Considering some of our discussions on here, I'd like to post this paper I just wrote for my doctrine of the Holy Spirit class at school, on the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A hallmark of Pentecostal theology is that the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.(#1) This distinct theology is primarily built upon five passages from the book of Acts: 2:1-13; 8:14-19; 9:17-18; 10:44-46; 19:1-7. These passages in the book of Acts are said to become the Biblical precedents for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and establishes the pattern for the whole church age.(#2) However, this pattern that Pentecostals adhere to has not been held by the Church throughout the ages, and is a rather recent development. Also, while there is much Biblical support for this doctrine, there are some things that when considered, cast doubt upon the belief that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
In the early Western Church, nobody insisted upon some dramatic physical manifestation of the Spirit when a believer was baptized in the Holy Spirit.(#3) Ancient Christian writers simply were not overly concerned with external evidence accompanying the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While ancient writers did describe the effects of the Spirit in the Christian life, they did not so much think of these as proofs of the Spirit baptism. The early Church fathers seemed more concerned about the piety of believers who claimed to be baptized in the Spirit as such proof.(#4)
As time went by, there was still the occasional discussion as to knowing what was the proof that a believer had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. A medieval monk by the name of Symeon (949-1022) believed that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was "the gift of tears."(#5) Perhaps the most interesting proof ever suggested for Spirit baptism was offered by Prokhor Moshnin (a.k.a. "The Seraphim of Sarov"; 1759-1833) of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moshnin taught that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a transfiguration experience, where a believer was transformed into divine light.(#6)
Perhaps the first person historically to formulate a Pentecostal-like doctrine was Scottish-Presbyterian pastor, Edward Irving (1792-1834).(#7) Irving called tongues the "sign" or "gift" that accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It should be noted that he never used the term "initial evidence."(#8) Irving believed that tongues are the "root and stem of [all the gifts], out of which they all grow, and by which they are all nourished."(#9) Irving thought of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a sort of gateway by which a believer when they had passed through it could operate in the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.
It really was not until Charles Parham came on the scene that Christians increasingly began to believe that the ability to speak in tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that William J. Seymour, founding pastor of the famous Azusa Street Mission, and also one of Parham's students, originally believed that tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit,(#10) but later came to denounce this doctrine. Seymour would eventually argue that God should be free to be God, and can "choose whatever manifestations God might wish, including tongues" as evidence of Spirit baptism.(#11) It is presently uncertain who first coined the term "initial evidence," though the earliest known reference to it, according to Gary McGee, is found in the Assemblies of God "Statement of Fundamental Truths" in 1916.(#12)
Examining the Traditional Passages...
It should first be acknowledged that nowhere in the Scriptures is the question raised of what constitutes the initial evidence of a person being baptized in the Holy Spirit.(#13) However, just because this question is not asked within Scriptures does not mean it must be dismissed altogether. The question can be logically deduced from reading Acts and simply asking: "What happened when a believer was baptized in the Holy Spirit?" Studying the five aforementioned passages in Scripture that initial evidence is primarily built upon yields some interesting results.
In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the believers received the eschatological promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit of Joel 2:28-32, the Scripture states: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4; NASB). This is the first time in the Scriptures that such a phenomenon occurred. The apostle Paul gives some insight about the nature of tongues, saying they are "a sign... to unbelievers" (1 Cor 14:22). He bases this belief on Isaiah 28:11: "Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue." The context of this verse was spoken to unbelieving Israel in the midst of judgment, invoking the promised covenant curse: "The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand" (Deut 28:49). Just as Israel could know that their end was near when they heard the foreign tongues of the armies surrounding their cities, so too unbelievers can know that the "last days" (Acts 2:17) are here though the phenomenon of tongues. Thus, the outburst of tongues on Pentecost is eschatologically significant.
The next two accounts in Acts at the reception of the Holy Spirit do not say what occurred when the Spirit was received, rather there is silence. When Peter and John had laid their hands upon new converts in Samaria, the Scripture states, "they were receiving the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17). It is clearly implied that some external manifestation occurred when they received the Holy Spirit,(#14) otherwise, how would anybody have known to record that they did indeed receive it? The same can be said of Paul in Acts 9:17-18 when he also received the Spirit. Also, it is apparent that whatever manifestation of the Spirit was exhibited in Samaria, it was impressive enough for Simon Magus to crave the power to impart the Spirit at will (Acts 2:18-19).(#15) Thus, it can probably be assumed (though not proven) that these believers also spoke in tongues as on the day of Pentecost.
The final two times that Acts mentions believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it also mentions other phenomenon occurring in addition to tongues. When Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit, those in the room "[heard] them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (Acts 10:46). These believers spoke with tongues and exalted God in praise. This praise should not be looked upon as a carnal manifestation, but rather, as throughout Luke-Acts, such praise is done through prophetic inspiration.(#16) Dual manifestations of the Spirit can also be seen when the disciples at Ephesus received the Spirit: "the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying" (Acts 19:6). Again, another form of inspired speech accompanied tongues with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not quite clear in either of these two passages if all present partook in both manifestations of the Spirit, or if some simply spoke in tongues while others prophesied or exalted God, or vice versa.
Are tongues the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? After examining these passages that have been associated with the Spirit baptism, many have concluded yes. Charles Conn says, "those who claim to have the Baptism of the Holy Spirit but have never spoken in tongues make a mistaken claim."(#17) Others such as Jack Hayford are a little less emphatic, believing that while there is no way to disassociate speaking in tongues with the baptism of the Holy Spirit within the Scriptures, he is not quite willing to identify speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.(#18)
While it is apparent that tongues accompanied every Spirit baptism in the New Testament, it cannot be proven that speaking in tongues is the only initial evidence Scripture permits. Joel's prophecy about the outpouring the Holy Spirit in the last days, that Peter mentions as fulfilled beginning on Pentecost, simply did not anticipate speaking in tongues. A literal reading of Joel 2:28-32 anticipates that those gathered together in the upper room would prophesy, not speak in tongues. Yet, Peter says of tongues on Pentecost, "this is that" (Acts 2:16; KJV) in reference to Joel's prophecy, equating prophecy and tongues to a degree, as both are divinely inspired utterances.
After examining the Scriptures, it would seem Scripture would permit any divinely inspired utterance as accompanying God's outpouring of His Spirit- be it prophesying, speaking in tongues, or exalting God. Joel's anticipation of the gift of prophecy being bestowed with the Spirit baptism creates a theological loophole that makes it impossible to limit the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to speaking in tongues. Perhaps William Seymour's suggestion is best, that God should be free to be God, and choose whatever manifestation He desires to accompany Spirit baptism. The focus of Scripture does not seem to be on what manifestation of the Spirit occurs, rather, its focus is on believers being empowered to be witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).
1 Glen Menzies, "Tongues as 'The Initial Physical Sign' of Spirit Baptism in the Thought of D. W. Kerr," Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 20, no.2 (Fall 1998): 175.
2 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984), 5.
3 Burgess, Stanley M. "Evidence of the Spirit: The Ancient and Eastern Churches," in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 4.
4 Ibid., 8.
5 Ibid., 13-14.
6 Ibid., 16.
7 Stanley M. Burgess, "Medieval and Modern Western Churches," in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 35.
8 David W. Dorries, "Edward Irving and the 'Standing Sign,'" in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 49.
9 Ibid., 49.
10 Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., "William J. Seymour and 'the Bible Evidence,'" in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 88.
11 Ibid., 87.
12 Gary B. McGee, ed., "Early Pentecostal Hermeneutics: Tongues as Evidence in the Book of Acts," in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 110.
13 Larry W. Hurtado, "Normal, but Not a Norm: Initial Evidence and the New Testament," in Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Ed. Gary B. McGee (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 191.
14 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 169.
15 Ibid., 171.
16 Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, 55.
17 Charles W. Conn, "Glossolalia and the Scriptures," in Glossolalia Phenomenon. Ed. Wade H. Horton (Clevland, TN: Pathway Press, 1966), 38.
18 Jack W. Hayford, Grounds for Living: Sound Teaching for Sure Footing in Growth and Grace (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2001), 168.