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On Ignorance and Spiritual Gifts

I’m interested in identifying and dealing with a specific issue amongst teachers and learners of Gods word. As I receive letters and e-mails from time to time, and read the work of some teachers, I have become convinced that we are ignorant on one of the main topics of what I might call “religion de jour.” The whole of uneducated Christianity (meaning those outside the body of Christ – those thinking that they are Christians when in fact they are not) believes that today (as they believed that it had also happened in the 1st Century) that the Holy Spirit must descend bodily upon individuals in response to their conversion and in order that they may be saved. They also believe that in this rather common conception of baptism of the Holy Spirit that perhaps a transfer of power takes place and that the embodiment of the spirit also brings with it (primarily) the gifts of speaking in unknown tongues (the “miracle de jour”) and perhaps I suppose, if one is more holy than his neighbor, he will also possess other powers – right up to healings. And then some are even bold enough to claim raising the dead.

What I read and see is disconcerting, as it does not rely upon the word of God. As we have noted on this site, the great body of religious folks in this country is altogether ignorant of Gods Word, and of its importance to salvation. Most folks have only a smattering of knowledge of the scriptures and really no idea at all as to what to do with what little knowledge they do possess. This makes them easy prey for the unscrupulous. Not only is this at the root of the proliferation of the many false doctrines that abound and a boon to those that teach them in our times, but good and well meaning folks are being led wholesale to destruction. People are ignorant of God’s Word and of the simple instructions God has given through his Son and by the apostles doctrine. And this ignorance brings forth nothing save damnation.

That should be of concern to Christians reading this; it should cause your hearts to mourn for such a terrible loss. Ignorance of God’s Word destroys souls.

The discussion that follows hits right to the heart of some of this false teaching, and yet many true teachers steer wide from it as they have as poor an understanding of the truth as some that they try to instruct.

We have all the modern conveniences and time savers and yet we have no time. And we make excuse to God and don’t read His word, because we would rather fritter away our time following after foolish pursuits. Some spend their Sunday mornings worshipping the “god of the pillow” or in some form of recreation. Most don’t attend religious services. Of those who do attend, some rely upon the Bible class teacher solely for their knowledge, and unfortunately that may amount to no knowledge at all. Some may take a little time to consult the commentary of the day or someone’s lesson book or even an article in a periodical they like instead of formulating their own thoughts on things. And if we (and by that I mean both teachers and learners) offer some excuse in this we offer it before God in the vain hope that He will somehow let us through the shining gate in spite of the fact that we have spent only the smallest fraction of time and given but a sad effort towards knowing and understanding his word.

Christians and those who call on the name of Christ today are willfully ignorant of Gods word. Once again, this is a damning condition, and if we remain in that state for the time of our sojourning here, then there will be only weeping and gnashing of teeth on that great and notable Day of the Lord.

The cause of this condition is simple: lack of reading and study. The remedy is the reverse process to the cause and simple to effect: read, study, and apply God’s Word.

We are sometimes afraid to speak and teach on some subjects as our own knowledge leaves us without the proper tools. Confidence is important in serving God, but false confidence is of no value. We must have true confidence in our own salvation, confidence in our depth and knowledge of his word, and confidence in knowing that what we do in service to God is acceptable to Him. To be found so then we must study the scriptures.

Again, the only way we can gain such confidence is to read, study, and apply the Word of God.

The writer James states that we (should) “receive the implanted word that is able to save your souls.” His use of the idea of the implanted (or engrafted) word indicates that it didn’t come to us by nature, but rather by import.

Let’s take a look at what the implanted word has to say.

And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh: your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also on My menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

And I will show wonders and signs in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.

And it shall come to pass that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2: 28 – 32)

Now this passage should be familiar to you. I would like in what follows here to look at this suggestion that all Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit and that such a baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary to anyone’s salvation. And some large portion of this will be in noting what the scriptures have to say about who it is that received the miraculous powers of the spirit and who it is that did not, and implications concerning these things in dealing with these ideas when it comes to teaching folks right from wrong and truth from fiction.

The passage we listed initially from Joel chapter two is quoted almost exactly by Peter with the addition only of a phrase to note that it came from God in time and with a note on the work of the servants of God. It was quoted by way of explanation to the events witnessed and of the noise heard by the multitudes on that Pentecost that had followed by some 50 days on the resurrection of Christ. But as we proceed now with our examination lets start by identifying just a few things about this prophesy. First, notice the prophet said two portions of or outpourings of the Spirit would be accomplished – one on all flesh: on sons and daughters, young men and old men and which would be accompanied with signs and visions; and a second portion or level of outpouring on His (that is, Gods) menservants and maidservants. This last is often missed by teachers and commentators, but it clearly notes that one part (outpouring) is to be for all and the other is to be specifically on the servants of the Most High God. Peter quotes this portion this way: “On My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And they shall prophesy.” To repeat: I take that to mean that there would be a general outpouring and also a more limited or specific one, just as is specified here: one outpouring on all flesh and one outpouring on Gods servants. That is the distinction made. There is then no reason to think that these two outpourings were necessarily identical in respect to their composition and bearing. Notice as well that it nowhere states that all recipients of these outpourings, whether the general or specific outpouring, would receive the power to perform signs and wonders. That is not mentioned and is not a part of it. It states that the general outpouring would be accompanied with signs and wonders – but nothing is said of “all flesh” displaying them.

The second item is that these outpourings would occur on a Day of the Lord, a notable day accompanied with signs and wonders. As we noted, Peter stated that the events on this particular Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter two were in fulfillment of this very prophesy. This was then that notable Day of the Lord spoken of by Joel as noted by the word translated in the original as “afterward,” and Peter stated that this event occurred then on that day. So, it would also follow that this outpouring of the Spirit was intended to coincide with this event and to be upon both of those groups mentioned in the original prophesy.

Let’s see who the recipients of these promises have been and are, and how this was fully manifested.

In John chapters 14 through 16 the Lord prepared his apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit to them (in this passage the Spirit is called the Comforter, the Helper, and also the Spirit of Truth). At this point He stated the world could not receive the Spirit of Truth as it had not received Him (Christ) because they “neither saw nor knew Him” (John 14:16, 17). This point is widely overlooked by religious students. Those who reject Christ (and that is done by rejecting his word) cannot possess any Spiritual indwelling. Therefore, the possession of the Spirit listed here is not general in nature, but specific to Christ’s apostles. Let us see how that is so.

In verse 26 of this chapter Jesus stated that the Helper/Spirit would be sent in His (Jesus) name and would teach them all things and cause them to remember the things that Jesus had taught them. In the 15th chapter He states (in verse 26) that the Spirit would testify of Christ and that they (the apostles) would bear witness of Christ upon the coming of the Spirit. And in the 16th chapter He said that the spirit in its coming would “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me (I suppose then that means that the Spirit’s business would be to offer a further proof of Christ), of righteousness, because I go to my Father and you see me no more (this I take to mean that the Spirit would be the continuing provider of the path of righteousness until this duty had been fully performed as the Lord outlined to the apostles here): of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.”

He then concluded this talk in chapter 16 and verse 13, by noting once again that the Spirit would guide these apostles into all truth, and that He (the Spirit) would glorify Christ, and would declare to them what Christ would have them both to do and to say.

Now note the differences between the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh and the giving of the Spirit to the apostles and the dispensation of spiritual gifts through the hands of the apostles.

After his resurrection, Jesus told his apostles that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in but a few days (Acts 1:5). In answer then to their question on when the kingdom of Israel would again be established, as part of His answer, He told them to remain in Jerusalem where they, as He said “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and (as He had promised) you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Please note that it is to these apostles that this promise of power was made by God, not to some general assembly of disciples, and not to some wider general population. It is a promise to a very limited few, not to all, and certainly not to all of every time.

Now from this understanding it is easily established that only the apostles (and to be emphatic, the apostles only) were recipients of this outpouring of the Spirit as is noted through this passage and on in the narrative as it stretches into the second chapter of Acts and beyond. You have likely heard the use of the pronouns and the progression of the text between chapters one and two used as proof to this. But you should note that everything in the text both here and in the chapters that follow bears this out.

Yet there is something else that also is established in these passages: in consequence of this baptism of the Holy Spirit, initially the only persons with the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to perform signs and wonders, were these twelve apostles and no one else. On this the text is also quite clear, even though this point is also widely overlooked both within and without the churches of Christ.

Let us see what the text states shall we?

To start please note that when Peter stood up to identify the cause and explanation of the commotion on that morning as recorded in Acts chapter two, that the record states that he stood up with the eleven. There is no surer statement as to who had part in this baptism of the Spirit. The ones speaking and that were then being heard in different languages and dialects were the twelve apostles. The record is clear again.

Note further on that then Peter declares that this crowd through consent participated in the death of the innocent Christ. He concludes in part by noting, “this Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” Friends, he is speaking specifically of the resurrection of Christ to which the apostles and selected others had been witness, and it is the witness of the apostles here specifically that is being identified. He is not referring to the multitude there, as having been witness to the events, as that is not how it is worded and the multitude had not been witness to the resurrection. It is unlikely that members of the multitude were witnesses to much of anything that had occurred of the previous events, and they were certainly not witnesses to the resurrection. Many of the other leading events had taken place at night and through the earliest hours of the morning some 50 to 54 days earlier. Peter here is telling the crowd that he and his eleven companions were the primary witnesses to the resurrection of Christ and then to all of the other events, just as Christ had told them that they would be.

Notice that after those things many of those hearers and believers became Christians, so that the scripture states: “and they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.” The only ones with this teaching at this time – this possessive doctrine, were the apostles, and that is why this is stated this way. The emphasis is on the apostles and on the “apostle’s doctrine.” This is true even though there would be many to believe and to be converted then and in the days ahead.

There is much more.

In the third chapter following the healing of the man that was born lame from his mothers womb, the record states that Peter once again notes (in verse 14) that those in the multitude had “denied the Holy One and the Just and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life whom God has raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” Here again Peter states the witness of the apostles to the resurrection; it is not talking about there being witnesses on every corner. As is mistaken by many, he is not referring to some witness to the general events – but only to the witness of the twelve apostles to the resurrection of Christ, and to the power behind their witness. At the conclusion of this sermon, the two apostles were taken and placed in custody until the next day, and upon being sent to the council of the Jews (who then let them go), the following is recorded in chapter 4. Here the council noted, “They were uneducated and untrained men and they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v 13). Peter in his and Johns defense later said, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard (v 20).”

In chapter 4 and verse 23 the record states that Peter and John were released and went to “their own companions.” I must take that to mean that they went back to that house adjacent to the Temple where it clearly states the twelve had been residing (Acts 1:13), as the writer here could just as easily have stated that they went to be with some other disciples. If you follow the use of pronouns and modifiers that really is the only conclusion that can be legitimately drawn from the text. There they prayed and the record (v 31) then continues with: “…and when they had prayed, the whole place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” The only “they” listed and noted as being modified by the pronouns present is the “apostles.” Even with this filling (which, I think certainly can be rightly called an outpouring) of the Spirit, there is no reason to believe that at this point in time that anyone other than the apostles was involved in or had the power to work signs and wonders, as this fact is again enforced in verse 31 where it once again states: “and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” These are not accidental phrases, not just mere words to fill up the page.

Things come into even clearer focus in the next chapter, and again the conclusion is inescapable. At some point following the sad business with Ananias and Sapphira and due to those events, the following statement was recorded in chapter 5 and verse 11 and 12:

“So great fear came on all the church and upon all who heard these things. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people and they (meaning the apostles, not as some suppose – the multitude) were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.”

The others wouldn’t join them because they were afraid of them — these fellows had power over life and death, power to heal, and there had never in all of history been anything quite like it. No group of common men in one place and of one purpose had ever been so filled by God with power over Satan to work signs and wonders before the eyes of men. They had a doctrine like no other and it was backed up with power like no other; and no one (let me emphasize that), NO ONE at this point had any power aside from these apostles. Even supposing as noted that others may have had the indwelling of the Spirit, which is not at all sure at this point, NO ONE but the twelve apostles could put any power behind it. On this the scriptures are again quite clear. That is why others were afraid to try to join up with them – because they were not part and party to this dispensation of doctrine and of this outpouring of the Spirit and power. They (all of the rest) were afraid and not just reverent, but more than reverent – fearful in noting these men and the power exhibited through them was indeed different than anything ever witnessed. The point is that there were no applications being taken to be apostles. And no one tried to join them in their doings or tried to broaden their ranks and to increase the number above twelve. It was the business of the twelve alone.

In this chapter the apostles also noted again that they were witnesses of Christ, but this time Peter added something more as he said, “and we are his witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:32)

Notice the Spirit is also stated to be a witness with the apostles, and this is just as Christ said it would be. And I must be emphatic — up to this point no one had any power such as that which the apostles possessed on any level, and as I have said repeatedly, on that point the text is very, very clear.

In chapter 5 and verse 42 is this familiar passage: “And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Friends, although this statement should be said of all, and many believe that it was, it clearly was not said of all. It is quite specific in noting the pursuits of the apostles and of them alone. The “they” referred to is clearly the twelve apostles now as before, as the nouns preceding and modifying the pronoun are found in verses 40 and 41. It is the apostle’s doctrine delivered with the power of God through their very hands and through their deeds. None dared to join them. It is just as it was prophesied.

So why is it that so many overlook or misunderstand this and teach other things? And then how is it that the scriptures actually teach that the outpouring of the Spirit and also the powers granted with the Spirit was eventually given to others?

Perhaps you know the history of this. For in Acts 6 one of the requirements of the deacons in the church was that they be “filled” with the Holy Spirit. (I won’t entertain any speculation as to these not being the first deacons – if it walks like a duck, quacks, and has webbed feet – what is it?) All of these men had been granted the indwelling of the Spirit and by then at least two of them possessed the “gifts” of the Spirit and could heal and work miracles (Acts 6:8 and 8:6, 7). What that tells me is that Stephen and Philip (and the other five) had been granted the indwelling of the Spirit through the hands of the apostles, and as we’ll see in a moment this was the only way they could have received any Spiritual gifts at that point. Now I’ll also note here that being filled with the Holy Spirit was not necessarily commensurate with having the power to work signs or miracles. You could in fact be a recipient of or dwelling place for the Spirit and not work a miracle, a sign or do any wonders. You might reasonably ask how I know that this was true. I know it was true because the Bible tells me so (as the children’s song says). In God’s Word the Archangel Gabriel stated that John the Immerser would be filled with the Holy Spirit “from his mother womb” (as is found in Luke chapter one and verse 15), and yet as recorded in John chapter 10 and verse 41, it was apparently well known that John had never performed a miracle. The blind man healed by Christ said the Jews, those seeking to seize Christ – his very enemies, knew and that it was common knowledge that “John performed no sign.”

And so it follows that possession of the Holy Spirit did not necessarily mean that one could perform signs or work miracles. I suppose that if that was true then that it must also be true now?

But to continue: as I just noted, at some point between the recording of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and prior to the appointment of the deacons in Jerusalem and prior to the death of Stephen and the sending of Philip the Evangelist to the Samaritans, it is clear that the apostles then at some point in the history of proceedings began to transfer these gifts of performing healings and powers to other disciples. It is also crystal clear that only the apostles could perform this task, as the text says this must take place through their prayer and with the laying on of only their hands. The record of the conversion of Simon as recorded in Acts 8 is clear on this. To paraphrase Galileo: God gave us some intellectual gifts and does not expect that we should forego their use.

And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. (Chapter 8 verse 7).

Later it says that they believed and were baptized, and that Simon also believed and was baptized.

Then this follows:

“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who when they had come down prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet he had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Verses 14 through 17)

If Philip could grant the giving of the Holy Spirit to them, why oh why would it be necessary to have two of the apostles sent there so that the believers in Samaria could then receive the Holy Spirit?

It is at this point that Simon grew enamored of the ability of the apostles to transfer the power of the Spirit and he offered to purchase the Gift of God. This is familiar to most reading here, but in this discussion we’re interested in part of Peter’s response to Simon. Peter told him to repent and pray for his soul, as he had “…neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.” Peter said Simon had no part in these things and that his heart was not right and he clearly misunderstood what was going on – that the giving of the Holy Spirit to others was only the business of God dispensing these gifts and powers through the apostles – and so the record states. And I’ve got news for you here, and this is a blinding glimpse of the obvious – even if Simon’s heart had been right, he still wouldn’t have had a part in this duty and honor: the transfer of the Holy Spirit – for that was the domain of these hand chosen apostles alone as has already been noted. The record is yet crystal clear.

So it is through this avenue that this outpouring was accomplished on the menservants and maidservants of God. We have record in God’s book of some of the menservants and maidservants of God possessing the Holy Spirit and the miraculous gifts. You may know of Stephen; and we have already read to you some of Philip the Evangelist, and you may have read of his four daughters who were prophets (in Acts 21: 8 and 9). We also have record in God’s Book of those menservants and maidservants of God that did not possess the powers often associated with these things.

That there was a second baptism of the Spirit similar to but not exactly the same as the first is also proved in Acts chapter 10 and 11, where others also had benefited from an outpouring of the Spirit as evidenced in the conversion of the household of Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius and his household were baptized with the Spirit in the same manner as the apostles had been on Pentecost, in order to convince the witnesses present there and those same apostles and those later that would hear the report of these things, that God had now given that salvation was to be taught and granted further to non Jews and non Jewish worshippers of God (the Gospel had already been taken to the Samaritans as we previously read).

Note that there is nothing in the text that indicates that the signs and wonders granted to those who were part of Cornelius’ household was in any way to the level of the first baptism of the Spirit that fell upon the twelve apostles. The text says only that the appearance of the Spirit came in the same manner as it had fallen upon the apostles, and it states that they spoke in unknown languages. But the text also indicates that this baptism of the Spirit was for a limited and quite different purpose as was noted by Peter when it occurred, and as is recorded in Acts chapter 11, beginning with verse 15. There was certainly no reason to believe that they (the recipient members in the house of Cornelius) could pass this gift on as could the apostles, as that would be contrary to what we have already established as found in the scriptures; and indeed there is no record of such things as ever having happened.

The apostle Paul also received a greater measure than others when he was anointed with the Spirit – but it is not anywhere called a baptism of the Spirit, as in fact his anointing is only mentioned in passing. At some point prior to the conversion of Cornelius, Saul’s receipt of the Spirit was granted to anoint him as the apostle Paul, a servant of God, the Apostle to the Gentiles; and the language used to describe his strength of power and the signs performed by him is identical to that which was used to describe the power as possessed by Peter.

Now the end point of all of this is as follows:

That at the first, in the early days and in the beginning of the church, only the apostles had the powers granted by God through baptism of the Holy Spirit. That at the first, only the apostles could perform miracles, signs and wonders. That once things were at first established by them, in point of time the apostles could, by praying and the laying on of their hands, dispense some level of this power to other disciples and that level varied from recipient to recipient, with some receiving no gift at all to perform these works. That initially these powers were for the purposes stated by Christ to his apostles: to convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment. Aside from this, the scriptures mention only one additional baptism of the Spirit in the same fashion as it appeared to the apostles, and then beyond that second baptism of the Spirit there is only one record of the power of the Holy Spirit in abundance on a level with the twelve apostles (in signs and wonders) in one other person – that person being the apostle Paul; who, as the scriptures state of the other apostles, was himself also able to transfer a semblance of this power to others (Acts 19:6). And finally, that on the notion that anyone who possessed such powers or indwelling of the Spirit from the hands of one of the apostles could transfer it to anyone else – on this the record is also quite clear – it is not mentioned, alluded to or implied, and is specifically spoken against and therefore could not be done.

Now once again, the twelve apostles were the original recipients of the baptism of the Spirit. No one but the apostles could perform signs and wonders in the early church until they passed on this ability to others. However the recipients of this passed gift themselves could not then pass it on to anyone else. Paul’s position was in no way different.

Following these things to their stated conclusion, there is absolutely no record of anyone being able to work signs on the level of the apostles at any place or at any time in history, either before or since. There is absolutely no record of anyone other than the apostles performing signs and wonders in the beginning days of the church. And finally, those who having received the Spirit and the ability to perform Spiritual gifts by the laying on of hands of the apostles, could not pass the Holy Spirit on to anyone – ever.

What that means to us today is this:

No one can now have these gifts since the apostles left this earth long ago. No one has the ability to heal, to speak in unknown foreign languages, to raise the dead, to cast out demons coming through the Spirit of God – because the only method of giving these gifts to men has long ago passed from this realm. God and Christ only gave these gifts to a select few and these were clearly identified. Others received a portion of the gifts of the Spirit but only through the hands of the original apostles. These last mentioned could not themselves grant these gifts and possession by the Spirit to anyone. So says the word of God.

Therefore, today there is no one around that can do this – the apostles are all long dead and long ago have passed to their stated reward. Those who they ordained and to whom they had passed on these things are also long dead. The purpose for these things had been accomplished as it was ordained to be when Christ sent out his apostles to establish his Holy Church.

The outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh has been accomplished. And recall that it was never said that all would prophesy, that all would work signs, or that all would dream dreams. It only said “all” when it said that The Spirit of God would be poured out on “all flesh.” That was accomplished just as it was stated. All can come to know Christ though all will not prophesy. All who hear can come to Christ though all have not spoken and will never speak in an unknown foreign language. This is exactly the argument and the language that Paul uses to explain this very notion in First Corinthians chapter 12 (the entire chapter deals with this idea, and in particular verses 28 and 29).

But, the apostle Peter had said on Pentecost, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

And that friend is the outpouring you and I need to be part of.