Memoirs of a Jesus Freak

Chapter 1 7

Charles Simpson in Mobile

Ollie Heath had migrated to California from Mobile, Alabama, where he had attended the Baptist church pastored by Charles Simpson. In the early days of Soul Inn in San Fran-cisco, Ollie invited Pastor Simpson to visit us and preach and teach. This was an experienced pastor who was kind, generous, and encouraging. In no time, he became a mentoring influence for us, especially since he was the first person I knew who actually spoke in tongues.

By that time, I was newly charismatic, the story of which is coming up in the next chapter. Pastor Simpson was one of the few charismatic Southern Baptist pastors at that time, meaning that he claimed to receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues.” The Catholic charismatic movement was still a really big deal in 1968, and, along with the resurgence of the Pentecostal phenomenon, sig- nificantly impacted the fledgling Jesus People Movement. Until then, evangelicals were generally resistant to anything Pentecostal and thus shied away from the tongues-speaking Jesus freaks. Lacking acceptance from mainline evangelicals (with the exception, at least in my own circumstance, of a number of American Baptist pastors and just a few Southern Baptists), the Jesus People therefore listened to the charismatics. Charles Simpson came along side us and was admired and appreciated.

The trip that Paul, Ollie, and I made across the country terminated in Mobile. Pastor Simpson invited me to preach at the church he pas- tored, Bay View Heights Baptist Church. He later joined with others to form the group we called the “Fort Lauderdale Five” that included Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Don Basham, and Ern Baxter, all men we would learn to value and regard highly. (The details of this, and what came to be called The Shepherding Movement, will be presented in a later chapter.)

It was around this time in 1968 that a dangerous mind-set began to develop in me. Since tongue speakers were, for the most part, not well received by evangelicals and were outright rejected by most fun- damentalists, defensiveness regarding the spiritual experiences took hold of many, including me. Perhaps to counter the rejection, I began to think that those of us who were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” were spiritually superior to those who were not. I and those like me did not necessarily hold that speaking in tongues was the evidence or even a sign of conversion, like many mainline Pentecostals did, but our trouble was more subtle than that. We thought we were moving “in the Spirit” and empowered by the Spirit. A “we-they” mentality developed, which I later admitted to be a cultic or toxic mentality. But I thought there were two types of Christians, those who were being used by God to do miraculous works on the one hand, and the rest who sat in the pews doing next to nothing, on the other. Charles Simp- son did not teach this, but a separation was taking place, a division that grew as time went on.

My own view of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was that it was indeed a second working of the Holy Spirit, but not for becoming holy or for speaking in tongues. My reading of Acts, chapter one verse eight, was that the Holy Spirit empowers the witness of the Christian. The primary work of the Holy Spirit, as I saw it then and continue to believe today, is to convict a person of sin and reveal to the person who Jesus is and what He did, showing the person that they are lost and hopeless without Him. I believed, then and now, that the Holy Spirit works conversion, the new birth, regeneration, and salvation, and that the individual can do nothing to save him or herself.

Awakened by Speaking in Tongues!

The day I began to speak in tongues in 1968 marked a turning point in my witness. I had graduated from seminary, my family was staying with my parents at their house in Sunland-Tujunga, a suburb of Los Angeles, and I lived sometimes at the Anchor Rescue Mission in San Francisco. After joining Lincoln Park Baptist Church, I regularly stayed, keeping my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed inside the pulpit during the day and sleeping on the floor next to it at night. One night at 2 a.m., having spent all day on the street evangelizing, followed by walking all the way back to the deep Richmond District and the church, I awoke loudly speaking in tongues. I was absolutely shocked.

Acquaintances had previously tried to get me to speak in tongues, but I had resisted. The most notable example of this took place some months prior at the Clayton House, a ministry run by Dick Key, who was an Assembly of God minister. I visited there from time to time for fellowship and a cup of coffee and donuts. One day a group of the young people who ran the ministry literally pushed me onto a table and tried to work my mouth to get me to speak in tongues. I had to fight myself away from them, gather my coat and Bible, and flee from the scene. I never came back, and I felt a significant sense of loss, since these Christian brothers and sisters were the only other evangelicals reaching out to the hippies in the Haight-Ashbury at that time. It wasn’t long before Ted Wise and friends opened The Living Room on Page Street, but until then I was alone.

Nonetheless, now I was a tongues-speaker, and I continued to be one for many years, slowing down in 1972 and eventually ceasing all together in the mid to late 1970s. What tongues speaking triggered for me was a dramatic change in my ministry. Prior to this, a steady but small stream of conversions followed my ministry; but now the number began to grow significantly. There was such a marked differ- ence, that I could only account for it by assuming I had been empow- ered by the Holy Spirit that night I woke up speaking in tongues.1 It was Charles Simpson who helped me understand what had taken place.

Writing this book forces me to once again consider what happened then. I am doubtful that the conversions and sometime miracles had anything to do with me. Of course, it could not be so, since only God does these things. Perhaps it is that Acts 1:8 was operational—God’s Spirit empowered the witness, and that is the beginning and end of it.

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