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Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost’


The other day a congregant asked me a question about tongues since someone was encouraging them to “use their gifts.” Today I was turning to Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John for my sermon. I neglected to read it last week and decided to play catch up instead of skipping over it since it was a great text.

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7

In the course of Homily 32, Augustine moves in a direction I did not anticipate: tongues. He went there because he clarified that the Spirit was given at Pentecost. The point was should we expect a similar experience as they had. This is a question that continues 1,600+ years later.

Just because nowadays those who are being baptized in Christ and who believe in Christ do not speak in the languages of all nations, is it to be assumed that they have not received the Holy Spirit? No such lack of faith should tempt our heart. We are certain that everyone receives him; but whatever size vessel of faith you bring to the fountain is filled up.

First, let us note that “speaking in tongues” was not common in Augustine’s day. He understood the languages which they spoke to be human languages the speaker did not know. These were not “heavenly languages” as some seem to teach. Speaking in tongues, he says, is not the or a sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit.

Early Pentecostals, believing that the tongues in Acts 2 were earthly languages, believed they would receive this gift while on the mission field. It didn’t happen. Now Pentecostals and Charismatics typically believe they speak in a heavenly language taking Paul’s hypothetical in 1 Corinthians 13 as reality.

“Well, since then he is received nowadays too,” somebody may say, “why is no one speaking in the languages of all nations?” Because now the Church speaks in the languages of all peoples. Previously the Church was to be found in one people, when it was speaking in the languages of all. By speaking with the languages of all it was signifying what was going to happen, that by growing among peoples, it would speak everyone’s language.

His argument was that only one people at the time, Israel, had the Gospel. The Church was comprised on one nation, Israel. The Gospel was about to go to the nations, and they could come into the Church (grafted in and joining, not replacing!). At that time the Church needed the gift of tongues, Augustine is arguing, to speak to the nations represented in the crowd there. With the Gospel and therefore the Church spreading to the known world in Augustine’s time, it now spoke all those languages. God no longer needed to give the gift of tongues.

The Church spread throughout the nations is speaking with all tongues; the Church is the body of Christ, you are a member in this body; so then, since you are a member in his body, which is speaking with all tongues, confidently believe that you are speaking with all languages.

Since you are united to the body, he argues, you therefore speak in all languages.

There is much to like about his overall argument. But it is not perfect.

The main weakness is that there are many unreached groups that we have since learned about. No one in the Church speaks their language. One would think that the gift would be “revived” in order to reach these groups. Many a linguistic missionary wishes it was that easy. But we have not seen this happen. We cannot anticipate how Augustine would answer this development after his death. It is an interesting view held by one of the great theologians and during the early centuries of the Church.

Other books of interest on this matter would include Gaffin’s Perspectives on Pentecost and Stott’s Baptism and Fullness. On my shelf is a copy of Anthony Hoekema’s What About Speaking in Tongues? that I’ve been meaning to get to for years. Maybe soon.

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The 3rd view of sanctification presented in Christian Spirituality is a Wesleyan view by Laurence Wood. There are aspects of the Wesleyan view that he clarifies so common misunderstandings no longer remain misunderstanding. The main positive I found was that of expectation- the expectation that God will work in you to sanctify you. Forde, in his Lutheran response did not share my view of this as positive.

“In this regard, it should be kept in mind that a Wesleyan hermeneutic, though it gives priority to the Scriptures as the basis of all beliefs, assumes that all truth is existentially perceived and appropriated. …. For the Bible is always interpreted through experience, tradition and reason. This is not a subjectivizing of the biblical revelation, but a frank acknowledgement that all truth is mediated in a larger context, rather than merely through a logical and rationalistic framework.”

He begins by talking about the Wesleyan hermeneutic. It is very good that he does this because it reveals some of his presuppositions for us to examine as well. Too often the method of interpretation used to arrive at a conclusion is not mentioned. So he unpacks, briefly, the “personal-relational dimension” of the way Wesleyans tend to “do theology.” Certainly our personal and corporate histories shape our understanding of Scripture. Sometimes for good, and sometimes not so good. His main point is that “the crucible of life is the laboratory for testing our interpretation of Scripture.” The key phrase is “our interpretation.” They are not testing the Scripture, but their interpretation. Our theology should work: making sense of life, our experience and shaping our life in positive ways. The gospel produces good things in our lives, though often thru difficult experiences.

The Misunderstanding

Many people stumble over the phrase Christian Perfectionism. Wesley was not speaking about absolute perfection. Entire sanctification, another confusing term for non-Wesleyans, refers to a “second blessing” (yet another confusing term for non-Wesleyans and non-Pentacostals) or subsequent blessing that gives us perfect love for God. This perfect love for God results in “perfect obedience.” This does not mean we are sinless, but that we no longer willfully sin. There may be unintentional sins, and there are “psychologically repressed complexes” that result in disordered behavior. But our intentions are good and pure even if our behavior is not (I wonder how much Neil T. Anderson’s material connects with the Wesleyan view).

“In fact, the entirely sanctified are more aware of their weaknesses and sins and thus are more capable of growth in grace because of the openness of their hearts to their true situation.”

(more…)

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Many a tree has been killed over the topic of the proper mode of baptism.  I am not referring to the use of the trinitarian formula.  I am referring to whether or not one must be immersed or if sprinkling and pouring are also legitimate modes of baptism.  For some people this is pretty much a hill to die on.  For others, this is not an essential of the faith and they permit some flexibility in the matter.

As a credobaptist (believer’s baptism) I often heard that the Greek verb means “to immerse, to dip.”  The total argument was based on the “meaning of the word.”  Let’s briefly investigate this claim.

From The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged):

The Meaning of

baŒptoµ and baptéŒzoµ. baŒptoµ, “to dip in or under,” “to dye,” “to immerse,” “to sink,” “to drown,” “to bathe,” “wash.”

I don’t know about you, but I do not often immerse myself when I wash.  I essentially pour water over my hands, or body when I shower.  Such an understanding would be within the semantic range of the verb.  Immersion is a legitimate mode of baptism, but possibly not the only legitimate mode of baptism.

So far, not very convincing.  Right?  What if I pointed out an instance in Scripture where baptism did not mean “immerse”?

There are 2 parallel passages that help us to see the fulness of the term found in Scripture.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 1, NIV)

Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The disciples were going to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This event takes place in Acts 2, and Peter offers a biblical theological explanation for what the people just experienced, or witnessed (in the case of the crowd who did not yet believe).

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  (Acts 2, NIV)

Peter informs the people that God promised this would happen.  It was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2).  This “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is described as God “pour(ing) out (His) Spirit.”  The semantic range is more limited- “to pour out, to shed (as in blood).”  We are not immersed in the Spirit

Using this parallelism, in which one verse helps us to understand another (called the analogy of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith & the London Baptist Confession).  This is also part of how we do theology in Scripture.  You include the range of meaning, look at synomyns, other grammatical concerns and historical context.  Here we see that baptism can also mean “to pour.”

If you want to immerse when you baptize- have at it.  But it would be biblically improper to limit the proper mode of baptism to immersion.  Those who have been sprinkled and poured by legitimate churches are just as baptized as you.  The issue is not how much water touches your body.

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