Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 10, 1970
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1-3,5b

Is The Spirit Unpredictable?

(No. I)

James D. Bales

The Pentecostals are divided as to what is the evidence that one has been baptized in the Spirit. John L. Sherrill wrote: "Absolute criteria seems to be about the only thing absent from the experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 'And I'd worry about it if it were any other way,' Tib [sic] said one night as we were discussing this. 'If the Spirit is like the wind, blowing where it wants to, fixed rules would be suspicious. It'd be like coming in out of a tornado and switching on an electric fan.' "(They Speak With Other Tongues, p. 111), This approach turns the lack of adequate criteria into the criteria. It would make it impossible to test the spirits (I John 4:1-2), as each could say that there are no fixed rules and his case is one of the unpredictable operations of the Spirit.

Sherrill's book was one of the milestones on Pat Boone's odyssey into the tongues movement. So perhaps it was from this book he got the idea that we cannot predict or contain the work of the Spirit, because He is like the wind. Pat cited John 3:8. When the author asked him what Jesus meant by saying: "so is every one that is born of the Spirit," Pat thought this meant that the born-again person is unpredictable also. However, after citing John 3:8, Pat agreed with the author that the Spirit would most certainly not contradict what He has revealed in the Bible. It follows, therefore, that although we do not "contain" the Spirit, the Spirit does work according to the will of God. All that we know about the will of God is revealed in the Bible. No one can prove anything is the work of the Spirit unless it is sanctioned by the Bible.

Let us examine the position that the Spirit and the Christian are unpredictable.


If it is true that the operations of the Spirit are unregulated and are therefore unpredictable, there is no way that we can decide whether something is of God. If we oppose a teaching or practice — such as adultery, or various perversions — those who practice these things can say that we are trying to make the Spirit conform to laws such as "thou shalt not commit adultery." The Spirit is unpredictable, so how can one predict that the Spirit will not sanction adultery? How can one maintain that we are to believe that Jesus is the Christ? The Spirit teaches this in the New Testament, but this does not enable us to predict that the Spirit today teaches that Jesus is the Christ. To insist that this is still the message of the Spirit is to try to bind the Spirit and say that He is predictable.

This view of the Spirit and His work makes it impossible to affirm that anything is the will of God or that anything is contrary to the will of God. One could always say, the Spirit has changed His teaching since New Testament times. Surely one should not expect the wind to blow in the same direction all of the time!

How Can One Know He Has Been Born Again?

If the Spirit is not bound by any law of God in His operations, He is not bound by what the Spirit himself taught in the New Testament concerning the new birth.

Therefore, we could not affirm that the new birth is necessary. Why should we tie the Spirit down to the law that the new birth is necessary in order to enter the kingdom? Or, if the new birth is necessary, we cannot tell what is involved in the new birth. Although the Spirit in the New Testament shows that it involves the baptism of the believing penitent into Christ, the Spirit breatheth where He wills, and the new birth now may be quite different from what it was in the first century. Furthermore, it may differ from individual to individual, and it may involve such differences that the new birth experience of one person actually contradicts the new birth experience of another person.

It would also be impossible for an individual to know anything about the new life which he is supposed to live in Christ.

To all of this we answer: Jesus said: "Ye must be born anew." (John 3:7). The Spirit brought this to John's remembrance (John 14:26), and the Spirit revealed and confirmed the word which He had received from the Father and Christ (John 16:12-15).

The Unpredictable Christian

Jesus is drawing a comparison. If the Spirit is unpredictable, "so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) If the Spirit is unpredictable, the effects of the Spirit on the individual are unpredictable. The individual himself is also unpredictable because you can never tell what he will do, in addition to being unable to tell what the Spirit may will to do through him.

If this is the condition of the Spirit and of the Christian, everything is in chaos. The brooding Spirit brought order out of chaos in order to make the earth habitable. (Gen. 1:2). However, the argument which we are considering maintains that everything in the spiritual realm is in a state of chaos because the Spirit is unpredictable and the Christian is unpredictable. Christians are sometimes unpredictable, because they do not always live by their principles, but are they supposed to be unpredictable?

How could the unpredictable be confined to the narrow gate and the straitened way? How could one predict that this leads to life, and that the wide gate and broad way leads to destruction? (Matt. 7:13-14). How could one predict that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control? (Gal. 5:22-23). How could one predict that an abundant entrance shall be supplied unto us into the eternal kingdom, and that we shall not be unfruitful or idle, if we add faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love? (2 Pet. 1:5-11). How can we depend on anything the Spirit said, or anything the born-again person says, if neither are predictable?

Pat did some things which the author would not have predicted he would do. Was Pat living by his interpretation of this verse?

The Way Of Deception

The author has known and loved Pat Boone for many years. He believes in Pat's integrity. On the basis of what he has known of Pat, he would have predicted that Pat would not have followed for many months a path of deception. However, he has proved that he is unpredictable because he followed such a path. For many months, after he thought he received the baptism of the Spirit and tongues, he tried to keep it hidden from the brethren. For a long time elders who had the responsibility of watching after his soul, were not informed by Pat of his convictions. Brethren defended him, thinking he had been misrepresented. Brethren denied that his appearance on the Oral Roberts' program indicated that he shared the Pentecostal beliefs of Oral Roberts. Pat let many brethren go out on a limb for him, a limb which would be sawed off when the truth about his position became known. At the very time Pat was on the Roberts' program, Oral Roberts knew that Pat thought he had the gift of tongues. Roberts told the author this in a letter. When Pat published in the Firm Foundation (Dec. 2, 1969) a defense of his appearance he did not tell brethren his actual position.

Someone may ask: Are you accusing Pat of conscious deception? No. On February 19, 1970, the author told Pat personally that he thought Pat was doing what Pat thought was right, but that he was self-deceived. Pat thought the Spirit was guiding him into the strategy of keeping it from the brethren until his book on the subject was published. Although we told Pat this was a course of deception, and this proved he was not guided by the Spirit for the Spirit is not a deceiver, Pat continued to believe it was the work of the Spirit. He could not doubt this course without doubting he was guided by the Spirit.


This brings us to another unpredictable thing. Pat has a keen mind, and the author would never have predicted that Pat would be so naive and so self-deceived. Who would have thought that he could be convinced that the above strategy was the work of the Holy Spirit? Who would have predicted that, as much as Pat knows about the Bible, he would conclude that men who perpetuate denominationalism, who have not been baptized into Christ, who teach many denominational doctrines, are men who are filled with, guided by, inspired by at least at times, and do many mighty works by the Holy Spirit? (Testimony, No. 30, p. 8). Who would have thought that he could have convinced himself that by sailing under false colors, and working underground (so to speak), he was following the Spirit's strategy for enabling his departure into the tongues movement, when it became known according to the strategy, to have the greatest impact on influencing the church to accept tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit? The author would not have predicted that Pat could be so self-deceived, but Pat was so self-deceived.


Since Pat thought that he was guided by the Spirit into the strategy of keeping his position from the brethren until the whole story came out in his book, who would have predicted that Pat would have been so blind as to continually reveal his position? In denominational settings, in other types of meetings where he seemingly forgot brethren would be listening, and in private conversations, Pat was revealing his Pentecostal convictions. In an interview on February 20, 1970 in the Birmingham News, in a speech in Monroe, Louisiana in December 1969, and on several other occasions Pat indicated his belief that modern miracles were being wrought by Pentecostals and some others. In fact, he was so blind that something he wrote in the Christian Chronicle proved that he believed Pentecostals were working miracles today by the power of the Holy Spirit. In an article in Christian Life for November 1969, he claimed the gift of tongues.

Who would have thought that Pat, with as high an I. Q. as he has, would have been so blind as to do these things which made it impossible for the strategy, of keeping it from the brethren, to work? The Holy Spirit is not blind; Pat was blind in these matters, so he was not led by the Spirit.

Furthermore, would the Spirit have led him to write an article and put it into someone's hands who was supposed to print it later this summer, when the Spirit would have foreseen that it would get published prematurely, and without Pat's authorization, in Testimony in March 1970. In this article Pat claimed the baptism of the Spirit and the gift of tongues. This made his position crystal clear to brethren and destroyed the strategy which Pat thought was of the Spirit.

Going To Law With A Brother

The same apostle Paul who spoke of, and regulated, the use of the spiritual gifts in Corinth, also wrote that he was ashamed that they were going to law with one another. It was a defect in them. He was speaking about lawsuits between those who viewed themselves as brethren (I Cor. 6:1-8). In a conversation with a friend, who knew about Pat's position on modern miracles, the question was raised whether Pat would threaten to sue the author if he quoted from Pat's letters in material which the author planned to publish. The author said that he would be more than flabbergasted if Pat did such a thing, for he was not that kind of a person. Furthermore, he thought Pat would know better, even if he was the kind who would sue one about such a matter, than to think it would do any good. It would not do any good because the author could summarize in his own words Pat's arguments and positions. Furthermore, it would not help Pat's reputation to sue a preacher. The author was shaken and saddened when he got a telegram from Pat's attorneys. It was sent May 15, 1970. He was not upset by the threat of the lawsuit but by the fact that Pat did such a thing. The telegram read as follows:

"We are attorneys for Pat Boone. All correspondence from Boone to you was personal and confidential. You are not authorized to publish any part of such correspondence. You are to seize any such publications or appropriate legal action will be brought naming you as the defendant. Please govern your conduct accordingly."

The author had sent Pat, over a period of weeks, the first draft of chapters for his proposed book on tongues. These contained quotations from Pat and comments by the author. The author told Pat that he could feel free to change any of the quotations, or that, if Pat so desired, the author would not quote him but would summarize Pat's positions and arguments in the author's words. However, Pat became concerned lest the author print something before Pat gave his consent. Pat would not have worded the telegram as did the attorneys, but, regardless of how one worded it, it threatened a lawsuit. The author wrote Pat a long letter, and also talked with him on the phone. Pat then wrote the author he regretted he had involved a lawyer and asked forgiveness. It was no problem, in this case, to forgive. The author had viewed it as another illustration of how misguided Pat has been.

This raised the following problem for the author. He does not hold this matter against Pat. However, does this not involve more than a personal problem? Pat believes that he has been baptized in the Spirit, that he gets miraculous and inspired guidance at times, and he is publishing a book which will explain his position and which he hopes will convince others as these experiences have convinced him. The author is convinced that Pat is not miraculously guided by the Spirit at any time, that he has started on a road of error which leads to many other errors, that he will influence some people in the church to go with him, and it is the author's duty to do all he can rightly do to expose the error in which Pat is involved and to keep at least some people from being misled who otherwise might be misled. If the Spirit is working directly on Pat, his family, and some of his friends, would not the Spirit at least have warned him against threatening the author with a lawsuit? The Spirit knew such an action could damage Pat's claims. The Spirit knew that such an action could give national publicity to the author's proposed book and his opposition to Pat's position. Why wasn't his guidance system working so that it at least warned him against threatening a lawsuit?

Does the author's use of this incident prove that he has forgiven but has not forgotten — in the sense that he actually holds it against Pat? If such were the case, he has not forgiven Pat. But the author never held it against Pat, and Pat has been forgiven. However, it may be important, in order to drive home a lesson, to mention something from the past which has been forgiven. Peter undoubtedly repented of not walking upright according to the truth of the gospel. That he did is clear from his reference to the beloved brother Paul, and from Peter's expectation to die faithful in the Lord (2 Pet. 1:12-14; 3:15). However, in a public letter to the churches of Galatia the apostle Paul mentioned what both Peter and Barnabas had done in the past, and his public rebuke of Peter (Gal. 2:11, 14). At the time Paul withstood Peter to his face he was bringing Peter to repentance as well as warning others. When Paul mentioned the case in his public letter to the churches, he was not trying to bring Peter to repentance but was using it as a part of his argument to prove that the Gentiles were not to be bound by the law. Pat is involved in serious error, and this case helps demonstrate that he does not have the miraculous guidance system which he claims. Therefore, it is an important case in warning others lest they be misled.

In arriving at a decision, as to whether to mention this matter, the author prayed about the matter, consulted several people, studied and thought about it off and on for around two months, and lined up some of the pros and cons and asked Pat what he would do if he were in the author's position. Pat's only reaction to the author was one of disapproval. Among other things, the author considered the fact that the incident had become known to several people in several states before Pat withdrew the threat. By threatening this matter in public, people can learn that Pat was big enough to repent of having made the threat. A copy of this article is being sent to Pat at the time it is being sent to the printer. Pat is also being told that the way in which Pentecostals, such as Nickel who edits Testimony, are using Pat's conversion to Pentecostalism in order to spread these beliefs in the churches of Christ, is one of the reasons the author decided to use the lawsuit incident. This Pentecostal, Nickel, is the one who printed Pat's claim of tongues in Testimony, and thereby made clear to the brethren Pat's position. Nickel claimed to have been guided by God to do it, and he thought he had Pat's permission (Testimony, No. 31, pp. 14-15); but Pat did not know about it and had not given his permission. He had planned for the article to be used later in another publication.

Pat should raise the question whether, in the providence of God, God is trying to get him to see that the course of deception and of blindness cannot be of the Holy Spirit. He needs to re-examine his experiences and his "guidance system."

We Can Predict

There is one thing, however, which we can predict about people who are deceived as is Pat. They pray for direct, divine, inspired guidance. They often wait for some sort of impulse, feeling, or sign, and then follow it. When people have this kind of guidance system, we can predict that their impulses are going to lead them to be unpredictable; unpredictable because we cannot tell beforehand what they are going to do unless we know something about their frame of mind at the time and, therefore, the kind of impulses which they are going to get.

Furthermore, some of them will be unpredictable because they may feel at times that if they want to do something it is wrong; therefore, they will be guided to do the opposite of what they want to do.

Contradiction In Pat's Argument

The Spirit, we must remember, took the things of God and of Christ and revealed them to the apostles (John 16:12-15). Therefore, the Spirit is just as predictable and dependable as Christ. Pat's position on the unpredictability of the Spirit contradicts other arguments which he makes. First, he interprets Matt. 21:22, which we are dealing with in our book on Pat Boone And The Gift Of Tongues, as meaning we can depend on Christ to give us the gifts today if we pray with the conviction we shall receive them. Second, he thinks that through the reception of miraculous gifts, he has discovered that Jesus truly is the same today as yesterday. (Heb. 13:8). In other words, he is arguing that Christ and the Spirit are predictable and dependable. Third, some Pentecostals — who are just as "guided" as Pat — maintain that all who are baptized in the Spirit speak in tongues. They think one can depend on this.

Of course, the unchangeableness of Christ does not mean He is with us every generation in the flesh, or that He dies on the cross every generation, or that every generation is the time of the revelation and confirmation of the gospel (Heb. 2:3-4; Jude 3). It does mean that His nature, His dependability, and His word are constant. They do not fail. God, although unchangeable, went through different stages of the revelation of Himself to mankind.

Jesus said: "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth. . ." (John 3:7.8). If Jesus is saying the Spirit is unpredictable, and that the Christian is unpredictable, one could not do anything but marvel or wonder. He would never know what might happen next. However, if Jesus is saying that the presence of the Spirit, which presence is invisible, is made known by His effects, one need not concentrate on and be perpetually puzzled by the marvel of it or by how it is possible. He can see that it is possible as he sees the effect of the Spirit in that the new birth is brought about and the new life is lived.

— Harding College, Searcy, Arkansas