Facing Cavalry Three

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

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The late John Stott points out three truths encapsulated in the Cross:

– Our sin must be extremely horrible. The weight of our sin is revealed in the horror of the Cross.

– God’s love must be wonderful beyond comparison. He could have rightly abandoned us to our fate yet he redeems us.

– Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. It was purchased by His blood. This leaves nothing for us to “do.”

Three simple truths that form the foundation of a life in Christ. Three simple truths that highlight our true condition before God. Three simple truths that cause us to reflect on the complexity that we build into our faith in order to avoid confronting the reality of our fallen condition.

Grace and peace from the One who is over all and through all and in all.

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Facing Calvary Two

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

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Often seen only as a season of remembrance meant to enhance the meaning of Easter, Lent is also a time of association. Many vicariously associate their voluntary deprivation with the suffering of the Lord, but it need not stop there. One of the primary areas of investigation has to do with answering the question, why did Jesus die?

Some will answer quickly that He died at the hands of murders. Pilate, the Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers who perform the act are all culpable. The soldiers are certainly not innocent but cannot be said to be guilty, since after all, they were just following orders and to disobey would have meant their own demise. Pilate bears a bit more of the guilt, though his feeble attempts to disavow any guilt by washing his bloodied hands attempt to point the accusations elsewhere. The Jewish leaders who initiated the process through their false accusations and provacative claims? They wear a bit more of Christ’s blood on their hands as it was their threatened egos that propelled him on the way to His death.

You and I are guilty as well.

We have the same desire to “get rid” of Jesus today as he interferes with out desire to exercise Lordship over our own lives. He intrudes at the most inopportune times and demands that we give Him worship we would rather slavish on ourselves. He is as much a rival to our Ego today as He was to the insecure leaders of the first century. Stott puts it this way, “There is blood on our hands. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance).”

Grace and peace from the One who is over all and through all and in all.

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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.

Stott and Ervin on Spirit Baptism Part One

In 1964, immediately prior to the latest movement of Charismatic Renewal, respected theologian John Stott wrote a short book entitled Baptism and Fullness offering an exposition of the biblical description of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Four years later, in 1968, Dr. Howard Ervin wrote a scholarly treatise on the narrower ministry of baptism in the spirit titled These Are Not Drunken, As Ye Suppose (now Spirit Baptism).  Since they are both respectful and irenic in their presentation, it is instructive to examine the positions of both side by side in order to further expand our views on the doctrine of Spirit Baptism.

Stott’s approach is fundamentally this: the Baptism in the Spirit coincides with the moment of conversion. Upon his surrender to Christ, the believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who immediately sets to work in the ongoing process of sanctification.  He uses the question “Is it that God makes us his sons and daughters and then gives us His spirit, or that he gives us his ‘Spirit of Sonship’ who makes us his sons and daughters?” to frame his discussion of the indwelling. Helpfully, Stott points out that Paul answers both ways in the Scriptures: in one instance he wrote “because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (Gal 4:6) and in another wrote “…those who are led by the Spirit of God, are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:14-15). In other words, the Christian is in every moment of his or her new life seen as having the Spirit within.

Ervin finds in the scriptures evidence that the Baptism in the Spirit is a second event in the life of the Christian, subsequent to the crisis event of conversion. As he lays out his case for viewing Pentecost (and the familiar passages in Acts) as representative of a normative experience for all Christians, he makes five propositions intended to guide the topic’s exploration. The points are intended to buffet the non-Charismatic’s argument rooted in Romans 8:9b “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” intimating at the difficulty of separating conversion and a subsequent indwelling event. First, John the Baptist’s baptism set the type for the Spirit Baptism, placing the convert in water in preparation for the second baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5). Second, Jesus administers the Spirit baptism (John 1:33, et. al). Third, Ervin states without reservation that “baptism in the Holy Spirit is not synonymous with conversion and the new birth from above.” Fourth, there will be evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit, specifically glossolalia. Finally, the fifth point of structure is that the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Lukan theology is synonymous with being filled with the Spirit, contrary to the notion of repeated or progressive fillings of the Spirit’s power.

Neither of these men approaches the discussion in an emotional manner. Instead they lay out the evidence as they interpret it scholastically and theologically giving students of the topic an opportunity to weigh their work, examine the scriptures prayerfully on their own, and arrive at the conclusion that the Lord means for them to have. We will engage Ervin and Stott further in the days to come.