intrpretation of tongues is a lot like “prophecy”. They’re both made up from whatever crazy that the person wants to say and the listeners want to hear. Why have there been no prophecies that putting children in cages in conditions that are worse than a luftwaffen stalag is immoral?

      The charismatic insanity is responsible for a whole lot of the bad that the Xtian right spouts

  4. Goyo

    There was a time in the 80’s, when I was really wanting there to be more to Christianity than merely going to church…and I worked with several Pentecostals who always talked about the “baptism of the Holy Ghost “…coming from a southern baptist background, these experiences weren’t allowed.
    I started going to a “spirit filled “ church, and wow, what a difference!
    They had a band!
    I finally had my spiritual baptism one Sunday morning, and spoke in tongues…of course, I had been wanting this to happen for so long, and had been hearing the others speak in tongues, so mine sounded like everyone else’s.
    But I was finally in touch with the spirit in a deeper way…and, immediately judged everyone else that didn’t speak in tongues as not as spiritual as me.
    My wife thought I was crazy.

  5. maryg

    speaking tongues was exalted in our church. I know I was a disappointment to my parents because I did not get involved in the craziness and just sat thru the services. one evangelist said I was too proud to speak in tongues and accept the holy spirit. nice thing to say to a teen, yeah? just always thought it was fake and learned to tell. it always sounded the same. mom always spouted the very same nonsense words just like everyone else. oh, and the poor Baptists just did not have the love of god like our church! mainstream churches were labeled social clubs and their members were labeled unsaved. as a kid, I wanted nothing more than to go to a normal church. but no, we were pastors kids at a crazy church. no wonder my social life was poor until I left home and dumped the church. I could go on and on. keep up the good work, Bruce. this will only go away with education.

  6. howitis

    When I was about five years old, my well-meaning and somewhat religious parents decided for some reason it would be a good idea to let my aunt and uncle take me along to some tent meeting they were going to. (My best guess is they wanted a couple of hours of uninterrupted “adult time” and figured there were worse options than letting my aunt and uncle take me to church.) I had no idea where we were going, I was just told they were taking me somewhere. Next thing I know, we’re pulling into the lot at some state park I think, and walking towards a huge, white tent. Inside were rows of metal folding chairs and a stage with instruments. It was a very hot, sticky summer day. I asked for water, but was told there wasn’t any, they would take me for a treat at Dairy Queen later.

    The next several hours were, frankly, a nightmare. The music was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think, and my ears rang for days (no earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones back in the 1970s I guess.) A couple of preachers got up and periodically started screaming/preaching about sin and getting saved and feeling the spirit, and their microphones squelched with feedback several times, which did not help my ringing ears or pounding head any. As the preachers screamed about “feeling the spirit,” adults in the tent (and did I mention that the tent was extremely crowded, probably overcrowded, at this point? Where were the fire marshals when we needed them?) began to behave in ways that were, frankly, frightening to me and other little kids in the tent. I saw adults screaming, yelling, waving their arms, jumping up and down, running between the benches like their hair was on fire, babbling nonsense about fire and angels and sin and death. I saw little kids crying. I saw at least two people faint, including a woman sitting behind us; an older woman said she must have been “overcome by the spirit.” In reality, she was probably just overcome by the heat.
    At that point, I wasn’t doing too good myself; I felt dizzy and nauseated. I tried to get my aunt’s attention, but she was too busy being “moved by the spirit.” At some point, my uncle realized I was in distress (I remember him saying, “oh my god, she’s red as a beet!”) and we quickly left the tent. I remember crying with relief. We didn’t go to Dairy Queen, instead I remember stopping at a gas station and they must’ve bought water, because the next thing I remember is my aunt sponging me off with cold, wet paper towels.

    I don’t remember much else of that day. I do remember not feeling well at all for a few days afterward. Looking back, I probably was suffering from heat exhaustion, maybe even heat stroke. I wonder how many other people were overcome by heat that day, and if anyone actually died. My parents never allowed my aunt and uncle to take me anywhere again, unless they were coming along. Looking back, I wonder if that event was the start of my own deconversion, even though I was only five years old.

  7. Goyo

    Another thought here:
    As a musician, I was always going with the better music…the baptist church I was brought up in was the standard formula: piano and organ. Boring!
    When I visited the “spirit filled “ churches, man, NOW I felt the spirit!
    So, apparently the music and bands somehow convinced me that this church was more spiritual. I’ll never forget at a church service/concert by “second chapter of acts”, the handlers were helping newbies by telling them to start saying “shandala”, while they were praying. There was even a recording company with this name. It’s definitely a learned activity!

  8. John

    I like what you said about Christians not believing the same things. If they did, that would be one thing, but they don’t. I grew up Presbyterian, then Methodist, then Baptist, and even attended an Episcopal church for a while. Yep, weird. It gets weirder! But, all of these first groups thought speaking in tongues was either fake or it was of the devil. Later on, I got hooked up with a charismatic/word of faith group of folks. They spoke in tongues and it freaked me out a bit. Eventually, someone prayed with me to be able to speak in tongues. I babbled a few words and eventually developed my “prayer language”. I can still pray in tongues if I want to, but it’s obviously either something I mimicked from others or just something my brain made up. Since I’m an atheist now, I can’t imagine that the holy spirit would be praying through me, or something like that. My kids (22 and 18) have both talked to me about how weird they thought the whole pentecostal experience was for them. Glad to be away from all that crap!

  9. Littleblueheathen

    I have had one experience with a Pentecostal church. It was in 1975 or 76, so I was about 14. My friend’s grandmother would make her go to Thursday night services sometimes and she talked me into going along.Now, I was not a willing church-goer even then. I went with my parents because I was made to. This was a mission of Mercy for my bestie. We got to the church, way out in the Alabama countryside, and everything looked normal at first. Singing, announcements,prayer requests, etc., so far so good.
    Then the preaching started, and the more wound up the preacher got, the wilder the congregation got. An old lady produced a tambourine and started banging on it and yelling gibberish. One man got up and started rolling along the wall before collapsing on the floor. Then all of a sudden the preacher jumped out from behind the pulpit and ran down the center aisle, waving his Bible in the air, jumping up and down, ran back to the front and joined what looked like a holy mosh pit in front of the small stage.
    Bedlam was breaking out around me and I was not prepared for this. I looked over at my friend and she just shrugged and smiled apologetically.
    Then it hit me. My friend later said that the most deliciously evil smile she had ever seen spread across my face. In that instant, I remembered that I knew the words to The Hawaiian War Chant. (I was, and remain a wealth of useless information) I stood up, raised my right arm, orator-style, and with finger pointing to heaven, yelled,”Tahuwai la Tahuwai wai la! Elu hene la pili ko-o lua la!
    The whole place erupted. The heathen child had caught the spirit! My friend was gasping laughing and they thought it had infected her too. I went on to the end, until the chaos died down. On the way home, the grandma was beside herself with joy at the transformation of the semi-delinquent, miniskirt wearing Church of Christ member she had snatched from the jaws of hell.
    I never did go back, though my friend and I remain close and still have a laugh over the memory from time to time.

    1. maryg

      this has got to be the greatest thing I have ever heard about being a kid in a Pentecostal church. I would have never had your nerve, but I would have admired you for doing that. it truly illustrates how fake it all is . thanks for sharing that, it made my day.

  10. davey crockett

    What a story!! Loved it. had us “rolling in the aisle”!!


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