The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost

The experiential reality of being in Christ and therfore in the Spirit is both a present experience and a finished reality, not just a legal position. In one sense, I am always walking in the Spirit because I am in Him and He is in me, so whatever I do, I am in the Spirit, but in another sense, I do not always do what the Spirit is doing or would have me do (This sounds like Ro 7:21-24?). That requires a choice to obey. That does not negate salvation by grace, for it is God that supplies the grace the faith and the power to obey (definition: the power of God unto salvation).

 

Different theologies will cause us to have different understandings of such biblical terms as being filled with the Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The term is not actually found in scripture. But it is prophesied in John 1:33 & Acts 1:5. The first supposed occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts 2 referencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost where the disciples spoke in known foreign languages which they probably were not fluent in or taught. Pentecostals and Charismatics see this as the initial experience of the believer where the Holy Spirit empowers them with the supernatural charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Understand that the Greek “charis” means grace. So these gifts are an expression of the grace or power of God and their purpose is for the edification of the body. This empowering is frequently confused with the initial indwelling or receiving of the Holy Spirit. Here is where we encounter confusion as a result of different understandings of terminology.

There are three common interpretations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

  1. Cessationist: Same as the baptism into Christ when the believer is born again. It’s not for today. The charismatic gifts ceased after the close of the canon and Apostolic age.
  2. Pentecostal: recurrence of the Pentecost experience where speaking in tongues is always the evidence
  3. Charismatic: initial empowerment by the Holy Spirit in the outpouring of any of the charismatic gifts.

Let’s examine each one. Cessationism is the belief that the supernatural charismatic gifts are no longer active today and that these gifts were only meant for a specific time when the church and the New Testament canon was being established. This belief is based upon a dispensational theology that considers the Apostolic age to be a separate dispensation of God’s grace. They believe that with the complete written revelation of scripture, the charismatic gifts are no longer necessary and relevant. Therefore, there is only one spiritual (as opposed to water) baptism where the new believer is placed into Christ’s body. Their scriptural basis for this is in 1Cor 13:8-10 which says that prophecies will pass away and tongues will cease when the perfect comes. They conclude that the “perfect” is the canon of scripture.

There are several problems with this interpretation. First, in context almost all Greek scholars will say that the “perfect” is referring to Christ, especially since Paul goes on to speak of seeing “face to face” in v. 12, thus implying personal relationship. Secondly, if the charisma were only temporary and would pass away when the writer passed on, why spend three chapters teaching on the proper use of the gifts. That idea denies the timelessness and value of scripture. Finally, this understanding denies relevant experience. Those who teach this say that documented history of the gifts being exercised throughout the church age are simply examples of people who were deceived. While I would not deny that there are many instances of false manifestations, to lump all of them into that category is to deny the power and sovereignty of God. I have seen documented miracles. These manifestations are occurring with people who have faith in the Christ of the bible and are seeking Him. It is to say that God is powerless to prevent His elect from being deceived. So, as with the case of the dead man walking, who is unwilling to examine his theology.

In defense of cessationists, scripture teaches that there is a baptism into the body of Christ that all born again beleievers experience at the moment of conversion. 1 Cor 12:13, Gal. 3:27, Eph 1:13. So, all believers receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. For us charismatics or pentecostals to ask “have you received the Holy Spirit?” is confusing. To imply that some believers don’t have the Holy Spirit or are somehow an inferior class of Christians is not only incorrect but hurtful.

Let’s take a closer look at the scriptures to see if there are different baptisms. In the ones I just read, who is doing the baptism and what are we baptized into? According to 1 Cor 12:13, the Holy Spirit is placing us into Christ’s body and we receive the Holy Spirit as a deposit. Can you get more of the Holy Spirit as a person? Is He divisible? Does he come in big and little pieces? No! Now, I’m not saying that you can’t receive more grace from Him. Now look at John 1:33. “And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, that One said to me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)Who is doing the baptism and what are we baptized into? Christ is immersing us with the Holy Spirit. That’s different isn’t it? It also speaks of an observable physical manifestation – fire. At Pentecost tongues of fire were seen. John was referring to the Pentecost experience. This might better be described as an upon experience as opposed to an in experience. See Acts 8:16: “For as yet He had not fallen on any of them, they were baptized only in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  We can imply that this upon experience is accompanied by a supernatural or charismatic manifestation, whereas the initial baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit may not always be so. Even though Acts 2 says they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the term “filled” as used in Acts doesn’t usually mean filled in the same sense as indwelling, but more literally “looked or acted like” in the same sense that a misbehaved child would be called full of the devil. The disciples had previously received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit prior to Christ’s ascension as recorded in John 20:22. Did the Holy Spirit leave them before Pentecost? In fact, there are a number of occasions recorded in Acts where the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit. Are we to suppose that the Holy Spirit had leaked out? But if it really means that the subjects appeared like the Holy Spirit, then that implies that they were doing something noticeable that would normally only be equated with the supernatural, thus they were exercising the charismatic gifts. If we consider this to be more of an empowering or upon experience, then it can be understood as an experience of receiving extra grace beyond the communion of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, Watcman Nee in his great little book, The Release of the Spirit describes this empowering not as an empowering from the external Spirit but as a process of yielding to the inner working of the Spirit which then manifests outwardly. So then we can view this baptism of the Holy Spirit not as a single second work of grace but as continuing repeated empowerings as the Spirit leads when He determines. This is the traditional charismatic viewpoint and aligns itself with the understanding that the charisma, with the exception of devotional tongues, are not really residential gifts, but situational gifts.

I do not hold to the Pentecostal position that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always confirmed by gift of tongues. There are examples of Christians in Acts who are filled with the Spirit without any mention of tongues. Specifically, Paul in Acts 9 has a vision of Ananias coming to him, which would be a revelatory gift, or word of knowledge, prior to ever speaking in tongues. And Paul claims in 1 Cor 12 that not all speak in tongues but may prophesy or exercise another charismatic gift. We have seen from experience that some Christians have moved powerfully in other gifts having never spoken in tongues. We cannot deny that these gifts are supernatural empowerments so it would be wrong to contend that they had not received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And yet I have spoken with many such believers that were taught that they had not received the Holy Spirit. This is wrong and damaging teaching.

 

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