Friday, August 23, 2019

Does receiving the Holy Spirit prior to Baptism prove that Baptism is optional and/or symbolic?

When it comes to the Biblical teaching on Baptism, we've all come across those Protestants who are eager to nullify God's Word for their Traditions of Men (see an older post HERE). In a prior post, I talked about their favorite example, the Good Thief (HERE). In this post, I want to talk about their second favorite argument, the account of Acts 10 when the Gentiles received the Gift of Tongues prior to being Baptized. Here's the Acts 10 passage with some context:
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day [3pm] he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius, your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.”

9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [12pm] to pray. 10 And he saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times.

19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
The first thing to notice here is the Liturgical connotations. Cornelius was praying at 3pm, the same hour Jesus died, which was part of the Jewish Liturgy of the Hours as we see in Acts 3:1. (This means Jesus prayed Psalm 22 on the Cross as part of the Liturgy of the Hours.) So the time of day is no accident. Catholics call this the "Hour of Mercy" for a reason. Similarly, Peter went up on the roof to pray at Noon, another major Liturgical Hour. The Jews would have recognized these times. But that's not the point of this post.
As we can see here, this is a major event in Salvation History. The Gentiles are being received into the Church for the first time. Until now, they were seen as "unclean" and the Gospel didn't apply to them unless they became circumcised. The closest analogy we can even use is that of Blacks and Whites sitting at the same lunch table during the Civil Rights Movement, but even then that was decades ago so that most of us don't even realize how strange it felt.

With this backdrop, we can now look at the part that Protestants love to run to: where the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentile Believers prior to Baptism. Protestants like to make this verse the proof that Salvation can happen without Baptism, and thus Baptism is a mere symbol (and even optional). But there are some things to consider that actually refute this claim.

First of all, this is the only time the Holy Spirit has fallen upon someone prior to Baptism. Thus, we cannot make this unique situation the guide for the normal way of how conversion takes place, especially when there are normal conversions throughout Acts that involve baptism as part of conversion (e.g. Acts 22:16). 

Second, the Holy Spirit giving the Gift of Tongues is not in itself proof a person just got saved, because the only other time Speaking in Tongues happened was on Pentecost on the Apostles, who were already saved years prior. In fact, the Gift of Tongues is more for the benefit of others, not for the one who has the gift. In other words, the Gift of Tongues is when God wants to get a message across to others, and not so much about God saving that person. The Gift of Tongues is rare, so it cannot even be a normal way a Christian proves he is saved. In this case, the Gift of Tongues was for God to prove to Peter and the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles were accepted by God. Without this miracle, there could still be room for doubt by the Jews as to whether the Gentiles were accepted on the same level. Peter even was confronted by the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem and had to explain why he apparently violated the Mosaic Law by associating with the unclean, and the Gift of Tongues was his chief proof to show them (Acts 11:1-18).

We can certainly assume that Speaking in Tongues has some salvation aspect about it, but it would be too much to assume that it signifies complete salvation, as if nothing else were required. We can even demonstrate this from the example of Cornelius, who from the first verses of Acts was already a believer in God, already doing good works, already approved by God, yet it is obvious that Cornelius still lacked something. He still needed some aspect of salvation which only hearing the Gospel in more detail could provide. Aquinas says this situation of receiving Tongues is a proof text for Baptism of Desire, meaning that when a person desires to accept the Gospel but are hindered in some way outside their control, God can provide those Baptismal graces ahead of time, until they can actually get to the Sacrament. 

Third, let us think about the Protestant claim that Baptism is a mere symbol that is meant to prove to others that you have already accepted the Gospel and already undergone a change of heart. Does that even make sense in this situation? Why would a Gentile Believer who just testified publicly with the Gift of Tongues need to further testify in a far less dramatic Baptismal rite? The Protestant claim is self-refuting here. Baptism as a mere symbol makes no sense at this point, because it cannot and doesn't prove anything that the Gift of Tongues didn't already prove. The only rational explanation here is that Baptism does do more for salvation and is necessary, and thus the Gentile Believers got Baptized to receive certain saving graces they still needed. For a Protestant to say they got Baptized as a mere formality just because Jesus said to do it is hardly a good argument, as if Jesus gives us empty commands that don't actually do anything.

I'm sure I could have reduced the size of this post to just the final paragraph, but that would have been less fun :) Unless someone can point out substantial objections to this, I will start asking Protestants why the Gentiles needed Baptism if the Gift of Tongues satisfies quite well (even better) than Baptism could. 


Nick said...

To build off of this post, I have come up with two additional arguments:

(1) If Speaking in Tongues is itself proof of salvation, even a superior testimony than Baptism, then this kind of mocks all the regular/boring conversions throughout Acts.

(2) In Mark 16 it says: "16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”"

Notice that Jesus here speaks of Tongues and Baptism. Jesus puts Baptism in the category of getting "saved" while putting the Speaking in Tongues in the category of accessory gifts that accompany the Church (e.g. tongues, healing, casting out demons).

Anonymous said...

Your post helped clarify some of my confusion thanks.

Berhane Selassie said...

From what I have come to understand, Acts 10 is an extra-sacramental means of receiving Confirmation. Perhaps baptism too, but I am less convinced.

Along the lines of what you said, some Protestants use this passage to teach Holy Spirit baptism saves, not water baptism, and make the jump that when "water" is not made when mentioning baptism it must be about a dry Holy Spirit baptism. Cornelius did receive the Holy Spirit baptism according to Peter in Acts 11, which is called the "gift of the Holy Spirit" (confirmation), but Acts 8 tells us the ordinary process was believe, baptized by water, then confirmation/Holy Spirit baptism by an Apostle (Deacon Phillip could only baptize, not give the Holy Spirit). Its hard to argue honestly with Acts 8 that Holy Spirit baptism is necessary for salvation when the people already "believed and are baptized" as Mark 16:16 requires.

Acts 10 is interesting to show that God can make an extra-sacramental means of receiving confirmation also.

guy fawkes said...

Caiaphas had the charismatic gift of prophecy.