The Establishment Of The Church: Part I – The Reality Of The Church

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The first time we find the word “church” in the Bible, it’s when Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). From this, we know Jesus plans on establishing a church. If someone is a part of something that calls itself church, but it’s not the one Jesus built, then their church is counterfeit and their faith is in human error and not the truth of Christ.

No man has the right to start a new branch of Christianity, whether his name is Luther, Wesley, or King Henry VIII. If the saved are added to the church, and one is a member of something not built by Christ, that person is not saved. We need to learn the truth of the church. Anyone can do that by reading the New Testament for themselves honestly.

There is no Old Testament word for “church,” but that doesn’t it isn’t mentioned in prophecy. Most often, the images of a mountain or a kingdom are used to describe the coming church. Our English word “church” comes from the German word kirche. Originally, it meant all the faithful, but when all those thought faithful were Catholic. With Luther, the word took a new use. It was used to distinguish between the two bodies, the Catholic kirche or the Lutheran or Reformed kirche. Reformed would take another use later to refer to any reformation not Luther’s, and in time became the name for what we today call Calvinism.

It was not long before kirche came to refer to the places of assembly, both Catholic and Lutheran. This is similar to our English phrase “go to church.” I know some members of the church who lose their minds if they hear someone today say that (since the church is the people and not a building). In the Bible, people go into and come out of the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13:14,42), which refers to a building. In Corinth, Justus lived next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7), which obviously is a building. Seeing that the same Greek word for a Jewish synagogue is also used for assembly in the Christian sense, it stands to reason that if there is place that is primarily used as a meeting place for Christians, it could also be called church in the same way synagogue is used for the Jews, even though the word in the Greek merely means “assembly.” We don’t see the word church referring to a building in the New Testament because they met in places primarily used for other functions. Christians met in houses, catacombs, school houses, down by the river, and even in the Jerusalem Temple. In the end, to get upset because someone says, “go to church,” shows an ignorance of language and ultimately is majoring in minors.

The Greek word for the church is ekklesia, which means “the called out.” It refers to any group of people set apart for a particular call or purpose. Ours is to make known the wisdom of God in the world (Ephesians 3:8). The Greek word is not an inherently holy word. It is simply the word God in His wisdom chose to describe His saved people. By inspiration, the unholy mob in Ephesus is also called an ekklesia and they were trying to stop the work of the true church. The people of God are called the church, as well as the body, kingdom, and household of God. Our English word “church” is as much of an accommodation and social construct as any other English word.

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The Resurrection of Jesus

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Resurrection from the dead is itself materially impossible. It could only occur as a miracle (First Corinthians 6:14). Jesus not only died, but was buried. The tomb adds circumstances that make it more impossible. The tomb was guarded by Romans soldiers. Also, the cover stone was mortared shut (Matthew 27:64-66). When the women arrived on the following first day of the week morning, the soldiers were gone and the stone was moved (Matthew 28:1-4). The stone was moved by the angel of the Lord. The Bible says it was rolled back by the angel. That is not because Jesus could not have moved the stone. This allowed the women and later the apostles to see inside, even go inside. It also disrupted the Roman soldiers and scared them away. Because of this, all can see that it was not only an opened tomb, but also an empty tomb. It wasn’t opened to let Jesus out, but to let us in.

If Jesus was not raised, then what happened to His body remains a mystery. Some say the disciples stole the body. Keep in mind they were skeptical of the women’s claims. Also, this was during the time between Passover and Pentecost when Jerusalem is overcrowded with people from all over the world. The disciples had no place to hide a rotting corpse will so many people there. Some say the Romans stole his body. This is absurd because their lives were put to risk by the resurrection. Others say the Pharisees stole his body. If that were so, all they had to do on Pentecost or any time after would be to produce the dead body and that would have shut up the apostles once and for all and Christianity would have died.

My favorite of all the crackpot false options is that Jesus never really died on the cross, He merely passed out. Later He revived and walked away. This is called the Swoon Theory. Imagine Jesus survived a Roman scourging and crucifixion, also had a spear shoved in His side and into His heart. Here he passes out and is thought to be dead. He is wrapped in about a hundred pounds of linen and spices and placed inside a tomb with a cover stone that weighs about a ton and it is cemented airtight to the opening. Jesus waked from this, moves the stone, and wanders off never to be seen. Believe it if you can, but the best evidence is in support of the Bible claim that Jesus was raised from the dead.

Paul writes that the death, burial, and resurrection is the basis for the gospel and His raised body was witnessed by many (First Corinthians 15:1-8).

  • Peter
  • The Twelve
  • Over Five-Hundred
  • James
  • The Apostles
  • Paul

The twelve is a reference to the apostles, which means Jesus appeared to them twice that Paul has in mind. He uses different references to distinguish the two occasions of meeting. Also, it seems James is the brother of our Lord and not the apostle and brother of John.

There are vital consequences to the Resurrection of Jesus worth evaluating. First and foremost, we have forgiveness of sins because of the Resurrection (Romans 5:10). Also, it proves that Jesus is indeed the Son of God (Romans 1:4). Because of the forgiveness of sins, we can look forward to going to Heaven, which is our hope. And because Jesus lives, our hope is a lively hope (First Peter 1:3). And having been raise from the dead, Jesus wears this indelible mark that serves as the Father’s stamp of approval, particularly to show He is qualified to Judge all of mankind at the end of time (Acts 17:31).

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The Role of the Holy Spirit

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The sufficiency of the Scriptures proves there is no semi-Calvinistic direct help by the Holy Spirit to either save us or enable us to live the Christian life. When I speak of sufficiency, I mean it is sufficient informationally and it is sufficient in the manner that it communicates. Keep in mind that as a divine person, the Holy Spirit is a parsimonious being. This means He will not directly operate unless there is an absolute need for Him to do so.

Direct & Indirect

The Holy Spirit did indeed operate directly in the times of miracles. Men unaided could not do the things they did without this supernatural help. The Holy Spirit directly operated on the first century apostles and prophets to reveal and confirm the truth. They revealed the truth through the gift of inspiration and confirmed this by the signs, wonders, and miracles that they did.

Since all direct operations of the Spirit had to do with the word of God, either in revealing it or confirming it, it stands to reason that all latent works of the Spirit would be through this same word. Some people read in the Bible about the Spirit does this or that, and they assume it’s by an immediate and direct act. They do not take into account figurative language and mediated action. For example, Paul writes about being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14), but this is not the Holy Spirit directly leading anyone about. He leads through the word He inspired, as even the context of that passage proves (Romans 8:1-2).

Power Of Scripture

Paul tells Timothy that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (Second Timothy 3:16). What he has to say is regarding “all Scripture,” as opposed to the “holy Scriptures” that refer to the Old Testament seen prior (v.15). Thus, all Scripture, including the New Testament, is inspired by God. The word for “inspired” means God breathed, as if God actually said the words that are written.

Because all Scripture is inspired, all Scripture is profitable. The ultimate ends of this is that Christians may have everything informationally they need to serve and follow God. You do not need the word of God plus other information from the Holy Spirit. It then follows undeniably that the direct operation of the Holy Spirit is not necessary to know the will of God, and since it is unnecessary, it does not happen.

To the Ephesian church, Paul says that when we read what he was given by revelation, we will understand what he has written by inspiration (Ephesians 3:3-4). The Bible is understandable. To say otherwise contradicts the propositional nature of Scripture. The fact that so many people misunderstand it does not mean it cannot be understood. It actually proves how willful and stubborn people are when they approach the Bible. Peter warns of Scripture twisters (Second Peter 2:1-2). They twist the easy stuff as well as the hard verses.

Propositional Nature Of Scripture

There are hard passages and difficult concepts in the Bible. One would expect that in a book that comes from the mind of God. Simply put, what God has revealed to us, He expects us to understand. Anyone who is willing to approach the Scriptures like a blank slate can understand the Bible just by honestly reading it (Acts 17:11; James 1:21). Seeing this is so, no one needs any direct aid from the Spirit in order to understand what the Bible says.

Consider how ridiculous it is to claim one needs the Spirit to understand and interpret the Bible. Imagine someone opening their Bible and they read “He that believes and is baptized will be saved.” That person says to themselves, I don’t get it, and then the Holy Spirit comes down and whispers in their ear, “It means that if someone were to believe and then be baptized, then that person will be saved.” And only following this does the reader say, Now I get it! This is foolishness. Since no one needs any direct operation of the Spirit to understand the Bible, no such direct operation occurs.

The Bible is good enough to convict someone (John 16:8). The Scriptures are sufficient to convert a sinner (Psalm 19:7). And the word of God is all you need to be sanctified (John 17:17). We don’t need the Bible plus anything else, much less any direct act of the Spirit. Since we don’t need it, we don’t’ get it. People who insist they have this unScriptural advantage are looking for justification to believe what they want to believe, and not what God intended. This is the acme of foolishness (Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 16:25).

Walk According To The Spirit

The work of the Spirit through the word He inspired is made clear in the first few verses of Romans 8, but are willfully misunderstood by poor study that begins with a conclusion and then seeks verification on behalf of the pneumafile. Paul uses a writing style common to his epistles where he explains something fully and refers to it in part later and it is expected to be understood in its fullest sense. He begins by stating that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1a). Those uncondemned are so because they “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (v.1b).

The explanation for this is “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (v.2). The use of the Holy Spirit in the first verse and the several that follow are given a context here that cannot be escaped. These passages refer to the work of inspiration. There is a law, not the law of Moses (mentioned in contrast in verse 3), but a New Testament gospel law (Romans 3:27; First Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). This law inspired by the Holy Spirit provides eternal life for those who are in Christ. So to walk after the Spirit is to live in accordance with the law of the Spirit.

Christians are in the Spirit just as much as the Spirit is in us (v.9). This is something never really explained by the advocates of a literal and personal indwelling. This is followed by a reference to Christ being in us, which is something no one holds to be literal. Christ dwells in us to the degree that we have faith, which still comes from the word of God (Ephesians 3:17; Romans 10:17). Christ dwells in us through His word, as does the Spirit. Because the word of God directs our life, we are promised a bright future resurrection, which is another way of saying there is no condemnation.

We are led by the Spirit to put to death the lifestyle of the flesh (v.13-14). This again is the law of the Spirit that does this. The Spirit by the law of the Spirit bears joined testimony alongside our own spirit that we are the children of God. In other words, the Holy Spirit describes a faithful person and our own conscience declares we are faithful to the system and therefore obedient.

When one lives in accordance to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, that person is in a state of non-condemnation. This submission to the law of the Spirit, the New Testament gospel system, is how one dwells in the Spirit and the Spirit dwells in that one. It is how one is led by the Spirit and allows one to offer their life as testimony that agrees with the testimony of the Spirit regarding adoption. All of this feeds into the temperament of being spiritually minded (v.6).

This article is a select reading from my book, Biblical Teachings Regarding The Holy Spirit. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. To order, click here.

 

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A Review of Pentecostalism: Part IV – The Duration of Miracles

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The miracles of the New Testament were never intended to endure unendingly. Their era is limited, and by the role and purpose of miracles. If God provided early saints with the capacity to perform the supernatural in order to confirm the preaching of the gospel while the epistles and narratives were being composed, then the miracles would have fully served their purpose when the New Testament was completely written. As a parsimonious being, God would not allow the confirming miracles to endure beyond the time when they would be needed. In the first century, they relied upon the miracles to corroborate their message. Now we can use the Bible to substantiate itself. Since the completed New Testament can validate itself as from God, we have no need for miracles, so God has taken them away.

That Which Is Perfect

Of course, Scripture confirms this. The thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is known as the “love chapter.” But it is set in the three-chapter context of the proper use of miracles. Paul’s point is that love is more important than any supernatural capacity. After detailing the high value of love, Paul says three things will disappear: prophecies, tongues, and knowledge (v.8). Since knowledge is joined to prophecies and tongues, it is clearly miraculous knowledge, such as inspiration.

Following this, Paul says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (v.9). The phrase “in part” does not mean partially, as if they know and prophesy the whole gospel message piecemeal. It’s closer to our notion of temporary, or put into the context, we know and prophesy by a temporary means, which is miraculously. It cannot be any clearer that miracles were always designed to be temporary, which means they were intended to cease.

In the next verse, Paul says, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (v.10). The Pentecostalists insist this refers to the Second Coming of Jesus, but note that this says that which, not He who is perfect. This is borne out in the original language where “that which is perfect” is in the neuter gender. Contextually, “that which is perfect” is the completed revelation of the gospel.

Paul ties the subject of the miraculous with the context of love with the last verse in the chapter: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (v.13). Even after that which is perfect is taken away, faith, hope, and love will still exist. Love is the greatest because it is the only one of the three which is eternal. After Jesus comes, faith shall become sight and hope will be reality, but love will continue in Heaven. If the miracles are to be removed with the Second Coming, then we have an absurdity within this verse. Faith and hope will not continue after Jesus returns, but they will remain after that which is in part shall be done away. Notice how the miracles cannot be taken away with the end of time and the beginning of eternity, where faith and hope will continue, and at the same time end.

The Unity Of The Faith

Another passage to consider is taken from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to Ephesus: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (v.11). The apostles and prophets can only exist in the time of the miraculous, so the reference to evangelists, pastors, and teachers should also be assumed to be supernaturally-aided roles. We have evangelists, pastors (elders in the local congregations), and teachers today, but they are aided by God indirectly through the word of God.

The purpose of this arrangement is so that saints can be equipped to perform the work of ministry, and this work is for the intent that the church may be edified (v.12). These apostles and prophets will do their supernatural work “till we all come to the unity of the faith” (v.13). This does not mean we will have miracles until we all believe the same thing, for that already existed within the Ephesian congregation (Ephesians 4:1-3). They are encouraged to keep their unity, which means they already possessed it.

Many times, “the faith” is a phrase Paul uses to describe the New Testament message of the gospel. The unity of the faith is the completely revealed New Testament in a single unified form. This is not a reference to a single printed New Testament, which would come later. The unity of the faith is the New Testament Scriptures when they are completely written.

Time Of Apostles

If there are miracles today, then there are apostles today. If it is impossible for there to be apostles in our time, then it is also impossible for miracles to exist in our time. Apostles were called out particularly by Jesus for the purpose of leading in world evangelism. There were two qualifications for an apostle. These are listed by Peter when a replacement for Judas was being indicated. Those qualifications are the person had to be a disciple of Jesus for the three years He ministered beginning with His baptism and they must be an eyewitness to His resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).

Of all the disciples, only two men were qualified. Matthias was selected and Justus was not. Notice that a man qualified to be an apostle never was appointed by Christ. Paul was also an apostle. He met the qualifications, but in reverse order. He witnessed the raised body of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-5). After this, he was with the Lord for three years in the Arabian wilderness where he was taught all that the other apostles were taught (Galatians 1:12,15-18).

Not only did Paul witness the Resurrection of Jesus, by inspiration he notes that he was the last in human history to see this until He returns (First Corinthians 15:8). He was the last appointed by Jesus and the last possible one who even could be qualified. Of all the disciples of Christ, only fifteen men were ever qualified to be apostles, the original twelve, Matthias, Justus, and Paul. Only fourteen were ever appointed.

Plainly, no one alive now fits the bill. And as there are no apostles today, there are no miracles today. In fact, the only way a non-apostle could perform miracles was if an apostle laid hands on them to confer this ability. Philip the evangelist performs miracles and preaches in Samaria (Acts 8:5-7). But those who believed and were baptized were not given the Spirit until Peter and John came down from Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-17). If Philip could have transmitted this ability, he would have, but it took the apostles to bring this about.

This does not mean that every time hands are laid on someone that it is passing on the miracles. That gesture was a common idiom in the Jewish world. The deacons selected for the Jerusalem church had the apostles’s hands laid on them (Acts 6:6), but they were already filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:5). The laying on of hands had nothing to do with the miraculous, but to grant their deaconship.

Timothy had the gift of prophecy in him by the laying on of Paul’s hands (Second Timothy 1:6). There is a reference to the gift of prophecy and the laying on the hands of the elders in the first letter (First Timothy 4:14). There is a vital difference in the two passages. The first text says his gift was “through” the elders’s hands, and the second say it was “by” Paul’s hands. Timothy received the gift of prophecy by the laying on of Paul’s hands. Before this, the elders laid hands on him and prophesied that he would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was a supernatural ability Paul gave to Timothy in accordance to the Ephesian reference to what was appointed Christ until we come to the unity of the faith.

Pentecostal Response

As you may guess, the Pentecostals insist the unity of the faith has to do with the Second Coming of Jesus, although they strain greatly to even make anything close to a convincing argument. Regardless of what this means, it clearly does not mean that. It’s just the answer they must give to protect their doctrine. But the context of the chapter will not allow this interpretation.

First, Paul says that the church may use this unity of the faith to effectively handle false teachers (v.14). If we will not reach the unity of the faith until Jesus comes, then we will have to deal with false teachers in Heaven. This is absurd, so the unity of the faith must mean something else.

Second, the church may also use this unity of the faith to mutually encourage one another and grow. There will be no need for edification and growth in Heaven. In contrast to the Pentecostal line, the clear truth serves to purposes mentioned in the context. We who live after the times of miracles can use the Bible inspired by God to protect ourselves from false teachers and to mutually edify each other and grow as a spiritual body.

The New Testament teaches plainly that the miracles were limited to the first century. Scripture makes that plain, plus it fits the purpose of miracles. It may help to think of the miracles as scaffolding around a building during its time of construction. The scaffolding is put in place to aid the builders while any structure is being built. But once it is done, the scaffolding is taken away. The miracles were the scaffolding of Scripture – they were removed when they were no longer necessary, but the word of God will last forever.

This article is a select reading from my book, Biblical Teachings Regarding The Holy Spirit. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. To order, click here.

 

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A Review of Pentecostalism: Part III – The Role of Miracles

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As I mentioned previously, the purpose of the miracles was the confirm the truth. After Jesus gives a Commission of preaching repentance and baptism throughout the world, He tells the apostles they will do miracles. It concludes with Mark’s recording, “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20).

Confirmation In John

There were false Messiahs working in the first century, Jesus warns His disciples about them (Matthew 24:4). The Jewish teacher Gamaliel mentions the failed missions of a few Messianic pretenders in the recent Jewish past (Acts 5:35-37). Jesus Christ and His disciples needed something to make them stand out, to corroborate their message. The first century miracles fit the bill perfectly according to God’s wisdom.

The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written close together, most likely in the 60s AD. John’s record comes thirty years later. His emphasis is on the Deity of Jesus. He makes his case by use of the corroborating miracles of Jesus. After changing the water to unfermented wine at the wedding feast at Cana, John notes, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and confesses that the other Pharisees admit that He must be from God because “no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

A nobleman tells Jesus that his son is sick in Capernaum. Jesus tells him that his son is already healed. He returns and on the way meets one of his servants coming to meet him, and tells him his son has recovered. When he learns that this took place the same time he spoke to Jesus, he believed in Him, and consequently, so did his household (John 4:53). When Jesus and His disciples happen upon a man born blind, they ask if he or his parents had sinned. Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3). When Lazarus died, Jesus said of this, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). The greatest miracle ever is the Resurrection of Jesus. It, in fact, proves that He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4). At the close of John’s record, he notes, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).

Confirmation In The Synoptics

The three synoptic gospel also demonstrate that Jesus’s miracles confirmed the truth. When John the Baptist was arrested, his disciples ask Him if He is the Messiah. Jesus does not explicitly state the word Yes, but He does answer in the affirmative. He tells them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). A paralytic man is lowered through a hole dug in the roof of a crowded house in order to see Jesus. In response to this display of faith, Jesus says his sins are forgiven. The witnesses grumble because only God can forgive. To prove that He has such spiritual power, He demonstrates His authority over the physical by healing him, which astonishes the assembly (Mark 2:9-12). Early in His ministry, Jesus is pressed by the people and sets out into the Galilean Sea and addresses the people. Jesus tells Simon, the boat’s owner, to set out into the deep waters and drop his nets. Simon is at first frustrated because he had fished unsuccessfully all night, but at His word, he agreed. They caught so many fish the nets were breaking. This leads to the faith of Simon, who elsewhere in the Bible is known as the apostle Peter (Luke 5:4-9).

Confirmation In Acts

As it was with Jesus, so too was it with His apostles. The Book of Acts records their ministries, which has many examples of miracles done to confirm the preaching of the truth. Peter and John heal a lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The occasion became such a spectacle that Peter preached Christ at that moment. They were arrested by the Sanhedrin, and later the rest of the apostles, and told not to preach the name of Christ any more, but the apostles refused. The Sanhedrin wanted to punish them, but decided not to because they feared the people, and the apostles glorified God because of what had been done (Acts 4:21). The gospel is taken to Samaria by Philip the evangelist. He preaches and heals the sick. As a result, “the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Acts 8:6). Peter passes through Lydda where a lame man laid paralyzed for eight years, named Aeneas. Peter heals him, and consequently, “all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35).

Soon after this, Peter travels to nearby Joppa. There a well-beloved saint named Tabitha had recently passed away. Peter raises her from the dead. Because of this marvelous deed, “it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:42). Later Paul and Barnabas are on the island of Paphos and they preach to the Roman proconsul, a man named Sergius-Paulus. But an evil sorcerer named Elymas tried to talk the proconsul out of obeying the gospel. Paul chides him for being contrary to righteousness and an enemy to the truth, and then strikes him blind. The response of Sergius-Paulus was, “the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). Notice that the miracle did not cause wonder at the divine sign, but for the word of God. Later Paul and Barnabas travel to Iconium. Luke records how, “they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

A sum of the work of Paul as well as the other apostles can be read in the end of the book of Romans, at it particularly ties the confirming work of the miracles with the effectiveness of preaching: “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient—in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:18-19). The great salvation of the New Testament message “was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Hebrews 2:1-4). So when we read in the Bible of the direct operation of the Spirit, it is always revealing and confirming the truth.

This article is a select reading from my book, Biblical Teachings Regarding The Holy Spirit. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. To order, click here.

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A Review of Pentecostalism: Part II – The Nature of Miracles

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Pentecostalism has not only lead to a misunderstanding on the duration of miracles, but also on the nature of miracles. Many Pentecostalists think that answered prayer is a miracle. When we pray for the sick and they recover, that is indeed the work of God. But if the healing came over a course of time and by means of medical treatment, it is not a miracle, but providence.

Miracles & Providence

A miracle is when God acts immediately and contrary to the laws of nature. Providence is when God operates within the laws of nature that He established and still maintains. A good example of this distinction is the contest on Mt. Carmel. Elijah offers two prayers, both are answered, but answered differently. He prays for fire and fire falls from heaven. This is a miracle because fire doesn’t naturally do that. Then he prays for rain and rain falls from heaven. This is God’s providence. He used the laws of nature to hold back the rain, and when Elijah prayed, He sent the rain, but all without a miracle. It had rained before and will rain again just as it rained that day, and by natural means. God is behind all miracles and Providence, but the two should never be confused just because it all comes from God.

Also, the purpose of miracles is obscured by Pentecostal doctrine. God never intended for miracles to be selfishly used for the ease of the lives of believers. Jesus didn’t turn stones to bread because that would be an inappropriate use of His miraculous abilities (Luke 4:3-4). Paul left his friend and fellow saint Trophimus sick in the city of Miletus (Second Timothy 4:20). He didn’t heal him because that would not have fallen within the proper use of the gift of healing. Similarly, Paul prayed three times for healing and never received it (Second Corinthians 12:7-9).

Confirmation & Comfort

God never made the miracles available to make our lives better. The purpose of the first century miracles was the confirm the preaching of God’s word while it was being written. Praying for Junior to recover from the sniffles is not why God provided miraculous healing, such a healing is not the restoration of health that visibly confirms the truth like restoring withered limbs, healing the blind, or raising the dead. And such miracles are for the benefit for those who already insist they believe in Jesus, so where there is no confirmation, there will be no miracle.

This is why Jesus allowed His sick friend Lazarus to die. Jesus’s disciples and Lazarus’s two sisters believed that Jesus could heal sick Lazarus. Having faith in this, for Jesus to heal Lazarus would offer proof for those to whom it is already proven. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die so that raising him from the dead would be a splendid wonder and confirm His message that He is the Life and the Resurrection (John 11:25).

This article is a select reading from my book, Biblical Teachings Regarding The Holy Spirit. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. To order, click here.

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A Review of Pentecostalism: Part I – The History of Pentecostalism

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It is hard to discuss something so broad and nebulous as Pentecostalism, and those who think it’s simple will give simplistic responses. Nowhere is Pentecostalism codified as in a creed book. Trying to nail down Pentecostalism is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. There is so much within what is called Pentecostalism that is not only different, but contradictory. Much of it depends upon the when and where within their timeline.

Although it has root in the 1800s, Pentecostalism is basically a 20th century, and now 21st, phenomenon. There were no Pentecostals on the Mayflower. No Charismatics signed the Declaration of Independence. And there were no tongue speakers or faith healers who fought in the Civil War.

The Pentecostal Movement

Pentecostalism develops in three progressive stages. The first is what is simply called The Pentecostal Movement, which spans the turn of the century to about the end of the Great War. Its roots go back to the Second Great Awakening, and specifically to the Revival Movement and the Holiness Movement. The second of these was characterized by women who didn’t cut their hair, dressed plainly and modestly, and who wore no jewelry or make up. Some of this can be seen today in pockets of Pentecostalism. The initial Pentecostal Movement was a reaction to the secularization and materialism of Darwinian evolution. They wished to restore the world to a sense of the moral, but more important, the supernatural.

Because of the Pentecostal Movement, several new denominations were introduced. There are four which remain as the most prominent. The first is the Church of God of Prophecy, which can be traced back to 1907. Next is the Holiness Pentecostal Church, which started up in 1911. Soon the Assemblies of God began in 1914. The Foursquare Gospel branched off from the Church of God of Prophecy in 1923. To be sure, there are others, but these are still the most familiar in our time.

Charismatic Renewal

The second stage is called the Charismatic Renewal of the 1950s and 1960s. The difference between Pentecostal and Charismatic is basic. Pentecostalism results in denominations, four of which were mentioned in the last paragraph. Charismatics are individuals who remain within mainstream denominations. There are Charismatics within the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and most religious bodies.

Charismatics are likely the minority of any congregation, found in pockets, but usually get along with non-Charismatic members. Unlike many Pentecostalists who insist tongue speaking is indispensable for salvation, and hence, pressure other people to seek it out, Charismatics do their thing but rarely look down on non-Charismatic friends within their congregations.

The Charismatic Revival got its big push through Campus Crusade movements that swept over academia following the Second World War. It served a psychological need for the children of war, but took the form of religious practice. It provided a false sense of peace for those discomforted in their upbringing by man’s inhumanity to man, the cruelty of war coming over their theatre matinee screens, and for many sense of loss from losing a father, brother, cousin, or uncle to WW2 or the Korean Conflict.

Neo-Charismatic

The third stage, known as Neo-Charismatic, began in the 1980s and continue to the present. It introduced four new components to the world of Pentecostalism. It could be argued that these are all four parts of the same system and not four distinct features. The first is the rise of the Televangelist. The second, and close to it, is the advent of the health and wealth gospel. Send money to the TV preacher and God will make you rich. The third is the birth of the mega-church, autonomous and non-denominational, even though they are like Holiday Inns – one is like every other. The fourth is an introduction of Premillennialism. Many TV preachers are finding faux-fulfillment of prophecy in every bit of news. This amends their message to one where you need to send in your money before it’s too late!

What began with the renouncement of the world with the Holiness Movement has morphed into the gross worldliness of the mega-church, and the prosperity gospel. It’s clear why it’s difficult to put Pentecostalism in a box. How can one single thing contain everything from women with modest dress and no make up to Tammy Faye Bakker? Through all of its shape-shifting and false appearances, there some basics to Pentecostalism. It emphasizes the emotional, the subjective, and the personal experience over the rational, and it holds to modern-day miracles with an emphasis on tongue speaking and faith healing.

This article is a select reading from my book, Biblical Teachings Regarding The Holy Spirit. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. To order, click here.

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