Tag Archives: Pentecostals

The Challies Chronicles: How the Strange Fire Finally Burned

Woman in fireThe Strange Fire conference closed with a final address from John MacArthur. In this address he responds to seven accusations brought against the conference, follows with eight appeals to his continuationist friends, and concludes by walking through 1 and 2 Timothy, highlighting the need to stand firm in guarding divine revelation against false doctrine.

Before addressing the accusations against the conference, MacArthur charged attendees to carefully read their copy of Strange Fire and to measure it against the Word of God. He is convinced that this book, with its well-documented research and extensive footnotes, will withstand careful scrutiny. He reminds us that this book and conference is intended for the Church. He has no expectation for either one to be helpful to non-believers, which he suspects makes up much of the charismatic movement.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: MacArthur’s Appeal to His Continuationist Friends”
Challies.com

I decided to use this blog post to review not only John MacArthur’s summary of the conference but Tim Challies’ wrap up as well. Essentially, this is how each individual saw what came out of the conference, at least the day it ended and a few days after that.

I think I realized this before, but it was brought home to me that the reason I have “issues” with John MacArthur as a Christian is that he defines himself and his faith by what he’s against, not what he’s for. Sure, he makes a big deal out of “Biblical sufficiency” and “sola scriptura,” but in doing some wider reading about the man and what he’s done, he demonstrates a pattern of someone who has built his reputation on attacking others, whether other individuals or other belief systems.

I know this has been a problem in both the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements and it’s taken me quite a while to reduce this practice in my speech, writing, and thoughts (I suppose I still haven’t quite extinguished it within me). People or institutions that define themselves by what they are against must, because of that self-definition, always be on the attack. If your identity is based on being against something, then you are only “real” when you attack that something (or someone).

This is hardly the first time MacArthur has come out against Pentecostals and Charismatics. In 1993, his book Charismatic Chaos was published and I believe he wrote or made statements critical of Pentecostals/Charismatics before then. Sure, MacArthur has positive qualities attached to him. I commend his dedication to the Word of God and how he continually pushes others to read and study the Bible, but the skewed path he takes to understand the Bible, Jesus, and God is so rigid and occasionally (or more often) hostile to anyone outside of that path, that if I were an unbeliever and had to depend on MacArthur as my only model of what being a Christian was like, I’d never come to faith.

In fact, people like Jimmy Swiggart, Jim Bakker,and James Dobson (I know, an eclectic mix) kept me from even mildly considering Christianity as a path for decades. Outspoken “firebrands” who come across as highly opinionated and confident to the point of appearing arrogant do not represent my understanding of Messiah, Son of David.

MacArthur proved my point in his final appeal by including seven criticisms he and his conference had received:

  1. Accused of being unloving
  2. Accused of being divisive
  3. This is not a clear issue in the Bible
  4. This issue is only true of the extreme lunatic fringe side of the movement
  5. They are attacking a movement that has given us rich music
  6. They are attacking brothers
  7. MacArthur doesn’t care about offending people

macarthur-strangefire-confChallies said that “MacArthur then shared from his heart responses to seven accusations against the conference,” which told me that Challies probably wasn’t entirely objective about his assessment of MacArthur (but then again, neither am I).

You can go to the Challies blog post to read MacArthur’s responses as well as the points he wanted to make to continuists, but his response to the last point caught my attention:

He admits that he holds the truth with kindness and love. He does care about peoples’ feelings. He does care about offending them. Just not nearly as much as he cares about not offending God.

Especially on the Internet, but also in other venues, I can’t count the number of times supposedly good-meaning Christians have “told the truth in love” while simultaneously ripping other people to emotional and spiritual shreds. As long as you use words like “truth” and “love,” you can make any insult and rend anyone’s heart with total impunity.

I base the Comments Policy of this blog on the Jewish concept of Lashon Hara or wronging another in speech, which is based on Leviticus 25:17. It says, in part, that if you say something, even if it is truthful and factual, that you know will harm another or cause them embarrassment, you are guilty of wronging them. Based on that standard, John MacArthur would have to revise his presentation considerably.

But then, and I’ve asked this before, what if you have to tell the truth to prevent harm to others and yet, end up harming brothers? I don’t know the absolute answer to that, but I suspect MacArthur might have gotten more mileage if he had given “Strange Fire” another name, and emphasized the positives of what he believed in, rather than the negatives of what he was against (but then again, people are almost always more attracted to a good car crash than an encouraging and uplifting message).

In his blog post Lessons Learned at Strange Fire, Pastor Tim Challies seemed to generally approve of how the conference was offered. Challies called the issues presented at the conference:

This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.

The conference and its aftermath also revealed to Challies how intensely polarizing this issue is and sees the critical dichotomy as between feeling and believing through reason. He also defended MacArthur and the other presenters as being confident, not arrogant, and as I mentioned above, there is an exceedingly fine line between the two.

I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.

many peopleBut a person can be confident and still be wrong. How many people were confident that the Earth was flat, once upon a time? There are untold millions of children worldwide who are confident that Santa Claus exists and will indeed be coming into their homes sometime after they go to bed on December 24th to deliver gift wrapped toys under their Christmas trees. Even Chemists, Astronomers, and Geologists are confident that certain scientific principles and facts related to their fields are true until new evidence convinces them otherwise.

While I can’t defend the abuses attributed to the Pentecostals, I can’t defend MacArthur’s overly generalized attack on them, either. Even when the facts aren’t in question, how they are presented can make a tremendous difference, not only in delivering the desired message, but in communicating where your heart is during and after the delivery.

If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.”

My form of criticism is to step outside the polarity of the issue, to go “meta” on continualists vs. cessationists, and to invoke, as I have above, the principle of Lashon Hara. Biblical evidence, the desire for truth, and “doing it in love” aside, the ends never justify the means. If they did, then it would be perfectly acceptable to blow up abortion clinics and to shoot abortion doctors in order to save babies (I know, that’s an extreme example, but it brings the point home). “Going after” a people or a movement just because you can is wrong, not necessarily because your research is flawed, but because you can only get your message across by being against something, and not by being for something.

The last thing Challies said was:

Only time will tell of the long-term impact of Strange Fire, but as I think back to the past few days, I find myself grateful for it. I suppose that may be easier to say as a cessationist than a charismatic, but I believe the event and its aftermath will prove beneficial. I continue to pray that God would use it to strengthen His church and to glorify His name.

Conferences come and conferences go, and if “Strange Fire” only existed as a series of events occurring over several days last October, I’m sure it would swiftly fade away. But there’s MacArthur’s book to consider, and I don’t doubt that there will be other “marketing” activities in which MacArthur will be participating to keep the issue alive.

I’m keeping it alive (although only in a very minor way) by writing about it myself. I’m also planning on looking at MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” through the lens of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit (which I previously mentioned).

spiritual-journeyMost of what I know about John MacArthur has been through Tim Challis and his liveblogging of the “Strange Fire” conference, so I’m several steps removed from knowing much about him (MacArthur) at all. In the end though, it’s not just what you do for God that matters, but how and why.

I’ll address John MacArthur’s detailed responses to his critics in a subsequent blog post and then start talking about my “Gifts of the Spirit” “re-experience”. Then hopefully, I’ll be done with this stuff.

 

 

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The Challies Chronicles: Conrad Mbewe and the End of the First Day

Conrad-MbeweConrab [sic] Mbewe is a man who wears many hats and who fulfills many different responsibilities, but above all else he is a preacher of God’s Word. MacArthur introduced him by explaining that he wished to have Mbewe at the event because the charismatic movement has done devastating damage in Africa and he wanted an insider’s perspective. Mbewe titled his message “The African Import of Charismatic Chaos.” Here are some brief notes.

Mbewe decided to provide a brief overview of the charismatic movement in Africa. It is a movement he has observed for over thirty years and one that is of great concern to him. This is not something he has learned about by reading books, but something he comes across literally every day. He warned that some of what he would say would be somewhat foreign to a Western mindset, but he felt it necessary to speak from his African background.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Conrad Mbewe,” October 17, 2013
Challies.com

Note: This was written before my meeting with my Pastor last night. More on this as developments occur.

I’ve been trying to figure out the logic of why certain presenters were scheduled and why their presentations were ordered as they were. I’m sure it was purposeful, but I don’t know enough about MacArthur and how he conceives of things to understand what the first day of the three-day Strange Fire conference was supposed to communicate beyond the obvious message that the Charismatic movement is undesirable and even dangerous.

Conrad Mbewe was the last of the speakers for the first day of the conference and he illustrated something for me that I’ve heard before. I used to think that when missionaries were sent to “the foreign field,” they transmitted a more or less generic message about Christianity to the unsaved in the various places on our planet. Now I realize that there is a sort of struggle between denominations and movements in Christianity to possess the minds and hearts of the people in all these nations and regions of the Earth. According to Mbewe, the Pentecostals pretty much “own” most of Africa.

As an African, there is a whole world in his mind that this invariably floods into. The word “breakthrough” is really saying to the common African man that if you are struggling in your marriage or struggling to conceive or struggling to maintain a job (and so on), it is because between you and God there are other layers that need to be dealt with. One of those layers is that of angels and demons and the other is that of your ancestral spirits. Until those layers are broken through, you will not get what you want. This is what the charismatic movement has taken on when dressed in African attire. The language that has already been there for centuries in Africa is given a thin veneer of Bible verses. You can understand, then, that if men and women are running in throngs to the witch doctor, they will rush in throngs to these so-called churches because it boasts the same power they are looking for.

I suspect that throughout the history of the Church, missionaries have encountered circumstances where what they preached, rather than replacing local beliefs and customs, have been integrated into existing beliefs, so that a sort of fusion occurs, as described above. The Pentecostal presentation of the power of the Spirit has been fused with local beliefs of ancestral spirits and witch doctors (or witch doctor substitutes), at least as far as what I can tell from this summary.

He proposes, “What’s to stop someone like me from coming up with irrational ideas because I’ve been empowered to do so?” He has counseled many, many people who are caught in these scandals—sexual scandals about spiritual husbands and wives, where a messenger from God, a pastor, steps in to be sexual partner with someone because of the authority that they have from God. These people keep God’s Word closed.

charismatic-prayerIf these events are indeed taking place, then serious abuse is occurring. The question is, should all Charismatics everywhere carry the blame, or only the people in those specific locations who are authoring this confusion? We have Mbewe’s commentary on what he’s witnessed in his area of the world. This is MacArthur’s building a case against Pentecostalism one brick at a time.

In no way do I defend the heinous practices Mbewe describes, and I can certainly support returning to scripture as a guide for right living. It very much seems, based on Mbewe’s report, that what many African people believe is “Christianity,” is a highly skewed and twisted version that has been heavily abused, to the detriment of many people. Unfortunately, that’s also a description of most of the history of Christianity, pre and post-reformation.

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

John 17:17 (NASB)

He went to John 17:17 and said the charismatic chaos we see would never have been the case if this verse had been taken seriously.

As much as MacArthur and his peers, including Mbewe, tout the sufficiency and even primacy of scripture, I was a little surprised to see that Mbewe used only a single verse from John to support his presentation. It’s also true that all incarnations of Christianity (and most other religions) lay exclusive claim to “truth,” so isolating John 17:17 and serving it up can actually serve both sides of this debate.

His final remarks expresed [sic] his relief to see the Reformed movement growing on the African continent, though it is still in its infancy there. He exhorted us all: We have got to pray and get back to the Bible! Today we are not saying enough that this book is sufficient. It is sufficient!

This isn’t just a conference designed to expose the flaws and dangers MacArthur and others believe the Charismatic movement represents, but one that markets and promotes the Reformed movement as a replacement. The simple message I’m getting from the conference so far is that, “The Charismatic movement is wrong and I’m/We’re (MacArthur/Reformed movement) right.”

Challies wrote a separate summary of the first day of the conference which outlines the presenters and their messages, as well as the overarching message of that day. How Challies ended his summary told me how it was all impacting him, which showed he that he wasn’t entirely expecting to agree with everything being warmed up over this strange fire:

Until the day of the event, and really until the end of MacArthur’s opening address, I was unsure of whether or not I would give a lot of attention to the event. But I am glad I chose to blog about it as it really does seem to be making a big splash in the Evangelical world and especially among the Reformed crowd that tends to read this site. Like you, I am very interested to know what will come today and tomorrow.

What remains to be seen, and what may take quite a long time to see, is whether this event will call Christians to work to find greater agreement on the issue of the miraculous gifts, or whether it will polarize the camps even further. It is fast becoming my prayer that one way or another the Lord will see fit to use this event to bring greater maturity and greater unity to his church.

I’m reminded of the political polarization that has taken place in our nation, especially during the current Presidential administration. I’m also reminded of a prize-fight. I remember being very young and visiting my grandfather at his house in Omaha. I remember him watching professional boxing matches on a small, black and white television while smoking his pipe. I was more focused on visiting grandpa and my aunts and uncle than really watching the boxing, but it still left an impression.

boxing-matchYou have two sides battling it out, although the battle is actually happening in the blogosphere (it’s not happening in the conference because only one “boxer” is doing the swinging).

But is seeking truth and the Word and Will of God supposed to be combat? I suppose “spiritual warfare” sounds pretty dramatic and even heroic, but I don’t think MacArthur has that terminology in mind. If this were a legal case in court, then both parties would have a chance to present their evidence before a judge. There’s no way to truly burn away the dross and produce a pure product without all of the elements being present. A legal court has been called a crucible of fact. MacArthur is attempting to construct a crucible of truth.

But all of his critics, the “defendants,” are stuck outside the courthouse, looking in through the windows, with the Internet as their only means of response. Do the Charismatics ever get their “day in court?”

The Challies Chronicles: Steve Lawson and the Charismatic Calvinists

steve_lawsonJohn MacArthur opened the conference with broad statements about the purpose of the conference and what he perceives as the main challenges of the charismatic movement. Joni Eareckson Tada offered her unique testimony and this was followed by R.C. Sproul’s theological perspective. And now added to the mix is Steve Lawson and his perspective from church history.

With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Steve Lawson,” October 16, 2013
Challies.com

This is a continuation of my Challies Chronicles series, an analysis of Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference as “live blogged” by Pastor Challies. I guess I should just resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to know anything about the presenters at this conference, including Steve Lawson. I guess I’m just out of the loop as far as who is a popular Fundamentalist Pastor in modern Christianity.

Anyway, church history is a weak area of mine, so I can’t say this presentation was a complete waste. I learned a few things and even agreed with some of what Lawson said.

With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.

This merging has gone virtually unaddressed within the reformed community. I believe there is no one better to address these charismatic Calvinists than Calvin himself.

Calvin faced a charismatic crisis of his own in his own day. I want to look at how he addressed them. As the leading reformer in that day, whatever faced the church faced John Calvin. He had the dominant voice and people looked to him to address issues.

john-calvinI have real issues with Calvin (Calvinism is resurging? Oy!) and suspect there is a significant “dark side” to the Reformation, even though there were also obvious benefits (something I’ll have to explore in more detail at a later time). I didn’t even know you could be a “charismatic Calvinist” (or that you’d want to be), but as I said, church history isn’t something I know much (or anything) about.

Then there were the Libertines who were one of the subgroups under the Anabaptists. They were antinomians. They abused Christian liberty and proved themselves to be, most likely, unconverted. Calvin called them a sect one hundred times more dangerous than the Roman Catholic church itself. They were lead by fleshly impulses and believed the Holy Spirit was adding new revelation to the Bible. They set aside the Scripture and wanted to follow the inner impulses that they thought were the Spirit. They lived in open licentiousness. They wanted an easy moral path without having to fight sin or temptation.

These were the things Calvin faced in his day. So the charismatic chaos we see now, in our day, is nothing new. It was prevalent in Calvin’s day, as it has been in other eras as well. So Calvin was not silent about it.

Here’s the part I agree with (odd, that I should agree with Calvin on anything). I don’t think you can choose to set aside the Bible and pretend that all your emotional experiences are the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t think your emotions should tell you how to live and what is Holy, especially in contradiction to what we read in scripture. I don’t think it’s just the Libertines of Calvin’s day who live like this, and I don’t think it has to involve “dramatic” behaviors we see in Charismatic churches today. Plenty of liberal denominations are following the emotional leading of what we call “progressive” or “politically correct” in telling themselves what is right and wrong. If your church looks, acts, and believes exactly the way we’re being told to look, act, and believe by CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times, then you have no doubt set the Bible aside and are listening to another “spirit,” the “spirit” of the popular, mainstream news media.

But I digress.

In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 10:1, he states that the office of apostleship was a temporary office. The apostles were the foundation of the church, and you only lay a foundation only once. They were given miracles to authenticate their authority as messengers of the revelation of God in Christ.

I’ll agree that, as far as I know, miracles from God are pretty rare in our day and age relative to what we see in the New Testament, but I’m not willing to draw a hard and fast line and say they’re impossible, either. Nor do miracles only have to exist to validate the original apostles. After all, there are miracles all through the Tanakh (Old Testament) and ultimately, when you take their “purpose” down to its core, all manifestations of the power of God in our world are for the glory of God. You don’t have to write a bunch of rules around them and try to put God in a box. In this case, Calvin (and probably Lawson) is drawing a conclusion he can’t possibly prove.

Institutes 1.9.3 – Word and Spirit belong inseparably together. If you take anything away from Calvin, take this. “For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we may in turn embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word.”

Institutes 2.15.2 – “This, however, remains certain: the perfect doctrine he has brought has made an end to all prophecies. All those, then, who, not content with the gospel, patch it with something extraneous to it, detract from Christ’s authority.”

nadab-abihu-fireI don’t think we should fall into the trap of believing the Calvin was always right just because he was Calvin or because we (or some people) hold the Reformation in such high esteem. I think Calvin, at least from what I’m reading here, didn’t have a particularly “Judaic” view of the Bible and thus probably missed a lot of meaning and depth in the Gospel message because he didn’t try to tune in to the intent of the original writers of the New Testament or their first century Jewish and Greek audiences. I can agree that Word and Spirit must be in agreement, but I believe that the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures must also be in agreement without a lot of theological gymnastics being necessary. I’m not sure Calvin would agree with me on that.

A charismatic Calvinist is, to Calvin, an oxymoron. It can’t exist.

I almost don’t care about this statement (almost, but not quite), because I think that all manifestations of the church in our era or any other (apart from the first century Jewish stream of “the Way”) have “missed the mark” in some manner or fashion. We have the Bible, the record of God’s interaction with human beings, primarily Jewish human beings. Then we have all of the systems we’ve built around that document, and we use those systems to tell us what the Bible means. Those systems aren’t perfect and objective because people aren’t perfect and objective. The numerous variations of Christianity aren’t perfect. Only God is perfect. I don’t think we always understand God.

We are all aiming at achieving high fidelity to the original and probably aren’t doing a very good job at it. I agree with some of the things Lawson had to say, mirroring some of the things Calvin had to say. You can’t pretend your emotions are really the Holy Spirit and then do anything you want, especially in contradiction to the Bible. But let’s be clear, no one of us and no one religious group has the inside track on exactly what the Bible is saying all of the time.

So far, I get the feeling that “Strange Fire” is trying to say that Pentecostalism is wrong and Fundamentalism is right. However, even if MacArthur and Company can reasonably convince me that Pentecostalism is essentially flawed and non-Biblical, that does not automatically grant Fundamentalism a rating of being perfect and always correct. On a math test, two students can get two different answers for the same problem but just because one student is wrong, doesn’t mean the other student is right. They could both be wrong, but in different ways.

Glasses on Open BibleThat’s why we always study. That’s why we’re still trying to learn. That’s why we struggle. That’s why we try to understand but in the end, we keep “understanding” differently from one another.

One question remains from Lawson’s presentation. Is he making a direct comparison between the Libertines of Calvin’s day and the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement? If he is, then he’s saying Pentecostals are letting their emotions not only re-write the Bible, but that they’re disregarding the Bible in favor of their emotive states.

Is that a fair comparison?

The Challies Chronicles: R.C. Sproul and Pentecost

rc_sproulFor the third session at Strange Fire, John MacArthur introduced his good friend R.C. Sproul. Because of issues with his health, Sproul was unable to travel to California, so instead he sent along a video message. And his task was to speak about Pentecost.

He began by saying, “I want to look specifically today at the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost.” We’re aware that the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street and that it occurred outside of the mainline denotations until the middle of the 20th Century. Then it moved into Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc. circles. Initially when it came into these various denominations there were several attempts to assimilate the theology into their creedal foundations. At the same time, Pentecostals were gathering their beliefs into a creed, which became Neo-Pentecostal theology.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: R.C. Sproul”
Challies.com

I’m not familiar with R.C. Sproul so I looked him up on Wikipedia. That didn’t help much, so I looked Dr. Sproul up at Ligonier.org. That was only slightly more enlightening. Oh well, I guess I just don’t know the population of presenters John MacArthur chose for his Strange Fire conference. But then, I’m an unusual Christian because I don’t know a lot of “famous names” in the Christian publication world.

I have to admit to being confused for the first part of Pastor Challies’s “live blogged” rendition of Sproul’s presentation. Dr. Sproul was supposed to be speaking about the Pentecost, the original event we see depicted in Acts 2, but then he launched into a brief history of the Pentecostal movement. Where’s the relationship?

Then Sproul said a few things that got me thinking.

The fundamental weakness of Neo-Pentecostal theology is that it understands the original Pentecost differently than the apostles, and that it considers this Pentecost too lowly.

I’m not sure most Fundamentalist Christians understand the original, Jewish context of Pentecost the way the apostles did either, but that’s not what got my attention. It was this.

The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do principally with the Holy Spirit empowering Christians for ministry. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he was promising power and strength.

OK, I can buy that as far as it goes. Relative to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in preparation for their mission to spread the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the rest of the world. But that would mean only believers who have a specific mission would ever receive the Holy Spirit. Sort of like these guys.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Sproul actually mentioned this event in his presentation, and we see the Spirit God gave to Moses being “sub-divided” among the seventy elders who were to form the first Sanhedrin. The Spirit was preparing them for their mission and, like the later apostles of Acts 2, they prophesied once and then never again.

But what about this?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”

Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritIf, as in our previous examples, the Holy Spirit is only given to people who have a special mission or job to do for God as a method of empowerment, why was it also given to the Roman Cornelius and his non-Jewish household? The Bible records no subsequent information about them, so either they didn’t have a mission for God, or they did and Luke simply thought it not worthy of recording (or he was unaware of what happened next for Cornelius, his family, his servants, and so on).

Or there’s another reason we just haven’t gotten to yet.

As far as I can tell, universally in all Christian denominations, it is believed that everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…except that we don’t see this event happening to the Ethiopian who receives Messiah in Acts 8:25-40, only that he is baptized by water. For that matter, we don’t see Spirit baptism happening today, at least not as it’s described in Acts 2 and 10. Christians I know today don’t say they prophesied or spoke in tongues when they came to faith. But then we also know (Acts 19:1-6) that historically, some believers weren’t even aware of the Holy Spirit, at least initially, only John’s baptism of water and repentance.

Sproul said:

It is admitted that some people can have conversion or regeneration simultaneously with their baptism by the Holy Spirit, but in the main there is a time difference between original conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I can only assume this means Sproul too believes all people who come to faith in Christ receive the Spirit, although he seems to indicate that there’s some sort of difference between “original conversion” and “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We see some indications of this in scripture, as I noted above, but I’m still not sure if Sproul is referring to these scriptures or something else.

In the Old Testament a person could only be a believer by being born again of the Holy Spirit. But the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament with respect to Pentecost is that in the Old Testament the Spirit was only given by God selectively to isolated individuals, such as the prophets or the judges when they needed strength for the particular task.

OK, here’s the really interesting part. Sproul says that an Israelite could only become a “believer” (I find the term somewhat anachronistic, since being a “believer” isn’t mentioned let alone emphasized in the Tanakh or “Old Testament” as it is in modern Christianity) by receiving the Holy Spirit. I agree that the Biblical record only shows certain individuals receiving the Spirit (such as Prophets), so does that mean Sproul is saying only Old Testament Prophets were saved? Does that mean the vast, vast, majority of ancient Israelites who were born, lived, and died in a covenant relationship with God worshiped the Creator in vain and have no place in the World to Come?

I’m not sure Sproul meant to say it that way and even if he did, it’s not in line with scripture. If the faith of Abraham was counted to him as righteousness, and the Abrahamic covenant carried down to Isaac, and then Jacob, and then the twelve tribes, and then all of Israel, it would be difficult to believe that covenant faith being counted as righteousness somehow didn’t translate into salvation. After all, the Tanakh has tons and tons to say about Jewish faith in God.

It would make more sense to believe that the faith of the Israelites was counted as saving righteousness by God’s grace, and that only those individuals who required special empowerment to carry out the acts of God, such as the Judges and Prophets, would require the Holy Spirit.

ShavuotOf course, this brings up the question of why everyone who comes to faith post-Acts 2 receives the Holy Spirit, especially since the Strange Fire conference attempts to convince us all that no one has the gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesy or anything else.

I certainly am not going to throw the ancient Israelites in the Torah and the Prophets under the bus because one presenter may have inadvertently suggested that the Holy Spirit has suffered a change in job description between the Old Testament and New Testament records, and that the “old” God only saved those Jews who were possessed of the Spirit of prophesy.

Here’s another interesting detail.

In Acts 8:14-17 we have the record of what happened among the Samaritans. There is a second Pentecost among the Samaritan believers when Peter and John lay hands on them. In Acts 10:44-48 the Spirit falls on the God-fearers, which Peter recounts in 11:13-18. This is Pentecost number three. Just as in the case of the first and second Pentecosts, all of those present received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19:1-7 the Gentiles in Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered for ministry.

So you have four separate Pentecosts, one for each people group in Acts. When Paul was dealing with the Corinthian church, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Here he speaks of the universality of the Sprit’s [sic] empowering of every believer. That’s the significance of Pentecost.

If I didn’t know what little I know about Sproul, I wouldn’t be so surprised by such statements. “Pentecost” just means “the fiftieth day” and is the Greek name for Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot or Pentecost only comes once a year on the Jewish (and Christian) religious calendar, so it’s a little odd (for someone who should know better) to say there were “four separate Pentecosts.” It’s also strange to believe in four separate events of the giving of the Holy Spirit to specific populations (however, he may have been waxing poetic).

If God was doing something new in the giving of the Spirit (but not entirely new it seems) to those requiring power to perform a ministry, I would interpret Acts 2 as the beginning of a continual process rather than the start of four separate and distinct “waves” of “Pentecost events” based on differences between people groups.

Maybe I’m “majoring in the minors” here, but it seems like Sproul’s presentation didn’t really amount to much, at least for me.

No, I don’t want to give up on Sproul’s presentation yet. Here’s how Challies ended it on his blog post:

In Ephesians 2:11-19 Paul again addresses this issues [sic] that threatened to divide the 1st century church, the issue of what role the Gentiles have in the body of Christ. Paul’s “mystery” in Ephesians and Colossians is that Christ has folded Gentiles into his body and indwells them. “Through Christ we both have access through one Spirit to the Father.” This is a Trinitarian work.

My concern with Charismatic friends is that they have a low view of Pentecost. They don’t see it as a signal of the outpouring of God on all Christians. They believe all Christians can have it and should have it, but they miss the point that the pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost means that all Christians already have the Spirit and have been empowered by him, and that they don’t need to be baptized by the Spirit again.

Pouring waterI think Sproul is saying that the giving of the Spirit to Christians is a one time event, like water baptism, and that Pentecostals have repeated events of accepting the Spirit, thus “cheapening” the gift of the Spirit. Also, it is the giving of the Spirit Acts 10 to Gentiles that indicates that we are also accepted into the redeemed body of Christ, and it is faith in Messiah that allows us to receive the Spirit and be saved in the same way as believing Jews.

That helps, but it doesn’t close the can of worms I think Sproul opened up in terms of Old Testament Jewish salvation. We seem to see though, that Sproul is saying the Spirit was only given for empowerment of prophets in the Old Testament, but that in the New Testament, the Spirit was given, not only to empower, but as a sign of induction into the body of Messiah. I’m still not willing to accept that only the Spirit-filled Prophets and Judges of ancient Israel were “saved.”

According to MacArthur’s viewpoint though, even if all believers after the Acts 2 event received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, post-closure of Biblical canon, whatever gifts a person once received from the indwelling of the Spirit simply ceased to exist. But we don’t know why.