The Form of the Truth

 

      Since the establishment of the church, by the Holy Spirit, the church has developed great understanding of the truth through the constant revelation of the Spirit. The process, through which understanding is garnered, is more than just the sum efforts of a few individuals; rather, it is Spirit-driven, Bible-based and comes about after much deliberation and all with a heart of reverence towards God, in unity. 

 
 
      In fact, this process is nothing new. In the Bible, there are examples of a similar process that takes place with regards to reaching a consensus of understanding the truth. The first example is recorded in Acts 15:1-2, whereby a conference in Jerusalem was held to discuss and resolve the issue of imposing circumcision, apart from baptism, on Gentile converts. The conclusion revealed that the belief to receive circumcision after receiving God’s grace was incorrect. This was stirred by false teachings aimed at unsettling the church and with a will to distort the truth, ultimately (Acts 15:24, 19).
 
 
      Another example is in the case of understanding Paul’s letters. To some, his letters were not readily understandable. Peter attested to the fact that Paul’s words were of God, for he had been given wisdom to speak (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Among the workers, his teachings were regarded as part of the inspired word of God. Quite clearly, Paul’s co-workers must have heard, read, discussed and agreed with what he taught, to reach such an understanding. In fact, when he was given revelations of the truth, he did not fail to consult those who were in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:2). Paul never acted on his own but rather, with humility and submission to God, he went through clear procedures to ensure what he received was accepted by the church. 
 
 
      Although Paul received an abundance of revelations, he never tried to nullify the common faith (Tit 1:4). Neither did he ever put his own understanding above the church’s or the saints’ understanding (Tit. 1:1). The reason is simple: God has given His manifold wisdom to the church, not just to one person (Eph. 3:10). By coming together in deliberation, our understanding of the truth is made perfect. However, this coming together must be done in truth, humility and unity. In this regard, Paul serves as an ideal model for us today. He did not allow his gift of understanding from God to make him conceited or proud.  
 
 
      The TJC, at least for the past many years, has been following this principle of allowing the Spirit to guide the church to reach a full level of understanding regarding the truth, particularly with the basic beliefs. TJC conferences are regularly convened with the aim of guiding the church to a common understanding and the unity of the faith. Participants always do their best to compare what they have received, to debate and iron out difficult biblical subjects. This is done so with a clear purpose in mind—to reveal the truth of God with a united effort and mind. 
 
 
      The TRC’s Resolution on Footwashing, 1932
 
 
      However, some have used the resolution on the sacrament of footwashing (1932)[1] as a reason to doubt the beliefs of the church. Some argue: ‘how could the truth, which was reached by the church with the Holy Spirit in 1932, be deemed incorrect by the same principle of deliberation years later?’ However, careful analysis of the resolution provides the truth which dispels the need for such questioning. It is important to clarify that the issues discussed at the TRC meeting and the resolution itself are two different things.  
 
 
      Here is the resolution: 
 
 
 
 
      ‘According to the Bible (Jn. 13:1-17), prior to holding of the Holy Communion sacrament, an ordained worker of God should invoke the name of Jesus and wash the feet of a newly baptised person. This action imitates Christ’s example to us to be humble and love one another’.
 
 
 
 
      There is nothing in the resolution to suggest that footwashing is not a sacrament, that is, an action for the purpose of having a part with Christ, amongst other criteria. Furthermore, the wording ‘the example of the Lord’ denotes the full significance of the footwashing sacrament[2].
 
 
      To question the developmental process of arriving at complete truths from the Bible will not strengthen an opposing argument. Beliefs are only subject to change when change means seeking the complete understanding of the truth. Beliefs cannot be changed wilfully or made outside the principles and parameters of what the Bible teaches. Similarly, the revelations Paul received are not extra-biblical nor did they come from his own opinions. They align perfectly within the confines of the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This holds true with the teachings of Christ on the Holy Spirit as well (Jn. 7:38). 
 
 
      The crucial question is: can the developmental process become a reason for one to change the current beliefs of the church? Given the examples from the Bible, we know that acquiring a complete understanding of the truth and changes in order to seek the truth is not a casual process. Any discussion of a proposed change must be done so in the spirit of total humility, unity and veneration. Amendments to the church’s beliefs should never be carried out selfishly. Instead, any change should be done for the benefit of the church and to make existing truths clearer than ever before. It should never be done in a foundation-shifting or vainglorious way.
 
 
      Using the Footwashing Resolution to Cloud the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit 
 
 
      Undeniably, putting the developmental process of the truth into spotlight examination has made new ‘concepts’ regarding receiving the Holy Spirit appealing to some people. They may assume that because the truth of footwashing did indeed go through a process of some development, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit should also receive the same treatment. More importantly, this demand for change seeks to make those who reject new ideas about the Holy Spirit look awkward and unfamiliar with the Bible. This is done by accusing faithful believers of being like those who didn’t understand the whole truth of footwashing before 1932.  
 
 
      Those who oppose the complete truth of the Bible argue, saying: if a person belongs to God after baptism, why would he/she bother receiving the sacrament of footwashing? They further argue that water baptism brings about the ‘raising’ of the body and soul and that receiving the Holy Spirit causes the incorruptible body to be ‘raised’. Moreover, partaking of the Holy Communion also gives one the hope of being ‘raised’ with Christ when He comes again. They argue that ‘being raised’ is what ties these doctrines together and that it may lead to footwashing being deemed unnecessary and should have been excluded from this. Although these ‘common factors’ seem to make sense, they are biblically unfounded concepts that continue like this: ‘a person prays to God to receive the Holy Spirit which is evidenced in speaking tongues in addition to having received the Spirit at the point of receiving the water baptism’. 
 
 
      This truly highlights the danger of misconstruing the word of God. The Bible never mentions any such combination or extension as far as the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is concerned. Furthermore the process of biblical interpretation should never be done in this manner. Jesus Himself never spoke of the Spirit ‘clashing’ with the Spirit (Spirit + Spirit) and neither did the apostles. 
 
 
      The Crux of the Matter
 
 
      The centre of this confusion rests on this proposition: when a person receives water baptism, one also receives the Holy Spirit at the same time. 
 
 
      How does such a claim make the doctrine of the Holy Spirit clearer? It is not the traditional belief nor is it the teaching of the Bible. Since our beliefs are founded upon the Scriptures, we must allow the Bible to speak for itself. Using ‘cut and paste’ methods of approach or creating fuzzy historical ideas, can no longer be described as ‘misunderstanding’, but a wilful attempt to destroy the church’s foundations and blur the paradigm of receiving the Holy Spirit, as specifically taught by the apostles. 
 
 
      To deflect the fact that their ideas are fuzzy and incongruent with the truth, arguers of these ‘new concepts’ use blame shifting tactics to accuse others and confirm their ideas. An example of this is the continuous repetition of  an incident: inaccurate answers to questions regarding bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Another method is to attack the preacher or deacon who is answering their questions. It is not about what they are saying but the attackers pick up on pauses, hesitation or a measured response. Furthermore, instead of seeking the truth from the Bible, believers of these ‘new concepts’ attempt to strengthen their ideas by attacking paraphrased statements of belief on the Spirit: ‘Speaking in tongues is the pre-requisite for being filled by the Spirit’. Is it wrong biblically for such a claim?
 
 
      Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 records the very first down pouring of the Spirit onto God’s people. This experience became the blueprint by which the apostles understood the receiving of the Spirit. As a result, they were able to confirm the receiving of the Spirit on account of hearing the receivers speak in tongues (Acts 10:44ff). Conclusively, the church therefore equates ‘Speaking in tongues is the pre-requisite for being filled by the Spirit’ and that ‘speaking in tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit’. If not, there would have been no reason for Peter to say ‘they have received the Spirit just as we have’ of the Gentiles he preached to after they had received the Holy Spirit, especially after his return to Jerusalem (Acts 11:15ff).
 
 
      Inevitability
 
 
      Wandering away from the coherent pattern of the word will make reading any passage about the receiving the Spirit difficult to understand. It may even lead one to believe contrary to the beliefs of the church. The once clear teachings on the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) has also been muddied by some who say that if the Spirit is not already in a person at the point of water baptism, how can they be a temple? It sadly misses the crucial point, however, that after a person is baptised, he is bought by God, regardless if he has received the Holy Spirit or otherwise; his body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit. This belief is further echoed in the teachings of confirming the sonship when the Spirit is received in Galatians 4:6. 
 
 
      Despite this, supporters of these ‘new concepts’ muddy clear understanding further by claiming that they have never denied that receiving the Spirit must be accompanied by the speaking of tongues. They believe that their ideas make the doctrine of the Holy Spirit easier to understand. And yet, they continue to try to separate receiving the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. An argument put forward is when God breathed life into Adam, as recorded in Genesis Chapter 2. One could argue that Adam, too, received the Holy Spirit, yet no tongue speaking is ever mentioned here. That is biblically true. However to isolate this case and use it to support an entire idea does not seek consistency with the Bible’s whole truth, nor the consistent truth of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus in the flesh was, Adam was sinless when he was first created. It is only natural that the Spirit of God was to be given to Him. The speaking of tongues is only stated in the New Testament, to confirm the receiving of the Spirit, starting on the Day of Pentecost. This is what the church follows today.
 
 
      Lastly, another skewed teaching regarding the Holy Spirit is: ‘Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His’. Again, sadly, this is used to perpetuate the idea that the Holy Spirit is received at the point of receiving the Water Baptism. Yet in Romans, this is not what Paul meant. He was addressing a group of people who did not walk according to the Spirit[3]. He warned that the Spirit of God dwelling in a person does not lead a person to live in the flesh. Living in the flesh only leads to one consequence: the Spirit of God will no longer be in that person. Under such circumstances, when one does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person won’t be His[4]
 
 
      Conclusion
 
 
      There is a form and perfect pattern to the word of God[5] and it has been given to the church by Him. To claim that the Holy Spirit is received when one undergoes water baptism crosses the parameter of sound doctrine into falsehood. It undermines the authority of God and His word and the confusion it creates is far beyond anyone’s imagination. When the word of God is removed, one’s heart is left utterly in the dark to grope without any sense of hope for the light of truth. 
 
 
      Furthermore, when the humility required turning to God is not forthcoming, supporters of ‘new concepts’ have tried to justify their ideas using inconsistent arguments that only lead to more deceit for others and themselves[6]. They blame everyone else, and the church, without seeing the truth about themselves. 
 
 
      But for us who are clear about what we have first received, we must continue in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit which we have learned and been assured of[7]. This is the truth that has been preached worldwide, with the gracious presence of God testifying to the truth preached, to believers and truth-seeking friends alike, who have received the Holy Spirit, confirmed by the speaking of tongues.
 
 
                                                                                                                                    
      [1] Recorded in the Chinese language version of the Holy Spirit Times, Issue X, p54
 
 
 
      [2] John 13:1-17
 
 
 
      [3] Rom 8:5ff
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
      [5] Rom 2:20; 6:17; 1 Tim 1:13f
 
 
 
 
      [6] 2 Tim 3:13
 
 
 
 
      [7] 2 Tim 3:14