Spirit Baptism: An Evangelical Reformed Perspective

We begin our examination of the doctrine of Spirit Baptism among various Christian groups by first discovering how the dominant (numerically speaking) mainline Evangelical protestant strain stands on the idea. The issue at hand is not the existence or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but whether or not there is an experience subsequent to one’s conversion and baptism by water that empowers the Christian to service and/or ministry. The typical Reformed position on Baptism in the Spirit is that it occurs at the time of conversion once and forever. There is no “second blessing” as enunciated in Pentecostal and Holiness theological frameworks.

There is no denial that the the gift of the Paraclete was promised by the Father throughout the Old Testament and will be received by believers under the new covenant. Joel 2:28-29 gives one of the earliest examples:

Joel 2:28 ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Isaiah also mentions the promised coming of the Spirit:

Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

When we turn to the New Testament, we see this promise enacted in the passages mentioned in the earlier article ‘Where Do We Find Baptism in the Spirit?‘ The question for the Evangelical is how to interpret these passages. Are they to be read as normative, that is, as the standard experience to be expected, for the Christian life? Gordon Fee gives the answer that “unless Scripture explicitly tells us we must do something, what is merely narrated or described can never function in a normative way. (Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth) Fee’s point is that unless the Lukan corpus was written with an explicit intent to be didactic it cannot be utilized to establish precedent for the future. The conclusion then is that the Baptism of the Spirit occurring subsequent to water baptism is not expected to be a normative experience. Grudem suggests that the ‘Pentecost’ experiences of the disciples were unique to that period in history. What happened for them at the recorded points happens for modern believers (and the Corinthian believers) at conversion. (Grudem, Systematic Theology)

What of the gift of tongues that some Pentecostal theology extends as proof of indwelling of the Spirit? If we put aside the cessationist discussion, we should determine if tongues was meant to be a universal gift of the Holy Spirit. The answer, if experience is not the normative foundation of theology as Reformed theologians say, is easily deduced from the Pauline passages regarding the distribution of gifts. Stott puts it best when he concludes “we must always remember that the Holy Spirit is concerned for the church as well as for individual Christians. So we must rejoice equally in his charis (grace) given to all, which makes us one, and in his charismata (gifts) distributed to all, which makes us different. The unity and the diversity of the church are both by his appointment.” (Stott, Baptism and Fullness)

The Reformed Church in practice most closely aligns with the Pauline exhortation in Ephesians (5:18) Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Paul uses a present tense imperative verb giving the meaning of one being continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Rather than a single point of experience, the filling of the Spirit is to occur on a daily basis, constantly being refreshed for greater ministry. It is a process of the ongoing sanctification of the believer, renewed through repentance, thanksgiving, and worship. This should not be read to indicate that Christians leak or diminish in capacity for the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Spirit indicates an ever expanding capacity for more filling by the spirit, in addition to what one already experiences.

Where Do We Find "Baptism in the Spirit"?

In order to develop an understanding of the doctrine of spirit baptism, we must explore the different contexts in which the event occurs or is alluded to within the context of the biblical record. There are seven passages in the New Testament where we see someone baptized in the Holy Spirit. Depending on the translation, we may read the dative preposition en (as in en pneumati) translated as ‘with’ or ‘in’ giving us the phrases ‘in the Spirit’ or ‘with the Spirit’. Both are grammatically acceptable and are used interchangeably in the discussions of this topic. The first quartet of verses finds John the Baptist speaking of the Lord and pointing forward to a time in which He will baptize people with the Holy Spirit:

    Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

    John 1:33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

The next pair of verses refer directly to Pentecost.

    Acts 1:5 [Jesus says] For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

The final passage comes from Paul in his writings to the the Corinthians. There is an exegetical question about whether or not this refers to the same action as in the other verses.

    1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

A cognate activity also found in Scripture is found in those verses which refer to being ‘filled with the Spirit.’ In the biblical context, those filled with the Holy Spirit exhibit the experiential elements of the filling as demonstrated in a supernatural enablement to witness for the Lord. In the Gospel of Luke, there are three verbal phrases and one of the noun cognate ‘full of the spirit’, the result of the action:

    Luke 1:15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.

    Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Luke 1:67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

    Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

In the Acts of the Apostles:

    Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

    Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

    Acts 4:31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

    Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

    Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said,

    Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Finally, there is a part of a well known passage in Ephesians:

    Ephesians 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

As we explore this topic further, other passages will be introduced in which various groups find similar meaning. We will stop here for the time being as the next step is to explore the variety of views that are held on this topic, starting with the dominant evangelical position. Until then, be at peace.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Spirit Baptism is a doctrine on which entire movements in the Body of Christ are established while being totally ignored or mentioned in passing by other parts. While it is not among the essentials mentioned by Augustine when he said “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love”, the belief in a second baptism and the resulting display of charisms can become a divisive issue. After recently sharing worship and fellowship with a Pentecostal church in which the gift of tongues was practiced, I’ve been moved to do a series of posts on this doctrine. I’ll look at how various groups within the Church view the work of the Holy Spirit and specifically, how they view the belief in a second Spirit Baptism.

As with all things, it’s important to define terms. Pentecostal and Charismatic are often lumped together but there are important differences that all should recognize in terms of how they view Spirit Baptism and the practice of the spiritual gifts. Pentecostals trace their lineage back to the lat 1800’s or early 1900’s in either the U.K. (Keswick) or the United States (Topeka, Kansas) depending on their historical reach. This movement holds to the doctrines of a second baptism in the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, evidence of that baptism through the practice of glossolalia (the Gift of Tongues), and the pursuit and practice of all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible. Charismatic congregations are a more recent addition to the Body, forming during the charismatic renewal of the 1960s and 1970s. These brothers and sisters seek to practice all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits. They differ among churches on their positions on Spirit Baptism. A third movement has appeared on the scene since the 1980s led by C. Peter Wagner that is often labeled the “third wave.” While spiritual gifts are the focus of this movement, their position on Spirit Baptism is that it is a common event for all Christians and occurs at the moment of conversion.

Spirit Baptism is defined as a dramatic second experience that occurs after a Christian’s initial conversion. Following a water baptism of repentance, this second baptism results for the believer in a new infusion of spiritual gifts, most frequently the gift of tongues. Scripturally, it is supported by John 20:22 which tells of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance and reads:

  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

and verses in Acts such as 1:4-5:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have hear me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The namesake event occurs after the disciples had obeyed Jesus and waited in Jerusalem for ten days. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4):

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

This event is linked to the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12.

Should all Christians be reading these passages as normative? How should we consider the experiences of those who claim a second baptism? Glossolalia? We’ll explore these questions and many others in the weeks to come.

Be blessed.