Although this series does not concern itself directly with the story of Pentecost, we are nevertheless postulating a "right-on" preacher to see how the NIV could diminish the effectiveness of his preaching Acts compared to using the KJV, so we don't want to shy away from what happened on the day of Pentecost as that affects--one way or the other--how we see him as being, in fact, right on. The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is, after all, a major Player in Acts, so we want to look at the significance of Pentecost and scripture, and particularly at the history of Pentecost.
Here for an instruction device, I shall take the preacher to be conservative but tolerant, not getting carried way with charismatic gifts, but not condemning those who use them either. I shall attempt to get him to broaden his perspective somewhat while not coming to any conclusion as that is beyond the scope of this series.
Since sermons use illustrations, I shall start with one of my own:
The preacher has in his sermon supported his contention that Holy
Spirit baptism per se was limited to the twelve apostles because
they are the immediate antecedent of the pronoun they
in the text. I feel like déja vu. Back in my earlier
church days, when our teacher had a class on Acts, I made a major
digression in my homework assignment to explore the very issue of
who was meant by "they" in Acts 2:1. The two candidates are
the 120 and the 12. It seems to me that the subject is always
taken up starting in Acts, and while we are already quite familiar
with the 12 from our gospel studies, the other members making up
the 120 are not much studied in the gospels because of their
relative unimportance, and then when we get to Acts, we ignore
their mention in the gospels to save time, when here they are
important enough to establish doctrine (whom the "they" refers to),
and the author of Acts is only continuing his gospel story in which
he'd been developing the larger group. Let's go through the earlier
(Luke 23:55) "And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." (Luke:24:1) "...they came unto the sepulcher..." (vs. 9-10) "And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles." (vs. 22) "Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulcher." (vs. 52) "And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen."
The book of Acts takes up with this group including the apostles, which has been included in "Right-On's" sermons starting at Acts. I started this web page with a quote from a novel to illustrate groupings. A number of different types of planes are mentioned being gathered on the deck, just as a number of different groups of people are mentioned--late Luke, early Acts--gathered together waiting. The novel singles out "In two long lines to starboard was a total of 36 F/A-18 Hornets, the lightning-fast workhorse of the U.S. attack strike force," and Acts (and the gospel) singles out the 12 apostles. Fine. When the novel goes on to say, "And it seemed well nigh incredible that the all- powerful U.S. military machine could not just roar in anger, right out here from this colossus of an aircraft carrier," I read that as referring to the whole contingent of planes, not just the Hornets. When I read (Acts 2:1) "... they were all with one accord in one place," I read that as referring to the whole group of 120, not just the 12. If, however, I were to leave off or ignore the first paragraph I quoted, about the various airplanes, and start with the 36, then subtract the word all from all-powerful, and quote it, "the powerful U.S. military machines could just roar in anger, right out here," the new quote would seem to refer to the 36 Hornets only. That's how I feel I'm being fed this doctrine of Pentecost, that by ignoring the development of the whole group in Luke, and then quoting "they" instead of "they all" in Acts 2:1, it certainly does look like he's referring to only the apostles, but I don't think that methodology is up to standard.
The novel goes on to point out that brute force doesn't always work, only sometimes. But that's entirely consistent with "Right-On's" main points that God's Spirit deals more subtly most of the time, and only sometimes with the dramatic Spirit baptism, twice recorded in scripture. The novel's philosophy was not watered down but strengthened by including all the planes with the 36, and I think the position that dramatic Spirit baptisms are limited in number is likewise strengthened by including the rest of the group with the twelve. The more dramatic the show, the more limited its occurrence.
The novel ends its chapter with the "paradox that the most terrifying secret of all was already standing unrecognized, less than 100 feet away," and I think Acts also contains a paradox in Saul. In a book with paradoxes I don't think it pays to be too sure of oneself, and since I share with the preacher similar conclusions, the issue is moot.
What bothers me, though, is what sometimes happens when we get to the study of spiritual gifts. First we see that it all must be done decently and in order. Fine. Then we see that the modes of operation are expected to change as the body of Christ matures, just as one's own behavior and talk goes through stages as one grows older. Fine, again. Then we end up with (I Corinthians 13:10) "... when that which is perfect shall come, ..." and we're told "that which is perfect" refers to the Bible, based on Psalms 19:7) "The law of the LORD is perfect ..." At this point I begin to wonder how come it is that in Acts they has to refer to its immediate antecedent, but in I Corinthians that can go back as far as we want it to? I thought in context "that which is perfect" refers to the complete maturity of the body of Christ.
I present three illustrations. The first is kids observing proprieties at the water hole. I relate that to the operation of the gifts in the early church; they had to observe proprieties too. When I grew older swimming ceased to be such a thrill, but I'll still enjoy a walk in the park.
When the Grateful Dead concert came to town, the park filled with dead-heads camping out. Walking across the footbridge on a hot day, I noticed some of them skinny dipping in the river. A news helicopter was hovering over them, and they were trying to duck down to observe proprieties, just like the kids when the train flew by. But what can you expect? Get a bunch of hippies together and some will act like kids. Same with Christians and the charismatic movement. As far as proprieties go, I think it's best to just leave them be.
A second illustration is a young man's delight at discovering he's growing whiskers. I relate this to the maturing of the body of Christ. First we didn't have a written New Testament, and then we did. The transition was like the young man's start of a beard, incomplete, but still something to rejoice in, what written inspiration those young churches had access to.
I feel towards some of those charismatic type churches that go on relying on personal inspiration--as if we didn't have a Bible already--much the same way the girl probably feels towards her boyfriend who goes on acting as if he didn't have whiskers: she doesn't want to get too intimate with him.
A third illustration is the expected future time when machines will do all our work and we can leave our desk jobs to go fishing. I think that illustrates the concept of "that which is perfect has come." I mean, even though we do have a Bible, it doesn't do our thinking for us.
I noticed in "Right-On's" last sermon, he used the "she or he" construction at a place where it seemed he was referring to the whole congregation. The rule of personal pronouns when referring to a person in general, irrespective of sex, is to use "he or she" almost always shortened to "he" for brevity. That in English has a natural basis in the creation, (Gen. 1:27) "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." He created them male and female, not female and male, on which basis the pronoun usage he-or-she derives, rather than she-or-he.
But one can refer to a person in general as she-or-he if although technically it refers to one of either sex, it's more likely to refer to a female. In, say, a sermon on courtesies to one's baby sitter, the preacher tell us, "And before she leaves, be sure to give her a tip," he's used a correct pronoun structure, because even though technically a baby sitter could be either sex, it's much more likely she'd be female. If, however, say, he were asking for a volunteer for a job that could be done by either sex, and he told us what her or his duties would be, I'd volunteer my wife long before I'd volunteer myself, if I had a wife, that is, which I don't, but you get the picture.
Anyway, I find myself in basic agreement with the preacher's main points, but I really don't think pronouns is his strong suit. For that matter, I think his teaching has a solid enough basis that it doesn't all hinge on a pronoun, and I don't think he was that adamant about it anyway, but since I feel like déja vu every time we cover the subject, I felt I should write about my preference for developing the group along with Luke in his Gospel and not omitting the word all. Thus the focus of my own attempts at Bible teaching is usually along the lines of bringing up forgotten stuff or emphasizing other parts that get glossed over. Because of such teaching's surprise aspect, I feel that it's similar to the prophet's surprising revelation, although I've brought up nothing actually new--the group in Acts was actually developed somewhat in Luke, and the word all is already in Acts. No new revelation.
So, if that which is perfect came with the canonizing of the Bible, does that mean the preacher goes fishing and the sermons write themselves?
I just think that English speakers are better unified if they stick to established rules on pronouns, and use the same-worded Bible (KJV). His sermons seem to be on familiar ground that could be supported by almost any version, and the rare times he loses me, I don't think any version would help. But there are limits. Just as I'd lose him on topics over his head, he'd lose me if his points could only be supported by the NIV, not the KJV, or if he got too creative in his grammar.
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Copyright © 2002, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
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