Posts Tagged ‘pentecost’

Question and Answer (in a page or less)

Where and When did the Church Begin?

The Church began in the eternal counsel of the triune God as the Father determined to give His beloved Son a bride who would be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

In redemptive history, Adam was given the ordinance to beget a holy seed that would inhabit the earth. Adam failed in this charge. He failed as prophet, priest, and king. Everything that follows in the way of covenants is part of God’s reclamation project of Adam’s failures. The promises of God find their culminating “amen” in Christ, who was born in the fullness of time.

Jesus founded disciples who were given the mandate to preach the gospel to all the nations. This task took place during Jesus’ ministry, but really finds its origin on Pentecost in Jerusalem as the ascended Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the “called out” assembly who were then charged with bringing the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth:

Acts 1:8 (ESV) — 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts shows us how the apostles completed this task through missionary efforts, church planting, and training a future generation of leaders. The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), and selected material from other epistles give us a clearer picture of the Apostolic Church as a lasting institution. God ordains that the Church be supplied with particular servants/leaders and also supplies the description and requisites for such positions.

A properly constituted Church will function within the defined ecclesiology of the Scriptures. There are many disagreements about what constitutes a valid sanctioned Church.  These matters must be resolved from further study.

Suffice it to say that God purposed an elect body of people who would belong to Him for all eternity. This is according to the mysterious eternal counsel of God from which He set His love upon a community who would be set apart by way of covenant. The Father chose a people > Jesus consented to win the bride by redeeming them at the cost of His own sacrificial love (read Hosea) > The Holy Spirit is the “matchmaker” who wins over our hearts for Christ through the work of “new birth” and therefore makes us a “bride of Christ”. This is all revealed throughout redemptive history and culminates in the fullness of time with Christ. The NT defines the Church in the current era of redemptive history, which shall continue until the second coming of Christ.

The cited material comes from Robert L. Thomas’ volume, “Understanding Spiritual Gifts”. Thomas (1999:141), who is an able exegete and professor at the Master’s Seminary, evidences nonetheless a priori commitment to a systematic paradigm that influences, in my estimation, a reading of certain texts, namely Joel 2:28:

Prophets in the future will minister to people of Israel and the world at large during the seventieth week of Daniel, after the rapture of the church (Joel 2:28). They will not be the prophets described in relation to the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on members of the body of Christ because the church will no longer be on earth during that period.

Thomas’ dispensational paradigm won’t allow him to see any application of Joel 2:28 to the church, even in the face of Peter’s application of such to the “Church”. While Dispensationals will respond by stating that Peter’s application of Joel was only applicable for the nation of Israel, this ignores the fact that Peter offers the same promised Spirit to those “afar off”, to all who would repent and be baptized. 3000 Jews repented on the day of Pentecost, so one can’t say that the Joeline promise was pulled from the table because of Israel’s rejection. Israel’s acceptance opens the door for the same promise to extend outward to include even Gentile believers, which was the great scandal of the Gospel. While I admit that Peter may have been speaking better than he knew, it is clear for me, that according to Luke’s recounting the Joeline promise was distributed to Gentiles and would continue to be dispensed upon all who turn to Christ in repentance.

For Thomas to run roughshod over Peter’s application and state so clearly that Joel’s application is relegated only to Daniel’s seventieth week to a specific number of prophets who are mainly ministering to the Jewish nation is a rejection of the expansion of this promise to the New Covenant. It is a reading of Joel that ignores the fact that Peter applied it in a way that contradicts a priori hermeneutical conviction that Joel must apply to ethnic Jews and within a brief appointed time in God’s eschatological theme. Dispensationals wish to deal with the OT on its own terms, which is commendable, but almost treat the Apostolic hermeneutic of the OT as erroneous and an inconvenience. Do these Dispensationals really understand the OT better than Jesus and the Apostles?

Thomas (1999:134) also argues against the application of Joel 2:28-29 to the current New Covenant era based on the fact that not “all” prophesy:

Based on Numbers 11:29 and Joel 2:28-29, the expectation of all God’s people was that everyone would prophesy, but God has appointed only a limited number to be prophets. The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.

I agree that not all prophesy, but hardly see that as proof that Joel is not being fulfilled. It is like saying that the New Covenant promises of salvation being extended to all people isn’t literally being fulfilled because not all people are saved. Should we dare claim the promises to people and encourage them to seek salvation knowing that not all are saved? Thomas is presuming that to be faithful to Joel’s promise, all of God’s people must prophesy. The irony is that most Dispensationals don’t even believe that all will prophesy when Joel is fulfilled in Daniel’s seventieth week. Thomas thinks that, “The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.” Well, apparently Paul had no problem encouraging the Christian community to desire prophecy (1 Cor. 14:5). Peter presumed that the collective Christian community was endowed with “charismata”, including speaking gifts (1 PT 4:10-11).

If Thomas thinks it erroneous for Christians to be so mistaken as to dare seek prophecy, he stands in contradiction to Paul and Peter. Paul and Peter apparently didn’t share Thomas’ exegesis and theology on this point. Prophecy is not only available to the Christian community, but they are actually encouraged to seek it. While not all will prophesy, this is hardly proof against the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which Peter seem convinced was the best explanation for the observed behavior on Pentecost. Who are we to believe in this matter? I would encourage Thomas and dispensational to stop accusing folks like me of altering the literal meaning of “all” in Joel 2:28-29 when there is Apostolic precedent that the text wasn’t understood, nor applied in that manner.

As much as I disagree with a Covenantal view of Joel’s application within the New Covenant, they at least view Pentecost itself as fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. While they restrict the fulfillment to Pentecost, they prove more faithful to Peter than the Dispensationals do.

From Ladd’s “New Testament Theology”

Ladd (1974:344) speaks of the “last days” paradigm that Peter employs from Joel:

The promise given to Israel to be fulfilled at the Day of the Lord, said Peter, has now been fulfilled, not to the nation, but to a group of men who believed in the messiahship of Jesus. Furthermore, Peter adds an expression that gives the event pointed eschatological significance. He substitutes for Joel’s “after this” the words, “and in the last days” (Acts 2:17). In the prophets, “the last days” was an expression designating the time of the Kingdom of God, the messianic era.

Ladd (1974:344) adds:

Peter reinterprets Joel by asserting that the outpouring of the Spirit also belongs to the last days. By so doing he also reinterprets the meaning the meaning of the last days themselves; he separates the last days from the Day of the Lord and places them in history. The last days have come. The last days are the days of the Spirit who has now been given. In some real sense of the word, the messianic era has come, the eschatological salvation is present.

As for the placement of the millennium, Ladd (premillennial) cautions against an unhealthy preoccupation on the matter, “American evangelicalism has placed an unwarranted emphasis on this doctrine of a millennium” (1974:204).

Though Ladd holds to a premillennial position, he is not of the dispensational mold and has rightly recognized that Jesus inaugurated the messianic age in His ministry and in the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church. Ladd does believe that Jesus will occupy an earthly reign as part of the consummating process, but he does not confine Joel’s fulfillment solely to that earthly reign. I am appreciative that Ladd emphasizes some fulfillment, though he fails to fully qualify what exactly it is. I don’t think I could qualify perfectly what the inauguration is in detail either, so we stand on common ground. We’re clearly agreed that it would be wrong to say that nothing has been inaugurated.

Is it possible that the Joel 2 speaks of Armageddon, and the promised restoration occurs contingently on Pentecost, where blessing now comes to Israel, which awaits yet another day of battle (Gog), whereas the enemies are permanently cut off from the land? We would therefore be in the time of restoration for Israel right now, awaiting the final climatic event. In my preaching series through Joel, I saw this a plausible eschatological scheme. Pentecost inaugurates the restorative age for the “new Israel” (Joel 2:18-27), which will culminate in Christ’s second advent and permanent judgment over the nations (Joel 3), which then ushers in a fully restored age.

All excerpts are from Dr. Craig Keener’s volume, “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts”.

Keener (1997:193) sees eschatological significance in the three Pentecostal signs of wind, fire, and tongues:

The external signs more clearly function as divinely bestowed symbols of the impending kingdom of God. Wind (Acts 2:2) would have convinced the gathered believers that the coming age had arrived, for it symbolizes the breath of resurrection life in Ezek 37…

Keener (1997:193) adds:

Fire, of course, could symbolize the imminent time of eschatological judgment (Acts 2:3)….The fire, therefore, serves as a small reminder of the fire to be unleashed in God’s vengeance at the end of the age.

Keener (1997:193-194) remarks lastly about the significance of tongues:

The clearest sign in Acts 2:1-12 that the power of the eschatological kingdom is erupting into history is the phenomenon of glossolalia in 2:4….the Spirit of prophecy was an eschatological phenomenon, and…Luke recognizes speaking in unknown tongues as a form of  prophetic (i.e., inspired) speech, and uses this phenomenon to mark the fact that in the new era all God’s people would be prophets in some sense (Joel 2:28-29).

Keener (1997:195), though not elaborating on the nature of God’s eschatological reign, does affirm that Peter clearly taught that it had commenced in Pentecost, “Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-40 clearly connects baptism in the Holy Spirit with prophetic witness and the present experience of God’s future reign.” He later adds, “…this anointing is evidence that the time of Israel’s salvation has come…”

Sweeney, M.A. (2000). The Twelve Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (vol. 1). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

M.A. Sweeney (2000:174) likens the outpouring upon Israel as a reconstitution of His people of sorts, hearkening back to creation and the work of the Spirit amidst the cataclysmic events:

Indeed, the image of the Hamsin/Sharav appears to underlie much of the imagery of cosmic transformation in this passage, but it is combined with the imagery of prophecy once again to demonstrate the interrelatedness of the natural and the human worlds in the book of Joel….The list of persons involved, sons and daughters, elders, young men, slaves and maid servants, is intended to be comprehensive. This phenomenon appears to project a return to a much earlier or ideal time prior to the establishment of Israel as a nation ruled by a king in its own land, such as the Exodus and wilderness period when the seventy elders of Israel began to prophesy when the “spirit” of G-d descended upon them (Num 11:25) or the period prior to the time of Samuel and the emergence of the first king, Saul, when 1 Sam 3:1 states that the word of YHWH and visions were rare at that time.

Sweeney (2000:174) adds the following:

To a certain extent, the passage attempts to portray a return to a state prior to creation, either of the natural world order or of the nation Israel, which of course enables both YHWH and Israel/Judah to start all over again on a new basis. The portents in the heavens and on the earth recalls both the use of heaven and earth as the comprehensive designation for all creation (Gen 1:1; 2:1,4) and the actions of YHWH in the Exodus narrative that forced Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves and that prompted the creation of Israel as a nation and its covenant with YHWH (Exod 6:1-9; 7:1-7).

Sweeney (2000:175) continues:

The images of “blood, fire, and columns of smoke” appear to be destructive at first sight and suggest the motif of YWHW’s battles against the nations that oppress Israel in the following passages. But these images are also the images of the altar at the Jerusalem Temple….Once the animal is slaughtered and prepared for the altar, it is set on fire and consumed entirely, resulting in a thick column of smoke that will stand over the site of the Temple complex. Although the imagery is destructive, it is also constructive in the sense that the Temple sacrificial ritual is intended to maintain or restore the order of the created world. In a similar manner, the Hamsin or Sharav that darkens the sun and causes the moon to appear red as blood is both destructive and transformative in that it marks the transition from one season to another; one reality is destroyed as another emerges. Altogether, such transformation in both the natural and the human world is labeled as the coming “Day of YHWH” in verse 4 [NRSV:31].

Pentecost therefore marks the commencing of judgment on the “old era”, which is passing away, and the inauguration of the “new era”, which is ever closer to its full consummation.  The signs and wonders surrounding the crucifixion, ascension, Pentecost and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem on 70 A.D. also marks a destructive work on the “old Israel” and the constructing of a “new Israel” that will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The “last days” as a whole also have cosmic consequences as the “old earth” is literally passing away and is yet being renewed.

Storms C S 1996. A Third Wave Response To Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. In Grudem W A (ed), Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? Four Views . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dr. Storms (1996:73), in his response to respected scholar Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, deals specifically with Gaffin’s contention that Pentecost should be viewed as the climax and culmination of Jesus’ ministry, and thus a once-for-all event:
Gaffin argues that Pentecost belongs to the once-for-all accomplishment of our redemption, not to its continuing application or the ongoing appropriation of its benefits…But this is misleading….Pentecost is not simply the final stage in Christ’s redemptive work; it is also the first stage of the Spirit’s empowering work in the church.

Minor Prophets I

The following is more of my bibliographic note taking and less of a book review. Please read as such. Thanks.

Achtemeier, E. (1996). Minor Prophets I. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. Her rendering of Joel 2:28-32 is brief and concise. She opens by stating that, “The promise of abundant life and rescue from the judgment of the day of the Lord has been given out of the free grace of God (2:18-27)” (p. 148).  This message of salvation then shifts to the “afterward” in 2:28, which proceeds to tell of the coming outpoured Spirit and cataclysmic signs that precede the “day of the Lord”. Achtemeier notes that the New Testament witness accords with this account in Joel regarding an escalation of signs and wonders just before the imminent Day of Judgment. Of great import in this text of Joel, Achtemeier considers the outpoured spirit playing a prominent role, “Most important in this passage, however, is God’s promise that before the day comes, ‘I will pour out my Spirit’” (p. 148). 

It is pointed out that the Joeline context points primarily to Judah as the recipients of the salvation and outpoured Spirit and that it is extended in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost to apply to all the nations. It is here where various scholars and theologians differ on the extent of fulfillment on Pentecost of this promise in Joel. A truly literal fulfillment of Joel would be restricted to Judah only, whereas some would say that the Petrine application on Pentecost was truly realized for all people. There are varying degrees of scholarly hypothesis on how to synthesize this problem; however Achtemeier doesn’t engage the issue other than to state the intent of the prophecy as given to Joel to apply to Judah and how it was extended beyond Judah in Peter’s rendering of the Pentecost event. 

Achtemeier proceeds to mention the vocational role of the Spirit throughout the OT witness and how, “Such is the understanding of the gift in Acts 2. The disciples are given the Holy Spirit in order that they may be witnesses to Christ ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8; 2:4)” (p. 149). Interestingly, though, Achtemeier doesn’t view the vocational role of the Spirit’s outpouring as the intent in the Joel text: “But that does not seem to be the emphasis of this passage in Joel. Rather, consonant with Joel’s entire concern, the Spirit here signifies a new revelation with God” (p. 149). 

It is then mentioned that the idea of Spirit is connected with kingdom…the bearers of the Spirit having entered into a “new age of the kingdom”, which has “…broken into human history and will now exercise its influence until the kingdom comes in its fullness” (p. 149).  This entrance is only possible as one calls on the name of the Lord as empowered by the Spirit. 

Achtemeier surprisingly does some theologizing with regards to the Holy Spirit for practical application. She offers the following:“It is quite possible to be given the Spirit of God, however, and to do nothing with it: thousands of persons in the Christian Church, who received the Holy Spirit at their baptisms, are evidence of that fact. We can stifle the Spirit, quench it (1 Thess. 5:19 RSV), do nothing with it. And if that is our response, we will not survive in the judgment on the day of the Lord” (pp.149-150). I understand the intent of Achtemeier to encourage whole hearted participation in the life of the Spirit and would encourage the same, however, I very much doubt that those who receive the Holy Spirit at their baptism can go on to be judged as outside the eschatological community of God’s people. If Achtemeier has in view a sacramental view of baptism with the understanding that the Spirit is given to all who are baptized, including children, then I would take issue with her understanding of what takes place in baptism. At the same time, I realize that the Pentecostal sermon called for repentance, baptism, and then reception of the promised Spirit.  It is my understanding that only those who sincerely repent are those who call upon the name of Jesus in their baptism and thus evidence the working of the promised Spirit within. If such is the case, then one is truly saved out of the sheer grace that Achtemeier rightly highlights. She posits then that one can quench the Spirit in such a way so as to face condemnation under the coming day of the Lord.  While one can argue for such based on theological reflection, I think it is not where she should go in her commenting on the Joeline material. Joel and Acts are in accord with a very clear message that those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. It says nothing of some who receive the Spirit, only to later forsake the Spirit. That is not the glorious good news here offered by God in Joel and Acts, but the good news is instead to call on the name of the Lord and be saved. It is said that some will stand before Jesus, having evidenced charismatic ministry in His name and will be forced to depart from His presence because they truly aren’t His disciples. This is indeed scary and needs careful reflection all on its own, and thus should be given ample material elsewhere…but not in a commentary on Joel, in my humble opinion. 

Achtemeier concludes her thoughts on Joel 2:28-32 by reflecting on an aspect of calling on the name of the Lord that can easily be missed: being a witness. “Finally, to call on the name of the Lord means, according to the Bible, to tell others what God has done (cf. Ps. 105:1; Isa. 12:4), to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)” (p. 150). It is noted that Paul reflected upon this in Romans 10 when he pleads for more heralds of the good news, stating that people can’t call on the name of the Lord unless they believe, and can’t believe unless they have heard, and can’t hear unless it is preached, and that it can’t be preached unless people go forth doing it. Achtemeier’s closing remarks summarize well the clear application that is afforded for us all: “Faith comes from hearing the gospel message…and that message is heard through our witness to and our preaching of what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is to these tasks that we are called by Joel’s Lord and our Lord” (p. 151). 

I would close by stating what I think Achtemeier was making clear, that Joel’s Lord and our Lord are one and the same.