Sunday The following was written by Episcopalian Rector Bennett to his parishioners just previous to his leaving Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, after which he became Rector of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church, Seattle, Washington. In his appearance before the Washington Chapters of Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, his messages have stirred and thrilled his audiences.
The New Testament, that part of the Holy Bible which tells us of the life of Jesus, and the doings of the early Christians, is a book crammed full of joy, power, and love. We read of very ordinary, human people making mistakes, getting into difficulties, having to be reprimanded, but all the while KNOWING that God had chosen them to be His Children, and citizens of Heaven, and "tasting the powers of the world to come." Miracles and healings were everyday events to them, for they walked into a world of wonder. If you will read your New Testament, and especially the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and the letters of Saint Paul, you will see that I am right. And it is not surprising that it should be so, for Jesus Himself promised it.
When we come to ask how this can be, the answer is: "By the power of God, the Holy Spirit, Who was able to pour Himself out in power upon the world after Jesus had died, risen again, and ascended back to the Father." Jesus promised to His disciples: "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me." These are the words of Jesus, and they were spoken, not just to the first disciples, but to all believers in Jesus. On the Day of Pentecost this promise of Christ was fulfilled, the Holy Spirit came with power, and the disciples were filled with His joy, and went out to bring the Gospel (the Good News) to everyone.
I have been pondering these things for a long time, but about five months ago, I received a spiritual experience that made me realize what was missing, and that is precisely: the power of God, the Holy Spirit, in our lives. We talk about Him, but we don’t know Him, and recognize His work in us as we should. He does not FILL us, as the Bible says He will do, so instead of living by the power of God in us, we try to follow God’s RULES by our own power. In the words of the Bible, we are still living by law, and not by faith.
I further became aware that the Episcopal Church clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is to be received with power, for surely this is what the service of Confirmation means. When, in the New Testament, the Apostles laid their hands on newly-baptized Christians, something very dramatic happened: there was such an infilling with power and joy and praise of God that again and again we read: “And they spoke with tongues, and magnified God.” On one occasion the result of the laying on of hands was so dramatic that a bystander pulled out his wallet and offered the Apostles money “so that on whomsoever I lay hands they may receive the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:19).
I met some people about five months ago, Episcopalians, who had received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. (I have since found that many Episcopalians, both clergy and laity, know about this, but have been fearful of telling about it, for exactly the reason that you see now at St. Mark’s¬—people just don’t understand.) I talked with these folks and found that they did have this joy and power and peace that was so lacking in the lives of most Christians. They explained to me how they had received the Holy Spirit into their lives, and I followed their instruction, and received the power of the Holy Spirit into my life in a new and fuller way. The key to it, I found, is PRAISE. It is in praising God that we enable Him to respond to us.
But it was here that the real center of controversy came into the picture. I had never understood the meaning of the Gift of Unknown Tongues, which is so much talked about in the New Testament, and which St. Paul says, by the command of the Lord, he would like to see every Christian receive (I Corinthians 14). I had, as I am sure many of you do, associated this Gift with religious frenzy and fanaticism, and never thought that it might have spiritual importance.
When I prayed for God to grant me the fullness of the Spirit, and opened my mouth to praise Him, I found to my amazement that as I repeated words of praise, the Holy Spirit did take my lips and tongue and form a new and powerful language of praise and prayer that I myself could not understand, and that as I so praised God, the Holy Spirit did fill me with joy and peace and power which has not departed!
It became clear to me that the willingness to release the tongue to praise God in whatever words or language He chose to use was a vitally important key to the receiving of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, for the Bible says that our tongue—our faculty of speech—is at the same time the best member of our body, and also the most wicked, a “fire,” a “world of iniquity.” When you consider the harm that we can do with words, and the way in which we deceive and temporize with words, it is not unusual that we should be asked to let our faculty of speech be used by God to His glory—in the way that He chooses—before we can have His fullness.
Several people from the parish received this Gift of the Holy Spirit at about the same time I did, and all of us were filled with joy at what we had found. We soon discovered, however, that others were not necessarily going to feel the same way, and that the question of the unknown tongue would be misunderstood.
What I am standing for is to be found within the Episcopal Church—no one needs to leave the Episcopal Church in order to have the fullness of the Spirit—but it is of greatest importance that the Spirit be allowed to work freely in the Episcopal Church, and it is to this that I bear witness, and will continue to bear witness. St. Mark’s is not alone in this. I am not alone in this. I know of dozens of Episcopal parishes throughout the country where the work of the Holy Spirit is known in just this same way. I know of dozens of Episcopal clergy who know about it all, and rejoice in their knowledge.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way is quite widely known in the Episcopal Church, and also in other established denominations, but up to now it has been kept a secret! “These things were not done in a corner,” as St. Paul says. It seems that God has chosen St. Mark’s as one of the places for this all-important issue to become a matter of common knowledge and discussion.
Just this morning, I received word from the Pastor of a very large Lutheran church in this area asking, “What are the Episcopalians so excited about? We have had people in our parish for a long time who have the Gift of Tongues. It’s wonderful! Why are you fighting about it?”
“Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which you will not believe, though it be told you” (Habakkuk 1:5).
©2018 by Rita Bennett. Material prepared under Fair Use Law four factors.