When it comes to understanding why we need the Spirit baptism, I believe that a major roadblock is built out of obsessively focusing on tongues-speaking rather than the true purpose of the gift. Why, actually, do we need to be Spirit baptized? Is the centerpiece really tongues?
I frequently ask leaders, “Why would someone want to receive the Spirit baptism?” The typical answer is, “So they can speak in tongues and have a prayer language.” Somehow we have lost the simple purity of Pentecost. Suddenly the focus is an argument that we have to win rather than it being a gateway to Spirit empowered ministry. The sad reality is that when many ministers see an inkblot of a dove, the first thing that enters their minds is tongues speaking.
I am firmly convinced that the confirming outward sign (or initial evidence) of the Spirit Baptism is speaking in unlearned languages (or tongues). But the reason I am convinced of this is not because it is Assemblies of God fundamental truth number eight, but rather that it has a specific, obvious, biblical function. Function is the key word, not argument. Our present culture has little tolerance for dogmatic religious types standing on irrelevant soapboxes; people want practical truth that they can personally engage and implement. The good news is that the Spirit baptism is such a truth, easy to understand and utilitarian.
The first two or three years of our ministry saw very few people actually receiving the Spirit baptism. I was so frustrated; after all, that is what our ministry was supposed to target, yet there seemed to be some kind of barrier. After a few days of frustration and prayer, fasting and introspection, the Holy Spirit began to show me that I was approaching this blessing with an argument. I began to re-evaluate my approach alongside the book of Acts, particularly the second chapter. Suddenly, the light bulb turned on! I began to see that the “why” was functional in ways that I had never previously understood.
On the day of Pentecost, they were all filled and began to speak in unlearned languages as the Spirit empowered them; they began to speak out God-inspired words in another language as the Spirit enabled them. Then, some time afterwards, a group of people gathering for the feast heard the ruckus of raw Pentecostalism. They had two basic responses, some were amazed and some thought that this noisy bunch was half-pickled. That’s where verse fourteen comes in. Peter stops speaking to God in his unlearned, spiritual language and begins to address the gathered crowd—probably in Aramaic or Hebrew, preaching a most convincing and well-ordered sermon. His content was obviously outside of his natural ability.
This is where the utilitarian function of tongues helps us understand precisely why we need the Spirit baptism: if you can trust God to order your words in the spiritual language, how much more can you trust Him afterwards to order your words in English to unbelievers? The Spirit baptism is all about saying the right things, the God-inspired things; first in tongues, but most significantly in our known languages as we prophetically minister words from God’s heart.
Since the day I began to understand Acts two, I’ve never had to argue initial evidence with anyone. Biblically, tongues are a prophetic confirmation of a prophetic anointing to be a prophetic witness. That’s why Peter explained the event as the fulfillment of Joel’s oracle where one day everyone could be a prophet.
Suddenly tongues take on a vital, functional role to the believer who wants to be a prophetic witness. Why do we need the Spirit Baptism? It’s all about God affecting what we say, plain and simple.
We don’t need the Spirit baptism so we can speak in tongues; we need the Spirit baptism so we can speak to lost people with prophetic power—and yes, we also get the added benefit of communing with God in a new language of intercession and worship. What a deal!