The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a topic that has been of significant interest to Adventists both historically and today. The early church was established in large part due to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. And, the expectation is, that if the work of the gospel was started in the power of the Spirit, it will also be brought to completion with at least a similar display of power. But how exactly is this going to happen? Will the Spirit be poured out whenever God is ready for it or does it depend on something that we have to do? Is it an individual or a corporate experience? Is it given to bring unity in the church and power for evangelism or does it come as a result of unity and evangelism? Is the Latter Rain the agent in hastening Christ’s coming?
Most Adventists today will readily acknowledge that the Latter Rain is one of the most important topics of interest to the church. Nonetheless, few could speak intelligently about it. There is a general sense that a great work must be done by the church before Christ comes which will never be accomplished without the power of the Spirit. But how to take a hold of this power, few seem to know.
Moreover, there is a general sentiment of guilt regarding the topic: if only we were more dedicated, more united, if only we spent more time pleading with God for the gift, if only we studied the topic deeper, we might have received this outpouring, taken the gospel to the world and Christ could have come. But people have spent entire nights pleading for the Spirit and yet can’t say that anything significant happened as a result. Others have attended week-long seminars going through quote after quote on the topic and yet, for the most part, are still not sure what exactly they need to do.
As an additional complication, Adventists have been affected to some degree by the Pentecostal movement. On the one hand, there is a fear that if we seek the Spirit, we could end up receiving a false manifestation, as many in the charismatic denominations have (this has actually happened before in Adventism). On the other hand, there is still an expectation that when we do receive the Spirit, there will be some type of miraculous/supernatural manifestation, just not of the false kind. How exactly one differentiates between the two isn’t always clear.
All in all, the Spirit’s outpouring, similar to the Second Coming, has been something of a mirage for Adventists: always seemingly within our reach but never quite there. As a people, we have set ourselves up for discouragement, hoping and striving for things that seem to never actually materialize.
The Early Rain
To better understand the subject, we need to take a look at the first time the Holy Spirit was poured out in power. Bellow are several passages pertinent to this discussion that the reader can look over if needed:
Luke 24:49, John 7:39, John 14-17 John 20:22, Acts 1,2.
For three and a half years, Jesus prepared His disciples so that, after His departure, they would be ready for the reception of the early rain. Theirs was the great responsibility of planting the roots of the early church deeply enough that it would survive the next two millennia. And for this, they needed power from on high.
Thus, their preparation consisted of:
– the best personalized, hands-on education possible
– the horrific experience of seeing their master (and their hopes) crucified
– the joy of seeing Christ resurrected and the opportunity to internalize the significance of who He really was and what He had done for them.
– the resolution of their previous interpersonal conflicts while they tarried in Jerusalem, as Christ had commanded.
– the time they spent in the upper room continuing daily in prayer and supplication with one accord.
But the early rain did not fall on them because of this alone.
Moreover, shortly before His ascension,
“… [Jesus] breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:” John 20:22
And yet, again, the early rain did not fall then and there.
“…when the day of Pentecost was fully come, …there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire… and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:1-4
Thus, the early rain was tied not to the proper education, not to a certain level of emotional maturity, not to the unity of the brethren, not to persistence in prayer (though, if any of these had been missing, it would not have fallen), but rather, it was tied to a specific calendar date, the day of Pentecost. To say it with even greater emphasis, the post-resurrection disciples could have spent day after day after day in non-stop prayer and pleading and, the early rain would still not have fallen until that specific day came around. The event was tied to God’s schedule, not man’s actions.
But this is not to imply that God was going by some arbitrary schedule, irrespective of man. Jesus had recently been crucified, and the people had had a few weeks to reflect on that event. The disciples also needed the time to process the significance of what had happened. Thus, a date that was far enough from the crucifixion to allow for this while not yet far enough for people to forget, which, more importantly, also happened to be the day when Jews from all over the world visited Jerusalem, was the perfect time for the early rain. The event happened on the calendar date when it would have the greatest global impact. Not sooner, not later.
So in essence, the Acts 2 event was strategically planned by God to give the apostles the boldness and energy needed to strike at the most opportune moment and thus give birth to the Christian church with a bang. The infant church was thus established on a solid foundation while those visiting Jerusalem for the feast, took the gospel with them to their respective lands preparing the way for future evangelistic efforts.
Thus, it wasn’t that God did not appreciate the education the disciples had received under Jesus, it wasn’t that He did not think their tragic experience in witnessing the crucifixion had changed them, it wasn’t that He did not regard their prayers and supplications, but rather, that He was waiting to answer all these at a time when it would have the greatest impact. Similarly, the latter rain also has a pre-set schedule which will not be changed no matter what we do in hopes of experiencing the event now. The date this event is scheduled for is a day shortly after the passing of the Sunday law. And it isn’t that God is ignoring our supplications now, but that He plans to answer them in such a way that it will be of the most benefit to humanity as a whole.
God wants a warning message to go out after the passing of the Sunday law that is noticibly stronger than any previous message proclaimed by the church. He wants this message to stand out in boldness and power. So it is for this time that the Latter Rain is reserved. This doesn’t mean that we should not expect the Holy Spirit to fall now; just that we should not expect to have the mighty Latter Rain experience now. We should not be discouraged if, after hours in prayer, our church members don’t get up and convert three thousand in a day.
The Spirit before the Latter Rain
Does this mean that there is no point in praying for the Spirit now? What it means is that we should not be trying to obtain the post-sunday law experience now. The Holy Spirit is active in many other forms at all times.
For the individual the Holy Spirit strives to:
– Bring the unrepentant or careless to repentance
– Bring the repentant sinner to the new birth experience
– Help the new convert to overcome sin
– Help the Christian mature in their walk and settle into the faith
– Help them to become better witnesses for Christ
When we come together as a group, the Spirit strives to:
– Bring anyone in the group that still needs it to experience the new birth
– Use the group to help individuals in their struggles
– Work out differences and disagreements among group members
– Empower the group to work together effectively for evangelism
When we plead for the Spirit as a denomination the Spirit strives to:
– Work out differences of opinion that keep us divided
– Help us organize to best take the message to the world
In essence, when we plead for the Spirit now, this is how He answers that prayer. The response is very different now than what it will be after the Sunday law but this doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t answering. We just need to change our expectations. Not just this, but even if we pray for other things, for conversion, for unity etc. it is still the Spirit that answers us.
Moreover, if it seems that the Spirit isn’t answering, it is because there are things He expects us to do besides praying. He expects us, for example, to work out the many issues that keep us divided as a denomination. He expects us to fix up the local church, something we’ve neglected for decades, because it is here that the corporate life of the church is meant to happen and it is here that the Holy Spirit works. We should expect the Spirit to fall in our local church rather than at camp meetings or other events.
Thus, Christ’s coming has been delayed not because God has failed to provide us with His Spirit but because we have failed to do our part in cooperating with God to finish His work (read more on this here).
In conclusion, Adventists don’t need to be confused about the outpouring of the Spirit as are other denominations. We can be more intelligent about where we are in time, where we are as a church and what we need to do. We can cooperate with God in accomplishing His goals instead of begging blindly like little children who are not aware of what the parents are doing. The Holy Spirit is present and willing to help us every step of the way.