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Scattered Thoughts on Acts: Part 2

See Part 1.

The Holy Spirit & Tongues

Many Pentecostals I have known over the years have used the book of Acts to argue that the initial sign one has received the Holy Spirit (which often in their reckoning occurs separately from salvation itself) is speaking in tongues.  In evidence of this they trot out Acts 2, Acts 10 (Cornelius & friends, which may be the name of my next fake band) and the folks in Ephesus in Acts 19.  In each case the Holy Spirit descends and people start speaking in tongues.

But what about the people in 4:31?  Or the Samaritans in 8:14-17?  Or Paul in 9:17-19?  Or even the 3000 who were saved in Acts 2?  There may even be more.  My point is that less than half the time the Holy Spirit shows up results in speaking on tongues.  For my money, I need a better percentage than that to convince me that Luke was trying to make that connection.

Now I know that some will argue, for instance, that Paul did speak in tongues; he says as much in 1 Corinthians 14.  But that’s not the issue.  All of these people could have ended up speaking in tongues.  The question is regarding Luke’s intent- was he trying to demonstrate that the initial sign of the reception of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues?  If that were his goal, I think we’d see a better “success rate.”

The Role of the Spirit in Acts

Now, the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the book of Acts, so much so that some have argued we should title the book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” rather than “The Acts of the Apostles.”  Besides tongues, the Spirit gives direction for ministry (8:29, 13:2), inspires prophecy (11:28, 21:11) and even transports Phillip (8:39).  But the single biggest role of the Spirit is to empower people to witness (1:8).

Connected to this is the theme of boldness which comes through the Holy Spirit (why isn’t this the initial sign of the Spirit?), both explicitly stated (end of chapter 4) and implicitly (Stephen is quite bold in his speech).  The point is that the Spirit is the One who empowers God’s people to witness.  The Spirit drives the mission of the church in Acts. 

The Spread of the Gospel

Whatever else one says about the book of Acts, the main point of the book comes down to the spread of the gospel.  Pretty much everything else that happens feeds into this theme.  The Holy Spirit empowers witnesses to spread the gospel (1:8).  The miracles seen accompany the preaching of the gospel.  Persecution (as noted in Part 1) is a vehicle for spreading the gospel.  The conversion of Saul isn’t simply a cool story, but catipults the Gentile mission (Acts 9).  The Jerusalem Council validates what God is doing among the Gentiles (Acts 15), and endorses the spread of the gospel to all people.  Paul’s trials get him to Rome, where he shares the gospel.  Even the episode of Cornelius and friends speaking in tongues in Acts 10 serves to demonstrate that the gospel is spreading to the Gentiles.

So I think that you must read the book of Acts through the lens of the gospel reaching beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people.  I also think it’s instructive for us.  Whatever else might happen in our churches (the manifest power of the Spirit, life-giving community, contextualizing for the sake of other cultures, etc), the goal is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

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