Elim turned one hundred recently. It is a milestone in the history of any movement or denomination. Its poignancy is perhaps reinforced by the knowledge that many if not most of the early leaders in Elim never expected Elim to be around one hundred years from its inception, as they believed that the Lord would have returned long before that.
Nor, it should be said, did many evangelical Christians believe that the world had another hundred years left. But here we are! Ready for new challenges and still reaching out to a lost world in the spirit of those who formed the movement back in 1915.
After one hundred years you might expect pentecostal growth to plateau. However the statistics indicate the opposite. Recent research suggests that Elim in Northern Ireland is the only church group in Northern Ireland that has seen sustained growth over the last sixty years.
Across the pond the author / lecturer / church consultant / church planter Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist, studied the growth patterns in the twenty-five largest faith groups in the United States. He discovered that the only orthodox Christian denominations that were growing were Assemblies of God and Church of God Cleveland, both classical pentecostal denominations. In an article entitled Why are Pentecostals growing? he concluded that the “gamechanger” was baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
He argued that it is hard to stay in a church that emphasises baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues if you do not seek the power of the Spirit for yourself. In other words, being a passenger is not an option, you have to become a participant or, to use the travel analogy, you end up getting off the bus.
Secondly, he maintained that, once you have been baptised in the Spirit and spoken in tongues, it is hard to walk away from God. I suppose if you believe you have spoken in a supernatural language it is hard to deny the existence of God!
It should come as no surprise that a researcher would come to these conclusions. After all, the first church history book, Acts of the Apostles, records how the first Christians relied on the Spirit in accomplishing the mission of Jesus in this world. And when Luke records initial encounters with the Spirit, speaking in tongues figures prominently (Acts 2, 10 and 19). In the one instance where speaking in tongues is not explicitly mentioned (Acts 8), it is clear that something out of the ordinary happened when the Spirit came, since Simon the sorcerer offered the apostles money in exchange for the ability to impart the Spirit.
Even those of us who have been around the pentecostal world for most of our lives can allow the emphasis on such core teaching to weaken. The criticism that pentecostals are over concerned with speaking in tongues, or debates about how Acts should be read, can shift our focus away from the crucial requirement of the Spirit’s empowering with accompanying signs: every Christian needs to be filled with the Spirit and every Christian should be encouraged to ask God for the ability to speak in tongues. A de-emphasis on baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues effectively short changes Christians.
I would imagine that there are two sets of people reading this post. Firstly, those who have never experienced the Spirit’s power. You might have given your life to Jesus, but you have never been baptised in the Spirit. Ask the Father to fill you. Expect to speak in tongues. Luke 11.13 says the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
Secondly, there are those who have been filled with the Spirit but have allowed the gift to become dormant. They used to speak in tongues, but they don’t any longer. Fan into flame the gift! Even an experienced church pastor like Timothy had to be encouraged to fan into flame his gift (2 Timothy 1.6 ).
Of course, there are many reading this who are enjoying the Spirit filled life!
Stetzer concluded his article with the observation that some younger pentecostals wanted to “tone down” some of the distinctives of pentecostals. His advice was “I wouldn’t downplay what is in the engine”.
It’s the Spirit’s power that has kept the pentecostal movement going and growing for a century. It’s the Spirit’s power that is the engine. Let’s not downplay what’s in the engine. After all, Stetzer’s a baptist, so he must be right.