A Spirited Debate
David discusses how a confusing passage in Acts has led to different churches using the Holy Spirit in a vastly different way.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
As I was reading a book this week, I noticed myself speed reading again. And I say speed reading like I’m a professional. I think what I really mean is skimming.
I actually became a “professional skimmer” in Seminary when I had to read 10-15 books every quarter.
“No words in bold. Looks really boring. No highlighting”
But I caught myself skim reading this book, and I thought, what am I skimming??
And I realized I always skimmed the parts where the author talked about the “WHY” behind his foundation. Whenever he started to get really philosophical behind why they did what they did, and what were the principles that shaped that, I would skim read.
And I would say to myself, “Let’s just get to the parts where you’re talking about what you actually did! Oh, you were in Uganda, let’s hear more about what you actually did there.”
Because at heart, I’m really driven by practicality.
I could have never been some theologian that sits in a room all day, reading books and studying.
Now, do we need those people? Absolutely!
But, I want to get out, DO something, let’s get on with it and change the world already.
And a lot of messages here at church are like that. Ok, now what are you going to do about it.
But, sometimes, there comes a time when we have to slow down a little bit and get into the WHY. Slow down a little bit and figure out what’s theologically happening here.
BECAUSE that has implications for HOW we do what we do.
And we’re going to do that today. We’re going to slow down a little bit as we get to a passage in Acts that has often been hotly debated by Christians.
We are indeed continuing with the Book of Acts today.
Acts is the story of the early church after Jesus is resurrected.
When we left off last week, Stephen, one of the Christian leaders, was giving a dramatic speech.
We had Tim Wilson come up here and give that speech. And in fact, it was SO good, that Lance Cox, our cameraman dramatically fainted in the middle of it.
I’m happy to report that Lance is now just fine and he is thankful for your prayers last week.
So Stephen gives this dramatic speech to the opposing Jews and they stone him to death.
Here’s what happens next:
(Acts 8:1-3) – NIV
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
This Saul that was leading the persecution of the church is going to be the same Apostle Paul that writes half of the New Testament. So stay tuned for that!
So, such great persecution breaks out that the believers begin to scatter, and underground church is born. The believers are forced to either go underground or scatter.
Which reminds me of when I was in elementary school and I first learned about the underground railroad.
I had told myself that someday…someday I was going to go out East and see this amazing railroad that they actually built UNDERGROUND for the slaves to escape on. Amazing! J
What happens now though is the disciples that scatter out of Jerusalem aren’t being persecuted in these new areas yet, so they begin to spread the word of Jesus to new towns.
Philip is an example of this
(Acts 8:4-8) – NIV
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
2 weeks ago when Brenton Balvin spoke, he talked about the 7 men that the Apostles appointed to lead some of the ministries of the church.
One of those men was Stephen who was just martyred.
Another one was Philip who we are reading about today.
Philip has taken the gospel to Samaria, which is just north of Judah, the region Jerusalem is in.
SHOW SAMARIA MAP
Which actually is counter intuitive to us because the passage says he went “DOWN” to Samaria.
I grew up in Cambridge, MN about 30 miles North of here.
And whenever we wanted to go to what we called “The cities,” you would say, “I’m going to go DOWN to the cities today.”
Because South is DOWN on a map.
But to the Israelites, they mean DOWN like literally. See Jerusalem is a city on a hill, so to go to Samaria, you literally have to go down. J
The story continues.
(Acts 8:9-17) – NIV
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Ok, kind of interesting. Kind of controversial even.
And maybe you were like. What controversy? I was expecting a passage about guns, or marrying 12 women, or UFO’s or something…where’s the controversy?
The debate is one between Christians on how the Holy Spirit moves.
If we look back at the passage we see that people in Samaria believe in Jesus and put their faith in Him. They even get baptized.
HOWEVER, they don’t receive the Holy Spirit.
Now typically, in the Bible, and now in present day, whenever someone puts their faith In Jesus Christ that he died on the cross for them, we are told that the Holy Spirit comes and lives in us.
(Ephesians 1:13) - NIV
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
But for some reason here, they don’t have the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t come until the Apostles come and lay hands on them.
This is one of a few passages in Acts (Acts chapter 2 being one of them we already covered) that Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians use as evidence for what they call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
If you’re not familiar with what a Charismatic or Pentecostal churches believes, they are very similar to an evangelical church like this, but there is often even more emphasis on the importance of the miraculous gifts like prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc.
And charismatic concept of Baptism of the Holy Spirit is essentially this:
They believe that when people put their faith in Christ, they are regenerated (that is born again, saved, etc.), and the H.S. has some interaction there (sealing, etc.)
However, they also believe that each Christian needs to also have a second experience, which is called being “Baptized with the Holy Spirit”
And one of the main passages that is pointed to is our passage tody: Acts 8, where they had a 2nd exp.
So, if you were in a charismatic church, it would be really typical after you became a Christian to eventually have people pray for you, lay hands on you, and pray that you would also be baptized with the Spirit, so you could be more empowered for ministry, and use some of God’s amazing gifts (prophecying, speaking in tongues,etc.)
And in some circles, speaking in tongues is actually a mandatory evidence of one actually having the spirit
We’ll talk about that part more later in Acts.
Now, let me just say this. This is not a simple debate
WAY too many evangelical Christians have just dismissed the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” concept as it were comparable to Christians who think the Bible says we should all drink Kool-Aid and ride comets.
IN fact, this passage, Acts 8, is probably the strongest argument for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit out of all the passages we will see in Acts, and it needs to be dealt with intellectually rather than just quickly dismissing it.
Here’s why: Unlike what we are going to see in Acts 10 and Acts 19 (two other debated passages), it’s quite obvious that in this passage the Samaritans ARE indeed already believers.
It’s not that they weren’t Christians and when Peter and John came they suddenly believed. Some try and say that, but that’s a little silly.
Philip was NOT a deficient leader that couldn’t explain the gospel.
He was one of the KEY leaders of the Jerusalem church.
In fact, he even baptized them he was so sure that they believed.
So why in the world did they not receive the Holy Spirit right away like everyone else???
It kind of goes back to Acts 2 and Pentecost.
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit comes down and fills the original disciples and apostles for the first time even though they obviously already believed in Jesus.
That was a special working of God for a special occasion, but that’s not how it happens now in present day.
Yet, what we see in the Book of Acts, is that it actually happened a FEW times that way
It goes back to what Jesus says to the disciples before he ascends into heaven. He tells them His Word is going to Spread, but in a few important stages.
(Acts 1:8) – NIV
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Now, God had already been moving in Jerusalem and their region, Judea. But he had yet to reach the next region, Samaria.
And when he first does. He again, does something completely special…like He did at Pentecost.
It’s like when McDonald’s or any company opens another store, it’s special. But “special” is contextual.
When McDonald’s opened up their 2nd store in Blaine, I’m sure most people shrugged their shoulder.
But when I was growing up in Cambridge, the closest McDonald’s was 30 miles away. (242 and 65)
SO, when they got up to a new region to Cambridge, and opened, it was a BIG deal.
Or when they open another store in a NEW country for the first time. It’s extra special. The party is extra significant. FREE happy meals for everyone!
And God, is doing something different for the different regions He is reaching.
In His sovereignty, He waited to have the Holy Spirit come on the Samaritan believers until it was given directly through the hands of the Apostles.
It needed to be evident to the highest level of leadership in the church that God was moving amongst “these” people.
See, Samaritans were second-class citizens. Many of them were not considered to be “true Jews” by the Jewish people.
After the people of their land, which was Northern Israel at one time, were exiled, they intermixed with other people groups, and their Jewish religion became a blended one over time.
So they were kind of Jewish, but not really.
This isn’t a perfect example, but it’s kind of what a lot of Christians think of Catholics.
So, what’s happening is God is beginning to show that this Christianity thing is going to go WAY beyond just the Jews. Which they still weren’t quite getting. God needed the apostles to see this.
In fact, in Acts 10, when it reaches the Gentiles (non-Jews), a very similar thing happens (The Holy Spirit comes on the believers while Peter is there).
And peter says, “It’s happening just like it did to us in the beginning”
So God at a few important stages: In Jerusalem @ Pentecost, in Samaria in Acts 8, and then again to the Gentiles, does a special thing.
In a way, this is sort of a Samaritan Pentecost. A special outpouring of the H.S.
Therefore, this isn’t necessarily something we should we feel every believer has to emulate. It was a special occurrence in God’s story.
Plus, the rest of Scripture seems to point to the fact that we are fully immersed in God’s Spirit at Salvation. There isn’t a need for a 2nd experience.
(Galatians 3:5) – NIV
5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
We see the answer in Scripture is that we receive the spirit when we BELIEVE. We don’t have to do anything. We believe and it comes.
(John 7:38-39) – NIV
38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
So, if you believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be definitely flowing through you. No requirement of a 2nd experience necc.
Here’s a helpful way to sort this out.
In Biblical narrative (that is when we read the books of the Bible that are actually about history…not just a letter to someone)…in Biblical narrative, the Bible is always DESCRIPTIVE but not always PRESCRIPTIVE
Meaning, We don’t just emulate everything we read in their history.
Here’s what I mean:
In Acts 3, all the believers gather to meet in the Temple. Does that mean we need to all meet in a Temple everytime we talk about God? No. That’s just DESCRIPTIVE of their story. Not necessarily PRESCRIPTIVE for us to do.
Or in Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira get struck down for lying to Christian leaders. Does that mean God will always strike down every liar in church. No. It’s DESCRIPTIVE of a certain situation, but not necessarily PRESCRIPTIVE of how God will always acts.
Or in Acts 6, the church appoints 7 men to oversee the ministry of feeding those in need. Does that mean every church should appoint 7 men to oversee the ministry of feeding those in need?
No. Not everything is prescriptive for us to emulate.
So just because there is an occurrence where somebody gets the Holy Spirit late, it doesn’t mean we should ignore other parts of Scripture so we can imitate what happened to them.
So, why is seeking the Baptism of the Holy Spirit such a popular thing in charismatic circles?
& by the way, the charismatic/Pentecostal church is the fastest growing group of churches worldwide. God is really using this movement.
SO what’s going on?
Lots of good stuff actually. In fact, the Evangelical church as a whole has learned a lot from the charismatic movement, and has become more charismatic itself. Which is a good thing.
We could use a little bit more faith in the miraculous. Especially here in America.
But why do so many Christians continue to seek a “second blessing” or a second experience or the Baptism of the Holy Spirit if indeed the Holy Spirit is already in them and moving?
There has to be something to it.
And I think there is.
Let me explain by telling you some of my own story.
When I was in college, and had only been a Christian for a year or two, my friends invited me to a Bible study led by a Charismatic pastor.
Over the next few years I learned a lot about the Charismatic movement. I even went to a Charismatic church in college.
We went to this church where worship was crazy. It was one of those places where you felt funny if you were raising your hands.. Wedding dresses. Kids loved, teenagers hated.
I’m a very heady/logical person, so sometimes worship was odd, but the pastor there would get up and speak (after usually 60 minutes plus of worship), and he was one of the best Bible teachers I’ve ever heard.
So, needless to say, I’ve had my fair share of experience with the charismatic movements and I’ve watched countless times as groups of people have gathered around someone, laid hands on them and prayed for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
And you know what? I’ve seen God do some amazing things when people prayed for it.
And I’ve seen him do it to and through my close friends I trust.
And let me tell you something about my friends that might be helpful for you. I have some nerdy friends.
Many of them were crazy smart intellectuals.
Why is this important? It’s important because the charismatic movement has often been accused of being a movement of fakers.
A movement of people who fake speak in tongues or fake prophesy just so they can fit in and say that INDEED, they have been baptized by the Holy Spirit!
But if I can think of anyone who would be skeptical of this, it would be some of the very people I saw God move miraculously in while people were praying for them to be “Baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Now, let me clarify. When God moved in them, and came upon them and they were full of tears for His love, or when something miraculous happened, or God spoke to them, do I believe that was a necessary, second Baptism of the Holy Spirit that God commands in the Bible.
No. I don’t. Because I don’t think he commands it.
There’s no need for that. They already have access to the Spirit.
But here’s what I do believe. If you have 10 people stand around someone for 2 hours and beg God to move in their lives, guess what He’s going to do? MOVE IN THEIR LIVES!
God can certainly come down and give us a new empowering for ministry or give us an experience that helps us grow quickly at once.
We aren’t being “baptized in the Spirit” if that happens, for we already ARE baptized (which means immersed) with the Spirit.
A better word might even be to be FILLED with the spirit. We already have the Spirit. We just want to be full of it.
But , you could still say, but if I have it, aren’t I already full?
A good analogy that some theologians use is the analogy of a balloon. Even if a balloon were half full, you would still say it is full of air. It’s not half air and half water or something. But, it can be MORE full. And that’s like us and the Holy Spirit in our lives.
It’s not a bad thing to ask God to come fill us more.
And I’m not sure we need to get worked up about people asking God for that.
The only thing we should be leery about it is when people say that the Scriptures imply that every single believer needs to have this separate baptism experience.
That part’s not true.
People like Billy Graham, D.L. Moody, John Wesley, Martin Luther, and C.S. Lewis all dramatically changed this world for Christ without having a specific “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”
In House Groups this week, we are going to dive into what the rest of this passage says about Simon the Sorcerer
If you’re not in a House Group yet. I want to highly encourage you to check one out.
They are our unique groups of 20-30 people that provide you with a full community of Christians who can love and care for you, but also a small group for half the night as well. That allows you to take some of the stuff you’re learning. And ask questions. Apply it to your life. Dive deeper into your heart and mind.
If you’re interested in learning more about visiting a house group or even checking out multiple ones, stop by the HOUSE GROUP table
But I do want to say this before I finish: There are some key things we can learn here from this debate.
Our reaction too often is just a simple, “Oh we’re right, they’re wrong. Silly them.”
There are some key things we need to learn here.
Yes, we don’t need a separate special occasion of the H.S. coming down. He’s already in you if you’re a believer.
You do need, however, to rely on Him!
There’s so much we can learn from the charismatic movement and their passionate reliance on God to do the incredible.
For example: It’s too easy for people in our churches to just accept Christ, say a prayer, and get some get out of hell free card.
If Jesus really did take my place on the cross and die for me, then I want to give Him everything I can. I want to know. I want Him to live in me. His H.S. to fill me up.
Think about this: If there really is a God. I mean, if there is some Being whose always existed, and in fact, He is everywhere right now, and by the way, He knows all things, AND He’s promised you that when you die, you will not just decay into ashes, He will take your soul and you will live in a place called heaven with Him forever, never ceasing to exist.
WHOA. And if you believe that, which many of you do, I ask of you, is it really then that difficult for God to pull off a miracle here on earth?
If he can be everywhere in the universe at once, is it too difficult or him to heal someone of cancer?
If he can take a soul from inside of you and transport that and make you alive in a different realm of the universe and have you live forever there, is it too difficult for him to raise someone from the dead today and make their heart beat again 10 minutes after it stopped?
My point is this: I just think we have so much to learn from the Charismatic movement when it comes to enlarging our faith in what our amazing God can do ON THIS EARTH, that it is a move of unfortunate arrogance to just dismiss that movement as if it’s something all too different.
Our similarities are so much greater than our differences. And I really think we need to work together (and not let issues like this get in the way). We need to work together to help reach this world for Christ!
And May God help us do that.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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