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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Reception

In reflecting on what has been said, one thing may be vigorously affirmed: it is impossible to press the operation of the Holy Spirit into a mold. Accordingly, it is the same with the shaping of basic Christian experience. Moreover, contemporary Christians with their testimonies to the variety of ways the Holy Spirit has been given clearly echo the witness of the church in its early formation. So it is that we find in the biblical record ample original testimony to what is again occurring in our time.26



Chapter Six, “Means,” continues in the Fall 2003 issue.



1 John Baillie in Our Knowledge of God (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939) has one of the most helpful statements along this line. See especially Chapter IV, Section 16, “A Mediated Immediacy.”

2 Michael Harper writes that “the benefits of the New Covenant include the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the forgiveness of sins. From Pentecost onwards the Church faithfully proclaimed that Christ forgives and baptises in the Holy Spirit. They taught that all who repent and believe are justified by faith, and that all who are justified by faith may receive the Holy Spirit by faith” (Walk in the Spirit [Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1968], p. 13). It is faith—nothing else—faith in Christ, that is essential to receiving the Holy Spirit.

3 There is no suggestion in the narrative that there was anything lacking or defective in the Samaritans’ faith. I cannot, therefore, agree with James Dunn in his book Baptism in the Holy Spirit wherein he claims it was only “intellectual assent to a statement or proposition” (p. 65), so that they believed Philip but did not truly believe in Christ. It was later, says Dunn, when they received the Holy Spirit, that they came “to genuine faith” (p. 67). This, I submit, is a quite inadequate reading of the text and context. “Believing Philip ” surely means believing the Good News which Philip proclaimed; and undoubtedly Philip understood it that way, for he thereupon baptized the Samaritans. Would he have done this on the basis of a merely “intellectual assent”? Or was Philip perhaps misled? The question scarcely merits an answer. It is true that Simon the Magician also believed and was baptized by Philip (Acts 8:13) and later was called to repentance by Peter (Acts 8:20-21); but the text does not suggest that his earlier faith and baptism were not genuine (indeed, he asks Peter to “Pray for me to the Lord” [Acts 8:24].) The record in Acts further affirms the authenticity of the Samaritans’ faith prior to their receiving the Holy Spirit in verse 14: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God. …” Receiving the word of God can hardly mean anything else than true and genuine faith (cf. Acts 11:1, where the same expression, “received the word of God,” is used concerning the Caesareans’ faith—the genuineness of which is beyond dispute). Thus, the apostles by no means (as is also sometimes suggested) came down to Samaria to make up for a defective faith. Rather did they come to believing and baptized people to minister to them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

4 Neither the narrative about the Samaritans nor the Ephesians gives full details about the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Neither states directly that through Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins. However, this is surely implied in the preaching of Christ by Philip and the testimony about Jesus by Paul. Luke, the author of Acts, quite often (as we have seen) does not include matters that are clearly implied and often have been detailed elsewhere.

5 It would be a mistake to say that faith has a second focus beyond Christ, namely, the Holy Spirit. Christian faith remains centered on Jesus Christ throughout. In Him is “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3), whether it be forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit or anything else. However, while Christian faith must always keep the focus on Christ it does also expect from Him the gift of the Holy Spirit. A failure to expect this is a less than Christcentered faith.

6 This whole matter of faith as the essential condition for receiving the Holy Spirit—and also for the quality of life that follows—is set forth well in Catholic Pentecostals: “… if there is any one thing which most strikingly characterizes Catholic pentecostals it is not tongues or singing or prayer groups; it is that they came to seek a renewal in the Spirit in simple faith [italics mine], and having received the answer to their prayer they begin to walk in a newness of faith. The people involved in the charismatic renewal are basically men and women of new, richer faith” (p. 144).

7 Some of the Scriptures that depict faith as growing or increasing: Luke 17:5; 2 Cor. 10:15; Phil. 1:25; 2 Thess. 1:3.

8 One thinks of the words of Jesus to Peter just prior to the Crucifixion: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail: and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

9 Whether the account in John 20:22 is to be understood as a preliminary or proleptic giving of the Spirit, with the full gift in Acts 2:4 or as a gift for another purpose (e.g. regeneration) than the gift at Pentecost (power for ministry) or as essentially identical with what Luke records (hence a “Johannine Pentecost”) is not too important for our present consideration. Whatever position one may adopt on this matter, it is still apparent that there is a lengthy process of discipleship and faith.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2003

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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