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The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

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Question #1:  Having read your comments to an individual concerning the gift of tongues, I would like to mention some points that seem to be neglected, with the desire to clarify some issues that many have, and rightly so.

I agree totally that the gift of tongues has been greatly abused within the church, and that many of the "manifestations" with regard to tongues are immature responses to a manifestation of a spiritual gift that could greatly enhance the effectiveness of the church, if it were to be applied correctly, with maturity.

What concerns me is the misunderstanding to the many sided purposes of this gift, which seem to be neglected when trying to explain the many incorrect uses of this very important gift.

The gift of tongues is mentioned in 1 Corinthians Ch:13&14 several times, but what seems to be misunderstood is the fact that the gift of tongues is not only a gift to some who can give revelation through a unlearned language, which has been mentioned by you, but it is also a gift to all believers for the purpose of strengthening their spirit and soul through the Holy Spirits help. Allow me to explain.

In chapter 14:3 tongues is mentioned as a gift to build up others. But in verse 4 tongues is qualified as giving the believer the ability to build themselves up.

(My personal experience): Many times when in great stress I find my spirit speaking in a language that I do not understand. But allowing this spiritual language freedom to express itself within my own being, seems to give me strength beyond my capabilities within my emotions and mind. Not only does it give me strength within but it also produces within in me a deep desire to dedicate myself to trusting in God when in circumstances that I have no control over. Furthermore, this inner language also gives me spiritual insights to circumstances that I in the natural would never know, which in turn motivates me to react in certain ways, giving me the strength to endure sever stress because of resting in the Lord. This is all being done within my own spirit, without my personal motivation, since at those times I am personally emotionally and mentally weak.

Also, if I desire, and choose to with my own will, I can use this language in my prayer life to know and understand the will of the Lord in my life in situations when I am undecided or confused in what I should do. This way of praying allows me access to faith that is beyond my capabilities, and gives me the ability to walk in great peace, allowing my mind and emotions to be controlled, with the Spirits help, during great times of stress.

There are other benefits to this gift that all believers have access to, but for now this seems to me to be sufficient. I hope these comments increase your faith and help to bring some insights into areas that some might not yet have experienced.

Response #1:  Thank you for your e-mail and your comments. I understand that it is not easy to talk about this sort of things, especially with those who have already forcefully espoused a contrary viewpoint. As I am not completely unaware of some of the things which you are talking about here, let me respond in this way with three main points:

The first thing I would wish to say is that the fact that Paul in 1st Corinthians 14 refers to a believer being "built up" by the use of the gift of tongues does not in any way mean that this "tongue" is not also a real language (not known to the person speaking in tongues). Logically, it can be both, and, in my reading of scripture, it is both. So that this hypothetical person of the 1st cent. B.C. to whom Paul refers, though speaking in a tongue he did not understand while building himself up spiritually, was nevertheless still speaking in an actual tongue, that is, in a real human language, one, moreover, that actually existed at the time. This must be the case, moreover, since the main purpose of tongues is evangelism. And I hasten to add that the fact that this is the main purpose does not imply that an individual with this gift could not also "speak to himself" for the purpose of spiritual encouragement (obviously, someone with this gift could do so, as Paul apparently did: "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all" - 1Cor.14:18). The point of all this is to say again, as I said in the e-mail responses you reference, that it would have been an easy matter back then, just as it is today, to verify whether or not a person was actually, legitimately, speaking in tongues. All one has to do is to determine whether or not this "language" is real. My point is that in all my personal experience and investigation I am not aware of a single case in which an individual who has claimed to speak in tongues really was doing so, according to what the Bible calls tongues that is. I know of cases where individuals pray and praise in languages they understand (from personal experience and/or education). That is certainly a legitimate thing to do. But it is not the gift of tongues. I also know of many cases where individuals chant and exclaim in vocalized sounds which, however, are not languages. I find no scriptures which justify this sort of thing as a biblical practice, but whether one wishes to justify/practice this sort of thing or not, it would still not be the biblical gift of tongues.

I feel the need to reiterate here that I am not "anti-tongues" - would that God would indeed empower us all with that gift and many more besides! But I trust Him and His timing on these things. If the gift is not being given now, so be it - I trust Him. If the gift is being given now and I just haven't run into it, I am willing to admit my error. I have not seen it (and I have written before about the reasons for its absence, one of the primary ones being that we have the complete Bible now so that the need for this special gift of evangelism has "ceased": 1Cor.13:8). What I have seen is much "Christian chanting" called tongues. Please let me be clear about this. To vocalize sounds as a way to concentrate the mind is a common thing in human experience. Many religions utilize chanting as a way to induce trance-like states. The very fact that the sounds are repetitive and in and of themselves bereft of meaning aids in the process of concentration. Some may argue that this might be put to positive ends, even in the Christian experience. Even if that were true (and I do not believe that it is), it would still not be the gift of tongues. After all, if one can use meaningless sounds to focus on God, focus on prayer, tap into His strength, etc., why not use a Psalm, a prayer, a point of truth from the scripture, knowledge about our Savior and our coming eternity with Him? This may take more discipline, more concentration, and so may at once be both less spectacular and more difficult, but doesn't conscience plead that it would also be better? Paul and Silas sang hymns in the prison, songs with meaningful words that got the attention of their fellow prisoners - there is no mention here of them speaking in tongues (Acts 1616ff.).

My first reservation is that, no matter how beneficial what you are describing may seem to be, from my understanding of scripture, what you are describing is almost certainly not the biblical gift of tongues (otherwise, I assume, you would have shared with me the precise language in question). The second point I would wish to emphasize again is that tongues, in the Bible, is a gift, like teaching is a gift. Not all are teachers. Not all speak in tongues (1Cor.12:30). From what you say in your e-mail (and what all whom I have ever had any contact with say about this as well), tongues as you understand it seems to be a wonderful, almost essential part of the Christian experience. How can this be if, as the Bible states in 1st Corinthians 12:30, only a portion of the Body gets that gift? For there are numerous gifts listed in 1st Corinthians, and Paul's treatment of the Body and its parts in chapter twelve suggests that the gifts of the Spirit are manifold in design and intent - we all have at least one given as the Spirit determines (1Cor.12:11), but no two ministries are the same, so the fact that we are disparately gifted makes eminent sense. The gift of the Spirit is universal, but the manifestations of the Spirit are various. I find no biblical support for a doctrine that would have one particular gift given universally in contrast to all the rest.

That leads to my last point which is this: no matter how great a personal experience may be, no matter how real it may seem, no matter how essential it may appear, one single verse in scripture is more real, more important, more essential (2Pet.1:19; cf. Deut.32:47). We cannot build our faith on our experiences. We have to build our faith on the truth. The only source of truth we have in this world, beyond the testimony of the cosmos to the existence and magnificence of God, is the Book He has given us. We may not always understand everything in it (certainly not at first). We may not have it right (certainly inevitably at first). But if we persevere in looking to the Bible for our answers, we will be lead by the Spirit, the true author of the Bible (Jn.16:12-15; 2Pet.1:21), to the truth in every way. The Spirit does not contradict Himself. What He says in the Bible is true. Therefore, if our experience does not seem to line up with the Bible, since the Bible cannot be wrong, then either our experience or our understanding of the Bible must be wrong. I appreciate wanting to get closer to God, wanting to know and feel His power, wanting to operate on His strength and with His guidance in all things and at all times. This is what we all desire - or should. I have found in my own experience that deepening one's relationship with Him through the truth of the Word trumps all other approaches - and it is building on rock, THE Rock, rather than on sand. Organizations (even good ones) are not capable of sustaining us when times get tough, and neither are past experiences. The Word of Truth, and the depth of relationship we can have with Him through it, does sustain, and it is in fact the only thing which truly sustains in times of heartache and pressure.

I do not dispute what you say about being given strength in times of pressure and trial, but I would ask you to reflect on those experiences and ask yourself what it really was that sustained you? I would not be surprised to learn from you that it was your relationship with the Lord, your knowledge of Him and His faithfulness, your faith in Him and confident hope of His deliverance. This is really what it is that gives the believer "the ability to walk in great peace" as you say, for He is our peace.

In my personal experience, since we are talking here of experience, prayer, a focus on Him, and a deep relationship with Him based upon knowing Him and His truth, responding to it and living it, is where the true strength of the believer lies, empowered by the Spirit at all times (but dependent upon genuine thoughts of truth rather than upon unknown vocalizations). In short, in my experience, what you describe is possible without audible or inaudible vocalization, and is, in fact, much more effective and biblical - and I think that in this I also have the Spirit of God (1Cor.7:40).

I appreciate your courage in addressing this issue with someone who clearly has a different point of view. I pray that you will receive this response in the Spirit of love with which it is written, and hope that this may be of some help to you in some way.

Yours in the Spirit and the love of Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2: 

Yes, I do receive any comments from you, whether they are for or against, in love.

Even though I take the stand that all gifts that were given on Pentecost are available at the present time, I do yield to the truth that the Word is, and should be, the final judge as to our experiences. Nevertheless, if we do not allow the Spirit to stretch our understanding with regard to certain subjects, we prevent ourselves from experiencing many attributes from the Holy Spirit that would and can help us in our daily lives.

Response #2: 

I quite agree that we have to be willing to let God lead us where He will. This will always be consistent with scripture but not always consistent with what may be the prevailing view of what scripture teaches. We do need to be open to the proposition that we may have it wrong. Incidentally, I did also want to emphasize that I definitely accept the fact that these gifts were operational during the first century, believe that the indications from scripture are that they will again resume operation during the Tribulation, and am not dogmatically opposed to the idea of their operation at the present time. To distill my position about the present time into two main points: 1) I see no evidence that they are being given at present (the way I understand tongues, apostleship, prophecy, and healing in particular); 2) I see very good scriptural reasons for them to have been discontinued (these clearly miraculous gifts were necessary to fill the gap until the Bible and the means to teach it a regular way were widely available - now that there is no longer any such lack [or any reason for any such lack, I should say], they would seem to distract from our main "job" of teaching/learning/living His truth, rather than emphasizing it).

I appreciate your spirit of Christian love in all this.

Yours in His love,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

I have prayed consistently over the last few days as to how I would approach this subject since
you have so much knowledge with the Word of God. I have come to the conclusion that I would
give some history as to how I received salvation, how I was filled with the Spirit, and how the
Spirit taught me to apply the gifts He had given me, in my life, and for the benefit of others.

I was aware of my salvation from an early age, but the Spirit within me was doing a deeper work of moving me into a walk of faith that I had very little understanding in. As I began to listen to the experiences that other Christians had with the Holy Spirit I was very cautious as to their experiences lining up with the Word of God. At that time in my life I remembered witnessing some manifestations of the "gifts of the Spirit" within a charismatic church I had been in when I was younger, but my experiences there had been very negative, even scary. Nevertheless, I had this growing hunger within me that there must be more to this Christian life. I felt a need for a closer relationship with the Lord but did not know how to achieve it. I then began to search the Scriptures about the Holy Spirit that was being taught.

Although I had already received salvation I was aware of a need for deeper power that I had as of yet not experienced. My mind and emotions were still very fragile even through all this Spiritual support by the Lord. I needed greater strength and power to overcome all obstacles, and my heart longed for a deeper understanding as to how to achieve this. The Scriptures teach that, "You will receive power" (Acts 1:7,8) when you are baptized in the Holy Spirit. At that time I was taught that the "power" does not only refer to a power to evangelize, but also to manifest gifts for the edification of the body of Christ and also refers to an inner power and strength to overcome your own weaknesses. The "power" was a gift to strengthen your inner person through the strength of the Holy Spirit. This "power" could give an individual strength to endure and overcome mental and emotional oppression whether it comes from the environment one is in, or had been in, or from spiritual sources of evil. I was taught that the power of the blood of Jesus cleanses one from sin, and the power of the Holy Spirit gives an individual inner strength to overcome all things. The Spirit is from the same source but He has a different purpose or assignment.

After the resurrection of Jesus, He met His disciples and said to them, "Peace to you! As My Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:19-22) Later Jesus told His disciples, "not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father," (Acts 1:4) referring to the Holy Spirit. It is my understanding that when Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit the first time the disciples received their spiritual rebirth. When Jesus commanded them to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, He was referring to a fuller power to be witnesses.

What I am trying to share is that the Power of the Holy Spirit is not only to manifest Himself through the outward power gifts, thereby evangelizing the world, but is also present to edify the body of Christ (Church), by filling each member from within so that individual may be able to walk in their spirit, soul and body, in wholeness (wellness), righteousness and holiness, thereby honoring Jesus.

If you believe the Holy Spirit was given only for the purpose of giving gifts to the believers for the evangelization of the world, I understand your reasoning behind your conviction that the power gifts are not for this present time. But if the Holy Spirit was also given for the purpose of edifying (building up, strengthening) the individual believer, to walk in the power of holiness, righteousness and consistent health, through gifts of grace (unmerited favor), and for building others in faith, we can then look forward to searching out deeper spiritual understandings.

Response #3: 

Before we proceed, it is probably a good thing for me to make my position clear on a number of these issues. For one thing, I do indeed believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit - not just at Pentecost or in the early part of the Church Age, but for all who believe in Jesus Christ. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is, as you indicate, a critical and important part of our walk with Jesus. We are all gifted by the Spirit, all made to drink of one and the same Spirit, all entered into Christ by the ministry of the Spirit, all empowered and guided and filled by the Holy Spirit by whom we have been sealed, with whom we have been baptized. For there is only one baptism in the Church of God as opposed to the churches of men, namely, baptism of the Spirit which all receive at the point of salvation (Eph.4:5). The peace you mention, the comfort you mention, the guidance to a deeper walk with Him, the empowerment for service, the gifts for edification of Christ's Church (and what could be more edifying than ministering the Word of God aright?) - all these things are common to my experience and to the experience of all genuine believers in Jesus Christ. It is certainly true that because of the paucity of good and correct teaching of the Word of God that many believers who truly want a close relationship with Him find themselves compelled to search for a long while before really finding what they need and beginning to grow, so that there may levels which one "breaks through" so to speak and feels more in tune with what God wants. We can and do grow, is what I mean to say, and that affects how we feel and respond to Him.

So on balance, I agree with most of what you say. But I read (perhaps between the lines) an implication in your remarks that unless one has had some sort of second "experience", the believer is hindered somehow. This is not how I read scripture. This is not my experience or my observation. Indeed, as you mentioned your early life experiences which you found "scary", I would have to say that this may have been the good and correct response to certain practices which are not scriptural, not of God, and not truly real (innocence general has good instincts). In my own experience, observation and interpretation of scripture, I would have to say that adding to the Word on the basis of experience is extremely dangerous at best, and that anything which places a premium upon emotional response or upon personal experiences related thereto is also hard to even justify from a biblical point of view (let alone recommend as a modus vivendi).

My apologies if this response seems a tad harsh. I can only say that I am concerned for you and you are in my prayers. The goal of gifts and the ministry of the Spirit is indeed evangelism and edification. The Spirit acts to help us accomplish the purpose for which we have been called of serving our Master Jesus Christ. It is Him who we serve, Him whose disciples we are. Him to whom we must give an account for our lives.

Yours in the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Are we in agreement with the understanding that I have with respect to salvation given to the apostles when Jesus breathed on them when they were gathered together in John 20:19-22? And, are we in agreement that Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when they would be baptized with "power" even after their receiving the Holy Spirit the first time, when Jesus breathed on them? If they were baptized with the Spirit when they first received salvation, why did Jesus command them to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? (Acts 1:4,5) To me these are two different experiences with the same Lord. If that happened to them in such a way, why should it be different with us in this day?

Response #4: 

Let me start with John 20:19-22 and the economy of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. In John 14:17, Jesus explained the difference between the Spirit's ministry before and after Christ's glorification. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was "with you", that is, accomplishing all He accomplishes for us today, but not resident within all believers. Today, following Christ's glorification (the essential prerequisite for the gift of the Spirit as spoils of His victory: Jn.7:39; cf. Eph.4:3-12), all who believe in Christ receive the Spirit (Jn.7:39), being anointed (1Jn.2:20; 2:27) and sealed by Him (2Cor.1:22; Eph.1:13; 4:30), indwelt both as a pledge of our salvation and all that entails (2Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph.1:14), and as a more direct means of dispensing the "power" to which you refer. Before the cross (and the subsequent glorification of our Lord in His resurrection, ascension, and session), the Spirit was occasionally given in the manner with which we are all familiar (David, for example, had the Spirit poured upon Him when he was anointed king: 1Sam.16:13). This was a remarkable gift in Old Testament times, and not a permanent one (Saul lost this anointing: 1Sam.16:14; and cf. David's prayer "take not thy Holy Spirit from me": Ps.51:11).

In contrast to that previous time (for reasons space will not allow me to discuss here: see "Dispensational Divisions" in part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series for the special economies of the Church Age and the reasons for them), we believers, at the point of faith in Christ, receive the Spirit as soon as we believe and keep the Spirit for as long as we believe. For it says in Jn.7:39 "this He said about the Spirit which those who believe in Him were going to receive (i.e., from Pentecost on). On the basis of this one verse alone, it is clear that either all who believe now have the Spirit, or else those who have not experienced what you have experienced are not truly believers. This is the logic forced by many other passages as well, and the reason why many of those who share your position in general have indeed framed the matter in these terms (however, the truth of the matter is that all believers have the Spirit, rather than that only those of charismatic persuasion are saved). So in regard to Jesus' "breathing the Spirit" on the disciples in John 20:22, what we have is a very clear case of our Lord empowering the eleven just as David was empowered - the very real gift of the Spirit, but not permanent until Pentecost (because it could not be permanent until Christ's glorification, until the victory of the cross had been formally ratified by His session at the Father's right hand: Jn.7:39). The disciples are certainly superior examples of faith and faithfulness after the cross, after Pentecost, but it is wrong to think of them as "not saved" before this post-resurrection occurrence. To cite but one example, when He first laid eyes on Jesus, Nathaniel said "You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel" (Jn.1:49; cf. also Peter's proclaiming Him to be the Christ: Mk.8:29). Clearly, the disciples had a long road of building up their faith in front of them, but to say that they were never saved during Jesus' three plus year ministry is contrary to the entire tenor of the gospels and countless passages therein (it is also not implied in the text of Jn.20:19-22 - for one thing, faith must come from us, otherwise God would "breath faith" into everyone: 1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9).

Finally, on the issue of power, as is clear from the above, my position vis-a-vis your second question follows the same lines. It was not until the day of Pentecost that the believers (disciples included) were given the permanent, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, that special and marvelous gift that distinguishes our Age from everything that has gone before. However, the Spirit has always been the Person of the Trinity responsible for empowerment, from the creation (Gen.1:1) to every act of empowerment today in every individual Christian life. For it is "not by power, nor by might, but by My Spirit" that everything good thing is done in the plan of God (Zech.4:6; cf. 1Cor.12:3). God "pours power" into His children to do His will (Phil.4:13), and it is the Spirit who is the Agent of that empowerment (cf. 1Sam.16:13). It should also be said that while in principle there may be no great difference between Old and New Testament economies in this respect, surely in practice it is a far better thing to have the Spirit "within us", frail and fragile creatures that we are. And there can be absolutely no doubt about the fact that through the gifts that He gives us (beginning with the day of Pentecost) our abilities to serve the Lord powerfully have been dramatically increased. Having the Spirit within us and being given individual gifts is an increase both in circuitry and voltage, to use a crude analogy. To continue the analogy, the power and the potential and even the working may be there, even if the "sparks" are not visible to human eyes, for we walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor.5:7), so that we do not need to see with our earthly vision the manifestations of the Spirit to know by faith and faith experience that they are indeed there, and powerfully so.

And to every [Christian] has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the good.
1st Corinthians 12:7

For, you see, we have this empowerment, and we have these gifts, and we have these ministries and we have these effects for the good of the entire Church, for the building up of the Body of Jesus Christ through the truth of His Word and the obedience to that truth. So as to your second question, I would agree that the Jn.20:19-22 is different from the gift of Pentecost as promised in Acts 1:4-5, but could only equate to two separate experiences for those who were believers in and close associates of Jesus Christ before and after the cross and resurrection, that is, only in the case of the eleven disciples.

Yours in our risen Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

You expressed that some believe that others do not have the Spirit if the are not of Charismatic persuasion. I did not realize that prior to your mentioning this and am in total agreement with you. All who accept Jesus as Savior have the Spirit. I do indeed believe that the disciples were predestined to salvation, thereby being children of God. Therefore, prior to His ascension they must have had the Holy Spirit on them as you explained. Where I do differ though, is in the point of view that they did not receive the Spirit residing within them when Jesus breathed on them the first time. Allow me to explain. Jesus said to His disciples, "The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, then crucified, but on the third day, I will rise again." It is my understanding that during those three days He went to the "spirits in prison" then was able to ascend to the Father. On the first day of the week when Jesus met Mary, He said to her, "Do not touch Me, I have not yet ascended to My Father. But go and tell My brothers and sisters, I am ascending to My Father, and My God and Your God." John 20:19 says that "on that same day, at evening" Jesus appeared to His disciples. In Luke 24:36-49, speaking of the same incident, Jesus allows them to touch Him (vs. 39) showing them His hands and feet. Luke 24:33 mentions that there were other disciples there besides the Eleven. Therefore, He at that time must have already ascended to His Father, because, He now allowed them to touch Him freely. It was during that very encounter that Jesus breathed on them, giving them the Holy Spirit.

Since there were other disciples there besides the Eleven, they too must have received the Holy Spirit from the Lord. In my opinion they must have receive the Spirit within, because, Jesus at that time had the authority (having ascended to the Father) to give them spiritual rebirth. Many times during the forty days of Jesus' encounters with His disciples He allowed them to touch Him, therefore, He must have ascended to the Father prior to His permanent ascension in Acts 1:9.

Regarding the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, or "power." If I have given the understanding that all who do not have the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the "Charismatic" believe, do not have power, I did not express myself properly. Anyone who has the Spirit of Christ within them has power. The challenge I face is trying to relay that there are "breakthrough's" in the Spirit that are available to us at this time. The charismatics have something that should be desired by all who know the Lord, but because of misrepresentation and misunderstanding they have failed to advance these truths. Those looking in see confusion and all sorts of "garbage" that does not properly represent the Spirit of the Lord we serve. They also accept the Lordship of Christ, but for some reason many think that the spirit they fellowship in is improper and even evil. That may be so in some places, but in my experience many of the gifts mentioned in Scripture are evident at this time. I say, they, because even though I am in agreement with them concerning the Holy Spirit, many in the charismatic assemblies are scripturally unsound. If I understand you correctly, I am in agreement with you that they rely too much on experience outside of the foundation of Scripture. Still, I have personally witnessed genuine manifestations of spiritual gifts that are mentioned in Scripture, that have truly helped others.

Sir, many things we do not understand, but if we are willing to walk in faith with the Spirit being able to teach us beyond our present understanding, we could all walk in fellowship with the Spirit in deeper ways than we now experience. It is a walk that at times is very difficult to be obedient in, because of our fears, but the rewards are great. These are just two of a few experiences that I have had. My faith increases each time I am obedient and in time I hope to achieve results when praying for people to be healed.

My prayer is that the same may happen with you.

Response #5: 

First, on the so-called "two ascensions": The first things that I should wish to point out is that everywhere in the Bible where the ascension of Jesus is addressed (whether by prophecy or directly), there is only one ascension (Eph.4:8-10; cf. Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom.8:34; Eph.1:20; Heb.1:3; 1:13; 8:1-2; 10:12; 12:2), and if one were to read the last chapter of Luke and/or the first chapter of Acts without the presumption of two ascensions, one would never come to the conclusion that there were two ascensions.

Therefore since we have a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens [- once-], Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our conviction.
Hebrews 4:14

[Jesus Christ], who, having traveled to heaven [ - once - ], is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
1st Peter 3:22

This is a very important point because it says quite a bit about the interpretation of scripture and proper hermeneutics. Given that the most natural and straightforward interpretation of the biblical teachings about the ascension as taken from all the scriptures that deal with that subject is uniformly that Christ ascended into heaven only once, it ought to take very compelling evidence to convince a Bible believing Christian that, really, it happened twice. The argument you give in your e-mail is just that, an argument or logical deduction from your interpretation of two other scriptures. Even if I were to accept your interpretation of these scriptures, I would still need to know why elsewhere in the Bible there is only one ascension. Two other important problems to note with this theory are ...

    1) elsewhere the appearance of Christ having once gone into heaven is supernaturally glorious (Acts 9:3-4; Rev.1:12-15), but that is not true of any of the post-resurrection appearances (so that they all have this in common and are all thus distinguished from all the other, clearly post-ascension appearances).

    2) if Christ had already gone to heaven once when He meet with the disciples in Jn.20:19-23, then He would have already been "glorified" (since this appearance before the Father would of necessity validate His victory), so why not pour out the Spirit then as at Pentecost, since it is only the "not yet glorified" stipulation which prevents this (Jn.7:39; and read carefully Acts 2:33)?

The "two ascension theory" actually has a rather long history, and you present the problem in the traditional way (although the acquisition of the Spirit in the interlude is a new twist to my knowledge). Yes it is true that Jesus' command to Mary not to touch Him, followed by His later willingness to be touched by His disciples, is not an easy set of passages to interpret. And it is also true that the "two ascension theory" would remove this seeming contradiction. But I would submit for your consideration two points:

    1) it is possible that there are other solutions to this interpretative problem.

    2) given that scripture elsewhere consistently teaches one ascension, we should consider all other possibilities before yielding to the "two ascension" point of view.

In my view, the apparent contradiction in Jn.20 is in reality no contradiction at all. Part of the problem in the way these verses have often been interpreted is that there has been a general failure to understand the situation in the first part of this passage (the meeting with Mary) from the point of view of our Lord at this particular time. The first thing to note is that His command "don't keep touching/holding on to Me" would be strange under any construction (either one or two ascensions) if by this one understands Him to mean that Mary is forbidden to touch Him before He goes to the Father (Why? He was "touched" throughout His earthly life). But these words need not mean that. The imperative here is in the present tense-stem, and can be taken as indicating a command for Mary to refrain from something she is already doing. That is to say, Mary, on realizing that this man was her Lord, "turned", shouted "Rabbi!" and no doubt hugged Him for some time - just the reaction we would expect if a dear loved one we thought was dead suddenly appeared before our eyes. Jesus "command" to her ("don't keep hugging Me") is not to prevent contact, but has the purpose of explaining to her that this is NOT just like having Him back for good. Why not? Because He will NOT be around for years (like Lazarus would be), but rather would very soon be departing again - in resurrection rather than into the grave it is true, but the separation from Mary and all who loved Him on earth would still be very real and very painful (cf. the friends of the bridegroom whose happiness yields to sorrow when he is taken from them: Mk.2:19-20). So Jesus here is tempering Mary's joy as only a very honest and truthful person would do (it would be tempting to let her believe that He would continue to be around for the rest of her life in person as she is assuming here). The situation when Jesus meets with the disciples later in the day is completely different. They have already been informed of His resurrection and do not reach out in joy for Him as Mary did (this tells us something about her love and faith, by the way), but are commanded by Him to touch Him as an assurance that He was actually and literally resurrected from the dead (Mary needed no such command - quite the contrary, she had to be told to rein in her joy lest disappointment overwhelm her later when He had to leave: "I am going to My Father"). There is, therefore, nothing contradictory about these two meetings, and nothing in the interpretation above which conflicts with the teachings of the Bible elsewhere (something one cannot say about the "two ascensions" theory).

One final aside on this first issue: the eleven disciples/apostles were saved, had experienced spiritual rebirth, in the same way as you and I, in the same way as Moses and David (etc.), the only difference in our case being the gift of the Spirit to indwell us, a universal gift now given at salvation for all who believe.

Secondly, on "breakthroughs" in the Spirit. I would say that it is certainly true, and scripture is certainly in agreement, that the Christian life is a walk forward, a growing process, wherein we ought, anyway, to grow more mature, more sanctified (in our behavior), more knowledgeable with every passing day that we follow Christ. I certainly allow for "breakthroughs", significant personal advances in the Lord, and it is only natural that we should be exultant about them. It is also true that the Spirit, our guide, comforter, teacher, and helper, will be instrumental in all our forward progress, because it is by allowing Him to lead, guide and help us that we make that progress (the power in the plan of God comes from Him - our will is either conformed to God's will or used to thwart it, there is no other choice: Gal.5:16-25).

You have been kind enough to share with me a number of your personal experiences. I appreciate the fact that God works in ways we do not always comprehend - the mystery of Him is amazing and breath-taking (Rom.11:33-36). But He has also given us His Word, and He has said to us He has invested it with more authority than any experience, even beyond "His Name" (Ps.138:2). We walk by faith (i.e., what we believe), not by sight (i.e., what we experience: 2Cor.5:7; cf. 2Cor.4:18; Heb.11:1). Paul said that even the appearance of angels should not be taken into account when what they say is contrary to the truth (Gal.1:8-9), and Peter said that what we have in the Bible is even more real than the vision of the transfiguration he had seen with his own eyes (2Pet.1:18-19). In the words of our Lord, "blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn.20:29). For it is not first to our experience to which we must look in this world of darkness and deception, but to the Word of God, the light which shines out in this dark place (2Pet.1:19; cf. Ps.119:105).

What shall I say then in light of your experiences? I cannot judge or evaluate your experiences - we all must do that for ourselves, and even that is risky before the time (1Cor.4:3-5). But of my own experiences I can say this. If my experiences agree with the Word of God, well and good - I believe the Word of God. And if my experiences do not agree with the Word of God, be that as it may - I will believe the Word of God. For the Spirit expressly says that in latter times there will be much deception in the Church of Jesus Christ (1Tim.4:1-5; cf. 1Thes.2:9-12). Many will build false doctrine upon what they have seen in place of the truth of the Word (Col.2:18). And many, desiring to be delighted and entertained, will be deceived and spiritually destroyed (2Tim.4:3-4). In light of these very clear warnings, does it not seem the prudent and biblical course to steer close to the scripture when there is any doubt about the matter, and to be extremely circumspect about experiences when they seem to conflict with the teachings of the Bible, not to mention when it is a case of the experiences of others?

Please see also . . .

All Things Charismatic

Baptism:  Water and Spirit

The Gift of Tongues: Part 1

The Gift of Tongues: Part 2

I personally rejoice in all the true workings of the Spirit of God, and am prepared to rejoice yet further.

Marana tha! ("O our Lord, return!).

Yours in the love of Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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