On the last, great day of the festival, Yeshua stood and called out, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. One who believes in me, as the word is written, from his belly will flow rivers of living water.” He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”
–John 7:37-39 (DHE Gospels)
We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot event described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit. That assumption also leads us to believe that non-Messianic religious Jews after that could not possibly receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit, act in any capacity of the Holy Spirit, or perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. These assumptions, I believe, are based squarely upon a misunderstanding of John 7:39 where it says, “He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”
-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 3: A Pledge of What is to Come,” pg 39
Gifts of the Spirit
I so agreed with Lancaster’s statements in the third chapter of this book, and as originally presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin, that as I was mentally planning to write this blog post, I couldn’t imagine it being something that John MacArthur and the other presenters at last October’s Strange Fire conference would criticize. Then I re-read the opening of the chapter again and realized they would not only be dismayed, they would be startled. I mean, how could any “normative” Christian believe that “non-Christian” Jewish people would have any access at all to the Holy Spirit post-Acts 2?
But what I was considering was that Lancaster didn’t offer any commentary on the “gifts of the spirit” as being apprehended by the faithful in the modern era. His entire talk centered about “the ministry of Jesus” and the Messianic promises presented in the gospels and other areas of the Bible that involve the Spirit of God.
Consider Ezekiel 45:4-5 and the filling of the Third Temple by the Divine Presence, or Joel 2:28 where God’s Spirit will be “poured out on all flesh.”
But there is no Third Temple containing the Shechinah, and the Holy Spirit has yet to be poured out on all living beings of flesh, so obviously, the work of the Spirit and of Messiah is not complete. Not by a long shot. In fact, Lancaster considers the giving of the Spirit as we see it in Acts 2 and subsequently in the New Testament as a down payment on the future, and a promise of what is to come.
The whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple of the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (emph. Lancaster)
Lancaster employs a play on the words “mishkan” and “mashkon”, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll have to refer you to the book for the details.
When we think of gifts of the Spirit, our mental image naturally reflects Pentecostal Christianity, since this is the denomination and movement that sought to restore the spiritual gifts of the church. And as we in the Messianic Jewish movement seek to objectively analyze and possibly incorporate the gifts of the Spirit, it is natural that we would begin by looking at Pentecostalism. But we should at least understand what Pentecostalism is and the mind-set that results in the outward expressions that we associate with the gifts of the Spirit. If we accurately understand Pentecostalism’s attitude toward the implementation of the gifts, then we can evaluate that viewpoint fairly and can determine which aspects of it are in line with a Messianic Jewish worldview and which are not.
“Chapter 4: The Pentecostal Experience,” pg 53
Gifts of the Spirit
The first sentence Aaron uttered when he began this presentation was, “I spent most of my childhood years and my early adulthood in an Assemblies of God church.” Aaron brought a wealth of history and personal experience in describing how the “gifts of the Spirit” were practiced within his early church experience and then offered the counterpoint from a Messianic Jewish perspective. He was fair and honest in his appraisal of both without at any time denigrating or belittling anyone else’s religious orientation or perspective.
He did have this to say, which I tend to apply to the aforementioned “Strange Fire” conference, even though the “Gifts of the Spirit” Shavuot conference occurred a full five months before MacArthur’s gathering:
I saw another category of responders to Pentecostalism as well: the detractors, who thought we were either insane, demonic, or charlatans. That mind-set always offended me, and it still offends me to hear people speak of charismatics that way. There are probably all three kinds of people in the charismatic movement, but in my experience most of us were sincere, intelligent, sane, and spiritually healthy people who loved God.
-Eby, pg 54
To which any “Strange Fire” speaker would probably add, “…and you were also wrong.”
I think what I took away from reading Aaron’s presentation and the very well-balanced nature of it, was how the focus between “Gifts of the Spirit” and “Strange Fire” were so different. Basically, they were addressing the same topic: the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in our world today, but while MacArthur and Strange Fire defined itself as who and what they were against, FFOZ and Gifts of the Spirit defined themselves by who and what they were for.
That didn’t mean they didn’t tell the truth or watered down criticism. It meant that they did what Aaron said he wanted to do. They were fair.
I find that’s what attracts me to FFOZ and certain other individuals, organizations, and books: the desire to be fair and to be defined by what they believe in rather than who their “enemies” or “opponents” are. I can only imagine that if I were a Pentecostal sitting in a pew at Beth Immanuel and listening to these presentations (and I know some Pentecostals were present), I would be more inclined to listen and take note of what was being said, even when it contradicted my stated beliefs, than if I attended or listened to the podcasts of the Strange Fire conference.
Wearing a bow tie and jacket that clearly indicated that he was channeling his inner “Dr. Who,” Jacob Fronczak began his presentation “The Historical Context of Pentecostalism” (Chapter 5) with the words, “I love history.”
Though actually a Pastor, Jacob looks the part of the young history instructor at a liberal arts college who has just started teaching after receiving his degree. He did take the historical approach to Pentecostalism by way of nineteenth-century evangelicalism, enlightenment and post-enlightenment, heresy trials, modernism, fundamentalism, and finally, “Azusa Street.”
The “Strange Fire” conference also provided a historical approach, specifically with Steve Lawson’s presentation on Charismatic Calvinists, as well as Lawson’s commentary on Puritans vs. Quakers, but the difference was that Fronczak refused to take any sides, presenting history as history, a series of influential events that shape our understanding of both the past and the present, in an attempt to discover why “do some (churches) believe that these gifts were temporary means to grow the church in the first century while others believe that they are valid expressions of faith today” (pg 76).
There was also a more pointed reason for Fronczak reviewing the history as he did (pg 89):
Understanding how and why these movements came to be is a prerequisite to fully understanding their traditions — why their adherents practice the way they do. Once they are understood, these traditions can be analyzed, sorted through, and brought into line with the Scripture and with the emerging Messianic Jewish corpus of tradition.
He further said that we “must have a balanced, historical perspective on our own faith as well as on the faith of those who do not share our convictions.” Yet another piece of evidence that trying to authentically understand even those with whom we do not agree is a better and more noble road to communication and promoting healthy change (in my opinion, anyway) than wholesale “demonizing” of Pentecostals and Charismatics.
Aaron Eby returned to the podium for his presentation “The Miracles of Yeshua” (Chapter 6) to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit relative to the miracles of Christ.
That Jesus had the Holy Spirit rest upon him is not in dispute (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22) as well as the fact that he performed many miracles in the three years of his ministry, but the question Aaron raised at the conference and in the pages of this chapter is the purpose of those miracles.
Somewhere in my “Challies Chronicles” notes, there is a reference to one presenter (it may have even been John MacArthur) stating that miracles were to validate the message of the gospel and that the speaker was an apostle (this also presumably applies to validating Jesus as “the Christ”). Once that need was fulfilled, according to cessationists, the “gifts of the spirit” stopped.
Aaron disputes that the miracles of Jesus were to validate the authenticity of his teachings or his identity as Messiah or Divine.
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.
The Bible is replete with tales of prophets and magicians who did not serve God and who were able to perform miraculous signs and wonders, so the fact that someone can perform miracles is no indication at all that they must be a servant of God. So much for the cessationist rationale for the purpose of miracles in the New Testament.
There were a number of episodes in the FFOZ television series A Promise of What is to Come that touched on what the miracles of Jesus and the apostles were supposed to communicate: the Gospel message of the coming Kingdom of God. If you followed my reviews of the show, you’ll likely see the connection.
That said, Aaron concluded (pg 110):
There are a few things that we can take away from this. First of all, miracles and signs should not be our primary focus. If they are, we place the cart before the horse, since miracles are simply the byproduct of the nearness of the kingdom. It is not for us to decide whether or not miracles should be happening in our day and age. Our particular beliefs on the matter do not dictate to God whether he will or will not do miracles for us. Rather, our Master taught us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Thus, our goal should be to bring the kingdom nearer and to bring ourselves nearer to the kingdom.
What we believe, the theology to which we cling, and the doctrine we espouse, does not define God to God, it only helps define God to flawed and imperfect human beings.
In “Chapter 7, The Age of Miracles,” Toby Janicki asks if the age of miracles ended with the closure of canon or the death of the last apostle. And if miracles are happening today, where are they? Why don’t we see them?
Toby didn’t use the terms “cessationist” or “continualist” but he did say that the proponents of the end of the age of miracles often use 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 to justify their point of view. The problem is that “when the perfect comes” is up for grabs. How could “the perfect” be the death of the last apostle or the canonization of scripture (it wasn’t finally canonized for several centuries after John, the last of original apostles, died)?
From Toby’s point of view, “the perfect” can only mean the Messianic Age (see Jeremiah 31:34 and Joel 2:28-29 for instance).
Cessationists say that miracles were only to get the Church “off the ground,” so to speak. If that’s true, what about all of the miracles in the Old Testament (Tanakh)?
Of course, it depends on what you define as a miracle. I just read about a miraculous healing of a Christian woman being treated for a cancerous tumor in Israel in the Israel Today online magazine. No special “faith healer” was involved, nor did anyone claim they utilized a “gift of the spirit” in her healing. It was just God. Her doctors had no explanation for why her tumor so dramatically reduced in size.
Toby says that a miracle doesn’t have to break the laws of physics. First off, our physical laws just describe what we observe about the usual behavior of the universe, it’s not a law code like the Torah. Toby pointed out that famed Christian theologian C.S. Lewis had much to say about miracles and their continuation in our world.
Of course, we’re not apostles, who were unique witnesses to Messiah, and so we shouldn’t expect to operate at their lofty spiritual level, but that doesn’t prohibit God from acting supernaturally, even today. In fact, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t active, no one would ever come to faith, which I consider a miracle. Toby also mentioned, that it doesn’t matter what a person does or doesn’t believe (relative to cessationism or continualism), since God acts according to His own will, not ours.
He made a number of other good points (buy the book if you want to find out what they are) but I thought this part of his conclusion was important (pg 131-2):
Miracles, as we have said, are not an end in themselves; they are not the goal for which the disciple labors. They are evidence of the Holy Spirit working among us, and they should, as they did with the apostles in Acts, instill in us the fear of the Lord. Miracles should cause us to tremble as we realize that God is among us and we become aware of his presence.
If the goal of our faith is receiving spiritual gifts of supernatural powers for healing or whatever, then we are nothing more than “spiritual thrillseekers.” Toby’s right. Seek first the Kingdom of God. God will take care of the rest.
There are four more chapters in this book and for the sake of length, I’ll cover them in Part 2 of this review.