God has promised to give his Holy Spirit to his people, but there is a lot of confusion about the work of the Holy Spirit.
When I was a teenager the evidence of possessing the Holy Spirit was falling on the floor and speaking in tongues, the so-called heavenly language. Then came the Toronto blessing, where you laughed uncontrollably as evidence of possessing the Holy Spirit.
I was at a meeting recently where we were encouraged to release the Spirit in our “worship” time, and that meant stage-diving.
The Holy Spirit seems to love getting people to do weird and unusual things – so it seems.
What is the mark of a Spirit-filled church? What does it mean to be baptized in the Spirit? How ought we to think about the Holy Spirit – third Person of the Trinity?
Many churches claim to be “Spirit-led” or “Spirit-filled” churches because they have apparent manifestations of the Spirit in their services.
What is the role of the Spirit?
Recently I attended a post-graduate course at George Whitefield College with Peter Jensen and David Höhne, entitled, “The Lord who is the Spirit: speaking of the Spirit in the Reformed tradition”.
It was good to be reminded that the doctrine of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit has a rich tradition of historical development that we will do well to learn from (including Tertullian, Irenaeus, Basil of Caesarea etc.) There are several things that stood out for me:
There seems to be a renewed interest in the more “supernatural” spiritual gifts among evangelicals. Mark Driscoll, who calls himself a “charismatic with a seat-belt”, is no doubt a contributing factor. I have recently posted about healing, miraculous gifts and speaking in tongues. What remains is prophecy1.
Prophecy in the Old Testament
Deuteronomy 18:18 describes the role of a prophet like this,
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
This gives us a clear definition of prophetic ministry. God put His own words in the prophet’s mouth. The prophet was moved by God and spoke the very words of God to the people of God. From Moses to Malachi, God spoke to his people through the prophets by their spoken and written word, publicly and privately.
I argued in myprevious post that the speaking tongues in Acts was not the norm for all Christians, but the very specific and unique plan of God to demonstrate that there was to be only one church. Not a separate Gentile Church. Not a separate Samaritan church. One church made up of converted Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all these groups demonstrated by the speaking of foreign languages (like at Pentecost, Acts 2) was evidence of this.
1 Corinthians 12-14 is the only other place in the New Testament that mentions speaking in tongues. (If speaking in tongues was and is the distinctive evidence of being filled by the Spirit, as is alleged by some, one would have thought it would be mentioned more?)
For those who hold the position that every Christian should speak in tongues as evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit, here is some food for thought:
Many Pentecostal traditions teach that speaking in tongues is the definitive sign of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. This baptism or filling of the Spirit happens sometime after your conversion and is known as the “Second Blessing”. Every Spirit-filled believer, they would argue, should therefore speak in tongues.
One man in the choir could not sing to save his life. The choir director suggested that he should leave the choir and several choir members hinted that he would make an excellent sidesman. The choir director and some members of the choir then decided to go to the pastor and complain. “You’ve got to get that man out of the choir people will start resigning and our Xmas cantata will be ruined. Please do something!” So the pastor went to the man and said to him, “Perhaps you should leave the choir.”
“Why should I leave the choir?” the man asked. “Well,” said the pastor, “I hate to say this because I don’t have an ear for music, but four or five people have told me you can’t sing.” “So!” the man snorted, “That’s nothing, 25 people have told me you can’t preach.”
Pentecostals often refer to and preach from Acts 19:1-6 to promote second blessing theology (SBT). SBT teaches that the normative Christian practice is first to accept Jesus as Lord and then, secondly, to have another separate, distinct experience of the baptism of the Spirit. During this second experience the Christian is said to be filled with the Spirit, normally this “blessing” is accompanied with speaking in “tongues”.
In Ephesus Paul found twelve “disciples” (v1). Normally in Acts “disciples” refers to Christians, but it turns out from Paul’s questioning that these people are not Christians, but repentant Jews. Paul probably thought they were Christians at first.
To gauge their spiritual state, Pauls asks (v2), “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Paul did not ask did you receive the Spirit when you attended the course or when you prayed a special prayer or when you truly entered a new level of obedience in your Christian life! Paul associates receiving the Holy Spirit with believing (i.e. believing in Jesus).