The Need for Pentecost in Thailand and the Sad Failure of the Churches Who Have Rejected It

What is Pentecost? We aren’t talking about a denomination; rather, we are talking about an endowment of grace.

 Some call it a second work of grace, but one thing is certain: the New Testament church in Acts received Pentecost and grew at an explosive rate. At the same time, Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing religion in the world. Its growth has been enormous and has taken place over the last 116 years. No other group of believers in history has ever done as much in a short period of time as the Pentecostals, so while we are not specifically going to write about a particular denomination, we are going to talk about Pentecostalism, which is a set of beliefs and experiences to which far more Christians adhere than do not. 

There are many Pentecostal denominations, like the Church of God, the Assembly of God, Pentecostal Holiness, and over 700 other denominations. However, there are more than 300,000 independent Pentecostal churches in America alone—more than all Pentecostal denominations combined. Around the world, the numbers are even more staggering. In fact, the churches that are growing worldwide are those who adhere to the doctrine of Pentecostalism; the ones who are dying off are those who reject it.

Numbers often vary, but most calculations put charismatic, Pentecostal believers between 500 million and 800 million. The number varies based upon whether people simply believe in the Gifts of the Spirit—more specifically, speaking in tongues—or if they practice it regularly. There are only 1.2 billion Evangelical Christians in the world. This means that potentially two-thirds of all Christians either regularly speak (or have at some point spoken) in tongues and currently practice (or have at some point practiced) the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as found listed in 1 Corinthians 12. On the very low end, 5 out of every 12 Christians regularly speak in tongues. 

An article in The Christian Post declared that one in every four Christians are Pentecostal—and that’s without even including those who believe in the Pentecostal/charismatic experience but attend traditional churches. It also does not include the large number of independent charismatic churches that do not affiliate with one of the 700 Pentecostal denominations. In fact, Pew Research shows that if you took all the independent and non-denominational churches that hold to this belief alone, it would be the third largest Christian group behind Catholics and Baptists. Another astonishing detail is that as many as 300 million Catholics are believed to practice the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as well. These numbers are not even considered in The Christian Post’s article. 

What do I mean when I say that Thailand needs a Pentecost and that the past reveals a major failure by churches who do not practice the experience known as the baptism of the Holy Spirit? In Acts 2:4, the Bible teaches that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (the 120 that obeyed Jesus command to wait for the Holy Spirit), and they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them the words. It appears that these were words that the speakers didn’t understand but the hearers did. This has led many to falsely teach that speaking in tongues is a special gift to learn languages to preach the gospel to the lost. That simply isn’t the case. This was a one-time experience for tongues to work in this way in Acts 2. In 1 Cor. 14, Paul gave specific instructions and teachings about how to use this gift that virtually everyone was walking in. Paul himself said he spoke in tongues more than anyone else, but he also said that he did so in private. If the gift is meant as a tool to preach, why did Paul say to speak in tongues privately? Paul said that it could not be understood by the hearers and needed interpretation by someone with the spiritual gift to supernaturally do so. In Mark 16, the Bible says that anyone who believes in Jesus can speak in tongues, cast out demons, and pray for the sick. It’s interesting that anytime you find someone who believes in tongues, they always believe in healing and deliverance as well. They all go together. 

This gift is found all through the book of Acts. In Acts 8, those who had already been saved needed to have hands laid upon them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is such a strange thing. Romans 8 is clear that if we don’t have the Spirit, we are not Christians. However, in Acts 8 and in Acts 19 (20 years after Pentecost was poured out), people who were believers in Jesus and had been baptized had to have hands laid upon them to “receive the Holy Spirit.” Obviously, if there is something that seems to contradict, it’s on our end not on God’s end. When we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live on the inside, but this doesn’t mean that a person is filled up with the Spirit. In fact, in Ephesians 5:18, we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit.” However, the literal meaning of this is “be, being filled with the spirit” or another way to say it is “stay continuously filled with the Spirit.” It’s possible to have the Holy Spirit be one with your spirit without being filled with His power and presence. This is a separate and distinct experience from salvation, as we see in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19.  In most cases, speaking in tongues accompanied this filling with the Spirit, but it doesn’t say it did in all cases. I do not say things that the Bible doesn’t say. The Bible doesn’t teach that tongues is the proof that one is filled with the Spirit. I believe tongues is a wonderful gift and that all may receive the prayer language of the Spirit as Mark 16 teaches. However, there is a public gift of speaking in tongues that should be interpreted in 1 Cor 12:27-31, and the Scripture is clear that all do not have that gift. 

I think that people are often filled with the Holy Spirit and don’t realize they can speak with other tongues; however, they can if they desire to. The evidence of being filled with the Spirit, however, is boldness to be a witness (Acts 1:8). Why does Thailand specifically need this experience? First of all, in the Church, many things were lost during the Dark Ages. Instead of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers who taught the Scripture, they had monks and priests. This was not the will of God. Miracles were all but done away with during this time. Ministry as we know it was done away with, and the Church went into exile, being under the control of governments. Forced conversions caused people who weren’t really followers of Jesus to adhere to Christian beliefs. This was never God’s intention. Salvation by works was put into place instead of salvation by grace. Because of the reformation, salvation by faith through grace was restored to the church. Pastors and Teachers were restored, and many other Gifts of the Spirit began to show up. Then in the 1700’s and 1800’s, powerful evangelists such as John Wesley, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and others, came on the scene. They restored the gift of evangelism, and many powerful manifestations were seen as well, such as  people falling down, people jerking and yelling out. Many miracles began to happen, and healings were a regular thing in the 1800’s. Powerful men and women ministered to the sick by the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. It seemed that God was restoring all that was lost to His Church. 

This is when one of the most important events in Christian history happened: a second Pentecost. It’s called the Azusa Street Revival. It ran a solid five years. People were baptized in the Holy Spirit just like in the book of Acts. . . in 1906 in Los Angeles. They became known as Apostolic Faith Missions. They were like the New Testament Church. God began to restore Apostles and Prophets back to the Church. Miracles and healings were constant, but now there was a restoring of prophecy in Church, as well as tongues and interpretation of tongues.  Rick Warren, who is not Pentecostal, said that this Pentecostal movement is the greatest Christian movement in the history of the Church. More than 500,000,000 came to Christ in only 100 years. This is unheard of. You would be hard-pressed to find a single believer in China or the Philippines or many Asian nations who do not practice speaking in other tongues. This is the case in most all Asian churches, as they got saved under persecution and were given Bibles and just believed what God said. They didn’t have people telling them to ignore portions of the Bible or that certain parts had been done away with. The Bible simply doesn’t teach that. Those who read the Bible for themselves receive this gift and walk in great power, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and having people come to Christ in very large numbers. 

What happened to Thailand? Thailand has had Christianity for more than 200 years, yet only 0.6% of the country is Christian. Some people have equated that to the strong adherence to Buddhism and the fact that there is a famous saying here that to be Thai is to be Buddhist. People have said that Thailand is resistant to the gospel. However, when I came here, I didn’t find that to be the case. I found it easy to see miracles, plant churches, have people filled with the Spirit and speaking in tongues, and to see a move of the Spirit. I wondered why so many others have struggled. The answer is there, right in front of our faces. World-wide, churches that do not believe in the modern-day Gifts of the Spirit and who do not practice expressive worship, praying for the sick, speaking in tongues, prophecy and other marks of a Spirit-filled church that is charismatic in nature are shrinking in record numbers, while charismatic churches that accept all those things are the fastest-growing Christian group in the world–116 years after the renewal at Azusa Street. 

However, Christianity in Thailand has been primarily liturgical, very non-charismatic, religious denominationalism that is dying, just as it is around the rest of the world. There are four major denominations that are recognized in Thailand officially. It makes sense that these denominations would not have much resistance, as they do not pose much of a threat to the darkness. They do not practice the Spirit-filled life, although there are some wonderful people out there. They don’t teach, practice, or walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. I knew of one man who had been there for 13 years and never saw a single person come to Christ. Many in the denominations here told us not to expect anyone to follow Jesus among the Thai nations. They told us that if we did have fruit here, it would take 5-8 years. However, we had a secret: we were tongue-speaking, laying-on-of-hands charismatics. It did not take much time until a woman who was partially paralyzed and was in terrible pain got healed. As a result, the Thai people were very open to hearing the Gospel. Over the next several months, people were saved, baptized, and joined the church. We have seen more than 300 come to Christ and have planted many house churches, including the mother church that has more than 100 people who call it their home church. 

What is the difference?

When I mention the success we have had in certain groups, I have been rebuked. Someone said, “So you think that you figured out the magic formula to do what no other missionaries have been able to do for 200 years, but you and your team figured it out?” Actually, it isn’t true that others haven’t done it. There is a group in central Thailand that baptized more people in a single day than have ever been baptized in Thai history–more than 1400! This group is led entirely by Thai nationals. Guess what? They speak in tongues. They pray for the sick. They expect miracles. They accept the Bible. Many others have experienced growth like this because of the power of the Spirit that was upon all of them, and they imparted it to the locals. This is the key. They key is to get out of the way and let the Thais lead as soon as they can, ensuring they learn how to be filled with the spirit, how to cast out demons, and how to pray for the sick. They must know how to walk in the power of the Spirit. If the disciples had to wait until they received the Spirit to minister, and if Jesus Christ had to wait until the Spirit rested upon him, how much more should we wait until we are endowed with power from on high. I have found is following the Biblical model always works. We aren’t better than anyone else, and we have also had our ups and downs. Sometimes the crowds are big; sometimes they are small. We have dealt with cultural issues, but one thing we have never struggled with is seeing Thai nationals come to Christ. We have not struggled with seeing miracles and healing. It is my sincere belief that our doctrine of being baptized in the Spirit and letting miracles and all the Gifts of the Spirit flow is a game-changer. We aren’t the only ones doing that. Many groups are doing that now, and they are seeing the harvest come in at record numbers.

We do not boast in ourselves. We haven’t found some magic potion. It’s all been right here in the Bible the entire time. Be filled with the Spirit, is the command from Scripture. We don’t need them to leave one dead religion only to join another which has a form of godliness but denies the power thereof. We want to see Thais radically transformed. We have had them throw away idols without being told by us at all. We have been allowed to preach at a Buddhist funeral. We have been invited into the home of the local chieftains, who enjoyed us being there, and have given us total freedom. At our mother church that we planted right behind a Buddhist temple, we had the local kids do a Christmas nativity that explained the true story of Christmas, and more than 120 showed up to hear. Many believed the Gospel that was very clearly presented. It is my conviction that the lack of Pentecost in Thailand in the last 200-plus years has led to much cold religion, and that is why we need a fresh outpouring like Azusa Street right now in Thailand. I must be clear that speaking in tongues doesn’t make you a better Christian. In 1 Cor. Paul commended them for being able to walk in all the gifts but rebuked them for being carnal. If you are not Christlike, and if you don’t walk in love, it makes no difference if you have all the gifts. Also, many brothers and sisters are clearly filled with the spirit but don’t speak in tongues, yet they exude Christ so much that there is no doubt they are overflowing with God’s Spirit. They are also very effective in ministry. So, this doesn’t mean that ministries that don’t allow these things cannot be effective. If they are led by the Spirit, they can still be very effective. This is more about the overall principle that a fresh Pentecost where the Holy Spirit fills his churches in Thailand is what is needed for us to reach Thailand and see a revival. 

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President, Agape International
Until Every Tribe Has Heard