During the Strange Fire Conference set up by John McArthur to attack the charismatic movements, and, along with it, the Pentecostal movements, R C Sproul, who is regarded by McArthur as the foremost Reformist theologian of the present era, was asked to speak, and chose the subject ‘Undervaluing Pentecost’.
R C Sproul is a gentleman, and, obviously, earnest in his approach. It’s not my desire to discredit him personally or his ministry, but to respond to his claims against Charismatics and Pentecostals during the Strange Fire Conference.
I watched his presentation on YouTube, and read a summary in notes provided by The Cripplegate site team, who are associated with John McArthur’s Grace Community Church in a leadership capacity, checking through more than once to be certain that I had understood what he was saying.
I will add some of R C Sproul’s comments, but the gist of what he was saying is that Charismatics, Pentecostals and, what he terms, neo-Pentecostals, have placed a low value on the meaning of Pentecost, by which he means the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out upon the Church for the first time, fulfilling prophecy, as recorded in Acts chapter 2:1-4.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
He claims that by teaching what amounts to a subsequent baptism, Pentecostals have relegated the new birth, where the Holy Spirit is given to those who receive Christ, to a lower form of sanctification by suggesting that there is a subsequent outpouring of the Spirit called the baptism with the Spirit.
He maintains that the new birth, where a person who receives Christ is born of the Spirit, or born again, or born from above, is one and the same as the baptism with the Spirit, which, Jesus said, believers should receive, and which, Peter revealed, was a fulfilment of the prophecy given by Joel that God would pour out of His Spirit upon all flesh.
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.”
In what Sproul calls the Baptism of the Spirit, he states,
‘One of the most significant aspects of the emerging charismatic theology is that it is normal and even normative for people to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit after their conversion. It is admitted that some people can have conversion/regeneration simultaneously with the so-called second blessing. But in the main, the usual, normal process is understood to have some kind of time differential between conversion/regeneration and the receiving of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.’
This is a fair assessment, but you have to remember that we teach that we do receive the Spirit at the new birth, being born of the Spirit, and the baptism with the Spirit subsequently or simultaneously.
Then he goes on to agree that the baptism of the Spirit is to do with the empowering of believers for a witness of Christ to the whole world.
At this point, R C Sproul makes an astonishing claim. He says,
‘When I talk about redemptive history, I’m talking about that whole flow of progress of how God reveals Himself through history. We see certain developments of God’s self-revelation in the OT. In the OT, the only way a person could be a believer was the same today: they had to be born again by the Holy Ghost. And so the Spirit was busy with the work of regeneration. So what’s the different between the OT and The NT, with respect to Pentecost. Well in the OT, what we call the Charismatic endowment of power, was only given by God selectively, to isolated individuals: like the Judges, or the prophets.’
Well, this is quite incorrect, of course. No one could be ‘born again’ under the Old Covenant. The regeneration could not come until Christ was risen and the Spirit sent from the Father.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The new birth was only possible after Christ was raised from the dead. He was the firstborn from the dead, so that others might follow (Colossians 1:18). He is always the pre-eminent One. Moses was not, when called of God to lead Israel out of captivity, ‘born again’ of the Holy Ghost. He was anointed of God for a specific task. Being anointed and being born again are quite different and separate acts of God.
Moses was called and anointed of God not born again
Moses was never regenerated. He was under law. He was subject to law. The law was handed to Moses as a ‘schoolmaster’ to keep Israel until the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, who is also the Promised Seed of Abraham, to whom God gave the Covenant of Promise, which preceded the Law of Moses. New Testament theology clearly teaches that the law could never save us. We can only be saved by grace through faith.
But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
So Moses was called, and anointed of God, but never born again until Christ was raised and ‘led captivity captive’ (Ephesians 4:8), having ‘preached to the spirits in prison’, that is, the grave (1 Peter 3:19).
For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
1 Peter 4:6
Then R C Sproul goes on to remind us that Moses was empowered by God for the task he was given, but makes the extraordinary claim that this was akin to the new birth and the endowment of the Spirit promised by Jesus to those who would believe on His name after He was raised. Of course, the endowment on Moses was that of the Holy Spirit, but to was an anointing for a specific task, not the outpouring of the Spirit promised by Joel. How could it be? Joel came many years later.
R C Sproul, then, confuses the anointing of God, and nominates the anointing on Moses as the new birth. Kings, such as David, and Prophets, such as Elijah and Joel, were also anointed for specific tasks, but they were not born again. Neither did they receive the Promise of the Spirit, which, we are told by John, was not yet given even in Jesus’ day, until Jesus was raised and glorified.
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Promise of the Spirit had come and they were all endowed with power from on high.
“Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
Pentecost and the Promise of the Spirit
Thus they waited in the Upper Room until the fiftieth day after His resurrection, which was the day of Pentecost, which means, literally, ‘fiftieth day’, being the day after 49 days, that is, seven weeks of seven days, a fulness of time, following the Feast of Weeks. Fifty is synonymous with the Jubilee, the day of freedom from all debt and captivity into a new beginning, which was always the fiftieth year in the Jewish calendar. Jesus is called the Jubilee. Pentecost was a precise day in a precise time prophesied and fulfilled on a specific day.
I add this because R C Sproul goes on to nominate no less than four Pentecosts. “And so all four people groups received their own “Pentecost,” as it were.” Yes, he has an agenda with his teaching so he suggests that God had more than one outpouring of the Spirit, which he considers four separate ‘Pentecosts’, thus missing completely the significance of Pentecost, its meaning, and its place on God’s time scale of prophecy and fulfilment.
He gives this theory because, being a cessationist, he needs a completion within the canon. For the cessationist, Pentecost must end. Having four of them gives a nice twist to a failed set of beliefs. Sproul creates a mythological series of outpourings which begin and end a designated move of God.
To achieve this, Sproul concocts four sets of believers. He claims there were, after the disciples on the actual Day of Pentecost, the ‘Samaritans’, the ‘God-fearers’, and the ‘Gentiles’. These coincide with four passages of scripture which indicate that the Spirit was poured on on four groups who all, then, prophesied or spoke in tongues as evidence of the outpouring.
In making these four separate outpourings, or, as he has it, ‘The Four ‘Pentecosts’’, he misses the point that, in fact, Luke, in the Book of Acts, is giving the account of how the outpouring first occurred on a single designated day, the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, as promised by Christ, who told the disciples to wait until the promise of the Spirit was fully come, which they did.
Thereafter, any evidence of the same outpouring was proof that it was a continuance of the original outpouring, and not a separate outpouring. In fact, Peter declared that this Promise of the Spirit ‘is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call”, Acts 2:39. Therefore, one would expect that, after the outpouring was begun on the Day of Pentecost, the promise would continue until Christ came for the Church at the end of the Age.
The prophecy of Joel states that God would ‘pour out of His Spirit upon all flesh’, meaning all people. The outpouring of the Spirit has no designated time span in scripture, nor generational completion, nor removal until the Holy Spirit is no longer in the earth working in and through the Church. The outpouring is to and upon all who believe on the name of Christ, starting with Pentecost, and continuing until the Lord comes for the Church. The Promise remains.
So there are not four Pentecosts, but one, which commenced the outpouring, which has not yet ended. The other three examples in Acts actually confirm the continuance of the Spirit to fill and baptise people who believe on the name of Christ.
How does Sproul lay out the four Pentecosts? He starts with the outpouring on the Jewish disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. This we can agree to. It is, obviously a Pentecost. Then he adds three others.
Samaritans: Acts 8:14–17. There was a mini-Pentecost among the Samaritan believers. They’d received the water baptism, but not the baptism of the Spirit until Peter and John laid hands on them. And you see this mini-repetition of Pentecost especially for Samaritans.
God-fearers: Acts 10:44–48; 11:13–18. This is Pentecost number 3. All of the believers received the baptism among the Jews, among the Samaritans, and now the God-fearers. This was not a theology of have and have-not. The significance that the Apostles see in the narrative that their experience was common.
Gentiles: Acts 19:1–7. Again we see a temporal separation between conversion and the reception of the empowering gift of the Spirit. But all of the Ephesians who were there that day received the Holy Ghost and were empowered for ministry.
Well, nowhere in Scripture is there a division of types of Gentiles in this manner, nor a division of Pentecosts. There were either Jews or Gentiles. The disciples in the Upper Room were all Jews who were with Christ, who believed on Him and were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until the outpouring, or endowment form on high. Then, after waiting until the actual Day of Pentecost, they were baptised with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. This was evidence of the outpouring. It started at Jerusalem as prophesied, and was upon the Jews first.
The Samaritans, ‘God-fearers’ and Gentiles were all considered outside of the Jewish concision. The Samaritans, especially, had associations with Israel, but were separated from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and mingled with the Gentile nations. There was the circumcision or the uncircumcision, the Jews or the Gentiles, the Jews or the Greeks.
The people Sproul calls ‘God-fearers’ were actually Romans, and, therefore, also Gentiles. They were of the household of Cornelius a Centurion who believed in God and gave alms. This was the first of the Gentile communities to receive the baptism with the Spirit, the outpouring which had begun on the day of Pentecost, and now, some ten years later, was given to the Gentiles, starting with Cornelius’ household as they heard the gospel preached by Peter.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Well, even Scripture here says that the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles, not on the ‘God-fearers’, and the evidence was that they spoke in tongues. R C Sproul made his theory up about a separate group called ‘God-fearers’. They did fear God, but they were called Gentiles.
The whole point of the vision Peter had in the beginning of Acts 10 of unclean food being made clean was to demonstrate to him that God had sent him to the Gentiles, who were previously excluded from the Covenants.
It is important to the doctrine of this whole scenario that the people were addressed as Gentiles so that Peter, who previously only went to the Jews, could have his mind radically changed to include Gentiles and discover that God is no preferrer of persons.
That which we have seen and heard
Scripture tells us that there was then a council set up to discuss this, at which it was declared that God had chosen to pour out ‘this which we have seen and heard’ upon the Gentiles as well as upon the Jews. This was a mighty revelation. What did they see and hear? They saw that the same Spirit was poured on the Gentiles, and they heard that they all spoke in tongues. Then they baptised them in the name of Jesus. Peter’s account to the council ratifies this.
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
‘The same gift’, so Peter recognises the continuance of the outpouring in this baptism with the Spirit of Cornelius’ household, and as the same outpouring as on the Day of Pentecost ten years earlier. This outpouring was evidence that God had granted repentance to the Gentiles.
Subsequent baptism with the Spirit
The Samaritans received as a result of the evangelistic endeavours of Philip, who preached there and healed many sick, then sent for Peter and John to come and lay hands on he believers there to receive the Holy Ghost. The interesting thing, here, is that the account of the Samaritans actually teaches a subsequent endowment of the Spirit, one which Simon the Sorcerer coveted and was rebuked over.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralysed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptised. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptised he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Again, this is not a separate Pentecost. This is a continuation of the outpouring, and proof positive of the subsequent baptism of the Spirit alongside the new birth. See how Philip preaches, the people believe, they are baptised, then the Apostles send Peter and John to lay hands on them for the baptism with the Spirit.
When we are born again we receive the Spirit within (John 14:16-17). The baptism is the Spirit upon (Acts 1:8). The new birth is being baptised into Christ (John 3:5-8). The outpouring is being baptised, or filled, with the Spirit, or drinking of the Spirit as Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 12:13, ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.’
Jesus said He would send the Spirit to the believers, and He would be with us, to convince us of our need of Christ, in us, when we had received Christ at the new birth, and then, upon us, with the endowment from on high of the Promise of the Spirit. This is the filling of the Spirit through the outpouring.
The Gentiles of Acts 19 were people who were returning from Ephesus who had received the baptism of John, but not of Jesus. They received Jesus and were then filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. Again, this is not a separate Pentecost. This is a continuation, being several years later, when Paul was now in ministry. He asks if they had received the Holy Ghost, and they replied that they had not heard of the Holy Ghost. The significant thing is that they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues after the disciples laid hands on them, after being baptised into Christ.
Unfortunately, R C Sproul has made up the teaching of four separate Pentecosts to suit his need to end the outpouring. Pentecost was a beginning which has not yet ended. It was the outpouring which is still being poured upon all flesh, upon all who will believe.
This is not undervaluing Pentecost, but giving added value, because we are saying that Pentecost has never ended and won’t until Jesus comes for the Church. We are saying it is for all those who will call upon the name of the Lord. We are saying what Jesus said, that we should all wait to be endowed with power from on high, that the outpouring is for all who will believe, and that we can all receive through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not saying there are ‘haves and have nots’, but that all can have.
Cessationists say that the outpouring has ended, and with it the grace of God upon all believers to prophesy and speak in tongues. That is truly undervaluing Pentecost, because it is saying that we have no more need of Pentecost or of understanding how the outpouring works, or for knowing who the Holy Spirit is, or what he does in and through us as believers.
I was surprised at this level of theology from R C Sproul, who is a godly man and a good theologian. However, this teaching misses the target severely. There are other aspects of this sermon which I could go into, and maybe on another occasion I will, but this is already quite a long post.
I hope you will regard this review of R C Sproul with respect and consideration if you choose to comment on it.