In a previous post, I mentioned that the great breakthroughs in the spreading of the gospel (to Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the world) are all linked to a certain “ Pentecostal” experience. I thought that it would be important to clarify this statement.
Fredrick Bruner, in his excellent book on A theology of the Holy Spirit, first opened my eyes to this. In Acts 8:4-17 we read how the gospel was first spread amongst the Samaritans. Keeping in mind the feeling of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, it is not surprising that the proclamation of the gospel amongst this group is such an important event. This is also the only account that is found in the book of Acts where people had come to repentance but had not received the Holy Spirit as well at the same time. In Acts 8:14-17 we read: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
The gospel had been proclaimed to them by Philip and the Samaritans had accepted Christ as Saviour. For some strange reason God did not bestow the Holy Spirit upon them at the same time and instead chose to give the Holy Spirit to them, only after Peter and John had lain their hands upon the new believers. (The only other place in Acts where the Holy Spirit is linked to the laying on of hands, is in Acts 19:6, when Paul arrived in Ephesus.
Bruner’s solution to this, an argument which I find convincing, is that God had to do something special to break down the ill feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans. Most probably God realised that, if word had reached the Jewish Christians that the Samaritans had come to repentance, the church in Jerusalem would not have taken it seriously. Because Peter and John had been present when the Spirit was given to these believers – in fact, not only present but instrumental through the laying on of their hands – it was impossible for the Jewish believers to deny what had happened in Samaria. To deny this would be to tell their church leaders that they were liars.
And therefore, when the first boundary is crossed outside Jerusalem, God gives a special experience, almost a kind of mini-Pentecost, as sign that the Samaritans were now also truly considered to be part of the family of Christ.