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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. C. "God the Holy Spirit"

"The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service."

Everything about this section is very right. The identity and central works of the Holy Spirit are spelled out. He is the fully divine Spirit of God, distinct in personhood, one in essence with the Godhead. He inspired the inerrant Scriptures, illumines men's minds, convicts, grants new spiritual life, baptizes into Christ, seals and assures believers in Christ forever, bestows spiritual gifts, and empowers the Church for ministry.

Doubtless the most controversial line in this section is the one about the Spirit baptizing every believer into the Body of Christ at the moment of regeneration. While this could possibly be interpreted in a way consistent with typical Pentecostal theology, it would be difficult. The F&M here guards against the error of a "two-stage" Christianity, in which a distinct and powerful work of the Spirit subsequent to conversion happens to some believers, at which time they are usually said to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and (according to most Pentecostals) give initial evidence of the work by speaking in tongues. This traditional Pentecostal teaching is error because it assumes that the events of the first Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 (with "reverberations" of that event at other times in the book of Acts) are intended to be viewed as repeatable and normative for the Church throughout the whole Church age. The mistake is to confuse redemptive history with the application of redemption. Pentecost is a part of redemptive history--a piece of the unified complex of events surrounding the First Advent of the Messiah, which includes His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church (the baptism in the Holy Spirit).

What we are not saying is that the Church today in no way partakes of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church. We also are not necessarily taking the position that all the prophetic/"miraculous"/revelatory/"sign" gifts of the Spirit have ceased (although that is a possible interpretation). In union with Christ, even the Church today partakes of all the redemptive benefits of Christ's person and work, including the blessings given to the Church at Pentecost (spiritual gifting and empowerment for ministry, to begin with).

What we are saying is that Pentecost itself is a once-for-all, unrepeatable event in the history of the salvation of God's people. Today, as soon as a person is born again and trusts in Christ, they are united with Christ and experience baptism into Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is taught most clearly in 1 Cor 12:12-13, where Paul explicitly connects membership in the body of Christ (the body of those who have trusted in Christ for salvation) with baptism by the Spirit. The upshot is that the baptism of the Spirit is not a work of grace subsequent to conversion, but part and parcel of conversion to Christ itself today.

There is no "two-tier" structure of Christians who have been baptized in the Spirit, and those who haven't. All have partaken of the same Spirit, and been baptized into the same body of Christ. Some may point to events in the books of Acts after Pentecost when people receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit even though they had already been believers for a while. While that is true, as was alluded to earlier, these events are still part of a unique time in history, and part of a unique record of history that has a unique purpose and a theme: the beginning of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth; and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant people of God. These rare occasions of Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion after the time of Pentecost should be seen as unique historical reverberations of Pentecost throughout the land as the gospel began to spread in the time of the apostles' founding the New Covenant Church; God was signifying, through Spirit baptism of these people, His reception of other peoples into covenant relationship with Him by faith in His Messiah.

None of this rules out new daily "infillings" of the Spirit for believers who pray to be strengthened and empowered for everyday ministry. Nor does it rule out various views on the continuation or cessation of tongues, prophecy, and miraculous healings today (a wise decision on the part of the SBC in drafting the F&M--although experience suggests a general atmosphere of suspicion of continuationist faith and practice in many SBC circles...). The point is that while Pentecost's benefits and resources continue in the Church as God sees fit today, Pentecost itself is over, and is not repeated in the lives of believers. The Spirit indwells every believer in the same way, and this is connected explicitly in Romans 8 to the assurance of the believer--a precious doctrine, indeed, if sobering by the way the New Testament presents it sometimes. If someone has the Spirit of Christ, he or she belongs to Him savingly, and that forever. Conversely, according to Paul in Romans 8, whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him and does not have eternal life.

So all in all, the F&M really gets the Holy Spirit right as far as His work in redemption. Much more could be said about the Holy Spirit, but there is one particular concept that is interesting enough to be mentioned about His identity. From the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards, to the musings of C. S. Lewis, to the 'Pleasures of God' theology of John Piper today, there has been a consistent speculative-theological notion of the Holy Spirit understood as the personal "embodiment" (so to speak) of the overflowing, joyous love of God it-...Him-self. The Son is the eternal "image" or "inner Word" or "divine thought" of the Father about Himself, which is so full and and divine itself that it stands forth as the Second Person of the Trinity. The love the Father has for the Son, then, and vice-versa, is so full and perfect and divine itself that it in turn stands forth as the Third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit. So in Scripture we see with no surprise (however much this is futile grasping at language to describe the ineffable Trinitarian God we love) that in the New Testament the love of God in our salvation is almost always connected most closely with the person of the Spirit. Romans 5 says that God poured His love into our hearts "through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." It is unlikely that Paul means that God used the Holy Spirit as a sort of temporary "pipe" through which He poured His love, and then retracted the Spirit. No, but rather, the Spirit was "given to us." How large a leap is it, actually, to say that the Holy Spirit is the love of God in our hearts? In John's gospel account, he tells us numerous ways as well that God's very joy and the very same love that God has for Christ is actually going to be in us when the Holy Spirit comes.

As wonderful and worship-inducing as this all is, and as appropriate as it is for us to worship God in all His Triune glory including the Spirit, we must also remember that it is the Spirit's job to glorify the Son. We know God through His Word, especially the gospel of His Son. The Trinity itself is Christocentric. Therefore, let us never leave the cross, the resurrection, or the Son in our worship, even as we rejoice in the unique, powerful working of the Holy Spirit in uniting us to that glorious Person and empowering us to live for Him. The Father has planned things to be this way, and thus is also glorified in our worship centered on the Son (who is in turn One with the Father in essence and in the sharing of the same Spirit, by which Father and Son communicate nothing less than themselves to each other in the eternal mystery of divine Trinitarian fellowship).

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