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JD Hall vs Ante Pavkovic Charismatic Gifts Debate: Critical Review – I of II

Ed Dingess

Debate Proposition: The Charismatics Gifts (to include Tongues & Prophecy) have ceased to operate in the Church.

Affirmative: J.D. Hall

Negative: Ante Pavkovic

In case you were unaware, another debate on the issue of the Charismatic Gifts has just taken place in Cleveland, OH. This debate took place between J.D. Hall and Ante Pavkovic.

The purpose of this review is primarily to interact with and provide a response to the negative position offered by Ante Pavkovic to the debate proposition above. I agree with JD Hall’s positive position even though my approach and focus may be somewhat different in certain areas. Because I see so many things wrong with how Ante approached this subject, I will try to focus only on those areas where I think he was at least in the ballpark on supporting his position.

Segment #1: Timeline 21:00 – 36:00

One area where I think Ante tried to focus was on the traditional Pentecostal belief that the new birth and the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” are two separate experiences.

Is salvation only an encounter with Jesus Christ while the baptism in the Holy Spirit is, strictly speaking, an encounter with the Holy Spirit? Ante affirms that these are two distinct experiences. 

The problem with this question is that it fails to consider whether or not that which Pentecostals are calling the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is the same thing that Luke calls being “filled with the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, and 19. In order to determine whether or not the modern practice is the same thing as the ancient practice, we have to examine both.

Luke writes the following: both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11) It is abundantly clear that the tongues of the New Testament then were actual languages. This is the only place in the NT where we are given any details about the nature of tongues. According to Luke, they were clearly actual languages. What Ante does with this assertion is introduce a red herring. It is irrelevant whether or not conversion and Spirit-baptism are two separate experiences (even though I wholeheartedly reject the idea). What is relevant is the claim that being filled with the Holy Spirit was always accompanied by tongues and by extension, speaking in ecstatic unintelligible broken syllables which is what modern Pentecostals engage in today. Ante’s argument does not depend on two separate experiences for its soundness, but instead, it requires ecstatic utterances (non-languages) to be present everywhere there is the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Ante’s biggest challenge is that, out of the six occurrences in Acts where someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, only half the time does Luke record the presence of the miraculous glossa: Acts 2, 10, and 19. In Acts 4, 8, and 9, there is no mention of tongues. In Acts 4:31, Luke says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word with boldness. There is no mention of tongues. In Acts 9, Luke goes out of his way to use the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” but fails to mention tongues. In Acts 8, the apostles Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans, and though they were filled with the Holy Spirit and although we know that something miraculous happened because of Simon’s reaction, Luke does not mention tongues leaving room for speculation. We cannot say what Simon saw. I doubt that a modern Pentecostal would have ever failed to emphasize tongues had they written the Samaritan account in Acts 8.

Now, on top of this, we have to add the fact that there is no indication that the remaining Jews in Acts 2 also spoke in tongues at their conversion. There were 3,000 more added to the church that day and Luke neglected to mention tongues. Luke also tells us about an Ethiopian Eunuch who was converted but no mention of tongues anywhere. Are we to believe that he was saved but left unfilled with the Holy Spirit? Should we think that Luke just didn’t think it was important enough to mention? In Acts 9 we are told that the residents of Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord but there is no mention of tongues. Again, after Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, many in Joppa were converted to Christ but there is no mention made of tongues. In fact, there are conversions upon conversions in the book of Acts but no mention is made of tongues or of this “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that Pentecostals emphasize.

What we see is that the miracle of tongues was visible at Pentecost, which was the enacting of the New Covenant, God pouring his Spirit out in a new way under a new covenantal arrangement. After the enactment of the new covenant, we witness something miraculous with the Samaritans that shows that God has now extended salvation beyond the Jewish people to their Samaritan relatives. From there we witness this miraculous sign when God officially brings the Gentiles into the covenant. And finally, to drive home the point that John’s Baptist was not the be all, end all, John’s disciples at Ephesus are filled with the Holy Spirit and we see this miraculous sign again. Of the eleven different conversion accounts in Acts, only three of them are explicitly accompanied by the miraculous sign of tongues. Since Luke is the author of Acts from beginning to end, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that these three occurrences were all the same supernatural languages spoken as a special sign that God was moving in a different way in the world. A new arrangement was now in place. Salvation was extended to the entire world and the miracle of tongues was the sign God chose to demonstrate this to his community. We hearken back to the tower of Babel where God used tongues to confuse and divide humanity. Now we see this curse in reverse. There are eleven conversion accounts recorded in Acts. Only three of the eleven mention tongues and those three accounts are anything but routine. They are all significant signposts that God is doing something amazing.

I want to point out that Ante is simply mistaken when he reads the narrative in an overly literal fashion as he seems to want to do. Simon the magician is worth mentioning here. Ante seems to think that if Acts describes someone as believing that this ipso fact speaks to their salvation or to the genuineness of their conversion. He says so when he used the disciples of John in Acts 19 as an example of those who have been saved but not “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But he is terribly mistaken. There is another incident in Acts that points to the danger in such a practice. Luke describes Simon as follows:

Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Now, before we can get very far into this story, we discover the truth about Simon: May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.

Peter was right about Simon. He had an outward profession but inwardly was still not converted. His heart was still unregenerate. His believing was nothing more than an external outward description that said nothing about the genuineness of his conversion. Interpreter beware!

Now, when one examines this supernatural sign elsewhere in the NT, it shows up only in one other place: the church at Corinth. There is no mention of this practice, of this sign, anywhere else in all the writings of the NT. Additionally, there is no indication in any of the epistles that any writer of the NT considered there to be a three-step process as Ante has outlined. By the way, it used to be that Pentecostals believed that sanctification was also a separate experience as well. That has become less common today than in years past. There is no mention in the rest of the NT epistles of being baptized with or in the Holy Spirit. No one else wrote about this phenomenon. In fact, the expression of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is mentioned only once in all the NT epistles:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:18)

Here, the word filled is a Greek imperative which is a command. The idea is that the Christian must continue being filled with the Spirit! And what is the indication that one is “being filled” with the Holy Spirit? Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not connected with the miraculous sign of glossa. Instead, it is associated with godly living. The fruit of the Spirit is not glossa. Rather, it is loving God with all my being and loving my neighbor as myself. It is loving what God loves and hating what God hates.

At 37:00 – 40:00 minutes

Ante admits that the NT Apostles were unique because their names are written in the twelve gates. This needed more probing in my opinion. To say they are unique in this way is to say that they are only unique in status, not function. Paul was unique because he was, well, Paul. There are no other apostle Paul’s. What needs to come out is whether or not Ante believes that there is a truly material difference between those apostles and apostles today. He will have to say no. There is no biblical reason for him to say otherwise in terms of Pentecostal hermeneutics.

In this section, Ante also tells us that the gift of prophecy is inferior to the Scripture. He references Peter which is in no way teaching that the gift of prophecy is inferior to Scripture. Peter is telling us that even supernatural experiences are not on the level of Scripture. He is referring to his experience on the Mountain and saying that the prophecy of Scripture is even more sure than that experience. The issue here is not the gift of prophecy itself but what is uttered through that gift. It is the utterance that is infallible if that utterance is indeed determined to be from God. In that sense, there is no and cannot be any material difference between the authority of Scripture and the authority of uttered prophecies. Why? Because they are BOTH God speaking if Pentecostal theology is correct. All that Scripture is, is prophecy set down on paper. All Scripture is prophecy, God speaking! It isn’t the written form of prophecy that gives it its authority. The authority of prophecy is derived from God, not its particular form and the same is true of Scripture.

Part of the problem with this section of the debate is that the nature of glossa and prophecy are not adequately defined. What was taking place at Corinth was not foretelling the future. It was proclaiming what had been inspired or already revealed. Otherwise, how could it be evaluated? It could not. And the connection between prophecy and glossa is clear. Tongues was doing in miraculous languages what prophecy was doing in the known language. This is why both gifts were able to edify. But if there was no one present who understood the language, and hence, no interpreter, for all intents and purposes, God was the only one who understood and this was not helpful to the church. This seems lost on most Pentecostals and even most continuationists.

At 44:00

Ante attempts to link the presence of a gift in the church at any time in the existence of the church with the necessity of that gift being present in the church so long as there exists the church. But this argument is specious. Here is why Ante’s logic fails. The Apostle Paul was placed in the body at one point as a gift to the body. But the gift of the apostle Paul no longer exists. He is dead. Nevertheless, Paul was given to the church and since the church can be viewed as the body of Christ from its inception to its completion, it can be said that these gifts are given to the church even if they were only given for a brief period. It does not follow that because the church had the gift of apostles in it at one time, that it must always have that gift for its entire existence. The truth is that we are still being served by the gifts of miracles and healings and tongues even though they are not practiced today. We see them in Scripture and they serve a very specific purpose for the body. Moses is still a gift to the church. To argue then that 1 Cor. 12:27-30 supports the continuation of the gifts is to engage in exegetical gymnastics.

Ante then moves to Eph. 4:11-14 which he will reference several times. I get the sense from Ante that he believes this passage does much the same thing as 1 Cor. 12:27-30. Ante is going to make the argument that because v. 13 employs a temporal conjunction that this means that these offices are in the body and operating until a certain time. He then asserts that the “until” must be until the end because the church has not yet attained the level of unity and maturity mentioned in this verse. But this simply does not work from an exegetical standpoint. Follow the line of argument in Paul: God has gifted these offices to the body – why? To equip the saints. For what purpose? For the work of the ministry! The saints are to be equipped for the work of the ministry until we all come into the unity of the faith, to mature manhood. SO THAT we are no longer children being tossed about with every wind of doctrine by human cunning and craftiness. The ‘until’ is not a time, but a state. And that state is clearly not the state of perfection from an eschatological standpoint. The reason it cannot be referencing the end is because there will be no aberrant doctrine tossing anyone around in the end. It will all be over. So then, how should we understand this text? It’s simple really. God placed apostles and prophets in the body who are clearly identified in Scripture. These individuals are known to us by way of divine revelation. They were placed in the body for a purpose at a specific time. Once in the body, you are always in the body. Second, the work they did, such as writing Scripture as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, is a permanent contribution. Their acts as recorded in Scripture is a permanent contribution. Now, the pastors, teachers, and evangelists take that work and continue to work to equip us for the work of the ministry so that the body can grow in unity and into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That is how we should look at 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4. Ante’s logic is really guilty of what we call the non-sequitur fallacy. His conclusion does not follow from his premises. I will come back to this in part II.

[Reviewed by Ed Dingess]

My own approach to debating Pentecostals is quite different from most of my reformed brothers. I do believe that we argue from Scripture but I take my starting point from the Pentecostal claim and work backward. In other words, I don’t allow the continuationist to remain in a theoretical debate about the charismata. My position is that there is no good reason to believe that the charismata as experienced by the NT church are continuing to be experienced today. I demand evidence consistent with the claim. The claim that God is working miracles today is an empirically verifiable claim. And because it is an empirical claim, it is appropriate to demand empirical evidence. I realize that there are claims involved that are not empirical and when I encounter those claims, I take a different approach. My evaluation of the claim really determines the nature of the claim itself. I will come back to my approach in part II which I hope to post no later than mid-week.

*Update, Part II available here.