Charismatic Chaos - Part 8
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/02/2003
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?"
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
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
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
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
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
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
Now, that describes what happened on the day of Pentecost. As noted before,
the Pentecostals and Charismatics say that is the doctrine of Subsequence.
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
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
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
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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