Reading 10.2

Pentecost: An Experience for Today.
An Examination of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts*

Bob Willoughby

Fifty days following our Lord's resurrection, 120 men and women, united together in spirit, were attending a meeting in Jerusalem in obedience to their Lord's firm command. Suddenly they were overwhelmed with a Divine afflatus that shook Jerusalem--a "coming upon them" of the Spirit that released them into supernatural praise and an Aramaic sermon that explained the event. They proclaimed that God had exalted the crucified and risen Jesus, who had Himself "poured out" what was seen and heard. As a result, 3,000 persons "accepted the message" and were baptized, confessing Jesus as Lord.

What is to be made of this historic occasion? Few events recorded in Scripture are as significant or controversial as this. How one interprets and appliea it will greatly determine the complexion of his own Christian life and then the life of the churches.

This article will ask two questions: "What did Pentecost mean for the 120?" And "What bearing does Pentecost have on the Church today?"

In response to the first question it need immediately to be observed that the event of Pentecost was hardly the conversion of the disciples. They had already heard Jesus' call to follow Him; they had confessed Him to be the Christ and had been cleansed by His Word. Furthermore, if we are to accept St. John's account of Jesus' ministry to them on the evening of the resurrection (John 20:22), in which He "breathed on them and said, 'Receive ye the Holy Spirit,'" it is likely that the Spirit brought to them the life of the Risen Christ at that time. Older expositors1 of John's Gospel describe this as the impartation of new life, a necessary condition for the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. They speak of the Paschal and Pentecost gifts of the Spirit, answering to the power of the Resurrection and the Ascension respectively. More recently, Howard Ervin makes much of this point in his book, "These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose.2 And, perhaps surprisingly, James Dunn concedes that "John may well have considered that the baptism in the Spirit was a second and distinct work of the Spirit in the spiritual experience of the first disciples.3

If then the Pentecostal outpouring was, for the 120, not a regenerative experience, what was it? First, and primarily, Luke sees it as a vocationally oriented experience. The promise of Christ (Acts 1:8) clearly indicated that this reception of the Spirit would be directly related to their ministry of bearing witness to Him. This would include both ability to speak with assurance and power about His death, burial, resurrection and exaltation to glory; and the provision of supernatural authentication accompanying the proclaiming of the Gospel Word.

As vocationally oriented, the experience of the disciples very clearly paralleled that of their Lord at the beginning of His ministry. Following His baptism in Jordan by John, "as he was praying" the Spirit of God came upon Him. Much has been written about the meaning of this4 and, whatever else is true, this event empowered Him for the work of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick and exorcising the demonized. In his recent book, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Roger Stronstad sets out Luke's use of the "transfer of the Spirit" motif, characteristic of Old Testament times and seen, for example, in the transfer of the Spirit from Elijah to Elisha, from Saul to David and particularly from Moses to the 70 elders (Numbers 11:10-30). It is said that:

The Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to (Moses), and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the elders. And it came about that when the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. (Numbers 11: 25)

Stronstad shows how this is paralleled in the transfer of the Spirit from the Risen and Exalted Christ to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, potentially fulfilling Moses' desire that all God's people might be prophets. He goes on to say:

Because the day of Pentecost represents a transfer of the Spirit from Jesus to the disciples, it must have a similar meaning for them as it did for the baptismal gift of the Spirit of Jesus...Consequently, as it was in Old Testament times and for the ministry of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost was primarily vocation in both purpose and result.5

Surely the evidence explicit in the rest of the book of Acts attests to this. The disciples are pictured as joyful, assured proclaimers of the Word, and apostolic evangelicals accompanied by ministries of healing and deliverance, authenticating the message given.

Secondly, Pentecost was for the 120 a holiness oriented experience. This fact emerges in Peter's speech to the Jerusalem Council. Speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the household of Cornelius, he says:

God who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them (the Gentiles) by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them for He purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9).

Implicit in this observation was the truth that the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost had an experientially sanctifying effect on them. It can hardly be said to have been a "second work of grace," as though previous to Pentecost they knew nothing of experiential holiness. But the enduement of the Spirit would have deepened, increased, expanded their sanctification. It would have come as "the greatest possible encouragement to sanctification."6 Perhaps the "tongues of fire" resting on each of them symbolized the purification of their hearts.7

It appears then that we cannot think of the Day of Pentecost as only vocational in its meaning. No doubt, however, as far as Luke is concerned, the vocational aspect is at the forefront of their experience, the purifying of their hearts already having begun in their earlier relationship with Jesus and their previous experience of the Spirit in regeneration. Now they are able to perpetuate the ministry Jesus had begun. (John 14:12).8

The second question to be asked is, "What bearing does the Pentecostal event have on the Church today?" There are those who see it as marking the birthday of the Christian Church; a non-repeatable event in a series of moments in salvation-history. Often this position is accompanied by the conclusion that following Pentecost every believer has automatically received essentially the same experience, which is to be equated with the Spirit's baptizing believers in Christ's body--in effect regeneration.

The account of the so-called "Samaritan Pentecost" (Acts 8) and the "Gentile Pentecost" (Acts 10) or the Ephesian experience (Acts 19) are seen as unique (even "abnormal") manifestations within a period of transition, not in any way normative for the continuing life of the church. James Dunn's and F. Dale Brunner's landmark books are scholarly presentations of this position.9

In tension with this position is the theology that presents the events of Acts 2, 8, 9 and 19 as descriptive of a normative experience for all believers; different from their regeneration; claiming that the uniqueness of the event of Acts consists only in its being the first of its kind; and that each believer or assembly therefore can and should receive its own Pentecostal experience. For some that translates into an experience called "entire sanctification," or the impartation of "perfect love," or the "eradication of the old nature," or moving from the "carnal" to the "spiritual" man.10 For others the vocational element of the experience continues to be prominent,11 stressing "power for service" and supernatural gifts. But these are all interpretations of the same experience.12

Crucial in arriving at one's understanding of the meaning and significance of Acts 2 for today's believers, is one's hermeneutical methodology. Is Acts 2 only holy-history or does it possess didactic qualities? Does one adopt the position that we look at the book of Acts for history only, relegating doctrine to the epistolary literature of the New Testament. That is basically the position taken, for example, by John Stott.13 Luke is the historian; Paul is the theologian. Thus the book of Acts, so descriptive of the "charismatic" power of the Spirit is to be stripped of any permanent doctrinal significance.

Or does Luke intend that we should learn from his historical work? Is Luke a theologian and a historian? Those are the crucial hermeneutical questions with which the contemporary church grapples.

This writer takes the position that Luke is both historian (detailing events and interpreting them) and a theologian (intending his document to teach the on-going Church). This position was well established by I. Howard Marshal in Luke: Historian and Theologian.14 More recently, Stronstad's work has confirmed this point of view.15 He says:

(We must) come to grips with the true nature of Luke's historiography. Deeply influenced by his (Old Testament) and Septuagental historiographical model, Luke narrates his story of the founding and growth of Christianity. As in his model, his episodes are historical-theological in intent. In other words Luke never intended to give his readers a simple description of event either to inform or satisfy the curiosity of his readers....Therefore, however the details are to be worked out, in principle Luke's narratives are an important and legitimate data base for constructing a Lucan doctrine of the Spirit. Thus rather than providing a flimsy foundation upon which to erect a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as is commonly alleged, the [book of Acts] provides a firm foundation for erecting a doctrine of the Spirit which has normative implications for the mission and religious experience of the contemporary church.16

Thus it becomes the task of the contemporary evangelical theologian to discover what are the abiding normative doctrines St. Luke is presenting. Surely he is saying that the experience described in Acts 2, viz., an enduement of vocational power, is the intention of the risen Lord for His Church throughout this age.

Furthermore, the essential nature of salvation-history brings us to the same conclusion. This is nowhere better pointed out than by Laurance Wood, a Wesleyan oriented author.17 In a chapter entitled "Space-Time and Trinitarian Concept of Grace," he argues that the decisive points within salvation history (e.g. the Cross, the Resurrection, Pentecost), are the normative patterns for understanding the sequence of grace as experienced in the life of a Christian. He observes that

a purely scientific concept of sequential time is inadequate for understanding the time of grace. Time is not simply linear...[but] rather presupposes a transcendent unity which serves as the basis for continuity among the past, present and future....God as creator ex nihilo transcends all finite time and His saving acts in space-time are embraced in His eternal reality through which these saving events of the past (or future) are extended into the present of the believer.18

Thus a believer may experientially be living as a pre-Pentecost disciple and may subsequently experience his personal Pentecost.

Nothing that has been said should be construed as necessitating a long interval between the believer's regeneration and the enduement of the vocational Spirit. In fact, the New Testament norm seems clearly to bring these two works of the Spirit as close together as the believer can receive them. It is implied, however, that one must not take for granted his "baptism in the Spirit." That he has, and when he has been endued with power from on high is to be as much a certainty for contemporary disciples as it was for the 120.

And what is to be said for the sanctifying effects of the Pentecostal experience? The writer believes that the work of sanctification begins with regeneration, but that it is greatly enhanced by the experience of "infilling" and that it cannot really be "whole" without such an enduement. He does, however, take the position that as far as Luke is concerned the primary effect of one's personal Pentecost is to endow the believer with that certainty of spiritual truth, and those charisms necessary for the fulfilling of Christ's commanded ministries in evangelism and church edification.

In conclusion one might be permitted to hope that believers of the Reformed and Wesleyan and Pentecostal traditions might seek earnestly and humbly to learn from one another. Each has emphasized a vital segment of Bible truth, viz., Justification, Sanctification and Vocation. But these dimensions are interdependent and complementary. None must be neglected. The "perfect love" or "heart purity" of the Wesleyan needs charismatic giftedness to give concrete manifestations to love. Similarly, the gift orientation of the Pentecostal must be pervaded by holiness and love in order to preserve it from self-centred display (I Corinthians 12-14).

Alliance people have been right to emphasize the sanctifying ministry of the Spirit. Have we, perhaps, only paid lip service to our stated belief that all the charisms of the Spirit are also intended for the Church today? If this is due to our fear of excess, it might be better to take a risk, rather than be guilty of quenching the Spirit.

Can we not summon ourselves with renewed vigour to believe that the vocational ministry of the Spirit, described in Acts 2 must be experienced again in our churches, if we are to fulfill our Lord's mandate in the second century of our existence?

* His Dominion, 13(3):35-39 (1987-88).

1 B.F. Westcott, The Gospel of John (London: John Murray, 1919), p. 294, for example.

2 Howard M. Ervin, These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1968). See Chapter III.

3 James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: S.C.M. Press, 1970), p.178

4 Howard M. Ervin, Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 1984), lays to rest the concept presented by James Dunn that empowerment for His ministry is only secondary in Jesus' anointing by the Spirit.

5 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub, 1984) p. 77-78.

6 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Pub., 1984), p. 142.

7 Charles Carter, The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit--A Wesleyan Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), p. 169, for example.

8 The glossolalic manifestation on the Day of Pentecost has been discussed and debated sufficiently. It should be observed, however, that this phenomenon has its roots in the Old Testament prophetic ministry. For a rather fascinating and persuasive treatment of the subject, see Maurice Barnett, The Living Flame (London: Epworth Press, 1953), chapter 3, "Glossolalia." Mr. Barnett was a student of T.W. Manson of Manchester.

9 Dunn, op.cit., and F.D. Brunner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970). Dunn, however, seems to be saying that the experience of regeneration (equals baptism in the Spirit) should have more of the definiteness described in Acts. He would thus call in question the genuineness of some evangelical conversions.

10 These emphases are represented in Wesleyan and in so-called "Keswick" teaching.

11 Generally true among classic Pentecostals, and contemporary neo-Pentecostals.

12 A significant attempt to bring these two positions together can be found in the appendix of George Mallone, ed., Those Controversial Gifts (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1983), p. 155 ff. entitled, "Gospel and Spirit: A Joint Statement." The evangelical names attached to this include John Stott, Michael Harper, David Watson,

13 John Stott, Baptism and Fulness of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1964), p. 8.

14 Zondervan, 1971.

15 Stronstad, op.cit., p. 5ff. Clark Pinnock calls Stronstad's book, "The first motions of a wave of intellectually convincing Pentecostal Theology," p. vii.

16 Ibid., p. 9.

17 Laurance Wood, Pentecostal Grace (Francis Asbury Pub., 1980), p. 101 ff.

18 Ibid., p. 102.