While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them.
The writer and journalist, Cole Moreton, in a book which charts the past 40 odd years of the Church in England (Is God Still an Englishman?), speaks of his experience within a church youth group during the 1980s. The group enthusiastically embraced the Charismatic Renewal movement and, early on, Cole was invited to experiment with speaking in tongues. “It’s quite simple” he was advised by the leader of the group, “if having opened heart and mind to God nothing happens, start saying “she came on a Honda” over and over and “the tongues will begin.” (Paraphrased from memory.)
Cole was not mocking his youthful experience so much as illustrating how one faithful understanding, at a particular point in time, of what authenticates a commitment to God made known in Jesus, may not be the only, still less, the final word on the matter.
Out of his own experience and for good reasons, of which the more uptight among us need to take notice, Paul expects these new Christians to display particular outward evidence of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. At another time, writing to more mature though dysfunctional Christians in Corinth, Paul says that whilst tongues and prophecies are fine, nothing provides more secure evidence for the in-dwelling of the Spirit than the exercise of self-giving love (agape).
Down the centuries Christians have been too ready to embrace or denigrate particular ways of worship or spiritual experiences rather than recognise that, however the playful, free-ranging Spirit of God chooses to equip each of us, it is the same Spirit and the same essential ingredient in an authentic Christian life.
Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me, today, tomorrow and forever. Amen
The Rev’d Ian Fosten is Team Leader for the Norwich Area URCs.