Friday, March 1, 2013

Ecumenism: The Holy Spirit and Reformation

Part 4.1 of an ongoing Bible study on ecumenism. See links to other lessons at the bottom of this post.
taken from

TEXT: Acts 2:1-14
1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians--we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." 12And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine." 14But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.

Exegetical Data. Narrated here are the first events of Pentecost: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, their speaking in foreign tongues, the amazement of the Jews, the mockery made by some men, and Peter's response.
  • This was the fulfillment of Christ's promise to empower the disciples so that they could be His witnesses, as seen in Acts 1:8.
  • Since Pentecost marks the birth of the Church, the events described in our passage are actually the first signs of the Church's life, just as a baby's cry is the first sign of a successful birth.

Allow me to begin by referring to one of the heresies we discussed in an earlier lesson: Pelagianism. The error of Pelagius was that by magnifying the human will, he created a moralistic system that gave little room for the work of the Holy Spirit. This was a serious error, because the Christian begins his spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, and continues walking by the Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit therefore has to have a considerable place in our theology and practical living.
Many evangelicals today place a lot of importance on the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • The first church I attended after my conversion was typical, I think, of the charismatic trend in evangelicalism. Praise and worship time was like being in a concert, with the dim lights, the full band, and music that was supposed to stir up people spiritually but actually just stirred up emotions. The preaching was gospel lite. You know, L-I-T-E. It didn't last for more than 30mins, and was quite shallow. If theology was discussed at all it was at the level of a high school student. Tongues, prophecies, dreams, visions and miracles received a lot of attention among the people of this seeker-friendly church.
  • This created a lot of problems for the church. People thought that because they spoke in ecstatic tongues, they were walking closely with God. Instead of seeking answers in Scripture, people habitually sought out prophecies and dreams because they wanted a personal “word from God” about things like which vocation to pursue, which ministry to join, whether or not to get into business, and who to have a relationship with. Emotional hype was interpreted as the unmistakeable moving of the Holy Spirit.
  • They were right about the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, but they were wrong about what constitutes the work of the Holy Spirit!
  • This problem of misunderstanding the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to a few, isolated churches and organizations within evangelicalism. Again, I only have anecdotal data, but from what I've seen and heard over the years, this problem is fairly widespread.
  • Point: To the extent that this problem exists, I believe that the work of the Spirit is being quenched and the fruitfulness of ecumenical ministry is being hindered.

What was the significance of tongue-speaking in the book of Acts? It is mentioned explicitly in only three events, and perhaps implicitly in one other.
  1. Acts 2:4ff. At Pentecost the Church was born at Jerusalem, and the disciples' proclaimed the gospel to Jews from various nations and tongues.
  2. By implication, Acts 8:14ff. The Church expanded to Samaria, and Peter and John went there in order to lay hands on them, that the Samaritan Christians might receive the Holy Spirit.
  3. Acts 10:44ff. Peter went to Cesarea and preached the gospel to Cornelius, his relatives, and close friends—all Gentiles—and as they believed the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they began to speak in tongues.
  4. Acts 19:6. At Ephesus, Paul met some disciples of John and evangelized them. They believed, were baptized, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them, causing them to speak in tongues and prophesy.
  • Q: What did all four of these events have in common? What does this say about the significance of tongue-speaking in the book of Acts?
    • All four events were conversion events. The first three are particularly significant because they show the fulfilling of Christ's commission for the disciples to bear witness in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
    • These were one-time events that involved direct participation of the apostles, and that functioned as signs of the Messianic Age and the inauguration of the Kingdom.
Note that in the first three events, each group that was filled with the Holy Spirit in a remarkable and visible way was a representative group.
  • The groups in Acts 2 represented the Jews, the group in Acts 8 represented the Samaritans, and the group in Acts 10 represented the Gentiles.
  • There is no indication that such a display of the Spirit accompanied every conversion. In fact, of all the conversion accounts in Acts, the four mentioned above are exceptional in this regard, and also because they directly involved one or more apostles.
  • Point: The teaching that visible manifestations of the Spirit normally accompany conversions is a speculation that has no grounding in the Scriptures, and is a serious handicap to Christian ministry and inter-church cooperation.

And another point. The focus of the four events is clearly not on tongue-speaking in itself, as many seem to think. The focus is on witness.
  • Acts 2:11 - “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
  • Acts 10:46 - “For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
  • Acts 19:6 - “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
Notice how the point of the tongues was always to confess and/or proclaim the gospel. In fact, in Acts 2, we see that tongue-speaking quickly gave way to Peter's preaching (see v.14). As one commentator writes,
  • “The gift of tongues exercised in the midst of the multitudes, to the astonishment of the multitude, and probably to the astonishment of the disciples also, brought nothing to a conclusion. It did not produce conviction, either of sin, or concerning Christ. It needed prophecy to complete it. It created the opportunity for prophecy.”1
  • Q: If proclamation and faith were the focus of the Pentecost-event, what does that say about what it means to be filled with the Spirit
    • What it means: To be filled with the Spirit means to be powerfully convicted of the reality of the gospel, and to have the grace to boldly live out that conviction. This corresponds exactly with what Paul said in Eph 5:17-19, where being “filled with the Holy Spirit” means “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. Gal 5:22-23 says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”.
    • What it doesn't mean: …
Challenge. Having a vivid dream, or a supposed vision, or unusual physical weakness does not necessarily mean that a person is full of the Spirit.
  • All sorts of non-Christians claim to experience these very same things, and we can be sure that whatever is causing their remarkable experiences, it is not the Holy Spirit, because it doesn't lead to conviction, repentance and faith in Christ.
  • We have to learn to “test the spirits, to see whether they are from God” (1Jn 4:1). And that isn't as simplistic as asking “did the experience lead me closer to God,” because people will answer that question subjectively. Of course a person will claim that the experience led him closer to God! Unfortunately, many who speak like that actually ministerpret the Scripture they quote! They twist Scripture to fit their own agenda, and then claim that it was God's personal word to them. This is clearly the result of Christians' lack of commitment to search the Scriptures. They don't take the effort to sit down, read, research, consult, and wrestle with interpretive issues. They want instant gratification, and treat Bible study as if it was nothing more than a prolonged quiet time! Kung ano lang yung makita nilang meaning, basta emotionally rewarding, tapos hindi naman sobrang obvious na mali, puwede na siguro. This is unacceptable.
Even worse, many so-called shepherds refuse to fight against this disturbing trend in evangelical churches. For whatever reason, they treat this issue with kid gloves.
  • And so, those who should be leading the flock choose instead to follow the popular demand. Those who should be guarding the flock against error look the other way as Satan's agents subtly turn the sheeps' attention away from the word to mystical notions of dreams, visions, tongues, prophecies and the like. The shepherds themselves have trained the sheep to seek the Spirit where the Spirit is not to be found, and to ignore the primary/normative instrument through which the Spirit speaks: the word of God.
But to be fair, perhaps this is a reaction to the cold orthodoxy that characterizes other churches.
  • Perhaps Christians are seeking the Holy Spirit within charismatic circles because these appear to be more “alive,” and promise a more intensely personal relationship with God. It's possible that the people in these circles are more cheerful and welcoming compared with people from more conservative groups.
  • It's also possible that they have a very strong emphasis on evangelism and foreign missions, which is, of course, very attractive to sincere Christians. It's possible that Christians have not found these things in more traditional churches. This is, indeed, an area of concern, and needs to be addressed.
  • Q: So how is this relevant to ecumenism? Do you see any application we can make?
    • I think it's important to recognize that many evangelical churches and organizations today have a wrong understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. It seems that this problem is not isolated, but considerably widespread. And it is not a minor issue that people of the word can easily sweep under the rug. Rather, it needs to be addressed decisively. Traditional churches need reformation, too. And perhaps they can learn to be more dependent on the Spirit and to seek greater passion for God's glory in the world. The point is that that one of the aims of ecumenism must be reformation within the evangelical churches.

No comments:

Post a Comment