This is my second blog post (first one is here) responding to an article posted by the CrossExamined ministry (click here). Let me preface my blog by saying this
- I love the Cross-Examined ministry even through my disagreements with them
- The article I reference was not written by Frank Turek (the leader of the ministry)
- I am attacking opinions and theologies not people
Today I am addressing the article's second point, which is as follows:
"In Acts those who believed Peter’s message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” (Acts 10:47)."
One good point of hermeneutics is to always check the context of any passage so that we don't misinterpret it. Therefore, let us do some foundation work. The context of Acts 10:
- The Apostle Peter was still holding onto some of his bigoted tendencies taught to him through the misguided Pharisees of his day. That is, he still thought that the Jews were somehow better than the Gentiles. This was about a decade or so AFTER Peter said that the Gospel is for all men (Acts 2:39) in the first Gospel sermon.
- God had to break through Peter's hardened heart by giving him a vision (Acts 10:9-15)
- This vision showed that God had declared all things clean. For Peter, and the rest of the Jews, this meant that the Gentiles should be accepted as prospective disciples as much as any other Jew and on the same grounds (Acts 10:34-35).
But here is the crux of the matter with Acts 10. And this is literally the most important thing to keep in mind. THE HOLY SPIRIT'S INVOLVEMENT IN ACTS 10:44-47, TO THE HOUSEHOLD OF CORNELIUS, WAS NOT THE PROMISED GIFT THAT ALL CHRISTIANS RECEIVE. How do we know that? Well we need to take a closer look at what actually happened. There are 2 major clues that lead us to this conclusion:
- Prepositions are so important to consider. In the book of Acts there is a big difference between the Holy Spirit coming UPON someone (gives them ability to do miracles) and the Holy Spirit coming to dwell IN someone (gift of salvation; cf. Eph 1:13-14). In 10:44 it says that the Holy Spirit came UPON Cornelius' household members. What other examples do we have of this distinction between UPON and IN? Glad you asked....
If we turn back to Acts 1:8 we see that Jesus promised the Apostles (not all believers) that the Holy Spirit would come UPON them soon and give them power. In the very next chapter we see the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit in a special way. That is, the Holy Spirit came UPON them and gave them the ability to speak in tongues (Acts 2:2-4, 7). Should we think that everyone should expect the Holy Spirit to come upon them in this same way. Of course not! This would contradict the Apostle Paul who said not all Christians speak in tongues (1st Cor 12:30). Furthermore, Acts 1:8 was a promise to the Apostles only and not all Christians. Finally, Peter doesn't tell the people to wait for any manifestation. Instead, upon their request on how to respond to the Gospel (2:37), Peter says, "Repent and be baptized IN ORDER TO receive forgiveness and the Gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Another example is found in Acts 8:14-24. We will deal with this passage in more detail in my next post. But for now let me give you some conclusions. The Samaritans had already received the word of God & been baptized. So regardless of whether you think a person needs to be baptized to be saved or not, I think we all can agree that the Samaritans in Acts 8 were Christians. But notice that Philip called for the Apostles to come down and pray for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. According to Cross-Examined ministry you receive the Holy Spirit before you are baptized (look at the quote at the top of the page). But these people were already baptized (Acts 8:12-13). So Cross-Examined says the Holy Spirit comes before baptism but the Bible says that people receive the Holy Spirit after baptism. I know which source I am going to believe. The mistake Cross-Examined has made is in thinking that the Holy Spirit coming UPON people for purposes of miraculous gifts is the same thing as the Holy Spirit coming to dwell IN a new believer as a salvational benefit. I believe Acts 8 is referring to the former.
A final example is Acts 19:1-6. This is basically the same thing as Acts 8. Notice that we have some disciples who haven't obeyed Christian baptism, only the baptism of John. Therefore, Paul teaches them the full Gospel and they are baptized in Jesus' name because they already have believed he is the Christ. But then Paul has to lay his hands on them so they can receive the Holy Spirit (19:6). Again we have the Holy Spirit coming AFTER, not before, baptism. This picture cannot figure into the theology of Cross-Examined ministry. But again I must point out that the mistake is because they failed to distinguish between UPON and IN.
- Peter's crew SAW that Cornelius' house received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45). Have any of my readers ever seen the Holy Spirit given to a person, really seen Him (GOD) come into a person, at their salvation? Of course not!!! Regardless of whether you think a person must be baptized to be saved or not we all believe that a new Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit as a benefit of salvation. But none of us see it happen with our physical eyes. It is a promise we accept on the basis of faith.
Therefore, what did Peter's crew actually see? They saw the Gentiles have the ability to speak in tongues (Acts 10:46). Only one group of people in history up to this point have received the Holy Spirit directly from God with the result of them speaking in tongues (other groups received the ability to do miracles but only at the passing on of this gift by the laying on of the Apostle's hands). The only other group was the Apostles back in Acts 2. This is exactly what Peter says in 10:47. He mentions that they (Cornelius' house) has received the Holy Spirit (ability to speak in tongues) just as we did (we apostles in Acts 2). This was the reason why God gave Peter his vision earlier. He wanted to soften Peter up a bit so that when he got to Cornelius' house he would understand what God was doing. God was trying to help the all-Jewish-Christian-Church understand that Gentiles are accepted by God alongside the Jews if they have faith in Christ. Therefore, the episode of Cornelius' house is a unique event and not an example of what all Christians should expect as a typical salvation experience.
- One final thing that is also important to remember is that WE ARE NOT SAVED BY THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Let us just say for a minute that the Holy Spirit that did come upon Cornelius' household was the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. It still would be problematic because at best what we have is an extreme exception to the normal rule. The normal rule is that people obey the Gospel and receive the benefits of salvation (Acts 2:37-39), not the other way around. But more importantly we must always keep in mind that we are saved by the blood of Jesus and nothing else (Rom 5:9-10). We cannot conclude that someone is saved just because they appear to be used by God or even blessed by God. People are saved when their sins are forgiven. And the only PLACE (don't mistake this with the MEANS of salvation, which is faith) where God says our sins are forgiven is in the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38; Col 2:12-14). The Holy Spirit is a benefit of salvation, along with a host of other things (Eph 1:3-14).
In conclusion, I believe that the episode in Cornelius' house is referring to the Holy Spirit coming upon a group of people in order to give them the ability to do some sort of miraculous sign (speaking in tongues in this instance). But they still had to obey the Gospel by being baptized (10:47) in order to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).