October 16, 2013

Strange Fire – Undervaluing Pentecost – R. C. Sproul

by Mike Riccardi

For those who are unable to view the free live stream of the Strange Fire Conference here at Grace Community Church, I thought I would do my best to provide a written summary of the various sessions as they unfold (see here for the first session). I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, or if I’ll be able to other sessions (check out Tim Challies‘ blog for his coverage) But I thought a little would be better than nothing. It provides us with a helpful opportunity to interact with what is actually being said at the conference. Having said that, the following was transcribed in haste, and so please forgive any typos. I pray it’s a benefit to you.

Strange Fire

 

I want to look at the redemptive historical significance of Pentecost.

I think most of us are aware that the Pentecostal movement of the 20th century began at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. And for many years the Pentecostal movement was a movement taking place outside of the mainline churches. But in the middle of the 20th century, the Pentecostal movements spread rapidly in and through the so-called mainline denominations.

We remember the outbreak of the Charismatic movement at Notre Dame and Duquesne University, showing its reaches with the Catholics. But then it moved through the other denominations as well. Initially, when the movement came into the denominations, there were many attempts to assimilate its theology into the various creeds. So the Lutherans and Presbyterians had their version of Charismatic theology. But as the movement developed, there came a similar development of theology within Pentecostal theology. That is what we call neo-Pentecostal theology.

It’s not monolithic. Not everyone in the Charismatic movement shares the same theological understanding of it. Nevertheless, there are some basic ingredients that have become central to neo-Pentecostal theology.

Baptism of the Spirit

One of the most significant aspects of the emerging charismatic theology is that it is normal and even normative for people to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit after their conversion. It is admitted that some people can have conversion/regeneration simultaneously with the so-called second blessing. But in the main, the usual, normal process is understood to have some kind of time differential between conversion/regeneration and the receiving of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Now it’s that particular point that I want to address today. Because I think the fundamental weakness of neo-Pentecostal/charismatic theology is that its view of Pentecost is too low, and its understanding of the significance of Pentecost in redemptive history differs from the Apostles’ understanding of that experience.

One thing I hope we can agree on is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, and also distinguished from indwelling and progressive sanctification. And so the significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do, principally, with the Holy Spirit’s empowering Christians for ministry. Jesus said that it was expedient for them that He depart, because unless He did, He wouldn’t be able to give them the Holy Spirit in the sense in which He was talking. And then again, before His ascension, He said the disciples should tarry in Jerusalem inasmuch as they would receive power. And after they received power, they were to be His witnesses. Also in the Upper Room, Jesus said He wouldn’t leave us comfortless, but would send the Paraclete, the Comforter. Comforter had its roots in the Latin cum forte: the one who will come with strength. Jesus is saying, I’m not sending the Holy Spirit to dry your tears—although He does that. Rather the promise of the coming Spirit was for power, for strength.

When I talk about redemptive history, I’m talking about that whole flow of progress of how God reveals Himself through history. We see certain developments of God’s self-revelation in the OT. In the OT, the only way a person could be a believer was the same today: they had to be born again by the Holy Ghost. And so the Spirit was busy with the work of regeneration. So what’s the different between the OT and The NT, with respect to Pentecost. Well in the OT, what we call the Charismatic endowment of power, was only given by God selectively, to isolated individuals: like the Judges, or the prophets.

Moses, the 70, and the Spirit

Sproul PortraitThe most clearly charismatically endowed person in the OT was Moses. Moses’ strength was not inherent in Moses himself. But his miracles and leadership were worked out through this extraordinary endowment of the empowering of the Holy Ghost for his task. And keep in mind also that Moses is called the mediator of the Old Covenant, anticipating the Mediator of the New Covenant, who is more heavily endowed with the Holy Ghost, namely Jesus.

Well, there came a point in Moses’ ministry when he could hardly bear the burden any longer. Jethro rebuked Moses, telling him he was trying to do too much with too little. He advised him to get help for the leadership of the nation of Israel. Moses wrestled with God regarding the unfaithfulness of the people. He said, “If you love me at all, kill me now, because I can’t bear with these people.” But God told Moses to select 70 men whom you know to be elders of Israel, and I will take of the spirit that is upon you and distribute it to those 70 elders. [Reads Numbers 11:24–30]

Moses is saying, “Rejoice that God has broadened the outpouring of the Spirit to the 70! I wish it was broader than that!” But of course, this was only a hope, a prayer, a sigh, a wish for the future. But that wish that was expressed by Moses became a specific prophecy later by the prophet Joel, when he said in 2:28–29: “It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” So what was first a prayer or a wish now becomes a prophecy. But it’s still a prophecy for the future.

Acts 2

Now we fast forward to the book of Acts. [Reads Acts 2:1–4.] The Jews in the community thought they were drunk. And Peter said, [reads 2:14–16]. Then Peter cites the reference of Joel’s prophecy and expounds upon it. And so the Apostolic interpretation of Pentecost was that it was a fulfillment of that prophetic utterance by Joel. And notice, in passing, that those who were gathered were gathered because it was a Jewish feast. And it was Jewish believers who were assembled on that occasion. And notice that when the Spirit fell on Pentecost, that all of the Jewish believers received this endowment of God. So it wasn’t that some people received it and some didn’t. There was no question of haves and have-nots among the Jewish believers.

Now I will say at this point that Pentecost fell upon people who had been believers and are now receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And so you can see how some of our Pentecostal friends can draw form the text that it’s normal to believe first and then receive Baptism of the spirit. Unless we understand that Pentecost has a special significance in redemptive history. This is not a description of what takes place in every believer’s life throughout the ages, but that it was a special outpouring of the spirit o n the whole church in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel.

The Book of Acts in its literary structure tends to follow the instruction of Jesus: Go to Jerusalem till you receive power, and then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. So Acts traces the growth of the church in concentric circles according to that outline.

At this time in redemptive history, in terms of the relationship of the Jewish community and other peoples, there were four distinct people groups about which the Bible was concerned in terms of where they fit in the history of redemption: the Jews, the God-fearers, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. The God-fearers were Hellenistic Greeks who converted to Judaism, but they weren’t fully included in the Jewish community because they were Jews in every respect except one: they hadn’t submitted themselves to circumcision. They were sort of halfway in the community. And so when the New Covenant comes along, the question is: where do the God-fearers, the Samaritans, the Gentiles fit? As the Gospel expands through the book of Acts, we see the outreach to the Samaritans, to the God-fearers, and to the Gentiles. And what we have, strikingly, in the Book of Acts, is not one Pentecost, but four.

The Four “Pentecosts”

There are four events in the Book of Acts in which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is visited upon certain people.

  1. Samaritans: Acts 8:14–17. There was a mini-Pentecost among the Samaritan believers. They’d received the water baptism, but not the baptism of the Spirit until Peter and John laid hands on them. And you see this mini-repetition of Pentecost especially for Samaritans.
  2. God-fearers: Acts 10:44–48; 11:13–18. This is Pentecost number 3. All of the believers received the baptism among the Jews, among the Samaritans, and now the God-fearers. This was not a theology of have and have-not. The significance that the Apostles see in the narrative that their experience was common.
  3. Gentiles: Acts 19:1–7. Again we see a temporal separation between conversion and the reception of the empowering gift of the Spirit. But all of the Ephesians who were there that day received the Holy Ghost and were empowered for ministry.

And so all four people groups received their own “Pentecost,” as it were. Because the point of Pentecost was to endow, not some, not a few select, taken out of the whole body of Christ, but that all members of the body of Christ would now be endowed for ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit.

How does that play in the New Testament? We know that the church that Paul established in Corinth was a church that had chronic problems in dealing with the Holy Spirit, and particularly with the gifts of the Spirit. So Paul had to write to them, twice, to deal with this immature, first century church of Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–14, he says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” Here Paul again speaks of the universality of the Spirit’s empowering of every believer. That’s the significance of Pentecost.

[And, if I, Mike, could add something here: It’s in this very chapter that Paul says that not all speak with tongues (1 Cor 12:30). This means that, as Sproul is showing us, every believer by definition has received Spirit-baptism, but not every believer speaks in tongues.]

Now, before we finish this section, let me take you to Ephesians chatper2, where Paul, in dealing with this teaching about the nature of the NT church, again addresses this issue that threatened to divide the first century church. And the issue is: What role to the Gentiles have in the body of Christ? Paul begins to unfold for us his doctrine of what he calls the mystery. (Now, mystery is something that once was hidden to a degree, but now is made manifest.) In Colossians, he says that the mystery is Christ in you [Gentiles], the hope of glory. The covenant people of God now include both Jew and Gentile. Here’s how Paul articulates that concept in Ephesians. [Reads Eph 2:11–19]

This fulfillment and unveiling of the mystery, Christ in the Gentiles, the hope of glory, this all happened initially with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Jew, Samaritan, God-fearer, and Gentile.

[And, if I, Mike again, could add something else here, I would call attention to the next verse, Ephesians 2:20, which styles the apostles and prophets as those making up the foundation of the church. And as we know, we don’t lay the foundation of a building while each floor is being built. The foundation is laid once-for-all, and the building is built on top of it. When the fullness of God’s revelation had been codified in the Scriptures, the foundation of apostolic, prophetic revelation for the church had been laid.]

Conclusion: All True Believers are Baptized with the Spirit

And so my concern with my charismatic friends who put so much emphasis on Pentecost is that they have a low view of Pentecost. Because they see Pentecost as not being something that signaled an outpouring of God on all Christians. They believe that all Christians can have it and should have it, and they labor to convince Christians—whom they believe are believers but don’t have the outpouring of the Spirit–

But they miss the point, that the pouring of the Spirit is for every believer. If you have been regenerated by the Holy Ghost, you have received the Holy Ghost for empowerment for ministry.

Mike Riccardi

Posts Facebook

Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.