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Charismatic Chaos - Part 8

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/02/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 90-59, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 8.  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 8, to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

                        Charismatic Chaos - Part 8

                  "What was Happening in the Early Church?"

                              Copyright 1991                                     by                           John F. MacArthur, Jr.                             All rights reserved.

Tonight we are going to go back to our study of this matter of Charismatic Chaos.  The message tonight will be a bit more technical and deal more closely with the texts of Scripture than some of ours in the past, in which we have been assessing the movement from a somewhat theological point of view.  Tonight we want to look a little more tightly at the Book of Acts, because the Book of Acts is basically the location for most of the Charismatic defense of their doctrine.  Experience is the foundation upon which much of the Charismatic system is built, and it is very important to identify that.  Experience is the authority that Charismatics most frequently cite to validate their teachings.  They have an experience-centered approach to truth that even influences the way they approach the Bible.  In fact, the Book of Acts, which is a journal of the Apostle's experiences, is where Charismatics usually turn in search of Biblical support for what they believe. 

Now, I want you to look with me to the Book of Acts tonight; we are going to be looking at a couple of chapters, just giving you a feel for some very key ones, in light of the Charismatic theology.  The Book of Acts is a historical narrative, in contrast, for example, to the Epistles of the New Testament which are didactic, or doctrinal, or instructive to the Church.  This is a chronicle.  It is a story, really of the early Church experiences.  The Epistles on the other hand contain detail instructions for believers throughout all the Church Age.  So in the Epistles you have the rather permanent instruction and doctrine for the Church.  In the Book of Acts you have a chronicle of the history of the Early Church experiences.  Historically, Christians committed to a Biblical perspective have recognized the difference.  And it is an important difference to recognize.  Evangelical theologians, through the years, have drawn the heart of their doctrine from Bible passages intended to teach the Church.  They have understood that Acts is an inspired, historical record of the Apostolic period, not necessarily viewing every event or every phenomena that occurs there, as normative for the entire Church Age. 

But, on the other hand, Charismatics who have an insatiable craving for experiences and particularly for the experiences described in the Book of Acts, have assembled a doctrinal system that views the extraordinary events of the early Apostolic Age as necessary and continuing hallmarks of the Holy Spirit's work.  They view the Book of Acts as normative, or what should be normative for all Christians in all ages.  They see the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts as tokens of spiritual power that are to be routinely expected by all Christians living in all times.  Now, that is a rather serious interpretive error.  In fact, it undermines the Charismatic's comprehension of Scripture.  It muddies several key Biblical issues, crucial to a right understanding of Scriptural doctrine. 

Gordon Fee, a writer, who himself is a Charismatic, commented on the hermeneutical difficulties posed by the way Charismatics typically approach the Book of Acts, with these words, and I quote,

      If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is       normative?  Jerusalem?  Antioch?  Philippi?  Corinth?  That is,       why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all       things in common?  Or further, is it at all legitimate to take       any descriptive statements as normative?  If so, how does one       distinguish those which are from those which are not?  For       example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1:26 and select       leaders by lot?  Just exactly what role does historical       precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of       Christian experience?

Now, he introduces a very important point.  If we are going to take the Book of Acts as normative, then we must take the Book of Acts in its total as normative, and we are going to have some immensely difficult issues to deal with.  The fact of the matter is, that Acts was never intended to be the primary basis for teaching doctrine to the Church.  The Book of Acts records only the earliest days of the Church Age and shows the Church in tradition, coming out of the old age into the new, coming out, as it were, of the Old Testament into the New Testament.  The apostolic healings, and miracles, and signs, and wonders evident in the Book of Acts were not even common to all believers even in those days, but were uniquely restricted to the Apostles and those who worked alongside of them.  They were exceptional events, each with specific purposes and always associated with the ministry of the Apostles; and their frequency can be seen decreasing dramatically even from the beginning of the Book of Acts to the end. 

It seems as though, at the opening of the Book of Acts, there is a flurry of the miraculous, and towards the end it's absent.  The Book of Acts was written by Luke, the physician, as you know.  Acts covers a crucial period that started with the Church at Pentecost and ended about 30 years later with Paul in prison, following his third missionary journey.  Transitions are seen from beginning to end in the Book of Acts.  Changes come in almost every chapter as the old covenant fades away and the New Covenant comes in all its fullness.  Even the Apostle Paul was caught in some of those changes, which can be witnessed as you look into chapter 18 of Acts and chapter 21, and see him, although he is fully under the New Covenant, still exhibiting ties to the old, as indicated by his taking certain Jewish vows which were prescribed in the Old Testament. 

In the Book of Acts we are in a transition which moved from the Synagogue to the Church.  We are in a transition which moves away from an order of law into an order of grace.  The Church is transformed from a group of Jewish believers to a body made up of Jews and Gentiles united in Christ.  Believers at the beginning of Acts were related to God under an old pattern.  By the end, all believers were in Christ, living under a new pattern, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, in a new and unique relationship. 

Acts, therefore, covers an extraordinary time in history.  A time of transition from the old to the new.  And the transition it records, listen carefully, is never to be repeated.  There is only one time frame in which you move from the old to the new, that history does not come again.  It never will come again, and those elements that are true of that transition are not repeatable, for the transition itself needs no repetition.  Therefore, we must say, the only teachings in the Book of Acts which can be called normative for the Church are those that are explicitly taught elsewhere in Scripture. 

Now, as you look at the Book of Acts from the Charismatic viewpoint, looking at it as it were through their eyes, the major theological distinction of that movement has to be supported in the Book of Acts, and they think they can do it.  It is what I would call the doctrine of Subsequence.  That's a term that others have used.  The doctrine of Subsequence.  What that basically means is, that you get saved and sometimes subsequent to that, some later date, hopefully, you get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That is primarily the distinctive doctrine of Pentecostal Charismatic theology; that when you're saved you receive the Lord Jesus Christ, you are redeemed: at some later time you get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit--subsequent to that saving work. 

They will also say, secondly, that it is often, some of them will say, always, associated with speaking in tongues.  Old line traditional Pentecostalism for the most part said, "The Baptism of the Spirit is subsequent to salvation and is always identified by speaking in tongues,"  some will say, "Often identified by speaking in tongues."  The third component is that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit often manifests, or always manifests by speaking in tongues, is something to be earnestly, zealously, and passionately sought for.  Now, that is really the essence of the distinctive kind of Charismatic doctrine that so many of us are familiar with. 

They go to the Book of Acts to endeavor to prove this Subsequence doctrine, this tongues as an attendant proof of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and for some strange reason to even verify the seeking after the gift or the Baptism.  The doctrine of Subsequence [which says] that there is for Christians, a baptism in the Spirit, distinct from and subsequent to the experience of salvation, and that that is somehow associated with the matter of tongues, is at the very heart of their theology.  And so we must be able to deal with this and I want us to do that tonight because we are really cutting into the very core of what they historically have taught. 

In his rather thorough investigation of Pentecostal theology, Frederick Dale Bruner wrote, "Pentecostals believe that the Spirit has baptized every believer into Christ's conversion, but that Christ has not baptized every believer into the Spirit Pentecost."  Not only do most Charismatics believe that the Baptism of the Spirit happens at some point after salvation, but that it only happens to those who seek after it diligently, passionately, and zealously.  And then as I said, when it does come it is usually, if not always attended by speaking in tongues.  Now, they are very definitive, may I say, about this doctrine.  May I also say, they are very vague about most other doctrines.  In most other areas of theology they are vague, but in this one they usually speak a clear word regarding what they believe. 

Now, some of them attempt to support their doctrine of Subsequence from the Book of Acts because they really can't go anywhere else.  Some of them don't attempt to support it at all: they just say it's true.  But the ones who attempt to support it have to go to the Book of Acts because there is no where else to go.  Let me show you why.  Maybe you say, "They ought to go the First Corinthians, doesn't that talk about the Holy Spirit and Tongues?"  It does.  Open your Bibles for a moment to 1Corinthians, chapter 12, and let's see how well they would fare with that doctrine in 1Corinthians 12.  1Corinthians 12, verse 13 says, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."  Now, there you have the Holy Spirit as an agent in baptism, there you have the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, but you have absolutely nothing about Subsequence.  You have absolutely nothing about tongues, and you have absolutely nothing about seeking.  It is a fact that is stated.  There is no indication that it is subsequent to salvation; in fact, the very statement that it has happened to all of us, indicates that it is concurrent with salvation.  It cannot take place at some point after salvation or Paul couldn't say it was true of all Christians--but he does!

You say, "Well, maybe they ought to go 1Corinthians, chapter 14, doesn't that talk about tongues?  And doesn't that talk about the Holy Spirit?"  Yes, but if you go to 1Corinthians 14, you are not going to find any Subsequence there.  You are not going to find any discussion of the Baptism of the Spirit.  You are not going to find any connection of tongues with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and you are not going to find any authorization to seek after tongues or to seek after the baptism.  So you can't find any of that in 1Corinthians 12 or 14, and if you have exhausted that section there isn't anything else in the New Testament that mentions tongues, except Acts.  So they are stuck with Acts, even though the clear teaching of 1Corinthians 12 is that every believer has been baptized by the agency of the Holy Spirit, Christ using the Spirit to place the believer into the Body, and that occurs at salvation and it is true of every Christian.  There is no connection to tongues and it isn't something you seek for, it's something that god does for you at your salvation. 

And so they are left with no where to go but Acts.  And so they violate the nature of the Book of Acts, which is a historical record of the Early Church and the unique transitional apostolic period, and make it normative for everybody, because that is the only place they can go to defend their unique theology.  Now, when you go into the Book of Acts, and I want you to go there with me, Acts, chapter 2 to start with, when you go to the Book of Acts, you go to four chapters, chapter 2, chapter 8, chapter 10, and chapter 19. Obviously, we can't cover all of that, that would be an absolute impossibility; but those are the places that they go to support their view, and I want to give you a little bit of a feeling for this because you need to be able to understand and grasp this.

The truth of the matter is, that even the Book of Acts fails to support this Charismatic theology of Subsequence, proof by Tongues and the need to seek.  For example, they want to go to Acts 2, 8, 10, 19, because those record four different occasions in which the Holy Spirit came.  In some of those occasions there is Tongues.  In some of those occasions there is the coming of the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation.  But those four occasions are not uniform.  The first one describes the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the second one the coming of the Holy Spirit to the new group of believers in Samaria, the third one, Acts 10, the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Gentile converts, Cornelius and his house.  The fourth one, chapter 19, the coming of the Holy Spirit to some hangover disciples of John the Baptist, who were still living under an Old Testament economy, because they didn't know the gospel yet; somehow it had missed them. 

All four of these groups have unique experiences of receiving the Holy Spirit, but their experiences are different.  For example, in Acts, chapter 2, and Acts, chapter 8, believers do receive the Holy Spirit after salvation.  In Acts, chapter 10, and chapter 19, believers received the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, so they are not in agreement on that issue.  The doctrine of Subsequence then cannot be convincingly defended even from the Book of Acts, because it isn't consistent.  You say, "What about Tongues?"  In chapter 2, chapter 10, and chapter 19, tongues are mentioned, but in chapter 8, they are not.  So you can't even find anything that is normative at that point, at least that is written in Scripture.  You say, "Well, what about seeking after it?"  The believers in Acts 2, they say, were in the Upper Room seeking the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  There is no seeking in chapter 8, there is no seeking in chapter 10, and there is no seeking in chapter 19.  The truth of the matter is, there is no seeking in chapter 2 either; they were in the Upper Room doing nothing but patiently waiting.  It doesn't tell us that they were seeking; no seeking is mentioned. 

Now the point is clear.  To say that the Book of Acts presents a normal pattern for receiving the Holy Spirit attended by Tongues and for seeking that, presents a major problem because these separate accounts of four different groups who received the Holy Spirit are all different.  So if you are going to make the Book of Acts normative, which group is the normative group?  It is true that Christians at Pentecost, in Acts 2, and that Gentiles in Cornelius' household, in chapter 10, and the Jews at Ephesus who had only the Baptism of John, did receive the Holy Spirit and Tongues or languages followed, but because those three events occurred doesn't mean that they are to be the standard for every other Christian.

In fact, none of these passages, 2, 8, 10, or 19, give any indication that they are to be the norm for all believers for all time.  In fact, there is plenty of indication that they are not.  If Tongues were to be the normal experience then why aren't they mentioned in chapter 8, when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit?  And why does the text of Acts 2 not say that everyone who believed, following Peter's sermon, and received the Holy Spirit, spoke in Tongues?  Do you remember when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost?  Three thousand people believed; it says in Acts 2:38 that they received the Holy Spirit.  Remember that?  Why didn't they speak in tongues?  In order for something to be normative, it has to be common to everybody.  And if the Holy Spirit wanted to say that Tongues was a normative attendant to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the normative time for it to happen would have been among the 3,000 that were converted.  Right?

John Stott reasons,

      The 3,000 do not seem to have experienced the same miraculous       phenomena, the rushing mighty wind, the tongues of flame, or the       speech in foreign languages; at least nothing is said about       these things.  Yet because of God's assurance through Peter, they       must have inherited the same promise and received the same gift,       that is, the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, there was this       difference between them: the 129 were regenerate already and       received the Baptism of the Spirit only after the waiting upon       God for 10 days; the 3,000 on the other hand were unbelievers,       received the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit       simultaneously, and it happened immediately--they repented and       believed without any need to wait at all.

      This distinction between the two companies, the 120 and the       3,000, is of great importance for the norm for today must       surely be the second group, the three thousand, and not as is       often supposed, the first group.  The fact that the experience       of the 120 was in two distinct stages was due simply to       historical circumstances; they could not have received the       Pentecostal gift before Pentecost.  But those historical       circumstances have long since ceased to exist.  We live after       the event of Pentecost, like the 3,000 did.  With us therefore,       as with them, the forgiveness of sins and the gift or Baptism of       the Spirit, are received together.

Without question, Acts 2 is a key passage from which Pentecostals and Charismatics develop their theology of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and it would be worth our while to just look briefly at it.  Look at the first four verses of Acts 2,

      When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in       one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a       violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they       were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire       distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.        And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak       with other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit was giving them       utterance.

Now, that describes what happened on the day of Pentecost.  As noted before, the Pentecostals and Charismatics say that is the doctrine of Subsequence.  They say,

      Look, these people were already believers.  They had already       been saved.  And so they were saved first, at some earlier time,       and here they are sitting around waiting for the Holy Spirit.

But the obvious answer to that is, "Well, of course, because the Holy Spirit hasn't yet come at all, and doesn't come until the day of Pentecost."  Certainly there is subsequence here, and certainly we would agree with the Pentecostal theology that they had experienced salvation.  I mean, you can go all the way back into Luke 10:20, where Jesus tells His apostles to, "Rejoice, that your names are recorded in heaven."  You can go back to John 15:3, where Jesus says to the same apostles, "You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you," so He affirms that they have a right relationship to God.  We could call them saved.  And so people say, "Well, they were saved way back then, and see, the Holy Spirit comes later!"  But, how much insight do you have to have to realize that, of course it's subsequent to their salvation because they were really saved prior to the arrival of the Holy Spirit!  Once the Holy Spirit came, there is no need for a waiting for Him to come again, because He already comes to indwell His Church on the day of Pentecost, and from then on continually indwells His Church from the moment of salvation forward.

Most Charismatics would even go a step further.  They would suggest that not only were the disciples saved before the day of Pentecost, but watch this, that the disciples also received the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost.  But they just got a little bit of Him.  You need to remember this, if you confront a Charismatic sometime and you say, "You don't believe that when you're saved you received the Holy Spirit."  They will say, "Yes, we do.  Oh, yes we do."  And it's true they do.  They believe that you receive the Spirit in some small measure, but the Baptism of the Spirit is an explosion of the Spirit's power in fullness that comes into your life.  So you don't want to accuse Charismatics of denying that a Christian has the Holy Spirit.  They would say that you have the Holy Spirit in a limited way, but you don't have the fullness of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit.  They would go back, for example, to John, chapter 20.  And in John 20, verses 21 and 22, Jesus looks at His disciples, and the Scripture says "Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit."  Wow!  That's interesting. 

Way back in John 20, He's saying that to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit," that's before the Holy Spirit is even sent on the day of Pentecost.  And according to standard Charismatic interpretation of that text, they say, "Jesus then, was giving them the Holy Spirit, in a limited way.  They had to wait for the higher level explosion of the Baptism of the Spirit that gave them their real power."  We have to ask the question, "Is that really correct?"  When in John 20:21-22, Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Spirit," was that a statement of fact?  If you look very carefully at that text, the Charismatic view doesn't really hold up under scrutiny.  The passage doesn't say the disciple actually received the Holy Spirit, it doesn't say that.  It simply said that Jesus blew on them, a graphic sort of an illustration, and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  We would have to conclude that it was a pledge, that it was a promise that wasn't fulfilled until the day of Pentecost.  In fact, all you have to do is look at them to know that they hadn't received the Holy Spirit.  Ensuing statements in John 20 seem to confirm the disciples didn't receive the Spirit in the Upper Room, because eight days later, [when] He came to where they were, they were hiding.  They were full of fear, they were in a locked room.  This is more than a week after He breathed on them, and more than a week after He promised them, and they hadn't gone any where or done anything that would manifest the Spirit's presence. 

The strongest arguments, however, appear in the early verses in the Book of Acts.  Verse 4,

      Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave       Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised,       "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with       water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many       days from now."

Jesus said it hasn't happen yet, it's been promised, but it hasn't happened.  It's yet to come.  That goes all the way back to John 14:16, where Jesus said, "I will ask the father, and He will give you another Helper, that he may be with you."  They are still waiting.  He gave them the promise when He breathed on them, but it hasn't yet been fulfilled.  Acts 1:8, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you."  Which means, He hasn't come yet.  If the Spirit had come upon them in John 20, He wouldn't have said, "He hasn't come yet." 

Two other passages demonstrate very clearly that the Holy Spirit wasn't come until the day of Pentecost, John 7:39, listen to what Jesus said, "This He spoke of the Spirit," you know when He said, "out of you bellies shall flow rivers of living water."  "This He spoke of the Spirit," writes John, "whom those who believed in Him were to receive," but listen to this, "for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet," what? "glorified" (that means ascended).  That passage explicitly states that the Spirit would not come until Jesus had been glorified, and He wouldn't be glorified until He ascended into heaven.  So until Jesus ascended there in Acts 1, went into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit had not [yet] come.

In John 16:7, Jesus told the disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him."  The same thing, He's not coming until I get there.  So the Holy Spirit had not come, they did not receive a little bit of the Holy Spirit, only later to get an explosion.  They didn't receive any of the indwelling of the Spirit of God until the day of Pentecost.  At that point the Spirit of God took up residence in them and they were baptized by Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit into the body.  So we are at a transition period, an obvious transition period between the old economy and the new.  And these apostles are caught right in that transition with the others who made up the 120. 

Now, what about the Charismatic idea that the Holy Spirit is to be sought,  eagerly sought?  We have no indication in the Upper Room that anybody was seeking anything.  There is no evidence that they were pleading or seeking anything; they were just waiting.  Nor is there any indication throughout the entire Book of Acts that anybody was seeking after some baptizing work of the Holy Spirit.  There is not one incident, not one incident, even where the phenomena of the coming of the Spirit and tongues occurs that indicates that anybody in the Early Church ever sought such an experience.  Not one.  This must effect somehow the Pentecostal doctrine! 

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost a new order was established and since that time the Holy Spirit comes to every believer at the moment of faith and indwells that believer in a permanent, abiding relationship.  That's why Romans 8:9 says, "If anyone doesn't have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."  Conversely, if you belong to Christ, you have the Holy Spirit.  Paul even says to the Corinthians, who were so fouled up, "What?  Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which you have of God, and you are not your own?  You have been bought with a price," chapter 6.  We have all been made to drink of the same Spirit--every Christian. 

So, what you have in Acts 2 then, is the initial reception of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were baptized by the Spirit accompanied by a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, cloven tongues as of fire, rested on each of them.  At that point, they being filled with the Spirit, began to speak in other languages.  The miraculous ability to speak the languages of the people who gathered for Pentecost, to declare to them the wonderful works of God, had a definite purpose: it was to be a sign of judgment on unbelieving Israel.  It was and un

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