.. continued from Monday
There are good reasons to believe that not all Christians will speak in tongues when they first believe. For one thing, the book of Acts does not actually show Christians speaking in tongues every time they receive the Spirit. Each of the three instances has a certain symbolic significance or has the character of breaking a barrier. If speaking in tongues were the evidence par excellence of receiving the Holy Spirit, wouldn't the New Testament be a whole lot clearer about it--like actually saying so explicitly?
When we have to read through the lines of the Bible to infer the key idea a group sees in the Bible, we should be somewhat suspicious about that idea. There are actually only a minority of Pentecostals who believe that you are not legitimately a Christian if you did not speak in tongues when you became a Christian. These are chiefly groups that arose in the decade from 1910-1920. We might also be suspicious of a popular level interpretation that has only been around for about 100 years.
Are the Spirit-fillings in Acts conversions? I suppose that before we answer that question, we should define what we mean by "conversion" in the first place. In the early chapters of Acts, we are talking about Jews, the people of Israel. According to the Old Testament, they were already in the people of God, heirs of God's promises. What do we mean when we say they are "converted," especially since "converted" isn't a word that Acts actually uses?
For certain, we don't mean that they changed religions. They didn't switch from the religion of Judaism to the religion of Israel. This is an anachronistic way of reading the New Testament that comes from the time later in the church when Judaism was a different religion from Christianity. As we'll see in the sermons of Acts, the earliest Christians saw faith in Jesus as true Judaism, as what anyone in true continuity with Israel would believe.
A common myth you hear sometimes is that "Saul" was Paul's Jewish name and that he took on the name "Paul" when he switched religions. This is so obviously wrong it's fascinating. Paul continues to go by the name "Saul" in Acts for some 10 years after he believes in Jesus. He only switches to the Roman name (or nickname) "Paul"--a name he may have had since he was a child--when his ministry really begins to focus on witnessing to non-Jews.
No, the only conversions from one religion to another in Acts are when Gentiles, non-Jews, accept Jesus as king. And they saw themselves as converting to Judaism, or at least a form of Judaism. In fact, as we will see, many of these Gentile converts were already worshiping God at synagogues. They just had not fully converted.
So when the Jews of Acts believe on Jesus, they were, in a sense, converting from one sect of Judaism to another, but they would not have seen themselves as changing religions. So perhaps we should use a slightly different word than "conversion" when we ask what the Spirit-fillings of Acts are about? Were the Spirit-fillings of Acts primarily an initial event when becoming a follower of Jesus? Or was getting filled with the Spirit something that happened to a Christian after he or she had believed for some time? ...