John MacArthur has a three day teaching conference, Strange Fire, which concludes today dealing with many of the errors found in the charismatic movement. This conference has fanned the flames of blog writers to argue the merits of either the cessationist view or the continuationist view concerning the Holy Spirit. I will leave the audience to read for themselves the arguments that are being present in this discussion.
For me, there is one text that settled this question. What I have found intriguing is that I have not read any of the writers or commenters address this text (though I certainly have not read everything being said and would assume someone has presented this text for discussion). The key text in this discussion is Acts 8:18-19. It is the scene where we read about Simon the sorcerer.
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:18–19 ESV)
Here is the issue: Simon notes that the apostles are the only people who can give others the Holy Spirit. This occurred by the apostles laying hands on that person. Remember that Simon is a Christian. He believed, was baptized, and continued with Philip (Acts 8:13). But the text highlights that none of these new Christians from Samaria had received the Holy Spirit yet (Acts 8:16). The solution was not for these Christians to pray to God so that God would send them the Holy Spirit. Notice the words carefully: “The apostles at Jerusalem … sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-15). The apostles sent two of the apostles, Peter and John, from Jerusalem to Samaria. Why? Why do these two apostles need to make this trip? The answer is found in the observation of Simon in Acts 8:18. The Spirit was given through the laying on the apostles’ hands. The Samaritan Christians do not pray for the Holy Spirit. Peter and John pray to God that these Samaritan Christians would receive the Holy Spirit. Once they pray to God for the Holy Spirit, “then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17).
This narrative is the best insight we have in the scriptures as to how the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to Christians. Christians did not have to wish for it, pray for it, ask for it, or any other method. The apostles prayed to God and then laid their hands on Christians through which God would give them the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that Paul desires to go to see the Christians in Rome. “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (Romans 1:11 ESV). Why doesn’t Paul tell the Romans in this letter what to do to receive the Holy Spirit? The answer is simple. There was nothing to tell them. They had to wait until Paul or another apostle came to Rome, locate the Christians in that city, pray to God and lay his hands on them. Simon’s observation is everything that we need to know concerning this issue. The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were given only through the laying on the apostles’ hands. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not active today. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not working in the hearts of people or working through the Word of God. This does not mean that we do not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Acts 2:38 promises. The only aspect of the Holy Spirit that we see ending with the apostles at the end of the first century were the miraculous spiritual gifts. If this is not the case, then the story of Simon and the Samaritans in Acts 8 simply makes no sense.