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Baptism of the Holy Spirit - Part I

Paula was raised in a Christian home where church attendance was commonplace. But it wasn't until she was eleven years old that she began to take a serious interest in who Jesus is. That summer she attended a church camp and for the very first time consciously repented of her sins and put her faith in the atoning death of Jesus as her only hope for eternal life. It was a wonderful experience that brought both joy and a sense of relief. She never doubted from that moment on that she was a child of God.


The next few years proved difficult for Paula. She was not especially attractive and boys never seemed to pay her much attention. Her grades were average, at best, and she had few friends. When she turned sixteen Paula was invited to an overnight party where she took her first drink of beer. She won instant acceptance with a small group of classmates who before would hardly give her the time of day. She soon discovered that as long as she joined in on whatever they were doing, they included and affirmed her. Her heart was often troubled as she recognized how her behavior was contrary to what she had been taught in Sunday school, but the fear of rejection was too powerful to overcome.


It wasn't until Paula was in her second year of college that things began to change. She accepted the invitation of a sorority sister to attend a Bible-study that met each Wednesday night. It was here that she began to awaken to how far she had wandered from the Lord. She was brokenhearted and grieved that she had lived in such indifference to the Lord's faithful appeal that she return to her first love.


One Wednesday night she asked that some of the girls in her Bible study group pray for her. Paula knew that they believed in spiritual gifts, but the church she grew up in had always warned against such things. As they laid hands on her, Paula cried out to Jesus to forgive her for those many years of spiritual apathy. One of the girls praying for Paula then said, "Oh, Lord Jesus, we ask that you would pour out your Spirit on Paula and empower her to live and witness for you as she never has before."


Suddenly Paula felt a strange warmth envelop her like a blanket. She sensed what she later described as a geyser erupting from deep within her soul. Not really knowing what was happening, she then began to cry out to Jesus her praise and gratitude, but in words she had never before spoken. The unfamiliarity of her experience was exceeded only by the joy and peace that it brought. From that day to the present, Paula has sought by God's grace to live passionately for the Son of God. From that day to the present, she has also prayed in this strange language that her friends told her is the gift of speaking in tongues.


What happened to Paula? If she were to ask you to open the Bible and explain her experience, what texts would you use? What would you call it? Was she baptized in the Holy Spirit? Was she filled with the Holy Spirit? Was she anointed with the Holy Spirit? Or did she simply experience a renewal of faith and the profound assurance of salvation that the apostle Paul had in mind in Romans 8:16 when he spoke of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit "that we are children of God"? Or was her experience nothing more than the emotional fruit of manipulation by her friends who wanted to win her over to their strange brand of Christianity?


In the study that follows I want to answer these questions. There is much confusion today about "spiritual experiences" like Paula's. Christians divide over it. Churches divide over it. As for Paula, she's just happy it happened!



What's at Stake?


The debate over Spirit-baptism may be summarized by answering this question: “Is the Christian life characterized by one or two stages?” Or again, “Is Spirit-baptism an initiatory experience for all Christians or a second-stage experience that only some receive?” Are all Christians automatically baptized in the Spirit at the moment they first trust in Christ for salvation? Or are some, if not most, baptized in the Spirit at some point in life subsequent to their initial conversion? Was Paula baptized in the Spirit at the age of eleven when she trust Jesus at church camp, or did it happen nine years later during that mid-week Bible study?


Because this question has been so misunderstood as well as divisive, I want to devote some energy in surveying the variety of options that have been suggested. I encourage you not to skip over this section, even though at first glance it may not seem to interest you. It is essential that we understand where Christians from a wide variety of traditions are coming from. Not only will it help us move closer to them in the bond of unity, but it will also sharpen our thinking as we try to determine which, if any, of these views is the one taught in Scripture.


A.        One-stage views


According to interpretations in this category, spirit-baptism is simultaneous with and essentially the same as regeneration and conversion. There is little variation among those who espouse this view. Spirit-baptism is understood as a phenomenon that comes to all Christians at the moment of the new birth. The only significant division among the proponents of this view concerns whether or not spirit-baptism is “experiential”.


1.         Some, such as British scholar and pastor John Stott (and American scholar Richard Gaffin), contend that spirit-baptism is non-experiential and occurs below the level of human consciousness. In other words, it really happens to you, but you can't feel it or hear it or see it.


2.         Others, such as James D. G. Dunn, argue that spirit-baptism is a felt and often dramatic experience. An example of this view may seen in the life of George Whitefield (1714-1770), the great evangelist of The First Great Awakening. Whitefield believed that whereas spirit-baptism was simultaneous with conversion it was also inescapably and even indescribably experiential. He refers to his own conversion as follows:


"After having undergone innumerable buffetings of Satan, and many months inexpressible trials by night and day under the spirit of bondage, God was pleased at length to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold on His dear Son by a living faith, and, by giving me the spirit of adoption, to seal me, as I humbly hope, even to the day of everlasting redemption. But oh! with what joy -- joy unspeakable -- even joy that was full of, and big with glory, was my soul filled, when the weight of sin went off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God, and a full assurance of faith broke in upon my disconsolate soul! Surely it was the day of my espousals, -- a day to be had in everlasting remembrance. At first my joys were like a spring tide, and, as it were, overflowed the banks. Go where I would, I could not avoid singing of psalms aloud" (Journals, 58).


B.        Two-stage views


According to interpretations in this category, spirit-baptism is subsequent to and distinct from regeneration and conversion. Generally speaking, history reveals no fewer than six groups that advocate some variation of the two-stage approach to the Christian’s reception and experience of the Holy Spirit.


[N.B. The most exhaustive treatment of these issues is found in H. I. Lederle’s book, Treasures Old and New: Interpretations of “Spirit-Baptism” in the Charismatic Renewal Movement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988). See also Terrence Robert Crowe’s book, Pentecostal Unity: Recurring Frustration and Enduring Hopes (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1993).]


1.         The Reformed Sealers (e.g., Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Martyn Lloyd-Jones)


These men generally identify spirit-baptism with the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit described in Eph. 1:13. It is an experiential event subsequent to regeneration (and therefore to be sought) that brings a profound, inner, direct, assurance of salvation (as over against a syllogistic assurance which one deduces from the fact that one believes). It also produces power for ministry and witness, joy, and a sense of God’s glorious presence. These men make no connection between baptism in the Spirit and the charismatic gifts. Indeed, aside from Lloyd-Jones, the Reformed Sealers were all cessationists (i.e., they believed that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased when the original apostles died; see Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book Joy Unspeakable: Power & Renewal in the Holy Spirit [Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1984]).


2.         The Wesleyans, i.e., advocates of the doctrine of entire sanctification (e.g., John Wesley, John Fletcher, William Booth, Oswald Chambers, the Church of the Nazarene)


Wesley taught a second transforming work of grace, distinct from and subsequent to the new birth, in which the Spirit roots out of the Christian’s heart all sinful motivation. The result is that “the whole of his [the Christian’s] mental and emotional energy is henceforth channeled into love for God and others: love that is Christlike and supernatural, strong and steady, purposeful and passionate, and free from any contrary or competing affection whatsoever” (J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 132).


This state of “perfection”, according to Wesley, occurs instantaneously through the same insistent, expectant, empty-handed faith through which we received the grace of justification. One may still lack knowledge and act foolishly. But such “mistakes” are not to be regarded as “moral transgressions”. Perfection, then, is primarily a matter of love for God and men being the constant driving force in one’s life. On occasion, both Wesley and his followers would refer to this experience as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”.


3.         The Keswick Movement (e.g., Hannah Whithall Smith, F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, R. A. Torrey, A. J. Gordon, A. B. Simpson)


According to Lederle, the Keswick view “preserves the Wesleyan two-stage grid, but it rejects the view that believers’ hearts may become perfect in love. The second work of grace was not an eradicating of inbred sin but rather living a life of victory in which a perfection of deeds is achieved” (11). This second work of grace was seen as an enduement with power rather than a purification from sin.


The key to Keswick theology is a passive view of faith in which one confesses one’s inability, reckons oneself dead to sin (much emphasis is placed on Romans 6:1-14), and “rests” in Jesus. This occurs as a crisis event and issues in the “higher life” wherein the believer experiences victory over all known sin. The emphasis is not on eradication of sin from the heart but on an enduement of power for obedience and ministry.


Not all within the Keswick movement believed that this spirit-baptism was experiential or "felt". F. B. Meyer, for example, relates his prayer to the Father for this work of the Spirit as follows:


"My Father, if there is one soul more than another within the circle of these hills that needs the gift of Pentecost, it is I; but I am too weary to think, or feel, or pray intensely. Is it not possible to receive it without the tide of emotion which so often accompanies its advent or renewal in the soul?"


Meyer says he then sensed a voice saying:


"Claim and receive it by an act of faith, apart from feeling. As thy share in God's forgiving grace was won for thee by the dying Christ, so thy share in the Pentecostal gift is held for thee by the glorified Christ; and as thou didst take the former, so thou must take the latter, and reckon that it is thine, by a faith which is utterly indifferent to the presence or absence of resulting joy"


4.         Classical Pentecostalism (e.g., the Assemblies of God)


The classical Pentecostal view is clearly articulated in points 7. and 8. of the “Statement of Fundamental Truths” of the Assemblies of God:


“7.       The Promise of the Father.


All believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all the early Christian Church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,8; 1 Cor. 12:1-31). This wonderful experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth (Acts 10:44-46; 11:14-16; 15:7-9) [emphasis mine].


8.         The Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost


The Baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance (Acts 2:4). The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:4-10,28) but different in purpose and use.”


There are three fundamental elements in the classical view:


First, there is the doctrine of subsequence. Spirit-baptism is always subsequent to and therefore distinct from conversion. The time intervening between the two events may be momentary or conceivably years (nine years, for example, in the case of Paula).


Second, there is an emphasis on conditions. Depending on whom you read the conditions on which spirit-baptism is suspended may include repentance, confession, faith, prayers, waiting (“tarrying”), seeking, yielding, etc. The obvious danger here is in dividing the Christian life in such a way that salvation becomes a gift to the sinner whereas the fullness of the Spirit becomes a reward to the saint. But all is of grace. All comes with Christ.


Third, they emphasize the doctrine of initial evidence. The initial and physical evidence of having been baptized in the Spirit is speaking in tongues. If one has not spoken in tongues, one has not been baptized in the Spirit. According to this view, Paula was certainly saved when she accepted Christ at church camp. But she wasn't baptized in the Spirit until college, the proof of which is her experience of speaking in tongues for the first time when her friends prayed for her.


A distinction is often made between tongues as a “sign” (which all Spirit-baptized believers experience, but may subsequently lose) and tongues as a “gift” (a permanent charism bestowed on only some).


I should point out that not all “classical Pentecostals” affirm the doctrine of initial evidence. F. F. Bosworth, famous healing evangelist and member of the Assemblies of God (AOG) from its founding in 1914, dissented. However, Bosworth resigned from the AOG in 1918 when its General Council reaffirmed the teaching. More recently, NT scholar Gordon Fee has rejected all three of these doctrines relating to Spirit-baptism while yet remaining within the AOG denomination. See his article “Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Issue of Separability and Subsequence,” in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 7:2 (Fall 1985):87-99.


5.         The Sacramental View (Roman Catholicism)


Although this interpretation is found predominantly among Roman Catholics, occasionally one finds a representative of the sacramental view in certain Protestant groups, primarily Lutherans and Presbyterians (largely because of their belief in infant baptism).


The original RC view of Spirit-baptism is that it is “a ‘release’ of the Spirit -- a revitalization or flowering of the sacramental grace received in Christian initiation, breaking through into the personal conscious experience of the believer” (Lederle, pp. 105-06). Catholic theologian Kilian McDonnell argues that every member of the church who received the sacrament of water baptism was baptized in the Spirit at that same time. This “grace” has, as it were, “lain dormant, and at a particular moment in time or over a longer period it breaks through into the awareness of the individual. It is this conscious experience which is generally called ‘the baptism in the Holy Spirit’ in charismatic circles” (Lederle, p. 108). Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens writes:


“The ‘newness’ then is of a particular quantity: we are concerned here with a new coming of the Spirit already present, of an ‘outpouring’ which does not come from outside, but springs up from within” (A New Pentecost? [Glasgow: Collins, 1977], p. 80).


Lederle challenges calling such an experience “new” in any sense of the term:


“The major disadvantage of this interpretation is that the renewal experience cannot be seen as something new or something that God is doing in people’s lives at the time at which they experience it. As a ‘release of the Spirit’ it is not a coming or a receiving of the Spirit but simply the activation of what has been received at a previous sacramental rite. The change that takes place in a Christian’s life is not interpreted as the result of any new or direct action of God. It is merely a change in the believer’s subjective awareness” (109).


In light of this emphasis on the “release” or “flowering” or “emergence” of something always hitherto present, it may be questioned whether the sacramental view of Spirit-baptism should even be regarded as a “two-stage” approach. Indeed, the Catholic emphasis is on the initial deposit of the “grace” of the Holy Spirit at baptism, with a subsequent subjective apprehension or experience of the Spirit’s presence.


6.         The Contemporary Charismatic View


Generally speaking, most charismatics endorse the two-stage doctrine of subsequence. Many, however, reject any conditions on which Spirit-baptism is suspended and do not believe all Spirit-baptized Christians necessarily speak in tongues. A growing number of charismatics are beginning to question the doctrine of subsequence (e.g., Thomas Smail and the late David Watson).


An interesting charismatic variation on Spirit-baptism is that proposed by Charles Hummel in his book Fire in the Fireplace (IVP). Hummel argues for two Spirit-baptisms: (1) one, described by Paul, for initiation and incorporation into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; this occurs at conversion), and (2) another, described by Luke, for empowering for service and ministry, this latter “baptism” (subsequent to conversion) is also called a “filling”.


C.        An Integrative Approach: The Theology of the Third Wave


The Third Wave is a term used to identify evangelicals who not only believe in but consistently practice and minister in the full range of the Spirit's gifts. According to this view, Spirit-baptism describes what happens when one becomes a Christian. Therefore, all Christians, by definition, have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, there are also multiple, subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s activity. After conversion the Spirit may yet “come” with varying degrees of intensity, wherein the Christian is “overwhelmed”, “empowered”, "anointed", or in some sense “endued”. This “release” of new power, this “manifestation” of the Spirit’s intimate presence, is most likely to be identified with what the NT calls the “filling” of the Spirit. John Wimber is an articulate advocate of this view:


“How do we experience Spirit baptism? It comes at conversion. . . .Conversion and Holy Spirit baptism are simultaneous experiences. The born-again experience is the consummate charismatic experience” (Power Points, 136).


This is the view that I believe is biblical and that I will defend in what follows. Some of what you are about to read is adapted from my contribution to the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan, 1996), in which this issue is examined from a variety of differing perspectives.


Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the principal text for this topic. We will look at six ways in which this text has been interpreted.


1.         Some insist Paul is describing a second blessing that all the Corinthian believers had experienced. Not all Christians, however, were recipients of this grace (though it was available to them). There are several problems with this view:


a.         If this is what Paul meant, why didn’t he say “you all” instead of “we all”?


b.         1 Cor. 3:1-3 appears inconsistent with the idea that all the Corinthians had entered into a higher, more spiritual phase of the Christian life.


c.         If this view is correct, those who lack this second blessing do not belong to the body of Christ.


d.         The context of 1 Cor. 12 militates against this view. The point of the apostle is that all, regardless of their gift, belong to the body as co-equal and interdependent members. The idea of a Spirit-baptized elite would play directly into the hands of those who were the source of division in Corinth. Again, Paul’s emphasis in 1 Cor. 12 is their common experience of the Holy Spirit, not what one group has that another does not. Gordon Fee observes that "Paul's present concern is not to delineate how an individual becomes a believer, but to explain how the many of them, diverse as they are, are in fact one body. The answer: The Spirit, whom all alike have received" (God's Empowering Presence, 178).


[Note: if this view is correct, those who espouse it (classical Pentecostals) must abandon their doctrine of “initial evidence”. In other words, if all the Corinthians had received this second blessing then they all should have spoken in tongues (as “initial evidence” of their Spirit-baptism). But clearly not all believers in Corinth spoke in tongues (see 1 Cor. 14:5).]


2.         Others argue that the preposition eis does not mean that Spirit-baptism incorporates one into the body of Christ. Rather, eis means something along the lines of “with a view to benefiting” or “for the sake of,” the idea being that Spirit-baptism prepares them for service/ministry to the body in which they had previously been placed by faith in Christ. Grammatically speaking, had this been Paul's intent, he would probably have used another preposition that more clearly expresses the idea (e.g., heneka, "for the same of," or huper plus the genitive, "in behalf of, for the sake of").


It should be noted that the preposition eis has two fundamental meanings: 1) a local sense, indicating that into which all were baptized, or 2) a reference to the goal of the action, indicating the purpose or aim of the baptizing action, i.e., "so as to become one body."


3.         Another view is that Paul is describing a baptism BY the Holy Spirit into Christ for salvation (which all Christians experience at conversion) whereas elsewhere in the NT it is Jesus who baptizes IN the Holy Spirit for power (which only some Christians receive, though it is available to all). Hence:


At conversion ? HS ? baptizes ALL ? “into” JC ? salvation


After conversion ? JC ? baptizes SOME ? “in” HS ? power


a.         Part of the motivation for this view is the seemingly awkward phrase, “in one Spirit into one body.” Hence, the rendering, “by one Spirit into one body.” But what sounds harsh in English is not at all so in Greek! Indeed, as D. A. Carson points out, “the combination of Greek phrases nicely stresses exactly the point that Paul is trying to make: all Christians have been baptized in one Spirit; all Christians have been baptized into one body” (Showing the Spirit, p. 47).


b.         Wayne Grudem also points to the same terminology in 1 Cor. 10:2 - "all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Here the cloud and the sea are the "elements" that surrounded or overwhelmed the people and Moses points to the new life of participation in the Mosaic Covenant and the fellowship of God's people of which he was the leader. Grudem explains:


"It is not that there were two locations for the same baptism, but one was the element in which they were baptized and the other was the location in which they found themselves after the baptism. This is very similar to 1 Corinthians 12:13 - the Holy Spirit was the element in which they were baptized, and the body of Christ, the church, was the location in which they found themselves after that baptism" (768).


c.         In all of the other texts referring to Spirit-baptism the preposition en means “in”, describing the element in which one is, as it were, immersed. In no text is the HS ever said to be the agent by which one is baptized. Jesus is the baptizer. The HS is he in whom we are engulfed or the “element” with which we are saturated.


It should be noted that in the NT to be baptized "by" someone is always expressed by the preposition hupo followed by a genitive noun. People were baptized "by" John the Baptist in the Jordan river (Mt. 3:6; Mark 1:5; Lk. 3:7). Jesus was baptized "by" John (Mt. 3:13; Mark 1:9). The Pharisees had not been baptized "by" John (Lk. 7:30), etc. Most likely, then, if Paul had wanted to say that the Corinthians had all been baptized "by" the Holy Spirit he would have used hupo with the genitive, not en with the dative.


4.         Another variation is to argue that whereas v. 13a refers to conversion, v. 13b describes a second, post-conversion work of the Holy Spirit. But:


a.         Parallelism is a common literary device employed by the biblical authors. Here Paul employs two different metaphors that describe the same reality.


b.         Whatever occurs to those in v. 13a occurs to those in v. 13b. I.e., the same “we all” who were baptized in one Spirit into one body were also made to drink of the same Spirit. The activity in the two phrases is co-extensive.


5.         Some insist that v. 13 says nothing at all about baptism in the Spirit. Rather, the verse is describing the ordinances/sacraments of the church: water baptism in v. 13a and the Lord’s Supper in v. 13b.


a.         This view is dependent on the untenable and unbiblical theory that the Spirit is received at the time of water baptism.


b.         There is no hint anywhere in the NT that drinking the cup of communion is an “imbibing/drinking of the Holy Spirit.”


6.         The most likely interpretation, in my opinion, is that Paul is using two vivid metaphors to describe our experience of the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, at the time when we became members of the body of Christ, the Church:


Baptism, or immersion in the HS, and

Drinking to the fill of the HS . . .


the purpose or goal of which is to unite us all in one body.


Thus, our “saturation” with the Spirit, our experience of being “engulfed” in and “deluged” and “inundated” by the HS results in our participation in the spiritual organism of the body of Christ, the Church.


Some suggest that in v. 13b Paul may be alluding to the OT imagery of the golden age to come in which the land and its people have the Spirit poured out on them:


“Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field is considered as a forest, then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness will abide in the fertile field” (Isa. 32:15).


“For I will pour out 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” (Isa. 44:3).


“And I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Lord” (Ezek. 39:29).


Thus, conversion is an experience of the HS analogous to the outpouring of a sudden flood or rainstorm on parched ground, transforming dry and barren earth into a well-watered garden (cf. Jer. 31:12). Fee points out that


"such expressive metaphors (immersion in the Spirit and drinking to the fill of the Spirit) . . . imply a much greater experiential and visibly manifest reception of the Spirit than many have tended to experience in subsequent church history. Paul may appeal to their common experience of Spirit as the presupposition for the unity of the body precisely because, as in Gal. 3:2-5, the Spirit was a dynamically experienced reality, which had happened to all" (Ibid., 181).





1.         Baptism in the Spirit is a metaphor that describes our experience of the Spirit at conversion: we are immersed and submerged in Him and forever enjoy His presence and power.


2.         All Christians are baptized in the Spirit at the moment of the new birth, not subsequent to it.


3.         Biblical usage demands that we apply the terminology of “Spirit-baptism” to the conversion experience of all believers. However, this in no way restricts the activity of the Spirit to conversion! The NT endorses and encourages multiple, subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s power and presence.


4.         Evangelicals are right in affirming that all Christians have experienced Spirit-baptism at conversion. They are wrong in minimizing (sometimes even denying) the reality of subsequent, additional experiences of the Spirit in the course of the Christian life.


5.         Charismatics are right in affirming the reality and importance of post-conversion encounters with the Spirit that empower, enlighten, and transform. They are wrong in calling this experience “Spirit-baptism”.


Distinguishing between baptism in the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit


1.         Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes our reception of the HS at the moment of our conversion to Jesus in faith and repentance. When we believe and are justified, we are, as it were, deluged and engulfed by the HS; we are, as it were, immersed in and saturated by the Spirit. Results: