We are continuing the series on the ‘Five Foundation Stones’ that God has shown me that were foundational to my life and ministry. This one is about ‘The Holy Spirit, specifically the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ and salvation changed my life. The baptism in the Holy Spirit changed my ministry. Let me tell you how it happened.
I grew up in a Methodist church in Sydney, Australia, and in my late teens, I got saved in an evangelical service. I do not recall hearing much about the Holy Spirit in either setting. Indeed, in those years, the Holy Spirit was the neglected member of the Trinity. Pastor’s libraries and even theological college libraries carried very few books on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In the mid-1950s, a well-known American Pentecostal minister, Oral Roberts, was invited to hold crusades in Australia, the first one being in Sydney. Evangelicals wrote against him and Pentecostalism in general. I still have one such leaflet from that time. After a relatively successful crusade in Sydney, he went to Melbourne, where sadly, he was driven out of town by various groups. So, my first encounter with Pentecostalism was negative.
Dorothy tells the story of these events in her book “Called Together.” However, before we read her account, let me note that she discovered the Spirit before I did.
We came across a pamphlet by Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade entitled “Have You Discovered the Secret of the Spirit-Filled Life?” Using the pamphlet as a guide, she knelt down in our living room one afternoon and asked God to fill her with the Spirit. She did not speak in tongues initially at that time, but the Holy Spirit began to manifest Himself to her in various ways involving the gifts of the Spirit.
In 1963, during his days as a student pastor in Greenacre, he read about the strange phenomenon of tongues in a popular magazine. Then there was Mrs. Knight, who attended his Methodist church in the morning and went a quarter-mile down the road to a garage in the evening. That garage was home for a little Pentecostal church led by an Australian pastor who had studied at Life Bible College in Los Angeles, married an American and returned to start a church. Alan met Pastor Don Baker only once in his five years at Greenacre. They chose the same moment to visit Mrs Knight at home. It was hard to tell who was more uncomfortable. Little did Alan realize that Don Baker would later become a close friend and a member of his board of directors.
It was beyond Alan’s understanding why anyone would choose to attend a tiny service in a garage lit by a kerosene lamp. The Methodist church, after all, had a nice building, electricity and a larger congregation. Mrs. Knight was only too ready to explain. She loaned Alan books and tapes by Pastor Norm Armstrong. She told him about the Holy Spirit. Alan read the books and listened to the stories and the tapes. He considered himself an evangelical, conservative, Bible-believing Christian, but one with an open mind—or so he thought. So he went to the Bible and restudied the gifts and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
He came to the conservative, dispensational, evangelical conclusion that these experiences were not for today. They were only to get the church going—to launch the ship, so to speak. His response at the time was more or less: “I don’t need anything more. I’m happy the way I am. I’ve got a lovely wife, a beautiful daughter, a home I designed myself. I’m studying in seminary and working in a church. My life is full—what else do I need?”
He threw buckets of cold water over that dear woman! She eventually left the Methodist church and joined the Pentecostal church down the road. Alan was relieved. He wanted nothing to do with that “crazy sect.” He could imagine the weird things that went on there: swinging from the chandeliers and rolling on the floor. He intended to keep his distance so he wouldn’t be zapped by some strange experience he didn’t want. Years later, Alan had a happy reunion with Mrs. Knight.
The Lord had not given up, however. He was going to get Alan’s attention one way or another. Alan is fond of telling a story about a mule:
There once was a man who owned a stubborn mule. That mule wouldn’t do anything the man wanted. If he wanted it to stand up, it would sit down. If he wanted it to sit down, it would stand up.
So he took it to a man who trained mules. “Can you train my mule?”
Sure,” the mule trainer said.
He put the mule in a corral and explained that he would start with step one. The owner asked, “What’s step one?”
“Just wait and see.”
The trainer picked up a two-by-four and walked over to the mule. The mule kept right on staring into space. The trainer clobbered him over the head with the piece of timber.
The owner was most upset. “What are you doing to my mule?”
“That’s step one in mule-training. First, you get their attention!”
When God wants your attention, He tickles you with a feather. If you take no notice, He hits you over the head with a two-by-four, even though the hands that hold the two-by-four are hands of love. God used Mrs. Knight as the feather treatment, and Alan took no notice.
Four years later, it was time for the two-by-four treatment. In 1967, Alan’s life fell apart. Around the time of Joy’s birth, he cried out to God, “There must be something more!” He didn’t find that “something more” for another four years, but the journey had begun.
In 1968, while at West Bexley, the young man who had given us a book by John Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues, began to tell Alan stories and lend him other books. He urged him to read The Cross and the Switchblade about David Wilkerson’s ministry in Teen Challenge in New York. Alan finished it, admitting, “Dear God, that man has something I don’t have. He’s got a power in his life and ministry that I don’t possess. I don’t see it in the lives around me. Lord, that’s the ‘something else’ I need.”
It was one thing for Alan to know what he needed and quite another to be willing to receive it. The fact that he was a minister, a graduate of theological seminary, only increased his resistance. A minister is supposed to know his Bible. His biggest problem, he realized finally, wasn’t tongues or baptism or Pentecost, it was pride.
His willingness, to start with, had some conditions attached. “Lord, I’ll receive this experience—but on my terms. Privately, Lord, just between You and me, so it won’t rock the church boat. And also I don’t want the tongues bit, Lord.” This bargaining process was to last three years.
In January 1971, during a vacation at our beach house, he reached the end of himself, crying out desperately, “Lord, I can’t go on any further. Either I make a breakthrough this year, or I may as well give up the ministry and go back to architecture. I just can’t see enough evidence of Your power in my life.”
Soon after, a pastor friend, Don Evans, called Alan to tell him about his own experience with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. There was a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting on the Sydney University campus; would Alan be interested in coming? We went, despite Alan’s prejudice regarding Catholics. At that point, Alan considered that Catholic beliefs were not in line with orthodox, evangelical theology; he was not sure that a Catholic could even be saved. He never forgot the first time he sat down with his senior pastor, Ron Coleman, who told him, “Now that you’re in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney” [an area that was predominantly Roman Catholic and Jewish] “you will have to learn to work with Catholics.” Alan’s unspoken reaction was “Never!”
The Waverly Methodist Mission had a strong working relationship with the local Catholic church. Indeed, it was so unique that when Ron Coleman visited the Vatican in 1972, he had a one-on-one meeting with the Pope. In early 1971, Alan was still somewhat gun shy of involvement with Catholics. It was an indication of Alan’s desperation that he accepted the invitation to go to a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting.
So, Alan found himself sitting in St. Michael’s chapel. He had the sensation of hesitating on the edge of deep water, wondering whether to jump or not. When the invitation to receive the Baptism was given, he “jumped.” After the service we went back into the church kitchen with a few others and there Dr. Alex Reichel, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney, explained the basics of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Then he laid hands on Alan and prayed. Almost immediately, Alan began to speak in tongues, unemotionally and rather loudly. We laughed about it later—a Methodist evangelical receiving a Pentecostal experience in a Catholic prayer meeting. Church unity!
– From Called Together by Dorothy Langstaff.
In this Langstaff Letter, I have sought to share the fifth foundation stone that shaped my life and ministry, “The Holy Spirit.” There is much more to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, including the Biblical basis for belief, etc. However, this is not the place or time to explore those topics. So, let me finish with a question. Have you experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? If you haven’t, then I encourage you to seek it. It changed my life and ministry, and it can change yours.
Well, there they are! The Five Foundational Stones the Lord showed me that were foundational to my life and ministry.
- Jesus and Salvation
- Word of God, the Bible
- Call of God into Ministry
- Baptism in the Holy Spirit
I hope you have enjoyed these Langstaff Letters. If you have, I would love to hear from you.