Then and Now

I typically do not address divisive doctrines here because they typically generate more heat than light.  But while going through the book of Acts at seminary I felt compelled to comment.

“Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:4-5, emphasis is mine).’”

I have read a lot of discussion about Luke’s purpose for writing Acts, but here in his own God-inspired words, Luke sets the theological tone for what is to follow.  These words that appear at the outset of his record are not there by chance.  I maintain Acts is primarily descriptive, any prescriptive merit lies in the example of the founding fathers of our faith.

The Father fulfills His promise on the day of Pentecost and Peter preaches a sermon that brings three thousand souls to Christ.  The Church is born!  But do you remember the words Peter closed his message with.  Convicted of their sin, the gathering cried out to Peter and the other apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?”  Peter replies, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:38-39, emphasis is mine).”

In the first chapter they are told to wait for the promise of empowerment (Acts 1:4-5, 8).  In the second chapter God fulfills His promise to empower the Church at its birth.  What follows in the book of Acts is not what the apostles did, it is what God the Holy Spirit did through the apostles (Acts 19:11).  Peter says this promise of Holy Spirit empowerment is “for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.

All who are saved have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  At the point of repentance of sin, and trust in Christ, the living Spirit of God regenerates the lifeless inner man and quickens him and He takes up abode in him.  So this same Spirit who indwells us is the same Holy Spirit whose power is unleashed as we humble ourselves by waiting on Him, by seeking Him.

So forget tongues, and prophecy, and the word of knowledge, etcetera, because these are just byproducts of seeking the Holy Spirit.  The only reason these gifts divide us today is because of our professed scholarship and debates.  The truth is the gifts of the Spirit were never more pervasive, and the Church never more united than in the book of Acts.  They do not divide us, we divide ourselves.  Maybe we should quit debating and start praying.

America is a bastion of biblical scholarship.  I am not aware of another country where biblical scholarship is more pervasively promulgated, yet our country is incrementally going to hell in a hand basket.  I believe in pursuing biblical scholarship, I would not be enrolled in seminary if I didn’t.  I think apologetics are useful to remove intellectual roadblocks to the Gospel, but people are not saved because the Gospel is reasonable.  They are saved when they recognize their sin, and repent, and cry out to Christ.  If we ever think that biblical scholarship is a substitute for a genuine move of the Spirit of God to convict the hearts of men, you might as well bar the church doors and spray paint Ichabod across the front.

I don’t think anyone would say the Gospel of Jesus Christ was only for the early church in the first century, but it seems to me we do that with the Holy Spirit.  We take the third Person of the Trinity and wrap Him up in a first century box.  Are we really that deluded and spiritually detached?  I think there has never been a time in the history of mankind when the need for the fullness of God’s Spirit has been greater.

On October 15, 1975, the Spirit of God was heavy upon me as I waited on God.  I believed God was calling me to preach and I was afraid and rebelling.  I told God, “I do not have the words or ability to sway men’s hearts for Christ.”  I cannot explain what happened next.  I told a friend later it was like getting saved again.  But I got up from my knees a changed man.  When I gave God my heart, He gave me His help.  We need His Promise now, as they did then.

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