Day: 26 April 2011

what to believe (4b)

This is part two of a discussion on James Melton’s views of the Holy Spirit. For part one, go here. If you’re new to this ‘what to believe’ series: welcome. To catch up on how things have progressed, go hereherehere and here.

10. Do you believe that the apostolic sign gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and the gift of healing, are not for today, since they were for the purpose of confirming the preached word of God to Israel in the first century?
In the words of Frank Barone: ‘Holy crap!’ Before getting into the details, I need to point out one bit of curiosity. As should be obvious from this question, Melton is not a charismatic; in fact, he is adamantly opposed to charismatic/pentecostal theology.[1] Here’s the curiosity: question 9 (see here) is one that Melton believes must be answered with an unequivocal ‘yes’, yet the essence of question 9 is one of the foundation stones in charismatic/pentecostal theology (i.e. baptism in/by the Spirit)–and both use the same passages to support their case.

This means: the lack of clarity in meaning for question 9 allows for an affirmative response to be given to what he promotes as well as what he reject. To say it differently: in his attempt to distinguish what he considers biblical truth from heresy, the ambiguity of question 9 blurs his line between truth and heresy, thus making it difficult to provide an unequivocal ‘yes’ to this question. If Melton wants me to read the text as he reads it and respond in a way that agrees with that reading, he’s going to need to give me solid reasons for how to understand the text(s) in question. But I must confess that I have other reasons for not being able to agree with the implicit theology of this question.

Now to the details . . . sort of.[2] I’m a bit confused about a number of items in this question: his use of the phrase, ‘apostolic sign gifts’, what he means by ‘speaking in tongues’, why he includes ‘the gift of healing’ as things no longer relevant, and his one-to-one connection between these gifts and their specific significance for ‘confirming the preach word of God to Israel in the first century.’ Since there is some ambiguity in the first two items, I will limit my remarks to the the third and the implicit logic and theology at work in Melton’s question.

In view of Melton’s non-charismatic/pentecostal stance, his belief that tongues and healings ‘are not for today’ is rooted in his reading of 1 Cor 13.8 (as noted on his clarifying site). What strikes me is that 1 Cor 13.8 says nothing about healings becoming irrelevant or no longer necessary (or even possible), and yet he employs that text to support his argument. Instead, that passage includes two items that Melton ignores: prophecy and complete knowledge, both of which the text says will cease and will be done away (respectively). Thus, why does he not say prophecy and complete knowledge ‘are not for today’, which would seem to have the support of 1 Cor 13.8? Why say tongues are no longer relevant, which would also seem to have biblical support, and yet say healings are no longer relevant, which does not have the support of 1 Cor 13.8 (or any passage, for that matter)?

My only assumption, and I invite him to correct me, is his reading of 1 Cor 14.22: ‘Tongues are for a sign not for those believing but for those in unbelief, but prophecy is not for those in unbelief but for those believing’ (my translation). My assumption is that because this text says prophecy is for the believer and not the unbeliever, it would seem that prophecy still has relevance for today. (Although, Melton does not clearly define what he means by ‘prophecy,’ and how his definition is to be distinguished from what he opposes–i.e. charismatic/pentecostal theology). However, while this assumption might be true, this implications of this text would seem to create more difficulties for Melton than solve. Specifically, tongues are a sign for ‘those in unbelief’, yet that state of being is not limited to 1st century Israel; it is a state that is quite timeless and timelessly applicable. Thus, if tongues are a sign for those in unbelief, and since unbelief is not a 1st century problem, 1 Cor 14.22 does not promote that gift’s demise but seems to proclaim its necessary continued existence.[3]

Moreover, to support the idea that the so-called ‘apostolic sign gifts’ (especially tongues and healings) were not limited to 1st century Israel, we need only consider the biblical texts to see how Melton’s assertion does not consistently fit the evidence. The first instance of ‘tongues’ is Acts 2: the sermon at Pentecost. (NB: the ‘speaking in tongues’ here is known, human languages/dialects; it was not some mysterious, spiritual language–see Acts 2.7-8). Here the context certainly points to a Jewish audience, both local (i.e. Jerusalem) and those from other regions (see the list in 2.9-11). The first healing, and I’m operating on the assumption that by ‘apostolic sign gifts’ Melton means things performed during the time of the apostles, is Acts 3.1-10: the healing of the man born crippled. We might safely infer that the crippled man was Jewish and that those who witnessed the healing were also Jewish. The second instance of healing is the passing reference in Acts 5.14-16. Recipients of this? Most likely Jewish. So far, Melton’s theory is doing all right.

Following the outbreak of the persecution of the early church, the next mention of a healing (in connection with the preaching of the gospel) is Acts 8.4-8. It is this account that makes me think Melton has in mind the apostolic period rather than the apostles themselves. Why? Because Philip is not an apostle (see Acts 6.5).[4] Recipients? Samaritans (i.e. neither Jews nor Gentiles).[5] Next healing? It’s a two-parter: Acts 9.32-35 and Acts 9.36-42. Recipients in both parts? Most likely Jewish. This double account is followed by the second mention of tongues (in connection with the preaching of the gospel): Acts 10.34-48. Recipients? Gentiles in Caesarea. Next healing? Acts 14.8-10. Recipients? Gentiles in Lystra. Next (and final) mention of tongues (in Acts)? Acts 19.1-7. Recipients? Gentiles in Ephesus. Next healing? Acts 19.9-12. Recipients? Gentiles in Ephesus. Next healing, though not necessarily connected with preaching the gospel? The humorous story in Acts 20.7-12. Recipients? Gentiles in Troas. Last healing (in Acts), again not linked with the gospel? Acts 28.7-10. Recipients? Gentiles in Malta.

If it were true that the ‘apostolic sign gifts’ of ‘speaking in tongues and the gift of healing . . . were for the purpose of confirming the preached word of God to Israel,’ then it is certainly odd to see the majority of references to such things being associated with preaching the gospel to Gentiles (i.e. not Israel). Thus it would seem that Melton’s necessary condition in this question (i.e. sign gifts are only relevant proofs for [1st century] Israel) does not align with the biblical evidence. On those grounds, I cannot supply a ‘yes’ answer to this question because I cannot agree with the premiss. Also, before answering Melton’s question, I would have to pose one of my own: ‘Mr Melton, in saying that the “apostolic sign gifts” of speaking in tongues–whatever you mean by that–and healing “are not for today”; are you asking me to say such things do not and cannot happen today because their role was fulfilled in the 1st century?’

[1] It should be mentioned that Melton sees much of charismatic/pentecostal theology as heresy. His reasons for doing so, and the methodology he employs to make such a conclusion, are not entirely clear.
[2] I might need to do an extra post on this particular subject, seeing that my response here will have to be rather limited.  We’ll see how it goes.
[3] Admittedly, all of this is forgoing a detailed discussion and analysis of biblical passages about tongues–i.e. what that means, what it looks/sounds like, and/or what it is.
[4] If, however, Melton means gifts or wonders performed by the apostles, then he needs to explain the Acts 8.4-8 passage.
[5] Per C.K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: A Shorter Commentary (2002), 118; see also C.K. Barrett, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (2004), 396.

why me?

Lately, for one unknown reason or another, a handful of people have stubbed their toes on my tiny blog while searching for something else. That something else is the supposed return of Christ in 2019. (The specific search is: ‘second coming 2019’). A variation of this something else is related to the supposed seven years of tribulation, which has ties with theories about the so-called rapture. (The specific search in these cases is: ‘2012-2019 second coming’). I’m guessing that it’s related to this supposed seven-year period, but I could be wrong.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I googled the exact same search(es) just to see what would happen. Sure enough, with the ‘second coming 2019’ search I was hit with a number of websites touting prophecies about the supposed return of Christ in that year. These sites made me laugh. After the seventh page(!), the number of sites related to that search began to dwindle, as did my snickering. Interestingly, throughout these seven pages (and a few others, just for good measure), I failed to see my blog. So how people got to me from that search is a bit of an oddity.

When I googled, ‘2012-2019 second coming’ I got better results. Upon seeing this post in the results, I then remembered why the 2012-2019 date would send people my way. I honestly thought (and hoped) that either Mr Middleton’s comment was spam or simply a one-off; but alas, my hopeful thoughts were simply that. Apparently some people are concerned about knowing when Christ will return, specifically if it will occur between 2012 and 2019. If such people came here in search of confirmation for either the specific 2019 or the vague 2012-2019 return, then I will have to disappoint because I cannot and will not endorse either view (or any variation). Go here for a brief explanation why I cannot and will not.

The Bible does not give specific dates or clues or hidden codes for when Christ will return. That is simply not its purpose. Those searching for such things are unwittingly engaging in eisegesis–i.e. forcing ideas, beliefs, theologies onto (or, into) the text so that it says something other than what it does say–and they need to stop. Those who claim that the Bible does give details about such things are openly guilty of eisegesis and their interpretations are not to be given a second glance. Why? Because any interpretation that forces the Bible to support a personal agenda, experience, feeling, desire, fetish, or flighty theology is neither faithful nor respectful to what the biblical text actually says. And that goes for anything that is touted to be biblical or spiritual; it’s not limited to second-coming predictions.

what to believe (4a)

It’s time to carry on with the series of posts on the nature and merits of James Melton’s ‘statement-of-faith-via-20-questions’. (For earlier posts on this series, go here, here, and here). As was mentioned in the first post, it appears that Melton’s view of ‘the best church for you’ is quite specific. The specificity of his view reveals that he is promoting an exclusive type of church that holds to exclusive traditions/beliefs–namely, things which support his specific view. (Aren’t circles fun?). The three questions considered in this two-part post can be seen as further evidence for what Melton is doing. (I’m doing a two-parter because comments on the third question were longer than the comments on these first two).

8. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment?
Caveat: I haven’t mentioned this in a while, so it might be useful to restate it now. One of the big concerns that I have with Melton’s presentation is the automatic assumption that people know the meaning (and nuances) of specific theological ideas or concepts. Moreover, it seems as though Melton would require definite responses to the questions asked in spite of not having a fair understanding of the terms. That sort of thing is unacceptable. I would hope that before answering any of these 20 questions, people would not be afraid to ask, ‘What do you mean by . . .?’ That type of question is certainly beneficial with this particular statement. Melton: what do you mean by ‘divine person’?  What do you mean by, ‘convicts to world of sin’, ‘convicts the world of righteousness’, and ‘convicts the world of judgment’? Answers to those sorts of questions might affect the answer given to the one being asked.

Back to this question. Well, seeing that I only implicitly acknowledged the divinity of the Spirit by answering ‘yes’ to question 3, I guess it makes sense to state it explicitly here with this question. So, ‘yes’ to the first half of the question. ‘Wait a minute: “first half“?!’ you might be asking, while searching for the nearest shoe or other blunt object with good aerodynamics. The only reason I slightly hesitate with the second half is that I firmly believe that the Spirit does so much more than this. I unashamedly believe that this threefold description is a vital part of what the Spirit does, but I also believe that to leave the role of the Spirit at this threefold description is to offer a rather limited (if not, one-sided) view of the Spirit. So, to answer this question, I would have to say: ‘Yes, but . . .’

9. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is the Supernatural Agent in regeneration, baptizing all believers into the body of Christ?
While this begins to respond to the ‘but’ portion of my last answer, we’re once again faced with a string of theological ideas and terms that are not clearly explained. This is especially the case with the idea of ‘regeneration’, which is definitely a vital role of the Spirit, and it is also the case with the notion of the Spirit ‘baptizing all believers into the body of Christ.’ This latter statement needs a lot of explanation from Melton, partly because of how it has been understood across denominational lines. (Some see it as contemporaneous–if not synonymous–with water baptism. Others see it as a post-water baptism experience. Not a few other see it as a second work of divine grace). However, I have a fear that Melton would explain his meaning in way that only supports his reading of the text (and his denominational tradition) rather than seriously engage with text and not allow preconceptions to determine the meaning and application. So, my answer to this question would have to be: ‘Initially, yes; but you’re going to need to explain some things before I say anything more.’

On to part two of this post (go here).