Part III – Application to Pentecostal Theology
Subpart A – The Pentecostal Renewal
Article 6 – The Pentecostal Second-Work as Nicolaitan Error
Author’s Testimony of Baptism & Contact with Second Work Doctrine
A video of this article may be viewed through the following Youtube link:
This seven-part article examines the twentieth-century’s Pentecostal Second Work doctrine with emphasis upon the prospect of its correlation with that primitive-error alluded-to in the letters to Ephesus and Pergamos (Rev. 2) as the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans”. This article will compare these doctrines based upon; 1) scriptural-evidence that would identify the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” as involving a specific first-century Judeo-Pentecostal apostasy, and 2) the historic development and doctrinal-presuppositions leading-to the Second Work doctrine. The thesis of this series is as follows; The first-century stumbling-block to the Spirit-baptized church referred to by Christ as “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” found its modern-renewal in the Second Work Doctrine – which doctrine constituted the earliest apostasy from the twentieth-century Pentecostal-Restoration and which continues to stumble many Pentecostal-groups even today – the common-thread being the non-subordination of the principle of circumcision to the principle of the cross.
The following testimonial conveys this author’s experience with the doctrine of the Second Work and is offered as some insight into its effects today:
In 1982 I received the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Actually, I had my first contact with a Spirit filled assembly at the age of fifteen when living in Guam. The year was 1976, and I was a most unwilling visitor at the time. While I had no interest in religion, the experience of observing an assembly moved by the Holy Spirit left upon me the lasting impression that God still moves within people who believe in Jesus Christ.
A few years later, while living in the state of Washington, I began to feel awakened spiritually. I had received a King James Bible for my sixteenth birthday and would occasionally read from the gospels in my bedroom. I recall closing the Bible and telling God, “I believe this.” I also read C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity which was helpful in disabusing me of the common rational obstacles to faith. By the time I was eighteen faith was awakened, but I did not much know what to do about it.
Near the end of 1981 I re-located to Sacramento, California. I rented a small studio apartment and found a job serving subpoenas. I recall visiting a few churches during that time. I seemed to sense the Holy Spirit’s presence regardless of where I was. I recall visiting a black congregation one Sunday morning. When the preacher shouted; “Now the Holy Ghost is here!” it was as if I suddenly felt the presence of God at the very same time!
One afternoon while delivering subpoenas, I happened across a church which I determined to visit the next Sunday. The service was very animated and joyous. The Holy Spirit had a strong presence. After the service I walked up to one of the elders (Alex) and asked to be baptized in water. Alex put his arm around me and said he could baptize me the next Wednesday at his home fellowship group.
I was excited during the three days leading up to my water-baptism. I knew the Bible said to “repent” as a principle that went along with water baptism. I did not feel any deep sense of contrition. My “repentance” was no more profound than an apology for being a sinner. Neither can I say that I had any real sense of my sins. By the time Wednesday night came I was feeling very glad and eager to be baptized. After some Bible study, one of the women volunteered the pool at her apartment complex, and we got there as it was getting dark. I can recall several persons watching from the balcony. As we drove back to Alex’s home, he and Bruce (another believer) asked if I wanted prayer to receive the Holy Spirit. I responded that I did, and upon our return to Alex’s home they laid hands on me and prayed in tongues. I could feel a definite sensation of energy as they prayed, which felt like the vibration of an electric motor. For the next couple of weeks it seemed that my mind was enlivened to spiritual-things. Scripture seemed to be running through my head constantly and I felt alive to the reality of God.
Although I continued to attend church I found that this spiritual vitality began to wane. When I asked people about it, they told me I needed to ask God for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Someone gave me the book by Merlin Carothers entitled; Power in Praise which seemed to increase my faith. Nonetheless, after a few more weeks, I was weary of asking. During this time someone suggested that I attend one a Tuesday night meeting of the Full Gospel Businessmen. Their meetings were held in downtown Sacramento. I was told their meetings were “spiritual.” I drove into downtown and attended the meeting, but found myself disappointed. My recollection of the meeting was a lot of men in business suits exchanging cards with one another. I drove home late that night feeling very discouraged.
There was little or no furniture in my apartment beyond a chair and something upon which I sat my radio. As I spread my sleeping bag on the floor I made up my mind I would no longer be attending church. I considered, however, that if I quit attending church, it was only proper to give God an explanation. So I sat down in my chair and said, “Father.” Feeling no faith, I repeated myself. On the third time I said “Father” I felt I believed He could hear. I said, “I’m not like those people at church. They feel something that I don’t. I’m tired of going and I’ve decided to stop.” After this prayer I laid down to sleep.
As I laid on the floor in the dark, another thought occurred to me: If Jesus is the Son of God, then I would be very foolish to quit. This thought caused me to right myself back up into the chair, turn on the light, and reopen prayer. I said, “Father, I believe that Jesus is your Son. I’ll keep going to church and asking for the Holy Spirit.”
The next church service was the following night. I recall the song we were singing was something to the effect of waiting for God’s time. Our arms were raised. As we sang, my thought was upon how true were the words of the song. My thought was: If God is God, then we should trust that His timing is the best. As soon as this thought was complete I felt an energy in my raised hands. The energy felt similar to that I had felt when prayed for several weeks earlier, but grew much stronger. As my arms were racing with this sensation, I could feel the energy enter into my throat, jaw, and tongue. My mouth began to move apart from my own volition and I spoke in a language unknown to myself throughout the remainder of the song. After the song, the pastor of the church told everyone just to walk about and greet people for a few minutes. During this greeting-period, I told the pastor what had occurred. When he reconvened the meeting, he announced to the assembly that a baptism in the Holy Ghost had just occurred.
At my water baptism, I had the sense of good conscience. I had the sense I was acting in obedience to a profession of faith in Christ. However, I had no experience I could point to that seemed to work a “deliverance” or any profound change beyond a sense of forgiveness and acceptance with God. Nonetheless there was a period of several months that seemed a special time of protection and grace. But as time wore on I noticed that I continued to struggle with sin and with conscience. I approached Alex after church services one Sunday morning, and asked him why this was. He smiled, opened his Bible, and pointed to a single word. The word was “sanctification.” He said to me, “Remember that word!” Shortly thereafter I joined the U.S. Coast Guard.
My intentions were to be a stellar performer for Christ. But this was a far cry from what actually occurred. There are many voices in the world that vie for the attention of the mind and the affections of the heart. I found the world to be a continuous river that carried my thoughts and affections in the direction of its own current; the demands of employment, social expectations, popular music, entertainment, news, radio, politics, business, etc. etc. In the world’s milieu, what did holiness mean? The current was too strong to resist. The tender conscience was quickly lost – and once lost there seemed no reprieve to recollect it.
After joining the service, I was forced to face the reality that I did not understand how to be a Christian. The more I pretended righteousness, the more my true condition was exposed to others. I was mocked as a phony until it came to the point where I had to agree. I began to do those things that caused me to fit in with others. Within two years I was smoking, drinking, and compromising my morals with the rest. I shrunk away from a profession of Jesus Christ. By 1985 I was thoroughly backslidden. I recall sitting back in the chart room of the ship with a cigarette in my hand when a junior officer opened the door who happened to be a Christian. He had a question for me. He asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior?” Awkwardly, cigarette in-hand, I responded “yes.”
The Spring of 1990 had me stationed in Seattle, Washington, married, with two small children. At about this time someone sent me a letter reminding me of my experience in 1982 and asking whether I still believed. This seemed to stir within me a desire for Christ. I prayed and asked the Lord whether I could return. I felt a witness within myself that the answer was “yes.” There were many tears, and I felt a peace come over me which lasted many weeks.
A short time later, I was invited to visit the church of a friend in eastern Washington. While I was praying for my wife to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I myself experienced a baptism which felt identical to that I had experienced in 1982.
As 1990 drew into summer, I began to lose the marvelous peace I had know upon my asking the Lord if I could return. Instead of joy, those days were characterized by worry, depression, and dread. My difficulties seemed to have source in my inability to reconcile my experience of the Lord’s forgiveness with the sixth and tenth chapters of Hebrews. I considered that I had “fallen away” and therefore my hope of redemption was false. I began to experience internal pain that I had never known before. Further, I began to perceive the denominational churches as operating in substantial presumption and doctrinal error concerning the Gospel, particularly the church I had just visited, which I learned was preaching a false doctrine known commonly as the Prosperity Message. The idea of church was no more a wholesome concept for me.
I had orders to transfer duty to Hawaii in October. On the day before we departed from Seattle I was riding as a passenger in our car when I felt the anointing of God come upon me and I heard an audible voice say to me; “I have called you.”
While in Hawaii my depression continued. I would take long walks at night and practically all of my free hours were spent in study of the Bible. We visited churches, but I felt no peace – no sense of truth. They all seemed so full of the world and superficial. I could see but little hope for my own salvation and felt only dryness and dread within myself. It was during this period that my wife and I began attending a church of a denomination particularly characterized by rigid standards of conduct. I was impressed by the devout demeanor of its members and the uncompromising holiness preached from the pulpit which was a welcomed relief to the worldliness and superficiality I sensed everywhere else.
The young Hawaiian minister and his wife were two of the most principled and genuinely decent people I have ever known. However, something vital appeared missing in terms of the beauty and power of the Gospel of Christ. There seemed little or no presence of God in the church. I recall the pastor lamenting to me how occasionally a known sinner would visit and be marvelously blessed by the Spirit while no one else in the church would be touched by God whatsoever. He could not resolve why his small congregation should be so dry and remain so aloof from joy even as God was pouring consolation upon a visiting sinner even in their presence! I thought about this for some time, but I was yet unfamiliar with the various Pentecostal denominations and did not know the doctrinal history of this one in particular.
I continued to struggle with self-condemning thoughts and had the opportunity to discuss the subject of my backsliding with this pastor. One night in October of 1991, during a week when my wife and two daughters were stateside, the Pastor invited me over for dinner. I was excited for the visit because I believed the Lord had allowed me insight into a prophecy in Isaiah on the subject of sanctification. As such, I was beginning to sense some relief from the intense burden I had been under for over a year. However, as I spoke of these things, the minister and his wife did not seem nearly as excited as myself, or even very interested. And then, after dinner, the pastor pulled out his Bible as if he had been waiting to break some bad news to me.
The pastor read for me the account from II Chronicles chapter five of how the glory of the Lord did not fill the temple until after the priests had sanctified themselves. His meaning was clear: my whole experience with the Lord from the point of my receiving the Holy Spirit in 1982 was invalid given it was not preceded by a work of sanctification and the deliverance from sin.
I despaired as I drove home and seemed to be thrown into renewed crisis concerning my whole experience of coming to Christ. Was I in presumption from the beginning when I asked to be baptized in water and then in the Spirit? Was it presumption to have worshiped God with his true and holy people when I was unholy? At a time when light appeared to be about to dawn the door shut tighter than ever. My sense of hopelessness and fear was deeper still.
While these were dark times for the soul, out of it came heartfelt and anguished prayer. One of these, was a prayer for knowledge of God’s plan of redemption. My prayer was to the effect that: even if my own salvation is shipwrecked, can my understanding of Your word be opened enough to teach my children and to help those who still have hope? In the weeks and months that followed, God did begin to open His word to me. Late one night while on duty and experiencing particular heaviness, I was given the first rudiments for model of the lamp-stand that is the subject of this treatise. From this model I began to see how absolutely inviolable is the foundation of justification by faith – and how it must necessarily be this way. We can receive the Holy Spirit by no other means except God’s sovereign mercy, and that, without respect for the true inward estate. For it is by faith we are justified and by which all things holy are freely given to us. Neither is there any principle, no-matter how “holy” it may seem that is more foundational than the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Mercy Seat of God is the cross – and He has made it so that there is no higher principle than Christ’s blood. With new insight, I could begin to sense the love of God communicated in the scriptures. His Spirit was a free gift to those who would simply believe upon and confess His name. Comfort began to reach me again.
I perceived that this particular Pentecostal denomination (ie. that I had attended in Hawaii) held an error destructive to the operation of grace which placed them in a hard predicament in light of the work of the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, I regard this pastor and his wife as two of the most dear and devout persons I have ever known. At the time, they were merely following the teaching that had been passed on to them by their denomination whose twentieth century roots were never extricated from the original error of the early Wesleyan Pentecostals.
The remaining sections of this article will study the Pentecostal doctrine known as the Second Work (aka the Third Blessing).