Are Our Revivals Like Pentecost? (Part 2)

Is Pentecost Repeatable?

The short answer is yes and no (see Part One for context with Asbury Revival). Luke records a “second Pentecost” among the Gentiles in Acts 10:34–38. In Caesarea, Peter had a vision (Acts 10:9–16) showing him that the Old Testament ceremonial laws and food restrictions were abolished. They had fulfilled their purpose. In Christ, the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11–22; Acts 10:28–29) has been broken down. Remember, our Lord promised that the gospel is to go to from Jerusalem to “Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost, Peter had implied the very same thing. He preached to Jews but the promise is to Jewish believers, their children (Acts 2:39), and to the Gentiles. This is what the Lord had promised to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. Abraham is about to become the spiritual father of many nations, as many as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea shore.

Peter began to preach Christ to the Gentiles. He peached Christ’s active obedience, his suffering obedience, his atoning death, and his vindicating resurrection (Acts 10:34–43). The same Jesus who ascended shall return and “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The core message of both the Jewish Pentecost and the Gentile Pentecost, if you will, is not ecstatic experience but Christ. It is not subjective (what is happening inside of me) but objective: what Christ has done for me. After that sermon, the Holy Spirit “fell on all who heard the Word” and the Jewish believers who had traveled with Peter were amazed that the Holy Spirit had fallen on those whom they had been taught all their lives to regard as unclean (Acts 10:45). This was truly a turning point in the history of salvation. Again, people heard the gospel in their own natural languages (Acts 2:46) and they too were baptized (Acts 2:48) because the promise is always, as it was to Abraham, to believers and to their children.

The Uniqueness Of Pentecost

No one would seek to repeat the Noah flood. That was a single event in the history of redemption never to be repeated. The final judgment is like Noah’s flood (2 Pet 3:1–7), but it is not a watery judgment but a fiery judgment. No one would seek to repeat the Exodus, in which Christ’s church was delivered from Pharaoh through the Red Sea (Acts 7:36; Heb 11:29) “on dry ground” (Ex 14:22; Ps 66:6; 106:9). No one should (though every Easter, in the Philippines, people do) seek to repeat Christ’s crucifixion because it is the epochal event in the history of redemption. Pentecost is in that class of events. We see no more Pentecost-like events in Acts. We see no continuing Pentecosts in the early post-Apostolic church. The traditional story (now challenged by some scholars) is that the Montanists sought to repeat Pentecost but they were condemned for it.

What we know as “Pentecostal” piety and practice has its roots in some of the early Anabaptist leads, e.g., Thomas Müntzer et al. who were, as the Pentecostals say, “slain in the Spirit” and spoke in “tongues”—they practiced the free-speech or glossolalia today called “tongues,” which is a universal, natural religious phenomenon (it is practiced by multiple world religions) bearing no relation to the redemptive miracle at Pentecost and Caesarea.

What happened at Pentecost and again in Acts 10 were fulfillments of prophecy. The gospel was going forth to the nations. The Apostles were uniquely empowered and gifted by God the Spirit to fulfill their office and role in redemptive history. When the Apostle John died in the AD 90s, the apostolic office ended. There were no more apostles after him and the early church recognized that. When the Didache speaks of “apostles” it is almost certainly speaking loosely or casually about traveling preachers. There is no evidence in the Didache that those traveling preachers, on whom the Didache placed such severe restrictions (e.g., any one staying more than three days is to be regarded as a false teacher) were regarded as possessing the same office, authority, or spiritual power as the Apostles. The early post-apostolic church consistently recognized a distinction between their ministry and that of the Apostles. They did not regard the Apostolic office as continuing or perpetual.

So, too, Pentecost was a unique event. It was not a revival in the sense in which we use that word. It was the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit upon the church, empowering her for his mission to the Jews and to the Gentiles. It was a fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, the Baptizers prophecy, and Christ’s promises to his Apostles. It was not a “renewal” movement in the church. It was a once-for-all redemptive event.

So, the appeal to Pentecost by those in the revival and revivalism tradition fails because it does not account for the place of Pentecost in redemptive history nor does it account for what actually happened at Pentecost and what did not happen. The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force to be distributed and carried from place to place. He is the co-eternal, holy, consubstantial, eternally proceeding, third person of the Trinity. He is immutable, sovereign, and free. He hovered over the face of the deep at creation (Gen 1:2) and he came upon the Apostles in re-creating power, inaugurating, at that moment a sort of new creation (2 Cor 5:17). These are unique, wonder-inspiring events to be remembered but not to be repeated.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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