Saturday, 28 April 2012

Pentecost Did Not Happen At The End Of Acts why assume that it did?

Sunday morning I wasn't feeling well (perhaps a pre-cursor to being taken ill at work on Monday and having to be taken off to A&E). One thing I hate missing on Sunday is church.

Ideally, as an Above Barbarian, it will be my own church, but last Sunday, as I wasn't feeling well enough I decided that I would go along to a nearby Anglican church for its early morning 1662 Book of Common Prayer celebration of the Lord's Supper.

The presbyter preached on Acts 3, noting that Peter was almost nonchalant about the healing of the beggar- God does things like that. And that it was just after Pentecost.

Precisely- it was at Pentecost that we see the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), (keep that webpage open as you'll need to refer to it again) and from that point, the Gospel being proclaimed and the church spreading. Pentecost kickstarted the church.

Now, no-one is going round declaring that Pentecost actually happened at the end of Acts, but sometimes we fall into the trap of acting as if it did.

Some years back, I went along to one church's men's group meeting, as it was opening that meeting to men from other churches. The speaker was a bit controversial, but generally good, and one issue was that the church, in general, has lost the young men. To cut a long story short, one reason he gave was the feminisation of the church and he noted that there are New Testament prohibitions on women performing presbyterial or preaching roles.

One vicar stood up to correct him. Yes, there are those passages, but they cannot apply as we now live in the Age of the Spirit. The Old Testament prophet, Joel, had prophesied that one day the Spirit would be poured out on men and women, (Joel 2:28-29) and this has now happened. In the Age of the Spirit God has given the same gifts to men and women, and therefore no ministry roles are off-limits to God's daughters.

Joel's prophesy is referred to by Peter, back in Acts 2:16-18 (you did keep that webpage open, didn't you?). And this leads to my problem with what the vicar said- those words of Joel, which can be used to set aside parts of the New Testament, are fulfilled at the start of Acts, before the events in most of Acts and in the Epistles happened. From Pentecost onwards, surely the Bible is referring to events in the Age of the Spirit. Let's face it- do we see the events of Acts happening today in the "Age of the Spirit"? Do we see these mass conversions, dramatic healings, people being struck dead in punishment etc.? Well, do we?

Let's avoid this arrogant nonsense that somehow, us in the "Age of the Spirit", have a greater experience of the Holy Spirit and know better than men who were merely Apostles and that in Heaven we can gently take Peter, Paul or John to one side and explain to them where they got it wrong.

Yes, there are controversial passages. Wrestle with them, debate them, question what Apostles meant when they wrote things, but don't airily assume that they were writing before the "Age of the Spirit" and so we can just dismiss what is written.

Where does this lead to?

Firstly, the New Testament is reduced to the writings of men rather than the Word of God. Basically, if we are now in the "Age of the Spirit" and can dismiss parts of the New Testament on those grounds, we are reducing it. Yes, it might be inspired, but no more than someone might be inspired to write a poem after seeing a sunrise. Take it or leave it.

How it all came across was that people wrote the New Testament as their own ideas, did missionary journeys in their own strength, and then the Age of the Spirit started, with the fire of the Holy Spirit sweepingt away some of their teachings.

Sometimes New Testament teaching is objected to on the grounds of culture- it offends the values of our modern culture, so therefore, the writers must hsve been prisoners of their culture. If there is a cultural problem, then it is we, rather than the Apostles, who are bringing the cultural prejudices to the table.

The Bible has many roles, and one thing we use it for is to examine our culture with it. We should not use our culture to judge the Bible.

Secondly, it creates the Jesus vs. Paul approach. We all hear the argument- Paul created his own religion, and scrabbled around to throw in some myths about an itinerant Jewish preacher who might, or might not, have ended up being crucified like a common criminal.

This creeps into the church. I had a bit of a Twitter discussion a few months back with one lady who is a bit narked that at her church she is hearing sermons of what Paul teaches, and would prefer it if they could be told what Jesus teaches.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Give us Jesus' teachings, not Paul's!

One of my pet hates are Bibles which put the words of Jesus in red. Because they don't go far enough- instead every single word in the Bible should be in red.

In the past few years, there have been loads of public debates over areas of sexual morality and bioethics. And, quite often, in newspapers, you will see letters that give the knock-down-bet-those-Bible-bashers-stuck-in-the-Middle-Ages-(who-only-believe-what-they-believe-because-this-man-in-the-Vatican-wearing-a-silly-pointy-hat-tells-them-they'll-go-to-hell-if-they-disagree)-won't-be-able-to-answer-that argument, which is simple: Jesus was silent on ...... And then argue from His silence that He would support whatever the liberal stance is, because, hey, Jesus believed in love.

Of course, Jesus was silent on some issues. After all, He was speaking to a Jewish audience, and there was no need to reinvent the moral wheel. If everyone felt that something was wrong, why should He repeat it?

And we need to bear in mind the role of the Holy Spirit. Before His crucifixion, Jesus reminded His disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:7-15) and that He (Jesus) had so much to tell them.

It is also clear that after He rose from the dead, Jesus continued teaching the Apostles (Acts 1:3) and John states that there is probably not enough room in the world for the books that would be written if we recorded all Jesus did even in that 40 day period between the Resurrection and the Axcension (John 21:25). So, basically, the teachings of the New Testament are Jesus's teachings. They are the Word of God. We can't pick and choose and go "Like that bit- that's from God. Don't like that- OK, the writers were culturally bound and we are in the Age of the Spirit so we can ignore it."

Thirdly, and closely associated withn this, it creates a Spirit vs. Bible dichotomy. Yes, we are in the Age of the Spirit, if you mean by that that the Holy Spirit is active in the church. We are also in the Age of the Word. Pentecost happened at the start of Acts. Let's reflect that in how we treat the New Testament.

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