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The baptism of the Holy Spirit : a study of the meaning of religious experience. Lythgoe, Mariann June Catherine

Abstract

This study is of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a religious experience popularly known as speaking in tongues. Our concern is with its role as a transforming experience in the lives of those who witness to it. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, while deeply embedded in Christian tradition, has until recently been a relatively rare phenomenon. There is currently a marked increase in its occurrence. The sample selected for the purpose of this study consists of ten respondents, of whom five are members of the Pentecostal assembly while five are associated with other established denominations but testify to the experience of the baptism. Most are people of professional status who are in their middle years. That this is so may in itself be indicative of the characteristics of the contemporary upsurge of the experience. The interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. As little direction as possible was given by the interviewer in an effort to glean information that was a voluntary response on the part of the individual and free from the distortion of interpretation. The interviewee was introduced to the general concern of the study and asked to relate his experience and as much of his background as he felt was significant in pointing him toward his spiritual destiny. All information given was regarded as significant and was not edited in transcription. The study begins with a review of certain theoretical observations which provide a framework for the work. Chapter II provides an overall introduction to past and present expressions of the phenomenon, to its theological origins and significance, to an attempted delineation and definition of the experience, and to a description of a typical charismatic service of worship that creates a public context for the experience. Chapter III introduces the respondents and traces their spiritual careers. These careers may be seen in terms of a number of paths, ranging in complexity, via which the people move from a point of entry to a point of spiritual destiny. At various places on the path the person encounters turning points or moments when he recognizes that he has changed. In this section we attempt to illustrate the paths chosen by our respondents by means of a map and to isolate the transitional moments and the basic motivating states common to all our respondents. Chapter IV deals with a more definitive analysis of specific motivating states in relation to overall influences, major continuing themes, transitional moments and the significance of the introduction to the experience. Finally, in Chapter V the relationships of the experience to the motivational factors that have been isolated are explored. Our concern here is to identify in what way the experience has served as a solution in the eyes of the respondent. In conclusion several observations are made on the basis of the present study which might constitute proposals for future research. The background factors leading up to the experience were found to be related to the individual’s overall influences, to a sense of isolation in personal relationships, a general dissatisfaction with the circumstances of their lives, a marked spiritual concern and a dissatisfaction with how spiritual needs were being met through routine institutional means. The experience of the Holy Spirit resolves these dilemmas by (a) establishing the individual as a member of a spiritual and social community, (b) a total transformation of perspective and hence of the meaning of existing commitments, and (c) a sense of direct and immediate relationship with the Holy Spirit. The experience was seen by the participants as a 'healing* experience in that it offered an answer to their problems and dissatisfactions. The meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was found to differ between those who had had a continuous association with the Pentecostal church and those who had not. For the latter group the experience constituted a radical moral transformation whereas in the case of the former the experience was a step in a continuing religious career.

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