Follow by Email

Saturday, January 26, 2013

new chapter

I have written a new chapter, and have decided to place it as the new Chapter Four.  In Chapter One, I promised to return to the way Luke describes the Cornelius event in ways strikingly similar to his description of Pentecost.  Did Luke present the Cornelius episode as another Pentecost?

I nearly forgot to pull that matter off of the back-burner, until I had a dream.  Someone (in the dream) challenged me, "But Luke refers to both Pentecost and Cornelius in terms of "gift" (and he uses the same Greek word in each case)."   That is an unusual dream, even for me!

This took me back to the first time I was formulating the theology presented in this book.  I was troubled by the similarity of Cornelius to Pentecost.  I knew the coordinates by which I was navigating were solid, but I was not sure how to address this.  I felt Pentecostalism sneaking through my open windows and under my doors...

Had I not dealt with this, I sense I would have left a vulnerability to the book as a whole.  I hope it helps my readers in their own understandings of the Spirit.

As usual, there are some formatting specifics that do not translate onto the blog and that will be in the published book.  The book will look really good in print.  Getting ready for publication is the next step.  I hope you will support my efforts.

(The new) Chapter Four

 

 




Many Pentecosts?

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them,

even as on us at the beginning.”

Acts 11:15

________________________________

 

Some Scriptures lend themselves to wrong readings.  Here are a few to consider:

·        1 Thess. 5:22 (KJV) reads, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  I was once taught (and for a while believed) that this means that Christians should avoid not only actual evil, but should also avoid anything that merely gives the appearance of evil to someone watching.  It does not mean that[1].  It means Christians should avoid actual evil when it might appear.  Specifically, in context, we should avoid evil that is put forth as “prophecy” (otherwise, we are to cling to what is “prophetically” good).

·        Matt. 18:20 reads:  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  This verse is far too frequently used to validate lightly attended worship events.  It means no such thing (read the whole section).  It means that the results of church discipline are binding, because the Lord supports the judgment of the (two or three) witnesses.

Luke’s writings in Acts regarding the Holy Spirit are easily misread.  As in the erroneous readings exampled above, the wrong reading seems to make sense.  That does not mean it is a good reading.  This will take a little effort, but our intent is to show why these passages spawn different readings, to show why Luke wrote in such a way that perhaps contributes to the confusion, and to suggest the best way to read these important texts.    

We made a somewhat oblique approach to these competing readings (in Chapter One) when we defined “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a judgment, while noting that others define it as an overwhelming personal experience of the supernatural.  While I believe this is a misreading, I can see how it arises when one reads Acts.  Both readings seem to make sense.  The mistake is what we might call a “natural” one.     

 “BIG EVENT” and “little events

The confusion arises when we try to read Acts and understand the relationship between what I call the “BIG EVENT” and what I call the “little events.”  Watch how this plays out.

We have said that the “BIG EVENT” was Pentecost.  This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon “all flesh.”  This was the falling of God’s judgment, dividing Spirit-indwelt Christian from Spiritless unbelievers.  In grammar, the “perfect tense” speaks of an event in the past that continues to have effects in the presence:  “I have become a Christian!”  That transformation occurs only once and is never repeated, but its effect is felt forever after.  In this sense, Pentecost was a “perfect tense” event:  the Holy Spirit has been outpoured, once with lasting results.

The “little events” are those evangelistic conversions that incorporate baptism into Christ (water-baptism) and reception of the Holy Spirit.  We include among these the conversions of the Samaritans[2] (Acts 8), of Cornelius (Acts 10), and of the Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19).  All of these “little events” share something in common with the “BIG EVENT”:  speaking in tongues.

I see the relationship between them as one of “cause and effect.”  The conversions are simply results of what happened on Pentecost.  Some of what happened on Pentecost was “non-repeatedly” unique (especially, the Spirit was outpoured this once, not repeatedly).  However, since Luke does not want us to miss the “cause and effect” relationship, he paints large some things that, to be sure, are “repeated” between the BiHS and the conversions that follow later. 

In contrast to me, others see the relationship between “EVENT/events” as a “this-is-that equivalence.”  That means Pentecost was not unique.  As the Spirit was outpoured in the “BIG EVENT”, so He was outpoured in the “little events.”  If this is so, then the experience of the apostles may be repeated in the experience of every believer, when the Spirit is also outpoured upon them.  If there was a Jerusalem Pentecost, then there was also a Samaritan Pentecost, a Gentile Pentecost (with Cornelius), and another Pentecost with the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus.

The nub of the matter is whether Pentecost was unique as THE event in which the Spirit was outpoured.  Or, was it rather merely another “little event”?

Luke’s use of “catch-words”

It is more than tongues that are shared.  When Luke writes his story of the church (Acts), he also employs “catch-words” that link the experience of apostle with that of convert.  It is as though each of these special words fairly glows on the page, and Luke ties them together with luminescent pieces of string.  The links tie episodes separated by long sections of narrative.  In each case, one or more of the “little events” is connected back to Pentecost.  Watch the way shared vocabulary makes this happen:

1.  An entire quotation from Jesus:

Pentecost:  For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5).

Cornelius:  “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:16).

2. The word “gift”:

Pentecost:  “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Samaritans:  “Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money” (Acts 8:20).

Cornelius:  “And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:45).

Cornelius:  “If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us” (Acts 11:17).

3. The words “outpoured” or “poured forth” or “poured out” (same word in Greek):

Pentecost:  ”I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams:  Yea and on My servants and on My handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy”  (Acts 2:17-18).  And, “Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear”  (Acts 2:33).

Cornelius:  “And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For they heard them speak with tongues” (Acts 10:45-46). 

4.  The words “fell upon”:

Pentecost:  Peter “casts back a line” from the experience of Cornelius to the experience of the apostles (see below).

Cornelius:  “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15).

Ephesians:  “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on[3] them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:6)

Luke is able to use these catch-words to link episodes without disrupting the flow of his narrative.  He does not need to stop in each case, and offer a lengthy explanation.  Instead he just drops these eye-catching markers and keeps his story moving.  Obviously, Luke wants to associate “BIG EVENT” with “little events.”  But exactly what association is he making?

A “this-is-that” equivalence?

If this really is Luke’s meaning, he might have written this way.  This is one possible explanation for Luke’s writing strategy.  And so, I would be irresponsible to not give this due consideration.  However, we may offer the following reasons not to support this reading.

First, regarding tongues, we have seen that this experience is not a “normative” part of Christian conversion in Acts, as Luke presents it.  These incidents fell, not commonly, but strategically—every time evangelism needed to break a barrier.  Luke records other conversions that make no mention of tongues; yet baptism is a consistent part of conversion.[4]  This downplaying of tongues contradicts the theology of Pentecostalism, which understands tongues to be the essential mark of every true conversion. 

Second, Pentecost is not presented with such low significance.  The significance is not simply that it was the first among many incidents.  When Peter made a case for the significance of that great day, he insisted that what took place here had significance for the whole of humanity (“all flesh”), and not just for the Jewish apostles.  This was the very day to which the prophets of long ago had pointed.

Third, you can accept this reading only if you contradict “judgment” as the primary aspect of what happened on Pentecost.  We made a substantial case for this understanding.  The supernatural experience of tongues is so alluring that many see it as the primary aspect.  It is not.  The only responsible way to define Pentecost is to see it as a judgment, and this fundamental decision then should inform other decisions of interpretation, such as the one at hand.  Get that first step wrong, and many false paths may be entered.  Get it right, and the way broadens under your feet.

Fourth, and this is crucial, this reading wrongly identifies the entrance-point of the Holy Spirit into the life of a Christian.  It is not at the point of speaking in tongues.  We have established baptism as the entrance-point of the Spirit into the life of a Christian.  This became possible only because of Pentecost.  The promise of Acts 2:38, with its wide inclusion of all whom the Lord will call (v. 39), stands at the beginning of Luke’s story of the church and he means us to carry that understanding all the way through in our reading.  This is an outworking of the identification of Pentecost as a judgment, and is another course marker by which a truly Biblical interpreter will navigate.

Fifth, regarding the catch-word “gift”, it is not easy to tell when Luke uses this word to refer to the Holy Spirit, or to abilities (like tongues).  We may receive the Spirit or the abilities, each may be considered a “gift” (and Luke uses only one word for gift:  dwrean[5]).  The apparent confusion and ambiguity probably come about because Luke sees tongues as a “sign” of the Spirit.  To see tongue-speaking is to see the Spirit.  They are linked gifts.  Here is an example:  “And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:45-46).  Which “gift” is meant—the Spirit himself, tongues, or both?  And we have noted that while the “gift” of the Spirit comes at baptism, the “gift” of tongues came before, during, or quite later than baptism.  We are able to undo much of the confusion when we understand that the Gift and the gifts are not simultaneous and when we grasp the strategies used by the Spirit in these different timings.    

Finally, this reading seems to be missing the real reason why Luke links “BIG EVENT” with “small events”.  The church was growing around a small group of Jewish apostles of Jesus.  The growing nucleus, at first, was entirely Jewish.  It could ONLY have been the Spirit of God that made brother and sister of Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles!  The Spirit used tongues strategically to usher evangelistic growth across barriers that, on the human level, seemed impossible to breach.  Luke used vivid catch-words to link ALL Christians—of whatever stripe, nation, language, or ethnicity—to the foundational event experienced by the apostles:  Pentecost. 

Was Luke an irresponsible writer?

Luke may have been so strong and vivid, in making this connection, that he opened his story to potential misreading.  I do not believe that Luke is a careless writer.  I simply believe he was avoiding an even greater misreading:  one that parted—rather than joined—Jews and non-Jews in the church.  He had to write strongly to avoid any impression that Jews were the “real” Christians, and the Gentiles so only in some secondary sense.  Or, that fellowship should be segregated into Jewish churches and Gentile churches (really resulting in at least two churches, instead of one).  How different church history might have been had Luke toned it down!  And really, he had no other means to avoid the confusion between the alternate readings of his book that we have been discussing.  He was making a point, and it is our responsibility as readers to allow him to make it, while following the other interpretive clues that he has left us to protect us against any misreading.

No, the experiences of the converts were undeniable links, through the Holy Spirit, to the apostolic experience of Pentecost.  The Spirit had been outpoured, and was available in baptism—to all who believed (God made no distinction).  Given this profound sharing, how could those involved begin to look at each other (any longer) as less than equals in Christ, fit for brotherhood and family unity?  The apostles were marked out as God’s authoritative spokesmen, but they were brothers even with Samaritans and Gentiles. 

I have a suspicion that we modern readers tend to misread Luke at this point, because we are incapable of experiencing the breathtaking wonder of mixed fellowship.  It may be because our experience of fellowship is homogenous:  everyone in the local church shares our ethnic, national, and socio-economic markers.  You may even have sought the comfort of a church that spares you the “discomfort” of diversity.  Or, you may be onboard with the modern cultural celebrations of diversity, and may simply take such distinctions for granted.  The Bible does not celebrate diversity for its own sake, with its natural tendency to produce class distinctions and rivalry, competition rather than bonds of unity.  Either way, we modern readers may be left out in the cold even when a mighty workman of words, such as Luke (or Paul), sets before our eyes the most spectacular achievement of the Holy Spirit.  We read of this, yawn, and turn the page.

The Spirit calls us to the celebration of diversity that is unified in Christ!  Few opportunities in life allow the celebration of unity in diversity.  It is easier to join a “gang” of people just like us.  When these opportunities are found, they can be life-changing.  The early American experience of immigration led to the minting of coins that proclaimed, “E pluribus unum”—meaning “one out of many.”  The value of shared citizenship led a diversity of new arrivals to set aside their distinctive identities as a secondary matter.  One was now an American, and not just a “hyphenated American”—Italian-American, Hispanic-American, etc.  Similar experiences are possible when people of different backgrounds join together on a sports team, in the military, or in a corporation.  They have to work together in a way that admits diversity, but that allows them to function as a unity.

So, we may put the matter quite simply:  Luke did not write to offer us each our own outpouring(s) of God’s Spirit.  He wrote to unify us when each has that Spirit in the habitation of each heart.

The case of Cornelius

Luke is so taken by the capture of the first Gentile into Christian fellowship that he tells the tale of his conversion three times:

·        The first telling comes in Acts 10.  Peter is given a vision to guide him to accept “unclean” Gentiles, and the Spirit connects the evangelist with his converts.  He arrives and preaches the gospel of Jesus.  The climax of the story is told this way: 

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word.  And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.  Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?  (10:44-47).

·        The second telling comes when Peter is “called on the carpet” to explain to the “mother church” in Jerusalem how he could be so audacious as to share what is holy with the Gentiles.  He starts with his vision and tells the tale, and describes the crucial moment this way:

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.   If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?  (11:15-17).

·        The third telling comes at the “Jerusalem conference” which is the major discussion of what the church is to do with Gentiles in view of the issue of circumcision.  Peter sees significance in his experience with Cornelius: 

And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith (15:8-9).

The event of Cornelius is the “little event” par excellence.  We can see Luke’s telling of the story “lighting up” both with catch-words and with repetition.  So much did he want to unify Jew and Gentile—in Christ, in Spirit, in God—that he drapes the story of the first Gentile conversion in expressions that were first employed at Pentecost.  He blurs the distinction between the “gift” (that is the Spirit) and the “gift” (by which the Spirit made apostle and convert speak in tongues).  But Luke does not set forth two outpourings (even though reading this way seems to make sense).  There was only one outpouring.  It fell on Pentecost, and it was so comprehensive that Peter saw that “perfect tense” experience reaching forward to take in Cornelius just as it had the apostles.

Notice that Luke draws-in the events of Samaria (Acts 8) and the events drawing-in the Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19) in ways that employ the same strategy of writing.  Catch-words light up like candles in the dark.  These two episodes are not played up with a three-fold repetition like Cornelius, however, because their significance pales next to the capture of the first Gentile convert.  Luke will make sure the reader sees Samaritans and off-track disciples of the Baptist as “insiders” to the Christian community, but these are smaller, less significant jumps than is Cornelius. 

It might be well to conclude with another reflection on Pentecostalism and J. W. McGarvey.  Each represents a similar misreading of Luke.  They are similar because they are so bedazzled by the overwhelming, personal, supernatural experience of tongues that they miss the role of Pentecost as a judgment.  However, McGarvey works to isolate “baptism in the Holy Spirit” to only two outpourings:  Pentecost and Cornelius.  He employs the “all flesh” of Joel’s prophecy to include a single Jewish event and a single Gentile event.  He thus thinks to have set a safeguard against Pentecostalism, which may look for additional outpourings (including gifts of tongues for modern Christians).  However, if I were to play “Pentecostal advocate”, I might ask how he can exclude Samaria and Ephesus as additional outpourings, given Luke’s use of catchwords?  It seems to me that McGarvey and the Pentecostals are locked into an unresolvable conflict in the choice, between only two outpourings, and the choice that allows more.  While those following McGarvey may find some security against rampant claims to supernatural experience, I can also understand why his Pentecostal opponents may find his interpretation less than conclusive.

It is a far more satisfying of an interpretation to begin surefootedly by accepting Pentecost as a judgment dividing all of humanity.  That judgment fell when the Spirit was outpoured in a non-repeatable event.  It happened once; and we need not look for another.  That single outpouring provides the supply that ever fills the experience of baptism in conversion—Samaritan, Gentile, or otherwise.  Even if invisible to the human eye, it is a sure guarantee for every believer of the gospel of Christ Jesus.  The Spirit made this promise “visible”, on occasion, by gifting certain unlikely converts with the same gift enjoyed by the apostles on Pentecost:  tongues.  The result is that the very bodies of Christians become vessels in which the Spirit of God dwells, individually and communally.  And, this presence of the Spirit, in them, makes His absence within non-Christians a more glaring omission.  These are the two sides of the judgment that fell, just once, on Pentecost.

I hope this explanation helpfully shows why Luke wrote as he did, explains why he may be easily misread, and offers a better alternative.  

    

 







[1] We should know this, because Jesus did not back off from activities that “had the appearance of evil.”  Otherwise, for example, He would not have healed on the Sabbath.  Or, He would not have socialized with the common folk.  Instead, He expected His critics to responsibly interpret what they saw Him doing, rather than to conform Himself to their fussy expectations.


[2] Although tongues are not explicitly mentioned, we are speculating that this also happened in the case of the Samaritans.  


[3] Different Greek words are represented in this verse, although one or two manuscripts contain the same word as the other passages.  At any rate, the expressions are synonymous.


[4] This occasional nature of tongues stands in contrast to the frequent mentions of baptism.  I. Howard Marshall (Luke:  Historian and Theologian, p. 195) writes, “In almost every record of conversion [baptism] is explicitly mentioned; the exceptions are Acts 2:47; 4:4; 6:7; 9:42; 11:21-24; 13:48; 14:1, 21; 17:34, and in these cases we have to do for the most part with summary statements in which the interest is not in the fact of conversion as such but rather in the growth and spread of the church.  The existing pattern of conversion shows that for Luke baptism was indispensable, and there is no reason to suppose that there was any other practice in the early church.”


[5] There is no evidence that Luke knows of the word “carisma” (“charisma”), a word which is unknown in the Greek language before the apostle Paul, who may have coined the word.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Holy Spirit book has been pulled...

I have pulled all of the chapters from the book on the Holy Spirit, since I am getting ready to publish the manuscript.  I am leaving the preface, contents, and intro to continue to attract interest. 

I hope you have enjoyed the material.  My aim in writing is twofold.  First, I am convinced that the denial of the Spirit's indwelling presence is a detrimental blight on an otherwise glorious heritage for churches of Christ that still embrace the American Restoration Movement.  This material is offered as an alarm and a corrective.  Second, I believe my optimism for a large-scale achievement of unity between churches of Christ and sectors in the denominational fellowships is well founded.  Not only are the longstanding objections against baptism being dismantled by the "new perspective on Paul", but other fellowships besides ours are also coming to grips with a "tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit" (Francis Chan's phrase).

The book has been attracting a lot of hits on this blog.  My main purpose for posting it here was to attract interaction that would help me better develop the writing.  I would still appreciate your evaluation.  You can either post a response below (where others can see it and engage our conversation), or you can email me privately.  I understand that the material is controversial within churches of Christ.  At some point in the publication process, favorable endorsements will be important to me.  This, of course, will require bold souls who are stout with conviction. 

Since I have never published before, there are all sorts of bewildering possibilities.  I would like a "brotherhood" publisher, since the book addresses our movement.  And, given the controversy it may stir, some of our presses may hesitate to publish.  If it comes to it, I may self-publish (perhaps on Amazon).  I have spoken with one publisher from outside the brotherhood as well.  After addressing our churches, I may revise the material for a larger audience, since the bulk of it is stock theology and only a small portion actually addresses the denial of the Spirit's indwelling.

All of this is to say that you may have a role to play in moving this process forward.  It may simply be a helpful suggestion to correct a mistake or to improve the material.  Or, it may be your endorsement. 

I will be deep in prayer over this, and would ask you to pray as well.  I am confident that God will enable this material to fill the purpose(s) that He intends.

Servant of Christ Jesus,
John Krivak