If it is true, as we said in the previous article, that there is but one baptism for every elect child of God, the baptism with the Holy Spirit of which the sign and seal is the sprinkling with water, how is it to be explained that in the book of Acts there obviously were two distinct works of the Holy Spirit upon some of God’s people? Jesus’ disciples, e.g., were reborn, saved men prior to the day of Pentecost. This, of course, was due to the gracious operation of the Spirit upon their hearts. Still, on the day of Pentecost these men “were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). The Spirit was poured out upon them (Acts 2:16-18). They were then “baptized with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 1:5).
Pent. appeals to this history in Acts as proof for its contention that there must be two distinct works of grace in the life of every Christian: a first work of salvation (regeneration) and a second work of power for life and service (the baptism with the Spirit). The experience of the disciples, and others, in the book of Acts is regarded as normative for every child of God. Pent. insists that Pentecost be repeated, over and over, for every member of the Church. One of the leading Pent. writers, Donald Gee, speaks of “a personal Pentecost” for every Christian (cf. A New Discovery).
This betrays a complete misunderstanding of the great event of Pentecost. It is as foolish to demand a personal Pentecost as it would be to demand a personal incarnation of Jesus, or one’s own personal death of Christ, or a personal resurrection of our Lord.
Pentecost was the exalted Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to His Church. The Spirit was given in rich, full measure—He was “poured out.” He was given as the One Who brings to the Church the first fruits of the finished work of Jesus Christ, the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection, i.e., Christ’s salvation. In the gift of the Spirit, the gospel-promise of the Old Testament was fulfilled to the Church (Acts 2:38, 39; Gal. 3:14), because the Son of God gave to God’s people full salvation, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He baptized the Church with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Being mightier than John the Baptist, He flooded the Church with the reality, whereas John could only give the sign (Matt. 3:11).
That grand Sunday marked the passing of the old age and the coming of the new; it is the boundary between the Old Dispensation and the New. The distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament is a matter of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, which is only a matter of the full riches of Christ’s accomplished salvation. Such is the teaching of John 7:37-39: “. . .for the Holy Ghost was not yet; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” In the Old Dispensation, the Holy Spirit was not yet. He and His saving work were not absolutely lacking, for He saved God’s people under the old covenant, even as He now saves us. But He was not present with the fullness and richness of salvation with which He now dwells in the Church. This was due to the fact that Christ had not yet died and risen, actually to acquire that rich and full salvation. Just as Christmas was the birthday of the Son of God in the flesh, Pentecost was the birthday of the Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ in the Church.
Pentecost, like the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension, was a once-for-all-time event. Fifty days after He arose, Jesus sent His Spirit to His Church. This is never again repeated, anymore than Jesus’ death is repeated. It is nonsense, if not heresy, to preach each Christian’s “personal, Pentecost.” This is why it is wrong to expect the reappearance of the signs of Pentecost down through church history. The sound as of a mighty rushing wind, the cloven tongues as of fire, and the disciples’ speaking with other tongues were the signs, once-for-all, of the historical event of the outpouring of the Spirit, just as the great earthquake was the sign of the resurrection of Jesus. To be sure, these signs are intended to be my signs in 1977 as much as they were intended to be signs for Peter in A.D. 33. But they are mine, not by being repeated in my experience, but by being written down on the pages of Holy Scripture and by being received through faith.
When Pentecostals try to gainsay the once-for-all character of Pentecost (do they really dare to deny this?), they point to the incidents in the book of Acts which seemingly are repetitions of Pentecost: the Spirit’s falling upon the Samaritan converts (Acts 8:5-24); the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:44-48. cf. also Acts 11:15-18); and the coming of the Spirit on the disciples of John (Acts 19:1-7). In fact, these incidents are special events, intended by God to demonstrate that the unrepeatable wonder of Pentecost extends to all the Church, specifically the half heathens, the outright heathens, and the disciples of John the Baptist. They are extensions of Pentecost to the full Church, the furthest outworking of that event.
In light of the significance of Pentecost, we can readily understand the fact that, on the day of Pentecost, men and women who had already been saved received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that they then enjoyed new riches of salvation and hitherto unknown power. This is not indicative of two works of grace in every Christian; this is not normative for all believers, as if we, too, must expect and long to pass from “mere salvation through faith” to the higher level of feeling and power of a “Spirit baptism.” The explanation is found in the unique historical position of the saints who lived through Pentecost. They lived through the transition from the Old Dispensation to the New Dispensation, from the Spirit’s not being yet to His being, from Christ’s not yet being glorified to His being glorified. Before that moment, those saints, e.g., Peter, were saved; now, as the New Dispensation dawns, they receive the gift of the Spirit in His fullness, i.e., the completed salvation of the, glorified Christ. At Pentecost, they advanced, not from a first level of grace to a second, higher level of grace, but from the infancy of the Church of the Old Covenant to the maturity of the Church of the New Covenant (Gal. 4:1-7)
We recoil in horror from the suggestion that each of us must repeat the experience of Pentecost. Then, we have to go back for a little while into the Old Dispensation, to live under the law and in the types and shadows, so that, at some point, we can pass into the New Covenant. We would not do this even if this were possible.
We New Testament saints receive the Spirit of the glorified Christ, with the full Christ and all His benefits,at once, as soon as He regenerates us, takes up His abode in us, baptizes us into Christ’s Body, the Church, and unites us to Christ by a true and living faith. Certainly, the blessing of Pentecost is ours, every bit as much as it was the blessing of the 120 in the upper room in Jerusalem; certainly, we share in Pentecost, as really and fully as if we had been among those 120 believers. This is as necessary as it is that we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. If one does not share in Christ’s death and resurrection, or in Pentecost, he simply is not saved. But I do not share in Christ’s death by that death’s being repeated somehow in my personal history and experience. I share in Christ’s death and resurrectionby faith; by faith I am crucified with Christ and rise with Him. Just so, by this same faith I share in Pentecost. The blessing of that great day, now almost 2000 years past, becomes mine personally through the faith, worked in me by the Spirit, that unites me to Christ and to His Body, the Church, to whom the Spirit was then given and in whom the Spirit dwells forever. This is the teaching of Galatians 3:14“that we might receive the promise of the Spiritthrough faith.”
The other of the two outstanding features of Pent. is their doctrine and alleged practice of extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, especially tongues. For this, too, they claim to find support in Scripture. What is the Reformed answer to this teaching and its appeal to the Bible?
There was, in the time of the apostles, a gift of tongues, whether that gift be explained as the ability to speak foreign languages without having learned them or as the ability to speak totally new, unknown languages. I Corinthians 14 indicates that at least one aspect of the gift of tongues in those days was the ability to speak in an altogether new, unknown language. No one, including the speaker, understood what was said (vss. 2, 14). Interpretation of the tongue was, like the tongue itself, a gift of the Spirit (vs. 13. cf. I Cor. 10:10). The speaker in tongues did not speak to men, but to God (vs. 2). The benefit of it was not the edification of others, but his own edification (vs. 4). “In the spirit,” the tongues speaker “speaketh mysteries” (vs. 2).
There were also other extraordinary gifts of the Spirit in those days. There was the gift of receiving special revelations from God; the gift of casting out devils; the gift of taking up serpents; the gift of drinking deadly things without hurt; the gift of healing the sick by laying on of hands; and the gift of raising the dead(cf. Mark 16:17, 18; I Cor. 12:1-11).
Among these gifts, the gift of tongues was one of only minor importance (cf. I Cor. 12:28-31 —where tongues and interpretation of tongues come at the end of the list and are not among the best gifts which the Corinthians should covet; cp. I Cor. 14:39 —where the Corinthians are to covet prophecy, but merely not to forbid tongues. cf. also all of chapter 14 where tongues are shown to be of only minimal importance, especially in comparison with prophecy.). If was a gift that was not possessed by all the Corinthians or expected to be possessed by all (I Cor. 12:30). It is passing strange, to say the very least, that Pent., with all its bluster of restoring New Testament Christianity, makes tongues the gift of the Spirit par excellence, ascribing to it, both in theory and in practice, a preeminence that it did not have even in the days of the apostles, and that Pent. holds, thatevery Christian should possess this gift—as if Paul had never written, “do all speak with tongues?”
(to be cont.)