February /March 2017 - Vol. 90
David du Plessis with Rev. Michael Harper
David du Plessis (right) with Rev. Michael Harper
Mr. Pentecost
David du Plessis Was Called by the Lord to Be a Bridge Builder in the Charismatic and Ecumenical Movement
by Fred Lilly

“The purpose of the gifts is to help us to love, to forgive, to serve. And those are the things that most effectively lead people to a saving encounter with the baptizer, Jesus Christ.”

David du Plessis thought that Catholics today were too concerned with miracles and not concerned enough about forgiveness.

Rev. Du Plessis (1905 - 1987), recognized throughout the world as a prominent figure in the ecumenical movement, bases this opinion on 20 years of dealings with Catholics, ranging from top Vatican officials to members of small charismatic prayer groups. His ministry began in l936 when Smith Wigglesworth, a British Pentecostal evangelist, prophesied that God would use Dr. Du Plessis as abridge between the Pentecostals and other Christian churches.

"Miracles didn't persuade very many people that Jesus was God,” the 80-year-old evangelist says. "But when the Lamb of God, dying on the cross of Calvary, said, 'Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing, the success of Christianity was assured. That miracle of forgiveness paved the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Spirit has led millions to belief in Jesus.

“When God sent me to speak to the leaders of various churches about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, he told me that I had to be forgiving. “Before you talk to one of them,” God told me, “make sure you haven't got a grudge against him for anything he teaches, preaches, or practices. Forgive totally.”

“I had to obey the God I had promised to serve, so I began to forgive the Protestants for expelling the Pentecostals from their churches. And I forgave the Catholics for everything that I had blamed on them.

“Forgiveness is unconditional.” he adds. “You can't really love anyone unless you are willing to forgive everyone. One of the reasons that there are so many divisions among Christians today is that very few of us have been willing to forgive.”

Rev. Du Plessis says that when he learned how to forgive, God opened many doors for him, doors that had been closed to Pentecostals for decades. During almost 50 years of ecumenical work he has been the most prominent figure in the movement to erect bridges between Pentecostals and various Protestant churches and between Pentecostals and the Catholic Church.

David du Plessis

David du Plessis was born near Cape Town, South Africa, in 1905 and grew up in the fertile South African countryside. The du Plessis family, descended from French Huguenots, joined the Pentecostal movement when David was about nine years old. By the time David was l5 he was preaching at outdoor revival meetings in his hometown. A short time later he went to Johannesburg to serve as a printer's apprentice at a Pentecostal church headquarters.

Eventually he was ordained to the ministry, and he went on to become one of the most well known preachers in his country. His ministry became international shortly after the Smith Wigglesworth prophecy in 1936. He moved to the United States in 1947.

The consequences of Pentecost
A story that Rev. Du Plessis never tires of telling deals with one of his first conversations with Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the Vatican official responsible for ecumenical discussions with leaders of other churches.

Dr. du Plessis met the Cardinal while attending the Second Vatican Council. One day while they were talking he said, “Tell me, Cardinal, who is the head of the church?’

“Certainly you know the answer to that,” the cardinal replied. “Of course I know, but I want to hear what you have to say.”

“Doesn’t scripture say that Christ is the head of the church?” *Yes,” Rev. Du Plessis answered. “I want to know if you Catholics believe it.”

“Of course we do.” “What about the pope?” “He’s only the vicar of Christ,” the cardinal said. “Christ is the head of the church.”

“Beautiful,” Dr. Du Plessis replied. “That solves my difficulties with Catholics altogether.”

"Why?” asked Cardinal Willebrands.

“Because I want you to know that for ages Catholics have not recognized the ministry of Christ as the baptizer. But if you recognize that Christ is the head of the church because the scriptures say so, then you also have to recognize that he is the baptizer, because the scriptures say that too.”

“We believe in baptism,” he replied.

“Yes, but that is the baptism of John. I am speaking of the baptism of Christ Jesus, what the scripture calls the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

That conversation was the first of many between Vatican officials and Rev. Du Plessis and other Pentecostals. It took place in the l960’s, about the same time that Catholics the world over were beginning to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Now, some 20 years later, Rev. Du Plessis is concerned that Catholics who have received this important blessing from God realize what their baptism in the Spirit requires of them.

“First of all,” he says, “we need to realize that it is incorrect to say that we receive the Holy Spirit. We don't receive the Spirit; the Spirit receives us. When Jesus was baptized at the Jordan he didn't receive the Spirit; the Spirit received him, and he said so: You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests (Luke 3:22).

“The dove descended on him,” Rev. Du Plessis continues,” and not a feather got inside. The same kind of thing happened on the day of Pentecost. The fire of the Spirit descended upon them, and not a spark got inside. When the Bible says that they were “filled with the Spirit (see Acts 2:4) it means that they overflowed as the consequences of the Spirit receiving them.

“These consequences were speaking in tongues and boldly preaching the message of Jesus. I never call tongues “the evidence” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Tongues is not evidence; it is a consequence.”
Rev. Du Plessis is deeply concerned that Christians today understand God’s intention for giving gifts like tongues, evangelism, and the other “consequences” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

“God wants to restore unity to Christian people,” he says, “And one of the things he is using is language, the very thing that has divided mankind since the tower of Babel. Tongues is a spiritual language, and it is uniting Christians from many different churches in many different lands. Once they’ve had the same experience of the Holy Spirit they begin to understand each other. Then they begin to find other ways to be united to each other. This is a wonderful thing, and I’ve seen it happen all over the world.”

If unity is a reason that God gives the gift of tongues, ministry is a reason for baptism in the Spirit.
“Anyone who desires this baptism must be taught that the next thing God expects of him or her is to minister, because that is what Jesus did and that is what the apostles did. After the Spirit came upon Jesus he spent a short while wrestling with the devil in the desert, then he ministered.”

How did he minister? 'He taught them, he healed them, he delivered them from evil spirits, he loved them. That is also what the apostles did immediately after Jesus baptized them on Penteand that’s the ministry God calls us to today.

“We have to remember,” Rev. Du Plessis adds, “that the Spirit did not come on men alone. We know that Mary and some other women were present in the upper room, and the Spirit came on them just as he did on the men. On that day Jesus anointed all the people for ministry. He liberated women from the law that had excluded them from ministry. His intention is that men and women work together so that the kingdom will come.”

Rev. Du Plessis says that the baptism in the Holy Spirit enables men and women to communicate the gospel by means of teaching, preaching, healing, and the other gifts. But God’s purpose in this ministry is much deeper.

“The fruit of the Spirit is more important than the gifts,” he says. “The message of the thirteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians is something that should ring in our hearts:
“If I speak with human tongues and angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries, if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 13:1-2).
“God wants us to love. That is the basis for all ministry; that is real spirituality. Gifts like tongues and prophecy don't make us spiritual. It's the response to the gifts-love and the other fruit of the Spirit-that’s what God is really after.

“The purpose of the gifts is to help us to love, to forgive, to serve. And those are the things that most effectively lead people to a saving encounter with the baptizer, Jesus Christ.”

Rev. Du Plessis continues to travel throughout the world spreading the good news about Jesus the baptizer and building bridges of ecumenical cooperation. He says that he plans to continue his ministry as long as God gives him the health to carry on. Last year Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading Evangelical institution in Pasadena, California, established the David du Plessis Center to help him organize the papers he has collected during more than 60 years of ministry and to continue his work far into the future.

David du Plessis sees continued growth ahead for the Pentecostal revival and charismatic renewal.
“The Spirit has been moving in the churches for most of this century,” he says. “But now the Spirit is moving ahead of the churches. There is a new wave of Holy Spirit revival all over the world, and I expect it to produce dramatic changes, exciting changes, in the years ahead.”

He also foresees continued progress in the ecumenical discussions in which he has been involved. But, he says, if significant progress is to be made all churches are going to have to eventually allow non-members to receive Holy Communion.

“Jesus’ prayer for unity in the seventeenth chapter of John's gospel was prayed at the first Eucharist,” he says. “I hope that the day will come when all Christians can sit at the same table, worshiping the same Lord, and serving him in a united witness to the world.”

When that day comes a great deal of the credit will be given to David du Plessis. In the meantime, Christians on every continent continue to turn for guidance to the man who has been given the affectionate nickname of “Mr. Pentecost.”

[This article was first published in New Covenant Magazine, January 1986]

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