Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Common and Consistent Gift

On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter preaches the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. He issues the command (not invitation) of the Gospel to repent and be baptized. The promise that is attached to this command is forgiveness in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). Note this progression: repentant baptism and then the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

Now look at what happens a few verses later: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41,42). Repentant baptism is followed by the ordinary and regular observances/practices of the Church that are held down to this day two millennia later.

There is a very telling parallelism in these two passages:
2:38     “Repent and be baptized...” → “...receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
2:41     “...those...were baptized” → the practices described in 2:42

What I want you to see in this parallelism is that the Person of the Trinity Who is the Gift, the Holy Spirit, manifests His presence and works continually/regularly through the ordinary practices from that Day to Today. We have been so conditioned to seek the new from our worship, the latest program, the most in-demand speakers of the moment, the book du jour, etc. We hunger for communion with the Father through Christ by His Spirit (as we absolutely should!), but have been distracted from the regular means by which He has always blessed His people with His working, comforting, nurturing, guarding, guiding, loving Presence manifested.

Gather. Read the Word and hear it taught and applied to our lives. Observe the ordinance of the Table and baptism. Pray (I mean by this both the reading of “the prayers” – the Psalms – and our prayers). This is the manifestation of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It does not require “the Latest Thing” or an innovation or a “Fresh Encounter.” It is ordinary in that the mature and infant believer can both equally and simultaneously partake in it. It does not require a magnificent building, state-of-the-art technology, or celebrity worship leader or preacher. It requires the obedience of those united with Christ by the sealing work of the Holy Spirit. It requires a faith that rests in the simple promise in the Word that this is how He’ll work in our midst.

Not only does the revelation of Scripture record this means on the day of Pentecost, but our forefathers in the faith confessed this to be true: “The grace of faith by which the elect are enabled to believe, so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily brought into being by the ministry of the Word. It is also increased and strengthened by the work of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word, and also by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and other means appointed by God” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 14.1).

Our spiritual ancestors also warn against the rejection of the ordinary means and the sad, heart-breaking results: “The saints may, through the temptation of Satan and the world, and because their remaining sinful tendencies prevail over them, and through their neglect of the means which God has provided to keep them, fall into grievous sins” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 17.3).

Further, they tell us that we will find great assurance in the regular, consistent use of the means of the Presence of the Gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church: “...being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given to him by God, he may, without any extraordinary revelation attain this assurance by using the means of grace in the right way. Therefore it is the duty of every one to give the utmost diligence to make his calling and election sure [through the use of the means of grace], so that his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness for carrying out the duties of obedience. These duties are the natural fruits of assurance” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 18.3).

I am not advocating reformation or revolution; I am urging from the bottom of my heart a humble, gentle, weekly, life-long restoration of these things as central to the Spirit-indwelt life of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this is rest for you, beloved Church. Cease the desperate groping and reaching for some new avenue of fellowship with the Divine; rest in the biblical means through which He has promised to work in every place and in every age with the gathering of His covenant people.

P.S. Just to make sure I'm not misread as necessarily endorsing older or culturally unique expressions of these means (styles of music or particular Bible translations), let me link up with these dear brothers who speak of the means of the Spirit's work so well.

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