What is the Promise of Acts 2?

Many Baptists recently seem eager to divorce the promise in Acts 2 from the promise given to Abraham in Gen 17, seemingly as a way to distance baptism from circumcision and the repercussions therein.

I first encountered this viewpoint several years ago when Jamin Hubner posited it while in discussion in the #prosapologian chat room. I seemed novel then, even to his fellow baptists. Then, a few months back, Chris Whisonant proffered the same view.  Now I see that Matt D. Robertson is saying the same thing.

The basic argument of the viewpoint goes like this:

Oftentimes in discussion paedobaptists will bring up Acts 2:38-39. Frequently they seem to throw this verse down as though it’s supposed to be incontrovertible proof of their position, which has always confused me…

When we look at these verses together, we are equipped to answer the most important question of vv.38-39: What is the promise? Is this not the key question?

The way this passage is used by our paedobaptist brethren, we can only assume they believe that the promise is New Covenant membership. “New Covenant membership is for you, and for your children…” Now I must say, if that is what the text said, there would be no discussion. It would be the power-verse many use it as. But if we look at the wider context, the identity of what (more accurately, Who) the promise is becomes clear.
Look at verse 33. “Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He has poured out what you both see and hear.”…

This is extremely important, because if the promise is the Holy Spirit, then the promise is not explicitly Covenant membership.
https://mattdrobertson.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/analyzing-the-promise/

 

For just a moment, let me say that I agree with Mr. Robertson that the “promise” in Acts 2 is indeed the promise of the Holy Spirit. Peter quotes Joel 2 explaining how the outpouring of the Spirit will be manifest.

Joel 2:28
“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.”

The problem with Mr. Robertson (and the rest) who posit this as a definitive rebuttal of the paedobaptist position, is that the promise given to Abraham in Gen 17 etc. wherein we read the covenant formula “for you and your children” – is directly tied to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:13-14
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

According to Paul, and thus the God-breathed commentary on the Old Testament, the promise to Abraham included Gentiles receiving the Spirit through faith. This is supported elsewhere by Paul wherein he writes:

Romans 4:13
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

Galatians 3:29
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Thus, according to Peter, Paul, and therefore God himself, the outpouring of the Spirit is the definitive evidence that the promise to Abraham is being fulfilled.

Remember, the promise in Gen 17 includes this:  “you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” – and here the people of God are now reaching out to the nations, as expressed by the Holy Spirit’s gift of Gentile tongues.

Also note that the passage Peter is quoting in Joel, wherein he’s expressing the manifestation of the Spirit, calls on the people of God to “gather the children, even nursing infants”to meet with the bridegroom (Joel 2:16).

Attempting to divorce the promise of Acts 2 from the covenant promise to Abraham in Gen 12,17 etc. is not supported by Scripture.

White / Strawbridge Debate Review – Part 1

I’m starting with Dr. James White’s opening statement. I found little in Strawbridge’s opening worth commenting on, except I do not understand the paedobaptist insistence on pushing the household argument.  In my opinion it ignores the much greater issue of the nature and consistency of the Covenant throughout God’s Word, and fails to address the Baptist’s weakest arguments.

“Promise of New Covenant comes about by faith not by family lineage.”

Yet the Apostle Peter states in Acts 2:39 – “the promise is for you and for your children…” If the New Covenant promise NO LONGER comes about by family lineage at all, Peter was wrong to quote the prophecy he did, yet Peter uses the “you and your children” formula seen throughout the giving of the covenants in the Old Testament.

While it is true that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise who are considered offspring” (Rom 9:8), but this proves too much for the Baptist if they’re assuming that all of one’s offspring are specifically not included in the promise.  Every one who is baptized is promised that if they embrace the sign meaning of baptism by faith, they will enjoy the full benefits thereof.
“Reformed Baptists insist that only the “New Covenant documents” can properly interpet and apply the Old Covenant prophecies about the New Covenant.”

Herein is Dr. White’s first major presuppositional problem. While we would all agree that the “New Covenant” ‘documents’ are to interpret “Old Covenant” prophecies, to suggest that the New Testament alone is “New Covenant” is to wrongly divide the Scriptures. Like the Law and Gospel, the New Covenant echoes throughout the text from beginning to end. It is therefore wrong to assume that the only relevant texts to the New Covenant are found in the New Testament. This is a minor point however. A larger concern is how the line of reasoning that reads Hebrews 8 in this way and and makes it the governing hermeneutical lens for the rest of what even Hebrews says effects the larger intent of the author of Hebrews.

Hebrews 8… the supremacy and present reality of the New Covenant… no amount of Old Covenant sameness argumentation can be allowed to undo the author’s primary point.”

I would argue that the author of Hebrews primary point stated time and again throughout the book is not that the New Covenant is completely different from the old, but rather: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… and “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The author’s point is not that the New Covenant is made up of professing adults only, but rather that because the New Covenant is the final fulfillment of the Covenant promised to Abraham, we have a greater responsibility to be obedient to it by faith. There is a real commonality between the Old and the New Covenant, namely the reality of apostasy from the faith and a falling away from the covenant people of God and being cut-off by God from the promises found therein.

This is one of the reasons Baptists have such trouble with the warning passages in Hebrews. If the New Covenant is only spiritual covenant, made only with those who are truly regenerate and truly faithful, then the warning passages in Hebrews must be interpreted around that grid and the power thereof lost. This is why some Baptists have taken to calling the warning passages “hypothetical” or speaking of “false professors” rather than genuine members of the Covenant under wrath of God for their failure to fulfill the condition of the covenant.

We must remind Dr. White that the contrast between the covenants brought up in Hebrews 8 is not between the Covenant of Bethel and the New, but rather, and most specifically the covenant made when God “took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.”

“You don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and then reason from there to the nature of the covenant, you start with what the Bible teaches about the covenant and then move downward from there.”

I would argue that we don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and application by listening only to one part of God’s Word to the exclusion of the rest of His testimony and creating an idea about them in the absence of a majority of God’s testimony.

It would be fine if there was clear text in the “New Covenant documents” specifically discounting the rest of God’s testimony regarding how he commands covenant signs applied, but God has provided us vast testimony of how HE applies covenants and it is error to ignore them.

“We cannot begin with Old Covenant paradigms and applications and the force them onto the fuller New Covenant reality…”

Again, Dr White confuses all of the Old Testament with “Old Covenant paradigms.” The Old Covenant, according to the author of Hebrews, Paul and others, began with the Exodus from Egypt and not with Abraham in Bethel. This is the fatal flaw in the Baptist argumentation and a presupposition that must be questioned at every turn.

Covenantal “Continuationism”

After reading several threads online regarding ceassationism, the “Strange Fire” conference and a lot of Piper fan’s responses to it, I realized that one of the major problems with the whole discussion revolves around the Marcion-like view Baptists have of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan.

For dispensational Baptists, the church is a sidebar in God’s redemptive intent, thus God doesn’t have to operate the same way in the church as he did in the past to Israel. This can either lead one to posit that God is doing a new thing within the church and thus the Spirit is operating even more supernaturally than in the pre-Apostolic age, or one might claim (as some of the Macarthurites do) that God doesn’t work supernaturally hardly at all.  For either group, however, there’s a extreme difference in God’s working in the church era versus prior.

For so-called Reformed Baptists, those who recognize the covenantal structure of God’s redemptive plan but don’t see the unity within the covenantal structure, there exists also a substantial difference in how God operates toward his covenant people in the church era versus how he dealt with the patriarchs. Thus, Credobaptist cessationism (and/or continuation) therefore primarily rests in a substantive difference in the way God communicates to his covenant people and in the operation of his Holy Spirit.

While I believe Baptistic cessationism rightly notes that though God communicated to his people through prophets in visions and dreams until the end of the Apostolic era,  to suggest that this expresses an end of the prophetic gift altogether is perhaps misguided.

Firstly, I want to note that the terms continuationism and cessationism are problematic when speaking from a covenantal perspective.  Covenantally, the Holy Spirit has been operational in redeeming, regenerating, and preserving the elect from the beginning. The primary difference brought about by the Holy Spirit’s fall at Pentecost was not one of substance but rather of intent. The Spirit empowered the believers at Pentecost for the reformation and governing of God’s covenant people as the church, it also caused them to fulfill Isa 29:1-13, bringing judgment against unbelieving Israel. Thus tongues was a specifically time-limited gift, intended to warn Israel of judgment (1 Cor 14:20-22), and prophecy fore-telling nature was also time-limited as the nature of the Gospel was still being revealed to the Apostles.

Thus when we read the Romans 12 list of Spiritual gifts, we see a list of God’s gracious gifting to his covenant people for the organization and governing of the church. These same gifts operated within the covenant community in the Old Testament, though not always as visibly and continually as today. We still see prophecy listed therein, and while I acknowledge that the gift itself might be time limited (*see below), I tend to view it as referring to speaking God’s Word to his covenant people. Something that should be happening every time a teaching elder enters the pulpit to preach.

Thus the Reformed view of the Spirit’s work within his covenant people is not one primarily of change, or even cessation, rather of continuation and strengthening. God speaks today to his people through his gifted messengers, yet that message is always of Christ and his redemptive work on our behalf.  This is part of Paul’s often mentioned “mystery” the revealing of the Gospel and the unified covenant people of God.

We therefore need a different perspective on the nature of spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit within the church. While correction is certainly needed toward those ‘continuationists’ who cannot consistently maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and who misunderstand the nature and purpose of tongues, I do not believe it can be rightly heard from those who likewise maintain a substantive difference in God’s covenant application.

Consider for a moment that the aforementioned gift-list found in Rom. 12 is current, and that each believer in the church has been gifted in some manner, as therein described, by the Spirit to accomplish the intended work of God in the church.  This means that when a pastor of a congregation speaks to God’s people on a Sunday morning, he’s doing so by the power and means of the Holy Spirit who has gifted him to speak God’s Word to His people, perhaps prophetically (*see below).   The Sunday school teacher is empowered by God to explain the Scriptures to his students. The person gifted with helps is able to compassionately help those in need, etc.  These are supernatural gifts even though they may appear as ordinary to us.

Thus the Reformed are truly continuationists, however, Biblical continuationists who recognize God’s intent in spiritual gifts.

If we view the church as a completely new body, unconnected covenantally to the former people of God, or if we view the church as tangibly different in nature than the Old Testament people of God (ie: made up of regenerate people only), then we will have a skewed understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work therein.

* Note:  I recognize that some argue for the end of the gift of prophecy per Hebrews 1, and I am willing to admit that possibility, however I tend to view prophecy as Calvin did:

“Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel.”

Calvin’s understanding of Romans 12, in fact, is an excellent argument for the supernatural nature of the gifts working in the church today. Calvin views the gifts in different categories as they apply to the governing of the church, the edification of the church and so on.