MacArthur on Baptism in the Holy Spirit

image John MacArthur examines the Charismatic sects of the Church in his book Charismatic Chaos. His well reasoned critique is an indictment of a a faith based upon experience when that experience supersedes the Bible. As I have examined in a series of posts on this topic, at the core of Charismatic belief is the Doctrine of Subsequence (Fee), the second event that follows salvation in which the Holy Spirit is received. This doctrine is constructed around the event recorded in Acts 2:4: (1-4 included for context)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Charismatic believes that this post-salvation experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is a mark of spiritual maturity. When the Christian is lacking this experience, they are immature, carnal, disobedient, or otherwise incomplete. The danger in this approach, MacArthur says, is that it opens the door to the expectation of continued experience. He denies the validity of Subsequence, primarily because of its reliance on a very narrow interpretation of Scripture that does not consider passages that refute the position.

MacArthur begins by saying that doctrine constructed around the experiences in the book of Acts should at least be consistent throughout that single book. Subsequence as seen in chapter two should be witnessed in each recorded instance of baptism but this does not appear to be the case. In Acts 2 and 8, there appears to be subsequence. In chapters 10 and 19 however, the filling of the Holy Spirit accompanies salvation immediately. A secondary component of the Subsequence doctrine is that the Christian is to be earnestly seeking this second baptism. The scriptures in Acts do not support this expectation. In chapter two, the believers were simply waiting for their next move and in chapters 8, 10, and 19, no one is looking for the baptism. On this brief examination alone, MacArthur points out that the book most closely associated with the idea of subsequence does not provide the consistent pattern necessary to build a Christian doctrine.

It’s important to note that MacArthur is not denying the singular experiences of Acts and other books of scripture. The theological construct that applies to proper exegesis of these events is to view them in light of the transitional nature of the period. There was an overlap in the periods between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and (MacArthur says) “Although the disciples knew and trusted Christ, there were still Old Testament believers. They could not have understood or experienced the Spirit’s permanent indwelling until the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost.” (pg 177) In other words, markers defining transition served a specific, one time need in the establishment of the faith. MacArthur points out that this one time event is not meant to be translated as normative for all Christians.

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No Fakin’ and Shakin’ Here – Holy Roller by Julie Lyons

clip_image002Sister Johnson had a way of cutting through the mess. I found this out after I started teaching a Sunday-school class, replacing the previous teacher who quit unexpectedly. Standing in front of a roomful of adults, I asked a question: “Why do we sin?”

Sister Johnson, who was in her sixties, piped up as soon as the last word left my mouth.

“Because we want to.”

At that moment, a thousand volumes of Christian theology were rendered redundant.

Holy Roller is two parallel stories; the birth and growth of a black Pentecostal church and its pastor and a white writer who unknowingly stumbles into its midst and discovers that the heart of the faith she has been seeking in her life beats within this unfailingly honest body. Julie Lyons skillfully intertwines her story with that of the The Body of Christ Assembly and Pastor Frederick Eddington. Many churches attach the label ‘spirit-filled’ to their biographies but you often discover little of His presence once you in the walls of their meeting hall. Pastor Eddington and the Assembly on the other hand are true believers in the power of the Spirit and demonstrate the power of His work over and over in the life of the church and community beyond its crumbling walls.

Lyons weaves the story of her early ‘faith of facts’ with the charismata of the Spirit driven Church. The dichotomous church life of her early life is familiar to many evangelicals, a church experience where one is said but another is done. Cynicism of some measure had set in when she proposed a story to her editor about churches on the fringes of South Dallas and their ministry in the midst of a crack cocaine crisis. As she passed by numerous small churches with their lights turned out she finds herself in front of the tiny, ramshackle house that strained to hold the Holy Spirit’s work. A young girl (?) points out Pastor Eddington to Julie and she asks the questions that will quickly transform her life.

“Do you pray for crack addicts?”

“Yes” replied the pastor.

“Are they getting healed?” asked Julie.

“Some are.”

The story that follows in Holy Roller is a multi-threaded page-turner rooted in a faith that takes the promises of power in the Holy Spirit at face value, believing the Bible and its promises of transformed lives and demonstrating for the world to see that these things are indeed true. It is not a Christianity of constant theological argument over arcane points or concern with the finer points of Greek exegesis where the truths are analyzed but not necessarily applied. Lyons tells the story of moving from one world to another as she witnesses the changed lives she spends time with in becoming a part of the Body of Christ Assembly and the challenges that came with the shift.

Transformation is the heart of the story. Frederick Eddington moving from psychologically challenged man to pastor. His wife Diane changed from a party girl to the first lady of the church and Julie and Lyons who were exposed to new racial relationships and faith founded in the living Spirit. As expected, the integration is not always easy and significant challenges are recorded for all of the people we encounter. The common thread linking them together is a profound trust in the power of Christ to make things right, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. The average American evangelical reading this book is going to come to one of two conclusions as the pages are read. Either they will continue to view the Pentecostal church in a low church light and with considerable skepticism or they will view the evangelical church and its lack of Holy Spirit power as needing a restorative dose of reformation itself.

Mrs. Lyons is transparent in documenting her personal struggles alongside the challenges she encounters as a member of the church. She has done a stellar job of telling all of these disparate stories while passing a connecting thread through all of them. I became deeply enmeshed in the lives she reveals to us and spent a good deal of time contemplating the sometimes weak power of the Spirit in my own faith life. At the conclusion of the book, I was immediately set to reread it again and consider how I have personally viewed the work of the Spirit and consider whether I desire more of Him or more arguments over the Arminian/Calvinist divide. I’m pretty sure the Holy Ghost is going to win.

 

More information on the book can be found here.

E.V. Hill and the Soul of Los Angeles

imageThe city still cries for another like Pastor Hill to speak truth in the City of Angels. For over forty years he served the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist church in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and never drew back from proclaiming righteousness. To learn more about the heart of a true man of God, a good primer is the sermon he preached at his beloved Baby’s funeral. Set aside a few minutes and soak it in…you will be changed.

For the visual generation, here is a good starter link on Youtube:

Life With God 6

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:24 – 25

The third component of the trio of intentional approaches to reading the Bible proposed by Richard Foster in Life With God is the practice of reading with the people of God. In tandem with reading the Bible with our hearts and minds, the fullness of spiritual formation is realized when we bring to bear the experiences of the whole of the Christian community on our reading practices. We do not stand alone as followers of Christ, we are members of an extended family who can be enriched by seeing the truths of the Bible through the passions and perspectives of others. We read through the experiences of others, knowing their stories and immersing ourselves in their lives.

The Christian community has recognized the value of reading together throughout its history. We have all benefitted from the lives of others as we are cognizant that we are all in this life together. Korean believers teach us about prayer, the persecuted church enriches our perspective on faithful endurance, and Africans offer their unique perspective reconciliation. These are among the experiences that contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message and aid in our spiritual transformation as their reality puts meat to the bones of the experiences in the pages of our bible. These experiences are conveyed through a number of traditions that are seen through the centuries.

The Contemplative Tradition

Christians have a long history of reaching into the deep well of God’s grace through a prayer filled life. The more time we spend in the presence of God in prayer the greater extent to which His grace and goodness will permeate our lives. Like the others, prayer is but one component of whole of Christian life and is not meant for most to be practiced to the detriment of our social justice calling.

The Holiness Tradition

Far from the impression of morality police that the title suggests, disciples of Christ are called to a holiness of heart. Jesus was rightly critical of God’s people who hearts had become darkened as they practiced and enforced moral scrupulousness as a measure of the spirituality. We are transformed from within and it is a changed heart that turns toward God, not simply ethical practices.

The Charismatic Tradition

Contrary to church divisions that diminished the whole of the gifts of the spirit depending on their outward expression, the life filled with the Spirit as Jesus describes in John 7:37-39. The streams which will emanate from the spirit-filled believer will take numerous forms from which we can learn and benefit. We know that the gifts are not evenly distributed but rather, given to specific members within the community for the good of the whole. To silence some gifts is to exclude some members from full participation in our community.

The Social Justice Tradition

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8-9

Clearly God expects His agents to be active in the ways in which He chooses to right the wrongs of our broken world. We do well to consider that one of the reasons that the new heavens and new earth tarry is that God elects for us to serve His purposes of righting these things rather than simply applying His own supernatural intervention. Our purpose is to promote the Shalom that is only truly possible through Jesus, to be truly at peace with both God and man. This tradition helps us to temper the exclusivity that can be generated through holiness being translated as personal morality. That morality must also be measured by its impact on social justice.

The Evangelical Tradition

The evangelical tradition is more than a label, it is a mission statement. Prior to Christ, the good news of the kingdom was mediated through God’s chosen people. They fell into purely human traps that obscured the message. Jesus threw the doors open once again and invited all people into the kingdom to be a part of its life. The evangelical tradition contributes an emphasis on personal conversion, fidelity to the Word, and evangelism and discipleship. These bring structure to the Christian life but can never do so at the expense of the seeking of Shalom or the expression of the gifts.

The Incarnational Tradition

To be incarnational is to allow the life of God within to be seen in outward expression. Can you be seen by others to be a child of God without words? Transformation of our hearts changes our facade, tearing it down and restoring to other eyes the image of God that was a part of the original design.

Reading with others is much more than simply taking turns in our small group settings, it is inviting the experiences and ideas of others to contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message in the Bible. It shifts and sharpens our reading lens, giving us new perspectives on the ancient texts. God has formulated these experiences to contribute to the dynamic transformation of His people, transforming us into the image that he originally intended and preparing us for an eternity together. How have these experiences contributed to your spiritual transformation? Can you contribute something that will help a brother or sister grow today?

The Role of Glossolalia According to Lukan Theology «

Brian LePort has a great discussion going on regarding Glossolalia (Tongues) at The Role of Glossolalia According to Lukan Theology «. This is pertinent material if you’ve been reading the various views on Spirit Baptism that have been posted here.

Spirit Baptism: The Charismatic View

The Charismatic movement within the Christian Body traces it roots to a renewal that swept through the Church in the 1960s and 70s. The name of this broadly ecumenical movement derives from the Greek word translated as “gifts”, charisma (χάρισμα), while its theological roots were planted by early Pentecostal tradition. While many people consider Pentecostal and Charismatic believers to be one and the same, the Charismatic theological framework is not as dogmatic with regards to the subsequence of the Baptism in the Spirit and the evidence of tongues. Settled on the reality of Spirit Baptism and the need to practice all of the New Testament spiritual gifts including prophecy, discernment, tongues, healing, and miracles, Charismatics are nonetheless liberal in the belief as to when the baptism occurs and what gifts are evidenced and allow a wide range of belief on these matters. Making the Charismatic view even more unusual in Christian history is that the movement largely has not been known for creating new churches of like minded believers. The Charismatic believer will often be a force for change, or renewal, within the broader Catholic and Protestant bodies.

Since there is no single Charismatic position on spirit baptism, its effects, or its timing, how can we understand what it means to be a Charismatic believer? Perhaps the best framework in which to find the answers is found by viewing Spirit Baptism as a metaphor with multiple dimensions rather than a doctrine. Larry Hart categorizes the Baptism as (1) Jesus’ eschatological redemptive work; (2) Christian initiation; (3) the Christian life; and (4) empowerment for Christian mission and ministry. All of these factors contribute to an overall pneumatology and experience. Searching the Bible to understand the Charismatic worldview takes us far ranging from the book of Acts, as each author emphasized a different dimension of the Spirit’s work and effect. This counters the criticism often leveled at the Pentecostal reliance on the narrative passages  in Acts by including the Johanine and Pauline corpus in the mix. “All that Jesus has done as the Messiah (Jewish language), the Christ (Greek language), in his earthly ministry and since his ascension–is subsumed under the Spirit baptism rubric.” (Hart) In other words, the Baptism in the Spirit has a place and is effectual in every aspect of our Christian life from initiation through the progression of sanctification and in the empowerment of our ministry.

This broad range of experience in the Charismatic viewpoint lessens the reliance on a specific timing and a single crisis event. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is a defining moment for the Christian, however and whenever it is experienced. Rather than a single moment in time, the Charismatic confirms the continual outworking of the Spirit in the process of sanctification and in the receipt of power for ministry. The expansive collection of views on the timing of the Baptism extends to the views of evidence in tongues. The view of speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of Spirit Baptism is a Pentecostal doctrinal distinctive. Charismatics characteristically have a wide range of views on this gift, ranging from being like-minded with the Pentecostal to the viewing of empowerment for all of the Gifts as evidence of the Baptism. The Charismatic typically looks for all of the gifts mentioned in the Bible to be distributed throughout the body rather than seeking the monolithic practice of a single gift. Within the Body, some should speak in tongues and some should heal and some should express wisdom, etc. Requiring tongues to be the sole evidence of Spiritual indwelling runs contrary to Scripture according to the Charismatic viewpoint.

Charismatic believers are dispersed throughout the Body in a way that mimics Paul’s teaching on the Gifts of the Spirit. All Christians will receive the Spirit Baptism for empowerment in their lives; it is releasing ourselves to the experience that sets the Charismatic apart. As the Church is surrendered to this empowerment, further revival will be the evidence of the Father’s glory, the Son’s loving sacrifice, and the Spirit’s work. The combination of a head and heart Christianity is especially attractive in this postmodern culture as more and more people look for something more than facts that feed their intellect.

Other views on Spirit Baptism can be found here.