The Church Did Not Begin at Pentecost

pentecost2Yesterday marked the church’s celebration-remembrance of Pentecost. And today in Belgium, we have a day off. Such a very spiritual land……or maybe not quite yet.

Anyways, there are a few different angles one could approach in remembering the importance of Pentecost. The angle of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all flesh – male/female, young/old, Jew/Gentile. There is the aspect of empowering for mission that the rule and grace of Christ be made known to all peoples. Then there’s the common notion that the church began on that great day of Pentecost.

But that’s not right, is it? Continue reading

God’s Mission Continues, But With a Twist

During our visit to the U.S. for most of the month of April, we were able to be a part of Advent Presbyterian Church in the Memphis area over a couple of Sundays. This is the church I grew up in, and my parents are still part of the church community.

For quite some time, as a whole church, they have been working through The Story – which mainly focuses on reading through and teaching the major stories of Scripture. It looks to make the Bible very practical – in teaching and application to people’s lives.

While I was back, they had just finished looking at the Ascension (though the church calendar celebrates it this coming Sunday). And so I was asked to speak on Pentecost and Acts 2.

If interested, below is the 21-minute video from my teaching. Continue reading

Why the Holy Spirit?

I would have to say that the second most important event of history, second only to the resurrection of Jesus, is that of the pouring out of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2. So important was it!

Now, what we must realise is that the feast of Pentecost had been annually celebrated for some time. It was connected to the feast of Shavuot, where the Jews also remembered the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

So Acts 2 was not the recording of the first Pentecost. Hence, Luke’s words here: When the day of Pentecost arrived…(Acts 2:1). They were already expecting Pentecost to come. I’m just not sure they were fully expecting the fruitful harvest that came on that particular Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. A greater gift was given here than at Mt. Sinai!

What had been intimated at and prophesied about for centuries past (see Numbers 11:24-30; Isaiah 32:14-15; 44:3; Joel 2:26-29), and promised by Jesus himself (John 7:37-39; Acts 1:4-5), had finally arrived. No longer was the Holy Spirit to be given to only a select few. He was to be given and poured out on all God’s people, no distinction made – male/female, young/old, Jew/Greek.

The Messianic age would also be marked as the age of the Holy Spirit! Fantastic news, no doubt.

But, one might ask: Why the Holy Spirit? Why was he given?

Good question. And while Scripture does not answer every single question we ask, it seems to clearly answer this question. It’s recorded by Luke, coming from the lips of Jesus.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Pretty clear, heh?

This statement in the early words of Acts stands as the thesis statement for the whole book. The account of Acts would be an outworking of this one statement. The Spirit would be given, and through such an event of extreme import, the people of God would be empowered witnesses.

This was not something for a group of twelve, or a group of twelve and a few other special people. Again, this was a reality for all of God’s people. Remember, the Spirit would not differentiate via gender or age or social barriers. This is one reason why Peter quotes Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; quoting Joel 2:28-29)

So, reason number 1 for the Spirit being given – that we might receive power and that we might be his witnesses. If there is anything that should mark the life of the Christ-follower it should be the power of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit to be his witnesses. No, I do not only mean that we all must be used in miracles and healings, though I am definitely not opposed to such. Rather, we are to know the power of God across all areas our lives. The power of God is to be available in every aspect, leading to a life that seasons with salt and shines with light.

I cannot imagine anything less.

So, as I shared in my last post, the Spirit of God was not given to ‘maintain the status quo’. It was not given to make sure we hold together nice meetings, a prayer meeting here, a Bible study there, a fellowship meal here, a finance meeting there. None of those are bad in and of themselves. But they are not necessarily the fruit of Acts 1:8, especially if it is tied into solely maintaining the status quo.

Can you imagine Acts 1:8 saying this?

But you will receive the ability to maintain the status quo when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you might possibly be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

I’m sorry, but I can honestly say I would not want any part of that. The Spirit was not given to make sure we all live out a nice and comfortable life in Christ. The Spirit was given that we might be empowered witnesses. Acts 1:8 does not get any clearer.

I am stirred deep by the reality of the reason the Holy Spirit was given when reading Acts 1:8.

The second reason the Spirit is given, not that it is subservient to the first reason I pointed out, is found in the very first verse of Acts 1:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. (Acts 1:1)

Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke, was an account of the things Jesus began to do and teach. Jesus was not finished. He had more to accomplish and say. Hence, he poured out the Spirit to continue his work, for the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (see Acts 16:7; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:19).

But, though the Lord of heaven and earth, as one man, accomplished quite a lot, he was not able to accomplish all as that one human being. Remember, he did not grasp at his equality as the divine (Philippians 2:6).

So, as I have emphasised, to continue his powerful work, Jesus pours out his Spirit to empower an entire body, though that body started at about 120 (Acts 1:15). Hence, why his words in John 14:12 make a lot of sense:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Not a select few, but whoever believes. I know there are plenty to argue that this does not mean everyone, since Jesus was only talking to the disciples-apostles. Or that this does not really mean all of Christ’s works, since some of those works are not needed much any more because the gospel has spread enough and we have the testimony of Scripture.

I am glad that gospel has spread, though I am not sure we understand the power of the gospel at times, and I am glad we have the God-breathed Scripture. But I am not sure whoever believes can be any clearer as to whom Jesus envisioned when he uttered those words. Suffice it to say, I am clear on what Jesus clearly meant – whoever believes. But if you want more to chew on, here is a great article to read.

Now, let me also note that I do not believe the ‘greater works’ is so much speaking qualitatively as it is speaking quantitatively. You get me? We can’t really walk out much greater a manifestation of the works and power of God than raising the dead, healing the blind, seeing withered hands restored, etc. Thus, I believe this is speaking more about the whole Spirit-empowered body of Christ being able to accomplish more than the Son of God as one human being.

Can you imagine millions and billions of Christ-followers empowered with the same Spirit? I’m thinking greater works, quantitatively. Remember, the same Spirit that Jesus relied on in the flesh, even post-resurrection (see Acts 1:2), is the one who indwells and empowers the body of Christ now.

Of course, I am not so silly as to believe that John 14:12 is only speaking of major manifestations of God’s power through healings and miracles. The works of Jesus include compassion for the hurting, mercy for the downtrodden, food to the homeless, respect and love for our spouses, tender care for our children, overcoming the temptation of the enemy and flesh, etc, etc. But I could never deny and step back from recognising that the works of Jesus also include healings and miracles and other demonstrations of the powerful work of the Spirit. We cannot argue our way out of this one.

Again, whoever believes in me will also….

So, why was the Spirit given? Simply put: 1) to continue the works of Jesus and 2) to empower God’s people as witnesses, so that those works might continue. This didn’t stop with Jesus. And this didn’t conclude with Acts 28. This has been continuing for some 2000 years and will continue on until all is accomplished and he returns to marry his prepared bride.

Oh, that we might know his power.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke

Back in December, I posted a book review about a recent book I had read on pneumatology, that is, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It was entitled, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today by Max Turner, professor at London School of Theology. The book must be one of the more modern better books on pneumatology.

At the same time, I was reading through another pneumatological title, The Charismatic Theology of St Luke by Roger Stronstad. I had dipped into this book in the past, but this time I started back at the beginning and read through it fully.

To start out, one of the pluses of the book is that it is a mere 83 pages. Now, of course, one might say, ‘Only 83 pages as an academic work. Are you sure it’s good?’

Well, I am quite aware of the fact that all things cannot be covered in a 300+ page book, like Turner’s, much less an 83-page book. But I was quite intrigued that Stronstad was able to faithfully look at quite a few things in such a shorter work. He was even pulling in references from various sources, including quite a few intertestamental writings as he looked at some later-BC Judaistic views of the Spirit.

Stronstad is a Pentecostal scholar, so I would tend to agree with a lot of things he has put forth in the work. But I would also couple that with stating that he is quite balanced in his approach.

Yes, he does believe the baptism, or initial filling of the Spirit, can be received following salvation-initiation. But I do not believe he is one to argue too far over the top, stating that this is the only way. He even ends out in his final chapter with some practical and pastoral challenges such as 1) not seeing tongues as the initial evidence of receiving the Spirit or that 2) we steer clear of a two-tier class of Christianity. Both are not biblically warranted, to which I agree.

There are three major and important contributions in Stronstad’s work that I point out in this article:

1) He shows the strong connection between the infancy-inauguration of Luke’s Gospel with the Pentecost initiation narrative of Acts. Stronstad states:

‘In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relationship to the Acts as the infancy-inauguration narratives do to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke these narratives not only introduce the motifs which define the mission of Jesus, but they also show that Jesus will execute His mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar manner, the Pentecost narrative introduces both the future mission of the disciples and the complementary empowering of the Spirit.’ (p49)

He also makes this statement just a few pages earlier in regards to the parallel accounts of Luke’s narrative Gospel and Luke’s narrative of Acts:

‘The Gospel [of Luke] is the story of Jesus, the unique charismatic Prophet; the Acts is the story of His disciples, a community of charismatic prophets.’ (p34)

No wonder Stronstad would later publish the book, The Prophethood of All Believers, of which I also wrote an article about here.

2) Stronstad also shows how Luke must be considered both historian and theologian, not simply historian. This is not always accepted in biblical-scholarly circles. But doing so will be of great help to us as we consider a full and holistic biblical pneumatology. He makes this important statement in his work:

‘Consequently, just as the recognition that Luke is a theologian as well as a historian makes Luke-Acts a legitimate data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, so the recognition that Luke is independent of Paul will broaden the New Testament data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To recognize these two facts is to rehabilitate Luke as a historian-theologian of the Holy Spirit and to allow him to make a significant, unique, and independent contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.’ (p11)

He, then, goes on to challenge our thinking with these words:

‘On the one hand, where it is appropriate, all parties in the current debate must abandon those largely self-serving methodological programs which conspire to either silence or to manipulate Luke’s distinctive theology. On the other hand, all parties must develop a methodological consensus for interpreting the gift of the Spirit in Luke-Acts. At a minimum, this consensus must include the following principles: 1) Luke-Acts is theologically homogeneous, 2) Luke is a theologian as well as a historian, and 3) Luke is an independent theologian in his own right.’ (p12)

3) Connected to the last point, Stronstad also emphasises that Luke and Paul have different emphases in their pneumatology. Of course, their theology is to be harmonized as part of the whole of Scripture’s teaching. Yet, within Paul’s writings, we continually read of the soteriological necessity of the Spirit, which sees the work of the Spirit as bringing people into sonship with God and incorporating them into the body of Christ. But, in Luke, the Spirit is recognised as the Spirit of prophecy that empowers God’s people for mission and service.

And we see this as we compare the use of certain phrases in both Luke and Paul. Interestingly enough, Luke uses the phrase, ‘baptised in the Spirit’, 3 times while Paul only uses it once. Even more, Luke uses the phrase, ‘filled with the Spirit’, 9 times of which Paul only refers to it once as well. Maybe Luke will help inform our pneumatology a little more than we had first thought.

Thus, we see that Stronstad puts forth the arguement that Luke’s pneumatology is about the Spirit being given for witness and service. Hence, why he would argue that the Spirit, from a Lukan-charismatic perspective, could be received post-salvation. He states:

‘If we have interpreted Luke’s Pentecost narrative correctly, then the gift of the Spirit is not for salvation, but it is for witness and service. In other words, with the transfer of the Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, they become a charismatic community, heirs to the earlier charismatic ministry of Jesus.’ (p62)

Therefore, with anyone wanting to studying biblical pneumatology, especially a Lukan pneumatology, though this book is short and from a more Pentecostal-charismatic perspective, I do think it is worth diving into. For me, I definitely appreciated the work. But may be I am a little biased as a charismatic.

When Are The ‘Last Days’?

Picking up from the initial thoughts concerning eschatology, we defined the word as meaning, ‘the study of last things’. I personally like the phrase ‘last things’ instead of ‘end times’. The phrase ‘end times’ leaves a lot of scary images in peoples’ minds, and we are trying to lay a healthier foundation about the topic of eschatology.

Now, when studying this topic, one of the first questions that might arise is, ‘When are the last days?’ And I think it is an important question. Based upon a lot of current teaching, most people would answer the question by saying that the last days are the last seven years before Christ returns, or something like that. But, as always, let’s see what the Scriptures teach.

In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit was poured out and the people began to speak in other tongues, some were mocking what they saw, claiming that the people were drunk. But Peter took his stand and declared:

‘For these men are not drunk, as you suppose…but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind.'” (Acts 2:14-17)

Peter was proclaiming that Joel’s prophecy about the last days (Joel 2:28-32) was being fulfilled right in front of their eyes, or better yet, in their hearing. Thus, what we see here is that the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days had begun at Pentecost in Acts 2, and it is to continue for all generations as we enjoy God’s promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all peoples.

According to Biblical understanding, and contrary to much teaching currently, we did not enter the last days 100 years ago, 50 years ago, nor 10 years ago. The last days are not a seven-year period before Christ returns. We entered into the last days when the Spirit was poured forth at Pentecost, and thus, we have been in the last days for approximately the past 1,978 years.

We could also refer to the last days as the Messianic Age in which the Messiah would reign. And we know by our study of Scripture that the Messiah is reigning, for He has been given the power to pour out the promise of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:33, see also Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:18-23). Oh yes, every knee has not yet bowed, nor every tongue confessed. But we are moving towards that day in which every enemy will be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:25-26), and every knee bowing along with every tongue confessing Jesus as Lord and King (Philippians 2:10-11).

Thus, take courage in knowing that, for the Church, the body of Christ, the last days are an exciting time. There are going to be tough days and tribulations for the Church at all points of history. But the people of God have enjoyed the promise of the great last days since Pentecost, and we will continue to be in the last days until Christ returns to fully establish His kingdom.

To continue with looking at the roots of eschatology, click here.