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.

The Pentecostal Perspective on Sanctification

Summarizing the Pentecostal doctrine on sanctification is either very easy or extraordinarily complex. The reason for this is the wide range of Christians that congregate under this umbrella and the corresponding wide range of application for this important aspect of the believer’s life. The doctrinal range extends from the very conservative two step positional-progressive sanctification to holiness as a second work of grace to be followed by baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Myer Pearlman (Knowing the Doctrines) provides the most general definition of the Pentecostal doctrine as including separation from sin and the world and dedication or consecration to the fellowship and service of God through Christ. This may translate into different practices among the believer groups; some will abstain from ‘wordly’ thing (e.g. tobacco, drink, short dresses) while others interpret this more liberally as simply the search for holiness according to specific biblical standards. In general however, the Pentecostal observes sanctification as occurring in the three familiar events. It is instantaneous at the moment of belief, where the new Christian is immediately set apart from sin. Sanctification is progressive as well, continuing throughout the term of one’s life as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Finally, using a term that can have a variety of definitions, there is entire sanctification. This final state is almost universally seen as occurring only at glorification when the believer passes into the immediate presence of the Lord.

Progressive sanctification is viewed as a tri-cooperative effort. Our progress comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, our cooperation as we surrender to His work, and through the Word of God (John 17:17). The Word of truth comes alive only through the intervention of the Spirit as He interprets for each believer how that truth applies to our lives. All of this combines to attain a maturity that God desires for us, continuing in this process until we return to our heavenly home.

Controversy arises when the doctrine of Baptism in the Spirit enters the discussion. Many of the Oneness (Jesus Only) Pentecostals take the extreme position that one cannot be saved (thus be sanctified) until receiving the baptism in the spirit and giving evidence through the gift of tongues. Trinitarian Pentecostals view the Baptism as a secondary event subsequent to regeneration. The Assemblies of God for example, sees the progressive sanctification and the visible change in their life as evidence of the infilling of the Spirit.

Conclusion

As stated in the initial paragraph, there is a wide range of belief in the Pentecostal congregations regarding sanctification and its application. For the most part, the combined instantaneous and progressive nature of this doctrine can be found in the statement of belief of nearly all of the churches. Ultimately, there is a common goal of holiness in the believer that is standard to all of the doctrines, something held in common with the Calvinist and Arminian doctrines as well.

Stott and Ervin on Spirit Baptism Part Three

(Part Two Here)

In this final post examining how John Stott and Howard Ervin contrast the different doctrines of Spirit Baptism, our attention turns to the idea of being filled with the spirit. The question at hand is whether this is a single event or series of fillings. Stott conservatively separates the baptismal event and subsequent episodes of being filled with the spirit.  As stated in my second posting, Stott does not hear Scripture speaking of a secondary Baptism but he does take an interesting stance on the fullness of the Spirit when he says “that this gift needs to be continuously and increasingly appropriated.” He sees this infilling taking three forms. First, the normal condition of the Christian is to be “filled” with the Spirit (ie: Acts 11:24). The second form is a unique to an event or ministry. As an example, we are pointed to John the Baptist who was “filled with the Holy Spirit” in advance of his prophetic ministry. Similarly, in advance of Paul’s ascension to apostolic office (Acts 9:17) Ananias prays for him to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The third form of infilling, according to Stott, is a more temporal filling unique to an immediate task or emergency. Zechariah was filled prior to prophecy and Stephen prior to his martyrdom.

Dr. Ervin’s Pentecostal position is much easier to enumerate as he associates the full infilling with the Spirit Baptism. Viewing them as inseparable, he posits that for subsequent infilling events to occur, one must experience re-baptism, certainly a non-biblical notion. We must be mindful that this doctrine is developed predominantly from within the Lukan corpus and lies at the heart of the Pentecostal position on Spirit Baptism. When he turns to the Pauline instance in Ephesians 5:18:

Do not get drunk on win, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Ervin points out that the word for “be filled” is in the present tense, imperative mood, and passive voice. This leads the interpreter with a choice of a repeated action (be filled again and again) or a continuous action (be continuously filled with the Spirit). Good exegesis points us to the immediate context for guidance and in doing so we find a parallelism in the verse between the warning against getting drunk on wine and the encouragement rather, to be filled with the Spirit. The present imperative is used in the first component of the comparison (do not get drunk), consistent interpretation calls for the present imperative in the second half of the parallelism as well. As Ervin paraphrases the verse “Stop being habitually drunken with wine but be continuously filled with the Spirit.”

Conclusion

This is a secondary issue to a secondary doctrine but one that calls for greater consideration by all Christians. Brother Stott points our attention to John 7:37-39:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to received. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote of this passage “It has been said that there are some passages in Scripture which deserve to be printed in letters of gold.” The Lord refers to a ritual of the Feast in which water from the pool of Siloam was poured out in prescience of the coming of the Spirit and that Jesus would provide this water to all who thirsted and came to Him to be relieved. As we meditate on this passage we can see that the empowerment of the Spirit is directly tied to our penitent approach to the Lord. Not only that, but this living water will stream from us to others infusing our ministry with power. Whether the Christian views this as a fresh filling of the power of the Spirit or a further releasing of the pent up power within us, we do well to continue our repeated approaches to the throne so that the streams might flow into and out of us all.

Stott and Ervin on Spirit Baptism Part Two

(Part One here)

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. [Acts 2:1-4]

At Pentecost, the disciples find themselves huddled together awaiting the gift that their Lord had promised to them. And come it did, with fire and the evidence of the newfound gift of tongues. The question for us, two thousand years later, is how we shall interpret this and other similar incidents recorded in the passages of scripture? Are they normative such that we should continue to expect their repetition or were they miraculous events that occurred once and should be understood as fulfilling a unique need at a moment in history? In the immediate context of the passage, the gift of speaking in foreign tongues served a timely purpose as the 12 were to communicate with the myriad peoples of many nations assembled in Jerusalem (vv 5-13). Peter and the other disciples stood before a crowd and associated the day with the prophesy of Joel:

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. [Joel 2:28-32]

Old Testament prophesy is seen by Peter as associated with the baptism of the Spirit spoken of by John the Baptist and Jesus. As he speaks to the crowd in vv 38, calling them to repent, he has in mind that they will receive the two incomparable gifts promised by the Lord, the forgiveness of sin and bestowal of the Holy Spirit.

Neither Stott nor Ervin disputes that these twin blessings are to be expected and greeted by the Christian. The question comes in the issue of subsequence; does the Spirit Baptism occur distinctly separate from the moment of conversion? Stott is among those who say no, that the Spirit indwells all believers as a step in the conversion event. He points to the plain reading of Acts 2:40-41 in which 3,000 blessed souls are saved, receiving the forgiveness and the indwelling of Spirit simultaneously. Exegetically, Stott is cautious in separating the unique experience of 120 and the believers who enter the kingdom subsequently. His hermeneutic framework does not find the narrative passages in Acts appropriate for deriving a doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that “it is a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation to begin with the general, not the special.” A more appropriate interpretive passage regarding the timing of the indwelling is seen in Galatians 3:14 “…by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” The context of the passage makes it clear that this “faith” is not a second, subsequent act of belief but the saving belief of conversion.

What of the two further incidents mentioned in Acts in which there appears to be a separation between conversion and Spirit indwelling? In Acts 8:5-17, one encounters the Samaritan believers, converted upon hearing the gospel from Philip the evangelist. With the exception of Simon the sorcerer, there is nothing out of the ordinary in the saving event of these believers except for the fact that these were Samaritans. Philip’s boldness in proclaiming the gospel in Samaria for the first time and the response of the people is nothing short of astonishing. Not only had Philip, a Jew, preached the gospel to the Samaritans despite the bitter rivalry that existed between the two peoples, they had accepted the word and believed! Here Stott poses an important question in understanding why Peter and John would need to make a trip to see these believers firsthand. “Is it not reasonable to suppose that it was precisely in order to avoid the development of such a situation (Jewish-Samaritan estrangement causing a schism in the new Church) that God deliberately withheld the gift of His Spirit from the Samaritan believers until two of the leading Apostles came down to investigate” and confirm the conversion by laying on of hands? The unique nature of this incident and the inability to repeat it makes this situation inappropriate as precedent for today in the development of doctrine.

The second incident is found in Acts 19:1-7 where we encounter the Ephesian disciples. The question that must be examined in this context is whether or not the ‘disciples’ were truly Christian disciples. Certainly, Paul refers to them as such but the reader must discern of whom they were disciples. Stott makes the case that their lack of knowledge of Jesus and the Holy Spirit marks them as non-Christian disciples. The repentance of John’s baptism must be followed by belief in the work of the Cross before one can claim the title of Christian disciple and it appears here that this was not the case.

Pentecostal theologian Ervin asks us to consider a different hermeneutic in which events must be interpreted in the context of history transitioning from the old covenant to the new covenant. He points us to John chapter 20 in which we find the disciples huddled frightened and in despair until the Lord appears to them with the greeting “Peace be with you!” and then breathed upon them, imparting the Holy Spirit to them. This moment marks the culmination of the old Sinai covenant and a new nation created in The Church. This imparting of the Spirit is to be interpreted as one that equips the believer for service and, by extension and in view of the Church’s commission, is a necessity for all members of the body. He further states “In the Pentecostal hermeneutic, repentance, faith, and water baptism constitute conversion and initiation into the new covenant community. Repentance and faith are the results of the Spirit’s action in the spiritual experience of the convert. These elements are the conditions for the new birth from above, for apart from the Holy Spirit convicting of sin there can be neither repentance nor faith. They are, therefore, sequentially prior to the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The reason that Ervin  brings up the Johannine experience is to draw the difference between that and the Pentecost experience(s) of Acts as recorded by Luke. John’s new birth message is ontological, it is a change in one’s nature where Luke’s gift of the spirit is functional, preparing one for service. Is the experience of Acts normative though? Ervin supports it by dismissing the assertion that Pentecost was a “once and for all” event in the church’s history by pointing to the narrative of Cornelius in Acts 10 which was separated from the event by at least ten years. He further disagrees with Stott as he points out that so long as the Great Commission of our Lord remains in effect, so too the need for Baptism in the Spirit as experienced at Pentecost will remain in order to supply the Holy Spirit power through which it will be accomplished.

The Pentecostal insists that the passages in Acts which describe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit are normative for Christian experience and are sufficient from which to derive a doctrine on this subject. The reasoning forwarded for establishing this position is that there are no other recorded experiences due to the fact that later authors would not see it as necessary since the experience was taken for granted that readers would already be familiar with it. We must turn to the Acts narratives for information on this and therefore, it is authoritative on this topic. Ervin gives 5 propositions that support this theological position:

1.John the Baptist’s baptism supplied the type for the baptism in the Spirit. (cf Acts 1:5) The baptism of Jesus places the Christian in Spirit.

2. Jesus himself is the administrator of this Spirit-baptism.

3. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is not synonymous with conversion and the new birth from above. Instead, it is subsequent to conversion and regeneration.

4. There will be normative evidence of this Spirit Baptism in the form of charismatic manifestations of the Spirit’s personality and power.

5. Baptism in the Spirit is synonymous (in Luke) with being filled with the spirit.

Grammatically, the description of the first Spirit Baptism (Acts 2:1-4 see above) contains the word translated “they were filled” in the ingressive aorist tense, meaning that the verb indicates a state or condition and denotes the entry into that state or condition. In other words, they moved from one state to another, that of being filled with the Spirit. In the narrative of the Samaritan Believers (Acts 8:14-17), Ervin reads this passage in the framework described in the previous paragraphs and therefore sees a clear subsequence to the conversion/Spirit baptism sequence. He does not engage the possibility that there may be a reason for God to have withheld the Spirit from this group of believers. Addressing the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19, Ervin does acknowledge that they may have had an incomplete presentation of the gospel to which they responded but he does not allow for the possibility that they may not have been regenerate, instead electing to emphasize the ordering of the process with conversion baptism preceding Spirit Baptism.

Conclusion

Both theologians offer conservative and reasonable exegesis in the original language and with appropriate  Old Testament reference. As a secondary issue, it appears that one will follow the doctrine that best fits their overall theological framework. That is, unless they find themselves with experiential evidence that contributes to a reading of the narratives in a different light. Shall we divide fellowship over this? In no way.

A Single Thesis on the Church Door

I have called a heretic, labeled a fool, told that I am obviously too simple to understand the errors in my thinking, and virtually challenged to a duel by a self-proclaimed expert on Reformed theology. I have seen others abused, taunted in verse and lyric, and categorized as clowns for their theological positions. The overall tenor of debate over matters theological is becoming more and more rancorous and divisive with one recent posting labeling all of those in Christ’s church who don’t believe as the writer did as “deceived” and headed to Hell. This atmosphere has caused me to sharply curtail my posting in recent weeks as I reevaluated any contribution that it might have to greater work of the Church.

 

And then I reread a favorite quote by Annie Dillard…

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest ideas of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.

Pride abounds in certain theological circles with much chest pounding among writers over sudden revelations in life that cause them to suddenly pledge allegiance to one systematic way of interpreting the Bible or another. Where Pride rules, charity vanishes and it has become de rigueur to label any other theological system heretical at worst, and childish and misguided at best.  We would do well to consider the many who came before us who were martyred as heretics only to be exonerated with the passage of time. Where would the English speaking world be without the first steps of William Tyndale?

I would implore those who judge another Christian’s belief to consider what spiritual gift they have been given that allows them to peer into the heart of another man and discern the work that God is doing there. Is it a biblical gift? Can you provide others with chapter and verse so that we might study it? Until such time as you are absolutely certain that one position is correct and another is not (and remember, one rapidly growing church gains assurance of the correctness of their theology through a burning in the bosom), we would all do well to remember the Lord’s words in John 17:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

To paraphrase Miss Dillard, remember who it is we write about so blithely…

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.