Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spirit-Baptism:  Glossolalia or Judgment?

“And He, when He comes,

will convict the world

concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”

(John 16:8, NASB)


In Filling The Temple:  Finding A Place For The Holy Spirit, I define “baptism in the Holy Spirit” differently than what is common.  The usual definition latches onto tongue-speaking.  So any person who is so supernaturally overwhelmed by the Spirit and this personal experience results in glossolalia (tongue-speaking) may be said, by definition, to have received Spirit baptism, or baptism in the Holy Spirit.

This is an incorrect definition!  In the first place, nowhere in the Bible is glossolalia put forward as the virtual equivalent, or as the actual definition, of Spirit-baptism.  The closest passage to this is Acts 11:16, and even this Scripture need not be read as though it offered a definition.  To be sure, Peter is noting the profound similarity of experience between this first Gentile convert and his apostolic (and very Jewish) companions on the day of Pentecost.  He is noting the similarity, but even in his own Pentecostal experience, Peter understood a different definition for Spirit-baptism other than tongues.

In the context of the opening chapters of Acts, and against the backdrop of prophetic predictions in Luke’s Gospel (by both John the Baptist and by Jesus), and in keeping with the prophecy of Joel which Peter explicitly quotes in order to explain Pentecost, it makes much better sense to work with another definition.  Spirit-baptism was a judgment.  Pentecost worked the dividing of Spirit-filled Christians from Spirit-less unbelievers, all based on one’s response to the Cross of Jesus.  It was a judgment upon “all flesh”.

And if “judgment” be accepted as the essential definition, it follows that some other place must be found for glossolalia.  If not the definition of Spirit-baptism, then what is the function of tongues?  Essentially, tongues were a “sign” of Spirit-baptism.  They functioned this way because they were a visible spectacle, and a sign was needed because much of what happens following the crucifixion of Jesus and following the Pentecostal outpouring of Spirit is, otherwise, invisible:

·        The judgment itself was invisible.  God can see the indwelling Spirit as His seal of ownership (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13).  We cannot see that, and so we need a “sign”. 

·        The attending blessings that come with the very beginning of Christianity, forgiveness of sins and indwelling Spirit, are invisible.  Anyone could make such promises and, apart from some sign, who would know if the promise meant anything?

·        The authority of the apostles, given by the risen and now departed Christ, was also invisible.  The “sign” of tongues was given not only attendant to conversion/baptism, but at the laying on of the hands of the apostles.  This gave plain indication that the apostolic message or “gospel” was to be listened to and believed.

All of this is explained more thoroughly in Filling The Temple, and I encourage you to read it.  The purpose of this discussion is to bring another Scripture into the mix.  In John 16, Jesus is preparing for His own departure from His beloved disciples by promising them “another Comforter”.  He had become their solid security and buffer against the world’s hostility.  But now He was leaving them!  In addition to the other remarks I made on this passage in my book, I wish I had picked up on the way this passage also links “the Spirit” and “judgment.”  By the way, this book is a “cracking good read” and probably the only place where you will find Spirit-baptism correctly defined.  Nearly all other treatments are so hypnotized by tongues that they walk blindly past the glaring notions of judgment that attend the first Pentecost.

It takes a certain re-mapping of the mind to replace glossolalia, as the definition of Spirit-baptism, with “judgment.”  Paradigm-shifts are hard work, and when they force us to think differently that we are accustomed, we often have to force ourselves to think in the new way.  Specifically, we probably do not naturally associate “Spirit” with “judgment.”  If we are to understand the Scriptures, we shall have to change our thinking.

John 16:8 is a difficult passage.  I find that D. A. Carson has handled the exegesis quite deftly in his commentary (The Gospel According to John, Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1991).  But even a simple reading of the opening words is particularly stunning:   “And He [the Spirit, or Comforter, or Advocate], when He comes, will convict the world.”  We are so used to associating the Spirit with blessings and gifting that it might take some effort to force our minds to also get a grip on the Spirit working to convict the world!

Before going further, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that this association is not something that should shock a Bible reader, not something that we as Bible readers should find foreign or strange.  Isaiah 42:1-3 are quoted by Matthew (12:18ff.) as pertaining to Jesus:      

“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;

My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;

I will put my Spirit upon Him,

And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”


The word given a rather positive translation of “justice” can also be translated as “judgment”.  Frederick Dale Bruner (Matthew, A Commentary, Volume 1:  The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2004, p. 556) notes that the word always means “word of judgment” (except in 23:23).  Thus, while the meaning may be that Jesus will bring a positive expression of justice in favor of the Gentiles, the meaning of God’s “verdict” or “ethical decision” is also possible.  This would also associate the Spirit-bearing Jesus with judgment.

Likewise, the prophecy of Joel which Peter quotes in Acts 2 regarding the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit plainly expresses judgment.  Read all of Joel, and see if judgment is not the overriding expression of the book!

Finally, in Acts 17, Paul is discussing with the Athenians the perspective God takes upon the nations:  “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to all people everywhere that they should repent.”  This is in keeping with Luke’s thematic emphasis that, since the Resurrection and since the Pentecostal outpouring, a judgment has fallen upon “all flesh.”

Now, back to John 16:8-11.  The Spirit is going to “convict” the world regarding sin (and righteousness and judgment).  Carson (p. 534) writes, “The focus rather in classical Greek is on putting to shame, treating with contempt, cross-examining, accusing, bringing to the test, proving, refuting.”  We should be open to the possibility that this discussion of the Spirit shows an activity that most of us would not expect.  The Spirit is active in judgment.  Carson goes on to note that in all 18 occurrences in the NT, the meaning “has to do with showing someone his sin, usually as a summons to repentance.”

What is a bit more difficult is understanding how the “convicting” activity of the Spirit relates to “sin, righteousness, and judgment.”  Carson takes these three items as precisely the areas in which the world is guilty. 

·        Of “sin” because they do not believe in Jesus (v. 9).  This is a willful disbelief.

·        Of righteousness, because Jesus goes to the Father (v. 10).  While here with us, Jesus exposed the attempts of worldly people to claim righteousness as fraud and folly.  Now that Jesus departs, the Spirit will resume this conviction.

·        Of judgment, because Satan has been judged (v.11).  The world carries the influence of Satan, and the resulting judgments it makes have been shown up by the Spirit as false.

As I note in Filling The Temple, one reason the “judgment” aspect of the activity of the Holy Spirit is easily missed is that the positive side of that judgment gets the stress and emphasis.  John, while predicting a single judgment, declared it in terms of “baptism in the Spirit” and also in terms of “baptism in fire” (Luke 3:16)!  Our modern minds more easily glom onto “wheat gathered into the granary” than onto notions of “chaff burned with unquenchable fire” (v. 17).  In perhaps every other Biblical judgment, the emphasis is on the negative, on the outpouring of God’s righteous wrath against sin.  Always, the expression is one of immediate wrath and, perhaps, a following of deferred blessing (especially since the righteous often suffer judgments from God along with the wicked).  God will, one day, restore the blessings to the righteous that were snatched away when God acted in wrath and vengeance, when judgment was outpoured.

But in Spirit-baptism, falling precisely on that first Pentecost, the emphasis is reversed:  here we have immediate blessing and the wrath that is bound up in this judgment is deferred!  The day is coming when those on the wrong side of the judgment will pay a terrible penalty; but right now—there are blessings flowing from the Spirit in profuse abundance! 

Spirit-baptism was a judgment.  That judgment fell on Pentecost and has been outworking ever since, dividing humanity into two groups—one marked out for blessing and another marked out for cursing.  All of this is from God.  All of it turns on the dying and rising of Jesus, and the response these Gospel events achieve or fail to achieve in every human being, in “all flesh.”

I would suggest that once this notion is planted in our thinking, once we open ourselves to seeing “judgment” as a key activity of the Holy Spirit, more passages of Scripture will be illuminated before our eyes.  And once we come to see this—rather than glossolalia—as the definition of Spirit-baptism, we will be afforded a greater view into the working of Father, Son, and Spirit.  While the Spirit convicts the world of sin, our Comforter is also working to “sanctify” the saints of their sin.  All of this is the outworking of “judgment.”




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jesse P. Sewell, The Gospel Preacher, and the Fluff-Preacher

Preachers come in great variety, and that's a good thing.  "It's a good thing that all of us are not exactly like any one of us!" quipped one attendee (Charles Hodge, perhaps) at a preacher's dinner at Harding University's lectureship.  In my preacher training program, there was a general spectrum.  Some of us were drawn to social interaction.  And, some of us (like me) were drawn to study.  I believe that God probably found a place of useful service for most of us, and carefully suited us to various assignments in the Kingdom.

I for long had misplaced a quote by Jesse P. Sewell (1876-1969).  It was a framed quote given to us by Harding's School of Biblical Studies.  It reads:
A gospel preacher is a man, redeemed by grace through faith, standing in Christ's' stead, by his authority, and in obedience to his command; proclaiming, illustrating, making clear and urgent God's word; so that responsible men and women may accept it unto life; or reject it unto death--all of this; because he loves God, Christ, the Church, and the souls of men.
As definitions go, Sewell's has much to commend it.  While there are and should be preachers of many varieties, it would nonetheless be valid to say that each and every one of them should be, indeed must be, nothing less than what is set forth here.  And a great many who mount pulpits would rightly be scrutinized as being less than gospel preachers--even if they should act the part, keep a Bible on the podium, and claim authority for themselves.  Less than this, and he (or she) is not a gospel preacher.

My attraction to the quote lies in Sewell's recognition that true preaching forces a choice, a decision, and culminates therefore in either life or death (2 Cor. 2:14ff.).  His emphasis is purely evangelistic.  And the insight helped me in a formative way to frame more precisely my role as a preacher.  Safely outside of that frame will be the modern "fluff-preachers."  They speak to crowds for obviously different motivations, and listening to them would not prompt any listener to a decision that would tend them toward Heaven or towards Hell.  What the fluff-preacher offers is simply not gospel, so it lacks the power to move people that way.

I also appreciate Sewell's insistence on an authority set upon the gospel preacher's ministry, and authority not given by any person or group of persons, but by Christ Jesus himself.  That authority results from the preacher's relationship to the Lord in which the message is actually "God's word" and the activity of preaching is an act of obedience to the Crucified One, and truly places the gospel preacher "in Christ's stead"--that is to say, the Gospel preacher is encountered instead of Christ, and yet Christ Jesus is no less present in the encounter.  On more than one occasion, the apostle Paul made this insistence that what he preached was not his message and did not originate with him (1 Thess. 2:13, 4:8; Gal. 1:11-12).  His audience heard God as Paul preached.  Like His Lord before Him, Paul spoke as one with authority.  The gospel preacher does the same.

In contrast, the fluff-preacher has no authority.  He is not preaching God's word, and to listen to the fluff-preacher is by no means the equivalent of listening to the Lord.  Much as Satan has no legitimate authority, but has entered a position of authority only because people have given to the devil what is properly due to God, the insipid audience of the fluff-preacher is the only basis on which authority may be claimed.  But, when the blind lead the blind, they both are destined for the Pit.  The devil and the fluff-preacher are empowered only by people.

I also appreciated Sewell today for his steady voice and clear understanding as I heard news of yet another "mega-church pastor" inflicting great damage on people while claiming to be a preacher.  I'll gladly and gratefully lend my ear only to a gospel preacher.