The Power of the Spirit in Original Christianity

In modern Christianity many churches adopt the stance that the gifts and power of the apostles ceased with the apostles or shortly thereafter. This is completely untrue. The standard is set in the book of Acts. There we see that receiving the spirit was a priority. In Acts chapter 8 we see that the Apostles were sent to Samaria because they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but the holy spirit hadn’t fallen on any of them. The Apostles laid hands on the believers there and they received the holy spirit. And in Acts 19:2 Paul asks the new believers in Ephesus whether they had received the holy spirit when they believed. After being answered in the negative, Paul laid hands on the new believers and the holy spirit came upon them and they manifested the power of the holy spirit.

The Pattern of the Leading of the Spirit in the Book of Acts

In chapter one of the book of Acts we have the apostles waiting for the promise of the Father. In Acts 2 we have the phenomenal outpouring of the holy spirit and the real start of the church under the apostles. Chapter 3 shows the apostles Peter and John miraculously healing the man who was lame from birth.

We are starting to see a pattern here where there is miraculous power of the holy spirit and accompanying preaching from the miracle workers that leads people to accept Christ and join the church. The real star of the book of acts is the holy spirit. It’s the holy spirit that is poured out on the day of Pentecost, fills Peter with power to give his sermon on that day, flows through Peter and John to heal the man that was born lame, and works in the believers as they grow closer together and share everything wonderfully. The holy spirit is at work again to convict Ananias and Saphira when they lied about the amount of money they received and were giving.

In Acts chapter 5 we see that with all of this wonderful movement of the holy spirit, the apostles “ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.” In chapters 6 and 7 we see the power of the spirit in Stephen. In chapters 8 and 9 we see the holy spirit again at work, this time in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on his way to becoming Paul the Apostle. In chapters 10 and 11 we see the leading of the holy spirit in bringing the Gentiles into the church. First Peter gets a vision, then leads Cornelius and his family to Christ, and then the acceptance of the whole Church of this dramatic change in outreach. In chapter 12 we see the Angel delivering Peter from prison, a tremendous deliverance in the power of the spirit.

In each and every one of these occurrences we see the power and leading of the holy spirit, but we also see the convicted preaching of those experiencing the spirit, and the resultant growth of the church. The preaching centers around how Jesus fulfilled the scriptures and is the Messiah. The goal of the preaching is to simply get people to accept Christ and experience the spirit themselves.

Up until this point, around chapter 12, the preaching has been done by Peter and the apostles at Jerusalem. But from this point forward in the book of Acts we begin to see the ministry of Paul and the outreach to the gentiles. Paul’s ministry appears to work in a manner similar to Peter’s. There is the leading of the spirit with manifestations and power. There is Paul preaching, the manifestation of the spirit in power, and people accepting Christ and manifesting the Holy Spirit themselves.

Chapter 15 records the historical Council of Jerusalem where the issue is not one of deep theological analysis. Rather it is simply to rectify the situation where some of the people who had become disciples earlier and had Jewish backgrounds were having problems accepting the ways of the new Gentile converts. It was simple theology, that the new converts did not have to become circumcised and/or follow the law.

In chapter 16 we see this spirit giving Paul a vision of where to go to minister. The next few chapters show the same pattern. The holy spirit leads, Paul and his associates minister, the people accept Christ and receive the holy spirit.

The latter part of the book of acts shows a different story line. We see the holy spirit, through prophets and prophetesses, advising Paul about the dangers of going to Jerusalem. We see Paul going to Jerusalem, and we see him on a course from that point on going all the way to Rome fighting legal matters. While Paul is eventually set free and we see him preaching in Rome at the end of the book, this definitely is a different pattern from the pattern of growth that we see in the first 20 chapters or so of the book of Acts. The movement changed right around the time when the believers ceased saying the will of the Lord be done, when they stopped “following the spirit”.

After the Book of Acts

(There is a timeline of movement of the spirit throughout the ages at The Argument that Tongues and other Gifts and Manifestations have Ceased.)

Not only is there a parade of accounts throughout the ages that the holy spirit continued to be manifested by believers, in the time of original Christianity the amount of this manifestation was quite abundant.

While none of these materials have ever achieved the status of being the word of God they demonstrate that there were writings that proclaimed that the workings of the spirit did not die with the Apostles but continued at least in some places while others were believing that these workings of the spirit had ceased.

The Didache, which was probably written in the late first century or early second, has specific instruction for how apostles and prophets were to operate and be treated within the church:

“3. And concerning the Apostles and Prophets, act thus according to the ordinance of the Gospel.
4. Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord,
5. But let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet.
6. And when an Apostle goes forth let him accept nothing but bread till he reach his night’s lodging; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet.
7. Do not test or examine any prophet who is speaking in a spirit, “for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.”
8. But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behaviour of the Lord. From his behaviour, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known.
9. And no prophet who orders a meal in a spirit shall eat of it: otherwise he is a false prophet.
10. And every prophet who teaches truth, if he do not what he teaches, is a false prophet.
11. But no prophet who has been tried and is genuine, though he enact a worldly mystery of the Church, if he teach not others to do what he does himself, shall be judged by you: for he has his judgment with God, for so also did the prophets of old.”<sup>1<sup>

Irenaeus, 2nd century church father, writes of the workings of the holy spirit within the body of believers,

“For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practising deception upon any, nor taking any reward ” (Against Heresies, 2:32,4).

This is quite a powerful testimony. By Irenaeus’ time, the original Apostles were gone. This is pretty clear evidence that not only the original Apostles, but others received and manifested the power of God, and that this power continued. This is incredible. There were healings, people were raised from the dead, and people were freed from devil spirits. And according to Irenaeus, the number of these happenings was innumerable.

Now about the same time as Irenaeus Montanus claimed that he was the Paraclete from God. He started a movement that lasted for centuries but was proclaimed a heresy. This event seems to have dampened believers’ interest and pursuit of the workings of the true spirit.

Nevertheless, the history is clear. The power of the spirit manifesting itself in prophecies, foretelling, healings, raisings of the dead, and more was a key part of original Christianity and continued well past the original Apostles.


(c) 2009-2020  Revised 2020.  Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

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