"Tongues of Fire, the First Pentecost "

By Blanche David-Gallardo

” When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

This remarkable event, recorded in Acts 2:1-4, marks the birth of the church. Consumed with zeal and burning with fervor from a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles quickly set out to fulfill their ‘Great Commission’.  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  – Acts 1:8
As promised by Jesus before his ascension, signs and wonders followed the Twelve wherever they went. They healed the sick, made whole the crippled, delivered those possessed by evil spirits. Peter even raised a woman, Dorcas, from the dead (as indeed, did Paul in his own ministry later).  “As a result people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds also gathered from towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed, (Acts 5:15-16). Daily they made converts of Jews and Gentiles alike, and “more and more men and women believed in the word and were added o their number,” (Acts 5:14),
From the handful of men fired up with missionary zeal, the church grew in leaps and bounds, strength and influence, transforming the once timid and persecuted religious minority into a mainstream movement as they won reigning monarchs and emperors to the faith. “Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ,” (Acts 5:42).  The saga of this early development and progress is recorded in the Book of Acts, from the ascension of the Lord and the giving of the ‘Great Commission’, to the death of church’s first martyrs and the incredible transformation of Saul into Paul, whose dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus turned him from the staunchest persecutor of ‘the Way’ to its most ardent evangelist.

One is tempted at this point to borrow the cliché – ‘and the rest is history’ -- but for the fact that through the years, as the church grew in power and influence, the amazing gifts and Charisms that came with the first Pentecost seemed to have been lost.  Many believed that God no longer spoke to his people except through the pages of the bible and that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the demise of the first apostles.

A study undertaken in 1990 by a group of ten theologians and three pastors based on earlier research done by Kilian McDonnel and George Montague which examined evidence from early post-biblical authors – including Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom, all Doctors of the Church – indicate that ‘baptism in the spirit’ was integral to Christian initiation into the sacraments (baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist) and that the Charisms that came with it were a normal part of Christian living for the first 700 years of the church’s history. It is not clear how baptism in the spirit and its manifestations disappeared, but one might perhaps reasonably speculate that baptism in infancy could have had something to do with it.

Whatever the cause, millennia later, the Charisms resurfaced, thanks to the modern Pentecostals. Clinging to the belief that the manifestations of the Spirit witnessed during the first Pentecost were not intended exclusively for the handful at the Upper Room but for all Christians throughout the ages, Pentecostals strove to return to the source, to strip away the cultural accretions of centuries and bring about a ‘second Pentecost’ with all its manifestations and Charisms - the gifts of praying and speaking in tongues, healing, prophesy and vision. Two Protestant ministers, Baptist R.G. Spurling and Methodist W.F. Bryant served as catalysts. In 1892, they jointly established a Pentacostal church in North Carolina, where they introduced baptism in the Spirit and the laying on of hands with astonishing results. This led in 1914 to the fusion of several Pentecostal groups into what came to be known as the Assemblies of God.
Then, between 1906-13 at a revival meeting in a little church on Azuza Street,  Los Angeles, the ‘gift of tongues’ was released among participants who had been baptized ‘with the Spirit’.  This was hailed as the ‘second Pentecost’, precipitating the widespread spiritual revival in the 1960s and 1970s that gave birth to a phenomenon now known as the ‘charismatic movement’.
Initially spurned by the establishment, the spark ignited a flame that spread like wildfire within and outside traditional churches, including the Catholic Church.  In 1967, encouraged by the new openness of Vatican II and  concern for the apathy and unbelief among their students,  Duquesne University Theology professors Patrick Burgoise and the late Ralph Keifer (associate editor of Worship from 1974-1987) asked to be prayed with by a group of Pentecostals from Pittsburgh. “After this,” writes Rev.Vincent M. Walsh in his book, A Key to Charismatic Renewal, “they began to manifest the charismatic gifts and to possess within themselves a prayerful new relationship with Jesus of Nazareth... This initial opening by Catholics to Pentecostal powers was the beginning of the phenomenon of widespread charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church.”
A first Catholic charismatic meeting held at Duquesne University in 1967 drew only 90 persons, but that number expanded to 25,000 when Catholic charismatics met at Notre Dame in 1973.  By July 1977 the first interdenominational assembly drew an attendance of 45,000.  Today, it is estimated that the number of Pentecostals and charismatics probably exceeds that of Protestants and Orthodox churches combined.  Pentecostal statistics show 200 million members designated as Pentecostals. In addition, there were 200 million charismatics in 1993 in the main Protestant denominations and Catholic churches—a total of over 400 million.  In Asia, the highest numbers of charismatics are found in the Philippines and Korea.

In what is widely seen as an official blessing, Pope Paul VI appointed Belgian Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens to oversee the activities of the rapidly spreading movement within the Catholic Church. It was Cardinal Suenens who established the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office.