Sunday, September 30, 2018

Empowered for Ministry

In neo-Pentecostal theology, the emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit is on the idea of being empowered or gifted for ministry. The word charismatic itself derives from the New Testament Greek word for “gift” or “spiritual grace.”

The basic trend in neo-Pentecostal theology is to see the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a special work of the Holy Spirit by which a believer is endued with power for life and service. This work is distinct from, and usually subsequent to, the Spirit’s work of regeneration. Sometimes a distinction is made between being baptized “by” or “of” the Holy Spirit (which occurs at rebirth) and baptism “in” or “with” the Holy Spirit (which normally follows after rebirth). In this schema, all Christians are baptized “by” the Spirit, but not all Christians are baptized “in” or “with” the Spirit.

Though there is widespread disagreement among neo-Pentecostals on this point, the trend is to see speaking in tongues (glossolalia) as the initial evidence of Holy Spirit baptism.

The record of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the life of the early church is pivotal for the modern charismatic movement. There is a strong desire to recapture the spiritual power and vitality evinced in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1–4, 15–17, 32–33; 8:14–17; 10:44–46).

These textual records form the foundation of the neo-Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A pattern emerges from the historical narrative that indicates the following:

1. People were believers and thus born of the Spirit prior to their baptism of the Holy Spirit. This indicates that there must be a distinction between the Spirit’s work of regeneration and the Spirit’s work in baptizing.

2. There is a time gap between faith (regeneration) and Holy Spirit baptism. This clearly indicates that while some Christians have the Holy Spirit to the degree that they are regenerate, they may still lack the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is subsequent.

3. The initial outward evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.

When we consider the current debate between advocates of traditional theology, we see that there is no significant argument concerning Point 1. Virtually all Christian denominations have agreed that there is a difference between the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration and the Holy Spirit’s work of baptism.

It is the second and third conclusions from Acts that spark the debate. Both sides agree that in Acts baptism in the Holy Spirit was indeed subsequent to conversion (at least with some people) and that speaking in tongues was an outward sign or evidence of the Spirit’s baptism.

The issue is this: Is the record of Acts proof that the sequence of the Holy Spirit’s work among the first Christians is intended to be normative for the church throughout the ages? The working assumption of neo-Pentecostal theology is that the purpose of the biblical narrative is to teach us that what happened then was to be normative for all generations.

The practical issue that burns within the church is this: Are there two levels of Christians—one kind that has the baptism of the Holy Spirit and another that does not? This question is further complicated by the record of church history.

Church history seems to indicate that the lives of the greatest saints—Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, and others—failed to display any speaking in tongues indication of having ever been baptized in or by the Holy Spirit.

If speaking in tongues is the outward evidence of Holy Spirit baptism, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a crucial and normative subsequent work in the lives of believers, then why have the vast majority of believers in church history failed to attain this vital dimension of the Christian life?

Again, the heart of the issue comes back to the neo-Pentecostal assumption that the narrative passages of Acts were intended to teach the church that there will always be a normal time gap between conversion and Spirit baptism and that speaking in tongues is the normal outward sign of Spirit baptism.

I use the word assumption here intentionally. Nowhere does the Scripture explicitly teach that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit or that there must be a time gap between conversion and Spirit baptism. These ideas are inferences drawn from the narrative, and I am persuaded that these inferences are not valid.

What about tongues as a necessary evidence for the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

It is clear from the texts of Acts that the gift of speaking in tongues did indeed function as an outward sign of the filling of the Spirit. Tongues provided a tangible indication that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the individual.

It is also clear that [these visible signs] were not regarded as necessary or normative indicators of the filling of the Spirit. Though speaking in tongues continued in the life of the church, it is clear that, by the time 1 Corinthians was written, speaking in tongues was not regarded as an indispensable sign of charismatic endowment.

The weight of the biblical interpretation militates against the neo-Pentecostal understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All whom the Spirit regenerates He also baptizes, fills, and endows with power for ministry.

This is the exciting news of Pentecost. In God’s plan of redemption, the Holy Spirit has gifted every believer for ministry. The whole church has been empowered from on high.