Taking the Word to the World

I’m on the Winning Team

So they went over to him and asked:

  • Who brought you here?
  • What are you doing in this place?
  • What is keeping you here?” (Judges 18:3, HCSB).

It is often therapeutic, directive, and beneficial to pause to reflect for a moment concerning the why behind what we do. This lesson caused me to do just that.

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There are at least seven reasons why I became a minister. This blog covers five of the reasons. A previous blog covered another two.

  1. I was indebted to One that gave all for me. How could I withhold or do anything less than my best (1 Corinthians 1:14-16).
  2. I recognized I was a servant. Not just to anything or anybody. I became a servant of this gospel (Acts 2:38 salvation message).
    1. “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working on his power” (Ephesians 3:7, NIV).
  3. I wanted to be on the winning team. Everybody does. Remember those days when teams would be selected and every fiber of your being was silently calling out, “Pick me! Pick me!” and “Please don’t pick me last.” I hated being chosen last.
    1. We get to be involved in the greatest enterprise on the face of the planet: reaching souls.
    2. I was hand-picked. He saw not what I was but what I could be.
    3. Like someone said, “I’ve looked at the back of the Book and I know who wins.”
    4. We not only envision but we can have an end-vision. The church will be triumphant. See Revelation 5:9; 7:9. People from everywhere will be there in heaven.
    5. We all can be a winner. We have a race to run (it’s specifically designed for us) and we can win.
    6. Our confidence and trust is not in ourselves but in who He is (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
    7. I am insufficient but God is all-sufficient.
    8. We are laborers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). We are on the winning team.
  4. I have the message that changes the hearts of men and impacts the world.
    1. We have the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).
    2. We have something to say: a message to proclaim.
    3. We aren’t like the runner in the Old Testament, who hastened to the king, but didn’t even have a message.
    4. We persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:11).
    5. We have the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18).
    6. Like a student in the classroom, I have the answer.
    7. Preach the Word (Titus 1:3; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 1:16)
    8. Preachers of the gospel have some of the greatest job security in the world. As long as there are lost souls, there will be a market for preachers (Romans 10:13-15).
    9. When He calls, He equips and empowers.
  5. God chose me.
    1. My selection was based on His ability and my availability.
    2. He called me. Yep, He chose me. Recruited. Drafted.
    3. It is humbling to realize that out of over seven billion people on the planet He selected me.
      1. He was thinking about me (Psalms 8:4).
      2. He gives us the desire of our heart(s) because He plants that desire there in the first place (Psalms 37:4).
      3. He enables us to reach our expected end (Jeremiah 29:11).

photo credit: jairoagua via photopin cc

Robert P. Menzies in “The Role of Glossolalia in Luke-Acts” contends, “We Pentecostals have always read the narrative of Acts, and particularly the account of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), as a model for our own lives. The stories of Acts are our stories: stories of ordinary people in need of God’s power; stories of fishermen called to hear bold witness for Jesus in the face of great opposition; stories of peasants persevering in the midst of great suffering…Pentecostals the world over identify with these stories, especially since so many face similar challenges. This sense of connection with the text encourages us to allow the narrative to shape our lives, our hopes and dreams, our imagination.”

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He goes on to say, “The hermeneutic of the typical Pentecostal is straightforward and simple: the stories in Acts are my stories…that shape our identity, ideals and actions.” He reiterates,

“This simple hermeneutic, this straightforward approach in reading Acts as a model for the church today, is one of the key reasons why an emphasis on speaking in tongues played such an important role in the formation of the modern Pentecostal movement…”

“Acts is simply not a historical document; rather Acts presents a model for the life of the contemporary church. Thus, tongues serve as a sign that ‘their experience’ is ‘our experience.’” Acts is His-story, our story, and my story. The question is it your story as well?

Acts History The Experience

In Acts 19, Paul’s understanding of theology, coupled with his personal experience became the basis of his discussion. Experience should not be the starting point for biblical interpretation, usurping biblical authority, but should not be locked outside the door either. Charles Parham and his students did not have the experience but were looking for what was expected or could be considered normative.

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“Luke is very careful to describe his method of researching and compiling material.”

LUKE’S HERMENEUTICAL STYLE

Validation of eyewitnesses – “…Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2)

Meticulous handling of truth – “…handed down…” (v.2) and “carefully investigated” (v. 3).

All-inclusive study – “Investigated everything from the beginning” (v. 3); “All that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).

Correspondence of written material with divine purposes and activities – “Certainty” (v. 4).

Systematic, organized presentation – “Draw up an account” (v. 1).

Role of the Spirit in directing the writer for the origin and certainty of prophecy - “…For no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s private interpretation…” See 2 Peter 1:19-21

Confirmed by revelation - “From the beginning” (v. 3) This phrase is from a Greek word translated elsewhere by “from above.” Luke suggests that what he writes, derived from those that were eyewitnesses, is also confirmed by revelation (Scofield 2004 Edition, 1338).

Traditionally, Pentecostals have hidden behind their experience, and probably over-emphasized it, coming up short on other aspects of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation and exegesis). This author recalls, after conversion, often hearing others say, “Pentecost; it’s not a religion, it’s an experience.” Still others advised: “People can argue with your doctrine; but they cannot argue with your experience.” We would do well to present both doctrine and experience in a way that it cannot be easily discarded.Pentecost happened for our example. It was recorded by Luke for our instruction. It is the pattern for the church in all ages. Scripture sets the stage for this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

This writing concentrates on the experiences found in the Pentecost narrative concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is not limited, however, to Acts 2 (the Jerusalem Pentecost), but extends briefly to the Samaritan Pentecost (Acts 8); Gentile Pentecost (Acts 10); and the outpouring on the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19). We should ask: What took place in the first century church which must happen in the ongoing church?

How frustrating to read of a potentially life-changing book, only to order it, and discover it is out of print. How annoying to rush to the store to purchase the perfect gift and to find it is out of stock. How aggravating to want something and find that it is unavailable. How disturbing to hunt for a part and find it is now obsolete. How equally frustrating, annoying, aggravating, and disturbing it would be to walk down the aisles of the Book of Acts only to find those things we desire: divine empowerment, miracles, healing, and things pertaining to the supernatural are no longer available, out of stock, and meant only for the first century church.  Regretfully, that is exactly what some believe happened, or should happen, when thinking that the baptism of the Spirit, evidenced by speaking in other tongues, stopped at worst on the Day of Pentecost, or at best at the end of the Book of Acts; having a brief life span of some thirty years.

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Steven Ger shares his reflections:

The book of Acts grants readers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the world of the early church. We peer through the corridors…and see the still vivid foundations of our own faith….Acts shows us the road we believers have traveled to arrive at our present state….It is story—a simple story about regular human beings who are just like us. They share our same hopes and similar fears, our worst biases and best qualities. In fact, Acts is, essentially, our story. It is your legacy and mine. It is the record of our brothers and sisters who came before us, blazing a revolutionary, messianic trail from Jerusalem to ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Ger, 2004, 1).

Unfortunately, Ger eventually and sadly, comes up short, believing Pentecost was unique, unrepeatable, and possesses no timeless truth or doctrine. How perplexing. How confusing.

Even questions arise within the Pentecostal ranks, but are often swept under the proverbial carpet, silenced, or excused away as a lack of love for truth, and drifting from the old paths. Not all questions indicate moving away from what is right. What is left could be a sincere desire to understand; the ability to intelligently, logically, and persuasively explain beliefs to others. Rather than forcing such questioners into corners—causing them to be hesitant in asking, afraid of being misunderstood—one would do well to create an environment of learning; freedom to ask, freedom to explore, freedom to experience, freedom to discover, and a freedom to learn. 

F. L. Arrington said:

The interplay of Scripture, experience, Pentecostal tradition, and reason under the direction of the Spirit have strong implications for a Pentecostal approach to hermeneutics. Out of the Pentecostal reality and dimension of life in the Spirit emerges a uniquely Pentecostal approach to hermeneutics. (172)

Experience and history reveals that tongues did not cease with the Apostolic Age, and have not disappeared during the Church Age (the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming). Church historian, Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. revealed, “Speaking in tongues has always been in the Church, although with varied levels of expression and acceptance” (874). It would be difficult to convince over five hundred million Pentecostals and Charismatic’s worldwide their experience is invalid and ceased a couple thousand years ago. They represent the second largest ecclesiastical body in the world, second only to the Roman Catholics. Not bad for a group that recently celebrated a century of existence. Many are receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit daily. Each evidenced by speaking in tongues. Each persuaded their experience is biblically based. F. J. May (1990) tells of an old-timer that said, “You are wasting your breath trying to tell a man he can’t have what he has already got” (84).

Whereas experience can never be the basis of theology, experience is the contemporizing of history. Thus, the understanding of the Bible generally, and Luke-Acts, particularly, involves a hermeneutic cycle. In this cycle the record of the experience of the divine by God’s people in the past addresses the experience of God’s people in the present, and the present experience of the divine informs the understanding of the past. In this way the divine word as a historical document becomes a living Word—a Word, which, like God himself, is, was, and is to come. (Stronstad 1995, 64)

This is referred to as an experience-certified theology. Every interpreter brings to the text, a cognitive and practical presumption. Pentecostal hermeneutics should be holistic; combining experience, the Spirit, genre, and incorporate traditional, and rational forms of interpretation. Unfortunately, non-Pentecostals lack the premise of experience, and the ability to verify it.

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A little over one hundred years have passed. Here is what the Christian world is saying today:

According to Christianity Today, twenty-five percent of the world’s Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic with a world growth rate of about 19,000,000 per year. 

C. Peter Wagner in his book Prayer Shield, stated, “The most massive growth of churches is found in Pentecostal/ Charismatic traditions.”

Estimates show that there are between 400 and 600 million Pentecostals worldwide—a half billion or more—not bad for a group that found its humble beginnings in a Bible school classroom.

Philip Jenkins anticipates that by 2050 there will be one billion Pentecostals/Charismatic in the world.

Mark Noll said the 21st century will belong to the Pentecostals not only in religion but in all other areas of life as well.

Global Pentecostalism is “the new face of global Christian missions.” Surely, this is ample reason to trace our roots and perform exegetical and hermeneutical analysis to ensure we are on the right track and stay there.

Lloyd Oglivie states my every-day quest, and maybe yours as well: “The greatest longing in the church today, stated both directly and indirectly, is the quest for something more than dull religion. People are in need of the intimacy, inspiration and impelling power of the Holy Spirit…It is impossible to live the Christian life without the indwelling Spirit. Courageous discipleship in the crisis of society cannot be accomplished without the guidance and enabling energy of supernatural power. The church today, like the disciples in the Upper Room, is waiting on the edge of a miracle (1983, 55-56).

Acts: Their Story. The Past

At the turn of the 20th century, a Bible school teacher stood in his classroom to give an assignment. Perhaps the students moaned and whispered, “Another assignment!” He reported, “I set the students at work studying out diligently what was the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost that we might go before the world with something that was indisputable because it tallied absolutely with the Word.”

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Charles Parham left school for three days. He returned the morning of December 31, 1900 to collect the assignments. He wrote, “To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while there were different things occurring when the Pentecostal blessing fell, that the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spoke with other tongues.”

The first day of the twentieth century marked the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement. Agnes Ozman received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A few days later, Charles Parham, his wife, and twelve of his students received their personal Pentecost. They started out studying Acts, but ended up living it. The doctrine of the first church was restored as a step was made toward the Book of Acts.

Throughout the last century, the Pentecostal movement has exploded. Never has a group grown more rapidly than the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. As we wade ankle-deep into the twenty-first century, God’s army continues to sweep across the globe undaunted by worldliness and modernistic thinking, still burning with the fire ignited at Pentecost. I applaud the Pentecostal movement of the past and look forward to greater things from God and His church.

Nona Freeman once said, “The Word of God is a time-proven irrefutable fact. Whatever God has done through the ages, He can do it again, and more, much more, than our finite minds can comprehend.”

Today’s church has seen multiplied, tens of thousands receive the Holy Spirit in a single service. I have stood on overseas platforms and looked out over a sea of people with hands stretched forth to God. The floodgates of revival have opened, and a great end-time harvest is being reaped. The river of revival is flowing throughout our world. No one can stop it. Our only choice is to flow with the current or against it. The church of God is a mighty, moving army. We can sit still or get up and march in beat with the church.

Acts is not only a book of the past, but I am convinced it is God’s Training Manual for Today’s Church. The contents of Acts will motivate believers to evangelize, receive understanding of the apostles’ doctrine, and to share it with others with supernatural power. It provides further truth for any serious seeker.

I genuinely, undeniably, indescribably love the Book of Acts. Surprising since I do not enjoy history! Arnold Cook probably had me in mind when he advised, “Those who live in the past are blind in one eye. Those who never consult the past are blind in both eyes.” I am an enjoy-the-present, don’t-mess-me-up-with-reality, let-me-help-make-a-better-future kind of guy. I find it ironic that the Book of Acts, the history of the first century church, is my favorite New Testament book. I am fascinated with its twenty-eight chapters that provide thirty-three years of history. I find myself striving to walk as the early church walked—in the power of the Spirit. I struggle to preach with boldness and desire to see God at work in my ministry. Yet, I am convinced that Acts’ then and there, in the first century, has much to say to the here and now, twenty-first century church.

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Acts compels me to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. I cannot get away from its message. It calls me to be an effective Christian witness, to walk in holiness, looking for the Lord’s soon return, and desiring to turn the world upside down with truth that changes lives.

I want to be victorious, to overcome obstacles, and run the race that is set before me. Like the men and women in the early church, I will not retreat into compromise or be lulled to sleep by a world calling me into tolerance. I will not conform to this world but seek to be transformed into the image of God.

I must admit, I come short of my expectations and occasionally fall flat on my face. Acts encourages me to get up, brush myself off, and try again. The ninety-five people introduced in Acts encourage me to press on. They provide role models of what I ought to, and can, be. Sixty-two of my friends are never mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. The twenty-four missionary messages of Acts correct me, convince me, convict me, challenge me, and change me. Collectively, they teach me that God has a team consumed with a passion for reaching the world. Individually, they caution me not to be afraid of standing alone and that I can make a difference. Acts has spoken hundreds of lessons to my soul, and I have felt the tug of the Spirit to write so that others may learn.

I will consult the past, but will skip living in it, choosing to face the challenges and opportunities God has given us today. As much as I love Acts, I really would not want to exchange places with Stephen, or be let down in a basket like Paul, or even knocked down on the road to Damascus. I prefer to write lessons from my corner at home, instead of a prison cell, or nestled in the belly of a ship destined for shipwreck. I will skip walking miles delivering a letter to the new Christians, and stick with the convenience of sending e-mail. I will pass when it comes to messy, time-consuming inkwells and stick with the modern convenience of my trusty laptop.

I will learn from history (even if I do not like the subject), but I am thrilled to live in the finest hour ever. We cannot live in yesteryear and have no promise of tomorrow. God continues to move all over our world, and miracles are happening that cast a shadow on the events of Acts.

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