Weakness and Power in the New Testament: Barnett & Jensen

© Anzea Publishers 1973
This article is an excerpt that was first published in The quest for power | neo-pentecostals and the New Testament by Paul Barnett and Peter Jensen (Sydney: Anzea Publishers, 1973, p. 56-68). It is reproduced here with permission.

The fundamental tenet in neo-pentecostalism is that conversion and the baptism in the Holy Spirit are distinct experiences.1 Whereas conversion is an experience of the ‘person’ of Jesus Christ, the baptism is an experience with the ‘person’ of the Holy Spirit—different experiences with different ‘persons’.

Let us hear the answers the neo-pentecostals give to our questions: Who baptises me with the Holy Spirit? Jesus does. When? Usually at some time after conversion—though sometimes at the same time. Why does Jesus baptise me thus? To give me power to witness to him.

It is maintained that this experience is intended for every converted person. Indeed, unless and until believers enjoy the baptism the church will remain powerless. We are encouraged to check out the classical Acts passages for the evidence for these claims.

The Acts passage and power

As we inspect these passages let us ask two questions. Was there any pattern of double experience of the Holy Spirit? Did the coming of the Holy Spirit lead to power for witness to Jesus? Let us confine ourselves to the evidence as we set out these cases and questions:

Are there two experiences of the Holy Spirit?
Pentecost—No: one Holy Spirit reference (2:4).
Samaria—No: one Holy Spirit reference (8:17).
Saul—No: one Holy Spirit reference (9:17).
Caesarea—No: one Holy Spirit reference (10:44).
Ephesus—No: one Holy Spirit reference (19:6).

Was there power leading to witness?
Pentecost—Tongues (2:4) followed by witness to the resurrection (2:14 ff.).
Samaria—Something observable. No reference to power or witness.
Saul—Saul proclaims Jesus as Son of God (9:20).
Caesarea—Tongues (10:46). No reference to power or witness.
Ephesus—Tongues/prophecy (19:6). No reference to power or witness.
Let us note two matters.

1.The neo-pentecostal position demands two receptions of the Holy Spirit: one to make conversion possible; the other for the baptism of the Spirit. In each of these passages there is only one reference to the Holy Spirit; there is not pattern of subsequence.2
2.There is no evidence for power-for-witness at Samaria, Caesarea or Ephesus. There reference to witness/proclamation are confined to those who were specifically called to this ministry (Acts 1:8; 9:15; cf. 22:15 and 26:16-18). The onus of proof is on the neo-pentecostal to demonstrate that the coming of the Spirit in these other cases led to power for witness.
‘Power’ in the New Testament

The English ‘power’ translates the Greek word dynamis. From the concordance we observe the following:

1.The evidence for dynamis with respect to evangelism is confined to apostles and those recognised by the laying on of hands for specific ministries.
2.Paul’s apostolic mission was accompanied by dynamis (Rom. 15:18-19). Yet he pointedly affirms that the gospel is the dynamis of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). It is the gospel of Christ crucified which is the dynamis of God (1 Cor. 1:18, 24).
3.The evidence of dynameis by ordinary church members (as opposed to apostles and those specifically recognised) is confined to internal congregational situations, not evangelism (Gal. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28).
4.The majority of the remaining references to dynamis refer to Christ’s resurrection power released in us for godly living (Eph. 1:19; 3:16, 20; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:11).
5.The available evidence (including early church history contemporary with later New Testament documents) suggest a profusion of dynameis clustered around the apostles’ testimony to Jesus:

... so great salvation, which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, by the signs and wonders and manifold powers [dynameis], and by gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will’ (Heb. 2:3-4, RV, authors’ italics, cf. Heb. 6:5).
As early as the 230s Origen equated the ‘greater works’ (John 14:12) with ‘miracles’ of conversion (Contra Celsum, Book 2).

Again the burden of proof lies with the neo-pentecostals to establish that ordinary Christians had special Holy Spirit power for witness, and that a subsequent empowering of the Holy Spirit for witness, beyond conversion, was normative in the New Testament.

The flesh and the Spirit in Romans 8

The consistent use of the present tense in Romans 7 indicates that Paul is speaking about the believer. Paul, speaking personally, reveals what happens in the life of the Christian when the demands of the law confront the still sinful will. Such a believer experiences anguish in conscience in the awareness of his moral failures. He is the ‘wretched’ man who calls out for deliverance.

In Romans 8 Paul specifies the two areas from which we need deliverance: sin and death.

How am I delivered from sin? The answer is found in a further question: what is the nature of my deliverance? It is the deliverance of FAITH. It is the conviction that the sins of my flesh have been condemned in the flesh of God’s own Son (8:1, 3). Therefore as a forgiven sinner I no longer live in the flesh. Instead I walk with God, in the Spirit. Because of this relationship, Spirit with spirit, I now fulfil the deepest requirement of the law, which is love (8:4).

But it is easy to slip back into the flesh, to fall away from faith-in-Jesus to self-reliance. This is to become a works-based person. Consequently we have the mind of the flesh, not the mind of the Spirit (8:5). Such persons are bound for death (8:6), are opposed to God (8:7), cannot please God (8:8).

We insist that faith-in-Christ is not a work. It is a relationship. In order to receive the so-called baptism the neo-pentecostal lays down conditions beyond faith-in-Jesus.3 We maintain that any such condition, however innocent it may appear, is in fact a ‘work’. Faith-in-Jesus is not a condition, it is a relationship. Other prescribed attitudes like ‘emptying’ or ‘faith-to-receive’ do not reflect the New Testament and are in fact works. As such they belong to the flesh. They are designed to bring the Holy Spirit. In fact they drive him away. They create a mind which is actually opposed to God.

It may be suggested that such a statement is grossly unfair to the movement whose whole raison d’etre is the Holy Spirit. Yet we detect a faulty perspective about the Holy Spirit in neo-pentecostal writers precisely because of their preoccupation with the Spirit. It seems that the alleged baptism is more significant for them than conversion to Christ. Neo-pentecostal preachers speak about conversion in minimal terms as compared with the superlatives they reserve for the baptism. We maintain that conversion to Christ occupies in experience and teaching a large place in the perspectives of the New Testament.

We suggest true spirituality will be seen in the preacher and writer who exalts Christ and salvation in him.

We have reservations about the claims that the doctrinal difference between Protestants and Catholics are transcended by the ‘baptism’. The conservative evangelical insistence on justification by faith alone is made to sound outmoded and sterile next to the new and exciting ecumenical fellowship. We do not deny the fact of ‘fellowship’ in such situations. It is a fellowship based on common subjective experience and attitude. It is not, however, a fellowship in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). It is not a fellowship in the truth that God freely saves man through the death of Jesus. We conclude it to be not a fellowship of the Holy Spirit, but of the human spirit. That is not necessarily to condemn it. It may lead profitably to a fellowship in the Spirit. But let us be clear that if there is no fundamental agreement in the gospel of the grace of God it is not fellowship in the Holy Spirit, however emotionally satisfying it may be.

The other great predicament dealt with by Paul in Romans 8 is death. How am I delivered from death? The answer is again found in a further question: what is the nature of my deliverance from death? It is the deliverance of HOPE. It is future. It is not yet. It is unseen.

What is seen is my inextricable involvement in a universe which is dying. But wait. The groans of the universe and man are not the groans of a dying person, but a woman in labour who is about to give birth—to a new, utterly free creation. And the groans are not the groans of death but of expectancy. They are not hopeless but hopeful.

My groaning in this corrupt world is entirely compatible with the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life—he does not free me except in hope. Indeed the groans themselves are in one place (v. 26) said to be the voice of the Spirit.

Neo-pentecostalism is preoccupied with healing and power. It despises wrinkles and short-sight and sickness as indicating failure to grasp God’s power. It little realises that of the very groans of the weak, suffering man Paul writes ‘... the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groans which cannot be uttered.’

We go so far as to say that it is the will of God for us to have the knowledge of him in vessels of earth so that the exceeding greatness of the pwer may be of God and not from ourselves (2 Cor. 4:7).

We conclude our remarks on Romans 8 by observing Pauls’ manner of describing the Holy Spirit:

‘the Spirit of God’ (v. 9);
‘the Spirit of Christ’ (v. 9);
‘Christ in you’ (v. 10).
This bears on the neo-pentecostal assertion that the baptism with/in the Holy Spirit is an experience with a different ‘person’ distinct from our experience of Jesus Christ. We insist that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Spirit now indwelling in us. The Holy Spirit is Jesus with us and in us now. He is Jesus’ Spirit residing in our spirit.

The following texts make this clear:

Romans 8:9-10: Spirit of God... Spirit of Christ... Christ in you...
Galatians 2:20: Christ lives in me.
2 Corinthians 3:16-17: The Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit.
Acts 16:6-7: The Holy Spirit forbade... the Spirit of Jesus did not allow...
Matthew 28:20: Lo, I [Jesus] am with you always, to the close of the age.
John 14:16-18: The Father will give you another Counsellor... I [Jesus] will come to you.
Clearly the Holy Spirit and Jesus are so linked in our experience that the characteristic neo-pentecostal division between them is unfair to the New Testament data. When we yield our lives to Jesus, his Spirit comes into our lives. If we do not have his Spirit in our lives we do not belong to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. There is no other Spirit. If the foregoing is correct the neo-pentecostal is, in effect, forced to say that the Spirit-baptised believer has the Spirit of Jesus (conversion) and the Holy Spirit (the baptism)—two different Spirits!

Neo-pentecostals say that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not essentially an experience of the person of Jesus Christ; it is an experience of the Holy Spirit. Are there two different Spirits: the Spirit of Jesus in conversion and the Holy Spirit in the baptism?

The Spirit and metamorphosis: 2 Corinthians 3-5

This passage, like Romans 8, deals with the work of the Spirit in men who belong to a decaying world. Paul’s emphasis is on the decay in the body of the believer. It is suggested, not implausibly, that the awareness of death was very real to Paul at the time of writing (see 2 Cor. 1:9).

When Moses ‘turned to the Lord’ he removed the veil from his face. When men turn to the Lord (Jesus) the veil of heart-hardness is removed. To turn to the Lord is to turn to the new covenant of the Holy Spirit and to turn away from the old covenant of the letter. To turn to the Lord Jesus is spirit (as opposed to letter) and brings the Spirit of the Lord into one’s life.

But the vessel into which this precious awareness of the Lord comes is ‘earthen’ (4: 6-7). Thus Paul says, ‘our outward man is decaying’ (4:16, RV). Is Paul discouraged by the disintegration of his own body? He is not.

Why is Paul not discouraged? While our outward man is disintegrating God is creating another ‘building’, eternal in the heavens, with which to clothe us, so that we will not be found naked in death. We yearn for this house now because God has already given us, in the midst of our decay, the initial instalment of the Holy Spirit, whom we shall possess in full measure at the end. Then we shall be clothed upon with our new house.

In our decaying state we continue to behold two objects. First, the glory of the Lord Jesus (3:8; 4:6) and also, the unseen and eternal thing God has for us (4:18-5:1). All the while the Holy Spirit is creating in us an ever-increasing ‘weight of glory’ (4:16-17). Thus we are transformed from the glory of Christ made known to us in the gospel to the glory of the End (3:18; cf. 4:6 and 4:17, 18).

Decay, then, is not against the will of God. It is within God’s plan, because God has a new creation for us in heaven for which the Holy Spirit gives us a powerful anticipation. We are to set our hearts on the future redemption of our bodies, the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Neo-pentecostals refer to a great post-conversion experience of the Holy Spirit for power. They call man to set their hope on it to empower them to witness and heal, etc. The apostle has no such expectancy. Nor does he hold it out for his readers. His expectancy for what is visible about him is decline and decay. But his expectancy for what is invisible about him is an ever-increasing weight of glory. The only second experience the believer can hope for is the final redemption.

Paul and the apostles of power: 2 Corinthians 10-13

Power is one of the major concepts in neo-pentecostalism. Neo-pentecostals claim to have received power through the alleged baptism. They are apostles for the experience of power among the ‘weak’ and ‘powerless’ ordinary believers.

An interesting parallel is found in 2 Corinthians 10-13 where some apostles or higher religious experience had intruded themselves into the church (11:5).To them Paul was ‘in the flesh’ (10:3, RV) and ‘weak’ (10:10). He was not regarded as a member of the ‘Christ’ party (10:7, cf. 1 Cor. 1:12). Christ did not speak through Paul (13:3).

Paul has ‘introduced’ the Corinthians to Jesus. They and Jesus are engaged and they will be married when he comes. Paul, who has introduced them, is jealous on Christ’s behalf for his fiancĂ©e (11:2). But these apostles of power have now matched the Corinthians with another Jesus. Thus Paul complains that the Corinthians received another Jesus whom Paul did not preach, received a different spirit from the one they received, accepted a different gospel from the one they accepted (11:4). Thus the simple and pure relationship which was previously directed towards Jesus has been corrupted.

Paul not only describes such apostles as tyrants (11:20) and servants of Satan (11:13-15); he deliberately sets out to boast of his weakness. His long catalogue of weakness is crowned by the ignominy of being lowered down the wall at Damascus (11:16-33). Then, indeed, he recounts an experience of ‘power’ he had fourteen (!) years ago (12:1-4). He speaks impersonally and no details are given. But Paul will not boast of this power. His boast is weakness (12:5-6). His weakness is an undisclosed ‘thorn’ which pinned him to the earth, for removal of which he prayed three times. It was from Satan, over whom neo-pentecostals promise power; yet Paul was powerless to defeat it. But the Lord said (and Paul still hears him), ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (12:9). Paul indicates that his experience of power in this revelation tended to exalt him (12:7). Indeed such experiences will always exalt the sinful ego. Therefore weakness, not power, is Christ’s will. His power, which is his mercy, is made perfect in the weakness and vulnerability of human experience.

The neo-pentecostal claims to have power. Quite understandably he wants us to have power. His motives appear to be righteous. But righteous motives do not justify his proselytisation. He must ascertain whether power is Jesus’ will for his people.

God actually blesses us in weakness.

The onus is on the neo-pentecostal to demonstrate that it is the will of Jesus for us to be power-filled Christians. Unless he can demonstrate this let him desist from being an apostle of power.

On the basis of Romans 8 we say to the neo-pentecostal: don’t tempt us with your power lest you deprive us of the hope given to us by the birth-pangs of the new creation through the Holy Spirit.

On the basis of 2 Corinthians 3-5 we say to the neo Pentecostal: don’t tempt us with your power lest you deprive us of that renewal in the inner man as we contemplate the unseen but real eternal weight of glory.

On the basis of 2 Corinthians 10-13 we say to the neo-pentecostal: we don’t want your power. We are weak. We want to have perfected in us his power, which is his mercy. Power in sinful man will deify him, will remove him from the mercy of the Lord, which is his power to save us. His real power is his mercy, though we are afflicted by a messenger from Satan about which we are powerless, even though we pray. In this situation where we are powerless he is powerful, because we are thankfully aware of this all-sufficient mercy.
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1. See, e.g. J. Baker, Baptized in One Spirit, pp. 13-14.
2.Neo-pentecostals are forced to say that the experience of the Spirit in conversion is so insignificant that the author of Acts does not even refer to it. This is a strange omission in view of the enormous weight given to the Spirit’s work in conversion expounded elsewhere in the N.T., e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:11.
3.E.g., J. A. Schep, Spirit Baptism and Tongue Speaking According to Scripture, pp. 84 ff., gives the steps to the baptism as dissatisfaction with my spiritual condition, true repentance, expressed in obedience, and believing prayer. We regard these as conditions, as works. If a friend promises me a gift I simply believe my friend as a man of his work. I manifestly regard his simple promises as suspect if I begin to exercise myself in tortuous steps. These steps express lack of trust: I need to secure favour by ever more complex inner attitudes. These are works of the flesh. They expel the Spirit. talkingpentecostalism.blogspot.com | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.