Friday, May 15, 2009

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, Part 2

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15 NASU

So begins the preaching of Jesus. The topic of the kingdom provides the context in which we can understand all that Jesus said. Jesus’ message was not primarily about love, or repentance, or Israel, or His deity, or salvation, or eschatology. Yet all these themes and more find their place in the story about the King and his kingdom. It is in the kingdom that all these other topics find their proportion and place.

No wonder then there is so much confusion about the kingdom. To understand the kingdom is to understand the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching. It is the thread that weaves these various subjects into a whole.If ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the heart of the gospel and maranatha its benediction, then the kingdom is the message.

How then is the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be understood in light of the kingdom? Where does this topic fit into this story? So often this baptism is put into other stories. If you are an Evangelical, this baptism becomes salvation. Since their view of salvation is punctilliar – a point in time where at one moment I’m not saved and the next moment I is, conversion and receiving the Spirit must be identical. If you are a sacramentalist, the baptism in the Spirit is conferred by some specific liturgical act such as water baptism or the laying on of hands. Those who believe that you receive the Spirit in water baptism find evidence here for that belief. If you are a Pentecostal, this is where you receive the Spirit after you are saved with evidence of speaking in tongues. If you are of a holiness extraction, this baptism becomes the time where you are totally given over – sanctified - to the will of God. Whatever your point of view, this baptism in the Spirit is located at the heart of your doctrine.

Everybody loves 1 Corinthians 12:13. Yet all of these views are unchanged by their reading of this verse. This is a problem for those who believe that doctrine must, in all cases and times, take precedence over experience. Gordon Fee makes it really clear in his book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth that history must be interpreted through the lens of the didactic – the teaching – portions of scripture. Too bad the early Christians didn’t know this. They interpreted the whole Bible of their day, now known as the Old Testament, through their experience of Jesus and the resurrection. And, I might add, through their common experience of the Holy Spirit.

This common experience of the Spirit is what 1 Corinthians 12:13 was referring. Yet many translations do not bring out this point. The way it is translated makes it look like the Spirit is the baptizer, and by the Spirit we are baptized in or into the body. The body becomes the thing into which we are baptized. As Fee and Turner, among others, have pointed out, the Spirit is what we are baptized into, not the body. This is the normal phrase always translated elsewhere as baptized in the Holy Spirit. The goal of this baptism in the Spirit is to unify one body out of many diverse peoples through their common experience of the Spirit. The whole passage is emphasizing unity in diversity, and this verse is making it explicit. We all, as the body, have a common experience of the Spirit.

This is what Paul seems to mean by saying that we were all given the Spirit to drink. Like land being flooded for irrigation purposes, we all have an opportunity to be soaked in the Spirit. This is where my title comes in. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. For God’s kingdom purpose of unity in the body, we were all given the Spirit to drink. But we must drink. Some sip, some refuse, some gulp it down like thirsty travelers crossing the desert. But we are all given the same drink. So it is not a case of the have’s and have-not’s. It is a case of those who drink deep and those who sip.


Stephen said...

I'm not sure that you can say that the "early Christians" didn't interpret the Old Testament "that way". All we can really say is that the writers of the NT didn't interpret the OT that way... This is an important differentiation as the writers of the NT were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to produce new revelation that was to become Scripture. They had, "special revelation". A 21st century prophet does not have that same "Special revelation" as they are not writing Scripture. So don't be so quick to discount Fee's point.

Steven Ganz said...

You raise an good point. But I don't think the issue is how and what kind of revelation the writers of the NT had. Paul wrote in 2 Tim 1:13-14 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. So what he did we are to follow. The NT writers did interpret the OT through the lens of their experience with Christ and His resurrection. This says to me that the experience of the Spirit that Luke wrote about cannot be invalidated by our understanding of Paul's writings as some try to do. But there needs to be a fair handling of both. I am not trying to cheapen the teaching portions of scripture, but let the experience of the book of Acts have their say.