People at church say many things to me. They make lots of comments and ask lots of questions. Sometimes I forget what they say too quickly. Sometimes it's only relevant in the immediate circumstances. Yet sometimes what people say is fixed permanently in my mind; I can remember it as if it had just happened. I remember not only the words, but exactly where they were said and on what occasion.
This post is about one of those questions that I have never forgotten, and hope never to forget. I remember all the details of when and where it was asked. It happened about a year ago on a beautiful Spring afternoon. It was the end of a church weekend away and I was helping carry cases up the drive to the coach when a lady came along to ask a question. During the weekend we had been looking at our identity as a church: focusing on what it meant to be Evangelical, Pentecostal and Apostolic. I had done some Bible teaching on the distinctives of each. Evangelical and Apostolic seemed to go down easily enough, but Pentecostal led to some long late-night discussions over cups of tea.
This lady's question was about the teaching on being Pentecostal. I had talked about the purpose of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit being to empower us to serve Christ, particularly power for evangelism. This lady came very timidly to ask a question that was bothering her about the teaching on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Her question wasn't one I'd ever heard before; yet, in my opinion, it was an incredibly profound and hugely important question.
She asked: 'If the Baptism of the Holy Spirit gives us power for evangelism, then why are the Evangelicals so much more successful in evangelism than the Pentecostals?'
Now this question in writing may look like a rhetorical one, a pragmatic argument against Pentecostal teaching. However, that is not the way it was asked that Spring afternoon. This lady knew well the Biblical teaching and had no reservations about it. What was troubling her was that our experience often doesn't seem to match up to our doctrine.
Her question really made me think. In fact, it made me realise the truth of her statement in the various contexts in which I've lived. Whether here in Belgium, back in Northern Ireland, or when I was at university in Cambridge, it has always been the Evangelicals which have shown the most success in evangelism, as opposed to the Pentecostals. Why?
If the difference between Pentecostals and Evangelicals is our doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and if the Baptism in the Holy Spirit gives us power for evangelism, then why is it not the other way around?
I know that in many parts of the world Pentecostal churches are seeing much fruit from evangelism. Perhaps it's just the particular places that I've known well in which Evangelicals are far ahead of Pentecostals in evangelism. But I fear its something more. As I listened to that lady's question that afternoon an answer immediately sprung to mind.
This post is already rather long, so I'll leave the my answer for tomorrow. For now I just want to highlight the importance of her question. It's a question we need to be asking ourselves. It's not so much the comparison between Pentecostals and non-pentecostal evangelicals that's important, but the fact that our doctrine should be matched by our experience. We believe that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit gives power for evangelism, so why do we not see more of that power for evangelism more often?