A Restorationist Responds to a Renewalist
I am fascinated by Dr. J. Terry Todd’s conversion from Episcopal to Pentecostal. That is a pretty dramatic shift in belief and practice, and I would appreciate knowing more about such a spiritual journey. What led/drew you to Pentecostalism?
I have been fascinated with Pentecostalism for a long time. For many years, my father was the general manager and part owner of a radio station in the Baton Rouge area. A prominent local Pentecostal leader had a radio program on Dad’s station once each week, and so I had a very worthwhile opportunity to witness Pentecostalism (or at least hear Pentecostal preaching) on a regular basis. In addition, one of my cousins on my mother’s side served for a time as an associate pastor to Jimmy Swaggert, whose college campus and sanctuary is only about a twenty-minute drive from where I grew up.
In the Book of Mormon, we find the following: “And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.” In a revelation recorded on 8 March 1831, we read: “Notwithstanding those things which are written [holy scripture], it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.” Our 7th article of faith states: “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” In other words, the Latter-day Saints believe very strongly in the spiritual gifts promised by Jesus to the early members of the Christian Church (Mark 16:17-18).
Joseph Smith and 19th-century Latter-day Saints had their headquarters in a number of places between 1830 and 1844 (the year of his death)—in Fayette, New York; Kirtland, Ohio; Independence, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois. It was in Kirtland that the Saints built their first temple, which was formally dedicated in several dedicatory sessions during the week of March 27-April 3, 1836. From January to April of 1836 the Saints experienced what we as members call the “Pentecostal Season” of our history. During that time, some members reported that they had enjoyed visitations from Jesus Christ and angels, men and women were filled with the spirit of prophecy and revelation, and large numbers of people spoke in tongues. Here is one account from our History of the Church, under the date of March 27th: “President Brigham Young gave a short address in tongues, and David W. Patten interpreted, and gave a short exhortation in tongues himself, after which I [Joseph Smith] blessed the congregation in the name of the Lord, and the assembly dispersed a little past four o’clock.” (It’s worth noting here that the dedicatory services began that morning at 9:00 am, which means that 900-1000 people sat, for the most part, in very crowded quarters, for seven hours. Now that’s what I would call a protracted meeting!).
The following is recorded under the date of March 30th in which Joseph Smith and many of the Church leaders gathered in a kind of leadership meeting. At a certain point, Joseph “left the meeting in the charge of the Twelve [Apostles], and retired about nine o’clock in the evening. The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying, and speaking in tongues until five o’clock in the morning. The Savior made his appearance to some, while angels ministered to others, and it was a Pentecost and an endowment indeed, long to be remembered, for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be handed down upon the pages of sacred history, to all generations; as the day of Pentecost, so shall this day be numbered and celebrated as a year of jubilee, and time of rejoicing to the Saints of the Most High God.”
Another way of saying this is, the Latter-day Saints were speaking in tongues some seventy years before the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Consequently, glossolalia is not as foreign to us as it might be to other Christian groups. The gift of tongues continued to be manifest over the years (mostly in the 19th century), although it is not something that any visitor to a Latter-day Saint worship service would witness today. In all my years I have never witnessed it in any of our Church meetings. There seems to have been a kind of domestication of this gift among us, just as there may have been among some Pentecostal groups in our day. Part of that domestication in my own Church may be traced to Joseph Smith himself. In an editorial published in the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo, the Times and Seasons, entitled “Gift of the Holy Ghost” (June 15, 1842), Joseph wrote: “The Lord cannot always be known by the thunder of his voice; by the display of his glory, or by the manifestation of his power; and those that are the most anxious to see these things, are the least prepared to meet [receive] them.” When it came to the gift of tongues, Joseph offered far more cautions that recommendations to his people: to be careful lest they be deceived; it is not necessary for tongues to be taught to the Church; the devil will often take advantage of the innocent and unwary, and so if anything is taught in the Church by the gift of tongues, it is not to be received as doctrine; it is the smallest gift of all but the one most sought after.
There are a few things I would appreciate Terry commenting on. How do members of your church discern what manifestation is from God, from man, or from the devil? Is someone in the congregation charged, assigned, or set apart to do that—individual members or perhaps the pastor? To what extent is the gift of prophecy (meaning specifically, foretelling the future) found in Renewalist worship services? How do Pentecostals interpret the meaning of scriptural passages, and how would false doctrine or heresy be discerned and pointed out (again, by members of the congregation or by the pastor)?
I like the word Renewalists. It connotes to me spiritual freshness, rebirth, conversion, quickening, life on a higher spiritual plain. The Book of Mormon speaks of the need to be “born of God, changed from [our] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus [we] become new creatures; and unless [we] do this, [we] can in no wise inherit the kingdom of God.”
I appreciate being able to learn more about my Pentecostal brothers and sisters, and especially thank Terry for his most interesting essay.